Monthly Archives: May 2018

On (Not) Chick Lit – Summer Reads

In my younger, more foolish years, I was a bit of a book snob. I wouldn’t want to be seen to read anything too populist.

Then I had kids and got over myself. I realised that it’s not just literary style and, dare I say it, a dash of pretentiousness, that makes a ‘good read’. There’s got to be plot to keep you turning the pages, characters you can relate to in some way and are invested in their lives, and a mixture of light and shade, humour and pathos.

And so I stopped being a book snob, and learnt to love good writing, good stories and good books. Regardless of their pastel coloured covers and looped faux-handwritten titles.

Just as my tastes have broadened, so have book jacket designers. ‘Contemporary women’s fiction’ comes in many guises.

Three titles I’ve read recently, in a break from children’s fiction, are certainly worth reading, and come with my recommendation.

Never Greener – Ruth Jones

(ISBN 9780593078068  publiNever Greenershed in hardback April 2018; I had a proof copy)

As you would expect from a writer and actor who came up with Gavin and Stacy, and Stella, there are well-realised, funny and flawed characters aplenty. In essence, tit’s the story of Callum and Kate. They first meet on a shift at Callum’s brother’s pub in 1985. Despite their decades large age gap (and the not insignificant that Callum’s wife is pregnant with his third child), they get together and conduct a secret affair. Twenty years later, their paths cross again. How do they react? Is anything rekindled? Is the grass greener on the other side?

This is an excellent debut; Ruth Jones’ experience in screenwriting certainly shows. The domestic details, conversations, and the dramatic tension are all handled confidently.

I look forward to another novel; much more than ‘just’ a celebrity novel, the beginning of a good writing career ahead is possible.

Expect plenty of media coverage too…


How Do You Like Me Now?: – Holly Bourne

(ISBN     published in hardback June 2018; lovely proof from Hodder)

This is Holly’s debut ‘adult’ novel, having already published a range of YA novels. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Another book about existential angst at reaching the grand old age of 30? (I’m a decade ahead of that; I was giving birth the eve I turned 30 – best birthday present, ever! Any existential angst was overtaken with actual pain)

Although the main subject is reaching one’s thirties and wondering ‘how did I end up here? And with him?! Is this as good as it gets?’, I was engaged and amused by the ups and downs of Tori’s life.

Tori Bailey published a successful self-help style book, is a popular and engaging speaker, has been with Tom for years and years, has a great group of friends. What more could she want?

Well, her second book, a commitment from Tom, and – perhaps – the patter of tiny feet. Oh, and a sense of what comes next now she’s officially ‘a grown up’.

Tori is engaging, honest, funny and sweary; like your new best friend. This is a very contemporary book (Facebook updates, Instagram likes and preparing for a TED talk feature heavily) so it will be interesting to see how this book ages.

I really enjoyed it. I am immensely grateful for the apparent stability in my own life (married, two kids, part time job, not obsessed with Instagram likes), but know that this will strike a nerve with many twenty-something readers this summer.

(thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for the advanced proof)

The Cows – Dawn O’Porter

(ISBN 9780008126063 published paperback March 2018; I BOUGHT a copy!)

Admittedly, I haven’t read Dawn’s YA novels, but I know her ‘off of the telly’. My initial thought was, oh now, not another book about a group of female friends, dealing with ‘issues’. But it’s so much more than that. And VERY good.

The Cows (Paperback)Three modern women, making important decisions about their own lives.Cam is a popular blogger; Tara is a tv documentary maker; Stella is a PA. All are successful; all make a misguided decision with consequences. They’re not friends initially although their lives begin to intertwine. They’re all women upon whom society judges, through their decisions, actions, attitudes. Why does society judge women like this? Why are men not subjected to the same unrelenting scrutiny? Why are there double standards?

This is another book which is a cut above the run-of-the-mill books about women’s relationships. It is about relationships of all types, but also about society’s relationship to women; what society appears to expect and the judgement which comes when an unexpected decision is made.

