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Bert’s Books of 2019

This year has been a mixture of more books read than ever before and a lack of noting them down – so compiling my list of my favourite books of 2019 has been a bit difficult.

Each time I think I’ve got the list complete, I remember something else – so my Top 10 this year is a top 11, and it’s been the hardest year to pull it together. And there are definitely many other books I could have put in here.

Read on to find out if you agree with my list!

11 The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

The Blurb

In North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge and run into the sea, The Long CallDetective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. The day Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his family too.

Now he’s back, not just to mourn his father at a distance, but to take charge of his first major case in the Two Rivers region; a complex place not quite as idyllic as tourists suppose. A body has been found on the beach near to Matthew’s new home: a man with the tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death. Finding the killer is Venn’s only focus, and his team’s investigation will take him straight back into the community he left behind, and the deadly secrets that lurk there.

My Verdict

This is exactly the book I’ve been waited a long time for. It’s a well-written traditional crime novel where the lead character just happens to be a gay man.

What’s more, it’s not important to the plot – which might make you wonder why it matters – but that’s exactly why it does. It’s representation in mainstream fiction like this that really matters. But, better than that representation – it’s a great book!

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10. The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

 The Blurb

Grace Atherton, a talented cellist, is in love with David. Together in their apartment in 9781471173820Paris, Grace and David are happy until an unexpected event changes everything. Nadia is seventeen and furious.

She knows that love will only let her down: if she is going to succeed it will be on her own terms. At eighty-six Maurice Williams has discovered a lot about love in his long life, and even more about people. And yet he keeps secrets.

When Grace’s life falls apart in the most shocking of ways Maurice and Nadia come to her rescue, helping her to find happiness and hope through the healing power of friendship

My Verdict

Harris has created a very real character in Grace, but it’s her love of music and the cello that really stands out for me in this book.

In Patrick Gale’s most recent novel Take Nothing With You his character Eustace plays the cello and it’s some of his best writing – it’s like a gateway drug for this novel where there is more music playing, so vividly described that you can almost hear it.

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9. The Two Lives of Louis and Louise by Julie Cohen

The Blurb

One chance to see the same world differently. Louis and Louise are the same person born in 9781409179849two different lives. One was born female, and one male.

They have the same best friends, the same red hair, the same dream of being a writer, the same excellent whistle. They both suffer one catastrophic night, with life-changing consequences. Thirteen years later, they are both coming home .

My Verdict

This is a brilliant concept and I love the way Julie explores it, allowing the changes in their lives to be brought about because of influences from the outer world.

Just one small physical difference between them has not only an impact on their lives, but the lives of those around them. It’s the ultimate what-if story!

This book was voted Book of the Year by customers of Bert’s Books!

Buy a signed copy now – while stocks last

 

8. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

The Blurb

Queenie Jenkins can’t cut a break. Well, apart from the one from her long term boyfriend, 9781409180050Tom.

That’s definitely just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Then there’s her boss who doesn’t seem to see her and her Caribbean family who don’t seem to listen (if it’s not Jesus or water rates, they’re not interested).

She’s trying to fit in two worlds that don’t really understand her. It’s no wonder she’s struggling. She was named to be queen of everything.

So why is she finding it so hard to rule her own life?

My Verdict

Queenie is one of those novels that has stayed with me, long after I finished reading it

It’s funny, but feels heartbreakingly real. Queenie is a young black woman trying to navigate her way through a mini-crisis of self. Who is she? Where does she belong in this world? Does she even like herself?

In short, she’s suffering from all the things we all suffer from, but for me it was the insights into her views on race that really made this book. It’s not the big moments, but the small ones, ones where we, the reader, offended on her behalf but Queenie simply shrugs them off as normal.

It might help you see society in a new way – or it will feel horribly familiar. Either way, it will make Queenie feel so vivid and real – you’ll be rooting for her all the way through.

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7. Past Life by Dominic Nolan

The Blurb

Detective Abigail Boone has been missing for four days when she is finally found. Suffering 9781472254658retrograde amnesia, she is a stranger to her despairing husband and bewildered son. Hopelessly lost in her own life, with no leads on her abduction, Boone’s only instinct is to revisit the case she was investigating when she vanished: the baffling disappearance of a young woman, Sarah Still.

Defying her family and the police, Boone obsessively follows a deadly trail to uncover the shocking truth. But even if she finds Sarah, will Boone ever be the same again?

My Verdict

I thought this was a great start to a new crime series, Boone is a compelling but flawed lead character and it featured a good mystery to be solved.

I can’t wait to read the next one in the series. If you feel the same After Dark is published in March 2020, and you can pre-order it now.

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Pre-Order After Dark Now

 

6. The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd

The Blurb

Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties, and a child of the seventies. She is thirteen years old The First Time Lauren Pailing Diedthe first time she dies. Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties.

And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too. But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.

And so it is that every ending is also a beginning. And so it is that, with each new beginning, Peter Stanning inches closer to finally being found…

My Verdict

A bit like Louis & Louise, this is Sliding Doors style concept where we play witness to several different universes concurrently, each of them dealing with grief.

It had the potential to be messy but Rudd’s writing is skilful enough that the reader can stay with the different worlds easily enough. What it results in is a moving exploration of grief that will stay with you long after the final page.

