The Week In Books: September 22 – September 28

 

Read:

Three Bedrooms, One Corpse by Charlaine Harris

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris

The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry

Started:

Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton

Unbefitting a Lady by Bronwyn Scott

Still reading:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Review: The Rosie Effect

I’ll start by saying that Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project is possibly my favourite book that I’ve read so far this year.  I’ve leant it to my sister, my mum and my dad – and they’ve all loved it.  Don Tillman is one of my new favourite fictional characters – and I loved his “journey” in The Rosie Project.  Thus it was with excitement mingled with trepidation that approached its sequel – The Rosie Effect.  I’ve had mixed results with sequels – so my overriding thought going into this was “please don’t have messed this up Mr Simsion”.

The Book picks up around 10 months after the end of The Rosie Project, with Don and Rosie married and living in New York.  One day as they’re sitting down to dinner, Rosie tells Don they have “something to celebrate” and suddenly he has a whole new host of challenges to negotiate on the road to fatherhood – and yes I know that’s a slight spoiler – but hey – this is one of the posters that Penguin are using:

Twitter poster for The Rosie Effect

So as you might imagine, the prospect of fatherhood poses a whole lot of questions for Don – who takes life very literally and isn’t great with social conventions.  I don’t want to say too much more than that, because I think anything else I add is going to be a bit of a spoiler!

The problem with a lot of sequels is that to create a plot, the author needs to create some drama in a relationship, and on this front the idea of a baby is a good one – it’s a logical next step for Don and Rosie and doesn’t feel forced.  And with the addition of adjusting to life in a new country where there are new rules to learn there is plenty of potential for drama.  However some of the things that happen to Don as a result of the pregnancy do seem a little far fetched and some of Rosie’s behaviour didn’t seem to sit quite right with the Rosie of the first book.

But I still enjoyed it – and I wonder if my reservations are because my hopes were so high.  Looking at it the other way though, would I have liked the book so much if I hadn’t read the first one?  I think probably not – because I needed the investment in the characters that I’d already built up.

So, is it as good as the Rosie Project?  No.  Is it a satisfying sequel for those of us who loved the original?  Well yes – I think so.  After a few rocky moments in the middle – and towards the end – I finished up happy with the outcome.  If you haven’t met Don and Rosie before – go and read the Rosie Project first – but, overall, he didn’t mess it up.

My copy of The Rosie Effect came from NetGalley in return for an honest review – but I suspect it’s going to be widely available from all the usual outlets – like Foyles or on Kindle or you can find it on my shelf at My Independent Bookshop.

The Week In Books: September 15 – September 21

Not a bad week really – a few of last week’s books finished, a few more read despite the nightshift for the referendum results.

Read:

Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne

The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy

Cockatiels at Seven by Donna Andrews

A Piece of Cake by Trisha Ashley (short story)

The Luxe by Anna Godberson

Fools Gold by Philippa Gregory

A Knight In Shining Armour by Jude Deveraux

Started:

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

Still reading:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

I ordered a couple of books this week – but the good news for the pile is that my purchasing orgy of the other week was decreed “undeliverable” by the courier and returned to sender (don’t get me started, I get very ranty about this), the bad news is that I’ve re-ordered some them and then some more…

Scottish-set books

In honour of the referendum today (I’m very excited as I’m working on the coverage overnight – but think of my poor partner having to put up with my moodiness afterwards) I thought I’d put together some of my favourite Scottish set books.

We’ll start with a classic of its genre – The 39 Steps – which you can get for Free on your Kindle. If you haven’t read this adventure caper – where Richard Hannay attempts to escape spies – you really should.  It’s a bit like an Indiana Jones film but a book, set pre-World War One and in Scotland rather than than somewhere more exotic.  Definitely worth a look – and the play version in London is a hoot (if not at all the same feel!).

Moving on to cozy crime and M C Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series.  There are 30 novels about the perpetually single-but-romantic-yet-indecisive policeman and his flock in the village of Loch Dubh.  You don’t need to start at the beginning with Death of a Gossip (although it helps with keeping track of Hamish’s romantic entanglements) and they’re all fun (if increasingly formulaic) detective capers as murders crop up in lazy Hamish’s vicinity.

