books, Chick lit, fiction, historical, reviews, romance

Christmas Short Story Round-up

As I mentioned in October, the Christmas themed books are stacking up.  Now the big day is approaching, I thought I’d start with my run down of the best of my Christmas reading so far.  And to ease myself into the festive mood, I’ve been reading short stories.  Some of these are new this year, some are from last year which I didn’t get around to until I was out of the Christmas mood and consequently held on to ready for this year! So as we hurtle towards December, here are my top picks of the Christmas novellas so far (in no particular order):

Now a popular theme this year has been the Christmas novella following on from a successful non-Christmas book.  I actually find I prefer these novellas to the full length Christmas themed sequels in quite a lot of cases – the shorter form means there’s (often) no need to break up a couple who you’ve really got invested in in the first book just to provide enough drama and plot for the novella. Sealed with a Christmas Kiss by Rachel Lucas is a good example of this.  I read Sealed with a Kiss a year or so ago before it was picked up with Pan and really enjoyed it.  So I was pleased to reacquaint myself with Kate and Roddy and to read about the latest developments in the plans to save the Island.  As always with these things, probably best to have read the original book first.

Unlike Christmas Kiss, I hadn’t read the book that preceded Secret Santa by Scarlett Bailey but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Sue Montaigne’s struggles to organise the Nativity Pageant in Poledore.  This novella is festive but without being cloying or sickly – which is always good.  One of my favourites of the Christmas themed reading so far – and I’ve gone and put one of the other Poledore books on my to-read list.

At the historical end of the Christmas market, The Viscount’s Christmas Temptation by Erica Ridley is another novella that’s Christmas themed without being too saccharine.  It’s a prequel to her Dukes of War series (the first book of which is waiting on my Kindle) and focusses on the organisation of a Christmas ball.  Standalone and fun, this is worth a look if you want a bit of Christmas themed historical romance.

Being a fool, I forgot that I’m several books behind in the Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander and managed to spoil a couple of plot developments for myself by reading Star of the East.  I still enjoyed it though – but suggest it’s only for people who are up to date with the series.

On to the non-novella but still Christmas and short section – and Trisha Ashley’s Christmas offering is a collection of her short stories – Footsteps in the Snow.  These are stories that have previously been published in various magazines and are definitely at the shorter end of the market, but they still display Ashley’s trade mark wit and flair and I would say are perfect for reading in the tube or on the bus.  I paid 99p for this and was perfectly content – but I wouldn’t want to pay overly much more than that – the back third of the book is a preview of her next novel.

Jill Mansell’s A – Z of Happiness is similarly short – but has the bonus of being free (or at least it was when I downloaded it and still was when I wrote this).  It’s not stories, it’s more musings with an author Q&A, but if you like Jill’s writing, it’s definitely worth a look – especially as it’s gratis.

So there you have the best of my Christmas short stories so far to ease you into the Festive Season.  Still to come, I’m planning a round-up of Christmas novels – ideal for curling up in front of the fire with once you’ve finished work for the holiday.

stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: November 17 – November 23

Part two of the Nightshifts this week – and not quite as much read as last week.  But there’s some really good stuff in there.  You may have seen my ravings about Viv Albertine’s book – but Miss Pym Disposes is also great if you’re into Golden Age Crime, and Six Geese… is Meg Langslow for the holiday season.  I’m also loving Gail Carriger’s work at the moment – I’m rapidly working my way through her entire back catalogue.  I’ve also finally called time on Elizabeth Gilbert, added it to the list of books I’ve given up on and added it to the charity shop bag, and I’m putting aside Sheila (it’s on the kindle) too – I’ve been reading other stuff instead…

Read:

Six Geese A-Slaying by Donna Andrews

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine

Sealed with a Christmas Kiss by Rachel Lucas

Changeless by Gail Carriger

Blameless by Gail Carriger

It Happened on Broadway by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

Started:

It’s Not Me, It’s You by Mhairi McFarlane

Still reading:

The Grand Duchess of Nowhere by Laurie Graham

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

 Well, I’ve been a bit of  a naughty girl on the book buying front this week – seven books and a kindle e-book.  But I blame the nightshifts.  And I have promised The Boy that I’ll have a book shelf rationalisation to make room for them.