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5. The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

The Blurb

Yorkshire, 1845, and dark rumours are spreading across the moors. Everything indicates The Vanished Bridethat Mrs Elizabeth Chester of Chester Grange has been brutally murdered in her home – but nobody can find her body. As the dark murmurs reach Emily, Anne and Charlotte Bronte, the sisters are horrified, yet intrigued.

Before they know it, the siblings become embroiled in the quest to find the vanished bride, sparking their imaginations but placing their lives at great peril . . .

My Verdict

I’ve never read any of the Brontës before, but the three sisters are written completely in period style, as if a classic Victorian writer had written the book themselves. The dialogue and their thoughts immediately take you straight into nineteenth century life, such that you simply cease to notice it’s a historical novel at all.

The plot itself is a satisfying mystery which is resolved without resorting to hiding anything from the audience, and definitely left me wanting more from the sisters – each of whom have distinct personalities.

Buy a signed copy now – While stocks last

 

4. Proximity by Jem Tugwell

The Blurb

You can’t get away with anything. Least of all murder.
Proximity
DI Clive Lussac has forgotten how to do his job. Ten years of embedded technology – `iMe’ – has led to complete control and the eradication of crime. Then the impossible happens.

A body is found, and the killer is untraceable. With new partner Zoe Jordan, Clive must re-sharpen his detective skills and find the killer without technology, before time runs out for the next victim…

My Verdict

I loved this book – despite its futuristic setting it still felt very grounded in current reality, preferring to show us the seedier side of a world being consumed by its own technology.

Lussac is considered a dinosaur in this story, but it is his humanity that sets him apart from the iMe technology. I can’t wait to explore this world further and find out what other advances have been made and how they have helped or hindered society.

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3. Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens

The Blurb

At fifteen, Boady Sanden dreams of being anywhere other than Jessup, Missouri.
Nothing More Dangerous
Then the Elgins move in across the road. Getting to know his new neighbours – a black family in a community where notions of “us” and “them” still carry weight – Boady is forced to rethink the world he took for granted. Secrets hidden in plain sight begin to unfold.

There’s the mother consumed by loss of her husband, the neighbour who carries the wounds of a mysterious past, the quiet boss fighting a hidden battle. But the biggest secret of all is the disappearance of Lida Poe, the African-American woman who keeps the books at the local factory. Although Boady has never met the missing woman, he discovers that the threads of her life are woven into the deepest fabric of his world.

As the mystery of Lida’s fate plays out, Boady begins to see the stark lines of race and class that both bind and divide this small town – and he will be forced to choose sides.

My Verdict

I really liked the atmosphere of this novel, I felt drawn into Boady’s world, and as a young man he displays an ignorance of racism that we can all be guilty of, maybe not of race, but of other things.

With little exposure to the other side of the story, he doesn’t realise how offensive his words can be – and I think that can be a lesson to all of us. A) to be more considerate of others but also B) to try and educate rather than berate.

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2. The Warehouse by Rob Hart

The Blurb

In a world ravaged by bankruptcy and unemployment, Cloud is the only company left worth The Warehouseworking for. But what will it cost you?A midst the wreckage of America, Cloud reigns supreme.

Cloud brands itself not just as an online storefront, but as a global saviour. Yet, beneath the sunny exterior, lurks something far more sinister. Paxton never thought he’d be working Security for the company that ruined his life, much less that he’d be moving into one of their sprawling live-work facilities.

But compared to what’s left outside, perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. Better still, through his work he meets Zinnia, who fills him with hope for their shared future. Except that Zinnia is not what she seems.

And Paxton, with his all-access security credentials, might just be her meal ticket. As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place. To beat the system, you have to be inside it.

My Verdict

The scariest thing about this book is you can totally see it happening. The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions, and no one set out to create an evil corporation, but that seems to be what Cloud has become.

Like Proximity this presents a vision of a sleek future that may not be as good as it all seems. For a while there has been a trend of dystopian novels, but the only way I can describe this is as pre-dystopian. Hart presents a world on the edge of destruction, everything monopolised by one big homogenous organisation.

I’d love to see a sequel to this book to see what happens should The Cloud ever dissipate…

Buy Now

 

1. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Blurb

They were the new icons of rock and roll, fated to burn bright and not fade away. But on 12 Daisy Jones and the Six PBJuly 1979, it all came crashing down. There was Daisy, rock and roll force of nature, brilliant songwriter and unapologetic drug addict, the half-feral child who rose to superstardom.

There was Camila, the frontman’s wife, too strong-willed to let the band implode – and all too aware of the electric connection between her husband and Daisy. There was Karen, ice-cool keyboardist, a ferociously independent woman in a world that wasn’t ready for her. And there were the men surrounding them: the feuding, egotistical Dunne brothers, the angry guitarist chafing on the sidelines, the drummer binge-drinking on his boat, the bassist trying to start a family amid a hedonistic world tour.

They were creative minds striking sparks from each other, ready to go up in flames. It’s never just about the music… 

My Verdict

Anyone who’s been paying attention for – ooh, the last 12 months – could have guessed that this would be my favourite book of 2019.

