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New Releases: January 20th

Three books from my anticipated books post are out today – and for once I’m ahead of the game and have finished all of them. Why aren’t I saving one of to be in the running for a BotW post? Well one of them already has been and the other two are thrillery and have plots that I can’t really tell you too much about without ruining it

Covers of A Fatal Crossing, The Maid and The Christie Affair

Let’s start with Tom Hindle’s A Fatal Crossing, which I read in basically three sittings, it’s just they were spread across ten days because I got distracted by Ashes of London. I requested this from NetGalley because it’s a murder mystery on a 1920’s cruise ship and but it’s actually quite hard to explain what’s going on without spoiling it all. Many of the passengers are on their way to an art fair in New York and as well as the murder there is a stolen artwork to deal with. And on top of that, you see it all through the eyes of Timothy Birch, an officer on board the ship who is running away from a tragedy at home but can never quite escape it. This is page turning and atmospheric and I thought I knew where it was going, but i was wrong. I might have figured it out if I hadn’t been convinced of my rightness and had thought a bit harder about the other possible options! It’s hard to tell though once you know – even if you go back and read again, you can never read it again like you don’t know!

From the 1920s to the present day and The Maid by Nita Prose. Molly is a maid at an upmarket boutique hotel. She knows that she’s not like everyone else – but now her gran is gone she has no one to explain human behaviour to her any more. So now she throws herself into her job – where her obsession with cleaning and etiquette as an asset. But when she finds one of the guests dead in his penthouse suite, she finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation where her personality quirks mean the police think she’s their prime suspect. But soon some friends she didn’t know she had are helping her to clear her name. Molly is one of the most unique narrators I have recently come across – and it’s definitely one of those cases where the reader can see things that Molly can’t. I was quite infuriated early on in the book by the way that Molly had been treated, but never fear, her situation was much improved by the end of the book – and without her changing her essential Molly-ness. This is maybe my favourite of the three. But then it’s also the one that I read last, so it could just be recency bias. I do think that this is the easiest to recommend though – I can see why it’s had so much buzz and has been picked out by Good Morning America and the New York Times. I think it will appeal to readers across genres in the way that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Where’d You Go Bernadette did.

And finally, I have already written about The Christie Affair – it was last week’s book of the week and if you’ve already read that post, consider this your reminder to go and read a sample/buy a copy! If you’re only going to read one of two historical mystery picks, I’m struggling to decide which one to suggest, except that I think the Christie Affair is closer to the murder mysteries that it’s protagonist writes and A Fatal Crossing is less traditional in terms of genre rules when it comes to the resolution. So for me I found the Christie Affair more satisfying but a Fatal Crossing is potentially more thought provoking – or at least might generate more arguments at your book club!

But all three of these are good books and if it wasn’t January and we weren’t in the midst of an omicron wave I would say that all three would be the sort of book you could read on your sun lounger by the side of the pool. As it is, read them on your sofa wrapped in a blanket!

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Vanderbilt-adjacent books

As I mentioned in yesterday’s BotW post, you may well come away from reading Vanderbilt wanting to know more about some of the people and situations in it. And I can help with that because this is not my first rodeo with this family or with American High Society in the Gilded age. So for today’s recommendsday, I’ve got a selection of books that tie-in in some way with some of the events or people that feature in Anderson Cooper’s book.