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Non-Fiction Round up

If you’re a regular reader of the blog (*waves*) you’ll have noticed that I don’t read a lot of non-fiction.  But as a proud history graduate (I’m not so proud of my French grammar) and a bit of a history geek, a lot of the non fiction that I do read is history based.  After reading lots of Heavy Duty history books for the degree (in English and in French) I tend to steer clear of weighty, serious tomes in favour of the more readable popular end of the market. This is mostly because with so many things on the to-read pile I know the serious stuff will get ignored*.  And I think they’re the sort of books that will appeal to people who don’t have the interest in history that I do.  I also like biographies and autobiographies that tell me something more about the world and things that I don’t know much about.  So with that in mind, here are a few of my recent reads:

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine

I cannot speak highly enough of this book.  Honestly. This jumped out at me because of the insight into a period I know very little about (the 1970s and punk) – Viv Albertine really lived in and through that scene – she was in a band with Sid Vicious before she was a member of The Slits – a revolutionary girl punk band.  This is possibly the most raw and honest autobiography I’ve ever read.  You never get the sense that Albertine is holding anything back, or leaving stuff out to make other people happy or make herself look better.  The first part of the book – Side A – covers her early life and her career in music inside the small punk scene in late 1970s London where everyone knew everyone as they tried to change the world, and the second – Side B – addresses her post-punk life, her fight against cancer and her struggle to find herself and her place in life.  I could not put it down – especially during Side B, which I had expected to be the less interesting part of the book.  Albertine blazed a trail in her music career – doing things that girls didn’t do, and refusing to let men tell them what to do.  I’m fairly sure that she’d hate me for not having strong enough opinions, but I’m equally sure that it’s women like her who have made it possible for me to live the life that I do.  It’s had fabulous reviews – the pull quotes about it are raves and I totally agree. I really seriously recommend this.

Flappers by Judith Mackerell

I’ve got a bit of a fascination going on with the inter-war period – I’ve read a lot of fiction set in that era (both stuff actually written then like Nancy Mitford and stuff written now and set then) and the Bright Young Things fascinate me (if you haven’t seen the BBC’s three-part documentary on the era called Glamour’s Golden Age, watch out for it being repeated), so this was right up my street.  Flappers tells the stories of five notable women of the 1920s – focusing on their lives during that period.  It’s a big old book – it lasted me three days of commuting – but it’s worth a read.  Each of the women have interesting stories – and even if they aren’t that likeable always, you don’t spend long enough in their company to start to get irritated with them.  I think if the book had been solely focused on anyone of them I’d have given up on it – because I would have wanted to punch some sense into them, but as a six-some it really works.  I passed it on to my mum – who’s currently reading it too!

The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry

Now this had been sitting on the shelf for an age – and I finally got around to reading it after I was lucky enough to win tickets to go and see the fabulous Mr Fry talk about the third part of his autobiography and thought I ought to get up to speed with where we’ve got to.  And what a decade he had – this covers university through early successes (and failures) on stage and screen and writing behind the scenes.  I really liked his writing style (it’s just like having him in the room with you) and the stuff he gets up to is so interesting that I raced through the 400 plus pages of what could be a very irritating book about a man being very self-deprecating about his success.  We leave the QI star and polymath after he’s just tried cocaine for the first time.  I’ll let you know what I make of volume three…

And if you read this blog regularly, you’ll notice I’ve read these books spread over a fair period of time.  This has been sitting in draft for ages, but having finished Viv Albertine’s book today, I had to write about it – and this seemed the perfect place, as Albertine’s book is not the usual sort of book I post about – it’s real, it happened – it’s not romance or remotely cosy.  But I had to tell you about it.  I could not put it down this morning – I even took the Kindle into the bath with me so that I could finish my copy (which came via NetGalley) so desperate was I to find out what happened to her next.  Honestly, even if punk isn’t your thing, go and find it in the book shop and read a few pages or borrow it from the library.  Don’t just dismiss it.  It’s an important story, but it’s also tremendously engaging and her writing style – like her musical one – is completely different.

