Books I’ve enjoyed 004

The Green Roasting Tin by Rukmini Lyer

My current favourite recipe book which I’m using to bring some fresh meat-free meals to the table. Last week I made the courgettes roasted with olives, feta and tomato bake. It was delicious both hot and cold, though perhaps not for someone who is advised to use eat a low-salt diet. You could maybe miss out the olives and cut it down that way, but it wouldn’t be quite the same. Tomorrow when I’m doing my groceries order I’ll choose another recipe to make this week.

The Diet Myth by Tim Spector

Tim trained in medicine and rose to the position of consultant rheumatologist before turning to genetic epidemiology, the study of genetic factors in health and disease. Now he is professor of genetic epidemiology and director of the TwinsUK registry at Kings College London. He is a specialist in twin study, genetics, epigenetics and microbiome, and diet. (Wikipedia) You may also recognise his name and his face from the Zoe website. He’s very active on Instagram and Twitter too.

The Diet Myth is an exploration and explanation of why most diets fail, why despite, the multi million pound diet industry, and so much advice about what to eat, and what to avoid, people are still gaining weight and populations are becoming fatter every decade. This is a fascinating read.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Published a hundred years ago, in 1922, this story is about a couple of women who are unsatisfied in their marriages and leading pretty dreary lives. They decide to rent a small castle on the Italian Riviera and gather two others to help pay for it during a summer holiday, without their husbands. It’s a lovely read, with some very touching and humorous lines. Apparently at the time it did wonders to advertise and bring tourism to the area. This paperback was a surprise sent by a friend when I was unwell, along with Midnight Chicken which I wrote about in my last books post. Friends who post books they think you’ll enjoy and cheer you up are treasures!

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves

The second in the Vera series. This time she’s investigating a crime which happened ten years before. New evidence has come to light, which throws doubt on the original verdict. I found this absolutely masterful; the characterisation, setting and plotting. It could be any one of the community, it’s impossible to guess the ending.

The Woman on the Island by Ann Cleeves

If you have any interest in reading the Vera series then you MUST go to Amazon next and select this because it’s currently FREE! (Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can get the free Kindle app on your phone or tablet and read the short story.) We learn the motivation for Vera becoming a detective during this short backstory. As she goes on a day trip to Holy Island with her father Hector. There’s an excerpt at the end for the new Vera book (number ten) The Rising Tide, which is set on the same island. This should whet your appetite for when it comes out on 1st September (sorry, I’m not sure of international publication dates) next week. I read of a proof copy, back in May, and it’s a 5 star read.

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd

I’ve been looking forward to telling you about this one. The Night Ship is structured with a dual time period, which tells the stories of two nine year old children Mayken and Gil more than 300 years apart. The author weaves fiction around fact to tell the story of Mayken, who is a newly motherless child en route to the care of her father. She is travelling with her nursemaid Imke on an East India Company ship The Batavia. The ship is undertaking the long and hazardous sea voyage from Holland to Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies as it was (Jakarta in Indonesia as it is now called.) It is carrying goods and 200 passengers. Gil is also newly motherless and has been sent to his Grandfather Joss to spend the fishing season on a remote island off the west coast of Australia. Their story and developing relationship is rather touching as both adjust to each other and become closer.

Mayken is a fabulous character, she and Imke definitely have all the best lines. Mayken’s story made me both laugh and cry. She is a character who will stay with me.

Jess Kidd paces this atmospheric story perfectly, as usual in her writing there is folklore and supernatural elements. The tension gradually ramps up until the denouement for both children. I enjoyed the parallels between the two and found myself thinking a lot about cultural norms and what is thought of as endearing, or alternatively as weird; particularly from a gendered point of view.

From now on I shall be keeping witch’s stones / hagstones that I find on the beach and trying to see what has already been and what is to come! This is another 5 star read. If any of you have not yet read any of Jess Kidd’s books I urge you to find them. She’s such a talented and entertaining writer. I cannot wait to see what she writes next.

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There are some absolutely cracking books coming out in the autumn, I’ve read a fair few advance reader copies this year and I’m looking forward to writing about them, when I get the publishing dates.

We’ve had a good summer here, albeit far too dry, but now I’m looking forward to autumn. This is usual for me at this point in the holidays. I’m beginning to anticipate apple picking, soup making, cooking stews, walking through crunchy leaves and having cosy evenings crafting (crossed fingers) with lots more good books to curl up with on the sofa.

Want to share what you’re currently reading? Any book recommendations for us?

Books I’ve enjoyed 003

Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger

Part memoir of a specific period in Ella’s life, mostly recipe book. What makes this an ideal book to dip in and out of is the lovely way that she writes about food in the introduction to each recipe. And the recipes sound good too!

Very sad endnote, but I’m glad she’s sounding happier and all is ok on the other side of everything now.

I’m definitely going to make the Midnight Chicken and a few other recipes too.

