Big Reveal: My 20 Books of Summer Pile

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Every year, the lovely Cathy at 746Books runs the 20 Books of Summer challenge, and I’ve taken part every year since 2015, though I certainly haven’t completed the challenge every year (my master 20Books page is here). The challenge starter page is here and there are over 85 people taking part at the moment, which is astounding and lovely, including lots of bloggers I read already.

I usually create my pile out of my print TBR, taking the earliest books on it although also adding some Viragoes and the like in at the end for All Virago / All August. This year, I’m being even more strict, and only the two Dean Street Press books I have coming up are slotting into August, although maybe I’ll be able to fit more in if I finish early.

What’s NOT included in my 20 Books pile?

  • Ebooks whether NetGalley or downloaded from Amazon
  • Review books sent by the publisher or author specifically for review on Shiny New Books or my blog
  • Books for other challenges I might do along the way (I don’t think I have anything falling into that category this time)
  • Books I am reading along with my best friend, Emma
  • Books I’m part-way through at the turn of the month

What IS included in my 20 Books pile?

  • The oldest 20 books on my print TBR that don’t fall into the above categories.

THE PILE

And here they are!

Ruth Pavey – A Wood of One’s Own – all about owning a bit of woodland and I think rewilding

Helen Ashton – The Half-Crown House – mid-20th century novel

Stella Gibbons – The Bachelor – another mid-20th century novel

Jeffrey Boakye – Black, Listed – the experience of Black men in the UK

Elton John – Me – the autobiography

James Ward – Adventures in Stationery – something we probably all like, right?

Anna McNuff – The Pants of Perspective – solo running the length of New Zealand

Alex Hutchinson – Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance – what it says on the tin

Martin Yelling and Anji Andrews – Running in the Midpack – running and improving when you’re not a new runner and you’re not an elite (might get promoted up the pile as reading with Wendy)

Mikki Kendall – Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women White Feminism Forgot – required reading for White feminists

Angie Thomas – On the Come Up – novel set in America by the author of The Hate U Give

Candice Braithwaite – I Am Not Your Baby Mother – Black women’s experience of maternity

Anna Aslanyan – Dancing on Ropes – translation and why it’s important

Nicholas Royle – White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector – he collects a particular imprint

Rob Deering – Running Tracks: The Places and Playlists that Made me a Runner – running and music in this Unbound book I subscribed to

Sue Anstiss – Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women’s Sport – finally we’re seeing more coverage, and this is another Unbound book I subscribed to

Lucy Delap – Feminisms – a history that aims to cover worldwide, not just White developed nations feminism

Edward Hancox – Every Last Puffin – he visits puffin sites in this book I took part in a crowdfunder for

Carola Oman – Nothing to Report / Somewhere in England – two Dean Street Press reprints of WW2 novels.

So, four mid-20th century novels, two nature books, three running books, two general sports books, two books on feminism, three books on Black people’s experiences, two books on music, book on books and words and one on stationery. Five fiction and fifteen non-fiction (a bit unbalanced but I will read other fiction during the summer). Twelve by women, seven by men and one by a man and a woman, sounds about the usual ratio. Will I do it? I really don’t know. But I’ll enjoy trying.

Are you doing 20 Books of Summer this year?

Book reviews – Maud Cairnes – “Strange Journey”

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I’m grateful that the British Library Publishing people send me these great reprints in the British Library Women Writers series: I reviewed “Keeping up Appearances” a couple of days ago and here’s the other new one, a more magical adventure than that, and great fun.

Maud Cairnes – “Strange Journey”

(19 March 2022, from the publisher)

It occurred to me then, that I really had no private life at all. I had never objected before, and I suppose that I should not have done so now, had I not had something to hide. (p. 142)

In this novel, published in 1935 and one of only two she published, Maud Cairnes cleverly and successfully attempts a body-swap story. Polly Wilkinson, a suburban housewife with just enough money to employ a part-time help, the redoubtable Gladys, is waiting for her beloved husband to return from work when she sees a luxury car glide by and wishes she could swap places with the lady in it for just a moment. Back in she goes and nothing happens until suddenly she goes all dizzy and finds herself probably not too far away in place, and certainly at the same time, but in a very different world: the world of Lady Elizabeth, who has a perhaps less-beloved husband and an extraordinarily different way of life.

