This week’s BotW is the first in the Mapp and Lucia series by E F Benson – which doesn’t actually feature Miss Mapp – just Lucia! I’ve read Mapp and Lucia – which is the the fourth boo in the series and have come back to the start. I have Miss Mapp waiting on the Kindle in the interests of fairness!
In Queen Lucia, we meet the residents of Riseholme and their snobbish leader. Emmeline Lucas – Lucia – always wants to have the upper hand, and employs all sorts of underhand methods to dominate the neighbourhood. She and her husband drop snippets of Italian into conversation to make people think they’re fluent (they’re not), and she practices her piano duets in secret so she can “sight-read” them when Georgie comes over. Georgie is her best friend (if she can be said to have one when life is a constant competition for superiority), balding and greying and desperate to hide it, he has his faults, but in this book at least is a slightly more sympathetic character than Lucia.
But for all that Lucia is awful, this is such a fun book. The townspeople’s snobbery leads them into trouble at every turn. If you watched the 2014 TV adaptation you’ll recognise some of the plots here. Snigger as the Riseholmians embrace yoga. Chuckle as they compete to be best friends with the visiting opera singer. Cringe as Lucia’s (lack of) proficiency in Italian comes under scrutiny. And then thank goodness that your group of friends are nothing like this. And if your group of friends are like this, then maybe consider finding some new ones – constantly trying to one-up everyone else must be exhausting!
Queen Lucia is available for free on Kindle and although it’s not free on Kobo it is available in a variety of file formats for free from Project Gutenberg. There’s also a variety of omnibuses (omnibii?) at differing price points (depending on if you want the cover that ties in with the TV series) and DVD releases of both the most recent and the 1980s TV series. Enjoy!
A fit of indecision and some standing only train journeys are to blame for the somewhat shorter than usual list. I’ve started a few good books though and adopted a short stories by the bed policy. I’ll keep you posted!
London Rain by Nicola Upson
Death with an Ocean View by Nora Charles
Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury
Queen Lucia by E F Benson
Sisters on Bread Street by Frances Brody
The Marble Collector by Cecilia Ahern
Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes
My American Duchess by Eloisa James
Freeze my Margarita by Lauren Henderson
The Edge of the Fall by Kate Williams
I don’t think I bought any books this week – but I did get a book token as a belated gift, so a spree may be imminent!
This week’s BotW is Black Rubber Dress by Lauren Henderson. These days she’s better known as Rebecca Chance, best-selling author of glamourous, sexy thrillers, but back in the 90s she wrote the Sam Jones series of mysteries about a sculptor in Camden. They’re currently being republished by Fahrenheit Press (more on that later) and have come into my orbit. Black Rubber Dress is the first of them to reappear.
Sam’s just made a big piece for a London bank. But soon after the unveiling a body is found underneath it. Determined to prove that it wasn’t her fault, she gets caught up in a web of intrigue, blackmail and Banking. There’s stockbrokers, anorexic rich girls, trust funds, fraud and much, much more. Sam is smart, wise-cracking and no holds barred. She knows what she wants, and she’s going to get it. Her life is nothing like mine and if put in some of the situations she’s in I would curl up and cry, but reading the book I really wanted to be her. I already have the second book underway.
It’s also quite fun to read and realise that a book written and set in the 90s is now a period piece – Sam has an answering machine not a mobile, there’s no talk of the internet and Camden is much seedier than than it is now. It’s also a little traumatic – because I can remember life being like that too!
Start your Sam Jones obsession with Black Rubber Dress – it’s currently yoyoing between 99p and £1.99 on Kindle. And when you get hooked, you might want to consider Fahrenheit Press’s Book Club – until the end of January for £36/$60/€50 you can get every book they publish this year. I treated myself as a birthday present to myself (yes, another one) and the first to pop into my inbox was Freeze My Margarita – the next Sam Jones book…
I think I have a problem with time travel romances. I love time-slip novels – like Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series – which have two parallel narratives set in different times. I love straight historicals. But I can’t think of a time travel romance – or even time travelling novel that I loved – unless you’re including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (a couple of hours on the Time turner doesn’t count in my book) or the Thursday Next Series (which is more dimension jumping than time travel). And after reading a time-traveller the other week, I started to wonder why.
Fundamentally, I think that I find it very hard to believe there’ll be a happy outcome – and that’s what you want in romances – because one is either going to have to go back to their own time and be miserable, or one is going to have to stay where they are, and I never believe that that will continue to be happy past the last page. After all, one member of the duo is living out of their time – either with a massive amount of knowledge about the future and the advances there are or with a massive gap in their knowledge of the modern world – and on top of that, everyone they ever knew/loved is either dead or not yet born and thus they’ll never see them again. I text my sister daily, and speak to my mum at least twice a week – and can’t imagine voluntarily chosing to put myself out of contact with them permenantly – and leave them wondering what has happened to me.
And that’s before you get to the fact that I’ve watched a lot of Scifi and fantasy TV over the years – from Star Trek to Crime Traveller and most of the variants in between – and have had it drilled into me that when you’re messing around in the past it’s very easy to change the timeline of the future and destroy the world. And most books just ignore The Implications and don’t mention it or skim over it somehow.
