Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Next Year in Havana

It’s definitely starting to feel distinctly wintery here, and I’m being drawn to books about sunnier climes to counter act the gloom of the days shortening and the lack of sunlight.  So this week’s BotW pick is one that took me away from the damp of a British late-autumn and to the warmth of Cuba – but don’t worry, this isn’t a sunny beach read.

Cover of Next Year in Havana

Marisol Ferrera is on her way to Cuba for the first time.  She’s grown up on stories of the land her grandmother was forced to flee. Now with the easing of travel restrictions for Americans, she’s on her way to the country she’s heard so much about ostensibly to write an article for tourists, but with her grandmother’s ashes hidden in her luggage to fulfil her dying wish to return home.  But Cuba has changed a lot in the 60 years that have passed, and there are family secrets waiting to be uncovered. Back in 1958 Elisa Perez was a debutante, the daughter of a sugar baron and sheltered from the unrest sweeping the nation.  But that all changes when she starts an affair with a revolutionary who is fighting alongside Fidel Castro.

I liked both women and I was swept away by Cuba – in both time lines.  I do love a bit of last-days-before-it-all-comes-crashing-down society sometimes – all that doomed glamour and obliviousness; but actually modern day Cuba was just as intriguing – a country held in stasis, where you had to know the right people and say the right things to get on or else survive by your own ingenuity and cunning.  Which ever way there’s a lot of personal risk involved.  I will admit that I was a little worried that there was no way for there to be a satisfactory resolution to Marisol’s story, but actually it really pulled it off. I finished the book really wanting to visit to Cuba – but even more conflicted about doing that than I had been previously.

We all know that I love a dual timeline novel and I’ve had a fancy to read this since I first first heard about it, which I think (like it often is) was when Chanel Cleeton was a guest on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast back on episode 284 in early 2018.  And yes, it’s taken me this long to get around to getting hold of a copy and reading it.  In between it’s become a Reese Witherspoon book club pick and was a Goodreads choice award nominee for historical fiction last year. And actually it pretty much lived up to the hype, which isn’t always the case with books like this and as my Goodreads reviews will attest.  It was a period of history I don’t really know a huge amount about – beyond having studies the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis during GSCE history and it was nice to be swept up into a different era and a different culture – I’ve read a lot of European-set dual timeline novels (particularly recently) and it’s not often that I venture as close to the present day as the 1950s for novels like this so it was a refreshing change all around.

My copy of Next Year in Havana came from the library, but you can get hold of a copy on Kindle, Kobo or in paperback from somewhere like Book Depository.  I’m not sure how easy it will be to find in stores, Amazon say they can despatch it really quickly but Foyles say they can order it but it will take about a week, which makes me wonder if it’s an American import.  I’ve already got Cleeton’s next novel on hold at the library.

Happy Reading!

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

Book of the Week: Swan Song

A tricky choice for my book of the week this week – partly because of a reduced list this week because of exciting things like holidays with friends, but partly because I had little quibbles with everything I read.  In the end it came down to Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song and The Vacationers (apt because I was on vacation!) but as I’ve recommended Emma Straub before, I thought I’d go with Swan Song instead.  And to be fair, writing this post turned out to be really quite easy in the end!

Copy of Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my love of novels based on real events, and this one takes a look at the downfall of Truman Capote, who after years of friendship (and patronage) with a group of elite high society women, committed social suicide by using their lives as material.  He called them his Swans, and they tell the story as a sort of Greek chorus, switching between their lives, his life and the stories he told them.  Hopping backwards and forwards through time, the Swans recount the various versions of Capote’s childhood that they’ve been told, full of inconsistencies and embroideries, they tell the stories of their friendship with him and its implosion and the aftermath.

This is really good. While it is most definitely a bit of a Rich People Problems type of situation, there is proper scandal, betrayal and heartbreak on all sides here. There are a lot of novels that talk about the unhappiness of rich and privileged people, and although they can sometimes be my favourite books to read, when it doesn’t work it’s hard to muster any sympathy.  But that’s not the case here at all – the women who Truman exposes have all their unhappiness exposed to the world – all the things that they have managed to ignore or put up with to keep their status are suddenly out there in print and although Joe Public might not know who the stories are about at first, the veil disguising their identities is very thin and people work it out – fast. I still can’t make up my mind if Truman knew that what he was about to do was going to explode his life but did it because he was terrified about failing to deliver a follow up to In Cold Blood, or if he thought that the women wouldn’t mind and couldn’t believe that they would be prepared to turn their backs on him.  My main quibble was around the last quarter – which I didn’t think worked quite as well as the earlier part had done, mostly because after the swans have broken with him, using them as a narrative device didn’t work quite as well for me.