As she negotiates both upper-class life and works out who on earth is who in the house, there are shades of du Maurier’s “The Scapegoat“, especially when it’s the dogs who seem to notice there’s something amiss. She feels like she gets dropped in it a bit by Lady Elizabeth (especially when she comes round riding a horse, of all things!) but gets her own back by demonstrating a good standard of bridge, which Elizabeth has never been able to play, and also works a little on one couple’s love affair and her own husband. Meanwhile, Elizabeth turns out to be able to be braver than Polly at work events.

Do they meet or how do they communicate? How does it turn out? When they both encounter the same chap who’s interested in psychic phenomena, are they able to hide their secret, which at least Polly is worried shows some sign of mental health disturbance? Well, you’ll have to read this enticing short novel to find out! I loved it.

Interestingly, reading the standard introductory and afterword pieces, the author was more of the upper class echelon; I totally believed Polly, too, although there were many details of Elizabeth’s house that would have come from experience. In fact she shows the constraints of a suburban mid-war life really well, as the quotation at the top shows. A really well done book and I think a favourite in the reprint series so far.

Thank you so much to the British Library for sending me this book and others in the series in return for an honest review. You can buy all the British Library Women Writers books (and more) at the British Library Shop (https://shop.bl.uk/).

Book reviews – Rose Macaulay – “Keeping Up Appearances”

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I’m doing quite well with my print TBR, as I’m reading “The Virago Book of Women Travellers”, “Strange Journey” and “Foula” at the moment. I’m grateful the lovely folk at the British Library send me these lovely reprints in the British Library Women Writers series and I feel bad it’s taken me this long to read and review them. This is a series of reprints of lost classics which are handily held by the British Library, curated by the excellent Simon from Stuck-in-a-Book and well worth a look at. Many of them have interesting twists or conceits and several have quirkily magical elements (as with the next one; this is “straighter”).

Rose Macaulay – “Keeping up Appearances”

(19 March 2022, from the publisher)

Born of one father, but of two quite different mothers, Daphne and Daisy looked alike, though Daphne was the better looking, the more elegant, and five years the younger. But in disposition, outlook, manners, and ways of thought, they were very different, Daphne being the better equipped for facing the world, Daisy for reflecting on it, though even this she did not do well. (p. 6)

This book treats the horrible worry of knowing your own real self is more wormlike, vulgar and cowardly than the self you’ve presented to the public and to people you want to impress – and older than you’ve made out. That carefully curated front is just that, curated, and underneath is messy reality. What if your worlds overlap or even – horrors! – collide? What if the facade is peeled off? What if you’ve lied to maintain the illusion but the lies are coming unravelled? And what if you’re not a highbrow who reads hard, foreign novels but you write gossip and pabulum for the newspapers?

Well, all of those are fairly modern concerns, aren’t they – what lies beneath the selfie, etc. – but actually it was published in 1928 and is dealing with flappers and people who are struggling with post-first-world-war upheavals in crossing class boundaries. I have to say that I didn’t pick up on the big, well, is it a plot twist or just a revelation (but I’m glad to say someone else I talked to about it didn’t either) but we basically have a young woman from a lower-middle-class background who is trying to maintain a place in slightly higher circles – not to mention a love affair – which involves her in pretending to enjoy brisk walks in nature and having a stiff upper lip in a crisis – not to mention all the different terms and words she’s expected to use in both places. As well as the background, she writes little pieces in the papers and novels about the Modern Girl, both very sub par to her do-gooder friends, who are more likely to be writing to the papers on political grounds.

Of course it’s never really profitable to lie, and Macaulay gently mocks those who try to get above their station (as well as the whole newspaper industry, publishing and people who try to get involved in other governments’ businesses: there are lots of targets here). The book felt a bit cold at the start but I warmed to it and it’s impossible not to feel for our heroine as her carefully curated life starts to fray at the edges, with some quite shocking moments as her work is revealed, although I also felt for her family, getting left behind by her ambition and desperation that comes out as snobbery.

A novel very much of its times but also relevant to today’s times, I think.

As usual with this series, we find a 1920s timeline, a short bio of the author, a Preface talking about the post WW1 quest for identity and an Afterword discussing the lowbrow, middlebrow and highbrow in publishing at the time.

