Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Set in Boarding schools

Long time readers of this blog will be aware of my fondness for Girls Own books – particularly those set in boarding schools. I’m fairly sure that I would have hated boarding school in reality but I love reading about them – particularly the ones set in the first half of the twentieth century. A result of this is that I do love an adult book set in a boarding school and showing the other side of things. So for recommendsday today, here are some adult books set in schools of various types.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

Let’s start with a classic murder mystery. An exclusive girls school is thrown into chaos when an unpopular games mistress is found shot dead in the sports pavilion. This is a Hercule Poirot novel, but he actually only appears very late on in this – which has school politics and international espionage among the options for the motive for the murder. I remember first reading this as an early teenager – around the same time as I was reading all the Girls Own books and being sort of horrified at the idea of a murder at a boarding school. It’s a much later Poirot novel – for all that I didn’t realise that when I first read it and the TV version of it is really quite different because it had to be moved back to the 1930s. Worth’s look if you’ve never read it.

Poison for Teacher by Nancy Spain

It’s only a few weeks since I picked Death Goes on Skis for a Book of the Week, so it’s perhaps a bit naughty to be picking Nancy Spain again, but I think if anything I liked this even more. Miriam and Natasha find themselves undercover at a boarding school to try to work out who is trying to put the school out of business. But while they are there, a teacher is poisoned and it all gets complicated. This has awful children, horrible teachers, seething rivalries – professional and personal – and a staff play that causes nothing but trouble. It’s really, really funny.

Summer Half by Angela Thirkell

Also funny, but without any murders is Angela Thirkell ’s Summer Half, which I still think is one of the funniest of all of her Barsetshire books. It has a serious teacher getting himself engaged to featherbrained girl who is clearly going to cause him nothing but problems and everyone in the book is hoping that he’ll some how manage to escape. Schools – and teaching – has changed a lot since this was written but it’s all still recognisable.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Let’s jump forward to the more recent past. Preplis about a scholarship student at a fancy New England Boarding school. Yes, I wanted to smack some sense into Lee for at least the second half of the book, possibly longer but that may have been because I could see some of the elements of my own character in her – the ones that I try hardest to overcome and she’s making no effort to do so, (or because she doesn’t try and make the most of the opportunity that she made for herself) But this did feel like a very realistic and truthful portrait of what life in a modern (ish) co-ed boarding school might have been like – in the time immediately before computers and mobile communication took over. This was Sittenfeld’s debut, and although I’ve enjoyed other books of hers more (the first or hers I read was Eligible, I’ve read almost all of her backlist and buy the new stuff as it comes out) but if you haven’t read it it’s worth a look.

I recently read Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English – which is about a scholarship girl at an English country boarding school – which wasn’t for me, but I think others will like it- my problems was around not liking any of the characters enough to go with them while they made stupid decisions all over the place! And to finish I’m going to throw a few mentions in to stuff I’ve written about recently that also fits in here: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust from Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, which sees our heroine stuck in a boarding school in Canada. And then there is Murder in the basement which was a BotW six months ago, and so I can’t really write about at length again – yet!

Happy Wednesday!

Book of the Week, historical, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Ask a Historian

I offer you a non fiction book this week – and after a few weeks where I’ve been recommending new (or newish) releases, here’s one that’s not quite as new a release because it came out in October…

Anyway, Greg Jenner’s latest book does exactly what it says on the tin – it answers fifty questions from history that are the sort of thing that most people actually want to know – as opposed to the sort of history people thing they ought to know. So you can find out how women dealt with their periods in the past – but also how historical periods got their names, where history starts and pre-history ends and why people are so obsessed with the Tudors (see also the question about how many nipples Anne Boleyn had) and then more horrible histories type stuff like how much horse manure was created each day in London or what the Flintstones got right. And because it’s fifty questions it makes for great bite sized reading – I read a couple of questions a night before bed.

