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November 2023 Reading Round Up

Very happy with my reading this month. Those finished were frankly riveting.

All fiction books.

Book cover of Jennifer Saint's Atalanta Book cover of Lucy Barker's The Other Side Of Mrs Wood Book cover of Sarah Marsh's A Sign Of Her Own

Jennifer Saint: Atalanta – Saved as a baby by a mother bear and later taken in by the goddess Artemis, lives in Artemis’ forest with nymphs. She’s sworn to Artemis a life away from men and is quite happy with this but there will come a day when, as the best archer and runner in the land, Artemis will want her to join the Argonauts, the famed band of heroes sent to gain the Golden Fleece. This is a stunning retelling and detailing of the ancient myth, Saint’s careful choosing of what to take from the various original stories excellent.

Lucy Barker: The Other Side Of Mrs Wood – Victorian medium, Mrs Wood, looks to keep her reputation intact as others fail and looks to stay popular whilst she ages away from being, essentially, new and shiny. When she finds a young woman watching her house, she catches her and the result is that Mrs Wood has a new trainee – great for keeping society’s focus on Mrs Wood herself. But perhaps all is not quite as it seems with Miss Finch – beyond the literal tricks of the trade, of course – and Eliza the maid might have good reason for her distaste. Incredibly witty, well plotted and set, this is a wonderfully immersive and enjoyable book.

Sarah Marsh: A Sign Of Her Own – Ellen’s wanted to help her old teacher, Alexander Bell, as he looks to publicise his telephone, but her childhood of learning to lip-read and speak (the way hearing people wanted deaf children to communicate) was at odds with the deaf community who signed and she was caught between two worlds. Now she starts learning information she never knew and it will impact her choice as to whether to support Bell or not. A very good tale of finding oneself and growing in confidence that gives a lot of information about deaf and Deaf history.

I can’t choose a favourite, each were great in their own way. Saint brought me into an epic story which was incredibly comforting and wonderful despite me having read up on the myth prior; Barker made me grin many times and had me immersed in Victorian London completely; Marsh taught me history I did not know and did a good job of mixing social issues with an interesting story.

Going into December I’m picking up The Wedding Veil again as I’m loving it. I’m also going to make an effort to finish These Violent Delights, and I’ll hopefully be adding a completely new book to the mix, I just have to choose which!

What did you read this month?

 
September – October 2023 Reading Round Up

After a month away from interviewing, I started back in September in earnest. The below are mostly books for the podcast (only Fair Rosaline was read without a plan to interview) however they were all books I wanted to read regardless.

All books are works of fiction.

Book cover of Celina Baljeet Basra's Happy Book cover of Elizabeth Fremantle's Disobedient Book cover of Maggie Brookes' Acts Of Love And War Book cover of Natasha Solomons' Fair Rosaline Book cover of Stacey Thomas' The Revels

Celina Baljeet Basra: Happy – Happy, of Jalandhar, in a spot that used to be his parents’ land but was sold to a theme park, is looking to move to Europe; he writes his thoughts in various different voices and looks forward to a hopeful film career. But to reader things may seem a bit different. This is an intriguingly told story of migration and poor environments – the narrative takes some getting used to but once you’re there the story opens to you completely, and there is a poignant ending involved.

Elizabeth Fremantle: Disobedient – Artemisia Gentileschi is growing up under the art tutelage of her father, Orazio; they are loosing money and have to move but Artemisia’s talent is eclipsing her father’s and the family is okay. But in the 1600s women are owned and not at all independent and when her father starts bringing around another painter, trying to ingratiate himself into a bigger project, the man takes a liking to her. A richly detailed historical tale, Fremantle brings her story of survival to life.

Maggie Brookes: Acts Of Love And War – British brothers Tom and Jamie decide to go to Spain during the civil war, each of them supporting a different side; Lucy, loving both of them, finds herself seeking to travel also, to try and get them to come home, but when a fellow teacher introduces her to the work Quaker volunteers are doing in Spain, Lucy adopts a second purpose – she will find the men but in the process help the lives of a great many refugee children. A good look at the Spanish Civil War from a perspective not well known, with a different romantic thread and arguably great ending.

