Book of the Week, Children's books, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: Arsenic for Tea

I’m back in the children’s section with this week’s book of the week – embracing my long time (20-year plus) love of boarding school stories with Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens – the second book in her Wells and Wong series.

I mentioned the first book – Murder Most Unladylike – back in September and have been looking forward to reading the next one ever since.  In Arsenic for Tea, there’s a murder  at Daisy’s house, where Hazel is staying during the holidays.  Once again the Detective Society tries to work out who did it – from a cast of suspects including most of Daisy’s family.

When I started reading boarding school books – back in the early 1990s – the world that the girls at St Clares lived in wasn’t that different to the one that I was in.  They called maths arithmetic and the trains they travelled on were steam ones, but I could recognise their school life and identify it with mine. Since then, with computers, mobile phones, tablets and the like, school has changed a lot.  But Robin Stevens has found a way to write boarding school stories (yes this is set in the holidays, but it still counts) that still work for modern children.  By setting it in the 1930s, she can avoid having to include technology and things that may date very quickly, but she’s also included things that writers at the time didn’t talk about – but that children today can relate to and using Hazel as the principal narrator is a masterstroke.

Hazel is from Hong Kong – and this lends her narration a sense of detachment that works well.  She doesn’t fully understand this world either – so it makes sense for her to explain things that modern children might not quite understand but that would seem jarring if they were explained by Daisy who “belongs”.  Hazel also faces prejudice – and these are subtly dealt with, showing how unfair it is – in a way you never got in “old school” boarding school books, mostly because the cast was either all white – or because the author didn’t think that it was unfair (a sad commentary on a genre of books I love).

Daisy’s parents also have issues – their relationship is clearly… troubled and that forms part of the plot – which again you don’t have in books like Mallory Towers or my beloved Chalet School (where one doesn’t mention d.i.v.o.r.c.e or have any relationships that aren’t perfect.  Although there’s a high percentage of children missing one parent through death from TB or similar!).  This makes the book relatable – as well as making the plot make sense and hang together

I said in my mini review of book one that it’s like Mallory Towers crossed with Agatha Christie – and I stand by that.  There’s enough here for NotChildren like me to enjoy as well as the target audience.  In fact, it’s a bit like a good animated movie – there are bits that adults will love – nods to golden age detective fiction, etc – but that kids would pass straight over without realising that they were missing anything.  And Daisy and Hazel’s antics aren’t too outrageous – everything seems perfectly plausible for them to have been able to do, with enough peril to make it interesting, but not so much superhuman deduction that they don’t seem real.  In fact, part of the fun as a (supposedly) grown-up is the reading between the lines of what Hazel and Daisy don’t understand.

Arsenic for Tea is out on Thursday – you can pre-order the kindle copy here if you’re a grown-up, but I suggest if you’re buying for the 8 – 12 year old in your life and want use of your e-reader/tablet device in the near future, you buy the paperback – here it is on Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or on my page at My Independent Bookshop – which gives money to one of my local indies.

stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: January 19 – January 25

Hmmm.  Not a hugely productive week – but some good stuff in there.


Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander

The Norfolk Mystery by Ian Sansom

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris


The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

The Other Duke by Jess Michaels

Still reading:

The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer – should’ve been on last week’s list but got missed off – and by the time I realised, I was several days after the fact and beyond the point where I felt I could edit the post to add it…

I may have bought a few books this week.  Ok, four paperbacks and three e-books.  And I bought an ebook last week too.  But I was working earlies all weekend so I deserved a treat.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Book of the Week, non-fiction, romance

Book of the Week: Beyond Heaving Bosoms

This week’s book of the week is the very wonderful and very funny Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan.  I have recently discovered the Dear Bitches, Smart Authors podcast – and through it the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website.  Now I’ve documented here in the past my slightly shamefaced addiction to US romance novels with the sort of cover I’m embarrassed to take out in public.  Now whilst I stick mostly to historicals, these ladies have read the lot – and can dissect it brilliantly and hilariously.  If you have a problem with profanity this may not be for you (Hi Mum!) but I just found it absolutely side-splittingly funny and totally on the mark.

My copy of Beyond Heaving Bosoms

As someone who has discovered the massive US historical romance market through Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Sarah MacLean, I also got a lot of recommendations for old school authors to go back and read – to add to the massive book list I’m accumulating from the podcast.

I was reading this over the weekend whilst I was staying at my sisters – and had to keep stopping to read bits out to her – or pass the book over for her to read longer chunks.  She’s not a romance reader – but she found it hilarious too.