It’s told in transcript form, and at first glance that shouldn’t work, but this does. You instantly have a vision of what these characters look like and it becomes really easy to differentiate them from each other. It’s almost as if the whole thing is playing as a video in your head and you’re just reading subtitles.

The music they talk about becomes as real as the characters and despite never having heard a note of it, I’m willing to put Daisy Jones in my Top 10 artists of all time.

Pre-Order the paperback now

 

 

 

 

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Review: The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd

Sometimes a publisher will hit on a winning formula for a book and suddenly we’ll see the publishing slate with similar titles. Similar jackets. Similar titles.

One of these mini-trends recently has seen the full name of the protagonist appears in the title with reference to an unlikely quantity of their death.

I avoid picking up these books, because I’ve read one of them and though I liked it, I don’t want to read it again. I want something new. It’s not necessarily an approach of book selection I recommend – it’s often just a marketing ploy and the book itself is very much its own story.

The latest book to prove me wrong is The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd.

Lauren Pailing is a young girl when she first discovers there is something different about her. Occasionally, she can get glimpses into other worlds where things are different to hers. Sometimes they’re only small differences, other times they’re big ones.

She thinks this is normal, but when she starts to receive funny looks from her parents, her teachers, her friends she starts to self-censor about what she reveals.

Then she dies.

Except she doesn’t. In the moment before her death, Lauren gets a glimpse at another life, one where she doesn’t die in the accident, and she travels through to it.

The timeline splinters and – much like Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow – we follow the different worlds as the same characters traverse different events, and each of them deal with grief.

In one world, her parents deal with the grief of losing their child. In another, Lauren deals with the grief of losing her old life and having to adjust to this new one where things are ever so slightly different.

Later in life, Lauren shifts again and in her latest world, she starts trying to investigate what has happened to her. We end up following a few different worlds, which sounds like it could be confusing, but Rudd cleverly ensures we follow a different character in each one.

The concept of parallel worlds is explored, but only obliquely. The bizarreness of the worlds is only lightly touched upon by Lauren who can sense that things are different, but isn’t quite sure what.

There’s only one jarring moment when discussing the differences which makes the reader realise just how different the world is, but I sense this is purposeful from Rudd. The point of this book isn’t the things that change between the worlds – it’s the things that stay the same.

The characters are all grieving, all of them going through the same thing and you root for them all, even though, they can’t all possibly be happy in all worlds.

I’m giving The First Time Lauren Pailing Died 7.9 out of 10. You can order your copy now for just £8.99

 

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Review: Proximity by Jem Tugwell

Proximity by Jem Tugwell  

 

ProximityOne of my goals when I started Bert’s Books was to find good books that you might not normally find.

 

That’s either because they don’t have big marketing budgets, or they simply get lost among one of the other hundreds of books that get published every week.

 

From indie publisher Serpentine Books, Proximity by Jem Tugwell is exactly that.

 

It’s the first in a new series ‘iMe’ and follows DI Clive Lussac as he struggles in an underfunded homicide department to investigate a murder. At the same time, he must contend with a marriage that’s broken down.

 

So far, so very like many other police procedurals. What sets Proximity apart from the rest?

 

It’s set in the very near future and through the eyes of Lussac, it appears to be quite a bleak one.

 

Technology has evolved to the point where every citizen is microchipped meaning that when a crime occurs, the police can find out exactly who was in the vicinity at the time.

 

It means that any ‘proximity’ crimes such as violent assaults, murder, kidnap have been all but eliminated. They do still exist, but for Lussac in the homicide department, all he needs to do is press a few buttons and – bam! – crime solved.

 

He almost longs for the old days when solving crimes actually meant doing some real police work.

 

So, when a body is found with no proximity data, he must rely on his long-forgotten detective skills to track the murderer the old-fashioned way – before they strike again.

 

What I liked about this book was that the world it inhabits feels very real. Sometimes you can read books set in the future that don’t feel relatable, but this definitely feels like it could be something we’re headed towards.

 

It feels like we only get a glimpse of the changes – and most of them are presented in a negative light by the curmudgeonly Lussac, so I’m looking forward to finding out more about this world in the next book in the series.

 

One thing it does reveal to us – if we didn’t already know it – is that crime will always find a way and that there will always be those who believe themselves to be above the law.

 

I’m giving Proximity 7.6 out of 10 – and if you like Proximity check out The Warehouse

 

Buy Proximity by Jem Tugwell

 

Pre-order the sequel No Signal now

 

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Review: Bone China by Laura Purcell

In a past life, I was responsible for shortlisting books for a prize, and I read some books I wouldn’t normally read.

9781526602534One of those – and eventual winner of the prize – was the gothic horror novel The Silent Companions. Before reading this, I wasn’t really a fan of historical fiction, but it really seems to have converted me into the genre.

Bone China is the latest from author Laura Purcell.

It features Hester Why, a nurse who has moved to a remote part of the Cornish coast to avoid her own past. There she meets the strange inhabitants of Morvoren House, including the frail lady of the house Louise Pinecroft.

Hester is trying to keep a low profile, but also, she knows that something strange is going on and she starts trying to get to the bottom of it.

We alternate between Hester’s story and forty years previously when Louise first moves to the house with her father, a doctor who is trying to cure consumption.