As I’ve mentioned before, Greg and I overlapped at the same university and we did student radio at the same time although in different departments (I was news and he was speech) so we didn’t really hang out together although we were in the Langwith bar at the same time a few times after the weekly meeting. I really like the niche he’s carved himself as a public historian – he is incredibly knowledgable but wears it very lightly and his writing style is fun and accessible. And he’s the sort of history writer who wants to appear like he knows it all right off the top of his head – he’s not afraid to show his working and tell you which historians or other experts he spoke to in the main text and not hidden in the footnotes. And if there’s something you’re particularly interested in, there’s always a further reading list at the back – complete with notes about which are the more academic books as opposed to the more lay person friendly ones. As well as working for the grownups, I think this is also the sort of book that would appeal to a kid who read horrible histories and is now looking for something else fun and historical. It’s got a few swear words in it, but I think that teens and tweens will love that (and parents: they’ve heard all the words already at school, that ship has sailed)

My copy (complete with signed book plate) came from Big Green Books, but it should be fairly easy to get hold of from any reasonably sized book shop as well as on Kindle and Kobo. And if you read it and like it, then try Greg’s other books Dead Famous (definitely more for the adults) and A Millions Years in a Day. And as a bonus Greg reads his own audiobooks, which is always delightful – if you listen to his podcast You’re Dead to Me you know what he sounds like and it would be weird for it not to be him narrating!

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 9 – May 15

I was in the office all five days last week, so plenty of reading time on the trains. Despite that, the excitement of Eurovision on Saturday along with some time fixing the fence in the garden mean the list is probably shorter than it could have been. I’ve accidentally started rereading the Vicky Bliss series (so the link to Elizabeth Peters isn’t entirely right because it takes you to the Amelia Peabody post) as well as working my way through the NetGalley books and a relisten to one of my favourite Pratchetts.  And I finished the week with another E C R Lorac, which continue to be really entertaining whenever I come across them.

Read:

Fire Court by Andrew Taylor*

Ask a Historian by Greg Jenner

The Truth by Terry Pratchett

Dear Little Corpses by Nicola Upson*

The Fake Up by Justin Myers*

Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters

Street of the Five Moons by Elizabeth Peters

Post after Post-Mortem by E C R Lorac

Started:

Miss Moriarty, I Presume by Sherry Thomas

Still reading:

Paper Lion by George Plimpton

Plan for the Worst by Jodi Taylor

Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare*

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor*

Well there was a book sale at work and it could have got a bit messy except I could only fit three books in my bag. And a couple of preorders arrived too.

Bonus photo: How quickly flowers fade – remember the wisteria from the other week? Here it is last week, starting to go over.

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: Eurovision

Yes it’s a not a book post on a Saturday – and that’s because it’s about something that’s on tonight – the Eurovision Song Contest and there’s no point in telling you about it’s after the winner has already been chosen and you can’t have your say (if you’re in a voting country).

I’ve watched the semi finals, I know who my favourites are, I know who the bookies favourites are and I’m looking forward to see what insanity unrolls this year. We’re in Turin after Måneskin’s win last year – and they’ve had one of the best years of recent winners so could this be the start of something big for this year’s winner?

If you’ve never watched Eurovision, it’s a mega song contest where a countries compete to win a glass microphone trophy and the chance to nearly bankrupt their national broadcaster by hosting the contest the next year. It can be wildly political – but it can throw up the wildest winners. – Ukraine are this year’s favourites but I loved the Wolves and their Bananas in semi final one.

And it’s 25 years this time since the UK won with Love Shine a Light and Katrina and the Waves (complete with drummer Alex whose mum lived up the road from me) and for the first time in ages we might have a chance of doing ok – after getting zero last year. I’ve probably jinxed it now but hey. Enjoy everyone, and here are some of my favourites from through the years and if you’re in the UK and want to watch, it’s on BBC One from 8pm.

LGTBQIA+, mystery

Mystery series: Josephine Tey

Another week, another post about a mystery series. This time it’s Nicola Upson’s Josephine Tey mysteries as the new one comes out next week (and I’ve even read it!

This is another mystery series based on a real life person solving mysteries, usually murders – in this case the crime writer Josephine Tey. She was a playwright as well as a novelist – and the first book in the series is set in the final week of the run of one of her plays, when a woman Josephine met on the train to London is murdered and the detective investigating thinks Josephine may be at risk. In the grand tradition of the books of the era, the detective, Archie Penrose, is connected to Josephine and becomes part of the cast of regular characters.

