My Bookish November: a birthday, awards and books!

Happy 4th Birthday Jill’s Book Cafe!

 

November 7th marked my 4th year as a book blogger. I started my little blog just to bring my reviews together in one place. I never imagined having ‘followers’ or that it would still be going from strength to strength 4 years later. It has been so rewarding  and as many of you will already know, was a lifeline when I was ill. It has introduced many lovely people into my life, and given me a totally new lease of life. It goes to show that age is no barrier and that what counts is being yourself and letting your blog be an extension of that. I will admit that over the years there are times I’ve compared my blog to others and perhaps felt it wanting, or had that FOMO, but then I remind myself why I started it. Wanting to grow and improve is healthy, being competitive and envious is not.

For anyone considering starting their own book blog I’d say go for it – and contrary to comments I’ve seen on social media it can be free. WordPress or Blogger cost nothing (other sites are no doubt available) and for those complaining about the cost of books, I have one word – libraries! If you’re thinking of trying book blogging to attract a constant supply of free books, or attract followers to be the next big ‘influencer’ or make money then I’d politely suggest you rethink your motivation or pick something else to blog about. Even those ‘free’ books (which incidentally do not automatically drop through every bloggers letter box) are not really free if your playing fair and not just blagging. A ‘free’ book requires to be read and then either reviewed or adequately promoted either independently or as part of a blog tour. So you should be offering your time as a fair exchange. Ooh this is starting to feel a bit ranty so back to topic.

My blog has settled now into a format that I’m more than happy with. I can admit to my book hauling excesses; give into my old library ways of creating themed reading lists; report back on literary events and spread the book/author love via my Five on Friday feature. In essence my blog is a reflection of me.

It is with this in mind that I was delighted to have been nominated in the MyVLF Book Blogger awards. I was nominated in the Best Book Blogger group along with established bloggers that I respect and admire.  I wasn’t expecting to win, but was ecstatic to discover last Saturday that I had. So thanks to those who nominated me and to all those who voted (only 2 votes between 1st and 2nd). I’m delighted to have the accolade, ‘Best Book Blogger’ though I acknowledge that it’s subjective and there are many better blogs than mine. But it does mean a lot to me that many people appreciate the work that goes into the blog and enjoy what I put out into the ether.

 

Best Book Blogger

 

In the same week I was also happy to receive an email telling me I’d made it into the Top 100 Book Blogs in the UK (as per Feedspot). So at the start of my fifth blogging year, these made me a very happy blogger and gave me the confidence to accept that doing things ‘my way’ maybe isn’t so off the mark at all.

 

Top 100 book blog

 

What I read in November

 

Well reading still isn’t scoring highly on my to do list, but I did manage to read one and listen to another. I love the idea of audio books and have tried to get to grips with them over the years. However the reality is, if I listen in bed, they send me to sleep and if I listen during the day my mind tends to wander off and it just becomes background noise. That is by no means a criticism of what I’m listening too as I’m exactly the same with the radio unless I’m totally focused.

This month though I decided to try and listen to a book which is being talked about for several reasons and with 448 pages was never going to hit my reading radar anytime soon. That book is The Giver of Stars by Jo Jo Moyes, you can read my review here but if you want to cut to the chase – I loved it! It is a completely engaging and redemptive tale of love, friendship and the power of books.

The Blurb

The Giver of StarsThe Giver of Stars by Jo Jo Moyes

The greatest love story is the one you least expect . . .

Alice is stifled, bored, and misunderstood.

So when she meets wealthy and handsome American, Bennett Van Cleve, she is quickly swept off her feet.

Marrying him and moving to America seems like a great adventure – but life as a newlywed in stuffy Baileyville, Kentucky, is not at all what she hoped for.

Until, that is, she responds to a call for volunteers to start a travelling library, surprising herself by saying yes, before her husband can say no . . .

Led by feisty and rebellious Margery O’Hare, this unlikely group of women travel far and wide on their mission to bring books and reading to those that need it, and Alice finally finds the freedom, friendship and love that she’s been looking for.

But not everyone approves of what they are doing, especially her new father-in-law. And when the town turns against them, will their belief in each other and their work be enough?

 

The other book I read was one which I did receive through the letter box (many thanks Simon and Schuster) and apologies that it’s taken a year to read it.

A Year at Castle CourtA Year at Castle Court by Holly Hepburn

A Year at Castle Court is Holly Hepburn’s four Castle Court e-novellas collected together as a novel for the first time. 