It’s also funny, touching and heartfelt. I came to like all three central characters, and was invested in their stories. I gasped aloud at one moment! Definitely a book which stands out from the herd – not just because of the excellent cover design. Recommended.


And so, I have learnt not to be such a snob. It takes great skill to create characters a reader cares about. And to get them to do things readers find interesting, make decisions which really matter, have conversations which are believable and not just plot devices. These three combine humour with literary skill, good plot development with believable characters. All three are highly recommended in the sunshine with a g’n’t this summer!

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Posted by on 07/05/2018 in review


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On the future of ‘cosy crime’

I love a good detective novel. The so-called ‘cosy crime’ full of eccentrics, country houses and a puzzle to be solved in a twisty, convoluted way. Not for me the violence and gore of some ‘gritty’ police procedurals.

But they can become a bit ‘samey’, a tired format.

Magpie Murders (Paperback)

Enter Anthony Horowitz and Stu Turton, both of whom have published excellent reinventions of the ‘cosy crime’ novel in the past year.

Anthony Horowitz’ Magpie Murders is a knowing subversion of the genre. Its set up is that an editor receives the latest manuscript of their best-selling and long established author, Atticus Pund. She settles down to read it, and so do we. It’s a standard English village murder, seemingly impossible, with virtually every resident with a motive and opportunity. It’s a good read and I invested in the puzzle. There’s a body, motives, a puzzle, a village full of  interesting characters, and a Poirot-style private detective complete with sidekick to put the puzzle pieces together.

And then the twist: it’s actually a story within a story, the manuscript is incomplete.  This is where Horowitz shows his skill, having pulled off an act of mimicry of John Conway’s Atticus Pund novel, he inserts another complex layer to the mystery.  Why is the manuscript unfinished? What happened to John Conway? Are there clues in the manuscript? Can the editor, Susan, take on the mantle of detective? The book is an excellent satisfying layered mystery told at a good pace. There are plenty of red herrings and unexpected twists – and a body dropped from a great height (so much for not liking gore) – but much to keep a crime fan satisfied.

Stu Turton’s debut, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is also a subversion of the country house murder mystery, but in a different way.

Image result for seven deaths evelyn hardcastle

The narrator wakes up, having been knocked unconscious, to find himself in the grounds of a country house, covered in blood, desperately searching for ‘Anna’. Who is he? Where is he? Who is Anna? Why is he given a compass? Some of these questions are resolved quickly: he is Sebastian Bell, a young doctor with a dark secret, staying at Ravencroft Hall for the welcome back party for the Hardcastle family’s daughter, Evelyn. But it’s not that simple. The terrifying figure dressed in a plague doctor costume and the knife-wielding Footman are forbidding presences who gradually reveal the cleverness of this story. Sebastian is actually Aiden [sic] Bishop who has to solve the titular murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. The day is to be repeated from the perspective of different members of the household; Aiden inhabits eight different ‘hosts’ in order to solve the murder and be released from the cycle. Add to this complex mix, two rivals and the dawning suspicion that Aiden’s hosts are taking over his own character, and you end up with a very enjoyable, twist-filled mystery.

The publishers, Raven Books who are a new imprint of Bloomsbury, describe this as ‘Quantum Leap meets Agatha Christie’. It’s a classic mystery with a supernatural edge. An excellent, involving read. There are chances to get confused amongst the many twists and turns throughout the 500 or so pages, but it’s a very entertaining, enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

So, the ‘cosy crime’ genre is certainly not dead; Christie’s legacy lives on but with meta-narratives and subversions aplenty. Now, did I leave my bit of lead piping in the Drawing Room or the Library…?


Magpie Murders ISBN: 9781409158387 (paperback)

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle ISBN: 9781408889565 (hardback)

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Posted by on 03/05/2018 in review