books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: May 8 – May 14

A really good week’s reading – with emotion, mystery, romance and daring do in science fiction among my books.

Read:

Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love by James Runcie

Hospitality and Homicide by Lynn Cahoon

Always On My Mind by Jill Shalvis

Snowmen in Paradise by Kathi Daley

The Home Crowd Advantage by Ben Aaronovitch

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

A Rare Book of Cunning Devices by Ben Aaronovitch

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

Started:

The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell

 

Still reading:

The May Queen by Helen Irene Young

Kick by Paula Byrne

Reel History: The World According to the Movies by Alex von Tunzelmann

Only one book bought, so that’s progress on the previous week.

cozy crime, detective, new releases

Recommendsday: Sidney Chambers

I finished reading the sixth Sidney Chambers book last night and it broke me. Absolutely broke me.  In a youth hostel dorm.  Crying in a corner with a pile of used tissues*.  I’ve mentioned this series in passing before (like last summer’s reading suggestions) but never done a proper post about them.  James Runcie has said that this is the last book in the series, and while there is (apparently) a prequel on the way, now seems like a good time to talk about Grantchester’s crime solving vicar.

Cover of Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love
I love the original covers for this series – they’re just so pickupable.

The first thing to say is that you may well be familiar with the TV series based on the books  – Grantchester.  The books cover a much longer period of time than the show has and has diverged from the plots of the books somewhat.  I loved the first series, but trailed off in the second series as it moved further and further away from the books and I have the third sitting on the TiVo box waiting to be watched.  Personally, although James Norton has a strong appeal to me, I prefer the books.
Here are the basics in case you’ve missed out on Sidney altogether:  at the start of the series, he’s a 32-year-old bachelor in charge of the parish of Grantchester, just outside Cambridge, who gets tangled up in a mysterious death.  Sidney becomes friends with the detective investigating and soon Geordie is calling him in on other cases.  And this is the pattern for the books, which are based around a series of shorter mysteries (not all of which are murders) rather than one big one – which works really well for the series.  There’s a cast of supporting characters that evolves as the series goes on – initially his housekeeper Mrs Maguire, but also including curates, friends and love interests.

Author James Runcie is the son of former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie and the books are packed with details about ecclesiastical and vicarage life in the period which really lifts the series beyond your normal historical cozy crime novel.  I love Sidney as a character – his difficulties in concentrating on being a vicar and not getting involved in crimes and the difficulties and challenges of life as a vicar.  I’ve really enjoyed the series – and although I want more, the final story of the sixth book is probably the most beautifully written and resonant that there has been in the whole series, so it’s a good note to go out on if this is it.

cover of Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death
The TV tie-in cover for the first book with the lovely James Norton.

I’d suggest you start the series at the beginning – you should be able to find them in all good bookshops – or you could order from the Big Green Bookshop and support an indie bookshop.  The Kindle edition of the first book was £1.89 at time of writing and 31.99 on Kobo.

Happy reading!

*NB the fact that I have a cold may have contributed to the snot bomb this book caused.

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Stars Are Fire

This week’s BotW is Anita Shreve’s new novel, The Stars Are Fire, which came out last week and which I finished at the weekend.  Shreve has been on my list of authors that I really ought to have read, and this piqued my interest when I saw it on NetGalley so it seemed like an opportunity to rectify that omission.  And it turned out to be a good decision.

Cover of The Stars Are Fire
I think this cover is pretty – but I’m not sure it really represents Grace.

The Stars Are Fire is set in Maine in 1947 where Grace Holland is struggling with her marriage.  Her husband Gene is distant and won’t talk about the war, her mother-in-law hates her, she has two small children and a third on the way.  When a massive fire breaks out after a long summer drought, Gene goes to join the volunteer firefighters to try and prevent it from reaching the town.  Grace is left alone to try and defend their house and protect their children.  When the flames arrive, she watches her home burn to the ground and is forced into the sea to shelter from the waves.  When the morning comes, her home is gone and her husband is missing and she’s forced to try and build a new reality.