There is a big cast of characters here but I was fine, knowing a bit about the story and having read another novel based around this very same issue before.  But my other quibble was whether you’d get lost if you didn’t know anything about this set before – as I was slightly when I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue – which didn’t tell you what it was that he’d done! Swan Song does give you the details on that – which is good, and I think if you keep reading beyond any initial confusion, it will all start to slot in to place. It’s just that the first part is a little bit like Truman’s brain after he’s had a few Orange Drinks and some pills. And obviously there is Wikipedia to help too if you’re really stuck – to be honest I think you can get all you need to know from Truman’s entry and then disappear off down any rabbit holes that strike your fancy!

Last week I recommended a book of fiction so cleverly done that you can’t believe the band isn’t real and actually these two make quite a good pair and overlap in time in some patches – although you may find that hard to believe.  You’ve got Truman and his swans living in the high society world of the East Coast which still feels like a relic of an earlier era, while over on the West Coast, Daisy and the Six are living it up in the new world of rock and drugs and feel much more contemporary.  And both would make great books to read on the beach if you’re about to head off on Spring/Easter break.  And writing post this has reminded me again that I really need to finish writing that Rich People Problems books post – it’s sitting half done, waiting for an opportune time to finish it (and for me to finish reading a couple more books).  Maybe this will be the push that I need!

I’ve had this on the pile for a while – twice in fact as I managed to get a NetGalley ebook copy when I already had a paper copy via the joys of my proper job – but although it came out last summer, I’m sort of timely – as earlier this month it was named on the longlist for the Women’s Fiction prize at the moment. The paperback isn’t out until the end of June so you could preorder it (and Amazon do have that pre-order price guarantee) but the hardback isn’t a bad price on Amazon at the moment if you just can’t wait, and would expect (or hope at least!) there might be a copy in any reasonably sized bookshop – especially now it’s been longlisted for a prize, even more so if it makes the shortlist. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo too.

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

Reccomendsday: Trisha Ashley

There’s a Trisha Ashley book out tomorrow and as she’s one of my favourite authors, I thought I’d pull together a post of my writing about her.

The new book is a reissue of one of her early novels. I managed to borrow Happy Endings from the library back in the day, but others haven’t been so fortunate. It’s now called Written from the Heart and tells the story of Tina Devino, a not as successful as she’d like author and book doctor, and her somewhat tangled love life. The introduction tells me it’s been polished and tweaked here and there rather than rewritten. I’m midway through reading it and so far that seems like a fair description. But it has been a while since I read it.

The Trisha Ashley collection - next to the Laurie Graham collection

I’ve written a fair few Trisha posts over the years, but I think my favourite book of hers is still the first one I read, A Winter’s Tale, which combines several of my favourite things – a big old house in trouble, a heroine with A Past, a suave yet plausible rogue and a hidden hottie just waiting to be noticed. I’ve written recently about how much I miss so-called Chick Lit and this is the sort of book I mean: the heroine is feisty, the writing is funny, the characters are appealing and the fact that Sophie ends up with a bloke is a happy consequence: she’s already saved the house on her own.

In fact all of the books set around that little bit of Lancashire are like that. I don’t mean that they’re all saving stately homes, obviously, but they’re all heroines with a problem, who fix it themselves and get a relationship out of it as a bonus. Several of them intertwined as well with brief glimpses of previous characters as a little Easter egg for the faithful.  A lot of them were published before I started the blog – so I don’t have reviews to link you to on here – but A Winter’s Tale, Wedding Tiers, The Magic of Christmas and Chocolate Wishes are all set in and around the same patch.

More recently the novels have shifted slightly, with a little more tragedy in the backstory and a little bit more angst in the present. We’re not talking terminal cancer diagnoses for the heroines though – think more towards Lucy Dillon and less towards Katie Fforde. But they are still very readable and I enjoy them a lot and writing this post has made me notice how gradual that shift has been..  Anyway – to the links:

 

Every Woman for Herself

 

 

 

Every Woman for Herself – Another early Trisha re-released a few years back and the origin of the running Skint Old Northern Woman newsletter/Magazine that pops up through her novels.  Charlie is returning to her childhood home after a break up and discovers that an actor has moved into the neighbourhood.

 

 

 

 

 

Creature Comforts – A secret past and a dog rescue in trouble, Izzy is trying to restart her own life, help her beloved aunts and regenerate the village she’s returned to.  Set in Lancashire, this in a new village rather than the ones around Winter’s End.