 

*I have a copy of Adam Zamoyski’s Rites of Peace sitting on my shelf that has been there for about five years – and I’m really interested in the Congress of Vienna.  As in A-Level special project essays interested.

stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: November 10 – November 16

Oh hello Nightshifts my old friend, you’re back to torture me again.  Four nightshifts this week – with three more to come next week – and my reading list is essentially nice and lightweight to cope with the toll that staying up all night is taking on my concentration and brainpower!

That said, the list is dominated by Christmas novellas and special releases – I’m planning a string of posts on Christmas themed reading (of all lengths) for when we get a bit closer to the time.

Read:

Chalet School and Robin by Caroline German

Difficult Husbands by Mary de Laszlo

Footsteps in the Snow and Other Teatime Treats by Trisha Ahsley

Secret Santa by Scarlet Bailey

Star of the East by Tasha Alexander

A Spy Unmasked by Tina Gabrielle

Jill Mansell’s A to Z of Happiness by Jill Mansell

One Funeral by Kat and Stone Bastian

Cold Feet at Christmas by Debbie Johnson

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Storm by Tim Minchin

Started:

The Grand Duchess of Nowhere by Laurie Graham

Still reading:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Sheila by Robert Wainwright

 I may have acquired a couple of books this week during the early hours.  NetGalley is just so tempting. And I won a copy of Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma retelling too.   And then I just had to buy the second Parasol Protectorate story and the prequel short story.  Ahem. There’s something about being awake in the middle of the night that seems to just force you to do impulse purchasing…

books, cozy crime, reviews

Cozy Crime Round-up

If you were to make a study of my reading material, you would find that one of the genres that crops up the most is so-called “Cozy Crime”.  I love me a murder mystery, but I don’t like too much gore, psychological stuff, horror etc.  Basically what I’m saying is that I’m a golden age detective story fan and that’s the level of violence that I’m happy with.  So here’s a few of my recent reads from cozy end of the genre.

Mrs Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death by Mark Reutlinger – I read this in the book marathon on holiday in October, but have waited until now to review it because it is out on the 18th (thank you NetGalley for my super-advance copy!).  Rose Kaplan is a resident at an old people’s home who suspected of a murder after a fellow resident chokes to death on a Matzoh ball made by Mrs K for the Passover seder.  Rose and her best friend Ida decide to investigate who really was responsible.  I loved this book when I read it on the beach.  It’s not challenging reading, it’s not reinventing the wheel, but it is a nice way to spend a few hours – it feels like an American cross between Agatha Raisin and Miss Marple.  Definitely worth a look.

Also out in the next couple of weeks is Death Comes to London by Catherine Lloyd.  Now this is the second in a series – but I don’t think it’s going to ruin your enjoyment if you haven’t read the first one.  In Death Comes to London, Miss Lucy Harrington and her sister Anna make a trip to London for The Season and their friend from the village Major Robert Kurland is also summoned to town.  When the grandmother of one of Robert’s friends drops dead in a ballroom, Lucy and Robert end up investigating what could have caused her deaths.  I really enjoyed this during some of my nightshift commutes – it reminded me of the better end of the M C Beaton/Marion Chesney Regency mysteries.  In fact I’ve already treated myself to the first in the series to help fill the gap before the next book arrives!

Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay – Having enjoyed McKinlay’s Death of a Mad Hatter earlier in the year (review) I ordered the first in her Library Lovers series to see if it was a flash in the pan.  Lindsay is the director of Briar Creek Public Library – and ends up trying to solve a murder after one of her employees is accused of killing her boyfriend.  I didn’t see all the twists coming and I liked the characters.  It felt a little bit like a younger Jessica Fletcher-who-runs-a-library-and-solves-murders.  And when you’ve wiled away as many afternoons to Murder, She Wrote repeats as I have, that can only be a good thing.