Kiss Myself Goodbye by Ferdinand Mount

‘Aunt Munca never told the truth about anything. Calling herself after the mouse in a Beatrix Potter story, she was already a figure of mystery during the childhood of her nephew Ferdinand Mount. Half a century later, a series of startling revelations sets him off on a tortuous quest to find out who this extraordinary millionairess really was. What he discovers is shocking and irretrievably sad, involving multiple deceptions, false identities and abandonments. The story leads us from the back streets of Sheffield at the end of the Victorian age to the highest echelons of English society between the wars.’ From GoodReads

This is a rollercoaster of discoveries, and it never stops! I read it while away last weekend by the sea and found it distracted me from paddling, ice cream and rock throwing games. It’s a goodie.

An Island Wedding by Jenny Colgan

A welcome return to the Scottish fictional island of Mure and lots of familiar characters. I enjoyed catching up with Flora, her family and friends. It was a welcome escape from the news and everything going on in the world. (I read an advance copy in March.)

I feel Jenny Colgan is at her best writing this series; it’s not sickly sweet like some of the others and it’s not repeating the same basic premise over and over like the recent Bookshop series. (Girl moves to new area due to unhappy previous situation, has to find a job, ends up selling books, meets a cast of quirky characters, including one or two possible boyfriends. Chooses one, lives happily ever after.) There’s some attempt at reality, grit, hardship and exploration of how characters really feel in the Mure books. These aspects take you on rather an emotional journey and you find you care about them.
The story has really moved on throughout the series, sometimes in unexpected ways, and there is definitely space for more; as this latest book ended with plenty of ends dangling. I’m glad.

(It is odd how from book 1 to book 4 Jan’s maiden name and both her father’s first and last names have been changed. I couldn’t work out why I didn’t recognise Malcy Doherty, head of the local council. Well, that’s because he was Fraser Mathieson in the first book!)

Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen

For Maeve and her friends daily life holds not just the common feelings experienced by all teens: anxiety waiting for exam results, the mad swings of love and lust, boredom with where they grew up, and worry about earning enough money to save for what comes next. Their days are also full of frustration and fear as the threat of violence flares up around them on a daily basis as there’s continual tension between the Catholics and Protestants and resignation about the troubled political situation in the country. Mixed into this mix there is heaps of black humour. It’s hilarious from the beginning and the humour doesn’t let up. This is a story where well-drawn characters are living in dangerous and strained circumstances over the border from the Free State, under British control in Northern Ireland, but it’s not nearly as grim as it sounds.

‘But it’s all these good intentions that’s killing me,’ Maeve said. ‘Everyone’s always asking us to paint pictures or write poems. Ye’ve artists sculpting doves. Teachers sucking the fucken lifeblood outtay us by asking us tae sing “Imagine” – like, no harm, but is that not showing a total lack of imagination?’ ‘Aye,’ Fidelma said. ‘Nobody’s tackling the hard stuff.’

Maeve and her friends then outline how they believe life could be different without segregation, starting the process of integration from the earliest years. The insider knowledge and lived experience of the author shines out, this is not clearly not researched, but drawn from the author’s own life growing up in County Tyrone.

It has to be said (and I know I won’t be the first to say this and certainly not the last) but it is a good companion if you’re watching Derry Girls. Some of what is sketched out in Derry Girls will make much more sense after reading Factory Girls.

Factory Girls is laugh out loud funny, irreverent and touching. I loved it. I know this because I read it slowly and properly, always a good sign as I did not want it to end.

How long until until there is a film or television series? I’m positive the rights will be snapped up. At the end I felt there was also a lot of scope for a follow up book about what Maeve (and friend) do next ….

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

Detective Vera Stanhope’s first appearance, this was published in 1999.

Three very different women are living together in an isolated cottage, while undertaking an environmental survey. An apparent suicide, then another death and Vera Stanhope appears to try to piece together what has happened…

The first ever I read in the series was a proof of the tenth book, lucky lucky me. That’s coming out in the autumn. I have to say that’s a fabulous read, if you’re a fan then you’re in for a treat! Then because I enjoyed that so much, I decided to read all of the books in order.

I was already a fan of the tv series, but I think you need to let some time go by to forget details if you watch first, then read. In the TV adaptations motives have often quite changed and it can be disorienting to remember who and why, then find a completely different murderer in the book. That was why I stopped at the first Shetland book; it was too soon after I’d watched that episode. I’ll go back to the books when I’ve finished Vera and have forgotten a lot of what I’ve seen. (By the way: do you know the last series of Shetland has begun to air? The first episode is available on the BBC iplayer now.)

Ann Cleeves writes so well. I love her clear style of writing. I’ve got to look out for the fourth book, I keep checking on Amazon and finding random Kindle deals on different books in the series. I’ve only paid full price for one so far. Huzzah!

The Corset by Laura Purcell

Melodramatic and tense gothic storytelling set in the Victorian era. I started out listening to the audiobook, but I was finding it so anxiety inducing and generally horrible that I decided to read at my own speed (faster! Get past the gory parts!) and power through the e-library book instead.

I underestimated this book. It was a 3 star read all the way. Then, I got to maybe 80% of the way through, maybe more, and realised that it was going to be quite a rollercoaster of an ending. Upgraded to 4/5 stars, don’t underestimate a talented author like Laura Purcell.

