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Friday, 17 February 2023

Judging Books by their Covers and #WhatsOnYourBookshelf

 February's book reviews from UK reviewer Gail Hanlon at Is This Mutton.

Dear friends. Have you ever paused to look at a particularly beautiful book cover, and maybe bought the book as a result?

As a Kindle reader, book covers have been less important to me. But now that I have access to thousands of unpublished books via NetGalley, and choose titles based on their description/author/book cover, I'm finding that the covers guide me to the right choices.

I'm not keen at the moment on romances or "light" chick lit.  But this genre is always easy to spot. The  books have a similar sort of cover: a background of light blue, or the sky, with illustrated flowers around the borders. The title of the book is in a contrasting and "girly" font. 

Crime thrillers typically have a dark blue background with a small photo or illustration of a house, form example, and then the title in sinister looking shadowed text. Contemporary or more literary fiction often has a more stylised or quirky cover. 

Smaller publishers, sometimes with a particular niche, adopt a particular style that makes them instantly recognizable. I love the old style Virago books with their green background and artwork by a female artist, and the gorgeous Persephone books which cry out to be collected and displayed together.

Penguin Books have an interesting article about how covers are designed. It's a task taken on not just by designers, but by editors and the marketing, sales and production teams. The author is consulted near the end of the process. I wonder if any authors ever despise the end result, and blame it if their sales are poor.

One cover which really caught my eye this month is this beauty from HarperCollins UK. I requested it on the basis of the cover, although the description of the book is also appealing.  I'm thrilled to have been successful in my request, so will be reviewing it soon. 

Now to books I've read in the last month.  My target on Good Reads this year is to read 100 books, and I've completed 14 books so far. I'm 2 books ahead of schedule. 

IS THIS MUTTON BOOK OF THE MONTH

The Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie


This is one of the slightly offbeat, quirky novels I adore. I could tell from the cover it was going to be comedic, and it's laugh out loud funny in places. 

Penny Rush, skint and recently separated from her husband, returns to Santa Monica to deal with her grandparents.  Her grandmother, Pincer, a former doctor, has been terrifying locals with a weapon called "the scintillator" and has something awful in the woodshed. Meanwhile her grandfather has a cruel second wife who wants to cast him out of her life.

The novel develops into a whole lot more. Penny is being collected by her grandmother's accountant, Burt, who she's never met before, and she becomes instantly attached to him and his brother Dale after an incident involving major surgery at the hospital.

Penny starts sleeping nights in Burt's ugly utility vehicle, nicknmed "Dog of the North."  And with her grandfather Aldo she flies to Australia to explore the outback looking for any sign of her parents, who disappeared on their travels a few years ago.

I was disappointed when I reached the end, having fallen for all the characters and in particular the indefatigable Pincer. I've discovered a rich seam from McKenzie which I will savour on holiday. To be published 14 March. 

The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer

The cover indicates a distinctive novel with a different voice. My prediction is that this will be a huge hit. Clover Brooks is a death doula, who spends time comforting those close to death and helping them find closure. She meticulously documents their regrets. Occasionally, after they've died, she lives out the thing they always wanted to do. 

Clover has never had a boyfriend and avoids emotional entanglements. Her best friend is a man in his 80s, a friend of the grandfather who brought her up.

Clover is asked to act as the doula for an elderly woman not thought to be aware of her imminent death sentence.  Through Claudia she discovers a lust for life that makes her realise she is sleep walking through life. Claudia's last regret, that she never reunited with a man she fell in love with on Corsica, inspires Clover to try to find closure for Claudia before her death. 

A thought provoking and believable novel where romance plays a secondary part to stigmas around how we deal with the dying. Published on 6 July. 

The Sins of our Fathers, Arctic Murders Book 6, by ├ůsa Larsson

I was new to Larsson and hadn't read the previous 5 books in this series but it didn't matter:  here is a self contained plot, and one so nuanced and wide ranging I am keen to seek out the previous five. The Swedish author has won several prizes for crime fiction.

The story starts with a woman meticulously planning her suicide before the snow melts, having retired from work and decided she has very little to live for. Her plan is thwarted by the discovery of two bodies: one a former boxer who disappeared decades ago, and the other the woman's estranged brother. 

Rebecka Martinsson is Larsson's fearless but complex investigator, who is asked by an elderly forensic pathologist to investigate the deaths. 

In good noir tradition, there is plenty going on in the plot and I found it fascinating to learn about some of the intricacies of boxing and the planning regulations in Sweden which make it all too easy for organized crime to influence decisions.  This novel is published on 30 March. 

