Book of the Week: The Roanoke Girls

As you may have noticed, I read a lot of books on my holiday.  But actually this week’s BotW was an easy choice because Him Indoors read The Roanoke Girls after me and really enjoyed it too – and he doesn’t read anywhere near as many books as me and our tastes don’t always coincide.

The Roanoke Girls

My very pretty ARC of The Roanoke Girls – which has all sorts of nice touches to it

Lane Roanoke goes to live with her grandparents and her cousin Allegra after her mother’s suicide.  They live on a large estate in Kansas and are top of the town hierarchy.  But Lane only spends one summer there. 11 years later, Lane returns to the estate after Allegra goes missing.  Roanoke girls have a history – they either run away or they die.  Which has happened to Allegra and what is the dark secret that threatens the Roanoke girls?

I can’t say any more than that about the plot – because it will spoil it.  This has been billed as a provocative thriller – and I’d agree.  It’s dark and shocking and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  But I was absolutely and totally engrossed and gripped.  I couldn’t stop turning the pages, even if on occasion it was from between my fingers with horror.  The Roanokes are by turns fascinating and horrifying and it is a great book to read on the beach.  In fact, it’s a great beach book – because if you read it on the sunlounger it will help chase the darkness away.  Although rural Kansas is fairly hot and steamy, so that might not work.

I’m still thinking and digesting it a week on – but I think it might be my go to summer holiday book recommendation.  For people who can cope with the darkness…

I lucked into an advance copy, but the Roanoke Girls is out now in hardback from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones and on Kindle and Kobo.  The paperback is preorderable – but it’s not out until September, which might be too late for your holidays.

Happy Reading!

Books of the Year 2016

Now 2017 is well underway, and I’ve told you about my obsessions, the state of the (enormous) pile, and my #ReadHarder ambitions, it seemed like a good time to finally work out what my favourite books published last year were.  I know.  Everyone else did this weeks ago, but I didn’t want anything really excellent that I might have read at the end of the year to get missed out.  And yes, fractured elbow.  It’s my excuse for everything.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

“Fred!” the nurse said, though they had never met. “How are we today?” Reading the nurse’s name tag, Mr. Bennet replied with fake enthusiasm, “Bernard! We’re mourning the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. How are you?”

Considering how much I loved this book, I have said remarkably little about it on here.  I recommended it in the Christmas gift post and back in the Summer Reads post, but it wasn’t a Book of the Week – because I was expecting to be reviewing it elsewhere.  And I don’t think that adequately conveys how much I adored it.  But Sittenfeld’s modern reworking of Pride and Prejudice is my favourite book of last year.

If the quote at the top makes you laugh or smile (even if it’s only inside because you’re too cool) then you need to read this book.  I’ve read a lot of Austen retellings, reworkings, sequels and the like and this manages to strike a perfect (for me) balance of retelling the story but modernising it so that it feels relevant to today.  Lizzie (nearly 40 rather than 20) and her sisters are trust fund babies in Cincinatti, but the money is running out, their father has medical problems and their mother has a shopping problem.  Darcy is a surgeon, Bingley a reality TV star (don’t let that put you off) and Lydia and Kitty are obsessed with Crossfit.  I want to read it again – but my copy is still out on loan.   The paperback isn’t out until June, but you could pre-order from Amazon or Waterstones and have a lovely treat in the summer, the Kindle and Kobo versions are £5.99 at time of writing or you could go nuts and buy the hardback from Amazon, Foyles or Waterstones – Waterstones was cheapest when I was writing – doing it on click and collect for £7.50 which is a total bargain for a hardback.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad

As I said in my BotW post last month, this book is going to win all the prizes and will be on English Literature sylabuses in years to come.  Cora’s story is incredibly tough to read – and it’s partly the contrast between the realism of the terrible things that are happening and the magical realism of making the Underground Railroad a real, actual railway with stations, and trains that makes this such an incredible read.  And the writing is beautiful.  As you all know, I don’t read a lot of “literary fiction” – and I don’t have a lot of success with books that have been nominated for awards, but I’m so glad I read it – and I’ve been singing its praises to my literary fiction-reading friends.  Still only in hardback I’m afraid, but bizarrely the paperback comes out the same day as Eligible – even though this was released six months later than the Sittenfeld.  Odd.  Anyway.  In hardback from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, on Kindle and Kobo or pre-order the paperback on Amazon or Waterstones.

