book round-ups

Weekend Bonus Post: Summer Reading

As always I am running somewhat late with my seasonal recommendations. I mean I started this post months ago, but a mix of life-gets-in-the-way and “I’m sure there must be something else that I’ll read and want to recommend means that I’m only now getting around to posting it, in what I could try and claim is mid August, but is actually probably late August. Still at least I’ve got it out before the Bank Holiday weekend. But hey, if you’ve been here a while, you’ll know that that’s basically me in a nutshell: full of good intentions and plans, but coming slightly unstuck in the execution. See also my university dissertation. Anyway, to the summer recommendations.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid*

Cover of Malibu Rising

To be honest, I’m not sure this really needs any introduction, or its inclusion here will come as any real surprise to you. I loved Daisy Jones and the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest was much hyped and was on a lot of other people’s lists this summer. Centred around the night of a party in 1980s Malibu that ends in a house burning down, it tells the story of the Riva siblings. Children of a legendary singer, they are themselves in the limelight. Nina is a surfer and model, Jay and Hud tour the world together on the surfing circuit – where one surfs and the other photographs – and their little sister Kit. They shared a troubled childhood and they all have secrets. Over the course of the book you learn what drives them and watch them figure out what next and what their relationships with each other are going to look like now they’re adults. It’s perfect sun lounger reading, gloriously page turning escapism that looks at family ties, fame and obligations.

The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan*

The cover of The Summer Seekers

Eighty-year-old Kathleen used to be a TV travel presenter. After a run in with a burglar at her seaside home, she decides that she needs another adventure – much to the dismay of her daughter Liza. Liza wants her mum to move into a home, not going off on a road trip abroad. Liza herself is drowning under the weight of family obligations and is stuck in a rut. Martha is also at a bit of a turning point in her life. Unfulfilled personally and professionally she answers Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver to accompany her on her American road trip and applies for the job even though she’s not exactly the most confident driver in the world. Over the course of the summer you see the women explore their lives and their relationships and work a few things out. I usually prefer Sarah Morgan’s romances to her women’s fiction but this is actually a lot of fun. I wanted a little bit more closure for each of the women but it was a satisfying read overall – I read it in 24 hours so that says something!

Rosaline Palmer takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

Cover of Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake

I wrote about Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material earlier in the year, and Hall’s newest novel features a heroine who is contestant on a televised baking show that is about as close as you can get to The Great British Bake-off without needing rights holder approval. Rosaline is a single mum whose parents are perpetually disappointed in her for not following in their academic and high-flying footsteps. On the way to the first weekend of competition, she meets fellow contestant Alain, who is suave and sophisticated and interested in her – and everything her parents would approve of. But it’s actually Harry, a shy electrician who is the contestant that Rosaline is in danger of falling for – even though that would be a disaster.  I was worried for a while that Rosaline was going to pick the Wrong Person but that was mostly because I hadn’t read the blurb (well not properly at least) and I was expecting a more straight-forward romance and the structure is a little different to the other Hall books that I have read. Lots of fun.

The Idea of You by Robinne Lee*

Cover of The Idea of You

Solène only goes to the boyband concert because her ex husband can’t take their daughter at the last minute. But at the meet and greet, one of the band’s members starts flirting with her. Hayes is handsome, clever, funny and one of the biggest stars in the world. He’s also 20 and Solène is 38. When their initial secret meetings turn into a proper relationship, it all gets complicated – especially when the public find out. Can Hayes and Solène go the distance or is their relationship having too much of an effect on the people she cares about most? This is the wildcard of this summer’s selection. Think a One Direction member falls in love with an older woman and you’ll get the sort of vibe. I can see that some people are going to love this, for me it was a bit infuriating. I wanted to read it because of the Taylor Jenkins Reid blurb (for reasons that are obvious given the first pick of this post!) but I found all the characters irritating to a greater or lesser extent. In addition, this is being shelved as a romance on some vendors and on here and it absolutely isn’t. It has a romance in it yes, but it’s not for reasons that are very spoilery, but you can probably guess. I’m including it here, even though it was a not really for me book – because I think some people are going to devour this and I feel like if I was on a sun lounger around the pool this summer then I would be surrounded by people reading it!