The character that links the two stories is the creepy Creeda, a young maid that starts at the house when Louise and her father first move in. She comes from a family that produces Bone China and it’s this crockery that forms part of the gothic mystery.

I think I enjoyed this more than Silent Companions – it really pulls you into the world that you can almost feel the wind whistling around you as Louise walks across the cliffs.

Like Silent Companions it presents a gothic mystery, one that it doesn’t fully explain as well, so it leaves open the possibility that the fairies are real.

I gave Bone China 7.8/10

You can buy a signed hardback edition of Bone China while stocks last

Also Available:

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I read Daisy Jones & The Six right at the beginning of 2019 and declared then that I thought it was going to be one of my favourite books of the year.

I haven’t stopped banging on about it since then, so it seemed the right time to finally get around to doing my review of it.

It’s also part of Bert’s Books of the Year on twitter – check it out. #BBOTY

Set in the 1970’s, it’s the story of an average rock band who release the defining record of the era when they collaborate with Daisy Jones.

It has a unique way of telling the story – it’s a transcript of a Talking Heads TV documentary. The unseen interviewer speaks to various members of the band as well as people who were around the band as they rose to fame.

There are some members who don’t get spoken to, though it’s not clear why – is there a rift? Have they died? All options are quite possible as we learn about the bonds that formed amongst the band members – and the bonds that broke down over time.

It’s fascinating to see the relationships change, plus the different perceptions of different events. You almost forget that these aren’t real people – in fact, I had to google just to check.

Though it’s a book, you can almost hear the album sound-tracking the story, so it becomes a bit of a disappointment once you get to the end that the album doesn’t actually exist.

I was a bit put off at the beginning because the style is so different, however you very quickly get into the rhythm of it and the characters – particularly Billy and Daisy – end up staying with you longer after the final page.

It’s being made into a mini-series set to air on Amazon Video, and with Reese Witherspoon set to executive produce it looks like it will be a big hit, so make sure you’ve caught up on the book beforehand.

I’m giving Daisy Jones & The Six 8.6 / 10

 

You can buy Daisy Jones & The Six in hardback now

Or pre-order the paperback edition now

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Bert’s Books of the Year – 2019

It’s coming up to the most wonderful time of the year… Not Christmas, but Book of the Year Season.

 

From around mid-November, newspapers, shops and book-bloggers start wheeling out lists of their favourite titles published that year.

 

I thought it would be more fun for Bert’s Books Book of the Year to be decided by you – so I’ve picked a list of 32 books for us to whittle down to just one.

 

Most of the 32 have been picked by me, but I’ve filled up the list with suggestions from folk on Twitter who responded last week with lots of fab books.

 

Peruse the list below to decide on your favourites, then head over to Twitter using the hashtag #BertsBOTY to join in the fun.

 

I’ve already randomly split the 32 titles into 8 groups of four…

 

Group A

 

Group B

 

Group C

 

Group D

 

Group E

 

Group F

 

Group G

 

Group H

 

The first round of voting will be open until Wednesday 13th November 2019 and you can join in here

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Review: The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

In a past life I used to write book reviews every week (you can find them over at alexjcall.wordpress.com) – but setting up a website, and reading about a million books a month has taken up all my time and I’ve not done any in-depth reviews for a while.

 

Fortunately, I’ve become much more productive AND I’ve built a new spreadsheet (you should know by now, I love a spreadsheet) which will help me not only keep track of the millions of books but also score them based on five factors:

 

  • Genre
  • Character
  • Engagement
  • Plot
  • Diversity

 

I’ll talk more about these measures, why they’re important in and how I measure them in more depth in the future, but for now, it’s time to look at the first book to receive the Bert’s review treatment.

 

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

The Vanished Bride

The Vanished Bride is the first in a new historical crime series: The Brontë Mysteries.

 

As the name suggests, the book focuses on the Brontë sisters – Charlotte, Emily and Anne – as they solve crime in the sleepy setting of Haworth in West Yorkshire.

 

We join the sisters in the summer of 1845 when Charlotte receives news from her friend Matilda, a governess at nearby Chester Grange. Her mistress is missing and her bedroom is covered in blood.

 

It is Anne who first suggests that they investigate, having read about detectorists in the paper, but it is Emily who runs with it, determined that it not be against the wit of three intelligent women to be able to solve the mystery.

 

The three of them set off to Chester Grange to find out more about what has happened, and from there they find themselves embroiled in a plot that only gets more befuddling the further they look into it.

 

Bella Ellis is the pseudonym of Rowan Coleman, author of – amongst many other things – The Summer of Impossible Things. This is meant as a compliment, but if I hadn’t known that this book was written by Coleman, I wouldn’t have been able to guess.

 

I’ve never read any of the Brontës before, but the three sisters are written completely in period style, as if a classic Victorian writer had written the book themselves. The dialogue and their thoughts immediately take you straight into nineteenth century life, such that you simply cease to notice it’s a historical novel at all.

 

The plot itself is a satisfying mystery which is resolved without resorting to hiding anything from the audience, and definitely left me wanting more from the sisters – each of whom have distinct personalities.

 

It is clear Ellis/Coleman has a great fondness for the Brontës and as she notes herself in the acknowledgements, while there is no evidence that the sisters solved crime in their spare time, neither is there any evidence that they didn’t.