Natasha Solomons: Fair Rosaline – Where was Rosaline in those days when Romeo and Juliet were together? In this tale, Solomons shows us the time of the play through the eyes of the forgotten cousin, matching many of the scenes with her own and creating others that fit until a point where she changes it to suit. This is a wonderful, wonderful book that shows the original story in the light the author feels is Shakespeare’s purpose – and given the new things we’ve learned about Shakespeare it’s very possible. Romeo is not a good guy, Juliet is the young teenager she is, and things are fair from peachy.

Stacey Thomas: The Revels – When Nicholas’ brother dies, his father summons him home; he’s to journey with Judge Percival, looking into witch trials. But what no one knows is that Nicholas meets the criteria for being a witch; the dead sing of the manner of their death, and Nicholas hears it. He must work with this knowledge, all the while knowing the many women put to death are innocent. But when he meets Althamia, he starts to wonder about his gift, and when he meets her cousin, this gift starts to become very insistent. A beautifully told tale – good storytelling and incredibly fitting prose, that looks at the witch trials of Britain from both a different point of view, person-wise, and different angles, concept-wise. It’s difficult to explain without giving too much away – read it!

These were a good couple of months; I may have read less than I hoped to, but the reading experience was fantastic. I very much recommend Baljeet-Basra’s book to those looking for uniqueness – the narrative is very different to anything I’ve read previously; at most I’d say it’s a little like the chapter formatted to look like a tree in Zadie Smith’s NW, but it really is only slightly like it, it’s just the most apt comparison I can make. I was rather taken by Stacey Thomas’ prose, and I could and have waxed lyrical about Solomon’s retelling – I didn’t know any of the background before reading it and was surprised by it, but what the author has created is exceptional. No less praise for Elizabeth Fremantle and Maggie Brookes – the former’s work just keeps getting better and better, more and more focused, and the latter’s ending for this, her second novel, really was fab – bold for a book with such a focus on the romantic thread.

November has so far seen me read Jennifer Saint’s Atalanta, and Lucy Barker’s The Other Side Of Mrs Wood, both great. I’m also in the middle of Kristy Woodson Harvey’s The Wedding Veil which I got after loving The Summer Of Songbirds. And I’ve made a tentative start on Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow – the gaming in it is rocking my reading sessions.

 
May – August 2023 Reading Round Up

I read 16 books between May and August and I’m doing much better over all this year than in recent years. I’ve noticed that I said I was doing well back in April, too, which means general progress has been made. Most of the below books will be (or have been) featured on my podcast as I made a point of doing as many interviews as I could between May and the tail-end of July in order to be ahead as that’s something I hadn’t been able to do much of the last few years, either. It was both exhausting and totally exhilarating.

All books are works of fiction.

Book cover of Alex Hay's The Housekeepers Book cover of Amanda Geard's The Moon Gate Book cover of Eleanor Shearer's River Sing Me Home Book cover of Elissa Soave's Ginger And Me

Alex Hay: The Housekeepers – Mrs King, housekeeper of the de Vries mansion, has been fired from her post and is now planning to rob the place of the entirety of its contents along with other disgruntled parties during the time the new mistress of the house will be hosting a ball. Thrilling and hilarious from start to finish, perfectly plotted, perfectly everything.

Amanda Geard: The Moon Gate – In the 2000s, Libby travels from Tasmania to London to find out more about the research her father, Ben, was doing into her mother’s birth family when he was killed in the Moorgate Tube Crash; in the 1970s Ben seeks to find out who has given his wife and himself a house on the Tasmanian coast; in the 1940s Grace is sent to Tasmania along with her hateful companion to see out the war at her uncle’s home and, away from her awful mother, starts to blossom and find her people. A three-timeline historical novel with a strong set of mysteries behind it, this superb book looks at grief, WWII in Tasmania, and Australian poetry, and is worth every word of its almost 500 pages (in hardback).

Eleanor Shearer: River Sing Me Home – When the plantation owner announces that everyone is free but that they must carry on working for no money for several more years, Rachel escapes. She has children to look for, young people who were sold on elsewhere. This book looks at what the concept of freedom means through a number of lens, looks at motherhood, and of course slavery in the Caribbean. It’s done wonderfully.