So there you have it, four summery reading options. They’re all in similar sorts of areas – women’s fiction and romance – but then that’s mostly what I’m reading at the moment, if you exclude all the mystery novels that I’ve already told you about! I would expect all of these to be fairly easily available – my only doubt was Rosaline Palmer, but I can see copies available for Click and Collect at Foyles, which is delightful.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: July 2021 Mini Reviews

Here we go – another month, another batch of books that I wanted to talk about but didn’t have quite enough to say about to give them a post all to themselves. There’s romance, comedy, adventure and history here – so a nice mix.

Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs

Cover of Surfeit of Suspects

I picked a British Library Crime Classic for Book of the Week last week – and this is another cracker. It was actually a close call for BotW this week, but I thought I might look too one note (not that that’s ever bothered me before). A Surfeit of Suspects is the 41st (!) book in the Inspector Littlejohn series, and concerns an explosion at a joinery company, that kills three of the company’s directors. The company itself is teetering on the brink of insolvency and there is a suspicion that the explosion may have been an insurance job on a rather spectacular scale. But why would the firm have had any dynamite to explode if it hadn’t been planted there. And why had the previously profitable firm fallen so far? There is potential fraud and corruption, but also personal rivalries and love affairs. There’s also a lot of focus on the local banking eco-system – which as Bellairs had worked in a bank, he was very well placed to write. And despite the fact that banking has changed a lot in the fifty plus years since this was published, it’s all easy to follow – and actually quite informative for those of us who have grown up in the era of big banking chains. Oh and it’s a good solution too. I got it on Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available in paperback.

The Lock In by Phoebe Luckhurst*

Cover of The Lock In

I keep talking about the summer reading post (I promise it is coming) and this was a contender for that, but it’s a little too domestic for a sunlounger read. Or at least it is for me, so I’m writing about it here instead. Ellen, Alexa and Jack are housemates. They’re also locked in their attic on a Saturday morning, with terrible hangovers and Alexa’s Hinge date from the night before. Why are they locked in the attic? Well the kitchen is flooding and they were looking for the way to switch off the water when the handle broke off the attic door. They only have one phone – and it’s Jacks that’s very low on battery and the signal is poor. But he’s mostly live tweeting the situation. Ben and Alexa are getting to know each other, and Ellen is becoming convinced that she’s met Ben before.  Will they get out? Will they still be friends when they do – and will they survive the wrath of their landlord? I think I’m a little too old for this – I did my dating before apps were a thing – but this is a funny portrait of possibly the worst hangover ever. I was sort of expecting more romance, but it’s much more of a comedy than it is a romantic comedy. Worth a look. Newly out this summer – should be fairly easy to get hold of.

The Camelot Caper by Elizabeth Peters

Paperback copy of The Camelot Caper

This one is probably only worth a look for Elizabeth Peters completists. This is from the very late 1960s and is interesting because it’s sometimes listed as a prequel to the Vicky Bliss series. It’s much less connected to that than that makes it seem – basically the connection is to “Sir John Smythe” in a way that I can’t reveal without giving some big old spoilers for Vicky Bliss. And it’s quite a minor connection – so don’t go into this expecting lots of him. And if you’ve not read Vicky Bliss (or Amelia Peabody to which its even more tenuously linked) then it’s just a late 1960s thriller-slash-cozy-mystery with no murder but a lot of chasing around Britain by an American Tourist, who is being hunted down by mysterious thugs, and the charming Brit who is helping her out. Your mileage on that may vary. I’m glad I read it, but if I’d read it first, I probably wouldn’t have read the rest of the Vicky Bliss series, and that would have been a shame. Second-hand only, and no ebook.

