Back in January, I posted All The Books I Read in January 2021 and while it was fun, it ended up being too much heavy lifting for a monthly blog post. My blog post time is very limited! So I decided to wait and do one to sum up spring.
It’s only a week into May, but here in Florida it’s almost summer, so now is the time for my spring books post! I’ll do another one in September, for summer books.
Here are my favorite books from Spring 2021.
Eventer’s Dream – A Hoof in the Door – Ticket to Ride, by Caroline Akrill
Holy cow, do I love these books. The Eventing Trilogy by Caroline Akrill is a smart, funny British farce through the world of Three-Day Eventing and fox hunting, back in 1970s? 80s? Great Britain.
I laughed, nodded, and gasped my way through these books. I truly should have read them much sooner, but I held off because the title made it sound like a starry-eyed pony story – when it fact it’s totally tongue-in-cheek.
The horses in this book are truly awesome characters, too, and they only get better as the series continues.
I enjoyed them on Kindle Unlimited, but they’re going to be paperback editions on my shelves soon enough, because they’re worth owning to read again and again. I can’t recommend these books enough to anyone who enjoys British humor, horses, or just really quality escape reads.
Check them out on Amazon!
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton
I had the pleasure of reading this book on NetGalley this year. If you enjoyed the music journalism style of Daisy Jones and the Six, and the musical sensibilities of High Fidelity, this is a really smart book which takes on modern issues through the lens of the seventies music industry. There’s a great back-and-forth between personal narrative (by the journalist, who is herself related to the classic rock(?) duo Opal & Nev, and the articles about the band. The blurb from the publisher says it better than I can:
“Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.
“In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.”
I really enjoyed this and recommend it!
Amazon: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Love Songs for Skeptics, by Christina Pishiris
I love the sweet spot where chick lit meets romantic comedy, and this one ticks all the boxes. Add in some sweet twists: the music journalist (another one, how funny!) narrator, her Greek heritage and London upbringing, the struggle between the return of the boy next door and dealing with an aggressive publicist who is determined to take her career down – there’s so much happening, and I was invested in all of it.
As a writer who has been dabbling in romance but not necessarily falling in love with the process, Love Songs for Skeptics gave me a lot to think about, just in terms of the potential fluidity of the genre and ways to step outside of the write-to-market box. This is another one I’d like to have in paperback on my shelf.
Highly recommended for a good dose of London life, music sensibility, and will they/won’t they romance!
Amazon: Love Songs for Skeptics
Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon
This is a book I used to shelve constantly when I worked at Barnes & Noble – it’s one of those titles that is perpetually available, that sells a steady three to five copies per month, per store, and yet I never picked it up. I wondered at the title, I wondered at the author’s name – and it turns out both of them have really good reasons for existing.
Blue Highways as a concept exists among a certain generation of road trippers and travelers, but the phrase was new to me. Now I’m obsessed with it. I absolutely love the road trip narrative, and more than that, I love the American small town narrative, and even deeper than that, I love the changing 20th-century narrative. One author who ticks these boxes for me is Jonathan Raban, whose travels through backwoods and middle-America through the 70s and 80s are endlessly fascinating to me. Now I can add this classic by Heat-Moon, and I plan to read his other books, as well.
With his life in shambles, unsure what to do next, Heat-Moon decided to drive around the country on the back roads and old highways that were outlined in blue on road atlases. Are they still? I don’t actually know. But he went to amazing places, stumbled upon amazing people, and told some of their incredible stories. This book is a revelation. Everyone should read it. Everyone!
Travel books are even better now, in my opinion, because you can read them with your phone at your side and effortlessly pull up places on the map for a better look at what existed then and what still exists now.
Amazon: Blue Highways
Moose Springs, Alaska: The Tourist Attraction, Mistletoe and Mr. Right, Enjoy the View – by Sarah Morgenthaler
This trio of Alaskan romantic comedies was a really fun escape! Most of the characters are introduced in the first book, The Tourist Attraction, which is a great way to write a small-town series. You get attached to everyone so easily, after all.
The Tourist Attraction is probably the funniest of the three, if only because the main characters lend themselves to comedy. A tourist who has come to Moose Springs with her wealthy friend, in hopes of living out her dream Alaska vacation, manages to fail at just about every item on her itinerary. Meanwhile, she’s getting close to the crabby owner of The Tourist Trap, a dive diner which attracts tourists despite the owner’s evident hatred of them. Enabled by her wealthy friend to try everything, she ends up, well, trying everything, and hilarity ensues.
