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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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Review: The Peculiars by Kieran Larwood

Fancy reading a story about a Victorian freakshow?

Want a tale of hair-raising adventure, a smattering of steam-punk inventions, a break-in to The Crystal Palace, a quick look at the Great Exhibition of 1851 (in the dark), get your hands on Faraday’s machine and even see the Ko-i-Nor diamond?

Well, you’ll find all that in Kieran Larwood’s debut novel (now republished), with added friendship, escapades and dung pellets.

This is the story of Sheba, a ‘wolf-girl’ who is part of Grunchgirdle’s very small, shabby travelling freakshow.

‘Everyone said she had a lovely head of hair.

And face of hair. And hands of hair.

In fact, she was covered from head to foot.’

Sheba is ‘exceptional’, with excellent olfactory skills, a talent for lock picking, and is literate. But the only qualities people see are her wolf-like appearances.

She is sold by Grunchgirdle to the equally descriptively named Plumpscuttle for his (slightly) larger freakshow. Sheba joins his caravan to London – the sprawling, stinking Metropolis – where they sit each night to be gawped at by paying customers.

Sheba joins the ‘cast’ including Monkeyboy, Gigantus, the ninja warrior Sister Moon and Mama Rat. She is accepted into ‘The Peculiars’ with affection and appreciation,

9781911490210finding a sort of family for the first time in her life. The team might appear terrifying or unusual on the surface, but prove to be big-hearted, sensitive and brave friends.

When ‘Mudlarks’ begin to disappear, The Peculiars investigate. They are pursued by an evil woman and her devious accomplices, leading to the thrilling adventures mentioned above.

You can even read a little of the work of Famous Lady Novelist, Gertrude Lacygusset!

There is genuine peril within. I found myself worrying about the characters, racing through the final chapters as the team solved the mystery and foiled the ‘baddies’.

Another excellent book from Chicken House publishers. Although not actually a new book – it’s a reissue from 2012, originally titled The Freaks – it’s a great read. And the new cover by Karl James Mountford is gorgeous!

Recommended for confident readers from eight upwards. Thrilling!

ISBN 9781911490210

 
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Posted by on 18/02/2018 in review

 

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