 

I’m not sure the book is enough to make me want to read anything by the Brontës, but it has definitely made me want to find out more about them – perhaps even a trip to Haworth is in order to see the parsonage.

 

A few notes on the scoring before I reveal it –

  • I favour a 1–10 scale as I think 5 doesn’t give a lot of difference.
  • I’m a harsh judge – I’ve never given a book perfect marks before – truly exceptional books will get a 9.
  • I’ll not review books which score less than five – it means I don’t recommend them, which means we don’t need to talk about them.

 

I’ve given The Vanished Bride 7.1 out of 10 – it’s available to buy now in hardback.

 

It’s a great book which I loved, and has definitely made my list of favourite books of this year.

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Matt Cain – My Life in Books

When I was starting Bert’s Books The Madonna of Bolton was one of the books that I had in my mind.

I’d read it, it was excellent and yet Matt was turned down by thirty publishers because the book was ‘too gay’.

It’s really not. I’ve read much gayer books – but they’re usually confined to the heavy tomes written by writers who suck on pipes and win the Booker.

If The Madonna of Bolton – the fastest funded book on Unbound – isn’t reaching the hands of the every day customer, how many other books aren’t I thought?

You know the rest – but the reason I’m talking about it today is that this week sees the publication of The Madonna of Bolton in paperback you can buy it on Bert’s, of course, but if you want to know more about how Matt ticks, here in his own words he explains ten important books from his life – handily, most of them are available to order by clicking on the links.

 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis 

9780007323128My mum first read this to me, my brother and sister when we were little and I was completely blown away. Over the next few years I must have read it myself at least ten more times. Because I was a camp, girly boy living in a rough northern town I never really fit in and had a horrible time at school. There were times I was so unhappy I would have loved nothing better than being whisked away to a fantasy world like Narnia, where I was a king and everyone loved me. I think that’s why the book made such an impact on me.

 

 

La Gloire de Mon Père by Marcel Pagnol

41DF55CF5HL.jpgWhen I was a teenager I fell in love with learning different languages; I think that again part of the appeal here was escaping reality and transforming myself into a slightly different person. The first novels I read in French were by Marcel Pagnol and I loved them all, although this, the story of a young boy who bonds with his dad on hunting trips around their holiday home in Provence, is the first one that really drew me in. The films are lovely too.

 

 

Sex by Madonna

620x349.jpegI was at sixth-form college when Sex was released in 1992 and my obsession with Madonna was at its height; as an outspoken ally of the LGBT community and a sexually confident woman whose insistence on expressing her desires labelled her a fellow outsider, I elected her as my spirit guide. Sex was a coffee-table book of explicit images exploring Madonna’s sexual fantasies that was shot by photographer Steven Meisel. The project represented the most transgressive move of Madonna’s career and saw most mainstream media outlets align against her for the first time. But this didn’t stop the limited edition of 150,000 sealed, aluminium-backed copies from selling out on the first day. I was struck by Madonna’s bravery as a feminist and the defiantly queer tone of much of the book, as well as the beauty and power of some of the imagery.

 

 

Fortunata y Jacinta by Benito Pérez Galdós

40117029.jpgWhen I went to Cambridge to study French and Spanish literature, I found myself forced to read countless novels that I found really hard going. But I did fall in love with the work of Flaubert, Balzac, Zola and Gide in French, and Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa and Manuel Puig in Spanish. One of my favourite novels on the reading list was Fortunata y Jacinta by Benito Pérez Galdós, which was written in 1887 and tells the interlinking stories of two women of different classes living in Madrid. The book is bitingly critical of the class snobbery and sexism of the time and I loved it. When I spent a year living in Madrid between 1996 and 1997, I re-read it and would often stroll around the streets where it’s set bringing the characters to life in my mind.

 

 

Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins

9781849836258By the time I left Cambridge, being forced to read and analyse so many worthy, academic books had pretty much killed all the joy I used to find in reading. That summer I went on holiday with two girlfriends and we each read a Jackie Collins. I picked up Hollywood Wives and within minutes I was drooling, gasping and giggling out loud on the beach. After years of feeling like my batteries had run out, it was as if somebody had switched me back on again. I’ve since read several of Jackie’s books and love her colourful characters, energetic plotting, and the intoxicating cocktail of humour, glamour and sex that she serves up every time.

 

 

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

9781784700034When I started my career in TV arts programming, Jackie Collins was one of the writers I was lucky enough to interview – and over the years I’ve also had the opportunity to interview or work with David Mitchell, Alan Hollinghurst, Ian McEwan, Rose Tremain, Jonathan Harvey and Barbara Kingsolver. But one of the first authors I interviewed for TV was Sebastian Faulks, whose World War 1 epic Birdsong is one of my favourite books of all time and was the first to reduce me to tears. Meeting its author made me see writers as real people and writing itself as something that maybe I too could do one day.