The Last Passenger by Will Dean


It's impossible to write a review of The Last Passenger without giving spoilers, so I will have to be brief. The cover you see here is not the final version - this book is published on 11 May.

It was one of those novels that made me stay up at night, so keen was I to finish it.

Imagine stepping onto a luxury ocean liner, particularly if you're a woman who's no stranger to poverty, with a father who gambled and embezzled, condenmning his family to years of shame and hardship. But imagine waking up the following day and finding you're the only person on the ship.  The other passengers, including your partner, and all the crew have mysteriously disappeared, and the ship is sailing itself.

What transpired was a surprise, as I hadn't read the description too closely, and the story becomes a gripping battle for survival . Top marks to Will Dean for a thrilling if sometimes disquieting read.

NON-FICTION REVIEWS

Jennifer Juniper by Jenny Boyd


Jenny Boyd is the sister of Pattie, who was married to George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Jenny was married, twice, to Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac.

The sisters had a difficult upbringing. Their mother hardly knew their father but was engaged to him when he was involved in an accident and disfigured. She went through with the marriage, although he was never the same after the trauma. The family lived in Kenya for a time and then the marriage broke up. Jenny didn't see her father again for many decades.

I enjoyed her account of London and Los Angeles in the 1960s. In London she was a model for a trendy design house.  She, Patti, George Harrison and others famously went to LA to experience the emerging flower power era, mysticism and drugs.

After an on/off relationship with Fleetwood they seem destined to be together and marry. But the marriage isn't a success for Jenny.  Fleetwood is wholly driven by the band and touring, and ignores his wife's emotional needs.  They were young when they maried and had children, and this is reflected in what seems like childish behaviour at times with the young children shunted across the Atlantic at times when their parents weren't speaking. 

Eventually Jenny returned to England and started representing clinics in America specializing in treating alcoholism and eating disorders.  At that time, the US treatments were vastly different from those in the UK. She organised workshops which were very successful and went on to study and become a counsellor. She finally tracked down her father but their reunion is dreadful and his behaviour creepy.  It's a tribute to Jenny that she didn't block him from her life but found a way to help him unlock his memories and communicate with her. 

Connected Women by Kate Hodges


This is the type of book that would make a marvellous present for my granddaughter Olive (ten months) whose mum is passionate about giving her female role models.

Hodges presents the lives of 84 ground breaking pioneers from Marie Curie to feminist author Virginia Woolf to the game-changing Billie Jean King.  Each woman is connected to the next, discovering the women behind the scenes; those who didn’t get the credit for scientific discoveries, sporting achievements or acts of bravery when they were alive. 

It's beautifully illustrated and should be in every school and library to remind us of countless women whose achievements would be highly visible had they been men. 

Know Your Body by Mary Dalgleish 


I was sent this handsome book by the author herself. It's a must-have compendium of human anatomy and physiology for students of human health. Mary's hope is that it is also readable by anyone, and it certainly is. The book was a finalist in the Page Turner Awards of 2020. 

Know Your Body covers all manner of current topics including Covid 19, inflammation and its effect on the body. It uses UK statistics and data. 

On a personal level, I found the section about the heart, and in particular cholesterol and triglycerides, very interesting.  I have signed up for an NHS research programme called Future Health and had blood tests last week. My triglycerides were high. This was a shock because I don't eat processed foods or drink alcohol, and am active.  However, my diet is high in fat because I avoid many carbs. Clearlylarge amounts of dairy and meat are having a bad impact long-term.  I'm now cutting down on dairy and incorporating more fruit and grains.As someone with low blood pressure  (hereditary), heart disease was something I thought I wouldn't need to worry about! 

I hope you enjoyed this month's reviews and will check out those of my friends in the #WhatsOnYourBookshelf (#WOYBS) link-up. 

Back on Monday with a fashion post as the fearless Style Not Age collective get to grips with the latest challenge, this time set by me!

Sharing this post with #FridayCoffeeShare at Natalie the Explorer,  #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine WhateverTalent Sharing Tuesdays at Scribbling Boomer#SpreadTheKindness  and #Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge,  #Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette Traffic Jam Weekend at Marsha in the Middle

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2 comments

  1. Excellent book reviews. I mostly read self-help books. But some of these book caught my attention. " The Last Passenger" and "The Sins Of Our Father" look like books I would enjoy reading; will be adding them to my list of books to read on Pinterest. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Kevin, glad you found some books of interest

    ReplyDelete

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