As you may have surmised these have their roots in the golden age detective novels that I love but several are also inspired by real crimes. And perhaps is the latter that means that these are always darker than you expect and on the edge of being too dark or bleak for me. I have read seven of the ten in the series and one of my reviews on goodreads say things like “these are consistently grimmer than I want them to be”. I’ve also read them out of order – and my note on the first says that if I’d read that one first, I might not have continued with the series. All of which I realise sounds a bit down on them. But for all that they are on the edge for me on the grim scale, I know that my line is a long way back from the sort of thrillery, psychological crime that a lot of other people really like – and this is closer to the historic version of that. And I do really like the 1930s world that you see in the books, so here’s a bit more about book 10 to show you what I mean.

Dear Little Corpses starts as the mass evacuation of children takes place in London. Josephine and Marta are at Josephine’s cottage in Suffolk where the village is preparing for an influx of children. In London, Archie is investigating the death of a rent collector before heading down to visit them for the village fete and so Josephine can meet the woman that he has started seeing. But at the fete a young girl goes missing without a trace and the search for her threatens to expose long hidden secrets in the community. The portrait of the village waiting for the evacuees is great and this also goes over into Essex and places that I am actually familiar with and I’m a total sucker for that. But I spent a lot of this hoping that it was going to all turn out ok and thinking that this was going to be one of the less bleak books in the series – and then boom, the ending happened and it was every bit as bad as it could be and a little bit more. And that’s the story of the series: I go in wanting it to be much closer to the lighter, cozy mystery end of the historical crime series spectrum than it is and at the end.

At some point I will read the biography of Josephine Tey that I have sitting on the to be read bookshelf and see how the facts of her actual life stack up to the books, but for now I can’t really vouch for that either way. If you want to dip your toe in the water and see if they suit you, I have some suggestions: London Rain was the first in the series that I read, and is the one I have liked the most – and I don’t think it’s just because it’s set around the recording of a radio play. The Death of Lucy Kyte is the first one set in the village that also features in Dear Little Corpses, and Fear in the Sunlight is set in Portmeiron and features Alfred Hitchcock and the 1930s film industry. So there are plenty of options. As you can see from the cover montage, they’ve been through two designs for the covers so they should be fairly easy to get hold of – Dear Little Corpses came from NetGalley but I’ve had copies of others in the series from the library (ebook and actual book) as well as the charity shop and the dearly departed magic bookshelf at work.

Happy Friday everyone

romance, women's fiction

New release: Book Lovers

I said on Tuesday that last week had been a good one for reading new stuff, and it was because here I am again with a new release that’s perfect for reading while sitting on a beach – or more likely in the garden (if the sunshine lasts).

Emily Henry’s new novel is about a New York book editor, who keeps getting dumped when here boyfriends go on business trips to small towns and fall in love. Nora is the before woman. When her sister drags her to a small town in North Carolina to spend a month, she encounters Charlie – her work nemesis. He’s the editing equivalent of her, but he turned down her biggest novel and she’s not over it. And they keep bumping into each other…

And it’s delightful. As you can probably tell, it’s a book for people who love reading romances and seeing someone do something different with the tropes and archetypes. It’s a romance, but it’s closer to the woman’s fiction end of the spectrum because Nora has some issues of her own to deal with and that along with her relationship with her sister takes up almost as much time as the romance does. It will probably make you cry, you will probably worry if there’s going to be a happy ending but it’s worth it in the end, even if I wanted a slightly longer epilogue (what’s new!).

My copy came from NetGalley, but Book Lovers is out today in paperback – it came out on Kindle and Kobo on the 3rd – because release dates are confusing and annoying. Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Lost Heirs part 2

Here is the second part of my Recommendsday selections featuring lost heirs – inspired by An Impossible Imposter! Today we’re looking at romance novels!

So we have two basic types of Lost Heirs in romance – potentially fake to steal something away and ones the family didn’t know about or tried to get rid of. The latter tend to be the heroes of the story, the former the baddies. As is often the case, let’s start with Georgette Heyer. She has a lot of tropes – but in this case only really the hero type of lost heir. Hugo in The Unknown Ajax is an heir that the rest of the family didn’t know about – his grandfather had ignored his existence until the deaths of the people between Hugo and the title. This is one of my favourites – because Hugo has hidden depths, the secondary characters are delightful and there are smugglers.