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What have you been reading lately? Anything you want to recommend to us all?

Books I’ve enjoyed 001

The Aerialists by Katie Munnik is a fictionalised account of a true event which happened in Cardiff at the Fine Art, Industrial and Maritime exhibition in 1896. I was unaware of this exhibition despite it being on a scale to rival England’s 1851 Great Exhibition, held at Crystal Palace. It’s such an interesting story, but I do not want to give any spoilers. At it’s heart this is a story about Laura, we find out about the journey that brought her to the streets of Paris and her life with the Gauldrons. Her story, as you’ve probably guessed, involves flying!

I have to be honest and say that I felt there were some weaknesses in the writing and depiction of the behaviours and dialogue of the characters, particularly as it is set during Victorian times, but overall the story is a good one.

When you’ve read it look up the BBC article published on 24/07/21, 125 years after the festival. (Not before, because it will ruin the book for you.)

French Braid by Anne Tyler follows one family from the 1950s up to the pandemic present day.

The Garrett family take their first and last family holiday in the summer of 1959. They hardly leave their home city Baltimore, but despite this are not a close family.

I love Mercy, the mother of the family. She is definitely a free spirit!

As an Anne Tyler fan I read everything that she publishes, this was definitely a five star read, one of my favourites, alongside Breathing Lessons.

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is the fictionalised account of the real life and work of Eliza Acton, while she wrote her famous cookery book in England in 1837. The story also focuses upon Ann Kirby although no facts about her are known, beyond that she worked for Eliza and her mother. But her story helps to round out the book and is a good device to compare and contrast the differing lives and opportunities of the two women. 

The Language of Food explores women’s freedoms (or lack of) and limited opportunities to work creatively under their own name. I felt the author successfully conveys the frustration and difficulties which must have been felt by so many.

And finally of course; the food! Luscious descriptions and well written passages illuminate Eliza’s process of developing and testing recipes. (Perhaps luscious is the wrong word for the recipe for brawn featured at the end?!)

Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley is written by a new-to-me author, but I will certainly look out for more of her books.

Set in Minneapolis in the 1970s, it tells the story of two women who meet in a cafe. Marge is a bus driver and Peg is training to be a psychotherapist. You find out about their relationship, the challenges and surprises they face over the next twenty years. Then one day things drastically change. It’s a story about family, love and loss.

I really enjoyed it; the style of writing and low-key tone reminded me of an Anne Tyler novel.

If you read this and don’t fancy making meatloaf (veggies excepted) by the end I’ll be really surprised!

One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe. Have you read any of Nina’s books? If not, then do! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Love Nina. And seen the TV adaptation. That’s one of my comfort reads / watches.

I also really liked Paradise Lodge, that’s great fun, with laugh out loud moments. I recommend the Audible version with Helen Baxendale narrating. She really cracked the Leicestershire accent, that isn’t easy.

Anyway, back to One Day I Shall Astonish the World; it focuses on the friendship between Susan and Norma. They are thrown together in a haberdashery shop in Leicestershire in the 1990s. Thirty years later Susan begins to wonder about the choices she has made in her life.

I’m sure all of us can agree that female friendships are weird, brilliant and challenging, when they’re good they can be one of the best things, but strange and stressful when they go awry. I think Nina Stibbe has captured this complex mix extremely well.

A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin. I have a confession to make; this was my first book by Rankin, although I’ve heard him interviewed about every new John Rebus crime novel for years.

It was a bit mad to start with this one, because it is his latest. Number 23 in the series! I haven’t stayed up reading and chanting ‘just one more chapter’ for a long time, but found myself still reading this at 1 AM a few weeks ago. I just couldn’t put it down. I will look out for others in the series now.

Rebus is now retired, but definitely not planning on avoiding looking into other people’s secrets and crimes, he has kept hold of a large pile of folders of unsolved cases…

Before he evens finishes unpacking from downsizing his home, his daughter calls to say that her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst and knows that his daughter will be prime suspect. He has to decide if he’s going to go to her as a father, or a detective.

The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page I read last week. It’s such a goody! I felt a little bereft at the end.

Janice is a cleaner and notices people always tell her their stories. (I’ve always experienced that too, so I was drawn to Janice.) Her rule is that she can save one story from each person, but she is very clear: she is the Keeper of Stories and doesn’t have a story to tell about herself. But when she meets Mrs B (who is no fool) things begin to change. Set in Cambridge this is a really lovely story about supporting other people, while finding yourself and realising what you do and do not want. There’s much empathy and masses of everything practical, including DIY. If Janice’s skills don’t leave you feeling a tad inadequate, then I’ll be surprised. There is lots of humour, I laughed out loud often. Look out for the dog. (Warning for the faint-hearted…he swears. A lot.)

Let me know if you decide to read any of the books I’ve recommended. Or maybe you’ve already read some of them? I’d love to know your take.

Time to make a G&T (it’s not Dry Lent anymore woohoo!) and quickly sort out what I want to watch. Someone is fishing with a friend this evening, so I shall make the most of the P&Q. New Grace & Frankie eps are now on Neflix, or do I rewatch The Split’s third series and cry all over again? Or…?