 

 

Thomas Hardy: A Life by Claire Tomalin

9780241963289During the eight years I spent making documentaries for The South Bank Show, I worked with several amazing artists, including Carol Ann Duffy, Ewan McGregor, Darcey Bussell and Ian McKellen, each of whom inspired me in different ways to draw on my own creativity. But my early attempts at writing fiction were rejected by countless agents and publishers, something which left me feeling devastated. Then, in 2006, I made a documentary with Claire Tomalin about her biography of Thomas Hardy. I’d always loved Claire Tomalin’s work; although her biographies are impeccably researched, they read like freely-imagined fiction. And I was hooked on her latest when I discovered that, like me, Hardy was devastated when his first novel had been rejected for publication – and even when he’d achieved success, his work was often derided by critics. I went on to devour all of Hardy’s novels before setting off to shoot the documentary on location in Dorset and Cornwall, where I spent a wonderful few weeks that inspired me to keep writing and not to give up on my dream.

 

 

One Day by David Nicholls

9780340896983I love this book so much that I don’t think I could ever be friends with someone, and I certainly couldn’t fall in love with someone, if they didn’t feel the same way about it. If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t read it, it tells a twenty-year love story through a series of set-piece scenes taking place on the same day at yearly intervals. I read it when I was writing my first novel Shot Through the Heart, when I’d been single for ages and needed switching back on to romance so I could make my own fictional love story come alive. One Day delivered exactly what I was looking for – and a whole lot more besides. It’s a book that has been written with such sensitivity and humanity I think it has the power to make everyone who reads it a better person.

 

 

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

9781408821985Between 2010 and 2013 I worked as Culture Editor on Channel 4 News, reporting on all areas of the arts. During my time in the role I was lucky enough to meet even more amazing artists working in various fields, such as Grayson Perry, Pedro Almodóvar and the Spice Girls, but I made sure I devoted a lot of attention to stories about writers and the publishing industry as I was trying to use my position to finally secure a book deal for my own fiction. While covering the Orange Prize (now the Women’s Prize) I interviewed the author Madeline Miller, who’d just re-worked the Greek mythology in Homer’s The Iliad to create the gay love story at the heart of that year’s winning novel, The Song of Achilles. I don’t think you’ll ever read a more beautiful account of romantic, lustful and intimate love – gay or straight. I felt stunned after I’d read it – and was relieved to find that its author wasn’t just clever and talented but adorable and friendly too.

 

 

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Tales of the CityThis series of novels set in San Francisco burst into life in the mid-1970s and they’re a riotous romp through the interlinking stories of several ‘gay, straight and travelling’ characters from different backgrounds, many of them tenants of 28 Barbary Lane, a boarding house run by transgender landlady Mrs Madrigal. It was while working as Editor-in-Chief of Attitude, the UK’s biggest-selling magazine for gay men, that I went to San Francisco to shoot and interview author Armistead Maupin. The experience was one of the things that inspired me to dig out my manuscript for The Madonna of Bolton, a novel I’d written that had been rejected by over thirty publishers who considered its gay content and central character ‘uncommercial’. I wanted to prove them wrong – and that’s when I decided to crowdfund the novel through Unbound and attempt to raise the funds in record time. I succeeded in seven days and this helped secure a mainstream release for the novel. It became a bestseller in hardback last year and attracted some very positive reviews – and now I can’t wait for it to be released in paperback!

 

The Madonna of Bolton is available in paperback  from Thursday 16th May

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Bert’s Bundles – May 2019

It’s time to reveal the titles included in the bundles for May.

If you’re looking at these and feeling a bit jealous that you’re not getting them sent to you, then sign up before the end of May to ensure you get your bundles in June.

Use code BUDDY5 to get £5 off your first month!

 

And in the meantime, if you fancy any of the books below – they’re all available to buy now – just click on the links!

 

Bert's Best Books

Starting with Bert’s Best Books – I’ve got two brilliant novels – both of which are also available in the General Fiction hardback bundle too!

 

Paul takes the form of a mortal girl by Andrea Lawlor – Bert’s Book of the Month!

9781529007664I didn’t really like Paul takes the form of a mortal girl to start with – which is a funny thing to say as I’m now billing it as my book of the month! I found Paul quite unlikeable, but after about fifty pages or so, I was glad I stuck with it. The writing is top notch, and you really start to care about Paul – even if you don’t really like him…!

 

Paul is a shapeshifter. He changes his height, his hair colour even his gender to suit his mood as well as those around him.

 

He is confident in who he is, but then he falls in love and he starts to question everything. It’s a brilliant metaphor for a young person trying to find their way in the world and one of those books I’ll struggle to forget.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna tells the story of Stella’s life through the eight 9781473686274brushes with death she has. One of the brushes is a distant brush so hard to know whether it counts, hence the title.

To understand Stella’s life, though, you must first understand that of her mother Assunta. Through her we learn about life in their village in the hills of Italy, and of Stella’s early life.

In fact, the stories of Assunta and Stella – spanning more than a hundred years – serve as a social history of Italian-Americans and in a way reminded me of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair but better.

Gen Fic PB

 

Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People has been one of the biggest hits of the last year since it was published in Hardback last August – it has the rare distinction of being shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize a9780571334650nd the Costa Book of the Year.

It was also longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 – so what makes it such a great book?

Rooney is one of the best young writers around and her energy shows in this novel of boy meets girl, bringing to it a believable look at what it means to be growing up in the modern era.

