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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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Book Review: Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

img_20180112_225324_hdr.jpgDo you worry about What To Read Next?

Do you struggle to find Suitable Reading Material?

Are you looking for a story which is Engaging, Heart-felt and Exciting?

Do you like to read about Real Events?

Then Dear Mrs Bird is the book for you!

Follow the adventures of Emmeline Lake and her best friend Marigold.

Thrill as Emmy and Bunty become Women of the World in the topsy-turvy Time of War.

Smile as Emmy’s dream position of being a Brave Lady War Correspondent is in actuality a post as Junior Typist on the Problem Pages of Women’s Friend.

Brace yourself to meet the Indomitable Mrs Henrietta Bird.

Worry as Emmy begins to answer some of the Problem Letters herself, particularly those which deal with Unmentionables.

Swoon as Emmy meets a handsome army Captain.

Gasp as Bombs Fall on London. Will Emmy and Bunty Stay Safe?

But above all, Welcome Emmy, Bunty and Mrs Bird into your Spring-time reading. You Will Not Regret It!

 

Published March 2018    ISBN 9781509853892 (HB)

With thanks to Macmillian for the gorgeously presented proof.

 
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Posted by on 15/01/2018 in review

 

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Review: Hot Milk by Andrea Levy

If you’ve been into any branch of Waterstones this past week, you’ll have not failed to spot this little novel; it’s our fiction book of the month for June. I treat BOTM as a book club and read as many of the choices as I can.

Having caught snippets on Radio 4 while it was still published in hardback, I knew some of the plot: Sofia and her mother visit southern Spain in search of healing. Sofia is a slightly hapless twenty-something, wasting her first class masters in anthropology while she works as a Barista, sleeping in the store’s stockroom. Her mother, Rose, is in her mid-sixties, suffering from mysterious paralysis. Along the way, Sofia meets the alluring Ingrid, the temporary (and tempting) lifeguard Juan, the unerving, patrician Dr Gomez and ‘Nurse Sunshine’, her newly-religious, estranged Greek father, alongside chained-up Alsatians, pregnant cats, stuffed monkeys and a multitude of jellyfish.

The characters hide as much as they reveal. The clashes between Spanish, Greek and Yorkshire cultures is amusingly evident, and the heat of the Spanish sun is almost palpable.

The novel is claustrophobic, mysterious and lyrical. It explores issues of identity, wellness, duty, sexuality, and fractured families.

The Guardian describes it as ‘hypnotic’; I was certainly entranced while reading.

Although short (little over two hundred pages long), the characters remain in my thoughts; the heat of the sun and sting of the jellyfish stay on my skin.

A great, lyrical summer read.

Picture from penguin.co.uk

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (ISBN 9780241968031)

 
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Posted by on 08/06/2017 in review

 

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Beyond Pemberley: Powder, Patches and Proposals – A Month-long Regency Romance

I don’t think I’ve fallen in love this month, but I hope I’ve made a good friend to while away a few hours over a pot of tea. (My husband of 13 years can breathe a sigh of relief)
I used to be a little (OK, very) snobbish about light, frothy, genre novels, wondering ‘why would any intelligent reader choose to waste their time reading a novel where you already knew the ending?’ But having spent February reading (mostly) romances set in Regency England, I can now understand why.

They are not especially demanding (some days you’re too tired to concentrate on complicated plots or characterisation), they can be light-hearted (because sometimes life is serious enough), they’re set in a historical era with different manners, customs and a strict social structure (a bit of escapism can be fun; it’s not too difficult to generally visualise the costumes and context if you’ve watched even just one Regency costume drama), the romances have a happy ending (because life is usually more complicated and unresolved, doesn’t always end happily and you don’t always end up with the right partner).

One of my friends who almost solely reads Mills & Boon Regency romances described them to me as ‘easy-to-read Jane Austen’. Once I would have dismissed her condescendingly; surely I would read the ‘real’ Austen and not be distracted by such frippery? But this month’s discipline has opened my eyes. Reading a number of Regency novels in quick succession has shown me a range of writing styles, and various levels of steaminess on the conjugal front. The hero (or anti-hero; the reformation of ‘a rake’ is more fun!) and heroine marry, they behave themselves (mostly) within strict moral and societal codes and there’s lots of description of costumes, material, balls, and everyone spends at least some time in Bath.
Other random things I’ve learnt, in no particular order:

  • What it means to be bon ton;
  • The importance of the look of a man’s legs in tight breeches, once memorably described as ‘shaped like a balustrade'(!);
  • What a beaver hat looks like;
  • That pregnancy or legs are inappropriate subjects for polite conversation (but of course!);
  • Lead: not just for building but used as make up;
  • That not to ride sidesaddle was considered most inappropirate for a gentlewoman;
  • That the true love of a faithful woman can transform even the worst ‘rakehell’;
  • The difference between ‘traditional regency romance’, ‘recency historical’ and ‘sensual regency historical romance’ (thanks Wikipedia).

So, what did I read? Here’s the list:

  • M.C.Beaton/Marion Chesney’s The School For Manners series (6 titles but as each one is only about 170 pages long, they were a fun evening’s read each; I loved the willful-daughter-taming chaperones for hire, the Tribble Twins; although not a pastiche, the author has a defiinite twinkle in her eye, if not her tongue in her cheek; all her novels are good, clean fun);
  • Mary Balough – A Summer to Remember (the second Bedwin prequel; very entertaining but with a few more saucy scenes than I originally expected; up a tree?!);
  • Georgette Heyer – The Black Moth (her first novel, created as an entertaining story for her younger, convalescent brother, published when she was just 19, it centres around a gentleman highwayman settling the affairs of his gambling brother – ‘terribly” exciting, I kept finding myself imagining Adam Ant in his Prince Charming mode…);
  • Baroness Orczy – The Scarlet Pimpernel (a ‘hangover’ from last month’s French Revolution theme, but also a romance in the same era mostly set on the other side of the Channel);
  • Victoria Connelly – The Perfect Hero (contemporary reworking of various Austen plots set in Lyme Regis as a production of Persuasion is filmed).

But there are so many more books I could have read: still to finish Persuasion (to my shame), I didn’t try out Galen Foley, Julia Quinn or Eloisa James (but now own at least one copy of each of their novels to enjoy another time). And I have 46 more Georgette Heyers to read…

Did I miss anyone else out?

It’s been a fun, February fling, but now onto more serious fare: ‘Nordic Noir’ for the month of March. Dark tales of murder and detection in northern wastelands. Any suggestions to add to my pile?

P.S. I couldn’t resist reading a few novels outside the monthly theme: The Dinner by Herman Koch for our reading group (odd, oppressive view of Danish middle-class life), Mutton by India Knight (an amusing story of a forty-something mother reflecting on ageing, and English middle-class life), My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher (for a Read Regional event, enjoyed in one evening, met author the next day; see post ‘The Joy of a Quick Read’.)

 Oh, to be a Recency woman...
Oh, to be a Recency woman…
 

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