What’s On Your Bookshelf? October 2021

Well hello there, and thanks for joining Deb, Sue, Donna and myself for our monthly round-up of all things bookish.

Without ado, further or otherwise, here’s what I read in October. This month I’ve added in the Goodreads blurb for each and my reviews are as they appeared in Goodreads.

Happy Hour, by Jacqui Byron

Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean growing wiser.

Gin in one hand, paintbrush in the other, Franny Calderwood has turned her back on the world, or at least the world she used to love. Having lost her husband, Frank, in tragic circumstances three years earlier, 65-year-old Franny copes the only way she knows how: by removing herself completely from the life she had before. Franny lives a life of decadent seclusion, with only her two dogs, Whisky and Soda, a stuffed cat, cocktails and the memory of Frank for company.

Then the Salernos move in next door. The troubled but charming trio – beleaguered mother Sallyanne, angry teenager Dee and eccentric eight-year-old Josh – cannot help but pull Franny into the drama of their lives. But despite her fixation with independence, Franny’s wisecracks and culinary experiments hide considerable trauma and pain, and when her eccentric behaviour has life-threatening consequences she faces a reckoning of sorts. Yes, Frank is dead, but did the woman he loved have to perish with him?

I adored this heartwarming story. It made me laugh and it made me cry – both for the right reasons. Just what I needed to read

The Women’s Pages, by Victoria Purman

Sydney 1945 The war is over, the fight begins.

The war is over and so are the jobs (and freedoms) of tens of thousands of Australian women. The armaments factories are making washing machines instead of bullets and war correspondent Tilly Galloway has hung up her uniform and been forced to work on the women’s pages of her newspaper – the only job available to her – where she struggles to write advice on fashion and make-up.

As Sydney swells with returning servicemen and the city bustles back to post-war life, Tilly finds her world is anything but normal. As she desperately waits for word of her prisoner-of-war husband, she begins to research stories about the lives of the underpaid and overworked women who live in her own city. Those whose war service has been overlooked; the freedom and independence of their war lives lost to them.

Meanwhile Tilly’s waterside worker father is on strike, and her best friend Mary is struggling to cope with the stranger her own husband has become since being liberated from Changi a broken man. As strikes rip the country apart and the news from abroad causes despair, matters build to a heart-rending crescendo. Tilly realises that for her the war may have ended, but the fight is just beginning… 

Another 5 star review this month – this is a fabulous read and a masterclass in “show don’t tell”. I’m a sucker for a historical novel and I’ve been reading quite a few of late set in wartime (or post-war) Australia. This one, set in Sydney, brings the period to light. Warning – it will tug at your heart and not let go. I was cheering for Tilly and Mary from page 1.

Agatha Christie, Closed Casket, by Sophie Hannah

“What I intend to say to you will come as a shock…”

With these words, Lady Athelinda Playford — one of the world’s most beloved children’s authors — springs a surprise on the lawyer entrusted with her will. As guests arrive for a party at her Irish mansion, Lady Playford has decided to cut off her two children without a penny . . . and leave her vast fortune to someone else: an invalid who has only weeks to live.

Among Lady Playford’s visitors are two strangers: the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and Inspector Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard. Neither knows why he has been invited — until Poirot begins to wonder if Lady Playford expects a murder. But why does she seem so determined to provoke a killer? And why — when the crime is committed despite Poirot’s best efforts to stop it — does the identity of the victim make no sense at all?

This is the second of Sophie Hannah’s reimagining of Hercule Poirot – I’m yet to read the first, although have read the third. I’m also (and please don’t throw anything at me) yet to read the originals. Yes, I said that out loud – and I really must rectify that situation. 
This one was as twisty as I would have expected and there was much to dislike (and deliciously so) about the cast of possible suspects. Clever, enjoyable, and I absolutely did not pick the whodunnit or the whydunnit.

Haven’t They Grown, by Sophie Hannah

All Beth has to do is drive her son to his Under-14s away match, watch him play, and bring him home.

Just because she knows her ex-best friend lives near the football ground, that doesn’t mean she has to drive past her house and try to catch a glimpse of her. Why would Beth do that, and risk dredging up painful memories? She hasn’t seen Flora for twelve years. She doesn’t want to see her today, or ever again.

But she can’t resist. She parks outside the open gates of Newnham House, watches from across the road as Flora and her children Thomas and Emily step out of the car. Except… There’s something terribly wrong. Flora looks the same, only older. As Beth would have expected. It’s the children. Twelve years ago, Thomas and Emily were five and three years old. Today, they look precisely as they did then. 

They are still five and three. They are Thomas and Emily without a doubt – Hilary hears Flora call them by their names – but they haven’t changed at all. They are no taller, no older… Why haven’t they grown?

I went straight from reading Hannah’s reimagining of Poirot to this. Twisty, dark, and at times claustrophobic, it’s also a thoroughly good story. It might be way outside my usual reading genre but I loved it.

The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

I’m supposed to be cleaning my study and filling the bookcase we bought yesterday, but I haven’t been able to put this down. In the last outing, Osman introduced us to the Thursday Murder Club, the mystery, while fabulous, was almost secondary – it was all about the characters. This time around, the mystery is stronger and getting to know the characters a tad more has only made me impatient to know what they get up to next time.