Hellions Waltz by Olivia Waite

 Cover of The Hellions Waltz

Sophie’s family has moved to a new town to start over after they were taken in by a conman who ruined their business. Maddie is busy planning to ruin the draper who has been cheating and defrauding the local weavers for years. When recently cheated Sophie sees that Maddie has some sort of con going on, she starts to investigate. And of course the only thing for Maddie to do to distract her is seduce. And it all goes on from there. The middle book in this trilogy, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows was a BotW pick here earlier this year, but be aware the connection between three books is looser than you usually see in romance series – there’s barely any mention of the previous leads, and there was nothing in the previous book to mark out who was going to feature in the next (if you know what I mean) or if there was it was so subtle that I missed it. The link between them is women with a craft or a passion – in this case a musician and a silk weaver. But this was a fun read – I liked all the details about the various pianos and about the silk reading, and the denouement – although fast – is satisfying.

Meet the Georgians by Robert Peel*

Cover of Meet the Georgians
I’m including this one in here because I think if you don’t know anything about the Georgians, this would be a good introduction to some of the characters in it – and also to the idea that the Victorians were the prudish ones and that life before that was much more interesting/racy! For me (degree in history in which I mostly did post 1700 stuff in Britain, France and wider Europe) there wasn’t a lot new here. But that said: I like the idea, and the choices of who to feature are good because the people are fascinating, but the writing style is strangely uneven – at times it feels like the author is wants to emulate Greg Jenner‘s chatty informal style but is trying to hard and it’s only in patches before it reverts to something more standard for a history book. It’s still very accessibly written in the rest of it, but it has these weird bits where it all sounds a bit “how do you do fellow kids”. For me, the introduction also spoilt a bit of the fun/mystery of finding out who the people were – a lot of the key details were in there. Thinking about it, it’s a bit like a history essay in book form: here is my theory, here is the evidence for my theory, here is my conclusion with a reminder of my theory and a look ahead. Additionally the cover is a bit out of step with the audience I feel like it’s trying for. Great idea and if you’re a newbie to the era, it will probably work better for you than it did for me!

 

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in July were Empire of Pain, The Guncle, Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light and Smallbone Deceased. And finally, just to complete the link-fest, here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February, March, April, May and June.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: June 2021 Mini Reviews

The end of another month has been and gone, and despite the fact that I forgot to trail it yesterday or Monday, it’s time for another set of Mini Reviews! It was a very varied month in reading, and there more books from last month that you’ll hear about in my summer reading post, but here are a few things that I read last month that I wanted to talk about.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls*

Cover of Mrs England

Lets start with a new to me author. Mrs England is Stacey Halls third novel, but the first of hers that I’ve read – despite the fact that I own at least one of the other two. This is a clever and creepy story of Ruby, a Norland Nurse who takes a job in the household of an northern mill owner in after she turns down the chance to move abroad with her previous family in 1904. From the start you know there’s something not quite right in the new house, but on top of that there’s also something in Ruby’s past that she’s hiding as well. I had several different theories at various points about what was going on, but the reveal surprised me. For some reason, dark and damp are the words that spring to mind about this book – but I kind of think that makes it perfect for reading in the sunshine if you know what I mean!

The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery*

Cover of the Stepsisters

Susan Mallery is an author who has appeared on my reading lists a lot over the last few years – with her Fools Gold and Happily Inc romance series. The Stepsisters is one of her women’s fiction novels – it has romantic elements, but it’s definitely not a romance. The Stepsisters of the title are three women, all with the same father (but two different mothers), who find themselves thrown back together as adults after one of them has an accident. They have a complicated history between them abd all have different problems in their current lives, but over the course of the book you watch them try and work out if they can they put their history behind them and move forward. Told from the points of view of two of the stepsisters, Daisy and Sage, this has the characters finding themselves and each other. Another read that’s perfect for a sunny garden with a glass of something chilled.

