Firstly, a few words on my plans for 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. Cathy is such a forgiving host, allowing us to choose our books, be it 10, 15 or 20 however we want; cheating and swaps are allowed – even encouraged!
Consequently, I’m not going to nominate 20 specific titles – but yes, I’ll go for the full 20 – aiming high as always. They will all be books I’ve owned before 2022, some will come from my bedside bookcase the shelves of which don’t change as often as they should. And where I can, I’ll tie in with other reading weeks and months over the summer like Spanish/Portuguese reading month, Paris in July, WIT, and personal plans to have an Italian Fortnight somewhere in the mix.
Last year was the first time I actually managed the full 20, so here’s hoping, although I really should start the month of June with some cramming for a quizzy thing I’m involved in – more on that later!
And now, as they say, for something completely different… I’m always playing catch-up with reviews so here are two short ones to help get that pile down.
Magpie by Elizabeth Day
This was always going to be a short review born of absolute necessity – as the big plot twist in this psychological drama happens just 100 pages into the novel.
The story begins with Marisa looking at a new house and feeling quite at home, it’ll be the ideal rental – a great place for Marisa to work, and perfect to start a family with Jake.
Jake was her safety, her berth, her rock, her anchor. She had used all these words to describe him, albeit not to his face as he wasn’t given to shows of emotion. This was partly what had drawn her to him: he was unruffled by events and his solidity was uncompromising. He showed her how much he loved her through the things that he did, rather than the words he said.
A downturn in business necessitates taking in a lodger, Kate, who doesn’t feel quite right. She asks too many questions of Marisa; she looks at Jake in the wrong way; she’s a bit close. What does Kate want with them?
I shall say no more about the plot, which has an excellent twist. Although I raced through the novel, reading it in a few hours, I did feel it lost momentum in the last act – I was hoping for some more melodrama to end on. But it was a fun read, and I loved the minty green hardback cover with its detail on the feather, which you can’t see; the paperback which is just out has an orange background – not a magpie-like colour at all.
Source: Own copy. 4th Estate paperback, 326 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.
Behind the Seams by Esme Young
If you’re a fan of the Great British Sewing Bee like me, you’ll just adore Esme, the pocket-sized judge who loves bows and big necklaces. But she is so much more than just one programme – Esme has led an adventurous life – and now she’s written a memoir about it.
Born in Bedford, Esme was the second of five siblings, and knew from an early age that she wanted to be creative, going to art school where she had a whale of a time, mostly living in squats and riding around London on a motorbike, before starting up feminist design house Swanky Modes with three college friends.
They played hard, but worked even harder to make a name for themselves. Swanky Modes released their first collection in 1972 and made singular and innovative clothes for twenty years. Their most famous dress was probably the ‘Amorphous’ sheath from 1977 (right) – made from Lycra nylon jersey with cutouts – they were the first to use Lycra in a non-sports/swimwear garment. She worked on many films and shows, with many big stars and continues to lecture part-time in pattern cutting at Central St Martin’s, where she just loves helping the students realise their visions.
Now in her early 70s and an adoring auntie, her life is absolutely typified by the subtitle to this book, being able to work in the sector she always wanted to, being friends with everyone and staying friends too, including ex-boyfriends, having a loving family and that yen for adventure.
Esme intersperses her story with some sections on transformations – a mainstay of Sewing Bee; the art of pattern cutting; a summary of Swanky Modes different collections and there is a selection of photos. A lighthearted and empathetic book, which emphasises the value of hard work once you’ve found your metier, Behind the Seams was a delight from start to finish. Esme is witty and chatty, and it just made me love her even more. This was one of those books – bought on Saturday, started that evening, finished on Sunday.
Source: Own copy. Blink Publishing, hardback, 280 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.