Well it’s a new year, but I suspect for most of us it’s been pretty much like the old one so far. But we still have hope that it will improve, so we have better times to look forward to. Did you make any resolutions? I tend not to any more – they are invariably always the same and last, if I’m lucky, until about mid January! I did however, give myself a talking too about starting to read things I’ve had unread on my Kindle for far too long. I also plan on reading a book each month that I’ve bought recently and also catching up with books I’ve bought after meet-ups and events, especially ones written by author friends. This also means I can use my lovely new Bibliophile Planner that I bought last month to keep track of my progress.
I now choose at the beginning of the month what I hope to read, with a bit of flexibility built in to add to it. I’m going through my Kindle purchases and starting with the oldest adding them to the list. I’m also ‘weeding’ as I go through by reading a sample before it makes the list. I’ve already shed a few, I did start a mystery series that had possibilities until it featured an incident of animal abuse. I stopped with that book and decided I wouldn’t read the rest of the series either. Maybe that was a bit harsh, but with so many books I REALLY want to read, life is too short to make do with OK and things I don’t like.
I’ve also been thinking about the blog and ongoing features. In a moment of madness I thought it would be a good idea to move away from my individual Indie publisher feature, to introduce an A-Z of Indie Publishers feature which will highlight many more publishers over the year. I’m really happy with how this feature is shaping up, but have to accept that my track and trace system is not perfect (where have we heard that before!). I’m still thinking about whether to proceed with the Monthly Kindle Offers post, I’m waiting to see what February looks like. My Coming this Week feature is proving popular and panders to my inner librarian, scouring numerous sources to try and put an interesting (if admittedly, personal) list together. I’m happy to report I also used my downtime over the festive period to be pro-active with Five on Friday and I’ve got a varied list of lovely authors lined up. I’m very proud of this feature and still get excited when an author says yes. I’ve now got a very long list of possible invitees so no danger of that disappearing anytime soon.
One thing I didn’t really address was my purchasing policy – it remains fluid. While mentally I might tell myself to buy less, the reality is that ‘owning’ books (regardless of format) makes me happy. With that in mind, going forward I will not be beating myself up for my monthly book hauls. So, while we’re on the subject, here we go with this month’s.
What I bought this month
Spain by Jan Morris
pain is one of the absolutes. Nothing is more compelling than the drama, at once dark and dazzling, of that theatre over the hills – the vast splendour of the Spanish landscape, the intensity of Spain’s pride and misery, the adventurous glory of a history that set its seal upon half the world . . .
Passionate, evocative and beautifully written, Spain is a companion to the country: its people, its history – and its character. First published in 1964 and no less compelling today, Jan Morris’s classic work is back in print, bringing Spain, its glory and its tragedy, vividly to life.
A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble
If there is one thing that most of us aspire to, it is, simply, to be happy. And yet attaining happiness has become, it appears, anything but simple. Having stuff – The Latest, The Newest, The Best Yet – is all too often peddled as the sure fire route to happiness. So why then, in our consumer-driven society, is depression, stress and anxiety ever more common, affecting every strata of society and every age, even, worryingly, the very young? Why is it, when we have so much, that many of us still feel we are missing something and the rush of pleasure when we buy something new turns so quickly into a feeling of emptiness, or purposelessness, or guilt?
So what is the route to real, deep, long lasting happiness? Could it be that our lives have just become overly crowded, that we’ve lost sight of the things – the simple things – that give a sense of achievement, a feeling of joy or excitement? That make us happy. Do we need to take a step back, reprioritise? Do we need to make our lives more simple?
An Eye for an Eye by Carol Wyer
A killer running rings around the police. A detective spiralling out of control.
DI Kate Young is on leave. She’s the force’s best detective, but her bosses know she’s under pressure, on medication and overcoming trauma. So after her bad judgement call leads to a narrowly averted public disaster, they’re sure all she needs is a rest.
But when Staffordshire Police summon her back to work on a murder case, it’s a harder, more suspicious Kate Young who returns. With a new ruthlessness, she sets about tracking down a clinical, calculating serial killer who is torturing victims and leaving clues to taunt the police. Spurred on by her reporter husband, Young begins to suspect that the murderer might be closer than she ever imagined.
As she works to uncover the truth, Young unravels a network of secrets and lies, with even those closest to her having something to hide. But with her own competence—and her grip on reality—called into question, can she unmask the killer before they strike again?
The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville
Her heart beat hard. There was a crazed beauty to the storm. It was almost miraculous, the way it took away the mess of life, sweeping all in its path…
No-one could have foreseen the changes the summer of 1952 would bring. Cramming for her final exams on her family’s farm on the Norfolk coast, Verity Frost feels trapped between past and present: the devotion of her childhood friend Arthur, just returned from National Service, and her strange new desire to escape.