Lets start with the non-fiction, because that’s probably the short of the two lists. First of all is Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clarke Newell. I talked about this in my non-fiction Rich People problems post a couple of years ago. It’s the investigation into the life of a reclusive heiress, who wasn’t photographed for decades and who lived in a hospital for twenty years, despite owning mansions on both coasts of the US. Huguette Clark isn’t a Vanderbilt, but her family money was made at the same sort of time, she moved in the same circles and her family also had a penchant for building giant mansions. It’s mind boggling and she only died a couple of years back. Also mentioned in that 2019 post is The Unfinished Palazzo by Judith Mackerell, which features as one of its leading characters Peggy Guggenheim. Again, not a Vanderbilt, but another one of those big American families that you may well have heard of. Off the back of reading Vanderbilt, I’ve ordered myself Anne de Courcy’s The Husband Hunters, which is about the thirty year period where the British aristocracy looked across the pond to replenish their family coffers with American money by marrying American heiresses. I shall report back, but in the interim, may I suggest the tangentially related The Fishing Fleet, also by Anne de Courcy about the women sent out from Britain to India to try and snag a husband. Lastly, you can read Consuelo Vanderbilt’s own memoir – The Gitter and the Gold but I slogged through it last year, so you don’t have to. It’s a fascinating story, but she (and her ghost writer) aren’t the best at telling it and I definitely don’t suggest you read it first, because she doesn’t give you a lot of context about who the people are that she’s talking about, so you may well find yourself utterly lost or googling every few pages!

Let’s move on to fiction – and more particularly fictionalised real-lives, a corner of fiction that I really enjoy. In the later stages of the book, we see more of Anderson Cooper’s mother’s life. Gloria Vanderbilt was the subject of a notorious custody case when she was a child, but as an adult she was part of the group of women who Truman Capote called his Swans. I’ve read a couple of novels about this group – which probably means there are a stack more that I don’t know about. I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin back in 2016, before I knew much more about Truman Capote than you can get from the film Capote. And that fact made the reveal of how that little group blew up work really well although I was somewhat hazy about where the real life stuff ended and the fiction began! I read Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott a couple of years later – about the same group and the same events – and that was a BotW. In Swan Song you know what Truman has done quite early and you really see the consequences of his actions for the women concerned – you just need to stick with it beyond the initial few chapters which are a bit confounding until you figure out what is going on.

Downton Abbey prompted a surge of books set in the Gilded Age or featuring American heiresses, both in historical fiction and straight up historical romances. In the former category I’ve read My Last Duchess (known in the US as The American Heiress) by Daisy Godwin who is the writer behind the TV series Victoria. Cora Cash is American heiress whose marriage is going really quite badly and who is also having to navigate British High Society with very little help and a lot of people willing her to fail. I preferred The Fortune Hunter which she wrote a couple of years later and which is about Sisi, the Empress of Austria, but that doesn’t really fit this post does it? And then there’s Theresa Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman, which is about Alva Vanderbilt and her quest to be queen of society. I found it tricky because everyone in it is really quite unlikeable – and it doesn’t have the humour that can make reading about horrible people fun, but I know that other people enjoyed it more than I did.

On the romance front, Eloisa James’s My American Duchess was one of the first to hit this trend – it came out in 2016 and I reviewed it for Novelicious back in the day. It’s got a heroine who has already jilted two fiancés and a hero who wants to marry a Proper English woman. You know where this is going, except that it’s more than just the fish-out-of-water, comedy of manners, forbidden love novel that you expect from the blurb. I haven’t reread it since, but at the time I said that it wouldn’t be a bad place to start if you want to dip your toe into the historical romance genre, and I would stand by that, because Eloisa James in this period was one of the most consistent of the romance genre. Joanna Shupe has written a couple of series set in Gilded Age New York, but my mileage with her varies a little – she tends towards more melodrama than I like and her characters tend to do abrupt about faces that annoyment. But I did quite like Baron, from the Knickerbocker Club series, which features a fake medium who needs to seduce a railroad millionaire in order to stop him from exposing her latest scheme and also Prince of Broadway from the Uptown Girls series which has a casino owner and the daughter of a family he is trying to ruin financially. More recently there’s Maya Rodale’s An Heiress to Remember (published in 2020) which sees an American heiress return to New York after her divorce to try and claim her family’s department store for herself. Only trouble is that it’s being run by the man whose heart she broke when she married a duke. It’s the third in a series – but I haven’t read the others, so I can’t speak to whether they work as well as this one did (for me at least).