Thank you so much to the British Library for sending me this book and others in the series in return for an honest review. You can buy all the British Library Women Writers books (and more) at the British Library Shop (https://shop.bl.uk/).

Book review – Catherine Munro – “The Ponies at the Edge of the World”

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The last of my NetGalley books published in May that I’ll get read in May, and ever such a good one – another non-fiction book after a spate of novels, and absorbing, moving and full of information. This would be a good companion piece to Sheila Gear’s “Foula” as well as Peter Jamieson’s “Letters on Shetland“, and indeed Munro visits Foula in this book, as well as spending time on mainland Shetland and various others of the islands.

Catherine Munro – “The Ponies at the Edge of the World: A Story of Hope and Belonging in Shetland”

(27 April 2022)

I felt the presence of time, the ancient breed of sheep roaming the hills, the people who nurture and understand them, the birds, ocean and seals, eternal, ordinary and magical. I noticed my body and the feeling of flow between me and the surrounding world, a surprising lack of tension.

I’m counting this as a travel book rather than a nature book as such, as it’s steeped in both the human social atmosphere of the Shetlands and the animal and bird life. It is full of the author’s life and reactions, too, but that felt natural and not forced or inserted at the demand of an editor, and her careful thinking and teasing apart of her own thoughts and what she’d told by others is intelligent and well done.

Munro was living an almost hand-to-mouth existence in Scotland, in precarious employment but yearning for nature and open spaces, when she managed to secure a funded PhD place to study animal domestication, specifically of Shetland ponies, in the Shetland Isles. Off she and her husband go (especially after reading “Snow Widows”, I liked the theme that her supportive husband followed her on her research journey) and settle in to a small house in a tiny community, digging in and working out how to exist there amongst the close-knit community and learning about the lives of the pony breeders and their charges.

I have to say here that I am particularly impressed that Munro managed to get a PhD and this book out of her year in Shetland; working with doctoral students, the time and other pressures are immense (and, indeed, she discusses this when starting a family but not getting any time off) and it’s astounding to have produced both!

We meet other wildlife as well as the ponies, including an orphaned lamb she rescues and the bird life of the islands. It’s all beautifully described, dialect words mixing with scientific ones naturally and authentically. The landscapes and weather are also superbly described and then we come to her fellow-islanders, respected and admired, their personalities drawn and their relationships with their animals carefully and considerately unpicked.

Munro’s central idea is that good, ideal domestication involves teaching the ponies how to interact positively with humans while retaining their own natural abilities and senses, letting them make their own decisions and learning from and with them. Shetlanders have strong ideas about what their animals are like, as a breed first, and then as individual studs, and Munro tries to describe how this happens and its deep value. Working with other people’s ponies, she gets an idea of how it works herself, too – the descriptions of her and others’ interactions with the ponies are moving and fascinating.

Going further, the landscape is seen as another actor in the interplay of humans, animals and the islands, and this is very plausible, each having an effect on the other two. Humans and animals are interwoven and back up each others’ attributes:

… across Shetland, island breeds are included as active participants in the stories of hard work and resourcefulness and tare so central to local identities. Connections between animals, history and contemporary life and closely interwoven in ways that are powerfully symbolic, but the shared attributes between people and animals inform and are informed by everyday embodied relationships with the animals they love.

There’s no call to action here, but a description of what works and a worry about what might happen if things move otherwise. It’s good to see changes and adaptations in the way Shetland ponies are used – for example, their innate good relationship with children and vulnerable people makes them ideal therapeutic animals – which might secure their future.

I should probably add a content warning for pregnancy loss here as there is a fair bit of detail, although it’s not a sad book as such when seen overall. And Munro derives a lot of healing from the places she stays in Shetland, again in a natural and authentic way: even when she’s visiting sacred sites and monuments, it’s more matter-of-fact than woo, an acknowledgement of special, “thin” places in the world and the weight of history.

A lovely book I’m very glad I read.

Thank you to Ebury/Rider Publishing for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Ponies at the Edge of the World” was published on 19 May 2022.