Elissa Soave: Ginger And Me – Wendy’s mum has died and she’s struggling to cope; she doesn’t have any friends or people to turn to and no one really seems to like her. But then Ginger steps onto her bus and the two teenagers begin a friendship. However for some reason the reader doesn’t yet know, Wendy is recounting this from prison and Ginger is no longer alive. The writer Wendy was Twitter friends with may not be alive either. A stunning story of how people who don’t fit the proscribed norms fall off the radar, and the catastrophic things that can result from that; there is also a lot about friendship.

Book cover of Gill Paul's A Beautiful Rival Book cover of Jenni Keer's The Legacy Of Halesham Hall Book cover of Karen Hamilton's The Contest Book cover of Kristy Woodson Harvey's The Summer Of Songbirds

Gill Paul: A Beautiful Rival – The (fictionalised) story of cosmetics industry rivals, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, Gill Paul starts her tale as the women are already pretty successful, as Rubinstein expands to the US where Arden is already established. The pair were both self-made women in a time when that was not at all the done thing but always ‘had’ to one up each other, starting with products and going so far as their romantic lives. Paul has kept to the history where she can but makes a few compelling deviations. The book in general is compelling and offers a lot about the women, the period, the amount of anti-Semitism during a time when people were fighting against Hitler, and, of course, advertising and product creation.

Jenni Keer: The Legacy Of Halesham Hall – Phoebe wants revenge; her father’s younger brother took the family estate from him in a wretched game led by her grandfather and with her father now dead, she will have the place herself thank you very much. Deciding to be honest with her effective uncle, Sidney (her father is not her blood relative), about her relation to him, Sidney lets her stay on below stairs, and Phoebe gets to work finding out the very last piece of the puzzle her grandfather set which Sidney never actually discovered. A good historical mystery with a fresh concept of board games and puzzles running through it, boasting a bit of cosy mystery and a very satisfying epilogue.

Karen Hamilton: The Contest – Blackmore Vintage Travel take their Very-Very Important Guests on annual contests where they are split into two teams. The employees of both teams vie for winning status – with it comes more money. But these are not the easiest holidays and there have been accidents, in particular the last trip which left one employee in a critical condition. Now, Florence and Jacob are vying for the crown – Jacob wants to impress his father, who owns the company, and Florence wants a bit of retribution. They’re to take their teams up Mt Kilimanjaro, impressing them with VIP flourishes. But there may be a killer among them. This book has a particularly good ending that is not at all obvious for at least a good while.

Kristy Woodson Harvey: The Summer Of Songbirds – June’s owned her girls’ summer camp for decades but the pandemic lockdowns have reduced the income to problematic levels and she may have to sell out to a house building company who’ll turn the camp into homes for the wealthy. When she lets her niece, Daphne, and friends Lainier and Mary Stuart know – they met at camp in their single digit years and have been friends ever since – the four begin a plan to get donations and funding to save the camp. It’ll be another summer they’ll never forget – Lainier is soon to be married but Daphne has good reason to hope it doesn’t happen, and the love of Daphne’s life, Lainier’s brother, is back in town. A fantastic read with a very special narrative voice; more about friendship than the camp but wonderful all the same.

Book cover of Nicolai Houm's The Gradual Disappearance Of Jane Ashland Book cover of Paula Cocozza's Speak To Me Book cover of Rachel Abbott's Don't Look Away Book cover of Radhika Sanghani's I Wish We Weren't Related

Nicolai Houm: The Gradual Disappearance Of Jane Ashland – A woman wakes up in a tent in a Norwegian National Park, knowing how she got there; scenes from the past couple of months show how she came to be in such a place. This is a novel about grief rather than a thriller – though it has an element of that – and a very good one at that.

Paula Cocozza: Speak To Me – Our narrator is feeling lonely and neglected in her relationship and life in general, and she very much misses the previous house her family lived in which, they moved away from to please her husband. Her husband, Kurt, is too involved with someone else – his mobile phone. Our narrator tells us all about this, while reminiscing over a past relationship and wishing to find her briefcase which is filled with letters.