The Barista’s Guide to Espionage by Dave Sinclair

The Barista's guide to Espionage

The Barista’s guide to Espionage

Yes I know.  You’re sick of my Fahrenheit obsession.  Well tough.  Their books made up nearly 20 percent of my 5 star books last year, so they were bound to figure here.  Sorry, not sorry.  Anyway, this story about Eva Destruction – James Bond and Stephanie Plum’s lovechild – was another BotW and I defy anyone not to enjoy Eva’s battle to try to stop her evil supervillain ex-boyfriend from taking over the world.  It’s an action thriller film in book form but with a smart woman doing the saving not a suave bloke in a suit (he tries, but she’s better than him).  Get it on Kindle or in paperback.

Death of a Nobody by Derek Farrell

From Eva Destruction to Poirot on Poppers, the second Danny Bird book is the second Fahrenheit book on this list.  The first book (Death of a Diva) is funny, but this book feels like a series hitting its stride.  It’s got a great, off-beat cast, zingy one-liners, lashings of sarcasm and an up-and-coming gastro pub with a rising body count and a gangster breathing down Danny’s neck.  I’m recommending this to my friends who read cozy crime who want something that’s not cupcakes, bakeries or crafting.  I can’t wait for book three. Get it on Kindle or in paperback.  You can thank me later.

Grunt by Mary Roach

Grunt by Mary Roach

Grunt by Mary Roach

And this is why I’m glad I wrote this post so very late.  This was the last book I finished in 2016 and it was one of the very best – definitely the best non-fiction book I read last year.  It was BotW last week – so there’s no need for me to say anymore about it really because it’s less than a week since I raved about it at you.  I think it’s going to be this year’s go-to pick for a non fiction book to give as a gift.  Buy it (paperback!) from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones or on Kindle.

And there’s your five. If this had been a top ten the other five would probably have been: Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, Best of Dear Coquette, The Madwoman Upstairs, Carry On (sneaking in because the paperback came out in 2016) and You Can’t Touch My Hair.

Book of the Week: The Underground Railroad

I am not a reader of Award-Winning Books.  See my posts here and here for proof of this — and I don’t think the situation has improved much in the last two years.  But some times you hear so much buzz and chatter about a book that you have to check it out.  Particularly when you luck into a copy of said book.  And Colson Whitehead’s the Underground Railroad was one of those books.  I’d heard everybody on the Bookriot podcasts that I listen to talking about how excited they were for something new from Whitehead – and then about how brilliant it was.  It kept popping up in lists of hotly anticipated books.  It was an Oprah Bookclub pick.  It was on President Obama’s summer reading list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I apologise for my lousy photography, but I really like the cover – with the train tracks snaking around.

The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, a slave on a brutal cotton plantation in Georgia.  Life is more terrible than you can imagine, especially for Cora who is an outcast among her fellow Africans.  When Caesar, a recent arrival at the plantation suggests that they escape together, they take a terrifying risk to try and get to the Underground Railroad.  But it doesn’t go according to plan, and Cora’s journey is fraught with dangers as there are hunters after them, dogging their every move.  In Whitehead’s world the railroad is real – actual trains in tunnels under the southern states with a network of drivers and conductors ferrying runaways to safety.

This is such a powerful book.  It’s beautifully written, but oh so difficult to read – I’ve had to take it in bite-sized chunks so that I can digest it properly – but it’s worth it.  It makes you confront harsh and terrible truths about what people have done to each other and are capable of doing to each other.  But it’s also compelling and personal and page turning and clever.  Whatever I say here, I won’t be able to do it justice.  I still haven’t finished digesting it and I’m going to be thinking about it for some time to come.  It’s going to win all the awards – and it deserves to. It’s already won the National Book Award in the US and is Amazon.com editor’s Number 1 Book of the Year.  In years to come it’s going to be on English Literature syllabuses.  Well, well, well worth your time.

