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Bert’s January 2021 Reads

I’ve decided I need to actually keep track of the number of books I read each month – and what better way to do that than blogging about them?

In January I read 12 books – and I enjoyed them all, but for those that care about that sort of thing, I’ve ranked them!

They’re all available to purchase – or pre-order. If it sounds like your thing, or if you’d just like to find out more, then just click on the links

13. Acts of Kindness by Heather Barnett

Bella Black starts a new job at Acorn consultancy, and soon finds herself working for the mysterious OAK Institute.

This a high-camp, adventure – if you’re thinking a female James Bond (one of the later Roger Moore ones) you wouldn’t be far off.

This suffers a little bit from not really knowing what genre it wants to be – but if you go in knowing that you’ll get a fun story about a woman who doesn’t quite know who she is or even who she works for, you’ll not be disappointed.

12. The Spiral by Iain Ryan

Erma wakes up in bed to find one of her colleagues standing at the foot of her bed. Her colleague points a gun, fires at Erma, then shoots themselves. Erma then tries to understand just what was going on.

Erma herself isn’t that likeable, she’s not really trying to find out why her colleague did what she did – instead, she’s just trying to track down her work so she can complete her own work. She’s been studying the Choose Your Adventure type of books from her childhood and as she gets closer to tracking down her missing research, she finds out some truths about herself.

There’s a clever – and fun! – Choose Your Own Adventure-style section in this book, which really fits the jumbled moment it appears in and helps both us and Erma uncover the truth.

11. The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

When Eddie dies, he goes to heaven and here he meets five people he previously knew in his long life. Some of them he knew very well, some barely at all – but they all marked key points his life and they help him realise just what his life was worth.

This year, as I clear out my bookcase, I’m re-reading some of my favourite books. This one was one that I looked at a lot in a bookshop, before finally getting around to buying it. I loved the moral of this story as well as the writing.

Now, looking back on it, I can see how this story has helped shape my outlook on life – but also, how simple a story it is. I didn’t love it as much this time around, but it’s still a great book.

10. The Shelf by Helly Acton

Amy and Jamie have been together for two years, and she’s pretty sure that as she careens into her mid-thirties, he is her last chance of happiness. So, when he announces a mystery trip away – she’s convinced this is it. This is when he’s going to propose.

Instead, he takes her to a TV studio, dumps her and leaves her there – one of six women taking part in a new reality show ‘A Keeper’ – where each of the contestants stand to win themselves £1,000,000 if they can prove they would make the perfect wife.

At first, this book made me angry – at Jamie, at the producers of the TV show, at the audience, but as time goes on, I started to really enjoy Amy’s personal discovery of just who exactly she is.

9. Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow by Benjamin Dean

Archie Albright just wants everything to go back to normal. He wants his parents to stop arguing, he wants his dad to move back in and he wants to be able to just enjoy his life like any other normal 12 year old would.

So, when he overhears his parents arguing and learns something surprising about his dad, he and his best friends  decide that the only way to fix things is to travel to London.

This is a lovely book about a young child coming to terms with the fact that his father is gay – and finding a whole new family along the way. In fact, Archie handles everything remarkably well – it’s the adults who don’t in this charming book.

8. The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton – Published 20th April 2021

Opal & Nev are two of the most iconic rock stars of the 70’s – they only had one album together, but one iconic photograph taken on the night of a riot at a musical showcase has catapulted their fame.

Now, nearly 50 years later, they’re getting back together for a one-off show, and music journalist S Sunny Shelton is pulling together interviews for a book to chart their rise to fame. Only Shelton has a personal connection and agenda to wanting to learn more about them.

Like Daisy Jones and the Six this is a book told in transcript form, and it’s about the rise and fall of a rock duo. If you liked Daisy, you’ll like this – it’s different in places as it tells, perhaps a more personal story, and has a wonderful, cinematic ending.

7. The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

Nat Davy is the smallest man in England. Nobody really knows why he’s stopped growing, but he has and his parents are struggling to know what to do with him. His father, eventually sells him to a local Duke for eleven shillings, who, in turn presents him to the Queen of England.

The Queen and Nat become firm friends and as the English start to uprise against her and her husband, he helps her escape to safety.