Sadie is a single mum, nursing a broken heart. Her best friend from childhood, Cat, is burned out from working long hours as a chef in Paris. In need of a change, they decide to invest in their dream – running their own handmade biscuit shop in gorgeous Castle Court, a three-storey food court tucked away behind Chester’s bustling streets.

They soon discover that Castle Court has its own community – a little haven of delight against the stresses of the outside world. But not everyone welcomes the new business; the patisserie owner is less than pleased by what she sees as direct competition and Greg, who runs the fancy bistro that dominates one end of the courtyard, doesn’t think Sadie and Cat have the talent or business acumen to succeed. Luckily, there’s support in the form of the delectable Jaren, who owns the Dutch waffle house opposite Smart Cookies, and Swiss chocolate-shop owner, Elin. And if all else fails, the friends can drown their sorrows in Seb‘s cocktail bar on the third floor!

When I received this book I was delighted to see that it was set in and around Chester as I don’t live that far away and I love a recognisable setting. While (to my knowledge)  Castle Court is imaginary the rest is not. That said Chester does have a hidden little courtyard called Rufus Court housing quirky shops and eateries that might well have laid the Castle Court foundations. It was just the right book for dipping in and out of for half an hour or so each evening to follow Sadie and Cat while they grew their business,  resolved their personal issues and hopefully found love. It was the perfect contrast to my previous read and though much lighter did cover the realistic topics of workplace harassment and coping as working single parent. Ultimately though, it was essentially a romance and nothing wrong with that. Some of the male characters were as delectable as the biscuits being concocted by the two ‘Smart Cookies’ and some were a bit burnt around the edges. It was a fulfilling read on all levels and I enjoyed it – friendship, romance and beautiful iced biscuits – what’s not to like?

 

Books I’ve Bought in November

 

Tree Books

 

The House Without WindowsThe House Without Windows by Barbara Newhall Follett and Jackie Morris (Signed Copy)

Little Eepersip doesn’t want to live in a house with doors and windows and a roof, so she runs away to live in the wild – first in the Meadow, then by the Sea, and finally in the Mountain. Her heartbroken parents follow her at first, bringing her back home to ‘safety’ and locking her up in the stifling square of the house. But she slips away once more, following her wild heart out of the door and far away…

Barbara Newhall Follett was just thirteen years old when she published The House Without Windows in 1927. The book went on to become a million-copy bestseller. Years later, as an adult herself, Barbara followed in the footsteps of her radical heroine – dissatisfied with the limitations of life as a respectable married woman, she walked out of her house one day and simply disappeared.

Penguin are delighted to republish Barbara Newhall Follett’s extraordinary feminist fable for the next generation of nature lovers and escapees to discover and cherish. Newly introduced by Jackie Morris, and filled with her beautifully inked artwork, The House Without Windows is an irresistible paean to the natural world and its transcendent effect on the human heart.

 

 

Little SiberiaLittle Siberia by Antti Tuomainen (this month’s Reposed book subscription choice)

A man with dark thoughts on his mind is racing along the remote snowy roads of Hurmevaara in Finland, when there is flash in the sky and something crashes into the car. That something turns about to be a highly valuable meteorite. With euro signs lighting up the eyes of the locals, the unexpected treasure is temporarily placed in a neighbourhood museum, under the watchful eye of a priest named Joel.

But Joel has a lot more on his mind than simply protecting the riches that have apparently rained down from heaven. His wife has just revealed that she is pregnant. Unfortunately Joel has strong reason to think the baby isn’t his. As Joel tries to fend off repeated and bungled attempts to steal the meteorite, he must also come to terms with his own situation, and discover who the father of the baby really is.

Transporting the reader to the culture, landscape and mores of northern Finland Little Siberia is both a crime novel and a hilarious, blacker-than-black comedy about faith and disbelief, love and death, and what to do when bolts from the blue – both literal and figurative – turn your life upside down.

 

E-Books

 

The CarerThe Carer by Deborah Moggach

From the bestselling author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Tulip Fever, a deliciously funny, poignant and wry novel, full of surprising twists and turns:

James is getting on a bit and needs full-time help. So Phoebe and Robert, his middle-aged offspring, employ Mandy, who seems willing to take him off their hands. But as James regales his family with tales of Mandy’s virtues, their shopping trips and the shared pleasure of their journeys to garden centres, Phoebe and Robert sense something is amiss.

Then something extraordinary happens which throws everything into new relief, changing all the stories of their childhood – and the father – that they thought they knew so well.

 

 

Stanley and ElsieStanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson

The First World War is over, and in a quiet Hampshire village, artist Stanley Spencer is working on the commission of a lifetime, painting an entire chapel in memory of a life lost in the war to end all wars. Combining his own traumatic experiences with moments of everyday redemption, the chapel will become his masterpiece.