Of these three, Enjoy the View surprised me the most. It’s a deceptively endearing story set against the dangerous pastime (hobby? sport?) of mountain climbing. There was more emotion and introspection in those pages than I’d bargained for. Really good stuff.
The town is beautifully realized, and the characters are fun, as well. I loved this series.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan
I liked this tale of village intrigue, set during the opening days of World War II, so much that I almost bought another of Ms. Ryan’s books while at the bookstore just yesterday. The Spies of Shilling Lane also sounds good, but maybe with a little too much mystery for my taste, so I’m holding off. I really don’t like mysteries. Like, really don’t like them.
But The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is kind enough to let you in on most of its secrets, so that you can take turns gasping for each of the ladies in question as you read their chapters and watch them try to keep everyone else from finding out.
Its epistolary style isn’t the best example of the type: the chapters are either presented as letters or diary entries, but I think the only one that’s really successful is the diary entries by the teenage daughter of the big house. The letters are far too effusive and descriptive to really sound like letters. It might as well have been fashioned as a narrative by each character. BUT ignore that little bug and the book is really great! I bought it in paperback and I’m glad I did, because it’s a re-read for sure.
Amazon: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
All The Little Things and All Good Things, by Linda Shantz
I admit I am lucky – I get to read Linda Shantz’s wonderful tales of the track before (almost) anyone else, because I have been her formatter. As far as author services go, it’s probably the most technical and involves almost as much cursing as the actual writing process. (Is that everyone’s writing process or just mine?) But it’s fun to make such excellent books ready to go into people’s happy little hands.
All The Little Things sits in between Shantz’s award-finalist novel Good Things Come, and hinges on a romance between two not-so-horse-people who are nonetheless thrust into the racing life from time to time by their friends and family. If you read Good Things Come, you know these characters, and their story adds interesting insights into the drama between Liz and Nate.
All Good Things is the true follow-up to Good Things Come and continues Liz and Nate’s story, as well as that of Chique, the cheeky filly star of the first book. Together, the three books include the Canadian Triple Crown and a score of other races, from Woodbine to Gulfstream to Santa Anita. Ready to know more about the racing life? Shantz is happy to oblige.
Teach Me How To Rage Correctly, by Mary Pagones
The seventh book in Pagones’ sensational Fortune’s Fool series is a little different from the preceding ones. This one returns the focus to Simon, and his narrative is the sole POV in the book. Simon, in turn, has returned his focus to Eventing – he’s not gallivanting off to Mongolia this time around. He has the horses, he has the farm, he has the drive. But does he have the team?
Simon’s support network is failing him in this outing, and that goes for everyone we’ve associated with him in the past: students, trainers, partners, friends. He forges an unlikely alliance in Teach Me How to Rage Correctly while he loses the affection of some others in the eventing game, which reminds me that often, a horseman’s best friend is a non-equestrian who can offer some balance and levity to a sport which encourages passion over practicality.
If you haven’t yet read Fortune’s Fool, it’s a truly unique journey into the life of a truly unique character. If you have, well, then, it’s time to catch up with this installment!
Amazon: Teach Me How To Rage Correctly
The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson
This is a re-read, which honestly is my highest praise for a book. I love Helen Simonson’s books so much that I’ll buy another book off her enthusiastic blurb on the cover, even though I know half the time authors haven’t even read the books they’re blurbing. I just really respect her storytelling style and her depth of understanding of human nature. She gets it, whatever it is.
The Summer Before the War isn’t just about that last charming summer before the Great War sweeps over England, it’s about the first year of war, too. But the set-up for the stories that take place: the new teacher in town, desperate to find independence after the death of her father; the warring factions between the grand ladies of the southern England village; the two handsome nephews and their ambitions that seem destined to be thwarted by war, and the absolutely delicious, slow, spine-tingling romance — that all takes place in the summer before the war.
I think it’s a stupendous beach read, something you can just read chapters and chapters of, getting lost in the story and the beautiful places described.
I also highly recommend Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand from the same author!
Those are my standouts! I’d love to know yours! Feel free to drop them in the comments!