When Verity meets Jack, a charismatic American pilot, he seems to offer the glamour and adventure she so craves, and Arthur becomes determined to uncover the dirt beneath his rival’s glossy sheen.
As summer turns to winter, a devastating storm hits the coast, flooding the land and altering everything in its path. In this new, watery landscape, Verity’s tangled web of secrets, lies and passion will bring about a crime that will change all their lives forever.
A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin
When his daughter Samantha calls in the dead of night, John Rebus knows it’s not good news. Her husband has been missing for two days.
Rebus fears the worst – and knows from his lifetime in the police that his daughter will be the prime suspect.
He wasn’t the best father – the job always came first – but now his daughter needs him more than ever. But is he going as a father or a detective?
As he leaves at dawn to drive to the windswept coast – and a small town with big secrets – he wonders whether this might be the first time in his life where the truth is the one thing he doesn’t want to find…
Just Ignore Him by Alan Davies
The story of a life built on sand. In the rain.
In this compelling memoir, comedian and actor Alan Davies recalls his boyhood with vivid insight and devastating humour. Shifting between his 1970s upbringing and his life today, Davies moves poignantly from innocence to experience to the clarity of hindsight, always with a keen sense of the absurd.
From sibling dynamics, to his voiceless, misunderstood progression through school, sexuality and humiliating ‘accidents’, Davies inhabits his younger mind with spectacular accuracy, sharply evoking an era when Green Shield Stamps, Bob-a-Job week and Whizzer & Chips loomed large, a bus fare was 2p – and children had little power in the face of adult motivation. Here, there are often exquisitely tender recollections of the mother he lost at six years old, of a bereaved family struggling to find its way, and the kicks and confusion of adolescence.
Madrid Again by Soledad Maura
Madrid, 1960s. Odilia is a brilliant young student who seems to have it all until she is unexpectedly spirited away on an exciting journey across the Atlantic to the United States by a magnetic professor. But the professor disappears from Odilia’s life as mysteriously as he appeared. Left alone in a new country with a baby girl, Lola, Odilia must decide whether to strike out and raise her daughter alone, or return to her strict, upper-class Catholic family in Spain. Mother and daughter travel to Madrid as often as possible, but Odilia ultimately chooses a life of self-reliance in New England.
As Lola grows up, she feels torn between two countries, two cultures, and two languages. She becomes a historian and embarks on a quest to seek out the history of her origins. She wrestles with family secrets, as she struggles to answer questions about her own identity and future. How does she fit in to the United States, Spain, or anywhere else?
Hadley & Grace by Suzanne Redfearn
Needing to escape her abusive marriage, Hadley flees with her two kids, knowing it might be her only chance. A woman who can’t even kill a spider, Hadley soon finds herself pushed to the limits as she fights to protect her family.
Grace, new mother of baby Miles, desperately wants to put her rough past behind her for good, but she finds it impossible when her path crosses with Hadley’s, and her quest for a new start quickly spirals out of control and turns into a terrifying flight for survival.
Stronger together than apart, the two find their fates inextricably entwined, and as the danger closes in, each must decide how much she is willing to risk for the other.
A powerful story of self-discovery, Hadley and Grace is the heart-racing tale of two women facing insurmountable odds, racing to stay one step ahead of the trouble that is chasing them, and discovering new kinds of love and family along the way.
Word Perfect by Susie Dent
Welcome to a year of wonder with Susie Dent, lexicographer, logophile, and longtime queen of Countdown’s Dictionary Corner.
From the real Jack the Lad to the theatrically literal story behind stealing someone’s thunder, from tartle (forgetting someone’s name at the very moment you need it) to snaccident (the unintentional eating of an entire packet of biscuits), WORD PERFECT is a brilliant linguistic almanac full of unforgettable stories, fascinating facts, and surprising etymologies tied to every day of the year. You’ll never be lost for words again.
Let’s Do It – the Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood by Jasper Rees
‘I was born with a warped sense of humour and when I was carried home from being born it was Coronation Day and so I was called Victoria but you are not supposed to know who wrote this anyway it is about time I unleashed my pent-up emotions in a bitter comment on the state of our society but it’s not quite me so I think I shall write a heart-warming story with laughter behind the tears and tears behind the laughter which means hysterics to you Philistines…’
From ‘Pardon?’ by Vicky Wood, Aged 14. Bury Grammar School (Girls) Magazine, 1967
In her passport Victoria Wood listed her occupation as ‘entertainer’ – and in stand-up and sketches, songs and sitcom, musicals and dramas, she became the greatest entertainer of the age. Those things that might have held her back – her lonely childhood, her crippling shyness and above all the disadvantage of being a woman in a male-run industry – she turned to her advantage to make extraordinary comedy about ordinary people living ordinary lives in ordinary bodies. She wasn’t fond of the term, but Victoria Wood truly was a national treasure – and her loss is still keenly felt.