I would expect this to be somewhere prominent on a table or on a front facing shelf in bookshops.  It’s in hardback at the moment – and you can get it from Amazon (out of stock at time of writing, which says a lot), Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.  It might make it into the supermarkets, but I’d be surprised.  The paperback is out in June.  I’m off to read some more of Whitehead’s work.

Happy reading.

Autumn Preview: Update!

A quite while back now (September, yikes) I had a little look ahead to some of the books that I was excited about this autumn.  And now I’ve read a few of my picks, I thought it was time to give you an update in the form of a bonus post…

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (6 October)

I was worried about hating this, but this is neither good Semple or bad Semple – it’s somewhere in between. But the good news here, is that I’ve worked out what I like about Maria Semple’s writing and what I don’t.  I don’t like being inside the head of her female leads – they’re self-centred, middle-aged quirky-to-the-point-of-irritation and they drive me crazy.  But viewed through the eyes of someone else (more normal) they can be funny and touching.  And that’s why I liked …Bernadette – because she’s not there for most of the time and it’s Bee who’s trying to work out what’s going on.   This didn’t make me tear my hair out like This One is Mine did, but it did make me vaguely annoyed.  So lesson for the future:  if Semple’s next book is written from the perspective of  a woman with children then I won’t bother reading it.

The Wangs vs The World by Jade Chang (3 November)

Well I liked this, but I didn’t love it.  May be I was reading it too soon after Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, or maybe the fractured elbow was impeding my sense of humour.  I think my problem is that there wasn’t a family member that I loved – and I wanted to fall in love with one (or more of them).  Each of them has a frustration (or two) about them which stopped me from embracing this as fully as some of the people I’ve heard recommending it have.  It’s a good road trip book and it was funny in places, but it wasn’t hilarious.  And I really wanted it to be.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch (3 November)

I loved this so much. So much.  There’s magic, and the super-rich and posh school kids and all sorts of new complications.  If you like the other books in the series, I suspect you’ll like this – but the overarching story is not finished yet and there is a frustration that comes with that, along with a delight that there should/will be more from Peter and the Folly.  I read it too quickly – once I started reading it that is – and now I suspect I may have a long wait until the next installment appears.  I’ll have to console myself with the graphic novels in the interim.

I still haven’t read Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson (22 September) or How to Party with an Infant by Kuai Hart Hemmings (8 September) because I haven’t managed to get copies of them yet, but I live in hope that one or both of them may appear in my Christmas stocking…

Book of the Week: Earthly Delights

As you may have seen from yesterday’s Week in Books, I had a bit of a strange week reading last week, having trouble settling down to books – and a few that I didn’t like.  But choosing this week’s BotW was easy – Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights.

You might recognise Kerry Greenwood’s name because she’s the author of the Phryne Fisher series of murder mysteries set in 1920s Australia, which I adore and have been turned into a TV series – which I have thoughts about. This the first in her Corinna Chapman series – which is set in present day (or at least present day when they were written a few years back) Melbourne, where Corinna is a speciality baker who runs her own bakery in one of the slightly seedier areas.  The bakery is proving a success, but suddenly she’s getting anonymous letters calling her a whore, a junkie has overdosed in the alley behind her shop, there’s a mysterious but gorgeous man showing an interest in her and her shop assistants are starving themselves to try and get a role on a TV show (any TV show).  She’s determined to get to the bottom of the letters – which are upsetting and scaring her and her friends – and ends up getting sucked in to some of the other drama as well…

Although this is the first in the series, I had already read one of the later books and enjoyed it although I was missing some backstory.  This fills some of those gaps in nicely and sets up the series as well as having an excellent mystery.  Greenwood always creates great settings and quirky characters in the Phryne books – and she does the same here.  Corinna is very different to Phryne, but she’s great fun, smart and warm-hearted, just like Miss Fisher.  Her apartment building is a brilliantly quirky invention – as are many of the people who live there.

