Catch-Up Quickies 21

First a quick explanation!

Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.

In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I have been scrunching some of my (overdue) NetGalley reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.

That’s the plan anyway and so far, so good…!

Title:  Let That Be a Lesson
Author:  Ryan Wilson
Publisher:  Random House UK, Vintage, Chatto & Windus

Blurb:  The malodorous horrors of Sports Day.
Bracing yourself for Parents’ Evening.
Refereeing teenage relationship dramas.

This is not what you see in the adverts.

From the age of eight, Ryan Wilson dreamt of being a teacher. This is the inside story of his time at the chalkface, from fresh-faced trainee with grand ideals to exhausted assistant head battling ever-changing government demands. It is a tribute to the colleagues who befriended him and to the chaotic, brilliant, maddening students who inspired and enraged him. From Sean, the wannabe gangster with a soft heart, to David, the king of innuendo, and terrifyingly clever Amelia. And, above all, it’s about the lessons they taught him: how to be patient and resilient, how to live authentically and how to value every day.

Review: This is a series of witty and moving anecdotes about teacher training and life as a qualified teacher.

The book provides great insight into the career and into the current state of the education system in the UK. As you might expect, the stories about the children and about Ryan Wilson’s colleagues are lovely, funny and entertaining, whereas the bigger picture of targets, assessments and related bureaucracy is more disheartening.

Yes, this is another memoir from a key worker who passionately loves their job, but gradually slides into burnout due to corporate and/or governmental policies that make it unworkable on the front line.

Honest, emotional and sadness/anger-inducing beneath the humour, this account of teaching highlights how passionate teachers are about educating our children, and how hard the system makes it for them to do this effectively.

Purchase Link: Let That Be a Lesson on Amazon

Title:  Real Men Knit
Author:  Kwana Jackson
Publisher:  HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, HarperCollins

Blurb:  Don’t miss this cosy, hilarious rom-com about four hot men who knit!

When his adoptive mother Joy unexpectedly passes away, Jesse Strong is determined that her Harlem knitting shop, Strong Knits, should stay open. But his brothers – unsure if the flakey, playboy Jesse can handle this responsibility – want to tie off loose ends and close shop.

Enter Kerry Fuller. Kerry has worked at Strong Knits for years and she’s harboured a secret crush on Jesse for even longer. Soon, she’s teaching Jesse and his brothers all the knitty-gritty parts of the business they need to know – while trying to keep her heart from getting broken.

The more time they spend together, the stronger the chemistry builds between them. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe their relationship can last longer than she can knit one, purl one. Can Jesse prove to Kerry that he is the right man for her – and that only real men knit?

Review: This was an easy-enough to read family fiction/romance, with a lot of back and forth plotline about saving the family yarn shop.

Unfortunately, the romance aspect really didn’t work for me. There are four brothers here and the main character, Kerry, is like an adopted kid sister according to three of the four, which makes the romantic bits of the novel feel slightly incestuous – even though they technically aren’t. In fact, I spent a large chunk of the read assuming that it was developing into a ‘reverse harem’ novel, until three of the four men made it very clear that Kerry was already considered close family. As it goes, most of the eventual sex happens ‘off-screen’ anyway, with the main focus of the story on the lovers’ issues with self-doubt and the other problematic internal thoughts keeping them apart… and the issue of saving the yarn shop, of course.

The pacing is slow-build all the way through, and I actually did begin to feel won over to the relationship development – along with beginning to fantasise about a series of books, each focused on a different brother, as the others felt more interesting than the constantly self-flagellating Jesse – but then the book suddenly, unexpectedly and abruptly ended. It felt like the simmer suddenly imploded, as the author rushed to mash her lovers together like dollies, without resolving the issues that were keeping them apart in the first place.

This left me with no certainty that the main characters are actually on the path to their happily-ever-after ending, instead of just more of the same vacillating.

I really think this had some promising characters, but the romance got lost amongst all the yarn.

Purchase Link: Real Men Knit on Amazon

Title:  Magpie
Author:  Elizabeth Day
Publisher:  4th Estate, Fourth Estate

Blurb:  In Jake, Marisa has found everything she’s ever wanted. Then their new lodger Kate arrives.

Something about Kate isn’t right. Is it the way she looks at Marisa’s boyfriend? Sits too close on the sofa? Constantly asks about the baby they are trying for? Or is it all just in Marisa’s head?

After all, that’s what her Jake keeps telling her. And she trusts him – doesn’t she?

But Marisa knows something is wrong. That the woman sleeping in their house will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Marisa just doesn’t know why.

How far will she go to find the answer – and how much is she willing to lose?