Book review – Susanna Abse – “Tell me the Truth about Love”

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Almost the last of my nine NetGalley books published in May (I’m currently reading “The Ponies at the Edge of the World” and I have not managed to finish all the Love Heart Lane series so haven’t got to “The New Doctor at Peony Practice” yet; I DNF’d “Why We Read” and I’m pleased I’ve done so well (let’s not mention the four NetGalley wins I’ve just had, right …). A really interesting read about psychoanalysis in practice that started a little underwhelmingly but hooked me in.

Susanna Abse – “Tell me the Truth about Love: 13 Tales from the Therapist’s Couch”

(19 Mar 2022, NetGalley)

Abse is a long-standing psychotherapist, dealing with couples and families. In the introduction, she explains that each chapter tells a story about problems and behavioural patterns she’s seen in her practice over and over again, but that for reasons of confidentiality, none of them are about a specific patient or patients. Because of this, I thought they were going to be cold or unbelievable; actually the composite portraits she provides feel authentic and real, and I could feel invested in the process and outcomes.

The types of conflict range over misunderstandings, mismatches, arguments, affairs and decisions. I was pleased (and my friend Thomas will be, too) that one of the twelve chapters was about the love lost from a friendship, rather than a romantic relationship – such an important part of so many people’s lives. Abse’s thesis, and I find this valid, is that our romantic relationships are modelled on our early family relationships, unconsciously of course, and that this is what can scupper or promote healthy relationships. A lot of her work involves unpicking this and helping people to be more aware, and then to alter their behaviours if they have to / want to. There’s fascinating detail about transference and other psychotherapeutic concepts; there is very little jargon and it’s all explained very well.

I also appreciated the insights into the therapist’s work itself, both with couples and with her own peers and internal work. She is honest about how when she was a new, young therapist she wanted to sort out the whole world, and about how she reacts to people and has to sometimes fight to remain fair and impartial. She shares her mistakes and frustrations. This extends to sections written about the lockdown, when she first caught Covid and then had to adjust to working remotely via Zoom, sharing interesting details about how it was harder to stop warring couples fight when everyone was on a screen.

At the end, she both issues a call for people / the NHS to accept the need for long-term psychotherapy for some people rather than the reliance on the “quick fix” of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which can help some but not everyone (she does acknowledge this is a funding issue, too). She also acknowledges that the reader may feel frustrated, not knowing “what happened next”, and shares that she, too, feels that, as she rarely gets any news past the last session in her consulting room.

An honest and open, and also fascinating, read – push on past the worry these are “fairy tales” and inauthentic to see that she uses some metaphors and fairy tale chapter titles to explore real people and feelings. You might find something useful in here, too – I know I did.

Thank you to Ebury Press for selecting me to read this book in exchange for an honest review. “Tell me the Truth about Love” was published on 19 May 2022.

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “The Desert Rose”

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I’m already on to my next series in my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, having finished the Duane Moore series last month. Now I’m onto the two Harmony and Pepper novels. “The Desert Rose” was apparently the third McMurtry novel I read, from the library (presumably Lewisham Library) in March 1998; bizarrely, I don’t have a record of having read this copy, bought in January 2004, from Borders (presumably in London), I imagine with a birthday book token.

Larry McMurtry – “The Desert Rose”

(25 January 2004)

“That’s the nice thing about Las Vegas, though,” Harmony said. “I was never talented like you are, I was just pretty. Nobody would have known what to do with me anywhere else, but here I got to be a feathered beauty.” (p. 250)

It’s not clear why McMurtry has found himself writing a preface to this book only a year after its publication, but he talks about that process and then reveals that he wrote this novel in three weeks, while in the middle of writing “Lonesome Dove”! He was making glacial progress with the massive novel and was asked to write a treatment for a film about Las Vegas showgirls, which turned into this novel. But they’re not as disparate as you might think:

I have always been attracted to dying crafts – cowboying is one such. It became clear that the showgirls were the cowboys of Las Vegas; there were fewer and fewer jobs and they faced bleak futures, some with grace, and some without it. (p. 7)

Unlike my reservations about the Duane series, this novel is very firmly centred on the female experience, with care and respect and an understanding of the issues women face in relationships and the workplace. Much like in his other novel, none of the men in the book are much to write home about; even Harmony’s best friend and most stalwart support, Gary, is often snippy and critical, if good at making an apology.