Tommy Cabot was Here by Cat Sebastian

Cover of Tommy Cabot was Here

I’ve written about Cat Sebastian here before, and this is the first in a new series of novellas. Like Hither, Page this is another more modern historical story, this time set in the 1950s with the scion of a family that sounds very Kennedy, and his best friend from school. They meet each other again for the first time in years when Tommy is dropping his son off at their old school – where Everett now teaches. The rediscovered romance between the two of them is very nice to watch and there’s a refreshing lack of the sort of unmasking peril that you find in a lot of historical m/m romances. Very relaxing and charming. There next in the series is set a year or so later and features Tommy’s nephew – who we meet briefly in this – and is due out in September.

Love in the Blitz by Eileen Alexander*

Cover of Love in the Blitz

I’ve mentioned how much I’m interested in the history of the first half of the twentieth century, and last week I picked novel set in the same period that this book is set in, so it’s not easy to see why I wanted to read Love in the Blitz. And on top of that people who I like a lot have really enjoyed this. But I really struggled. This is a collection of genuine letters written by the very real Eileen Alexander to her fiancée, Gershon Ellenbogen. Eileen was the eldest daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, who lived in Cairo, but also had homes in London and Scotland. At the start of the book she’s recently graduated from Girton College and through the book you see her searching for war work at various of the ministries as well as the progress of her relationship, the tensions with her parents and the general day to day of living through the war. I found Eileen’s style a little hard going and I didn’t actually like her much. But as a look at what it was like in a corner of England during the Second World War it is an insightful document – particularly as Eileen and her family are Jewish and have a lot of connections abroad and this gives you a different perspective than the one that you so often get on what it was like being on the Home Front.

The Last Party by Anthony Haden-Guest

Cover of The Last Party

This really surprised me: it takes a fascinating subject and makes it hard to follow and dare I say it – dull. Having read Empire of Pain the week after finishing this, it really hit home to me that this had so much promise but under delivered. But I think the problem was the breadth of subject that Anthony Haden-Guest was taking on – and the fact that he was part of the scene at the time and knew everyone involved. I think that affected his ability to pick a narrative through line and make it make sense. Characters appear for a couple of pages and then vanish again. Some times they get loads of background about who they are, sometimes none. It jumps from club to club but also around in time a bit. I learnt a few new things, but not nearly as much as I expected and it was hard going all through. I would definitely read more about this time period and this club scene – it just needs more focus.

So there you have it, another month finished and another batch of mini-reviews. And in case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in June were Yours Cheerfully, Second First Impressions, The Feast and sort of Circus of Wonders, which was published in June but read in May . And finally, just to complete the link-fest, here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February, March, April and May.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Mrs Tim of the Regiment

We’re midway through March and it’s been a while since I picked something from my list of slightly quirky out of the way authors. So here we are, with Mrs Tim of the Regiment, which firmly fits into the gentle English life subset of my reading.

Paperback copy of Mrs Tim of the Regiment

As the title suggests, Mrs Tim – Hester Christie – is the wife of an army officer, in the 1930s. Told in the form of a diary, we see her navigate regimental life, including moving across the country when Tim gets promoted, and trying to make friends and raise a family. The first half of the book is more about the day to day, the second follows a holiday that Hester takes to Scotland with her young daughter to visit a friend and the complications ensue.

I’ve written a lot about the fact that I’ve been sticking to genres where I know that things will turn out ok in the end, and at first glance this might seem like a bit of a turn away from that, but this is actually very low stakes and relaxing to read. Hester is a wonderful narrator – she’s witty and observant of others, but also a little bit dense when it comes to herself. She is utterly oblivious to the fact that Major Morley is mad about her – and that he and her friend’s son are fighting over her when she’s on holiday in Scotland. This is a tricky tightrope for the author to tread, because Tim isn’t always around much and by its nature, domestic life of a married couple is less glamorous and exciting than holiday-ing in Scotland and dashing around the countryside. But I thought that Hester’s obliviousness – and her devotion to Tim (earlier in the book she worries about what to do if he is sent to India and whether they could afford to send their daughter to boarding school so she can go too because she doesn’t want to be apart from him again) means that this section is amusing and charming rather than feeling like you’re working up to Hester leaving Tim or being left at home unhappy. 