When Elsie Munday arrives to take up position as housemaid to the Spencer family, her life quickly becomes entwined with the charming and irascible Stanley, his artist wife Hilda and their tiny daughter Shirin.

As the years pass, Elsie does her best to keep the family together even when love, obsession and temptation seem set to tear them apart…

 

 

Ike and KayIke and Kay by James MacManus (for some reason Kindle copy no longer available)

From the fogbound streets of London reeling from the Blitz, acclaimed author James MacManus, conjures a compelling historical novel based on the true story of the secret love affair at the heart of the Second World War.

It is 1942, and war-battered London plays host to the imposing figure of General Ike Eisenhower on a vital mission for the US army. Kay Summersby, an ambulance driver who survived the horrors of the Blitz, is chosen to be his aide, a role that will change her life forever. Charmed by Ike s affable and disarming nature so different from the stiffness of British military convention she accompanies him during the North African campaign against Rommel and the war in Europe against Nazi Germany. Amid the carnage a secret affair unfolds between the General and his attractive aide. Rumours of Ike s infidelity reach across the ocean to Washington and worse yet, to his wife. In a time where scandal and war threaten to break them apart, can Kay hold on to the man she loves?

 

 

MelmothMelmoth by Sarah Perry

Oh my friend, won’t you take my hand – I’ve been so lonely!

One winter night in Prague, Helen Franklin meets her friend Karel on the street.

Agitated and enthralled, he tells her he has come into possession of a mysterious old manuscript, filled with personal testimonies that take them from 17th-century England to wartime Czechoslovakia, the tropical streets of Manila, and 1920s Turkey. All of them tell of being followed by a tall, silent woman in black, bearing an unforgettable message.

Helen reads its contents with intrigue, but everything in her life is about to change.

 

 

Mystery on Hidden LaneMystery on Hidden Lane by Clare Chase (pre-order due 30 Jan 2020)

Meet Eve Mallow: an American far from home, a professional busybody… and an amateur detective?

Seasoned obituary writer Eve Mallow has a new assignment: to tell the life story of famed musician Bernard Fitzpatrick. A chance to spend a few days in the sweet little village of Saxford St Peter, walking the country lanes with her beloved dachshund Gus and meeting new people sounds like a dream. But it turns out that Bernard’s life was much less interesting than his death. On the day she arrives, news breaks that the charismatic cellist was the victim of a grisly murder. Could this quaint English village be hiding a dark secret?

As Eve starts to interview Bernard’s friends and colleagues, she finds that he’d ruffled a few feathers. In fact, from the keepers of the Cross Keys Inn to his own staff at High House, there’s barely a person in town who doesn’t have some reason to hate him… is one of the friendly villagers a cold-blooded killer?

Eve hoped Saxford St Peter would be the perfect escape from her busy city life. But there is darkness even in the most sunlit of settings. And when a second body is found, Eve becomes certain that one of the people she’s met must be the murderer. She has never done any detective work before… but is there something in her notes that can crack the case?

 

 

The Waxwork CorpseThe Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael (pre-order due 23 Dec)

London, 1965

Charles Holborne, maverick barrister, will never fit in at the Bar; he is too working-class, too Jewish and too dangerous.

But that makes him the perfect outsider to prosecute a shocking murder case which has already made its way to the press.

By chance, a body was found, dumped in a lake. It had clearly been there for some time, but the conditions in the water have meant that it was nearly perfectly preserved.

The police have managed to match this ‘waxwork corpse’ to a missing woman and if her husband — a senior judge — was the one who killed her, the scandal threatens to rock the British justice to its foundations.

The waxwork corpse is not the only thing to be raised from the past. The investigation also dredges up a violent mistake made by Charles in his youth which, if revealed, could put his own life at stake…

 

 

One Christmas StarOne Christmas Star by Mandy Baggot

Emily Parker is set to have the worst Christmas ever!

Her flatmate’s moved out, she’s closed her heart to love and she’s been put in charge of the school original Christmas show – with zero musical ability.

Disgraced superstar, Ray Stone is in desperate need of a quick PR turnaround. Waking up from a drunken stupor to a class of ten-year-olds snapping pics and Emily looking at him was not what he had in mind.

Ray needs Emily’s help to delete the photos, and she needs his with the show. As they learn to work together they may just open their hearts to more than a second chance…

 

 

The Wish List of Albie YoungThe Wish List of Albie Young by Ruby Hummingbird

Maria Birch is seventy years old and, for her, every week is the same.

