books, reviews

Readalong Round-up: The Bloomsbury Girls – Natalie Jenner

Time for another readalong round up post. This was a charming, gentle book set in a fictional bookshop and as you’ll see below, I rather enjoyed it! Thanks to Tandem Collective and Allison & Busby.

Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world in Bloomsbury Girls.


Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances–most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time–Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others–these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.

My thoughts: I like books set in bookshops and libraries (I used to be a librarian and bookshops are my kryptonite) and this book, with elements of 84 Charing Cross Road (a delightful book if you haven’t read it) was a pleasure to read.

I loved the women of the bookshop – fed up with their stuffy, old-fashioned male colleagues and the hidebound way of doing things, they’re ready to shake things up, with the help of Daphne De Maurier, and several other literary adjacent ladies.

Evie was an interesting figure, working class, but with a Cambridge degree, interested only in cataloguing the books in her search for a mysterious rare edition. She doesn’t seem too involved with the goings on around her, but she’s paying attention. Her gentle, and for the time, highly controversial, relationship with Ash was a delight.

Vivien and Grace were also fascinating. The 1950s were a time of huge social change, especially for women, many of whom had worked through the war, and like Grace, weren’t prepared to down tools and return to their kitchens. Vivien is also a newly emerging type of woman – independent, unmarried and happy with her lot. Although I wish she wouldn’t keep getting involved with awful Alec.

I really enjoyed this book, a real treat for book loving bookshop loitering readers, and hugely fun too.

As with every readalong there were stops through the book for questions – despite my best intentions I didn’t get much up on Instagram so I include them here for your interest. If you read this book, let me know what you think. It’s out now.

books, reviews

Readalong Round-Up: The Plant Rescuer – Sarah Gerrard-Jones

A simple, stylish and complete guide for any houseplant owner
Whether you have just one or many houseplants, this is the book they need you to read. It is a clear and practical toolkit on all aspects of plant care from how to choose a plant to tips for everyday care. Changes in your plant’s appearance are often a cry for help and this book will help you understand their needs. Learn how to help your plants not only survive but thrive.

Sarah, also known as @theplantrescuer, is a self-taught houseplant obsessive who firmly believes every plant deserves a happy life. Her determination to see beyond the ‘perfect plant’ and to rescue unloved plants makes her the go-to guide.

My thoughts: I don’t have green thumbs, notoriously my plants die, although those that survive are clearly very stubborn. But I love plants so I keep trying. With my fingers crossed.

Like a lot of people I really got into house plants during lockdown, I had some before but I bought quite a few while unable to go out, bringing that lovely green into my flat. However not everyone survived, including me, tearing my hair out as some of the plants just gave up – despite me trying my hardest to keep them alive.

Then comes along this book, and a spark of hope for some of my slightly droopy plants. It’s full of explanations to why plants go brown, or limp, and die. And ways to save them that don’t include “cry, chuck in bin and buy a new one” – aka my go to method.

Instead of spending ages on Google trying to solve the droopy leaf crisis of 2022, I dipped into this book to diagnose my sad little plants and do some clever plant healing. Though the fact that plants suffer from over and under watering will continue to drive me mad – how can I stop this nonsense!

A really useful and informative guide to houseplants, I’m hoping this will encourage and help me be a better indoor gardener and give me at least a tiny bit of a green thumb, just a tiny bit of plant magic.

Below I’ve posted the readalong challenges, if you read this book, please share your thoughts. And tag me @ramblingmads in your plant photos on Instagram.

books, reviews

Readalong Round-Up: When Women Were Dragons – Kelly Barnhill

I took part in another Tandem Collective readalong last week – this time for Kelly Barnhill’s first YA novel, When Women Were Dragons.

A rollicking feminist tale set in 1950s America where thousands of women have spontaneously transformed into dragons, exploding notions of a woman’s place in the world and expanding minds about accepting others for who they really are. • The first adult novel by the Newbery award-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Alex Green is a young girl in a world much like ours, except for its most seminal event: the Mass Dragoning of 1955, when hundreds of thousands of ordinary wives and mothers sprouted wings, scales, and talons; left a trail of fiery destruction in their path; and took to the skies. Was it their choice? What will become of those left behind? Why did Alex’s beloved aunt Marla transform but her mother did not? Alex doesn’t know. It’s taboo to speak of.

Forced into silence, Alex nevertheless must face the consequences of this astonishing event: a mother more protective than ever; an absentee father; the upsetting insistence that her aunt never even existed; and
watching her beloved cousin Bea become dangerously obsessed with the forbidden.

