Review: What Would Mary Berry Do?

Out today (that’s Thursday 31st July) is this great chick-lit novel by Claire Sandy.  If you’re a Great British Bake-Off fan, this may be the book for you if you’re getting panicky before the start of the new series next week.  And if you’re not a baker or a cook, What Would Mary Berry Do? may still be the beach book for you this summer.

WWMBD and other books

What Would Mary Berry Do? and some of my Bernadette Strachan collection…

So, first, the setup: After a disastrous school bake sale, Marie Dunwoody decides that by this time next year it will be different.  With a Mary Berry Baking Bible in hand, she sets out to conquer cakes – and change her outlook on life thinking “What Would Mary Berry Do?”  At the same time, husband Robert is struggling with office politics – where a muffin is worth more than sales figures and son Angus is struggling with problems at school – something his nine-year old twin sisters are determined to get to the bottom off…

I loved the cast of characters in this book – the Dunwoody family are a hoot and there’s a set of fully rounded supporting characters too, I particularly loved Marie’s employees at her dental surgery.  The different strands of the plot work very well – and whilst I was frequently laughing, I also had a tear in my eye at one point too.  You don’t have to be into making your own baked goods to enjoy either – the plot and characters are engaging enough to interest people who don’t know their Croquembouche from their Crème Anglaise.

The blurb says it’s ideal for fans of Jenny Colgan and I’d agree with that – but I’d also add that fans of Trisha Ashley and Alexandra Brown would probably enjoy this one too – and anyone who likes their chick lit with a dose of humour.  And as Claire Sandy is a pen name for the fabulous Bernadette Strachan, if you haven’t read any of her work, can I point you in the direction of my favourite of hers – The Reluctant Landlady – where you’ll find loveable characters (Bing! Bernard!), a great plot, lots of humour but a bit less baking.

I’m hoping you’ll be able to get hold of a copy of What Would Mary Berry Do at all good bookshops, but in case you can’t get to an actual shop, here it is on Foyles website and Kindle.  I’m hoping it will do really well – it’s my favourite book I’ve read this month.

Review: American Blonde

A busy week here on the blog – because a lot of my advance copies come out this week!  Today I’m doing American Blonde by Jennifer Niven (published this very day) and tomorrow is my favourite book of the month so far (and there isn’t much reading time left in July) – What Would Mary Berry Do?

So I discovered a little way into this book that there have been three previous books featuring the leading character Velva Jean, which I of course haven’t read.  And that did explain the start which seemed to plunge you right into Velva Jean’s life without giving you much detail about what is clearly a fairly complicated back story!  But that said, I don’t think you need to have read the previous stories to enjoy this one – I haven’t (duh) and I still liked it.

Velva Jean Hart returns to the US after serving in the WASP as a pilot in Europe.  She’s had some adventures there (about which I’m hazy and I wouldn’t want to give away anyway) and is a war heroine.  She’s promptly snapped up by Hollywood giant MGM after the publicity surrounding her return.  At the studio, she joins up with one of her former WASP colleagues –  who is a film star – and navigates the tricky waters of stardom, with a new name, a new image and a studio who wants to control every aspect of her life.  But when she witnesses a suspicious death and starts to investigate, she discovers how far the powers-that-be will go to maintain Hollywood’s perfect image.

I picked this on Net Galley because I have a bit of a fascination with studio-system-era Hollywood – and it really delivered.  I loved the studio intrigue, the cover-ups and the machinations, although with such a huge cast of characters – many of whom had stage names – I did occasionally find it a little hard to keep track of who was who. I did like the leads, although I felt like I was missing out a little bit on the back story to some of them, which would have explained why she preferred one suitor rather than the one that I liked best!

But this is a really good read – and if you’re a fan of Hollywood’s Golden Age there’s plenty for you here, but equally, I think the murder mystery is good enough to hold your interest even if you’re not fascinated by the machinations of the studio system.  Once I’ve got the to-read pile more under control I may well try and go back and read some of Velva Jean’s previous adventures.

American Blonde is available through Foyles and Amazon although I can’t see it as an e-book in the UK.  My copy was provided by Net Galley in return for an honest review.