Falling in love with a Highlander (or being thrown together with one) is a popular theme historical romance.  It is, however, one that I struggle with.  I don’t know why, but they give me the giggles and the internal cringes if you know what I mean.  The men tend to be particularly thick headed and the women a bit shrill and irritating.  But then I haven’t read that many of them – I’m sure there are many excellent examples (leave your suggestions in the comments!) – as even reading the blurbs for some of them makes me embarrassed to read historical fiction.  So I’m offering you one recommendation – Julia Quinn’s When He Was Wicked – which to my memory includes no kilts, caber tossing or haggis, just a Scottish earl, who is in love with his cousin’s widow.  This was one of the very earliest of Quinn’s books that I read, and it is still one of my favourites.  A good blend of old school romance in the style of Georgette Heyer and the sexy bits that you never got from her!

And for a modern Scottish set romance, I give you Katie Fforde’s Highland Fling – about Virtual Assistant Jenny Porter who goes on a business trip to assess a failing Highland textile mill after a fight with her boyfriend.  Jenny manages to get thoroughly wrapped up in the village life – as her personal life gets more and more complicated.  A lovely read for a cold night in front of the fire – and yes, I know it’s not winter yet, but it’s definitely coat weather at the station at 4.15 in the morning now, so I’m including it!

It wouldn’t be a list from me if I didn’t get a bit of Lord Peter Wimsey into it, so I have to mention Five Red Herrings – which is the novel between Strong Poison and Have His Carcase and sees Peter on holiday to Scotland (one suspects to escape after the stress of the Vane case) and stumbles across a murder.  Its a complicated tale, involving artists and train timetables amongst many things – and if you’ve read Busman’s Honeymoon (I think, it’s a Harriet novel anyway) the source of the quote about “a murderer eating two breakfasts to lend verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative.”

So there you are – some Scottish themed reading to add to your list.  On my list of Scottish-set books to read are: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (the first is Cross Stitch) which several friends have recommended and has just been turned into a TV series and Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street.

Review: The Honeymoon Hotel

Today’s review is Hester Browne’s latest book The Honeymoon Hotel – which was out last week in the UK and I’m reviewing today because NetGalley was showing the US release date and I didn’t realise…

I’ll start by saying that Hester Browne creates the sort of characters and lives that I love.  I adored Melissa/Honey from the Little Lady Agency* and Evie from Vintage Girl (or Swept Off Her Feet depending on when you bought it) is a hoot.  Browne also creates worlds that I wish I could be a part of – a bit posh, filled with glamour and balls and parties but in a subtle, achievable way – you can believe that you too could be part of a world like that with a bit of luck and hard work (and better networking skills).

The Honeymoon Hotel is the story of Rosie, who at the start of the novel is unceremoniously left at the altar**, and her life as an events coordinator (mostly weddings) at a posh, glamorous, retro-in-a-Golden-Age-of-Hollywood way hotel in London.  She’s angling for a promotion, but her plans are thrown off track by the arrival of the owner’s son Joe to learn the business…

I *really* enjoyed The Honeymoon Hotel – once again, Browne has created a world that you believe in and characters that you buy into – I was rooting for Rosie all the way through and wanted it to turn out “right” for her.  I’m quite a shy person in real life and not good with crowds of strange people, but I found myself thinking “Oooh.  Hotel events planning, that sounds like so much fun” as I read about Rosie’s job at the hotel.  I loved the supporting characters as well, and although he gave me the pip at first, as I got to know him I really liked Joe.  I would liked to have find out more about his dad Lawrence (and what he was up to when he kept disappearing) and I wanted a little bit more comeuppance for one character who shall remain nameless in the interests of avoiding spoilers.

If you haven’t read any of Hester Browne’s books before, this might be an ideal place to start – a quirky and interesting set up, an engaging central character and a cast of characters that all seem perfectly real and plausible.  I could have read about them for twice as long – and could happily have coped with another chapter or an epilogue of what happened next.

My copy of The Honeymoon Hotel came from Netgalley in return for an honest review – although I’ll probably buy myself a copy of the paperback so that I can put it on an actual shelf next to her other books! You can buy Honeymoon Hotel from all the usual suspects like Foyles, Waterstones, on Kindle, if you’re in the US on Amazon.com or in a new twist, you can buy it through my page on My Independent Book Shop so a portion of the sale goes to an independent book shop near me – and where you can also buy other books that I’ve reviewed recently.  I’m hoping that Honeymoon Hotel will be widely available in the supermarkets as well and that it will do really well.