On Monday, she does her weekly shop. On Tuesday, she goes for a blow-dry. On Wednesday, she visits the laundrette. But Thursday is her favourite day of all – everything hurts less on a Thursday.

Every Thursday Maria walks to her local café. Waiting for her at one of the red gingham-topped tables is Albie Young, a charming man with a twinkle in his eye and an impressive collection of tweed flat caps. Every week, the pair share a slice of marble cake and a pot of tea.

Except, one week, Albie doesn’t turn up.

When Maria finds out what has happened, her perfectly ordered life is ripped apart at the seams. Suddenly, she is very lonely. Without her Thursday friend – her only friend – she no longer has the energy to circle the weekly TV listings, she has no reason to leave her apartment, no reason to laugh.

Then she discovers that Albie isn’t who she thought he was, and she’s left wondering if she knew her friend at all. But Albie has left behind a legacy – a handwritten list of wishes he never got the chance to complete.

Maria is resigned to facing the rest of her days heartbroken and alone. But fulfilling Albie’s wishes could hold the key to her happiness – if only she’s able to look past his secret…

 

 

The Dressmaker's GiftThe Dressmaker’s Gift by Fiona Valpy

Paris, 1940. With the city occupied by the Nazis, three young seamstresses go about their normal lives as best they can. But all three are hiding secrets. War-scarred Mireille is fighting with the Resistance; Claire has been seduced by a German officer; and Vivienne’s involvement is something she can’t reveal to either of them.

Two generations later, Claire’s English granddaughter Harriet arrives in Paris, rootless and adrift, desperate to find a connection with her past. Living and working in the same building on the Rue Cardinale, she learns the truth about her grandmother – and herself – and unravels a family history that is darker and more painful than she ever imagined.

In wartime, the three seamstresses face impossible choices when their secret activities put them in grave danger. Brought together by loyalty, threatened by betrayal, can they survive history’s darkest era without being torn apart?

 

 

MURDER IN MINDMurder in Mind by Faith Martin

Seventy-five-year-old Sylvia Perkins was found battered to death in her home in 2010. The murder weapon was suspected to be a fire poker and it seems she was quite popular with older gentlemen.

Her grandson Robbie inherited everything, but he can’t be placed at the scene of the crime.

WHO KILLED THIS HARMLESS OLD WOMAN AND WHY? AND WHAT SECRETS WAS SHE HIDING?

Hillary also has a new boss and a baffling cold case to contend with, not to mention a marriage proposal to consider.

Hillary Greene has returned to Thames Valley Police HQ, acting as a cold-case consultant for the Crime Review Team, looking into murders which the police have never been able to solve.

She wasn’t sure she wanted to go back. But solving crimes is irresistible for Hillary Greene.

PLEASE NOTE THIS IS A REVISED EDITION OF A BOOK FIRST PUBLISHED AS “THE WORK OF A NARROW MIND.”

 

 

Bloody ChristmasBloody Christmas: A Bunny McGarry Novella in aid of The Peter McVerry Trust

It’s Christmas Eve and DS Bunny McGarry is in the mood to celebrate – he’s back on active duty having successfully proven that throwing a senior officer off a building was an appropriate step to take in the course of an investigation. However, his festivities are interrupted when someone attempts to assassinate him while he’s trying to take a leak – is nothing sacred?

The thing is, the assassin isn’t all he initially appears, and Bunny soon finds himself in a race against time to trace a kidnapped child before the people who ordered the hit realise that he is considerably less dead than they had hoped.

Bunny is making a list but he’s only checking it once because time is of the essence and some people need a refresher in the meaning of Christmas.

Bloody Christmas is a limited edition standalone novella that will be available until December 31st. All proceeds will go to the Peter McVerry Trust, an Irish housing and homeless charity committed to reducing homelessness and the harm caused by substance misuse and social disadvantage.  It is set just after A Man With One of Those Faces, book 1 of the bestselling Dublin Trilogy series.

 

 

CageCage by Lilja Sigurdardóttir

The prison doors slam shut behind Agla, when her sentence ends, but her lover Sonja is not there to meet her.

As a group of foreign businessmen tries to draw Agla into an ingenious fraud that stretches from Iceland around the world, Agla and her former nemesis, María find the stakes being raised at a terrifying speed.
Ruthless drug baron Ingimar will stop at nothing to protect his empire, but he has no idea about the powder keg he is sitting on in his own home.

At the same time, a deadly threat to Sonya and her family brings her from London back to Iceland, where she needs to settle scores with longstanding adversaries if she wants to stay alive.