This is a sweet tale told around the famous story of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, but it’s the personal story of one of the courtiers, so the drama isn’t around the political nature, but about how Nat can learn to live in a world that isn’t designed for him.

6. The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr

Samuel and Isaiah live together in a barn on The Halifax Plantation – but they’re not free men. They’re slaves, along with many other people. But they’re also in love – and as the rest of the slaves are slowly converted over to Christianity, this is a dangerous place to find themselves in.

This isn’t just a story about Samual and Isaiah, this is the story of a whole community of people. The slaves and the plantation owners. How they work and live together, but how they remain forever different, no matter how much some of them pretend they might not be.

5. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Three separate cases in Jackson Brodie’s first appearance all come together to reveal that perhaps we’re all more connected than we previously thought.

This was another book from Bert’s Bookshelf that I re-read this month – and it’s as good as I remembered. Jackson is a brilliant central character, but so are all the characters around him.

It’s a great book, one that suckers you into it and guides you effortlessly through what are some quite traumatic stories. Definitely not cosy crime, but it makes you feel safe, warm and comforted all the way through.

4. The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean

He’s her husband, but she’s not his wife. She’s his captive. He calls her Jane, but that’s not her name. She’s trapped in a farmhouse in the UK with no idea of how she got there. Lennie records her every move and if he doesn’t like what he sees, she gets punished.

But something has changed. Now, she has a reason to live and to fight. And now, she’s watching him.

This is a claustrophobic and desolate read, you’re urging ‘Jane’ on throughout to rescue herself, but you can totally understand her motivations, why she holds back. Go to bed early with this one, because you won’t be able to put it down.

3. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

Lenni is just 17 years old, but she’s destined to die. She’s living on the terminal ward of a hospital. She meets Margot, an 83 year old woman who is in the hospital as well and convinced she’s going to die.

Between them, they’re a hundred years old and in their art class together, they start painting scenes from their lives.

Along with Lenni, we learn all about Margot’s life, a life that could easily be similar to the one Lenni lived had she not fallen ill. This is a sad, yet uplifting story, perfect for fans of Joanna Cannon.

2. True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

This might be a tricky one to explain. Like Daisy Jones and Opal & Nev it’s another transcript based book, but in between the chapters we get  redacted email exchanges between Joseph Knox himself and Evelyn Mitchell.

Evelyn is researching the story of Zoe Nolan who disappeared just before Christmas and no trace of her was ever found. It’s told in the form of transcripts of interviews with the people who knew Zoe best – and along the way, these interviews are annotated by Knox.

So what happened to Zoe? And what happened to Evelyn so she couldn’t publish her own book?

The transcript style really suits this ‘true crime’ story and will appeal to fans of the Six Stories series by Matt Wesolowski.

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Perhaps no surprise to anyone that this was the best book I read this month. You can find out more about just why I loved it so much by looking at my previous blog post, but in summary…

A Little Life is the story of JB, Malcolm, Willem and Jude. But mostly it’s the story of Jude, a man whose life has been touched and defined by trauma. As he grows, he learns to trust those around him, even when some of them throw it back at him.

This is the sort of book that will stay with you forever once you’ve read it. A must for… everyone.

 

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Upcoming Books

Do you find it hard to keep up with all the exciting new books due to be published? Do you wish there was one handy list that had all the best ones in one place, arranged by date?

 

Then you’re in luck! I’ve listed below everything that is currently available to pre-order on Bert’s Books – I’ll update it regularly too, so keep this page bookmarked and come back regularly! AND finally, if there’s anything you’re desperate to get your hands on, that you can’t find below, then let me know!

 

14th January 2021

The Stranger Times by CK McDonnell

Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan

21st January 2021

Girl A by Abigail Dean

Winterkill by Ragnar Jonasson

Rescue Me by Sara Manning

The Two Lost Mountains by Matthew Reilly

28th January 2021

The F*ck-it List by John Niven

4th February 2021

Last One at the Party by Bethany Clift

16th February 2021

 A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses 5) by Sarah J Maas

18th February 2021

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

A Still Life by Josie George

The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson

Deity (Six Stories 5) by Matt Wesolowski

4th March 2021

You Got This by Louise Redknapp – SIGNED

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin

18th March 2021

Come Join Our Disease by Sam Byers

29th April 2021

Stronger by Poorna Bell

27th May 2021

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

7th September 2021

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

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Sister of Bert Takes Over

Months ago Bert gave me access to add books to the website myself; it’s probably lost of him a lot of impulse purchases on my part because I’m very lazy at heart but I’ve finally got around to making use of the function because I want to buy a gift for two little boys I know.

