Best of..., book round-ups

Recommendsday: My favourite books of 2020

Well, it’s the first Wednesday of 2021, so I’m popping up with my favourite books of 2020. And for the first time (I think) they’re all books that were new in 2020. Which is a surprise to me. But hey, there were some really good new books out last year – and as I mentioned in my post on Sunday, one of the big casualties of 2020 in my bookish life has been the chance to wander around bookshops and happen across books. My bookshop discoveries were often backlist books rather than new releases – and it’s been harder to find that sort of book in the Quarantimes. Hopefully in 2021 I’ll actually be able to wander a bookshop again, and next year I can go back to doing favourite new releases and favourite backlist again. Pretty please.

Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This was Book of the Week back in September and not only is it my favourite murder mystery of the year, I’ve been recommending it all over the place – and everyone who has told me they have read it has loved it. And it’s sold like gangbusters – if you only got one book for Christmas this year, it may well have been this because it has sold a whole tonne of copies – including being the number one book for Christmas. But don’t be put off by that – and think it’s over hyped. It is just so much fun. The mystery is twisty, it’s got a wonderful cast of characters and why wouldn’t you want to read a murder mystery solved by a group of scheming residents of a retirement village. Just lovely. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

 

I talked about Brit Bennett’s second novel back in June and the story of the Vignes sisters has really stuck with me. Stella and Desiree are identical twins, but after they run away from their small town home at the age of 16 their lives take radically different directions. Stella passes as white as she tries to build herself a better future – and spends her life looking over her shoulder – and Desiree escapes an abusive relationship only to find herself back where she started, but with a child in tow. But somehow the sisters lives always end up being intertwined. As you read it the language and the clever structure enthralls you and once it’s over it leaves you with a lot to think about. 

Legendary Children by Tom and Lorenzo

I read a lot of non-fiction last year, and I was having a hard time picking my favourite, but then the new series of Drag Race started, and my choice became obvious. Tom and Lorenzo’s book uses Drag Race as a framing device to look at queer life and how the show turns that into addictive TV. It’s well researched, incredibly readable with a really fun snarky tone – like their blog. This came out in March last year, and as I said in my BotW review back then I learnt so much from it. It’s enhanced my enjoyment of the show – and it’s meant that I can look super knowledgable. A total win. My only regret is lending my copy out – and not getting it back before everything started to lock down again!

V for Victory by Lissa Evans*

Cover of V for Victory

In the dying days of the Second World War, Vee Sedge and her “ward” Noel are just about making ends meet in their house on Hampstead Heath thanks to a strange assortment of lodgers and a more than a bit of good luck. When having to attend court threatens to bring their life crashing down, they need all of their skills and cunning to keep the show on the road. V for Victory is the third book featuring Noel and his eccentric extended family and carries on from after Crooked Heart (Old Baggage was set before Crooked Heart) and I don’t know what more I can say about how much I love them. The books have a wonderful spirit and a real sense of the shades of grey and contradictions in people and of wartime. And it’s funny and will also make you cry. Lovely stuff. I’ve got the paperback preordered so that I can lend it around.

Take a Hint Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Cover of Take a Hint Dani Brown

The sequel to Get a Life Chloe Brown, is a fake relationship with a social media twist. I loved #DrRugbae – Zaf is a sweetie and Dani is total competence porn and watching the two of them rub each others hard edges off (ooo-er) is a delight. Talia Hibbert writes wonderful British-set contemporary romances – something I’ve really struggled to find and enjoy this year. This did everything I wanted it to and narrowly beat out it’s predecessor for BotW when I read them both in the same week in June. The third book is out in March – and I’ve got it preordered.

And there you have it. Five of my favourite books from 2020. Honourable mentions go to Bad Blood, Love Lettering, Her Last Flight, and the latest books in the Veronica Speedwell, Rivers of London and Vinyl Detective series’ – all of which I’ve already written about ad nauseum over the years.

 

 

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, fiction, historical, new releases

Book of the Week: V for Victory

So as mentioned yesterday, a bit of a strange week of reading last week, but today’s BotW pick was a real joy. And for the second week in a row, it’s a book that’s actually coming out in the next few days. So I am both timely and slightly ahead of the game. Make a note, it doesn’t happen often – and two weeks in a row is a real rarity!

Cover of V for Victory

It’s 1944 and in their house on Hampstead Heath, Vee Sedge and her fifteen year old “ward” Noel are just about scraping by with a house full of lodgers selected for what they can teach Noel more than their ability to pay. When Vee witnesses a road accident and is called to court disaster beckons – as Vee is not actually the person she is pretending to be. As the household tries not to get its hopes up too far that the end of the war is in sight, Noel and Vee move towards a new future.

This is the third (and final?) book about this group of characters and ties together the story of Noel and Vee as we saw them in Crooked Heart, with Mattie from Old Baggage. I’ve written several different sentences to explain that fact and have settled on that slightly vague one as being the way not to give too much away about the other two. Now you could read this standalone, but you’ll get so much more from this if you’ve read the other two. And why wouldn’t you want to read the other two – Crooked Heart is Goodnight Mr Tom but if Mr Tom was the female equivalent of Private Walker and Old Baggage is about a feisty but ageing former suffragette looking for a new cause to fight for. Both were books of the week here, that’s how much Iiked them – and liked this to be coming back for a third mention!

V for Victory is funny and warm and moving and made me cry at the end. I mean what more could you want from a book? It also does really well at capturing the shades of grey of wartime – and of people in general. It’s just wonderful and a perfect read for a grey and miserable day. And we’ve had a few of those in the last week. I mean I’m writing this on the train to work, wearing welly boots and with a mac because it’s raining like it’s November in mid-August!

My copy of V for Victory came from NetGalley , but I’ll be buying a paperback once that comes out so I have the set. It’s out on Thursday in hardback (here’s a Foyles link), Kindle and Kobo. I still haven’t been into a bookshop in person, but I think that the last one was fairly easy to get hold of in bookstores, so I hope this will be too.

Happy Reading!