And finally, there have also been a couple of murder mystery series set in and around the mansions that the Vanderbilts and their rivals built in Newport, Rhode Island. Of the ones that I’ve read, the best was Murder at Beachwood by Alyssa Maxwell, which is a historical mystery set in 1896 with a debutant heroine who is a fictional cousin of the Vanderbilts (an actual Vanderbilt connection! yay me!) who ends up trying to solve a murder after a baby is abandoned on her doorstep. It’s bit meladramatic – but that works with the time setting. It’s also the third in a series, and writing this has reminded me that I haven’t read the other two and I’m not sure enough of the Anderson Cooper book is set in Rhode Island for me to be able to use it for the state if I do the 50 states challenge again this year.

So there you are, a monster Recommendsday post with – hopefully – something for everyone. Happy reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Vanderbilt

Say hello to a non-fiction pick that is both a hardback and a book that I got for Christmas – and so hasn’t lingered on the pile at all. Now that may be because it was a book that I specifically asked for, or it may just be a fluke but, hey lets celebrate small wins when we get them.

You’ll know Anderson Cooper as a news anchor on CNN, but he’s also part of the Vanderbilt family and this book, written with Katherine Howe, as the subtitle suggests is a look at the rise and fall of the dynasty. It is not a complete and comprehensive examination of every member of the family, but more a look at the key figures and key moments in the family’s fortunes from making their money, through breaking into New York society, to the various court battles and all the way to Cooper’s own childhood as the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. It takes you from seventeenth century New Amsterdam through to the present day, but with its main focus from the mid-ninteenth century onwards.

I knew bits and bobs about some of the Vanderbilts, but not a whole lot so this was really interesting to me – even before the personal aspect that Cooper’s own connection to the story adds. I’ve read a lot of books at various points about the British nobility in the nineteenth century, and portions of this story are the American equivalent to that – and they interface at some points too, for example when Consuelo Vanderbilt is married off to the Duke of Marlborough. If you’ve got an interest in this sort of history, it’s definitely worth a look – even if it’s not the most comprehensive account and may well leave you wanting to read more about some of the characters you meet. But that’s never a bad thing really is it? We’ve all already got to-read piles bigger than we should have, so what difference do a couple more books make…

My copy of Vanderbilt was a Christmas gift from my parents (thanks mum and dad!) but you can get it now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo. It’s also on audiobook read by Anderson Cooper himself, which sounds delightful from the sample. I still haven’t been into a bookshop this year, but I suspect it’ll be a case of ordering it in – I’ve put a Waterstones link as I know that’s where mum got it from so I know it will actually work.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: January 10 – January 16

Can confirm: a couple of things got in the way of the reading last week. Firstly, the figure skating was on – and you can’t read and pay attention to the skating – and secondly it was my birthday. On top of all the usual stuff, that means the list is shorter this week. Also Ashes of London is really long.

Read:

Vanderbilt by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R King

The Hippopotamus Pool by Elizabeth Peters

Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

Anthropology by Dan Rhodes

Started:

Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain

Spies in St Petersburg by Katherine Woodfine

Still reading:

Forever Young by Hayley Mills

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor*

A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle*

I may have bought myself a couple of books as birthday gifts. But I was quite restrained really.

Bonus photo: In years past, the photo would have been of a trip for my birthday, but the omicron wave means this was my second birthday in a row at home (after almost a decade of going away for it!) so here I am on the sofa with some champagne and a book. And this very laptop in the background on the other sofa because I wasn’t paying proper attention to my backgrounds. I’ll never be an influencer will I?!