I’ve read D E Stevenson before – she’s the author of the wonderful Miss Buncle’s Book and Anna and her Daughters which I have written about before – and this has a lot of the things I liked about both of those, but also seemed to me to fit in along with books like Diary of a Provincial Lady and Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire books. It’s essentially a slice of life story from the interwar period, in the voice of a smart woman who is running a household (because that’s what you did when you got married in those days). There are three more books in the series, and I suspect I’ll be reading them at some point in the near future.

My copy of Mrs Tim of the Regiment was a birthday present (thanks mum and dad!) and you should be able to get hold of the charming paperback edition I have from any sensible bookshop (like Foyles), but it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from October

Here we are again, another month is over, and I have more books to tell you about from my last month in reading. We’re starting to get towards the end of the year, so there’s a few here that would make for good gifts either to go on your own list or to buy for other people. So without further ado, here we go.

Sweet Dreams by Dylan Jones*

Cover of Sweet Dreams

I’m a little bit young to remember the New Romantics when they were new, but I listen to a lot of the music and I like a good music memoir or history so this really appealed to me. Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ magazine – and former editor of i-D – who was there in and amongst the scene at the time. This makes him ideally placed to write this – using the voices of people who were there, through new interviews with him and previous ones. This is a chunky old book – and is occasionally a little bit too in depth – but by the end I felt like I really understood the scene and the characters in it. I read a ebook copy and haven’t see the physical version, but I suspect this would make a great gift for Christmas as well as being a good read for anyone interested in the 80s and the music scene.

Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross

 Cover of Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody

I know I reccomended a Barbara Ross book yesterday, but I can’t help myself, this is a lot of fun and also quite different to Boiled Over. Jane Darrowfield is settling into her retirement – bridge games with friends, gardening, a bit of travel. The trouble is she’s bored. Then her friends start asking her to help solve their personal problems and soon she’s getting a bit of a reputation as someone who can stick their nose in to a problem and fix it for you. And soon she has her first professional assignment – to try and resolve some issues at an over 55s complex – where it’s all getting more than a little high school. But soon after she arrives, a leader of one of the cliques is killed and Jane’s investigation is suddenly much, much more serious. I love an older lady heroine, and Jane is a really good one. On top of that the mystery is good and I like the side story lines that are being set up for the series. Easy, calming reading.

Bear Markets and Beyond by Dhruti Shah and Dominic Bailey

Bear Markets and Beyond in Hardback

I posted a photo of this earlier this month and I need to add a disclaimer: Dhruti is a friend and work colleague. She’s great. And this book is great but  wouldn’t expect anything less from her to be honest. This is a beautifully illustrated, smartly written guide to all those jargon-y terms you’ve heard (or read) used in business articles but dint quite get. And then there’s a whole bunch more you might not have heard of but are equally fascinating. It’s great. Perfect for a non-business person to get some info, great for the business person who has everything! Also would make a good stocking filler, because it is nearly that time of year after all.

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith by Ben Schott*

Cover of Jeeves and the Leap of Faith

This is an authorised Jeeves and Wooster continuation, which sees Bertie’s beloved Drones Club in a spot of trouble and his friends entangled romantically again. This isn’t quite a full throated recommendation –  I liked this, and it is undoubtedly Wodehouseian in tone and the style is there, but it just felt like it was too long. One of the plot strands would have been enough for me. One of the things I love about the original books is their light tone and brevity – they breeze in, make you laugh and then they’re gone and you want more. But it’s a minor quibble, because it is fun.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews for the rest of the year: September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from October: Merit Badge Murder, Manhunting, The Haunting of Alma Fielding (which I’ve just realised is the only one which doesn’t start with an M!), and Money.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be) ** means it was an advance copy that came some other way

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from September

Here we are again, another month is over, and I have more books to tell you about from my last month in reading. So without further ado, here we go.

Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger

Cover of Furious Love

My love of Old Hollywood is well known and this is a very thorough and well researched look at the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. “Liz and Dick” were the biggest story in the world when they met and fell in love on the set of Cleopatra (while they were both married to other people) and their tumultuous relationship lasted for the rest of Burton’s live. This was written while Taylor was still alive and with access to her private papers, even if she maintained her stance of not talking about her relationship with Burton after his death. I think you probably need to know a little bit of background before you read this, but probably nothing you couldn’t get from listening to this episode of You Must Remember This or a quick google search.

The Art of Drag by Jake Hall et al

Hardback copy of The Art of Drag

This is a lovely illustrated overview of the history of Drag with brilliant art from a group of authors. The colour palate remains consistent across the book but the art styles are different. I had my favourites but they all had a perspective and a sense of fun and vitality. I was going to save this for my Christmas recommendation post, but that feels like a long time to wait, and I’m fairly sure there are other people out there who have Drag Race and drag show withdrawal and could use this right now

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Cover of Such a Fun Age

This is one of the buzziest books of the year. Which means it’s surprising that I’ve actually read it before the year is out! When a white blogger calls her African American babysitter to help out in a family emergency, it sets in train a series of events that will ripple through both of their lives and families. This is being sold as a great book club book – and I can see why because there’s plenty to dissect about the characters and their decisions. I thought the ending was really quite clever too.

Naughty Brits

Cover of Naughty Brits

Sarah MacLean is one of my favourite historical romance authors and this anthology has her first contemporary story in it. It’s my favourite in this collection, which are all tied together by an event at the British Museum. MacLean’s has a secret duke with a yearning for privacy and a photographer trying to rebuild her career. Sophie Jordan’s has a selfhelp author who is assigned a bodyguard for her book tour, Louisa Edwards’ is a writer who runs into Hollywood’s hottest action star, Tessa Gratton an ex-soldier who is sent to Wales to buy a pub and Sierra Simone a woman who re-encounters the man who left her at the altar. I think there’s something for most tastes!

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews for the rest of the year: August, July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from September: The Duke Who Didn’t, Her Last Flight, Death at the Seaside, Thursday Murder Club and The Miseducation of Evie Epworth.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be) ** means it was an advance copy that came some other way

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from August

Another month gone, and here we are with another group of mini-reviews.  This isn’t a recommendation fest this month – some of them are books that I just wanted to talk about in a non Book of the Week way.

We Germans by Alexander Starritt*

Cover of We Germans

Meissner, was a soldier on the Eastern Front and now an old man, his Scottish-German grandson ask him what he did in the war, he initially shuts down and refuses to talk about it and then writes a letter. We Germans is that letter (interspersed with memories and stories about his grandfather from the grandson, Callum) and tells the story of a rampage he and a small group of colleagues went on during the final days before the Russians overran what was left of the Nazi forces. Separated from their unit, the men see other soldiers carrying out atrocities – and commit some crimes of their own.  At times it is incredibly graphic and it is a lot to grapple with – but then there is a lot to think about about what happened to the men who fought in for the Nazis once the conflict was over – and how to reconcile their actions during the war with what happened after. I found it a complete page turner, and it gave me a lot to think about. I studied First World War Literature as part of my A-Levels and found this an interesting and Second World War addition to the various more modern novels I read as part of that module.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Cover of The Gravity of Us

Cal wants to be a journalist and his following on social media platform Flashframe has snagged him an internship at BuzzFeed. But all his plans are derailed when his dad is selected as an astronaut on Nasa’s mission to Mars. Soon he’s moving into a new house in Houston, and into the world of the reality TV show that covers the lives of the astronauts and their families. But Cal’s family isn’t like any of the picture perfect ones on the show, and his new life is a struggle – until he meats Leon. Leon’s mum is also on the mission and as the two of them bond, they also start to fall in love. But when things start going on in the programme, Cal has to try to find a way to get to the truth of what is going on. Now long-time readers will know that I’m a big fan of books about the space race. I’ve previously recommended The Astronaut Wives Club and The Right Stuff and when I went to Washington two years ago I spent Thanksgiving Day wandering round the Air and Space Museum annexe to look at the Space Shuttle. So this was so up my street it was unbelievable. This is just a lovely blend of space race nostalgia and astronaut nerdery and angsty first love romance. I had a few minor gripes with some of the journo ethics of the hero, but then that’s what my day job is and so it’s maybe not surprising, and I’ve seen much, much worse.