Connell and Marianne are in the same year at school, but they’re very different. For a start Connell’s mother is Marianne’s family cleaner. They don’t have much to do with each other apart from that, but one day, when Connell comes to meet his mother from work, that all changes.

We follow their lives and their on again off again romance through the years, as they both grow and learn to be who they’re meant to be.

 

Our Life in a Day by Jamie Fewery
Our Life in a Day is a brand new release but promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.9781409178163

We meet Tom and Esme on the night of their tenth anniversary. Esme has created a game for Tom to play – he has to p
ick the defining moments of their relationship from the past ten years – one for each hour of the day.

The book moves back and forth through time as Tom picks each of the moments that means something to them.

It’s definitely one of my books of the year – not only is a wonderful love story, but it explores male mental health, a subject that is currently not talked about enough.

Crime PB

Picture of Innocence by TJ Stimson

Picture of Innocence is a difficult book to talk about – mostly because I don’t want to spoil 9780008298203anything for you!

Maddie is a busy woman – not only is she looking after three children but she’s also running a charity too. She’s just about keeping it all together on the outside – but a tragedy is set to send her whole life spiralling out of control

One of her children has been hurt – and she starts to suspect everyone of being responsible, even herself!

 

All the Little Lies by Chris Curran

All the Little Lies is a brilliant thriller full of untrustworthy characters. It all kicks off when Eve receives an email with details the details of her birth mother. 9780008336349

 

Eve had always known she was adopted, but learning that her mother Stella was killed in a house fire in Italy is new information.

 

Told from alternating points of view as Eve investigates what really happened to Stella, we get to see it first hand from Stella’s point of view as events build to an unpredictable climax.

Crime HB

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding
Little Darlings is a creepy, paranoid story about a woman who begins to believe her new-9780008293673born twins have been taken by a strange a woman.

It starts when Lauren is on the maternity ward overnight and she sees an old looking woman lurking behind a curtain. She is chased into the bathroom and from there she rings for help… but no one believes her.

Only one person believes her, DS Joanna Harper.

Apart from the plot, one thing I liked about this book was that Harper is a bisexual woman, pursuing a relationship with another woman – and no one bats an eyelid. It’s not made a fuss of – and it’s things like this I want to see more of in fiction. Diverse characters where their difference isn’t driving the plot.

 

Critical Incidents by Lucie Whitehouse
Critical Incidents is a more traditional crime novel. Although our protagonist is female,9780008268992 both her personal and professional life is in tatters. She’s been kicked out of the force she’s single and she’s sharing a bunk-bed with her daughter in her parent’s house.

When her best friend’s husband becomes the prime suspect in a murder she takes it on herself to investigate, but things are further complicated when she discovers the detective actually in charge of the case is her teenage sweetheart.

As well as the dark suspense you’d expect from a crime novel, the characters in this book feel real – all of which means you shouldn’t start this book before bed, else you might be up all night!

 

Proud

 

It’ll come as no surprise that my book of the month Paul takes the form of a mortal girl is the first title in this bundle, but what’s the second?

 

Hold by Michael Donkor

9780008280383 Hold starts off in Ghana with Belinda, a seventeen year old housemaid for a couple she knows as Uncle and Aunty. She has to break the news to her co-worker young Mary that she is leaving, being sent with Nana to live in London.

 

Mary doesn’t want her to go, but Belinda must and there she meets Amma, Nana’s teenage daughter.

 

The two young women are very different, from very different worlds but they start to form a bond in this beautiful novel. Donkor manages to capture real life so well, that you find yourself laughing at Belinda’s wry observations one moment to worrying for her the next.

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Bert’s Bundles – April 2019

We’ve got some great treats for you this month – those of you have signed up for bundles will be receiving books from the list below.

 

If you haven’t signed up for a bundle – why not do it now to guarantee your delivery of great books for May? Not only do you get £5 off your first month, but we don’t charge any delivery costs either.

 

And in the meantime, if you fancy any of the books below – they’re all available to buy now – just click on the links!

 

Bert's Best Books

Starting with Bert’s Best Books – we’ve got two cracking novels, both of which you’ll be seeing a lot about in the coming weeks.

 

You Will Be Safe Here – Damian Barr

You Will Be Safe HereEvery month as well as picking two favourites from ALL the books, Bert picks one of those two be our Book of the Month – Damian Barr’s debut novel is that book.

It starts in the last days of what is now known as the Gentleman’s war – the Boer War in South Africa. We follow Sarah van der Waat as she is taken from her home and placed in a concentration camp by the British. These camps would go on to become the blueprint for the Nazi concentration camps – and what happened in those camps had a lasting effect on South Africa that is still being felt today.

As well as Sarah’s story, we move forward through the history of South Africa as we learn just how that war shaped the country today.

Diana Athill put it best by saying ‘You come out of reading it a different person from when you went in’.

A truly brilliant read that will stay with you long after you put it down.

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie is a very different kind of novel to Barr’s – but it also stays with you after reading as well.

It’s funny, but feels heartbreakingly real. Queenie is a young black woman trying to 9781409180050navigate her way through a mini-crisis of self. Who is she? Where does she belong in this world? Does she even like herself?