In this timely and timeless speculative novel, award-winning author Kelly Barnhill boldly explores rage, memory, and the tyranny of forced limitations. When Women Were Dragons exposes a world that wants to keep women small—their lives and their prospects—and examines what happens when they rise en masse and take up the space they deserve.

My thoughts: first up, I love the cover, all those lush greens and purples, the hint of scales and then that eye in the bottom left corner, hinting at hidden things and the mystery within.

Obviously being published right now when reproductive rights in the US are at risk makes a book about women – wives and mothers all, as the book says, spontaneously turning into giant fire breathing mythic beasts, breaking free of society’s confines, feels very prescient. As the law seeks to repress women yet again, an age old conflict, the idea of one of the oldest creatures in our collective folklore being within women is very intriguing. I wouldn’t mind being a dragon sometimes.

This is an incredibly moving book, I cried a few times, and very honest. Alex is a wonderful protagonist, my heart really ached for her as she loses her aunt, her mum, her home and struggles to get by, taking so much care of her sister Beatrice.

I was angry with her stupid dad and wanted a dragon to eat him – what a terrible man, so weak and cruel. Who in their right mind treats any child the way he does. He’s pathetic.

I loved librarian Mrs Gyzinska, she was amazing, what an incredible woman, total hero. Her support of Alex and Bea is so important to Alex’s survival.

Overall I thought this was a powerful, timely book about women, their strength and courage, about change and hope. I really enjoyed it once I got into the story, the use of extracts from various documents got a bit grating at times – I cared more about the characters.

I’ve posted the challenges from the readalong below – if you read the book, maybe you’d like to share your thoughts inspired by these starters.

books, reviews

Readalong Round Up: Wish You Were Here – Jodi Picoult

I love Jodi Picoult’s books, they always make you think and question, which I feel is pretty important in the world we live in. I took part in the Tandem Collective’s readalong over on Instagram but as my talents do not lie in creating reels or stories (is it just me that can’t seem to get half the functions to work properly?) There was also a DM chat group but I won’t be sharing anyone else’s thoughts.

This is a book set in the very recent past and dealing with 2020’s Covid-19 outbreak, lockdowns etc. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do reading about something that’s still ongoing and very raw. This is how I got on.

Diana O’Toole’s life is going perfectly to plan. At twenty-nine, she’s up for promotion to her dream job as an art specialist at Sotheby’s and she’s about to fly to the Galápagos where she’s convinced her surgeon boyfriend, Finn, is going to propose.

But then the virus hits New York City and Finn breaks the news: the hospital needs him, he has to stay. But you should still go, he insists. And reluctantly, she agrees.

Once she’s in the Galápagos, the world shuts down around her, leaving Diana stranded – albeit in paradise. Completely isolated, with only intermittent news from the outside world, Diana finds herself examining everything that has brought her to this point and wondering if there’s a better way to live.

But not everything is as it seems . . .

I was quite cross with the cavalier attitude on display here and my first instinct was to shout “don’t be so bloody stupid and irresponsible!” Going to a tiny island in the Pacific with limited health care resources is incredibly selfish. Diana should stay in New York and support Finn. But then they don’t know how absolutely devastatingly terrible things will get.

I like Abuela, she rescued a very stupid Diana, who didn’t appreciate that the hotel would be shut, even though she was warned about the lockdown before she got on the ferry. Gabriel is probably right to be upset, the world has just turned upside down and he’s worried about his family and his home. He shouldn’t be yelling at his grandmother though. Have some respect.

I can understand his motivations a bit more, he just wants to keep his family safe and he’s been through a lot. I think he and Diana will get to know each other better and explore the island.

I know that Darwin came up with The Origin of the Species and his theory of natural selection (although not the first to do so or unique) after visiting the Galapagos Islands and seeing the distinct differences in species between different islands. Gabriel is paraphrasing “history is written by the victors”, attributed to Winston Churchill. It means we don’t hear the losing sides version of events, only the successes.

I know a lot of people clapped for carers and volunteered for mutual aid things. I did the shopping for one neighbour who was quarantined and fed another’s cat when she was hospitalised (not with covid). I just wish it had lasted longer and been more permanent, we seem to have gone right back to being selfish even though it’s not over (I still shop for my neighbour and feed cats for those in hospital).

I think Diana is starting to feel very comfortable with Gabriel and he seems lonely, so it’s perhaps inevitable that something might happen.

Nina Simone’s version is one of my favourite pieces of music, a real Desert Island Disc choice.

OK, didn’t see this coming. I couldn’t get my stupid Stories to work and is this a huh? face – 😕 cos that’s how I felt.

