July 2018 Books

July-2018

 

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

I watched The Other Boleyn Girl, and realised that beyond what I learnt about Henry VIII and his wives at school, I don’t actually know that much about them. So I used one of my stockpiled Audible credits to download this audiobook. It was a really easy listen, not too dense, and as the title would suggest, it focused on the women in Henry’s life, rather than the man himself. Anne Boleyn is covered in some detail, for obvious reasons – as his second wife and the first to be executed, hers is an interesting story, but it was also nice to read about the women that seem to be less remembered by history.

Freshers by Tom Ellis and Lucy Iveson

I grabbed this in the library, and due to being early for meeting a friend for lunch, and then having a long bus journey home, I managed to finish it in a day, something I don’t tend to do that much any more (more on that later). It’s a fairly straightforward YA story about a group of young people starting university, with our main character, Phoebe, starting her first term already harbouring a crush on a boy from school who has ended up at the same uni. It’s a fairly by-the-books female-male romance, with a group of misfit friends thrown in for good measure, and there’s absolutely zero diversity here – no main characters who are anything other than white, straight, able-bodied etc. But there are just a few threads of feminism woven in, and it’s really readable, with an enjoyable enough ending that didn’t make me roll my eyes. This makes it seem as though I’m damning it with faint praise, but I did enjoy it – evidenced by the fact that I read it so quickly!

Once Upon a Dream by Liz Brasswell

The Disney Twisted Tales were everywhere for a while, so when I was taking advantage of a 3 for £10 offer at the end of last year, I picked the Sleeping Beauty one up to give a read. I finally got around to it recently, and I can’t say that I was overwhelmed! It reimagines the Disney tale as though Aurora didn’t awake at the end of the story, and Maleficent wasn’t vanquished by Prince Phillip. At first I was really enjoying it; the alternate universe that the characters were in really worked, and I was eager to see where it went. But then it got really bogged down and dense, and I just stopped caring; I put it down for weeks before finally picking it up to finish it off, just so I could tick it off. I’m sure that there are interesting stories to be told in this vein, but it doesn’t feel as though they have tried particularly hard, being more concerned with the concept rather than the execution of it.

Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

Another book that I read in a day! I had seen this in a list of ‘best summer reads’, so reserved it at the library, and read it the same day that I picked it up. It’s billed as a great read for anyone who enjoyed One Day, in that it follows a similar structure: we meet this group of friends as they finish their first year at university, and then catch up with them over the next 20 or so summers. It’s not as rigid in its structure as One Day; sometimes we catch up with the gang twice in one year, and sometimes a couple of years pass before we find out what they’re up to. At the heart of the story is Eva, a physics graduate who finds in her friends a family that she lacked growing up. Benedict is a fellow physics student, while Sylvia is an artist, and Lucien, her brother, is not a student but a firm part of the gang. There are romantic entanglements to contend with, and there’s a definite will-they-won’t-they that plays out over the course of the two decades, but there’s much more to it than that, and that’s why I found it so compelling.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney 

This was the final book of my three-book weekend; again, I finished this in one sitting, because I just couldn’t put it down. It’s funny, because there’s not really one character in there who I would describe as likable; they are none of them particularly nice people. The story is told from the point of view of Frances, a young undergraduate who performs poetry with her best friend and ex-girlfriend Bobbi. Their lives collide with those of an older couple, Melissa and Nick, with Bobbi being fascinated by Melissa, and Frances and Nick embarking on an affair. I’m finding it hard to describe what I liked so much about it, especially given that the characters are so unlikeable. They aren’t people that I particularly wanted to spend time with, and yet I raced through the book, eager to get to the end! Maybe it’s simply that it’s especially well-written – I felt as though I was completely immersed in Frances point of view, feeling every bit of physical and emotional pain that she went through.

Books so far in 2018 – 32

 

June 2018 Books

June-2018-Books

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
I mentioned in my last books roundup that I had picked up the first two books in this series in a charity shop, and I’m so glad I did, because as soon as I had finished reading To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I was able to crack straight on with the next in the series! Following the events of the first novel, in which Lara Jean’s love letters to all the boys she loved were posted without her knowledge, things have settled down a little, and Lara Jean is in a proper relationship with one of the boys, Peter. However, things are still complicated with Peter’s ex, Genevieve, and get even further confused when John Ambrose McLaren, one of the letter recipients, arrives back on the scene and cause Lara Jean to question her feelings.

Things are lot more teenage-angsty in this story; one of the reasons I loved the first book was that the relationships of the three sisters was an important part of the story, and that is less the case here. But it’s still a hugely enjoyable YA romance, and now I have to get the last in the series to see how it all turns out.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
I reviewed Love and Ruin as part of a blog tour, you can read my full review here. The long and short of it is that this is the story of Martha Gellhorn, celebrated war correspondent whose career spanned six decades. The period covered in this novel coincides with her marriage to one of the most famous American writers of the 20th Century, Ernest Hemingway. It’s a fine line to tread between focusing solely on her time as the third of Hemingway’s four wives, and portraying her as what she was; a female war writer at a time when women weren’t expected to be amongst the conflict. I really loved this story; McLain conjured up the hazy paradise of Cuba in the 30s as wonderfully as she evoked the terrifying scenes of war in Spain and France.