Dance Away With Me by Susan Elizabeth Philips

Cover of Dance Away with Me

This is the first of the not quite as positive reviews, but I wanted to chuck this in here, because I loved the Chicago Stars series and read this hoping that it was going to be somewhat similar in feel despite being sold as “a novel”, but it’s… not. Recently widowed Tess has upped sticks for rural Tennessee looking for space to grieve. Her new neighbours at her isolated retreat are an enigmatic street artist Ian North and a free-spirit, not really in the real world pregnant model. This has so much plot, with so many different strand and so much angst and tragedy that it’s really hard to see how it can be satisfactorily resolved. Because there is so much going on, Tess feels quite one dimensional – even though you spend so much time with her and because and a lot of that plot also doesn’t actually involve the hero I never got to know North well enough to really understand him and root for him. Overall: Not awful just not what I wanted. But it will probably be absolutely someone’s jam. Just maybe not in a pandemic. Never mind!

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Cover of Untames

Now back at the start of the year I did a round up post of self-help books, and this was one of the ones I didn’t get to back then. Now it may seem like all you can do at the moment is get through the day what with the Quarantimes and the ‘Rona, but my library hold came in so I got stuck in to this. Glennon Doyle had built a successful career as a Christian mommy blogger and motivational speaker, but while on book tour for her book about the how she and her husband saved their marriage after infidelity and betrayal, she looked across the room, saw a woman and fell in love. Untamed is the story of what happened next, and how she built a new life. Now this isn’t exactly a recommendation, because I am not the target audience for this and I don’t think I’m implementing anything from this book into my life. Back in that January post, I wrote that Rachel Hollis’s book was Not What I Was Looking For and this is much less preachy than this, but it’s still aiming at a target audience that is Not Me, but it is an interesting read, and could serve as a template for the aforementioned Rachel Hollis on how to pivot your career when the thing about your life that made your name is suddenly gone.

 

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews for the rest of the year: July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from August: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, V for Victory, The Moonflower Murders, Daring and the Duke and The Great Godden.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be)

Book of the Week, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth

Weird week in reading really. Tried a new series, finished another series, read some self-help/empowerment, continued my binge of Inspector Littlejohn. Didn’t finish a few other things I should have done, and didn’t like the new Kevin Kwan enough to write about it here. So. This is not quite a new release – but nearly. It came out in July, but of course I have only just got to it because: reading slump, indecision, too much choice etc.

Cover of the Miseducation of Evie Epworth

It’s 1962, and sixteen-year-old Evie is standing on the edge of adulthood, but the fastest milk bottle delivery girl in East Yorkshire doesn’t know what to do with her life.  She’s dreaming of the bright lights of London, but she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and her two Adam Faith posters (brooding Adam and sophisticated Adam) don’t have any answers for her. But before she can go anywhere, she has a few problems demanding her attention: her widowed father has fallen prey to a much younger woman, who Evie is fairly sure is a gold digger – and it’s putting the family farm under threat. In her quest to save the family, she makes friends with one of her neighbours and starts to discover life beyond rural England.

This took me a bit longer to get into than I was expecting, but once I was in, I was in. There was some early talk of magic and spells that threw me because it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it sorted itself out quite fast. I liked Evie’s voice and I really enjoyed discovering her world. It’s written as her diary, which means there’s a lot of fun as a reader in spotting the stuff that she’s missing because of her age and (relative) innocence. All the side characters are well drawn, and often hilarious, and I really enjoyed watching Evie’s future come together and seeing how everything worked out. It’s not perfect, but it’s lots of fun and laugh out loud funny at times. I’ll be looking to see what Matson Taylor writes next.