This was my read of the month.

You and Me On Vacation, by Emily Henry

12 SUMMERS AGO: Poppy and Alex meet. They hate each other, and are pretty confident they’ll never speak again.

11 SUMMERS AGO: They’re forced to share a ride home from college and by the end of it a friendship is formed. And a pact: every year, one vacation together.

10 SUMMERS AGO: Alex discovers his fear of flying on the way to Vancouver.
Poppy holds his hand the whole way.

7 SUMMERS AGO: They get far too drunk and narrowly avoid getting matching tattoos in New Orleans.

2 SUMMERS AGO: It all goes wrong.

THIS SUMMER: Poppy asks Alex to join her on one last trip. A trip that will determine the rest of their lives.

The change in title from The People You Meet On Vacation threw me a tad, but that’s where any dissatisfaction ended. I inhaled this one – which I read on holiday, but a holiday involving moving an adult daughter and building flat-pack furniture in ridiculous heat reminiscent of the Arizona airconditioning scenes in this book. Perfect…and the book I wish I’d written.

Cookbook of the Month

That section where I go through my cookbook library and revisit an old favourite…

Adam’s Big Pot, by Adam Liaw

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of this guy – right back to his Masterchef days, yet I’ve cooked less from this, his third book, than I have from the previous two. And, after revisiting it this month I have no idea why.

Like Asian After Work (book no. 2), this one is all about helping families get tasty meals on the table with the minimum of fuss, bother and washing up. Tick, tick and tick.

Aside from what I’ve cooked in the past, over the last month, I’ve made wok-fried pork mince and green beans (if you want to try it for yourself the recipe is here), this easy Vietnamese chicken salad, and chicken and cashew nuts. Next on my list is the pork and eggplant that looks (and sounds) like Asian comfort food in a bowl.

You can find more recipes from the book here.

Okay, over to you…what’s on your bookshelf? 

I’m joining my friends SueDeb and Donna with “What’s On Your Bookshelf?” a monthly feast of all things book related. 

You can find Deb’s post here, Sue’s here and Donna’s here.

If you’re linking up a blog post you can do so in the comments. Alternatively, you might want to get involved via Instagram or your social media of choice. Whichever way you choose to share, don’t forget to leave a note in the comments so we can find you.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

19 thoughts

  1. Hi, Jo – You have now thoroughly convinced me to read “You and Me on Vacation.” Along with your 5-star Book of the Month review, the book itself including Vancouver and Tofino, it also appears to be endorsed by a certain Adventure Spaniel. A definite must-read. Oh, and I will also be checking out Adam’s recipes. Great post!

  2. I have noted most of these down to add to my list to read – thanks Jo!!! I also loved Richard Osman’s The man Who Died Twice, my book of the month too!! Fabulous post 🙂

  3. A nice little selection that you’ve summarized here Jo – lots of variety too. I’ve been reading through the Fox and O’Hare series – they’ve been a fun read, but slowly getting less so as the co-authors changed for the last two and they lost their way a bit. Still I’m almost finished the last one and then off to greener pastures (and a bit of painting!)

  4. Hi Jo, I’ve adored the Women’s Pages and it reminded me so much of my Mum and my hometown of Sydney. I also read The Man Who Died Twice over the last month. I am definitely putting Happy Hour on my list. I wasn’t a great fan of The People You Meet on Vacation – I wonder why the title was changed? Anyway, or should I say ‘and anyways’ I will be adding to my ever growing list with your suggestions. You can’t beat a good Agatha Christie!

  5. Weirdly with Agatha christie, the really famous ones – Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient express are not the best ones. I like the Tommy and Tuppance ones, they’re hilarious & fun. And other Poirot ones are better. It’s strange. I loved Agatha Christie growing up. She was sort of my move into adult fiction.
    I’m still finitishing Wilkie Collins No Name (it’s huge) and then I have The Railway Man for bookclub… #Whatsonyourbookshelfchallenge (I’m linking this post https://pandoraandmax.blogspot.com/2014/01/embodiment-of-dreams.html)

  6. Hi Jo,

    I love this challenge. I’m always looking for a good book. Such a great idea.

    I think you are obsessed with death this month! Every book has a dead person (almost) These sound like great books. I’m so curious about the kids not getting older. I wrote to Debbie asking if the four of you would like to do an interview on my blog, Always Write. I run a random series of challenge hosts and/or active challenge participants. Here’s a link to my page that has links to all the interviews. https://alwayswrite.blog/challenge-interview-series/

    The purpose is to highlight what you are doing. I’ll email you and you can get back to me.

    1. Hi Marsha, it was a month where I read a tad out of genre…but I do love doing that every so often. Thanks for reaching out re the interviews, it sounds cool.

      1. Super. I’ll send you the questions. It looks like you are off to a good start. Have you let Cee Neuner know about your challenge? She keeps an updated list of all challenges, and I know people use her lists. I think yours is really unique. People who write reviews for the most part don’t get a lot of traction on them, but I think your challenge could change all of that.

  7. What to add the first 2 titles to consideration lists for the book club. They both sound very good. I like People You Meet On Vacation. I remember Deb in London saying the title was different there. Wonder why they would do that? Sounds like you have uncovered some really good reads!!

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