My only gripe with the book is that in the chose your own romance novel section, I kept being too sensible and the stories ended too soon… Now I’ve got two days off this week and I’m off to read the new Sarah MacLean which has been sitting at the top of the to-read pile for weeks waiting for me to not have to leave the house!

stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: January 12 – January 18

Hmmm.  Half a week off work for my birthday – and I was so busy enjoying myself that I didn’t get much reading done… Still I’ve got a bunch of lates and a weekend coming up, so that’s not going to last…


Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Ridley Road by Jo Bloom

Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan

Scales of Justice by Ngaio Marsh


Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander

Still reading:

Still no lingerers!

books, new releases

Reminder: A Place for Us out today in Paperback

Yes, I know, as if I haven’t gone on about Harriet Evans’ latest book enough already.  But for those of you who like a paperback in your hand – or who have a shelf of Harriet Evans they want to add to – A Place for Us is out today.

In case you missed my gushings about this already – it was on my Books of the Year List and I also did a bit of sleep deprived babbling about it after Part One and reviewed Part Two and Parts Three and Four too.

In case you can’t tell – I really liked it.  You should be able to get your copy all over the place – but here are some links: Foyles, Waterstones, Amazon and my page on My Independent Bookshop where you can also find various other books I’ve been raving about.

Book of the Week, books, Chick lit, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

What to say about this.  Really I should have been reading between Christmas and New Year – but as it had potential to be a weepy, I thought mixing it with nightshifts was a bad idea.  I had a meltdown over a relationship break-up at the start of a book during some nightshifts, so I thought I ought to avoid a book about a woman dying of cancer!  So, well rested and as emotionally stable as I ever get (that is to say, prone to tears when sad things happen or when people die in documentaries, even when I know it’s coming) I started in on this on commute to work.  And it nearly had me crying on the train not once, not twice, but three times.  On three separate train journeys.

Now I know what you’re saying: “Verity, why didn’t you stop reading the damn book on the train?” And the simple answer is that I couldn’t.  I had to know what happened next – how it all worked out for Rabbit and her family – and as I was on late shifts, the train was the only place where I was going to get a chance to do that.  But I did learn something – by the third train journey I’d scaled back the eyeliner and switched to waterproof mascara!

To go back to the beginning – The Plot.  Rabbit Hayes is dying.  She has cancer – it’s terminal – and the end is rushing towards her faster than anyone wants.  What will happen to her daughter Juliet? And to the rest of her tight-knit family?  But even though her mum and dad are still searching for a miracle, the reader always knows what’s going to happen to Rabbit.

Now I know that makes the book sound like a real downer – and like I said, I was in tears in places – but here’s the thing.  It’s not.  It’s funny and it’s rude and, most importantly, it’s life-affirming.  By the time it’s over, Rabbit may be gone – but you know that it’s ok and it’s going to be ok for everyone else too.  She was the glue that held her family together, but she’s helped them find a way to make it work without her.  And I don’t think that’s a spoiler.  You might cry for Rabbit – and be sad that it ended this way for her – but you’ll come away better for having known her.

I don’t usually do weepies.  The Boy is still borderline grumpy with me about the 2am crying fit that ensued at the end of The Fault in Our Stars after I insisted on staying up to read it to the end (Me: “I’ll have horrible dreams if I leave them like this” Him: “I don’t think reading til the end will make your dreams any more cheerful”).  There are a few books that I’ve studiously avoided reading because I know that they’re sad – and although I’ll read pretty much anything, I’d rather twiddle my thumbs than read anything from the “Tragic Lives” section of the bookshop. But this had such good reviews – and people whose books I love had raved about it – so I took the plunge, and I’m so glad I did.  Perhaps there are a few more books out there that I’ve been avoiding that I should be getting involved with. But maybe not on the train!

You can buy The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes everywhere.  It’s in Richard and Judy’s latest Book Club picks, so it’s in the Buy 1 get 1 for £1 promotion in W H Smith (or at least it was on Saturday), I’m expecting it to be all over the supermarkets and the high street book shops, but if you can’t wait or can’t be bothered to leave the house, you can buy it from Foyles or Waterstones or Amazon or Kindle or Kobo or my page on My Independent Bookshop (which gives money to my local Indie).

stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: January 5 – January 11

Not a long list this week – but there’s some real quality on it.  The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes took a bit of reading – it’s a real emotional journey – but it is so worth it and you read more about it here tomorrow!


How to Plan a Wedding for a Royal Spy by Vanessa Kelly

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

The World According to Bertie by Alexander McCall Smith

Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn


 Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Still reading:

Still no lingerers!

I bought Four books this week – naughty me.  But they were all second hand, and all books that I’d had on my to buy list for a while.