The Week In Books: July 21 – July 27

Not a good week.  I don’t know what went wrong.  I was so excited about #Sunathon but somewhere in the week it all went off the rails.  I had Monday and Tuesday off – and The Boy was off too so we had two lovely days together – but I didn’t do much reading.  Then I was away for work for a couple of days – and couldn’t take the Kate Williams with me because it’s a hard back and just takes up too much space.  Wednesday went really well though – as I read all of What Would Mary Berry do but on Thursday I was out at the theatre after work and didn’t read anything much at all.  Then on Friday afternoon I got rained on in my lunchbreak and on my way to the station after work and ended up reading bits of several different things on the way home from work and not really making any progress much on anything.  Then on top of that a busy weekend where I didn’t really read anything and this is where we’re at…

Read:

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

What Would Mary Berry Do by Claire Sandy

Started:

The Storms of War by Kate Williams

Tickled Pink by Christina Jones

The Beach Hut Next Door by Veronica Henry

Still reading:

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

American Blonde by Jennifer Niven

 And as far as book acquisition goes, a copy of a book that I’ve won appeared in the post – and I’ve ordered a few more, but they haven’t turned up yet, so I’m not sure whether to count them in the total or not… Oh and the Christina Jones that I started was a Kindle Freebie this week.  I’m trying not to think about the state of the July stats after this week.  Here’s hoping this week coming (four day shifts, home every night) is better.

Series I Love: Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood

Here it is finally – the post about Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series that I’ve been promising for so long!

Phryne was my discovery of the year in 2013 – I read the first book, Miss Phyrne Fisher Investigates* on June 1 last year – and by September I’d read the first 18 books in the series (books 19 and 20 took a bit longer because they initially fell outside my Kindle book cost limit as they were so new – although I stretched my limits on occasion for some of the others) reading them almost in one sitting.  I’ve just re-read the whole lot to see if they’re as good second time around – and they really are.

So who is Phryne?  Well  firstly, it’s pronounced Fry-knee (not Frinn as I had it in my head until she told some one how to say it!) and the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher is a 1920s aristocrat, who spent her childhood in poverty in Melbourne before her father came into his title.  She returned to Australia in her mid-twenties to investigate a mystery for a friend of the family (and to get away from said family).  She liked Melbourne so much that she stayed and has established herself as a Private detective.  She’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s brave, she knows what she wants – and she has the money to do it.

There aren’t a lot of (good) female leading ladies in historical detective fiction**.  This is mostly because for the vast majority of history women haven’t really had the power to do much on their own – and it’s hard to construct realistic stories around what they would have been able to accomplish.  From this point of view, Kerry Greenwood has done a perfect job in creating Phryne.  The post-war period brought greater freedom for women, particularly if you had money – which Phryne does.  Greenwood has also given her a stonking – and realistic – back story which explains why Phryne has the attitudes that she does and also creates openings for stories that aren’t too far fetched.

And in a genre where men often get all the action in the bedroom, Phryne more than holds her own.  She may on occasion pine for a man – but not to marry, she just wants them in her bed!  Her lovers rarely last more than a book – but they always leave on good terms. Lin Chung is the notable exception to this rule – but I’m not going to tell much more than that because I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Like every good detective, Phryne has a gaggle of loyal helpers including her maid Dot (frequently described as a “good girl” who tries not to be scandalised by her employer), her adopted daughters (picked up during a case) and Bert and Cec, the wharfies-cum-taxi drivers-cum-red raggers.  And as she’s not actually a policeman, she has her own Inspector Japp in the form of Inspector Jack Robinson and his constable, Hugh Collins.

I don’t know a lot about inter-war Australia, but I can’t remember a jarring word or phrase in the books, and rarely has anything struck me as being too far-fetched.  There’s often a bibliography at the end to reassure you that the author really has done her homework. In fact the more I read about what people could get up to in the 1920s (Kenya’s Happy Valley, some of the Bright Young Thing’s antics), the more I think that Kerry Greenwood’s been positively restrained!

So, in short, if you like your period crime novels with strong heroines, interesting plots and a little bit of bedroom action (fairly subtle, not too graphic) and you haven’t read any of Phryne’s adventures, may I point you in the direction of Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates in paperback or on Kindle.  She’s well worth it.

