The House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy*
Freshly unemployed Oliver volunteers to oversee the renovation of an old house his girlfriend just inherited. He suspects he's going to love pottering around in a semi-derelict building; he doesn't expect to stumble across a post-war diary or to be drawn into a family mystery. It took me a little while to warm to Oliver (who is rubbish at knowing his own mind) but I liked diarist, Sophia, from the start and was very quickly drawn into the story. One of those big, absorbing books about a time, a place and a messy set of carefully hidden emotions - if that's your kind of thing (and it is mine), this one is worth a read.
Unf*ck Your Habitat: You're Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman*
A cleaning and tidying book for people who don't have time to clean and tidy. There are no detailed itineraries or mindbogglingly time consuming schedules in this book - just simple advice for getting your home looking good enough (even if you have roommates; even if you don't know how to clean; even if you're really busy; even if you have physical or emotional factors limiting how much you can do). That's the kind of ethos I can get behind. Unfortunately for me, it's the kind of ethos I already have (basically: cleaning little and often; accepting that it's better to make a bit of effort now than have a chore hanging over me) so the book didn't tell me anything new. But it might tell YOU something new. Or somebody you know. If you want to get your cleaning act together (and don't mind quite a bit of swearing), this is more helpful than the usual overly complicated cleaning systems you see on Pinterest.
The Birthday That Changed Everything by Debbie Johnson
Nope. Couldn't do it. I waded through about 25% of this but it was full of two dimensional, gender stereotyped, ooh-aren't-we-naughty characters, had a flimsy plot that wanted to be Shirley Valentine and, struggle as I might, I couldn't seem to muster any empathy for Whatever-Her-Name-Was-I-Can't-Bring-Myself-To-Check, the lead character, about whom "doormat" is too generous a description.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Yes, I was totally just going through my Kindle looking for books with birthday-related titles this month. I couldn't remember what this one was; it turned out to be a collection of essays by Anna on the subjects of being one of the first generation of women expected to hold down a career whilst still being expected to keep the house and mind the kids, and of growing older (she was sixty at the time of writing). And I loved it. LOVED IT. Even when I didn't quite agree with Anna's views (and that was only ever in minor ways) (although be warned that she's writing about the life of someone with two houses; I know that would drive some of you nuts), her writing made me really think about what I do believe, how my life has unfolded as a working woman and how I'm experiencing parenthood now - and I wanted to sit down with her on a comfy sofa, coffee/tea in hand, and chat about all of these things.
The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking
One of my birthday gifts, I expected this to be full of fluff about layering your sofa with blankets and switching off the overhead lights. And some of it was that. But Meik Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Insitute, so he also serves up various facts and figures about what makes people happy and how to achieve more cosiness and contentment in your own life without a lot of conspicuous consumption. The brief version is good friends, slow cooking and comforting routines - but the longer version is a lot more interesting.
*Provided for review