 

* It’s a measure of how much I love Hester Browne’s characters, voice and world that I’m still coming back despite my disappointment with the third Little Lady book.  Although I will say that the first book appeared at a time when I wanted a boyfriend who didn’t make me sleep in a tent for holidays or sneer at my theatre habits and in consequence I possibly over-identified and over-invested in the central relationship, and so the third book pushed me into a rant on the scale of certain elements of the True Blood fans at the end of that series.

**The regulars amongst you will notice that this is my second book in a week featuring a hotel with a worker who was jilted. You wait ages for a book about a hotel and then… etc

The Week In Books: September 8 – September 14

Lots of stuff started, not as much stuff finished this week – mostly because I was at the theatre four evenings! I felt like a bit of a gadabout – but it was fabulous.

Read:

Shakespeare’s Trollop by Charlaine Harris

Shakespeare’s Counsellor by Charlaine Harris

Bad Bridesmaid by Portia MacIntosh

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell

Rock Courtship by Nalini Singh

Started:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne

The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy

Still reading:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The bright side is that whilst I haven’t read a lot, I haven’t bought anything either after last week’s orgy of purchasing!

Follow-on books

Two things conspired to make me write this post this week – firstly the publication of Sophie Hannah’s Poirot continuation The Monogram Murders and secondly the arrival in the post of The Chalet Girls Grow up – a follow on to my favourite school story series that I’ve long hesitated over reading that a friend has lent me.

Why have I been worried about reading it?  Well the reviews on Amazon are pretty polarised shall we say, and I have a bad track record for dealing with outcomes that I don’t like in books.  As I’ve mentioned before, there’s one of my previous favourite books I can hardly bring myself to read any more after the author (in my opinion) messed up the ending to the final book in the series.  I’ve since “forgiven” the author – I still read and look forward to her new books, but I can’t get past the ending to the third book when reading the first.  So, I thought, why run the risk of ruining the Chalet School?

So what’s changed?  Well there have been hints recently that my attitudes are changing – dare I say maturing.  I read the Sebastian Faulks Jeeves and Wooster novel at the start of this year – and although I thought the writing style was pretty spot on, I wasn’t keen on the plot or on the outcome (if you know what I mean).  But it hasn’t stopped me returning to my “proper” Wodehouse books.   But I don’t love Bertie and his butler the way that I do the Chalet School.

I do love the Peter Wimsey books though – it’s not as long standing a passion, but if you set me going, I think I could recite large chunks of Busman’s Honeymoon and in the last week I’ve listened to the audio book of Strong Poison and the radio plays of Have His Carcase, Murder Must Advertise and Gaudy Night.  And a few years ago I read two the Jill Paton Walsh Wimsey continuations – Thrones, Dominations and The Attenbury Emeralds. The first I thought was ok, if more sordid than Wimsey novels usually are and more packed with returning characters, the second I was disappointed in – I haven’t read the third or the fourth.  But it (clearly) hasn’t stopped me loving the originals.  There was nothing in there that ruined my enjoyment of Peter’s other cases.

I’ve also recently read my first Chalet School “fill-in” title (lent to me by the same friend who’s sent me Grow Up), that’s a book by a different author that fills in a gap in the series. I quite liked the plot, I didn’t think it was entirely “right” but it didn’t bother me enough to stop me from finishing it – and I’d read some more if I get a chance to.  I’ve also read really quite a lot of Pride and Prejudice follow-ons/retellings – some that I’ve hated (Emma Tennant’s Pemberley) and some which I’ve enjoyed (P D James’ Death Comes To Pemberley) and I’ve another (Jo Baker’s Longbourn) waiting on the pile – and they haven’t dimmed my liking for the original.  In fact some of them, have given me a good laugh – although that probably wasn’t what the author intended.

So – I think I’m prepared to risk both the Poirot continuation and the Chalet Girls Grow Up. If you find me in a puddle weeping, you’ll know that I’ve completely miscalculated and have Ruined It All For Ever.

Feel free to share your follow-on novel stories and recommendations in the comments – are there any others that you think I should definitely read?