Harmony works as a showgirl, standing on a disc and being lowered from the ceiling at one of the big Las Vegas shows. She’s done it thousands upon thousands of times; she’s no singer or dancer, so her job is to look beautiful and give of that beauty to the people in the audience, many of whom have carefully saved to get their week of glamour in Vegas. But she’s a dying breed: she’s coming up to 39 and is no longer the most beautiful woman in Vegas, doing photo opps with celebrities; her daughter Pepper, who is 17, is hot in pursuit, and she can dance.

Pepper is a bit of a one. Unlike the glacial Jacy from Thalia, she is off around, sleeping with boys and taking risks. Is she horrible to Harmony because she’s jealous, because she’s a teenager or because she’s just horrible? It’s hard to tell, though different people have different theories. On a weird assignation with her dopey boyfriend to have photos taken by some older guy, she finds a different way to live, expansive and expensive, high-end but muted, and forms a friendship with Mel (who I used to think was a lovely character but is actually quite creepy; also I am now older than him, which feels a bit weird).

So Harmony sits in her yard, feeding her peacocks and crying, but it’s not all misery. Completing the cast are the aforementioned Gary, dresser to the show, a gay man with a depressive side but very supportive; Jessie, the other showgirl-on-a-disc, lurching from crisis to crisis with her miniature poodle the most important man in her life; and Myrtle, who lives in the other half of Harmony and Pepper’s duplex and keeps goats (all the animals get through OK though one peacock is lost before the novel starts), a rackety older woman with a taste for yard sales and vodka who is also a repository of secrets. Pepper’s dad Ross is out of the picture, seemingly offering no escape from their precarious life and the poverty that comes knocking constantly, with failing cars, exploitative boyfriends and cancelled Visa cards.

When Harmony’s job is threatened while Pepper is offered marriage and a fancy job, will everything fall apart? This bittersweet, lovely novel, full of sunsets across the desert and the distant view of the Strip, offers a form of hope, though another precarious one. I loved it as much as I remember loving it before.

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one?

Book review – Akwaeke Emezi – “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty”

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I’m really glad that I tried this book for myself and wasn’t put off by other reviews I read. With the impression that the opening scene was an offputting mix of sex and death and the central character a transgressive artist who worked in fairly grim media, I picked it up to check for myself before writing a quick note about why I hadn’t read it, and was instead drawn in by the rapid plot development, attractive characters and good writing.

Emezi has published two works of more literary style fiction before this and warns their readers that this is a “romance”; however, it ponders a lot of deep things and although it is at heart a novel about millennials finding their place in the world, it’s thoughtful and considered.

Akwaeke Emezi – “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty”

(11 March 2022, NetGalley)

There was a reason she’d fled from the garden that night, and a certainty that going on an early morning hike alone with this man was terrible idea. And, because Feyi was Feyi and she was alive, there was no way she could say no. ‘Four thirty,’ she replied, with a damned smile and a traitorous chill burning through her veins.

We meet Feyi having an anonymous hook-up at a party in New York, and she does at one point think of the car crash that killed her husband five years ago, but it’s not some kind of “Crash” mash-up of sex and death or anything. It is fairly explicit, and you might wonder why I’m OK with that in this book and not the last read; I can only say that the scenes are shorter here and seem to fit better with the urban and grittier vibe of the book (I’m not using “urban” as code for Black here, please note; the book is set partly among young artists and party-goers in New York rather than nice dog ladies in the South of France and the context does make a difference). She soon moves away from the friends-with-benefits gig with this guy and on to another person from his friendship group. Then her life changes when she’s offered an opportunity to exhibit her art in a big show in the Caribbean, goes there with Second Guy, determined to be her friend and not rush her, and meets his dad. Oops.

So yes, Feyi does sort of hop from man to man but she’s given morals and decentness and panic about falling for someone’s dad when she’s already messed around. The book is full of this angst and it is a bit millennial in that respect, but there’s also a lot of aspirational architecture and food, which is completely fair enough; who doesn’t want to read occasionally about high-end interior decor and amazing birds? The landscape is described beautifully and the supporting cast of characters from the art world are nicely and richly done.