I think Finn is dealing with a lot, and something that feels huge, and new, to Diana isn’t to him. He’s been living with the new realities of lockdown and working on the front line for a while now.

Wait! What? Please explain. I’m so confused. 🥴

So, I didn’t really do any of these because I can’t work those functions (my brain can’t cope with technology, also my phone hates me) so that was that then. I don’t know enough South American actors to cast anyone, because it would need to be accurate. I did do a flatlay, photo thing, you can see it here.

My overall thoughts: I immediately thought of my friend telling me about her sister who was working on coral reefs on another tiny island when covid hit. She had to leave her dream job and fly home when they closed the island – and the project is on hold so she’s stuck at home with no job, hard to be a marine biologist in London, and no idea if she can ever go back. Millions of people had their lives turned upside down in the last two years and with no end in sight, this will keep happening.

As the book progressed I got seduced by the idyllic island life Diana was leading, which then gets thrown into chaos by what happens next. Which I won’t spoil but will say that the second half of the book was very, very different to the first.

Once Diana is back in New York, dealing with events, working out if her relationship, job, life, is even what she wants anymore, I struggled a bit. Like many people I lost loved ones last year and it has been really hard. My mum is a nurse, and while she was covering for her colleagues who were drafted into hospitals (she retires next year and my dad is high risk so she was doing other duties behind the scenes), I saw some of what medical professionals were going through.

Last year was just horrible and maybe this book is just a bit too soon, and as things are starting to crack again with new variants and restrictions and the future is so uncertain, I just don’t quite know how I feel about this book.

Have you read this book? Maybe you were in a book group like I was for the readalong, let me know your thoughts in the comments. Is it too soon for literature about 2020? When is the right time? I’d really love to hear other people’s thoughts.

books, instagram

Tandem Readalong Round Up: The Madness of Crowds – Louise Penny

Recently I took part in Tandem Collective‘s readalong for Louise Penny’s The Madness of Crowds. This was over on Instagram, where as you might have noticed I rarely post, mostly because things like reels and stories are beyond me – I just can’t seem to get them to work for me! I thought it might be fun to do a little round up here and on Instagram, so you can learn a bit more about the book.

Screen reader users: click this link for accessible mode. Accessible mode has the same essential features but works better with your reader.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns to Three Pines in #1 New York Times bestseller Louise Penny’s latest spellbinding novel, The Madness of Crowds.

You’re a coward.

Time and again, as the New Year approaches, that charge is leveled against Armand Gamache.

It starts innocently enough.

While the residents of the Québec village of Three Pines take advantage of the deep snow to ski and toboggan, to drink hot chocolate in the bistro and share meals together, the Chief Inspector finds his holiday with his family interrupted by a simple request.

He’s asked to provide security for what promises to be a non-event. A visiting Professor of Statistics will be giving a lecture at the nearby university.

While he is perplexed as to why the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec would be assigned this task, it sounds easy enough. That is until Gamache starts looking into Professor Abigail Robinson and discovers an agenda so repulsive he begs the university to cancel the lecture.

They refuse, citing academic freedom, and accuse Gamache of censorship and intellectual cowardice. Before long, Professor Robinson’s views start seeping into conversations. Spreading and infecting. So that truth and fact, reality and delusion are so confused it’s near impossible to tell them apart.

Discussions become debates, debates become arguments, which turn into fights. As sides are declared, a madness takes hold.

Abigail Robinson promises that, if they follow her, ça va bien aller. All will be well. But not, Gamache and his team know, for everyone.

When a murder is committed it falls to Armand Gamache, his second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and their team to investigate the crime as well as this extraordinary popular delusion.

And the madness of crowds.

I think he’ll open a serious investigation, it could have gone horribly wrong and people could have died.

I’m not sure, much like the agents, I can’t quite figure it all out. Armand is also thinking a few steps ahead of his team and seems to be planning to get a confession.

I thought this was a really interesting theory and can see how it applies to people getting swept up into Abigail’s rhetoric and also how her theory could lead to truly terrible things – like genocide, what one country does, others may follow.

Armand obviously has skin in the game, as it were, in the form of Idola, but Myrna is a scientist and isn’t thinking about it in an emotional sense – more the theoretical sense.

I don’t think she can be involved, too many coincidences would need to align to involve her. But she does represent an interesting addition to the debate raging throughout the book. Suspect-wise, I’m curious about Abigail, who has so many secrets and the chancellor – she knows more than she’s saying.

I’m at a loss, too many theories. Too many possibilities – lots of potential red herrings on offer here.

Gamache definitely has something but I think he needs to flesh it out a bit more if he wants to make an arrest and get a conviction.