 

 

Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary MachinesMagnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines by Henrietta Heald (this month’s Unbound Reading Club choice)

‘Women have won their political independence. Now is the time for them to achieve their economic freedom too.’

This was the great rallying cry of the pioneers who, in 1919, created the Women’s Engineering Society. Spearheaded by Katharine and Rachel Parsons, a powerful mother and daughter duo, and Caroline Haslett, whose mission was to liberate women from domestic drudgery, it was the world’s first professional organisation dedicated to the campaign for women’s rights.

Magnificent Women and their Revolutionary Machines tells the stories of the women at the heart of this group – from their success in fanning the flames of a social revolution to their significant achievements in engineering and technology. It centres on the parallel but contrasting lives of the two main protagonists, Rachel Parsons and Caroline Haslett – one born to privilege and riches whose life ended in dramatic tragedy; the other who rose from humble roots to become the leading professional woman of her age and
mistress of the thrilling new power of the twentieth century: electricity.

In this fascinating book, acclaimed biographer Henrietta Heald also illuminates the era in which the society was founded. From the moment when women in Britain were allowed to vote for the first time, and to stand for Parliament, she charts the changing attitudes to women’s rights both in society and in the workplace.

 

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No literature festivals this month but lots of lovely bookish meet ups. A night out in Knutsford with some of the now defunct Cheshire Connections group Mollie Blake, Robyn Cain and Sian-Elin Flint-Freel. A great evening with good food, good company and very bookish conversation – with the odd ghost story thrown in for good measure!

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I was in Liverpool last Monday for lunch with Gina Kirkham and fellow book reader and supporter Alison Waterfield. We all originally met on Twitter and then met in real life at  Gina’s first book launch. We all hit it off so now try and get together at least once a year. If you like your books warm, and funny but with a poignant realism then try Gina’s books based on her personal experiences as a Merseyside police officer.

 

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My final meet up was with author Janet McLeod Trotter. Janet is another author I’ve conversed with on social media but never met. As she was down visiting family that have fortuitously moved not too far from me, it was an ideal opportunity to finally meet up over coffee for a chat. Many of you will be familiar with Janet’s India Tea Sea Series, but you can now look forward to a new series ‘The Raj Hotel’. The first in the series is due out in January but available to pre-order now.

Emerald AffairThe Emerald Affair by Janet Macleod Trotter

In this evocative tale of life in India between the wars, friendships will be tested and loyalties torn. But can love win the day?

In Scotland in the aftermath of the First World War, nurse Esmie McBride meets handsome Captain Tom Lomax at her best friend Lydia’s home. Esmie is at first concerned for Tom’s shell shock, then captivated by his charm, but it’s effervescent Lydia he marries, and the pair begin a new adventure together in India.

When marriage to Tom’s doctor friend Harold offers Esmie the chance to work in India, the two sets of newlyweds find themselves living wildly different lives on the subcontinent. Esmie, heartbroken but resolved, is nursing at a mission hospital on the North West Frontier. Lydia, meanwhile, is the glamorous mistress of the Raj Hotel, where Tom hopes his sociable new wife will dazzle international guests.

As Esmie struggles with her true feelings for Tom and the daily dangers of her work, Lydia realises the Raj is not the centre of high society she had dreamed of. And when crisis strikes both couples, Esmie faces a shattering choice: should she stay the constant friend she’s always been, or risk everything and follow her heart?

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So that was my month, another good one for so many reasons, hope yours was as good for you.

 

Happy Reading

 

 

 

 

30 comments

    • Thanks Hayley, it was brilliant to be nominated and I didn’t think I’d win when I looked at the competition. I know there are plenty of other worthy blogs out there so I’ll bask in the glory this week and then get back to reality! I’ve got plenty of ‘Fives’ still to come and hoping to introduce some new features so that’ll keep things going for a fair while yet.

      Like

  1. Congratulations 🥳 well deserved commendations! Jill.

    Some wonderful books on this list Cage, indeed the trilogy, is terrific. I’ve been wanting The House Without Windows so would love to know what you think when/if you get to it – where did you get a signed version?

    Couldn’t resist buying a ‘Christmassy’ read so.. Bloody Christmas it is and for such a good cause too!

    Mind you there are a few more here I’ve my eye on, well it’s nearly Christmas! Santa May be kind, 😅!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect it depends on what the award is for, thankfully in this case not reviewing otherwise the answer would be yes. I won for best all round book blogger. So I guess the fact that I mix things up a bit might have helped. These things are all subjective and there are many blogs out there that better, but I’m happy to take this award, and appreciate that people like the blog enough to vote for it – especially given the stiff competition. It gives me the confidence to carry on doing what I’m doing.

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