 

 

A Christmas Cracker – probably not the season for this, but Trisha has always done a good line in festive novels. This one features a heroine who is just out of prison (but there are Reasons for that) and a christmas cracker business that needs saving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Teashop of Lost and Found – Alice was abandoned on the moors as a baby – now she’s back, setting up a teashop near where she was found and looking for answers.

 

 

The House of Hopes and Dreams – Trisha’s most recent (new) novel. Carey’s longtime partner has died and his son has kicked her out of their home and their stained glass business.  So she goes to stay with an old friend who is recovering from a motorbike accident.  She sets up on her own and finds herself as well as a new start.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, reviews, romantic comedy, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Don’t You Forget About Me

As you can see from last week’s Week in Books (and the week before as well to be honest) I read a lot of books while I was away.  But in the end the choice for this week’s Book of the Week was easy – there was one standout that I’m still thinking about and have already recommended to a bunch of people.

Cover of Dont You Forget About Me

Don’t You Forget About Me is the new novel from Mhairi McFarlane.  Your heroine is Georgina, who we meet as she gets fired from The Worst Italian in Sheffield and then goes home to find The Worst Boyfriend in the World in bed with someone else.  Is the universe out to get her? When she gets a one-off job at a newly refurbished pub and then gets a fulltime job offer from there it seems like she might be about to turn a corner.  But her new boss turns out to be her sixth form crush-slash-secret-boyfriend which is a whole new disaster in the making.  Or it would be if Lucas remembered her, which he doesn’t – and which is crushing in its own way.  Because you never forget your first love do you?  Still at least it means that Georgina can keep working for him, just as long as she keeps her mouth shut and Lucas never finds out who she is.  Except that that gets harder and harder to do because there’s still something between them – and there’s no way Lucas isn’t going to work it out in the end is there?

I loved this.  In fact it was hard for Him Indoors to persuade me to go sightseeing with him one morning because I was 100 pages from the end and needed to know what happened to everyone.  This is just delightful.  Georgina is such an engaging heroine, Lucas is brilliant, I wanted to punch Georgina’s family at times – especially her stepdad -and I spent some considerable time thinking of extravagant punishments for Robin the Bad Boyfriend (but his actual comeuppance is very satisfying).  And on top of that the book is so, so funny.  It was in fact exactly what I have been looking for and what I have been finding so hard to find at the moment.  It’s a romantic comedy but it has a serious side as well.  There are Reasons why Georgina is still working jobs her family consider pointless and dead end.  And there’s a reason why she picked such a terrible boyfriend.  And they’re proper, life changing reasons, but there’s such a light touch about it that it all works beautifully together.

This also captured some of my memories of my sixth form experience so perfectly that it nearly took my breath away.  I’m a couple of years older than Georgina is meant to be but Mhairi McFarlane has captured that feeling of not being able to do the right thing no matter what you do when faced with the popular kids, that everything is life and death and that the path of your life can be changed by one wrong decision.  I always mistrust people who say that their schooldays were the best of their lives, because mine were terrifying and scary and I wouldn’t go back there for all the tea in china – especially not now social media is a thing.

I know that chick lit is a problematic term – and I have as many issues with it as everyone else.  But if you read “chick lit” back in the early 00s and find it hard to capture that same feeling from books now – then try this.  I read a lot of books (as you know) but I really struggle to find funny, romantic books with happy endings that aren’t all humour through humiliation (not my thing) or finding happiness again (or in the end) after dead husbands or life threatening illnesses (or terminal diagnoses).  Something with something more to it than *just* a romance but where you’re not going to have your heart broken before you get to a sort of happy ending.  But This Is It.  It is fun and funny and it all works out in the end – but not because A Perfect Man has made it better – but because Georgina has figured out who she is and how to start fixing her life herself.

I know that sounds gushy and a bit OTT, but I can’t tell you how relieved I was to start reading this and just sink into it and enjoy letting it all happen.  I’ve read so many books recently where I either can’t see how it can all possibly work out all right in the end (or even satisfactorily) or been braced for something bad to happen, that it was a joy to realise that I was in safe hands and could just relax and read.  And my tears at the end were happy ones.