I was a little sceptical about this book when I started reading it, and while I still have a few reservations, the book was engrossing and kept me turning the pages eager to know what happened next.  My main issue with the book was with Gene, who doesn’t feel like a fully rounded character.  You’re not meant to like him, but I struggled to get a sense of who he was and why Grace had been interested in dating him in the first place.  For me the most enjoyable part of the book was the middle section, but I always knew that it wasn’t going to last.  The final section of the novel felt a little rushed and underdeveloped.  I was a little worried about how it was all going to be resolved (or if it was going to be resolved) but at the end I was happy.

That all sounds a little negative, but they’re fairly small quibbles when set against the beautiful writing and how engaging and intriguing Grace is as a character.  She’s strong and reslient and seizes opportunities out of the ruins left by the fire.  I hadn’t heard of the Great Fire of 1947 before I read this book and Shreve paints a vivid picture of the heat and drought leading up to it as well as the terror of the actual events.  The stifling atmosphere before the fire is mirrored in the way that Grace feels in her marriage – although she doesn’t realise how trapped she feels at the time.  Although the fire brings her personal loses, it is also the making of Grace and the woman we leave at the end of the book feels very different to the one we met at the start, which makes for a satisfying read.

The Stars Are Fire is out now in hardback (sorry) and ebook.    As previously mentioned, my copy came from NetGalley but you can get hold of it from on Kindle or Kobo and from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or you could order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  I suspect it’s the sort of book that will be out on the tables in bookshops and at the airport, although I don’t suggest that you read it on the beach or somewhere hot as it may leave you paranoid about wildfires!  I read it on the train and it made several journeys to and from work fly by.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: May 1 – May 7

A really mixed bag this week – there are some good things in there, but a couple of real clunkers as well.  Still, it was ever thus.

Read:

Murder is the Main Course by Shawn Reilly Simmons

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Never Trust a Pirate by Valerie Bowman

The Bad Luck Bride by Janna MacGregor

Big City Heat by David Burnsworth

It Had To Be You by Jill Shalvis

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Started:

Kick by Paula Byrne

Reel History: The World According to the Movies by Alex von Tunzelmann

Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love by James Runcie

 

Still reading:

The May Queen by Helen Irene Young

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

If you read this week’s Recommendsday post, you’ll already know that I’ve had a lapse in willpower this week. The final total was eight ebooks bought…

historical, non-fiction, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Kindle May Madness Sale

Happy Wednesday everyone – you’re halfway to the weekend.  My week this week involves a lot of preparations for the local elections here tomorrow – I’m working on the results output at work on Friday.  I’ve already recommended political books recently and I haven’t added a lot to that list recently, so I won’t repeat myself today.  Instead I thought I’d mention Amazon’s May Madness Kindle sale – I’ve picked up a few bargains there this week (shhh, don’t tell Him Indoors), although sadly they’re not all being price matched over at Kobo.  Lots of the books are 99p – which is my sort of ebook pricing!


Among my purchases was Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime which I’ve heard lots of good things about.  I’m not the biggest fan of his version of the Daily Show (I still miss Jon Stewart) but I’m fascinated by his childhood in apartheid era South Africa and I like his sense of humour when he’s doing his stand up stuff.

I also grabbed the trio of Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor books (numbers 7 through 9 if you’re interested) because I’ve really enjoyed the books of hers that I’ve read but they’re hardly ever at a price I can justify – so 99p for three is a really good deal.  And to top it all off – this is being price matched on Kobo!  While I’m on the subject of romance, I also bought Christina Lauren’s Wicked Sexy Liar because I keep hearing this series mentioned on the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcast and this is the first time I’ve seen one of them at a price I’m prepared to pay!  This one is 99p on Kobo as well. If you’re into your old school romances (I can’t cope with the rapey-ness but I know others love them) there’s a Julie Garwood in the sale too – Honor’s Splendour (Kobo).

Also on offer is Cesca Major’s second novel The Last Night.  I know Cesca through my Novelicious reviewing – and I have a copy of this in one of the to-read boxes waiting to be read (I know, the boxes are still with me, the building work still isn’t finished) but I’ve heard nothing but good things about this – it’s a Heat pick this week.