The Wives by Lauren Weisberger
My full review of The Wives goes into detail about my problems with the book; it’s not offensive, and it’s an enjoyable enough read, but I feel as though as a reader, I’ve moved on a lot since when I read The Devil Wears Prada, of which this is a sequel. I didn’t actually realise it was a sequel, until I noticed Miranda Priestly’s name being mentioned, and then later remembered that Emily was the name of a character in that book, and she’s one of our main characters here. As I mentioned in my review, I want and need to read much more diversely, and books like this, that feel like totally empty calories, are a bit of a waste of my reading time. of which I don’t have that much. My feelings a couple of weeks after reading it are actually seeming a lot harsher than they did when I finished it – I wanted to get to the end, and finish off the story, and in that respect, it was enjoyable enough. But I won’t be troubling myself to read any more in the series if they come along.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack, parts 3 & 4
I’ve decided to lump these two books into one, because in all honesty, I probably should have put all eight issues in one in the first place – they are kind of hard to review individually! I am really enjoying the story though; it’s delightfully dark, and I can’t wait to see how it’s adapted for television. I’m going to resist too much of a review/plot synopsis until I have read all eight instalments!

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Whenever I’m asked what my favourite book is, I say American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s been ten years since it was published, and probably seven years since I last read it (I should probably remedy that), but I just remember loving it so much. And now a new release by Sittenfeld is something to be celebrated, though this collection of short stories has been out for a while, and I’ve only just managed to get my hands on it to read. I’m not really clever enough to suggest why she’s so awesome, but all I know is that I love her characters, who always feel so intensely real to me, and when it’s time to walk away from them, at the end of a book, I always feel a sense of loss.

The fact that she manages to do this with short stories is just further evidence of her genius. It’s been a couple of weeks since I read these stories, but the people are still with me. I’m still thinking about the young journalist who leaves her breastfeeding baby behind while she heads to interview a young startlet, and about the high-flying lawyer who happens upon her old high school enemy on her honeymoon and can’t get past the idea of exacting petty revenge. These women (and occasionally, men), are all totally individual and distinct characters, who live and breathe in the pages of the book.

Books so far in 2018 – 26

Book Review ~ The Wives by Lauren Weisberger

The-WivesEmily Charlton, ex-assistant to legendary fashion editor Miranda Priestly, does not do the suburbs. She’s a successful stylist and image consultant to Hollywood’s stars but – thanks to the Snapchatting millennials stealing precious business – her career’s under threat. When Graham Hartwell, a senator with presidential ambitions, frames and publicly dumps her old friend Karolina, Emily winds up in Greenwich – with the client of a lifetime.

He couldn’t have known what’s coming. He’s reckoned without the wives…

The Wives was published as When Life Gives You Lululemons in America, and though I had no idea at the time I downloaded it from Netgalley, it’s a sequel to The Devil Wears Prada (though there has been another sequel in between). At first, when Miranda Priestly’s name was mentioned, I thought it was just inhabiting the same world as that book, but as I read on, it became clear that the Emily Charlton, one of the protagonists here, is the Emily that worked for Miranda Priestly at Runway magazine.

I read The Devil Wears Prada way back when, and I don’t remember having a huge problem with it at the time. I also quite enjoyed the film, though it has been years since I saw it. This book picks up some years later; Emily is now working as a professional problem solver for various celebrity clients, and living in California, with her partner. The chapters alternate between her story, and that of two other women; Karolina, wife of an ambitious senator, and Miriam, a former New York City lawyer who has moved to the suburbs with her family. The women are linked by Miriam, who are friends with them both, and who brings them together when Karolina faces a crisis with her husband that Emily steps in to help solve.

The one major problem that I have with The Wives is not something that I can talk about in a review, because it would be a very late spoiler for the plot. I’ll just say that I don’t think the character of Emily is served particularly well, and I think that it would have been good for her to have been able to stand by her convictions in a stronger way that she ended up doing. Overall, I enjoyed the story well enough, though there’s absolutely no substance whatsoever beyond the searing insight into life in the US suburbs is a hotbed of plastic surgery, extra-marital sex, and far too much money. The link to The Devil Wears Prada comes in thick and fast by the end of the novel, meaning that we get to be around the hateful character of Miranda Priestly for a few pages.

I read it on a plane, and it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, but as I look to diversify my reading habits, I have to say that the likes of this – a story about three white, rich women – won’t be troubling my TBR lists going forward.