I’ve read two of Mhairi McFarlane’s previous books – but there’s been a big old gap since I read the last one so I had forgotten how much I like her writing.  I now need to go back and figure out why I haven’t read the other two and remedy that as soon as possible.  Knowing me and the state of my to-read pile, I’ll probably have at least one of them sitting on the kindle already…

My copy of Don’t You Forget About Me came from NetGalley, but it is out now on Kindle and Kobo and the paperback comes out at the start of March.  I’ll try and remember to remind you – and I’m sure it’ll be in all the usual placed – but you could always pre-order it now.  I’m just saying.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  And if you’ve got any recommendations for other books you think might scratch the same itch for me, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

 

reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

A really, really easy decision about what to pick for BotW this week, but I’m ashamed to say that my copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo had been sitting on my Kindle for more than 18 months before I finally got around to reading it.  It was one of those occasions where I requested something from NetGalley, with eyes too big for my reading time and it got lost in the backlog.  And the NetGalley backlog is huge.  One of my aims for the year is to solve that.  We’ll see if that happens, but certainly the attempt has turned up a real gem.

The cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Evelyn Hugo was a huge star in her day, but these days she’s pretty much a recluse.  So when Monique Grant is sent out to do an interview with her it’s a big deal.  A massive deal.  And Hugo would only talk to Monique – but why?  Monique is a virtual unknown – a junior reporter at a magazine – and she’s as clueless as everyone else about why Hugo has picked her.  And when Monique arrives to do the interview, Evelyn has a different proposal for her – she doesn’t want to give an interview, she wants Monique to write her biography – she wants to tell Monique the stories and secrets behind her career and her seven marriages.  Monique’s marriage has just broken up and she’s looking to rebuild, so she takes the job.  Soon she’s spending her days listening to Evelyn telling the story of her rise to stardom – from her childhood in poverty in New York to the top of the Hollywood tree.  It’s no holds barred – the domestic abuse, the Hollywood catfighting, backbiting and machinations – and the truth about who was the love of Evelyn’s life.  And Monique finds herself warming to Evelyn, even though the story she’s telling isn’t always pretty or nice and Evelyn doesn’t always come out of it in the best light.  But still she wonders, why was she picked to be the one to tell it.  But as Evelyn’s story goes on, it becomes clear that there’s a purpose to all of this – and somewhere Evelyn’s life is linked to Monique’s.

And I’m not prepared to say any more about the plot than that.  I’ve checked the blurb and I don’t think I’ve given away too much beyond what’s there.  And that’s because Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is best discovered blind.  I hadn’t checked goodreads or read any reviews when I went in, so I didn’t know any of the twists and turns that were ahead of me and I think if I had, it would have been a real shame.  But that does mean it’s hard to explain how clever this novel is.  It is a totally page-turning book – the sort of thing you could sit and read on a sun-lounger all day without being bored (if you can read slow enough) but it’s also a very smart look at the world we live in.

Evelyn is a Cuban-America and as she rises up through the Hollywood machine you see the challenges that she faces as a woman and as a Latina and to be herself.  She’s constantly having to change, to tone-down or hide aspects of herself in order to be acceptable and accepted and successful.  But it’s so well written that it’s only afterwards you realise how much social commentary is in there. It’s good and it’s very, very clever. I’ve also gone down a few Google and Wikipedia rabbit holes since finishing this, trying to work out which bits of Evelyn’s story are based on which real life Hollywood stars. I can’t tell you my conclusions though because it’ll give too much away. Sorry, not sorry.

My copy came from Netgalley an age ago, which means this is out in paperback now as well as on Kindle and Kobo. I’m hoping it should be relatively easy to find in an actual bookshop too. Taylor Jenkins Reid has a new book out shortly – which I mentioned in my anticipated books post (my excitement about this has only increased after reading this!) on New Year’s Day – so keep an eye out for that too!

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, women's fiction

Book of the Week: In the Unlikely Event

A bit of women’s fiction for this week’s BotW pick – and I’ve gone with Judy Blume’s adult novel In the Unlikely Event. This had been sitting on my shelf for a while (it was one of the books that got lent to my mum during the great renovation of 2017) and it took me a while to get to it – and to read it – because my copy was hardback and we all know that I don’t take them on the commute with me.

Cover of In the Unlikely Event

In the Unlikely Event tells the story of the worst year of Mimi Ammerman’s life.  At the start of the book we meet her as she heads back to her home town of Elizabeth for the 35 anniversary of three plane crashes that hit her home town within a couple of months.  That was the year that she was 15 and as well as all the usual teenage angst, love affairs, school and family problems, Mimi and her friends had to deal with death falling from the sky towards them. The reader follows the community through the tumultuous period that changed all of their lives forever.