Victoria had plenty of stories still to tell when she died in 2016, and one of those was her own autobiography.
‘I will do it one day,’ she told the author and journalist Jasper Rees. ‘It would be about my childhood, about my first few years in showbusiness, which were really interesting and would make a really nice story.’
That sadly never came to pass, so Victoria’s estate has asked Jasper Rees, who interviewed her more than anyone else, to tell her extraordinary story in full. He has been granted complete and exclusive access to Victoria’s rich archive of personal and professional material, and has conducted over 200 interviews with her family, friends and colleagues – among them Victoria’s children, her sisters, her ex-husband Geoffrey Durham, Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Dawn French, Anne Reid, Imelda Staunton and many more.
The Dark Room by Sam Blake
Hare’s Landing, West Cork. A house full of mystery…
Rachel Lambert leaves London afraid for her personal safety and determined to uncover the truth behind the sudden death of a homeless man with links to a country house hotel called Hare’s Landing.
New York-based crime reporter Caroline Kelly’s career is threatened by a lawsuit and she needs some thinking space away from her job. But almost as soon as she arrives, Hare’s Landing begins to reveal its own stories – a 30-year-old missing person’s case and the mysterious death of the hotel’s former owner.
As Rachel and Caroline join forces, it becomes clear that their investigations are intertwined – and that there is nothing more dangerous than the truth…
The Forgotten Orphan by Glynis Peters
A world at war
A secret from her past
A chance to be together…
Abandoned when she was tiny, Maisie Reynolds was separated from her twin brother and forced to grow up in Holly Bush orphanage – a place where she has never known love or kindness.
But with the world at war and Hitler’s devastating bombs coming ever closer, fate has other plans for Maisie and a secret from her past changes everything.
When she meets handsome Canadian paratrooper, Cam, Maisie learns that love might not be lost to her after all – but not before her past life and D Day bring a tragic twist to her happiness.
Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness
Is there a knack to being happy? From paddle-boarding down the Thames in a Santa hat, to wild swimming in a glacial river and cooking sausages on a campfire, Bill revels in the exhilaration of the outdoors, as well as the quieter pleasures of letter-writing, or of simple reflection.
In this beautiful and uplifting book, Bill Bailey explores all this and more while delving into the nature of happiness, all in his own, remarkable, way.
Packed with wisdom and humour, and with delightful illustrations by the comedian himself, Bill Bailey aims for the heart of pure joy and contentment – and how we can all achieve it.
Victoria Park by Gemma Reeves
Mona and Wolfie have lived on Victoria Park for over fifty years. Now, on the eve of their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary, they must decide how to navigate Mona’s declining health. Bookended by the touching exploration of their love, Victoria Park follows the disparate lives of twelve people over the course of a single year. Told from their multiple perspectives in episodes which capture feelings of alienation and connection, the lingering memory of an acid attack in the park sends ripples of unease through the community. By the end of the novel, their carefully interwoven tales create a rich tapestry of resilience, love and loss.
The Boy with the Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera
“It’s 1979, I’m three years old, and like all breakfast times during my youth it begins with Mum combing my hair, a ritual for which I have to sit down on the second-hand, floral-patterned settee, and lean forward, like I’m presenting myself for execution.“
For Sathnam Sanghera, growing up in Wolverhampton in the eighties was a confusing business. On the one hand, these were the heady days of George Michael mix-tapes, Dallas on TV and, if he was lucky, the occasional Bounty Bar. On the other, there was his wardrobe of tartan smocks, his 30p-an-hour job at the local sewing factory and the ongoing challenge of how to tie the perfect top-knot.
And then there was his family, whose strange and often difficult behaviour he took for granted until, at the age of twenty-four, Sathnam made a discovery that changed everything he ever thought he knew about them. Equipped with breathtaking courage and a glorious sense of humour, he embarks on a journey into their extraordinary past – from his father’s harsh life in rural Punjab to the steps of the Wolverhampton Tourist Office – trying to make sense of a life lived among secrets.
The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths
PS: thanks for the murders.
The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death.
But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her…
And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to…
And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure…
Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all
Black 13 By Adam Hamdy (Capital Crime Sub)
An exiled agent. A growing threat. A clandestine war.
The world is changing beyond recognition.
Radical extremists are rising and seek to enforce their ideology globally.
Governments, the military and intelligence agencies are being outmanoeuvred at every step. Borders are breaking down. Those in power are puppets.
The old rules are obsolete. To fight this war a new doctrine is needed.
In a world where nothing is at it seems, where trust is gone, one man will make the difference.
Meet Ex-MI6 agent and man in exile, Scott Pearce.
It’s time to burn the espionage rule book.
Watch Pearce light the fire.
Keeper by Jessica Moor (Capital Crime sub)
He’s been looking in the windows again. Messing with cameras. Leaving notes.