Rachel Abbott: Don’t Look Away – The third book in the Stephanie King series, Nancy has moved temporarily to Cornwall after the death of her aunt to look at the cottage she’s been left and sell it. There are no good memories here – when she came her last, her mother had died and then her sister disappeared and her father died in an accident. But her plans to sell up and go back to London are paused when she finds her sister’s filled rucksack in the garden shed where the police didn’t bother to look, and there’s a van that seems to follow her wherever she goes. Meanwhile, a kid has found a skeleton in a cave that matches the year Nancy’s sister ran off but may not be the girl herself. A great thriller that starts off with a simple one-thread story and starts to expand quite a bit.

Radhika Sanghani: I Wish We Weren’t Related – Reeva and her sisters have to go and spend two weeks mourning their father with his relatives… except that their father died many years ago… didn’t he? And it’s not great – Reeva’s sister is engaged to her, Reeva’s, ex, and she doesn’t have a good relationship with her other sister, Sita, either. A well-done comedy that has a lot of heart and reality amongst its bonkers going on.

Book cover of Ronali Collings' Love & Other Dramas Book cover of Sylvia Mercedes' Bride Of The Shadow King Book cover of Sylvia Mercedes' Vow Of The Shadow King Book cover of Tasneem Abdur-Rashid's Finding Mr Perfectly Fine

Ronali Collings: Love & Other Dramas – Tania is newly divorced and looking to find herself, Priya did not receive a much hoped for promotion after giving her all to her long-standing employer, and Helen is discovering herself after years as an unhappy wife (unhappy is an understatement). The book covers their transitions to new milestones. One of the best books I’ve read this year – simple in premise but just so well done.

Sylvia Mercedes: Bride Of The Shadow King – The Trolde king, Vor, needs a bride and the humans on the overworld swore their princess to him. That princess should be Ilsevel if the King has anything to do with it, and he sends her off to wed a king she does not particularly like. But when Vor came to meet the family, there was the oldest princess, Faraine, and it was love at first sight for both of them. When Faraine has to take Ilsevel’s place she’s not comfortable with the idea – it involves magic and deception – but she has to go ahead. Hopefully Vor will be happy, albeit that the humans are deceiving him. This book has a great fantasy romance premise and held much promise, until two plot twists that turned it into too much angst. The first was okay if upsetting – the reason Faraine goes instead of Ilsevel (because of course she will) but the way Vor handles it all is too much.

Sylvia Mercedes: Vow Of The Shadow King – The continuing story of no communication, no reason for there not to be happiness, and a scene that needs a trigger warning. I’d already bought the book. I will look for another series by Mercedes that can rival my favourite (the Venatrix Chronicles – it’s one of my favourite series full stop), but it is definitely not this one.

Tasneem Abdur-Rashid: Finding Mr Perfectly Fine – Zara’s mum has told her to find a husband pronto because if she’s not married in a year, by her 30th birthday, she’s off to Bangladesh. Zara joins a Muslim marriage app, and goes to a meet-up but then there’s also Adam from work. Adam’s only nominally a Muslim so it won’t work, but Zara’s drawn to him. At the same time, Hamza, from the meet-up offers a lot more of the things she’s looking for, she just isn’t particularly attracted to him. She’s got some decisions to make. Absolutely loved this one. Worth the lost sleep.

There were some excellent books this summer; just the couple I didn’t get on with. It was a fantastic time for reading and I’m happy I pushed myself. I’m currently making my way through Outlander Voyager – still, but I’m reading alongside watching which has been interesting – and I’ve Neil Ansell’s The Circling Sky currently on the back burner but soon to move forward again.

 
April 2023 Reading Round Up

Three full books, almost half another book and a couple of hundred pages of another; I will take it. The reading is going better than it has for months so that is a definite positive.

All books are works of fiction.