Review: I was reminded a little of Philippa Gregory’s The Little House in places as I was reading this story, thanks to the intriguing mixture of unreliable narration, delusions and skewed perspectives, keeping the reader guessing as to what is going on in Marisa and Kate’s heads respectively.

I worked out one of the twists early on and thought I had solved the whole mystery, and then was delighted when the final reveal made far more sense than the solution I had come up with!

All the clichés apply here: I was hooked, couldn’t put it down, etc etc. I stayed up reading late into the night, just to find out what was going on.

With such an impressive build-up, I did find the ending a little anticlimactic, but for the most part this was an excellent, well-written domestic thriller.

Purchase Link: Magpie on Amazon

Title:  A Lesson in Murder
Author:  Verity Bright
Publisher:  Bookouture

Blurb:  When Lady Swift is invited to her old school, she walks through familiar classrooms, finds her favourite books in the library… and surely that’s not a body? Time for a lesson in murder!

Autumn, 1921. Lady Eleanor Swift is invited to her old school, St Mary’s, as a guest speaker. Her favourite teacher, Mrs Wadsworth, has asked that Eleanor talk about her intrepid travels around the globe – travelling the Silk Road by bicycle, crossing the Himalayas and even befriending the Maharaja of India. But in the circumstances, perhaps it would have been a good idea to talk about her career as a daring detective…

Because no sooner has Eleanor brushed up on her times tables then she is greeted by terrible news: Mrs Wadsworth has been murdered. Eleanor is utterly devastated but she owes it to her dearest teacher to find out who killed her and why. So, alongside Gladstone the bulldog, it’s best paw forward to track down a villain.

But when the art teacher is also found dead, Eleanor is sure someone is trying to do away with the people who taught her everything. As Eleanor delves into possible motives, she discovers a clue in the most unlikely place: her mother’s old school diary. Does the route to the murderer lie within a secret passageway her mother uncovered? Can Eleanor nail the culprit in time or is the killer coming for her next?

A totally gripping and glamorous 1920s cozy! Fans of Agatha Christie, T.E. Kinsey and Rhys Bowen are in for a treat.

Review: This was my first Lady Eleanor Swift murder mystery and I think I really missed out by not starting with the first book and reading through in chronological order, as the characters are wonderfully engaging but I got the impression of lots of backstory behind their relationships, conversations and behaviour.

Very much a classic, British, golden-age style mystery here, as Lady Eleanor and her trusty sidekicks Clifford, Gladstone and Seldon investigate the deaths of two teachers at her old private boarding school and manage to uncover a web of secrets beneath the refined facade.

The main plot is well-constructed and kept me guessing, and there is a nice little subplot that reminded me of Enid Blyton’s school stories, as Lady Eleanor explores her history with the school and finds some closure by helping some of the current girls deal with their problems.

In fact, the only aspect I wasn’t keen on were the constant ‘Ellie’ asides, which I found a bit distracting!

I definitely intend to head back to try book 1 of this series, and feel that it is one fans of Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters and similar are likely to enjoy.

Purchase Link: A Lesson in Murder on Amazon

Title:  The Cat Who Saved Books
Author:  Sosuke Natsukawa
Publisher:  Pan Macmillan, Picador

Blurb:  The Cat Who Saved Books is a heart-warming story about finding courage, caring for others – and the tremendous power of books.

Grandpa used to say it all the time: ‘books have tremendous power’. But what is that power really?

Natsuki Books was a tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. Inside, towering shelves reached the ceiling, every one crammed full of wonderful books. Rintaro Natsuki loved this space that his grandfather had created. He spent many happy hours there, reading whatever he liked. It was the perfect refuge for a boy who tended to be something of a recluse.

After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone . . .

Sosuke Natsukawa’s international bestseller, translated from Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai, is a story for those for whom books are so much more than words on paper.

Review: I got junior The Alchemist vibes from this book throughout.

An introvert, grieving boy is taken on bookish adventures by a talking cat – through four labyrinths and facing four adversaries. His love of books and his grandfather’s wisdom carry him through, and in the process he reconnects with life and with other people, and finds a sense of purpose and identity.

The pace is very slow and quiet, with a tendency towards the philosophical, and is perfect for fellow booklovers who are trying to articulate and define their love of literature in a modern world of synopsis, collector’s editions and mass publishing.

Not just thought-provoking, I found this book fervent-passion-for-reading-and-talking-about-books-provoking and can recommend it to book bloggers, bookworms and bookaholics alike!

Purchase Link: The Cat Who Saved Books on Amazon

A batch of couldn’t-be-more-different books again this week!

One teaching memoir, one knitting romance, one psychological thriller, one historical cosy mystery and one fantasy book adventure.

I had a few clear favourites here, and there was one that I wasn’t as fond of as the others. I wonder what you will make of them, and whether your choices will differ from mine?

Happy reading everyone!


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