Am I over thinking this? Probably. But that’s the kind of person I am. I once spent 20 minutes crying on my Grandma’s lap because I’d just realised that Kaiser Wilhelm was Queen Victoria’s grandson – and wouldn’t she have been so upset if she’d realised he’d started a war against his grandma’s country. Yes. I was a strange 8 year old. But that gives you a clue as to how my mind works.
So in the spirit of the New Year, does anyone have any really good time travel recommendations for me? Books that I won’t buy and then ignore in favour of everything else ever because I’m convinced I’m going to hate them? Because I got a copy of the first Outlander 18 months ago because everyone else was raving about it – and I still haven’t read it. I took it on holiday with us back in 2014 as one of my paperbacks – and The Boy started reading it instead of me (he never takes enough books with him, but that’s another story) and he didn’t finish it either. It sat under our coffee table for another year after that.
So, a difficult choice for BotW this week – I finished the latest Laurie Graham last week and really enjoyed it – but I also read Lucy Ribchester’s Hourglass Factory and enjoyed that too. So in the end, I’ve picked The Hourglass Factory for BotW and decided to do an Authors I Love post on Laurie G instead, which’ll be coming up in a few weeks. So more for you to read. Bonus.
In The Hourglass Factory, tom-boy reporter Frankie George is trying to make waves in Fleet Street, but all she’s getting are the women’s interest stories an the gossip columns. When she gets assigned to write a profile of trapeze-artist-turned-suffragette Ebony Diamond she gets short shrift. But then Ebony disappears and Frankie finds herself drawn into a world of corsets, circuses, tricks and suffragettes. Where has Ebony gone? What is going on with the suffragettes? And will anyone listen to Frankie if she finds out?
This has been sitting on my shelf for aaaaaages (what’s new) and I kept meaning to read it. Then I saw it recommended by another blogger (Agi’s onmybookshelf) as one of her books of the year of 2015 – alongside several other books that I had read and liked and it gave me the push that I needed.
I really enjoyed this. I haven’t studied the women’s suffrage movement in Britain in much depth – apart from as part of my history GCSE – so I knew the basics, but I don’t think you’d have too much trouble if you knew even less. Lucy Ribchester paints a vivid picture of 1912. Post-Edwardian London springs to life – all dark corners, imminent peril, seedy clubs, variety acts, cuthroats, suffragettes and jails. Some passages were tough going – early 20th century jails were not nice places to get stuck in – but it was totally worth it. This is quite a long read (500 pages) but it is pacy, exciting and thrilling – you don’t notice the pages going by. So good. And another cautionary tale about letting books sit on the shelf.
Not a huge list this week – but The Hourglass Factory is 500 pages long – and it’s worth it. Busy week at work too and quick trains both ways several days (often on the way home in rush hour too) reducing the reading time.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The Night in Question by Laurie Graham
The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
The Chalet School and Rosalie by Elinor M Brent Dyer
The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
The Edge of the Fall by Kate Williams
Queen Lucia by E F Benson
Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury
One short story pre-ordered – but I don’t think I’ve actually bought a book so far this year (the Deanna Raybourn spree was before New Year). I’m sure that will change though…
As promised, here is my love letter to the wonderousness that is Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series. As a History and French Grad, who wrote my dissertation on the effect of the French Revolution on the nobility of the Touraine* I have a real affinity (if not always affection – see the footnote) for this period of history. Add into that the fact that I love time-slip novels (you know, books with two connected narratives in two different periods), romances, thrillers and humour, and there’s pretty much everything that I like in these novels that you can managed to combine in the same book.
To set the scene: American Eloise Kelly is history grad student working towards her PhD. At the start of the first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, she has arrived in England to research her dissertation – which is on British spies. She knows all about the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, but soon stumbles on a document that everyone has missed – one which contains the identity of the Pink Carnation – the most elusive and influential British spy of them all. The books follow Eloise’s research as she uncovers nests of spies – on both sides – starting in 1803 and going all the way through til 1807. The stories take in not just France and England, but Ireland, India and Portugal. There are governesses, spy schools, double agents, triple agents, free agents, soldiers, privateers, ladies seminaries, exploding Christmas puddings, root vegetables, amateur theatricals, not so amateur theatricals, illegitimate children, drug smuggling, jewel theft, good poetry,very bad poetry and much, much more.
And then there’s romance, all types of romance: friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, employer/employee, (slightly) later in life romance, the list continues. In fact I think the only one that is missing is accidentally/secretly pregnant – and that’s my least favourite trope, I’m good with that. Although Eloise is always the modern day strand, the focus of the nineteenth century story changes each book – with the Pink Carnation hovering in the background until you reach the final book. So if you don’t like one heroine, the one in the next book will be someone different (although you’ll probably have met her before).