My copy of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth came from NetGalley, but it is a bargain 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment. It’s also out in audiobook and hardback and as it has got some quite impressive names on the blurbs and it’s a Radio 2 book club book so I’m hoping it’ll be easy to find in stores. And the cover is great so you should be able to spot it fairly easily if it is there.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from July

Another month, another batch of minireviews. There was a lot of author binging at the end of the month which made this a little tricker to write than usual, but I think there are some good options here for people looking for beach-y holiday reads!

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Cover of One to Watch

Bea is a plus-sized fashion blogger who goes viral after writing a blog about the lack of body diversity on a TV dating show. When she’s invited to be the star of the next series, it seems like an opportunity to take her career to the next level as well as trying to change representation on TV. But there’s no chance she’s going to fall in love. Now from that summary it sounds like it’s a romance, but it’s a but more complicated than that – for large parts of the book I wasn’t sure how any of this was going to manage to work out happily ever after for Bea. It did mostly/sort of get there in the end – but don’t go in there expecting a traditional/normal contemporary romance. It’s a little bit closer to some of the late 90s early 00s women’s fiction that I used to love – but they were all much more comedic than this is.  But it’s fun and would be great to read on the beach and even though I’ve only ever seen about 15 minutes of The Bachelor/Bachelorette (I’m from the UK) it still worked for me!

Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

Cover of The Constant Rabbit

I wrote about my love of the Thursday Next series earlier in the Quarantimes, but this is a standalone novel from Jasper Fforde, although like his previous book Early Riser, there are commonalities with the series. But this is Fforde’s response to the current political and social moment in the UK, and as I saw him say somewhere (Instagram? his website?), it’s not subtle. But it’s also absolutely Jasper Fforde. It’s absurd, it’s funny and he’s managed to make a world where there are six foot anthropomorphised rabbits (and a few other species) seem absolutely real and plausible. I think if you like Fforde’s previous books, this is a continuation of the same sort of thing he’s been doing there, but with a different twist. It’ll make you think as well as make you laugh, and it is utterly mad at times. Maybe not the best place to start with Fforde’s work (and again I point you at The Eyre Affair), unless you’re used to reading alternative world fantasy/spec fiction.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Cover of the Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires

This is a supernatural thriller set in the 90s about a book club that ends up trying to protect its community from a vampire. It’s got a lot of buzz and given that as a teen my bedroom walls were plastered with posters of Angel and Spike due to my deep and abiding love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we’re currently on a rewatch and are mid season three, the last great season) I thought it might be just what I needed in July. It turned out not to be – but not because it’s bad, but because it’s too much over towards the horror side of things for me! I liked the start and the set up, but as soon as it got into the vampire-y stuff, it was Not For Verity. But if you like horror movies of the 90s – and bear in mind that I’m too wimpy for any of them so I can’t give you actual parallels, but I want to say Scream – then this will probably be absolutely your summer reading jam.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Cover of The Radium Girls

I actually finished this on Saturday night, but as it was in progress for all of July (and more!) I’m counting it here. The Radium Girls is the true stories of a group of women in the US in the first half of the 20th century who painted watch dials with Radium to make them luminous and suffered horrendous health consequences because of it. Spoiler: a lot of them died, and died very young and in a lot of pain. But their long and difficult fight to find out what was wrong with them and to get compensation when it became clear there was no cure, changed worker safety regulations and affected research into nuclear bombs and saved a lot of lives. This is really hard to read – which is why it took me so long to read it – but it’s so well told. The stories of the women are heartbreaking and upsetting, but their courage in fighting their illness and for compensation are inspiring.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from July: Here for It, The Chiffon Trenches, Hello World and Not Your Sidekick.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be)

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!