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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?

 
Latest Acquisitions (March 2023)

A photograph of a stack of books against a blurred bookshelf background. The books stacked are Warsan Shire's Bless The Daughter Raised By A Voice In Her Head, Raven Leilani's Luster, Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half, and Peng Shepherd's The Cartographers. Two book covers are superimposed on either side of the stack, they are Orlando Ortega-Medina's The Fitful Sleep of Immigrants and Amanda Prowse's All Good Things.

Another reason for excitement last month: I started getting myself back into the swing of things in regards to new books. I went to Netgalley to look up the details of Lisa See’s Lady Tan’s Circle Of Women and picked up a ‘read now’ book; I responded to an email; I bought a few of the books I had come across on my various quick looks at news during the last couple of years.

There’s a book left off this list – Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights. I accounted for it last week… and I may have forgotten to add it to the stack when taking the above photo. (For transparency’s sake I will note the image above is a composite as I have the books at the sides in ebook format.)

Amanda Prowse: All Good Things – This is the ‘read now’ book, which I chose because of a slightly-relatable fact: at least until a few years ago, Amanda Prowse was one of the few big authors to visit Southampton for a signing, and this made me make a note to read one of her books one day. As we all know, putting an author on your to-be-read, especially without naming a book, is a sure-fire way to ensure you remember them only sporadically. I saw the book, I remembered, and I’m doing it now. This is effectively from the publisher for review.

Book cover of Amanda Prowse's All Good Things

Daisy Harrop has always felt like she exists in the background, and since her mother stopped getting out of bed, her life has come to a complete standstill. Daisy would give anything to leave the shabbiest house on the street and be more like the golden Kelleways next door, with their perfectly raked driveway and flourishing rose garden…

Winnie Kelleway is proud of the beautiful family she’s built. They’ve had their ups and downs – hasn’t everyone? But this weekend, celebrating her golden wedding anniversary is truly proof of their happiness, a joyful gathering for all the neighbours to see.

But as the festivities get underway, are the cracks in the ‘perfect’ Kelleway life beginning to show? As one bombshell revelation leads to another and events start to spiral out of control, Daisy and Winnie are about to discover that things aren’t always what they seem.

Brit Bennett: The Vanishing Half – I have read a little about Brit Bennett; she’s a name I’ve seen around a lot, and I could do with becoming reacquainted with prize shortlists again, in this case the Women’s Prize for Fiction. (This book won the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction in 2020.)

Book cover of Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Orlando Ortega-Medina: The Fitful Sleep Of Immigrants – This will be the fourth book by the author I’ve read, and it’s his third novel. I have read it, and would say it’s the most accessible of his books yet; the others are all excellent but this one has more mainstream appeal. From the author for review.

Book cover of Orlando Ortega-Medina's The Fitful Sleep Of Immigrants

Attorney Marc Mendes, the estranged son of a prominent rabbi and a burned-out lawyer with addiction issues, plots his exit from the big city to a more peaceful life in idyllic Napa Valley. But before he can realize his dream, the US government summons his Salvadoran life-partner Isaac Perez to immigration court, threatening him with deportation.

As Marc battles to save Isaac, his world is further upended by a dark and alluring client, who aims to tempt him away from his messy life. Torn between his commitment to Isaac and the pain-numbing escapism offered by his client, Marc is forced to choose between the lesser of two evils while confronting his twin demons of past addiction and guilt over the death of his first lover.

Peng Shepherd: The Cartographers – I came across the author and fell in love with the cover of this book (I’ll note it was the US edition, which has a library on it) and simply kept it in mind. It’s time.

Book cover of Peng Shepherd's The Cartographers

Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.

But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable and exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence… because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one – along with anyone who gets in the way.

But why?

To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret and discovers the true power that lies in maps…

Raven Leilani: Luster – For a while, I was seeing Leilani’s name everywhere and The Guardian in particular seemed rather taken with her work so while I was away from books and reading I noted her name down for when I was back.

Book cover of Raven Leilani's Luster

Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.

Warsan Shire: Bless The Daughter Raised By A Voice In Her Head – A couple of weeks ago I read about the line-up for this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize, was happy to see poetry included, and got Shire’s collection very soon after. Award-nominated, current, poetry, and a new-to-me poet? Yes please.

Book cover of Warsan Shire's Bless The Daughter Raised By A Voice In Her Head

With her first full-length poetry collection, Warsan Shire introduces us to a young girl, who, in the absence of a nurturing guide, makes her own stumbling way towards womanhood. Drawing from her own life and the lives of loved ones, as well as pop culture and news headlines, Shire finds vivid, unique details in the experiences of refugees and immigrants, mothers and daughters, Black women, and teenage girls. In Shire’s hands, lives spring into fullness. This is noisy life: full of music and weeping and surahs and sirens and birds. This is fragrant life: full of blood and perfume and shisha smoke and jasmine and incense. This is polychrome life: full of henna and moonlight and lipstick and turmeric and kohl.

What books have you bought/borrowed/acquired recently?

 
January, February, And March 2023 Reading Round Up

Given that my start back into reading and blogging only happened mid-March and I chose to start with a 1053-page book, I shouldn’t be surprised I only finished one book, and that a different one entirely. Having not accounted for the reads from this quarter at all, however, it seems less damning; I finish this quarter with two books. Let’s go.

Both books are works of fiction.

Book cover Book cover

Amita Parikh: The Circus Train (2022) – Following the travels through WWII Europe of an international circus, this book looks closely at the lives of Lena (who has Polio), her illusionist father, and a stowaway Jewish boy, as they try to remain out of the Nazis’ interests, and continue their trade, whilst growing as people. There’s an interesting controversy here where Parikh looks at a Polio-free life for Lena that is in fact supported by mid-1900s medical treatment.

Lisa See: Lady Tan’s Circle Of Women (2023) – A fictionalisation of the life of a woman doctor in 1400s China (fictional because we know so little of her apart from the medicine). Absolutely superb.

This past half of a month (March) has been about getting back into reading properly. I currently have two books on the go and working on finishing at least one of them quickly (simply because it’s not over a thousand pages like the other). And for the first time in ages, I have a basic reading list to follow for the next few weeks.

What have you read recently?

 

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