A copy of Death of Skis rests on a tartan rug while a hand holds a glass of champagne

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

 

not a book

Not a Book: Houseplants

I think I’m getting old. Well I know I’m getting old, but one of the more startling things across the course of the pandemic has been my growing house plant collection. This is a particular surprise to me because I have always considered myself as having whatever the opposite of green fingers is – because I have reliably killed any plant I have owned*. At the old house, really the only window with a window sill was the kitchen and I regularly killed basil plants there, to the point where Him Indoors told me I wasn’t allowed to buy any more of them. The only house plants we had were a Valthemia – which my mum gave me, and is a bulb so very, very hard to kill – and a Mother-in-law’s tongue, also reputed to be hard to kill.

When we moved to the new house, they came with us and were soon joined by Cecil the spider plant. Then mum and dad gave us a peace lily – which lived in Him Indoors’s office and seemed to be flourishing. When I changed jobs last year, one of my leaving gifts was an orchid and although I have a history of killing orchids, I thought I would give it a go. And lo! The orchid is surviving, in the bathroom near Cecil. Suddenly, I’ve got a little collection of plants and I’m starting to get a little bit confident.

I bought myself some nice pots to put them in. And when I took Cecil to mum and dad’s to repot, I also took one of Cecil’s babies, that I had managed to develop roots on. And I came back with two other plants on top. And I took a little side shoot off the aloe vera plant that Him Indoors’s parents gave us as well. Now I’ve got a little shelf of plants in the utility room and I’m starting to think that I might have a green thumb after all.

We’ve had a few minor setbacks – when the peace lily needed repotting, mum and dad gave us another one. Which I killed within weeks. And now I think I’ve killed the Mother-in-law’s tongue too. It still has one green leave sticking up, but all the rest are brown and withered. So I’ll admit I’ve put the plans to buy more plants on hold, until I can be sure that I can cope with the ones that I’ve got. But I do still want a plant for my office. And if the Mother-in-Law’s tongue really is dead, then there’s a space on my hearth that will need filling with something…

*when I was a child I had a spider plant in my room and sometimes geraniums too, and they survived. But I wasn’t responsible for watering them so they don’t count!

bookshelfies

Bookshelfie: Fancy Hardbacks…

Happy weekend everyone! Here for a weekend treat is a nice picture of some of my prettiest books. The angle is a bit weird because they live on the top shelf of the fancy cabinet with the glass doors and I was having to work around the doors and a post in the middle. I probably should have looked for a step stool as well. But hey, perfectly imperfect, that’s me! I love the Virago Modern Classic hardbacks, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I bought some of them just because they looked pretty and I wanted them on my shelf and then read them later! My rule is that a book can’t go on any shelf except the to-read bookshelf until I’ve read it, and I stick with that. I do have to admit that these ones are much less likely to be the victims of a book cull than some of the others on the shelves might be though! Here you can also see a war at play in how I shelve them. This is a compromise arrangement between putting books by the same author together and arranging books by colour. It is deeply tempting to put them into rainbow order (so to speak) but that would mean the Du Mauriers being split up and my brain sort of revolts at that as well! It’s so much easier with matching sets and series by the same author.

Anyway, on these shelves you’ll see Excellent Women, as mentioned in my post about The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, which was actually the first of these that I bought, but most of these were acquired in the pre-blog era, so I haven’t really written about them. Pretty much the only exception is The Birds, although as I’ve gone back through the blog to check on that, I’ve seen VMC collection in various forms across the last five plus years increasing in size. So far I’ve managed to resist buying the VMC edition of Diary of a Provincial Housewife – but only because I have the omnibus edition on another shelf. I’ve got a Patricia Highsmith from the collection waiting to be read – although I’m worried it’s going to be too scary for me, which is probably why it’s still waiting. Although of course the risk is that it’s not, and then I end up going and buying more of her books…

Series I love

Series I Love: Royal Spyness

It’s been a while since I posted a Series I Love post – since Amelia Peabody in January last year to be exact – so I thought it was time for another. As I finished the latest in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series this week, and really enjoyed it but because I said I wasn’t going to write about any more Christmas books, this seemed like a good solution!