The book is also diverse both in terms of the orientations of the characters (the two main characters could be described as bisexual but don’t describe themselves in any particular terms, there are a couple of lesbians and a gallery attendant who happens to be gay with no fuss made about it) and in terms of the different kinds of love portrayed. Although Feyi has had a sexual encounter with best friend Joy at one point, they’re loving friends now, sharing an apartment and all the details of their lives; Joy is a great conscience and counterpoint to Feyi and their video chats are hilarious, but their friendship is highly important. It’s made very, very clear that Feyi doesn’t need a particular man (or by implication woman) in her life; she has, and is, enough:

It didn’t matter how this went – it couldn’t matter how this went. She had a life in New York. She had Joy, and her work, and it had been enough before this, so it would be enough afterward.

Feyi is ambitious about her art, owns it and takes commissions on her own terms and the thing she really sticks up for when things get tough is her art, not her relationship; I loved this about the book. Her art is big and raw and about grief and hurt; it’s installation art rather than paintings and it uses unconventional media. It’s refreshing to have her discuss her art with a female curator and a female collector, both also with diverse Caribbean heritages, as well.

A good read, one step towards the literary from the straight romance genre still but nicely done by the author, and I would certainly read another of their novels, realising they’re quite different to this one. I’ve added my social justice – race tag to this to remind myself it’s an all-Black cast but there are obviously points made about societal racism, not wanting one’s art to go to an old White male collector, etc.

Thank you to Faber and Faber for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty” is published on 26 May 2022.

Book review – Lorraine Wilson – “Daisy’s French Farmhouse”

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I’m doing well with my light NetGalley reads while I work through the large tome of “Snow Widows” and here’s the next one I’ve finished. I will admit to giving up finally on “The Love Songs of WEB DuBois” – while it’s an essential work to have been published and explains both the effects of slavery as it happened and its legacy, it was a brutal and distressing read (I know I have privilege in being able to look away; I also need to look after myself to an extent). Also, “Why We Read Non-Fiction” wasn’t really about why we read NON-fiction at all, and without any introductory text or author bios, it was fragmented and not a smooth read, so I abandoned it. Onwards and upwards: I’m enjoying “You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty” more than I thought I would, given reviews out so far!

Lorraine Wilson – “Daisy’s French Farmhouse”

(6 May 2022, NetGalley)

First of all, I need to say that this is part of a series called “A French Escape” and because there are only two other couples in the book plus the one this one involves, you do get massive spoilers in the back history if you want to go back and read the others. So maybe read this fourth (two novels and a novella) to get the full story and enjoyment.

Daisy is having an unlucky time in England and asks to go to stay with her friend Poppy in France – she will help out in her guesthouse in return for board and lodging. The first chapter of the book is all her emails to Poppy, her unconventional gran, currently staying on an ashram, and her colleague at the hotel she settled for working at (this is the second book in a month where working at a hotel is something to escape from!). Off she goes, along with her special talent, which allows her to feel the emotions and previous owners of inanimate objects – an interesting addition to a romance-in-another-country genre book which gave it some more aspects.

Of course Daisy isn’t keen on getting into any more romantic situations and of course she immediately hits it off with a sexy widower, but she must play it slow and not upset him. Their relationship is portrayed nicely and his job as a document appraiser and hobby studying the history of the area – well-researched by the author – give opportunities for plot and more meatiness to the book.

Looking at other reviews, people seemed to take exception either to the number of dogs in the book or the very spicy and long sex scenes. The dogs were fine – sets of them belonged to different people, there were some excellent chihuahuas and nothing apart from some mild peril happened to them (there is some back story about rescue from abusive backgrounds that might be upsetting in the other books in the series). The sex scenes were a bit much for me, but obviously some people enjoy this aspect, and it was sex-positive with a confident woman with no hang-ups about her body or appearance, which was refreshing.

A nice summer read with some interesting added extra themes, but you would probably want to read the others in the series.

Thank you to Sara from One More Chapter for offering me this to read via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Daisy’s French Farmhouse” is published on 26 May 2022.

Book review – Emily Henry – “Book Lovers”

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Another fun NetGalley read and an appropriate title for my 200th NetGalley review (yes, I get a new badge; hope I’ve been able to upload it OK by the time you’re reading this). It’s even about editors, although more the developmental kind at a publisher than the line editing I do; still, it was lovely to read detail about the process as well as a sparky book that undermines the genre its in.