I read a lot of Judy Blume’s children’s books when I was in the right age bracket for them.  Between her and Paual Danziger my early views of what life was life in the US were formed.  From Scoliosis, to party line telephones, to periods and a lot in between, so much of what I knew about young women and teenage girls in America came from what I read in her books.  And, although she’s writing for an adult audience in this, I could feel echos of that coming through.  Mimi’s world isn’t that far different to Margaret’s but as well as seeing the world through her eyes, we also see it through the eyes of some of the adults around her and some of the older teenagers.  And it’s engrossing.  I particularly liked the newspaper articles written by Mimi’s uncle Henry.  They really set the scene for what’s happening and present the official point of view that Mimi doesn’t really see.

It is a book about three plane crashes happening though – but although I had to take some breaks from reading it, it wasn’t as bad as some of the other books about tragedies that I’ve read.  Definitely cope-able with.  And lots of you out there probably won’t even have to take breaks – I’m just a bit of a wuss.  I hadn’t really realised when I started reading this that the three plane crashes in Elizabeth actually happened.  Or if I had, I’d forgotten.  And I found out midway through wen I went googling because it seemed almost too implausible.  At university I did a History and Literature module, and my final essay question was “Literature has to be plausible, history only has to be true.  Discuss”.  If I was writing that essay now, this book would definitely be getting a mention.

Anyway, this was a really interesting read and I know I’ll be lending it on to other people.  I can’t remember exactly where I got my copy from – it was either the magic bookshelf at work or from one of the work booksales – but because I’ve had it for so long it’s been out in paperback for a couple of years nearly.  You should be able to get hold of it from any good sided bookshop or all the usual suspects – as well as on Kindle or Kobo.  As is traditional, I suggest buying from the Big Green Bookshop – they’ll post it out to you and have been running a really lovely “Buy a Stranger a Book” twitter campaign on Wednesdays that will gladden your heart.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, holiday reading, reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

Hello and welcome to another BotW post – this week we’re in saga territory with Sophie Green’s The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, which came out at the start of last month, but which I only got time to sit down properly to 10 days ago.  It was nearly BotW last week, but I didn’t finish it until Monday morning after my weekend at work and so I got to save it!  And after last week’s pick celebrated female friendship for middle grade readers, this does the same for grown ups.

The cover of The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club (such a long title, but I forgive it) is set in Australia’s Northern Territory in the late 1970s and early 1980s and follows Sybil, Kate, Sallyanne, Della and Rita.  Sybil came to Fairvale station 25 years ago, but she remembers how strange it felt compared to her life as a nurse in Sydney, so when her son brings his new wife Kate from Britain she comes up with the book club as an idea to adjust and make friends.  Sallyanne is stuck with a difficult husband who’s turned to drink while she brings up their three small children.  Della is a transplant from Texas at the next station over – she left her father’s ranch to find some freedom and her own place in the world.  Rita has been friends with Sybil since they were young nurses together and is now working for the Flying Doctors service in Alice Springs.  Across the course of the book all four women face trials and difficulties and find support and friendship from the rest of the group as well as finding someone to talk about books with.

I absolutely loved this book, which seemed to me like almost a what-happened-next to the outback life that I had read about in Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice.  I read that back in my teenage years  – it’s one of my mum’s favourite books and although it’s all good, my favourite part of it is the third part, that deals with Jean’s life in Willstown.  And Fairvale Ladies Book Club shows you another wild and inhospitable part of Australia that is almost inconceivable to me in its remoteness and challenges.  I  loved reading about Fairvale and the town of Katherine and wanted to be friends with all the women.  I’ve read quite a few of the books that the women read for the club – but this has reminded me that I still have Thorn Birds sitting on my kindle waiting to be read and has also given me some ideas for more reading about the Australian outback and a way of life that seems almost impossible to believe in.

I really enjoyed reading this and it brought a tear to my eye more than once. I think it would make an excellent beach read if you’re getting to the time of year where you’re thinking of holiday books – and as it’s over 400 pages long it would last a while as long as you don’t read as fast as I do!  It would also make a great book club pick – there are plenty of things to talk about here.

My copy came from NetGalley, but you should be able to get a copy from all good bookshops – like Foyles, Book Depository and Big Green Bookshop.  The Kindle and Kobo editions are already a bargain at £1.99 (at time of writing) but it cropped up as a Kindle Daily Deal about two weeks ago, so that may come around again if you’re not in a hurry and have a system for keeping track of these things.

And if you’ve got any recommendations for books set in the remote bits of Australia – or other remote parts of the world – let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!