I’m cheating a bit and doing a joint post for July and August, using the summer holidays as my excuse. Back to school tomorrow though, so back into all our usual routines as well, including a book blog each month!
The Hive by Gill Hornby
I have had this book for absolutely ages, bought on impulse on a Waterstone’s BOGOHP offer a couple of years ago. Somehow, though, I never quite got round to reading it until July. I’m so glad I now have, because I really enjoyed it – far more than I was actually expecting to. I knew from the blurb and a couple of reviews I had read that the ‘hive’ in question is a group of school-gate mums, all buzzing around the ultimate Yummy Mummy Queen Bee. To an extent this is my life, although I’m glad to say that school gate politics at my daughter’s school are either nothing like as complex and all-consuming (or they have passed me by completely!), and so I was a bit concerned that the satire in the novel would feel personal. I am generally very happy with my decision to be a stay-at-home mum and fit my very part-time writing around my young children, but I have had to fend off the odd nasty comment from acquaintances who have suggested I am wasting my education and training, missing out on the fulfilment of work and failing to provide a strong role-model for my daughters by making this choice, and I think I was worried that the whole novel might feel like fending off that kind of criticism.
Happily, it didn’t. The satire was biting at times, but rightly or wrongly I felt that the target was pushy mums and cliquey mums rather than stay-at-home mums who were the target. The characters were well-drawn, and while many of them were instantly recognisable deliberate caricatures others were better rounded and developed protagonists with whom you could feel a real rapport. It was well-written, engaging and thought-provoking and definitely deserved better treatment than a couple of years gathering dust on my shelf. I’d definitely recommend giving it a try.
How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
My mum bought this as a present for me at the beginning of the summer, and she chose very well, because everything about it from the title onwards it is pure catnip for me. I love Veronica Henry’s books anyway (so much so that I even forgive her for beating Two for Joy to secure the RNA Contemporary Novel of the Year award a couple of years back!), and I love bookshops, and I love love stories, and so a Veronica Henry love story set in and around a bookshop could have been written for me.
As with many of Veronica’s books, there are several different characters and story lines depicted, with a common thread to link them all – in this case the link is a beautiful independent bookshop in a pretty Oxfordshire town. Emilia has been left the bookshop on the death of her father, and is trying against the odds to bring it back from the brink of bankruptcy. The novel also follows the stories of others in the town to whom the bookshop is important – the rich lady of the local manor and her daughter, a lonely teacher obsessed with food writing and cookery books, a new mum struggling to adjust to life in the countryside away from her busy London career. The characters are warm and believable and you are are instantly engaged with them, and the author has a magical gift for evoking a sense of place and making you want to pack your bags and move in immediately. This is a total feel-good, comfort read which I know I will come back to again and again. Thanks, Mum!
Superfluous Women, Death at Wentwater Court, The Winter Garden Mystery, Requiem for a Mezzo, Murder on the Flying Scotsman, Damsel in Distress, Styx and Stones by Carola Dunn
I have my mum to thank for all these as well! When I went to stay recently, she lent me the latest in the series of Carola Dunn’s historical detective novels featuring Daisy Dalrymple. She thought I had read the entire series, and I vaguely thought I had as well. I read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Superfluous Women, which is the latest book, but as I was reading I decided that the characters weren’t all that familiar. I did a bit of research on Amazon, and discovered that I’d actually only read one or two of Carola Dunn’s previous twenty-odd books in the series, and hadn’t fully realised there were others. Luckily for me, the first four were available in a Kindle omnibus, so I bought those and raced my way through them while we were on our staycation, and I’m now systematically adding them to my Kindle collection as I work my way through the whole series.
They are modern novels set in the 1920s. As I have mentioned before, I am a sucker for a cosy crime type novel, and a sucker for anything set in the 1920s/1930s/1940s/1950s, so this series is a bit of a winner for me and I’m really enjoying them. They’re page turning and totally enjoyable to read, whilst not being too intellectually or emotionally demanding, which has suited me perfectly over this summer. I’m absolutely racing through the series as well, which is good for my 52 books in 2016 target. The only thing which might stand between me and the whole series in the first half of September is the limitations of my Kindle budget!