 

*  The first book was originally published as Cocaine Blues – I’m assuming they changed it for the UK market to make it clearer that it’s the first in the series.  I can’t think of any other reason.  It’s still called Cocaine Blues in Australia.

**I’m planning posts on some of my other favourites as well – and I’m always looking for recommendations – please leave a comment if you have suggestions for more that I should read.

The Man Booker Longlist

You’ll remember a few weeks back I spoke about my poor record with Booker-nominated books and their authors and my pledge to do better. Since then I’ve read one of the Muriel Spark’s from my backlog and then got distracted by upcoming new releases and #Sunathon.  Well today the Booker Longlist is out and I thought I’d check whether this year’s nominees increase my hit rate!

As five of the list haven’t been published yet, I think I can be forgiven for not having read them, and there’s one book on here that I actually already had on my to read list (but not the pile!) and that is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, who is one of three authors on the list who I’ve read books by.  And I need all of those three (the others are Siri Hustvedt and David Nicholls) to make the shortlist because it would really improve my record, with no extra effort from me.  Of the other authors, I’ve got an Ali Smith waiting to be read – and I really should read some David Mitchell.  As for the rest, I need to go away and read about them and read some reviews and decide which I might want to read and then wait for the Kindle discounts to come around!

The Longlist in full:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour  by Joshua Ferris

The Narrow Road to the Deep North  by Richard Flanagan

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

J  by Howard Jacobson

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Us by David Nicholls

The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

Orfeo  by Richard Powers

How to be Both  by Ali Smith

History of the Rain by Niall Williams

The Week In Books: July 14 – July 20

Slightly derailed by an unexpected nightshift on Friday night but an unexpected Saturday evening at home meant I finished Bill Bryson which made everything look a lot better.   This week coming up is #sunathon – as dreamt up by @EmmaIsWriting – so I’ve put together some summery reads I’m hoping to be reading this week – you can look at them here.

Read:

Death Cloud (Young Sherlock Holmes 1) by Andrew Lane

Tiger Milk by Stephanie de Velasco

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

How the Scoundrel Seduces by Sabrina Jeffries

One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson

Started:

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

American Blonde by Jennifer Niven

Still reading:

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Now as regular readers will know, nightshifts usually mean book buying in the early hours.  Well I resisted – this time the impulse buying was from ASOS’s sale…  So the bank balance did suffer – but not with a book splurge – which is an achievement!  Several arrived in the post – a twitter competition prize from Doubleday for #bookadayuk, a Goodreads review copy of The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House (which isn’t due out until the very end of August so I feel very special to have that one) and Clare Sandy’s What Would Mary Berry Do which is out at the end of the month (and which the author sent to me so I’m very excited about that too).  I’ve been through my diary marking up when the various books I’ve been sent ahead of publication are due out – in the hope that I’ll schedule posts for the appropriate times – I think there’s nothing more annoying than finding out about a really good book that someone else has read and not being able to get hold of a copy yourself!

#Sunathon

Emma Louise over on her eponymous blog has come up with the fabulous idea of the #Sunathon which is all about encouraging people all over the world to take time and make time to read.  It starts tomorrow (Monday) so I’m hopping onto that this week – and I’ve come up with a list of summery books that I have sitting on the to-read pile (or in the unread folder on the Kindle) that I’m going to be reading this week and wanted to share them with you (as I’ve found the best way to make sure I actually read what I say I’m going to is to put it down in writing so I can’t sneak off and do something different!) I can’t promise to get through them all but I’ll try.  So the books on the #sunathon list are:

Unfinished Symphony of You and Me by Lucy Robinson

What Would Mary Berry Do by Claire Sandy

The Beach Hut Next Door by Veronica Henry

Longbourn by Jo Baker

The Storms of War by Kate Williams

Books and the sunlounger

The Physical part of the #Sunathon to-read pile and my sunlounger

You’ll notice that several of these are recent releases or due for release in the next couple of weeks, so hopefully there may be some reviews of them coming up too.  For now though, follow my progress over on Twitter – I’m @WildeV and join the conversation or even join in yourself using #sunathon.

Apologies for this brief spurt of posting – I meant to post the Children’s/Young Adult blog earlier in the week and time got away with me somewhat.  I do try and space my posts out, but to do that I need to actually schedule them when I write them not just save them in drafts *headdesk*