Set in the 1930s, our heroine is Lady Georgiana Rannoch, daughter of a duke and a cousin of George V, and whose family lost most of their money in the Great Crash late in the 1920s. Her father is dead and she’s trying to survive on her own, because life with her brother and sister-in-law is just too unpleasant (and cold) to contemplate. Luckily for her, Queen Mary quite likes her and keeps asking her to undertake little tasks to help out the Royal Family. Unluckily for her, this also tends to lead to her stumbling across bodies as well as the dashing but possibly disreputable Darcy O’Mara. There are 15 books in the series now and they’ve taken Georgie around various of the royal residences, the English and Scottish countryside, over the water to Ireland and the south of France and much further away to Transylvania and Africa.

If you’re a history nerd like me, you have to not think to hard about where in Queen Victoria’s family tree exactly Georgie’s family are meant to fit in, but equally if you’re a history nerd all the details about the royals in the 1930s are really quite delightful and more accurate than a lot of similar books are (I’m naming no names, but there are some terrible attempts out there). Georgie is a very fun narrator – she’s very inventive and determined not to end up dependent on her brother and end up as free labour for her sister-in-law, the awful Fig. At the start of the series she starts a housecleaning business – trading on the snobbery of people who want to be associated with a distant royal, whilst hiding the fact that she doesn’t actually have a staff and is doing the cleaning herself. But she’s also grown up quite sheltered from the real world, which means that the reader can often see stuff coming that she can’t – like when she tries to hire herself out as a dinner and theatre companion, when her housecleaning business starts struggling.

Georgie is also surrounded by an entertaining group of supporting characters. As well as the handsome Darcy, there is her accident prone and not very good maid Queenie (who she can’t bring herself to get rid of) and her daring Bright Young Thing friend Belinda. There’s also her maternal grandfather a former policeman who is uncomfortable around all of Georgiana’s posh friends and royal relations. Then there’s his daughter – Georgie’s mother Claire – who after managing to marry into the peerage with Georgie’s father, is now working her way through a string of rich husbands and gentleman friends. The books are working their way through the 1930s and Claire is set up as a bit of a rival to Wallis Simpson and you get some delightful sparring between the two of them whenever they come into contact with each other.

The latest book in the series, God Rest Ye Royal, Gentleman is set at Christmas 1935, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next as we move into the somewhat frantic events of 1936 and the Mrs Simpson situation comes to a head. As regular readers will know, I do love a book set around the abdication crisis (Hello Gone with the Windsors) so I’m hoping Rhys Bowen has got some fun ideas for how to get Georgie involved in it all.

I started reading the series slightly out of order – as I picked up a few of the early ones from the Works (see my BotW post about A Royal Pain for details) but I’ve been up to date for a while now and reading them as they come out. I would say you can read out of order – if you want – up until about book 11, after that, you sort of want to be going in order a little bit. Or at least you do to get the maximum fun out of it all.

If you like historical mystery series like Phryne Fisher or Daisy Dalrymple then these are worth giving a try. Bowen also writes the Molly Murphy series, which I’ve not read – yet – because I’ve never managed to get hold of the early ones in the series at a price I’m happy with. I’m sure it will happen at some point though. If you read the Boyfriend Club series or some of the early Sweet Dreams books when you were a teenager, Rhys Bowen is also Janet Quin Harkin, so you may find that you like the writing style, even if you don’t usually read historical mysteries.

Happy Reading!

graphic novels

On my wish list: a new graphic novel series

So, I talk a lot here about what I’ve read – but not so much about what I want to read more of. And at the moment, I’m on the hunt for a new graphic novel series to get my teeth into. I have a really good local comic book shop and I’ve been having a nose through the shelves every time I go to pick up my regular orders, but so far, nothing has jumped out at me.

So what do I like to read? Well as you can see from the picture above, I love Lumberjanes and Fence, and I’ve ventured a bit into one off, longer titles. On the downstairs shelf, I’ve got the whole run of Paper Girls and a large collection of Rivers of London graphic novels. So ideally, I’m looking for something in a similar vein. Or maybe combining the two?! So teenage magicians that aren’t too gory?