The Wives by Lauren Weisberger (Published as When Life Gives You Lululemons elsewhere)
Publication Date: 12th July 2018
HarperCollins
Provided by publisher via Netgalley

May 2018 Books

May-2018-Books

Love Simon by Becky Albertalli

When it comes to YA, I am just so far behind. I mean, I’m 35, I don’t think it’s the most important thing in the world for me to read all the latest books as soon as they come out, but Instagram can give you a pretty big inferiority complex when it comes to reading! Love Simon, or Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda has been on my radar for ages, but then the film started to pop up everywhere, and I wanted to read it before I saw it. I failed at this, but even reading it after I saw the film was a joy.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the story is quite a simple one; Simon is a teenager with a big secret – he’s gay. Simon exchanges emails with Blue, another gay teenager at his school, and they talk about everything without knowing exactly who the other one is. The book is a quite straightforward high school YA book, but it’s full of charm and wit, and characters who you just want to be around forever. I want Simon and his group of friends to be my friends; they are cool, and fun, and decent people for the most part. I loved the book, and then I loved the film, and now I have to read Leah on the Offbeat so I can get a further fix of these people.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Robert Hack and Jack Morelli

The second in the series that I started in April, this moves the story on and focuses on Madam Satan, who is the big bad for this series. She’s going to be played by Madam Satan in the new Netflix series, and I am so excited, because Michelle Gomez is godlike to me due to her portrayal of Sue White in Green Wing. I am yet to read the next in the series, because I moved on to other things, but given that they take me no time at all to read, I should probably get on with it and find out what happens!

First Term at Trebizon by Anne Digby

I received this book as a gift in my Send Someone Awesome a Book swap that I took part in earlier in the year. Some of the wonderfully bookish people that I follow on Instagram (Alex at Odd Socks Alex and Gwen at Shutters and Letters, specifically) came up with the idea of SSAAB Day when they realised that many people don’t have random days of the year on which they are plied with gifts (outside of their birthdays), and because books are so great, wouldn’t it be wonderful to send a random person a book to celebrate their being awesome. This kind of thing was made for the likes of me, and I packaged up my books and sent them off, and received three perfect books to read.

The lady who sent my books (@delightfuldevon) clearly did her research, as I got two boarding school books, and I haven’t read either of them before! I love Malory Towers, so was excited to start the Trebizon series with this one. It’s more or less the same sort of story as Malory Towers, though it’s a little more up to date, being set in the 70s (!). The cast of characters are equally as engaging, with girls to root for and girls to hate, and I’ve passed it on to my niece who appears to be turning into a voracious reader as well. I just need to collect the rest of the series now!

Movie Geek: The Den of Geek Guide to the Movieverse by Simon Brew

I’ve had this on my Kindle for a long time, and I’ve been dipping in and out of it ever since I downloaded it. If you’re a fan of the Den of Geek website, you’ll know that it’s a well-written, well-researched resource for films, television, games, comics, and entertainment in general. Simon Brew, the editor of the website, has ensured that this book has a similar ethos; it’s full of interesting tidbits about the movie world, some of which I’d heard before, and some of which was news to me. It’s the right mix of entertainment, analysis and sheer movie geekiness.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka 

The now sadly defunct Radio 2 Book Club first alerted me to Girl in Snow, when its author, Danya Kukafka, was on Simon Mayo’s show to talk about her debut novel. It’s the story of a murder in a small Colorado town; popular teenager Lucinda is killed, and the story is told from three perspectives. There’s Cameron, a neighbour of Lucinda’s who had an obsession with her; Jade, her childhood friend whose own life couldn’t be further removed from Lucinda’s, and Russ, one of the police officers on the case. It’s a very slow moving book; the action only seems to take place over the course of a week or so, but it’s more about the secret and inner obsessions of the main characters than about the murder itself. We aren’t invited to learn too much about Lucinda, aside from how her life, and death, have impacted our three narrators. While the action isn’t scintillating, the prose is beautiful, and it wasn’t a story that I wanted to gallop through to find out who the perpetrator was; I was more than content to read it slowly and enjoy it.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Although I’m not a YA superfan, I do like to dabble, particularly in American YA, and particularly in the summer (I think it’s nostalgia for my teenage years, though I’m not really sure where the summer bit comes in). Somehow these books by Jenny Han (there are four in the series), had completely passed me by; they were on my radar, without me ever having picked them up before, or even knowing what they were about. When I spotted the first two in a charity shop, I grabbed them, and devoured them.

The heroine of our story is Lara Jean Song Covey, a Korean-American teenager who lives with her dad and two sisters. It’s a romance, through and through, with the central tenet being that Lara Jean had written a number of never-intended-to-be-posted love letters to all the boys that she loved before, only to find that one day, out of the blue, someone puts them in the post, and all the boys on whom she had previously had crushes are suddenly informed about her until-then secret love.

There’s not a whole lot of stuff going on here that is unexpected or different from the general YA literature that is out there, especially when it comes to the romance side of things, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What I liked the most was Lara Jean’s relationships with her sisters; her older sister Margot, who leaves for university at the start of the story, and Kitty, her younger sister. Kitty is only 10, and as the Covey’s mother died when they were young, Margot and Lara Jean are like the mothers Kitty never knew. With one of Lara Jean’s crushes being her sister Margot’s former boyfriend Josh, another level is added to that relationship, and all of this comes together to make an engaging and interesting family dynamic.

Books so far in 2018 – 21