I’ve loved this series. I borrowed the first book from the library, and, as is traditional, it sat in the library book bag for some time. Then I read it and liked it, then the next and the next. As the series has gone on, I’ve loved them more and more. The early books got solid threes on Goodreads then it moved to fours, then fives.**
I don’t actually own the whole series at the current moment – the earlier books were published in the UK and I picked them up at the library or on Kindle. Then they stopped and I started picking up the US editions because it was cheaper than the kindle editions (and we all know I love proper books). So now I’ve read all of them, I want to go back and read again from the beginning and see if I can spot any clues more in the earlier books to what happens in the later ones – and I know they’re there, because I’ve read interviews with Lauren Willig where she says her subconcious puts bits in that she only realises later are key to later events! But as I don’t own hard copies of them all (as you can see from the pictures) I can’t at the moment, so I suspect there’s some purchasing in my future!
You can start your Pink Carnation journey with the first book on Kindle, Kobo or ePub, from Amazon or Waterstones or it may even still be in your local library. Foyles don’t have the first book – but they do have some of the later ones as well as Ms Willig’s standalone books. Go! Enjoy! If you start this weekend you could be in Portugal in a few weeks…
* Using primary sources, spending weeks of the sunniest part of my year in France holed up in the departmental archive in Tours because I hadn’t got my act together to do the research earlier, and then discovering when I got home that really I could do with yet more information, not that I really knew where I would have found it or what to do with it if I had it. I still see my 2:1 as something of a miracle!
** It’s at times like these that I think I must either have been a really harsh grader back in the day, or I’ve got soft in my old age, or I’m reading more really good books. In 2012, when I read the first Pink Carnation book I only gave out 7 five star ratings out of 205 books read (3 percent). In 2015 43 from 368 – or 10 percent. This bears investigation. I smell a future post…
Welcome to the first Book of the Week post of 2016! I really enjoyed writing these last year – and find that having to pick a favourite book each week really helps to focus the mind – not just about what I like and don’t like about books, but also about what I chose to read from the pile. It doesn’t stop the bingeing on one author, but it does mean I try to add some variety in – after all a BotW from the same author each week would get very dull very quickly. And speaking of binge-reading, there’ll be a post coming up at the weekend about the Pink Carnation series – which is one of the reasons why one of the three Lauren Willigs I read last week isn’t occupying this spot now!
So, Bleakly Hall. This has been on the pile for over 2 years (!) – and had been on my radar for some time before that. I think it’s another that was mentioned in the Emerald Street book section (where I’ve found several really interesting books) which I then added to my Amazon pile to wait for the price to come down (although in the end it came from Waterstones who must’ve been doing a deal judging by the prices) which is what happens to a lot of books. Anyway, you all know about the state of my to-read pile and the less said about it the better.
Bleakly Hall is a hydroprathic spa, populated by a cast of misfits and damaged people after the Great War. New nurse Monty has taken a job there because she has a score to settle with Captain Foxley. The Captain is there because he served with one of the two brothers who own it. The other brother came back from the war minus his legs and now has a matrimonial problem on his hands. Ada worked with Monty during the war – and misses the purpose and status it gave her. The residents are elderly, thin on the ground and not conducive to a health bank balance for the owners. And then there’s the ominous noises from the pipes…
I read a lot of books set in and around the First World War as part of my A-Level English literature and the period has continued to fascinate me in the intervening years (no, I’m not telling you how many years) and so this book was right up my street. I’m particularly fascinated with the aftermath of the war* and how it affected people so I found the characters in this fascinating. And they are a bit of a microcosm of post-war society – people want nothing to have changed, people for whom everything has changed, others for whom everything has changed, but in a different way and then those who would quite like the war back in some ways.
This is quite black in places – there are moments that will make you laugh and then there are moments of horror. The spa is damp and run down and there’s comedy in the treatments and quackery provided and then there are the flashbacks to Belgium and the carnage of the trenches. The two are nicely balanced – and sometimes you realise you are still chuckling over the latest antics at the spa but you’re in the trenches and really shouldn’t be laughing.
I enjoyed (if you can call it that) Bleakly Hall – and got a lot out of it. If you’ve read the usual Great War suspects – like Goodbye to All that, Regeneration, Testament of Youth etc – then this might be a good place to go next. It’s available on Kindle, at Amazon (where there are some good second-hand prices), Waterstones and Foyles.
* It’s one of the aspects of Lord Peter Wimsey‘s character that I find really interesting, as is Daisy’s search for a career and a new future after the war and the changes it brought in Carola Dunn’s early Daisy Dalrymple books.
You may notice a theme in this week’s reading. Yes I went all out for the end of the Pink Carnation series and read another Lauren Willig I had on the kindle as well. And then while writing about Deanna Raybourn in my 2015 Obsessions post I found that a the book sale gods were smiling on me, and I could reading the rest of the Lady Julia Books safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get left on a cliff hanger! I’m still trying to ration myself on the new Laurie Graham – by which I mean only letting myself read a bit more every few days to try and stop myself from bingeing. So far it’s working.
The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig
The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
Whisper of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn
The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn
Bleakly Hall by Elaine di Rollo
The Night in Question by Laurie Graham
Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury
Oh dear. Massive Deanna Raybourn spending spree in the Kindle sale (as mentioned in my 2015 Obsessions post), then there was the only Hellions of Halsted Hall book I haven’t read on offer for 99p. How could I resist.