I’m not a big super hero reader – mostly because I don’t really know where to start and the series seem intimidatingly long and complicated. Ive toyed with some of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics but again, I’m not quite sure where to start. I’ve also never really tried manga – mostly because I don’t know where to start! I do have the manga versions of the first three Parasol Protectorate novels, and as you can see I’m not averse to a graphic novel retelling of a story I’m already familiar with, so maybe that’s where I should be looking next!

Hit me up with your suggestions in the comments!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Enemies to Lovers Romances

As my top romance pick of the year was an Enemies to Lovers romance, I thought it was about time that I did a Recommendsday post about one of my absolutely favourite romance tropes! And honestly, it actually turned out to be quite difficult to find ones I haven’t already written about before – particularly contemporary ones because so many of them have already been Books of the Week!

My much-loved TV tie-in edition of Pride and Prejudice

Lets start off with something very obvious: Pride and Prejudice. This is the grandaddy of them all. If you’ve never read it, you should, but there are also stacks of retellings of it from pretty much every different twist you can think of. My favourite is probably still Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, which is set in modern day (well modern five years ago) Cincinnatti, which has a lot of the wit that makes Austen so much fun but which you don’t always get in the retellings.

Next up, The Viscount Who Loved Me – second I Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series and the basis for the upcoming next season on Netflix. Who knows how they’ll make it play out in the TV series (although the first one was quite faithful to The Duke and I) but in the book Kate is determined to save her older sister from marriage to reformed rake Anthony Bridgerton. Anthony has decided that he needs to marry (for reasons that you don’t really ever get to the bottom of in the book) but is determined not to marry for love (for reasons that you do discover). The two of them really don’t get on – until they do and it is delightful. Read it before the second series drops at the end of March.

Very worn copy of Regency Buck

I mentioned Regency Buck years ago in a post about comfort reads (and even longer ago in my post about Georgette Heyer), but it is one of my favourite historical romances with this trope. Judith and her brother come to London against the wishes of the guardian that they have never met. Of course they discover the Duke of Worth is the annoying man they met en route, the son of a man their father was friends with. Judith spends most of the book fighting against Worth’s every word and the reader isn’t really sure what he is up to until the reveal – which makes the resolution all the more satisfying. Side note: if anyone has come up with a modern (non problematic) twist on the guardian and ward trope, let me know in the comments!

Before I move on, I’ve featured a lot of Sarah MacLean books here before, and she does a great line in truly epic grovelling – which does often goes hand in hand with the enemies to lovers trope – like Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart, which is the last in her Love By Numbers series and has a deeply rule following hero who thinks the rule-breaker heroine is trying to trap him him to marriage. The Rogue Not Taken is also an enemies to lovers.

Cover of Act Like It

I have featured a lot of contemporary romances with this trope, to the point where it is hard to find stuff I haven’t already recommended! Basically all Lucy Parker’s books are enemies to lovers – but as well as Battle Royal being my favourite romance of last year, Headliners, The Austen Playbook and Pretty Face have been books of the week and Making Up got a mention in a summer reading post too. So that only leaves me with Act Like It that I haven’t already given a big old plug to. So here it is: it’s a fake relationship between two actors who can’t stand each other, to try and help a bad boy actor to rehab his image. It’s the first in the London Celebrities series, and when I read it I had a few issues with some of the British-isms not being right (Parker is from New Zealand) but even writing about it here has made me want to read it again!