Julia Quinn has a pair of books dealing with both sides of a lost heir problem – The Lost Duke of Wyndham and Mr Cavendish, I Presume. The first is the story of a highway man who discovers he may be the long lost heir to a dukedom. The second is the story of the man who thought he was the heir but discovers that he may not be. I remember these as being not quite as steamy as her Bridgerton series but I may be misremembering because it has been a while!

The clue is in the title with KJ Charles’s An Unsuitable Heir – in which a private equity agent is sent to find the missing heir to a title and finds him in a circus. This is the third in a trilogy of longer than novellas but not really quite as long as a novels and has the conclusion to an overarching storyline so maybe if you’re going to read it do the lot. They’re all connected but with different couples and different LGTBQ identities and relationships in Victorian London. Definitely not closed door.

I’m honestly sure I’ve forgotten some – I feel like I’ve read loads over the years but I couldn’t think of any more. I even went back on a magical deep dive of goodreads to try and find them. If it comes to me, there will be a part three!

Book of the Week, Book previews, historical, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting

There were lots of options for this post today. I like a week like that. I’ve gone for a historical romance because it’s been a few weeks and this was a lot of fun and I needed something fun and frothy and if I hadn’t written it already, another entry for the marries the person you’re trying to save someone from post.

Kitty Talbot’s parents have died, leaving their daughters with debts and an uncertain future. Determined to secure her sisters’ future, she decides the solution is to marry well and heads to London with the last money they have to try to secure a rich husband. She’s never moved in this sort of society before, but with the help of her mother’s best friend she’s sure she can succeed. And indeed she soon attracts a suitor and is intent on reeling him in, until his older brother, Lord Radcliffe comes to town to put a stop to it. He knows she’s a fortune hunter and is determined to keep her out of his family, but somehow he finds himself helping her ingratiate herself with the ton…

As you might be able to tell from that summary – which doesn’t even cover half the book – this has got a lot of plot and a lot of twists. It rattles along so fast that you don’t have time to think about it, but when I was trying write that plot summary I realised how much had gone on beside the whole fortune hunter main idea. It pulled it off, but I do wonder whether there are any ideas left for Sophie Irwin’s next book! But I enjoyed this a lot so I’ll definitely be looking for it when it comes to see. It’s “not quite in the common way” of the historical romances I have read recently, not least because the steam level is basically smouldering glances for most of the book and never gets higher than kissing – so not so much enemies to Lovers as enemies to soon to be marrieds!

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s coming out on Thursday in ebook and hardback and if you pre-order it today it’ll drop onto your Kindle or Kobo or your doormat on release day.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 2 – May 8

Well I’m actually quite pleased with myself this week I have to say. At the start of the week I was worried that having already written about two books that I read early inthe week that I wouldn’t have any options for what to write about tomorrow, but I’m delighted to report that that is not the case. Especially after my nice chilled weekend recovering from the election coverage. And for once, I’ve been reading stuff that’s about to be released, as it’s about to be released. Check me. Ok so the still reading list is looooong, but you can’t have everything. I’ll work on that this week.

Read:

Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson*

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris

Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood

A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting by Sophie Irwin*

I Was Better Last Night by Harvey Fierstein

Set on You by Amy Lea*

The Book Share by Phaedra Patrick*

Book Lovers by Emily Henry*

Started:

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor*

Dear Little Corpses by Nicola Upson*

Still reading:

Paper Lion by George Plimpton

Fire Court by Andrew Taylor*

Plan for the Worst by Jodi Taylor

The Fake Up by Justin Myers*

Ask a Historian by Greg Jenner

Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare*

I don’t think I bought anything. So a double win this week. Unless I’ve forgotten something, the only book that turned up this week was a pre-order. Check me again.

Bonus photo: I went for my first run around the park in a few weeks on Sunday, and the trees were looking gorgeous in the sunshine. Maybe it’s time to crack out the summer work wardrobe!

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