Breaking my usual rules about only reading series in order, on a trip to the library recently I picked up book 6 of Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver series – Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder.  I quite enjoyed the first in the series, but hadn’t read any more because of the huge to-read pile and because they broke my rules on how much I’ll spend on an ebook (I have them on my wish list so I check periodically if they’re on offer!).  I liked this book more than book 1 and although I’m fairly sure there are a few plot developments that I’ve missed it didn’t impair my enjoyment of the book.  I didn’t work out the solution – which I had to read several times to get straight in my head, although whether that is because the cast of characters was huge, because the solution was complicated or because I’d had a couple of glasses of wine, I’m not sure!

Not really cozy crime per se, but I read E C Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case – which popped up in my Goodreads recommendations as being the forerunner of Sayers et al.  It’s an Edwardian set murder mystery where an investigator working for a newspaper tries to work out who killed a wealthy financier.  Now I didn’t enjoy it as much as my normal Golden Age fare, but I did enjoy it mostly to see the parallels between the later books which I love so much.  One to read more because of its influence and its reputation rather than because it stands up brilliantly in my opinion.

 

books

Remembrance Day Reading Recommendations

It’s the 11th day of the 11th month today – and as always we remember those who gave their lives fighting in conflicts.  Sitting on my to-read pile is The Five Children on the Western Front – Kate Saunders’ sequel to the Five Children and It which I’m hoping to get around to soon (nightshift brain permitting) as we continue through this centenary year of the outbreak of the Great War.  I’ve read a fair few books this year that have a World War One setting – and have more still to read – but today I wanted to concentrate on the books written by the people who were there – who were writing from first hand experience.  I first encountered these books during my War Literature module at A Level – but they still sit on my shelves now, more than a decade later.  I’m not going to say much about any of them – just take it from me that they’re powerful and worth reading if you haven’t already.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – The Great War from the German Side of the Trenches.

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves – this was my favourite of all the books I read for this module at the time, and it’s been too long since I read it.  I keep meaning to go back and reread Robert Graves’ autobiography which covers a much wider period than the war and also introduces a lot of characters who pop up in other accounts – contemporary and modern.

Siegfried Sasson’s George Sherston Books are a semi-biographical account of his life and his time in the British Army.  This gives a real sense of the Edwardian world which was shattered by the war as well as the conflict itself.

I’ve ummed and ahhed about including Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth because I detested this book when I read it at 17.  But I know I am in the minority and many others  have been profoundly moved by this account of the impact of the great war on a young woman.

If you are all Great War-ed out – then may I point you in the direction of Helen Forrester’s Lime Street at Two – the fourth book telling the story of her poverty-stricken life in Liverpool which deals with the worst of World War II.  Really I think you should read the whole lot (starting with Twopence to Cross the Mersey) but this is well worth reading alone.  I was 10 when I first read it (there or there abouts) and cried buckets and then appropriated one of my mother’s shopping bags and tried to draw lines up the back of my legs and pretended to be her for several days.

And if you have children, then Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners, Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mr Tom and Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War had a massive impact on me as a child and really brought home to me the reality of World War II.

Never Forget.

stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: November 3 – November 9

I’ve been working hard on making progress with The Night Watch this week – I say hard, I mean trying to read a few pages each night as I try and get the still reading selection down.  It hasn’t always worked, but I’ve more than doubled how much I’ve read this week!  I’m close to giving up on Signature of All Things – but I’ve made it halfway through now so it seems a shame to give up now.  Having looked at the reviews on Goodreads they seem quite split between people who loved it and those who got bored.  So far I’m in the latter camp!

Read:

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Eve in Hollywood by Amor Towles

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes

Christmas at the Cove by Victoria Connelly

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons

At Home With Mr Darcy by Victoria Connelly

Started:

Difficult Husbands by Mary de Laszlo

Chalet School and Robin by Caroline German

Still reading:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Sheila by Robert Wainwright

 Four e-books bought – and a freebie – but that’s because I got weak after I finished Rules of Civility and wanted the novella follow-on and got click happy….