If you want to go old school romance, then a couple of Susan Elizabeth Philips’ Chicago Stars books also have enemies to lovers going on. Nobody’s Baby But Mine is that rare thing – a pregnancy romance that I like. And that surprised me because the heroine deliberately sets out to get pregnant by the hero which is so far from my thing. But Jane is actually a very different character than you would expect from that description- she’s a scientist who thinks she’s making a rational decision about her life. Cal, our hero is the quarterback of the team and is (unsurprisingly) unhappy about Jane’s entire plan for his only involvement in their baby’s life to be conception. It’s funny and touching and very escapist. The first in the series, It Had To Be You, is also an enemies to lovers, with a heroine who inherits a football team and the team’s extremely Alphahole head coach. But that has rape in Phoebe’s backstory which I know is a no-no for some people.

Other contemporary romances that have been Books of the Week include: Talia Hibbert’s Act your Age Eve Brown , Ali Hazelwood’s Love Hypothesis, Christina Lauren’s Unhoneymooners (see also The Honey-Don’t List which was in a Mini review roundup), Jen De Luca’s Well Met, Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material, Alisha Rai Hate to Want You and Kate Claybourn’s Love at First. All of those are relatively recent releases (as in new or new ish when I wrote about them) but if you want something else a bit older, then how about Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me – which is now nearly 20 years old (!) – and features a first date that’s the result of a bet…

One last book before I go and that doesn’t really fit into any of the other categories – Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, which is the first of the trilogy set in the world at the centre of Cath’s fandom in Fangirl – and is the equivalent of Harry and Draco in Harry Potter books.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Christie Affair

In a frankly shocking move to anyone who knows me, this week’s pick is a book that I mentioned in my upcoming books post, and that I’ve managed to read ahead of it’s release. I am however breaking one of my rules – because I’m writing about it nine days ahead of its publication date, and I usually try and wait for books to be published before I recommend them. But as the other books that I really liked last week were Christmas-themed books, and here we are in nearly mid-January. But I have a plan for dealing with that. I promise. Anyway, to the review.

Cover of The Christie Affair

If you’ve read anything about Agatha Christie’s life, you’ll probably have come across the mysterious incident in 1926 when she disappeared for 11 days after her husband asked her for a divorce because he had fallen in love with another woman. It sparked a massive hunt for her across the UK until she was found staying at a hotel in Harrogate. The newspapers reported that she was suffering from memory loss and Christie herself doesn’t even mention the incident in her autobiography. Nina De Gramont’s debut novel reimagines what happened, told from the perspective of the fictional Nan O’Dea. Nan is the woman who Christie’s husband is leaving her for – the Goodreads blurb describes her as “a fictional character but based on someone real, which is to say there was a woman who Archie Christie was leaving Agatha for – but that is about as far as the resemblance goes. The novel jumps backwards and forwards through time – showing the reader Nan’s tough upbringing in London and her escape to Ireland during the Great War alongside the hunt for Agatha and the events at the hotel that she’s staying at in Harrogate. Why has Nan infiltrated the Christie’s world and what is it she wants?

I really enjoyed reading this – but it’s so hard to explain why without revealing too much. In fact, I’ve tried three times just to write that plot summary without giving too much away. I think it’s fair to say that this departs a long way away from the actual facts of the Christie divorce fairly quickly. But the story sucks you in so completely that you end up googling to check which bits are real and which aren’t. It’s clever and enthralling and twistier than I expected it to be. There’s also a murder mystery plot in there that’s neatly reminiscent of something Christie herself wrote. I’ve written whole posts about fictionalised real lives, and if you like that sort of thing you should try this – although bear in mind those notes above about it not being what actually happened. It’s a thriller, it’s a mystery and it’s a romance. It’s also very easy to read and evocative. I read it on the sofa snuggled under a blanket wishing I was in front of a roaring fire, but I think it would also make a great read for the commute or a sun lounger. And it wouldn’t make a bad book club pick either. Well worth a look.

My copy of The Christie Affair came from NetGalley, but you can pre-order a signed copy from Waterstones, or the usual Kindle or Kobo editions. It is a hardback release, so the Kindle prices do match that, but if you’ve still got some Christmas book money to spend…

Happy Reading!