Book cover of Kate Thompson's The Little Wartime Library Book cover of Kristina McMorris' Sold On A Monday Book cover of Orlando Ortega-Medina's The Fitful Sleep Of Immigrants

Kate Thompson: The Little Wartime Library – When Bethnal Green Library was bombed during the Blitz, the remaining stock is moved to the unfinished Bethnal Green Underground Station which is being used to house East Enders safely away from the streets of London; we follow children’s librarian Clara and her friend Ruby as they help keep up the borough’s morale through the wonders of reading. This is a book big on community and looking at the small pockets of goodness that happened during the war, focusing of course on the value of reading, and while the reading may be important, the community is the best bit. Thompson’s use of language is also great – very British, very right for its time and location.

Kristina McMorris: Sold On A Monday – Ellis takes a posed photograph of two children with a sign beside them that states they are for sale; the family is poor but doing okay, however the photograph leads to the sign being taken literally. A book full of the ways 1930s newspapers worked, this is a delight to read (perhaps so long as you go in knowing it’ll focus on things from the angle of the newsroom rather than the children themselves).

Orlando Ortega-Medina: The Fitful Sleep Of Immigrants – Marc takes on a couple of cases that are the antithesis of the cases his company usually works on and finds himself with an obsessed client. Meanwhile his partner, Issac, receives letters to attend court for deportation over his earlier arrival in the US as an undocumented asylum seeker. A very satisfying thriller and book in general.

This coming month I’m hoping to finish These Violent Delights, maybe (hopefully) Voyager, and get started on a number of others.

What did you read this month?

 
Reading Life: 12th April 2023

A photograph of Hever Castle's gardens

Allow me another of these in such a fairly short period of time. I’m deep into Voyager now, 300 or so pages in but it’s got to the good bit (where you know it will go if you’ve read the second book) and so I’m reading it in earnest. I’ve been watching season 2 of the show, and may well start watching season 3 within the next few days, just staying behind where I’m up to in the book. I’m still finding reading and then watching very satisfying and my high opinion of the show and the changes they’ve made continues to stay the same.

Book cover of Diana Gabaldon's Voyager, book three in the Outlander series

Spoilers incoming for Dragonfly In Amber: The one thing I’m really struggling with, on both sides as it happens now (which in many ways is another plus for the show because they are faithful to the book the majority of the time) is Roger and Brianna’s relationship. I’m thinking of writing a dedicated post on this but having spent time mulling it over I wonder if the reason has to do with the relationship being relatively mundane and ‘normal’ when compared to a heady and exciting time traveller romance where the focus on the handsome historical man is rather paramount. I wonder whether the fact that Roger and Brianna are present day (well, 1968 to be exact) is part of it, and I wonder whether their relationship is very bog standard and unexciting deliberately to either further highlight the romance between Claire and Jamie or as some sort of comment on the fact that Claire and Jamie’s is a once-in-a-blue-moon, literally fantastical relationship, whereas Roger and Brianna are realistic (well, beyond their capacity to time travel, as it appears they will be doing… and I’ve seen the screenshots of the show of them in historical dress). That latter thought, though, is, I realise, me applying literary thought to the book where it may not be warranted. I really hope the chemistry improves – for starters, I badly need to see more of them to start believing it, and this is where I think the show will do better than the books as the TV team were quicker to show a variety of viewpoints than Gabaldon is in her novels.

Book cover of Chloe Gong's These Violent Delights

Having finished Orlando Ortega-Medina’s The Fitful Sleep Of Immigrants – which I did very much enjoy – I started Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights. It has started pretty strongly but a little confusing in terms of motives for the characters, who in this book are gang members – the story is based on Romeo And Juliet – and I’m hoping for a strong set of reasons to feel empathy for the characters beyond the fact of their relationship to Shakespeare. The commentary surrounding colonialism, various countries taking their slice of Shanghai, and China in general, has a lot of promise.

My next book was supposed to be Amanda Prowse’s All Good Things but I’ve had a time of it on the download attempts front and so am not sure if that will happen – Chloe Gong’s book is me moving on in my reading for now. One I have added and successfully downloaded however, is Phoebe McIntosh’s DominoesAndrew Blackman wrote a very positive review of Dominoes on his blog and so I went looking for a copy. I’m very excited to get started on it.

What are you looking forward to reading after your current book?

 

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