Also in the sale is The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin – I reviewed it when it first came out and really enjoyed it.  It tells the story of a love triangle (of sorts) between dashing Captain Bay Middleton, Empress Sisi of Austria and Bay’s fiancée Charlotte.  I’ve read a few books about Sisi since (and visited a few of her palaces in Vienna – which is well worth it), but I think this is still my favourite.  If you need further encouragement, Goodwin also created the recent TV series about Queen Victoria (you know, the one with Rufus Sewell) and wrote My Last Duchess, which I adored.  This is also being price matched over on Kobo.

Not 99p, but still very reasonable at £1.99 is Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies – which is the book which inspired the TV series Harlots.  I’m interested in watching the TV show – but I like to have read the book first if I can (which is why I’m reading Cold Comfort Farm at the moment!) so this seemed like an ideal moment to pick up the book – especially as the TV series is on ITV Encore at the moment which I don’t currently get so I’m going to have to wait for the DVD which gives me a fighting chance of actually getting to the book before I get my hand on the show!

Right.  I’m going to stop now – because the more I write for this post, the more I spend, and I think we all know how my books bought total is going to look at the end of the week!  Anyway, I hope there’s something on the list for you and if you spot any more you think I might like, leave me a note in the comments – after all we all know my willpower is poor!

Happy reading!

detective, historical

Book of the Week: Maisie Dobbs

We’re back in my (constant) hunt for new historical crime series for this week’s BotW.  I finally got my hand on the first Maisie Dobbs book during a trip to the charity bookshop and immediately read it.  And it’s really good, so I went on and read book 10 in the series – which was in the library book pile and was far too big a jump in the series to do, but that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed the first one.

Copy of Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
My copy of Maisie Dobbs, complete with lovely blue-y cover

We meet Maisie as she is setting up her own private investigation firm in London in 1929.  Her first client asks her to investigate whether his wife is having an affair.  But the investigation forces Maisie to revisit her experiences of the Great War and she finds it hard to keep her professional and her private life separate as she works to resolve the case.

I really, really enjoy books set in the interwar years.  My beloved Peter Wimseys are all in this period, as is Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher and Dandy Gilver. The very best of them show how the Great War was still having ramifications years after – whether it’s Peter’s shellshock, or Alec using his military tie to get people to open up to him.  Like Phryne, Maisie spent time at the front (although Phryne was driving ambulances while Maisie was a nurse) and it’s deeply affected her outlook on life and her understanding and compassion for the others who were there.

The mystery in this is centred in the Great War, allowing Maisie’s background and education to be explored and it works really well.  In fact a lot of this book is setting up Maisie’s background and her personal history rather than resolving the case (or cases) that she’s investigating.  But that was part of the enjoyment for me.  Maisie’s got a complicated and fascinating backstory and I think understanding that is going to be key to understanding the other books in the series.  Certainly when I read book 10 I would have been lost or at sea without the background I had got from book 1, so it’s one of those occasions where I’m very grateful to have restrained myself and started at the beginning.

Well worth a look if you like any of the other series that I’ve mentioned – I know I’ll be looking out for more Maisie Dobbs mysteries.

You can get a copy of Maisie Dobbs on Kindle or Kobo or in paperback from all the usual places like The Big Green Bookshop – and probably at your local library as well.

Happy reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: April 24 – April 30

In keeping with the spring season, I’ve had a clear out of ongoing books this week – jettisoning a couple of lingerers that I just couldn’t get on with.  Hey ho.  Not as much new stuff read this week as I would like – I’ve been re-reading a couple of childhood favourites alongside the new stuff and got a bit side tracked.  I wish I could add the Chalet School and Richenda to this list, but I know that first read it in about 1995!

Read:

Bikinis in Paradise by Kathi Daley

The Good, the Bad and the Emus by Donna Andrew

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards

Good Dog McTavish by Meg Rosoff

Started:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

Still reading:

Big City Heat by David Burnsworth

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

The May Queen by Helen Irene Young

Three ebooks bought in various Bank Holiday sales – but one of them was an e-copy of a book I already have in hardback – and one print book.  So not too bad.