I didn’t love this the way that I love Phryne, but in the absence of a new book about the Fabuous Miss Fisher, I’ll happily work my way through these.  I’ve been waiting for either the kindle price or the second hand price to drop on this series for ages – and these have all dropped from over £5 for the Kindle edition to just over £3, which is still on the top end of what I’m prepared to pay for ebooks, but is much more doable.  I shouldn’t really be buying books, but when has that ever stopped me before.  You can pick up your copy on Kindle or Kobo (which isn’t price-matching Amazon at time of writing sadly), in paperback from Amazon (if you’re prepared to shell out £11+ for a new copy or £8+ for a second hand one) or you can trawl the second hand shops because it’s out of stock and un-orderable at both Foyles and Waterstones.

Happy reading.

Book of the Week: The Tumbling Turner Sisters

Sometimes I sit for ages and think about what I’m going to pick for my Book of the Week, but sometimes I just know.  This week is one of the latter – by the time I was halfway through The Tumbling Turner Sisters I was fairly sure it was going to be this week’s pick. And that was on Tuesday.  Sure enough, here it is.

It’s 1919 and Gert, Winnie, Kit and Nell end up performing a vaudeville gymnastics act to try and make ends meet after their father injures his hand and is unable to work as a boot-stitcher.  As they travel around the US they experience the highs and lows of show business, make new friends, encounter prejudice and the seedier side of life.  Told by Winnie and Gert, you see them grow up as well as their differing perspectives on life on tour.

I love historical novels and I’m always looking for new authors who write good ones.  I’ve never read any of Juliette Fay’s books before – although reading the blurbs for them on Goodreads, this looks like it’s not precisely like any of her previous books anyway. This reminded me in some ways of Laurie Graham – who I love – it’s not laugh out loud funny as her characters often are, but there’s a similar tone and slightly sardonic world view.

I  really enjoyed this and although I had a few reservations about the end – which I won’t go into here because spoilers – they weren’t enough to annoy me and drive my overall impression of the book down.  I’ll be looking out for more from Juliette Fay – and maybe working my way through some of her back catalogue too.

You can get The Tumbling Turner Sisters from Amazon – but it’s only in hardcover and it’s not on Kindle at the moment, so I suspect it’s an American import.  Sorry. I try not to do this, but I really did enjoy this so much I wanted to write about it.  I’ll try and pick something easy to find next week!

 

Book of the Week: Northbridge Rectory

A tricky choice for BotW this week – I loved the Ben Aaronovitch that I read last week, but it is the 5th in the series (not including comics) and you really should read them in order.  And I already wrote about the first book Rivers of London in a previous BotW post 11 months ago and I recommended it in one of the Christmas Gift guides.  So it felt a little overkill (so just go buy the first one).  But the latest Angela Thirkell release from Virago was a lot of fun – even if it wasn’t my favourite of hers – but that bar is pretty high!

Northbridge Rectory is the tenth of Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels – they started in the 1930s and by this point we’ve reached the war years.  There are officers billeted at the Rectory, where Mrs Villars is struggling to adapt to life as a Rector’s wife rather than a Headmistress’s wife.  There are some transferable skills though…  Northbridge’s unmarried ladies, widowed ladies and officious ladies are all out in force – taking control of the war effort and trying to assert their authority over each other as best they can.

Thirkell excels in creating believable grotesques – her books fill a similar hole for me as the Mapp and Lucia ones, except that in a Barsetshire novel they are the side dish not the main course.  In this one we get a truly terrible officer’s wife – who has not idea how horrible she is, an old maid who likes to suffer and who has been cultivating a spineless writer who has his own issues,  a vicar who is trying to escape the attentions of his elderly lady parishoners and an officer who doesn’t realise that he’s talking himself into a transfer.

A trip to Barsetshire is always fun and there are some familiar faces here too.  I still think that Summer Half is my favourite – closely followed by High Rising and Pomfret Towers.  I’m thrilled that Virago are reissuing them – even if I’m a little bit annoyed that some of them are e-book only because I wanted a matching set in paperback.  Get your copy from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones or if you don’t want the paperbacks you can get the Kindle edition.  I’m off to make puppy dog eyes at Before Lunch and try to resist breaking the book-buying embargo.