I thought it was possibly the chancellor, protecting Abigail once again – but she had something to lose if she went to prison – her husband wouldn’t cope without her. I’ve read a few of the books before and have some on my kindle to go back to.

Armand – maybe Jean Reno, Isabelle, I thought perhaps Carole Bianic who played a French cop in Hudson & Rex (yes of course I watch a TV show where one of the detectives is a lovely, clever good boy), Jean-Guy I would maybe cast Roger Cross, who is Jamaican-Canadian and has played cops before and I like as an actor.

Jean Reno
Carole Bianic
Roger Cross

I couldn’t do the reel as my phone and I had a massive fight and I may have thrown it on the floor and shouted “technology is stupid”, I mean I like books and the concept of the printed word isn’t exactly new. That is basically my level of tech prowess.

As for flatlays, I am apparently not allowed to go and get a hunk of wood (the murder weapon) or some disabled people (Abigail’s theory) and photograph them on my floor so please enjoy the photo I took of the book instead.

I really enjoyed this book and having to think about different points in the book in more detail than maybe I would otherwise. Having read a few of the books in this series before I felt like I knew a bit about the characters but since this is set in the village Gamache lives in I learnt more about his family and friends which was interesting. The ethical debate at the heart of the plot is one I know that divides and upsets lots of people. Assisted suicide is legal in Canada, unlike the UK, and Abigail has taken it to a logical, if morally lacking, extreme conclusion with her statistical research. It’s deliberately shocking and the different viewpoints that the characters put forward were thought provoking and engaging. A really clever and enjoyable book.

Have you read any of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books? If so, what did you think? What did you like or not like? Talk to me!

blog tour, books

Readalong: Mer-May – Tenebrasco by Hannah Reed

mer may

I have a fun announcement for you all! 

Starting May 1st, there will be a read-along of Hannah Reed’s YA Fantasy, Tenebrasco! The read-along will last a month and each week there will be specific chapters to read. Of course, people can read at their own pace too. Starting today, you can download Tenebrasco for free until the 17th (April 15 – 17) from Amazon!

Each weekend one of the hosts will do an IG live to talk about the chapters of the book that week, themes within the book, mermaids and even interview the author. 

Throughout MerMay there will be competitions, prizes and a free giveaway! 

Anyone who joins will also receive a bonus epilogue to Tempus, the final book in the Pearl Wielders series!

Book Cover

Mermay Read-Along!

Tenebrasco 

Publication Date: July 2019

Genre: YA Fantasy/ Mermaids

Mer. Magic. Adventure.

Princess April Meridia is preparing for the long awaited Peace Treaty to unite the mer and legged after centuries divided. The most powerful mera under the sea her only instruction for the evening is to look ‘pretty and harmless’.

But when peace is threatened and April’s powers start acting strangely it is time for her to take control.

Amazon

About the Author

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Hannah Reed writes YA contemporary fantasy. Her latest novel ‘Essentia’ Book 2 of the Pearl Wielder Trilogy is out now (available on Amazon).

Her first novel ‘Tenebrasco’ was published in July 2019 and is the debut novel in the Pearl Wielder Trilogy.

Hannah grew up in Jersey, Channel Islands which was never more than 10 minutes away from a beach. She is addicted to ice cream, has an unhealthy relationship with chocolate and is trying to learn to love running.

Currently, Hannah is living in Canada and is waiting patiently to see a Moose!

Hannah Reed | Instagram | Goodreads 

Hosts: @fierymermaidbooks @tabz_talks_tales @thewritingsofhannah #mermayreadalong (Instagram)

Book Blitz Organized By:

R&R Book Tours

blog tour, books, reviews

Read Along: The Last Charm – Ella Allbright*

Something a little different, this week I will be taking part in a read along of The Last Charm by Ella Allbright.

The read along will be taking place across social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) using the hashtag #OMCReadalong and #OneLastCharm

It’s running from the 21st to the 28th, with fun activities including book club questions, bookish challenges, competitions, live interviews and lots of exclusive content.

The book is published on the 21st, so please do grab a copy and join in at the links above and by following the hashtags.


A moving and heartwarming love story perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day in December.

Leila’s charm bracelet tells a story of love, a story of loss, a story of hope.

This is the story of her… and the story of Jake.

When Leila Jones loses her precious charm bracelet and a stranger finds it, she has to tell the story of how she got the charms to prove she’s the owner. Each and every one is a precious memory of her life with Jake.

So Leila starts at the beginning, recounting the charms and experiences that have led her to the present. A present she never could have expected when she met Jake nearly twenty years ago…

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.