Emily Henry – “Book Lovers”

(14 April 2022, NetGalley)

But this man is mythic, the too-shiny lead in a rom-com that has you shouting, NO DAIRY FARMER HAS THOSE ABS. And he’s smiling at me. Is this how it happens? Pick a small town, take a walk, meet an impossibly good-looking stranger?

Nora is an editor in New York, the city she moved to with her mum and younger sister so her mum could get a chance to act, the city she loves like nowhere else – known as the Shark, since their mother’s death she’s concentrated on her career and her sister, acting like both parents to her and keeping a checklist any men she wants to date must conform to. Immersed in the world of books, she knows her tropes, especially the City Person Goes to the Country one – and she’s in fact been dumped four times now by city guys who’ve gone to a small town, helped save a struggling business and fallen in love with the owner’s daughter, etc. Let’s just stop to pause there and enjoy the fact this book cheerfully undermines those tropes, points them out and giggles at them – but kindly.

Charlie is a super-editor who can create a best-seller out of nothing. He escaped his small town in North Carolina for New York and hardened his heart when he knew he couldn’t live up to his family’s wishes for him. He’s a perfectionist with a heart of … gold, or not? Who knows if he’s got a heart. Nora certainly doesn’t think so.

When Nora’s heavily pregnant sister drags her to a small town in – oh, North Carolina – that’s the setting for her favourite novel (published by Nora’s client), Nora goes along with it but becomes suspicious at Libby’s motives for going out there for a month, especially when she overhears some fraught phone conversations with her husband. And then a certain editor appears. And then that same author starts to deliver her latest novel – all about a hard-edged literary agent in New York … and who is appointed as her editor?

Although the main couple are obviously leading towards each other, the way it happens is twisty and turny and there are surprises along the way. Charlie’s parents are a delight and the small-town world is caught beautifully. The absorption in the world of book publishing and editing is detailed and educative and the back-stories and motivations believable. I would definitely read more by this author.

Thank you to Penguin for approving me to read this novel via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Book Lovers” was published on 3 May 2022.

Book review – Clare Pooley – “The People on Platform 5”

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I was away at the weekend and thought I’d have loads of time to read, but in fact apart from the two longish train journeys I was busy seeing family, volunteering at parkrun, running, wandering around Poole and Bournemouth, or falling asleep ridiculously early, so that didn’t quite work as I hoped and I was a bit disappointed. I did read this one on the way down and finished it in the hotel room, and have finished and reviewed “Thrown”, finished “Book Lovers” and half-read “Why We Read” so have to tell myself I’m not doing too badly with my NetGalley May titles.

I really enjoyed Clare Pooley’s community-based novel, “The Authenticity Project” which came out in May 2020, so leapt at this one when I received an invitation from the publishers to read it via NetGalley.

Clare Pooley – “The People on Platform 5”

(25 January 2022, NetGalley)

We meet a cast of characters who commute on a train from the Hampton Court area into London and gradually find out about them as they find out about each other and themselves. There’s love, heartbreak, loss, protection, support and life changes to come through the book, and several of the characters aren’t quite as they seem …

I really liked how Pooley introduced the characters one by one, and the way we triangulated them by their names for each other, Iona, the sort of linchpin of the group, with her bright clothes and uncompromising attitudes being Magic Handbag Woman to one, Rainbow Lady to another. The cast is diverse, of different sexualties and ethnicities without it seeming like a box-ticking exercise, and kindness is prized above all other qualities. Everyone has an Achilles heel or what they see as a weakness, and I found nurse Sanjay’s panic attacks particularly moving (content warning: there are some details about cancer in his part of the story and another theme on early-onset Alzheimer’s, although all the depictions are carefully done and nothing devastating happens to a character we get to know. Should I say the dog gets through OK in this parenthesis? Well, you know I worry about that sort of thing, too).

There are a few hard-hitting themes confronted here: sexist bullying at school, toxic masculinity, ageism and coercive control, but again they’re all woven into the plot in a natural way. The plots are resolved nicely, not everything fully finished off but enough positivity and hope to make it a relaxing and reassuring read.

Thank you to Random House / Transworld for offering me a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The People on Platform 5” is published on 26 May 2022.

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