In short, she’s suffering from all the things we all suffer from, but for Bert it was the insights into her views on race that really made this book. It’s not the big moments, but the small ones, ones where we, the reader, offended on her behalf but Queenie simply shrugs them off as normal.

It might help you see society in a new way – or it will feel horribly familiar. Either way, it will make Queenie feel so vivid and real – you’ll be rooting for her all the way through.

Queenie is published on 11th April, so subscribers to the Bert’s Best Books bundle will receive their books week commencing 8th April 2019.

Proud

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

As well as Bert’s Best Books – Queenie also features in our Proud to be Different Bun
dle it is a startling insight into the life of a young black woman – but it’s not all about her race. It’s about a young woman growing up with all the challenges of life around her.

Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale

We would normally try to avoid putting a paperback into this bundle, but as it’s our first month we couldn’t resist shouting about this brilliant book and the way it explores the youth of our protagonist Eustace.

Take Nothing With YouHe’s growing up different in 1970’s Weston-Super-Mare – and he has to face all the challenges of growing up alongside trying to work out what these differences are.

But there are moments of Eustace’s older life which frame the younger years which are just as touching.

Patrick Gale is one of our favourite writers here at Bert’s and we mean no disrespect to his previous novels when we say we think this is one of his best yet.

There are moments of Eustace’s childhood which most men – straight or gay – will be able to identify with – but the sections where he describes playing the cello are surprisingly moving and among the highlights of a book filled with special moments.

Queenie is published on 11th April, so subscribers to the Proud to be Different bundle will receive their books week commencing 8th April 2019.

Gen Fic PB

Patrick Gale’s Take Nothing With You is another book that is featured in more than one bundle – it’s also in our General Fiction paperbacks – it really is that good!

The Lido – Libby Page

The Lido is a story about a young journalist and an old lady trying to save Brockwell Lido from developers doesn’t sound particularly likely at first – but it’s a great piece and a really nice commentary on loneliness in all its forms.9781409175223-2

It also explores the changing nature of community – when Rosemary was young, her community were her friends and family who lived around her.

Fast forward to the modern day and both Rosemary and Kate are isolated, not really a part of any physical community as such, but as they start to work on saving the Lido, they find out that community hasn’t disappeared, it’s just changed a bit.

Page does a brilliant job of bringing the reader into the community that she creates as well. Ultimately, it’s a lovely, uplifting read.

The General Fiction paperback bundle is on its way to subscribers now.

Gen Fic HB

It would be a crime if we didn’t include Bert’s Book of the Month so You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr also features here – alongside another fab book:

Things in Jars – Jess Kidd

9781786893765Those of you who like your fiction a little less serious, a little bit more quirky, will love this novel from Jess Kidd – the bestselling author of Himself. It follows Bridie Devine – the most famous female detective of the Victorian era.

She’s fresh off one case that’s gone quite badly wrong, and now determined to do better on her mysterious new case – a girl kidnapped from her father, who seems to have strange abilities.

Bridie is joined by her seven-foot servant Cora and the ghost of an Irish boxer – Ruby Doyle. Somehow, Kidd makes all of this seem very believable and very real.

The General Fiction Hardback bundle is on its way to subscribers now.

Crime HB

Past Life – Dominic Nolan

The first of Crime and Thriller hardbacks follows Abigail Boone – a woman who wakes up in a room that is barely a room. She is being held prisoner and remembers nothing of how she got there, or even who she is.9781472254658

After managing to escape Boone must put her life back together, even if she can’t
remember it.

Discharged from the police force, living with a husband she can’t remember loving and a son she doesn’t remember giving birth to, she decides that the only way to try and start rebuilding her memories is to resume investigating the case she was following before her capture.

The disappearance of a young woman, now missing for five years.

 

Sleep – C L Taylor

51+5LJfSNcL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnna is suffering from a chronic lack of sleep – and when she does get sleep, she’s besieged by night terrors and horrible flashbacks to events she wishes she could forget.

Moving to the Isle of Rum in Scotland to avoid her past, she takes a job working in a hotel, where she is joined by seven guests – each of whom has their own secret. One of them appears to be out for murder, targeting Anna.

We were hooked from the blurb of this book straight away and we weren’t at all disappointed by it

The Crime and Thriller Hardback bundle will be dispatched in the week commencing 1st April.

Crime PB

Twisted – Steve Cavanagh

From the bestselling author of Thirteen – this is one of those books you just have to read. It’s received a huge amount of critical acclaim including from C L Taylor – the author of 9781409170709.jpgone of our Hardback titles

So what’s it’s about? We don’t want to give too much away – so we’ll just give you the blurb on this one:

BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.

2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.

3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

 

The Night Olivia Fell – Christina McDonald

Our final book of April is this thriller from a debut author.

9780008307660.jpgThe titular Olivia is the daughter of Abi Knight who wakes one night to a phone call from the local hospital with terrible news. Olivia has fallen from a bridge and is now in a critical condition on life support.

We follow the story in two time frames, from Olivia’s point of view in the run up to the accident, and from Abi’s as she tries to find out just what happened on the bridge that fateful night.

A read that you will struggle to put down, early on you will think you know where this is going, but trust us, you don’t.

The Crime and Thriller Paperback bundle will be dispatched in the week commencing 1st April.