I spend a lot of time reading with my four year old daughter (who, regardless of what Bert tells you, is not called Meryl) and there are some picture books I absolutely love and cannot resist buying extra copies for her family and friends. I thought I’d share a list of some of my favourites with you:

You’re Called What?! Kes Gray.

I’m sure lots of parents will be familiar with the brightly coloured Oi Frog, Oi Dog, etc, books from this author which I know my daughter would definitely recommend because of the funny rhymes and tongue twisters although honestly, as the person who has to do all the reading these ones aren’t always at the top of my list!
You’re Called What? is just as silly as his other books but I love it, it’s all about real animals with strange names and includes a double page spread at the back with pictures and facts about these animals making the book just as interesting for me as it is for the little one. And even better, it’s actually helped me out in the weekly online family quiz a couple of times!

Odd Dog Out. Rob Biddulph.

Obviously it doesn’t hurt that I was introduced to this book by Tom Hardy reading it on Cbeebies Bedtime Stories but this is probably my all time favourite children’s book, the sentiment of the story is beautiful and is a delight to read out loud. I love the colourful illustrations and if you do too then I’d also recommend the authors YouTube channel, the whole family have been enjoying #DrawWithRob during lockdown.
I always buy this book for friends with new babies on the way, it makes a great gift!

Izzy Gizmo. Pip Jones.

A little girl who loves to invent and has to learn not to get frustrated when she doesn’t get everything right the first time is a fabulous role model. I bought this book (and the subsequent Izzy Gizmo and the Invention Convention) for all of my friends little girls, and then realised I was being sexist, so bought it for all the little boys too.

My four year old often gets in a strop when she can’t do something by herself immediately so you’ll often hear me saying “Be like Izzy Gizmo, try, try again”.

Dogs Don’t Do Ballet. Anna Kemp.

This is another heart-warming book with a great message; about following your dreams, even if others don’t think you can achieve them. I love how enthusiastic my little one gets about sticking up for Biff the dog who wants to be a ballerina and this book has also made it into a few birthday presents for her friends.

Zog. Julia Donaldson.

Every self-respecting toddler has a large stash of Julia Donaldson books so you probably don’t need me to recommend any but the favourite in this household is Zog. Julia Donaldson’s books are always fun to read and fun to listen to which I’m sure is why they’re such a success. Zog features dragons, princesses, knights and (this is clearly a trend with me) has a story line about defying expectations to follow your heart.
If you do like this book I’d also recommend the follow up Zog and the Flying Doctors and The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp.

Unplugged. Steve Antony.

We have a lot of Steve Antony’s books, you always have to support your local talent and he’s very good at instilling good manners (check out the Mr Panda books if you haven’t already)! The latest addition to the collection though is Unplugged which see’s Blip, the (very adorable) robot, accidently get unplugged from her computer so off she goes to explore the outside world. The timing of my purchase of this book was perfect as my daughter had just discovered YouTube but through clever illustrations Blip has shown her you can have just as much fun outside with your friends as you can playing on your devices.

Supertato. Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet.

Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet’s books are great for little readers and we have all the Supertato books as well as many of their others.
I always think it’s a little bit strange when a picture book review describes it as hilarious but Supertato’s adventures with the other fruits and vegetables in the supermarket are peppered with clever one liners which keep me amused whilst the bright pictures and fun storylines keep the little one coming back to these books time after time!

The Love in My Heart. Tim Bugbird.

I couldn’t miss The Love in My Heart off of this list, this tale of love and family is so beautiful I actually had it as the reading at my wedding. This book was a gift from a friend years ago and was perfect as a bedtime story for my very young daughter with it’s simple rhyming stories and gorgeous illustrations, we’d all read it together night after night and it still features on the bedtime reading list often now.

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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