Supposed to be a refuge. But death got inside.
When Katie Straw’s body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police decide it’s an open-and-shut case. A standard-issue female suicide.
But the residents of Widringham women’s refuge where Katie worked don’t agree. They say it’s murder.
Will you listen to them?
An addictive literary page-turner about a crime as shocking as it is commonplace, KEEPER will leave you reeling long after the final page is turned.
Guest List by Lucy Foley (NB Mag Sub)
On an island off the windswept Irish coast, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.
The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.
All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave this wedding alive . . .
The Dig Street Festival by Chris Walsh (Louise Walters Sub
It’s 2006 in the fictional East London borough of Leytonstow. The UK’s pub smoking ban is about to happen, and thirty-eight-and-a-half year old John Torrington, a mopper and trolley collector at his local DIY store, is secretly in love with the stylish, beautiful, and middle-class barmaid Lois. John and his hapless, strange, and down-on-their-luck friends, Gabby Longfeather and Glyn Hopkins, live in Clements Markham House – a semi-derelict Edwardian villa divided into unsanitary bedsits, and (mis)managed by the shrewd, Dickensian business man, Mr Kapoor.
When Mr Kapoor, in a bizarre and criminal fluke, makes him fabulously credit-worthy, John surprises his friends and colleagues alike by announcing he will organise an amazing ‘urban love revolution’, aka the Dig Street Festival. But when he discovers dark secrets at the DIY store, and Mr Kapoor’s ruthless gentrification scheme for Clements Markham House, John’s plans take several unexpected and worrisome turns…
Funny, original, philosophical, and unexpectedly moving, The Dig Street Festival takes a long, hard, satirical look at modern British life, and asks of us all, how can we be better people?
Books I’ve Read
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
It’s 1938 and women seeking a quick, no-questions split from their husbands head to the “divorce capital of the world,” Reno, Nevada. There’s one catch: they have to wait six-weeks to become “residents.” Many of these wealthy, soon-to-be divorcees flock to the Flying Leap, a dude ranch that caters to their every need.
Twenty-four-year-old Ward spent one year at Yale before his family lost everything in the Great Depression; now he’s earning an honest living as a ranch hand at the Flying Leap. Admired for his dashing good looks—“Cary Grant in cowboy boots”—Ward thinks he’s got the Flying Leap’s clients all figured out. But two new guests are about to upend everything he thinks he knows: Nina, a St Louis heiress and amateur pilot back for her third divorce, and Emily, whose bravest moment in life was leaving her cheating husband back in San Francisco and driving herself to Reno.
A novel about divorce, marriage, and everything that comes in between (money, class, ambition, and opportunity), Better Luck Next Time is a hilarious yet poignant examination of the ways friendship can save us, love can destroy us, and the family we create can be stronger than the family we come from.
Tangerine by Christine Mangan
The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the horrific accident at Bennington, the two friends – once inseparable roommates – haven’t spoken in over a year. But Lucy is standing there, trying to make things right.
Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy, always fearless and independent, helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.
But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice – she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.
Heresy by S J Parris
In Elizabeth’s England, true faith can mean bloody murder…
Oxford, 1583. A place of learning. And murderous schemes.
The country is rife with plots to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and return the realm to the Catholic faith. Giordano Bruno is recruited by the queen’s spymaster and sent undercover to expose a treacherous conspiracy in Oxford – but his own secret mission must remain hidden at all costs.
A spy under orders. A coveted throne under threat.
When a series of hideous murders ruptures close-knit college life, Bruno is compelled to investigate. And what he finds makes it brutally clear that the Tudor throne itself is at stake…
Bad to the Bone by Tony J Forder
A skeletal body is unearthed in a wooded area of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. DI James Bliss, together with DC Penny Chandler, investigate the case and discover that the young, female victim had been relocated from its original burial site.
A witness is convinced that a young female was struck by a vehicle back in the summer of 1990, and that police attended the scene. However, no record exists of either the accident or the reported victim. As the case develops, two retired police officers are murdered. The two are linked with others who were on duty at the time a road accident was reported.
As Bliss and Chandler delve deeper into the investigation, they start to question whether senior officers may have been involved in the murder of the young women who was buried in the woods.
As each link in the chain is put under duress, so is Bliss who clashes with superiors and the media.
When his team receives targeted warnings, Bliss will need to decide whether to drop the case or to pursue those responsible.
Will Bliss walk away in order to keep his career intact or will he fight no matter what the cost?
And is it possible the killer is much closer than they imagined?
So how did I do with my reading plans? Well I managed a book that I’ve had for a long time (Heresy), one that I bought in 2018 (Bad to the Bone) after meeting Tony at Harrogate, and two that I acquired recently, Better Luck Next Time and Tangerine. Lets see if I can do as well next month. Hope you had a good month too.