Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: To Bed With Grand Music

I knew less than halfway through this book that I was going to have to lend this to my sister and my mother, and as soon as I finished this book that it was going to be this week’s BotW.  Hands down.  And as you’ve probably never heard of it (I hadn’t before I got given a copy) this makes it possibly the best sort of BotW – because hopefully it means I might point a few more people towards it.

My copy of To Bed with Grand Music
Ok, so it’s not the most exciting looking book ever, but don’t let that fool you…

In To Bed With Grand Music we follow the wartime adventures Deborah, a young wife and mother whose husband has been posted to Cairo.  On the first page, while in bed together before he leaves, he says that he cannot promise to be physically faithful to his wife because “God alone knows how long I’ll be stuck in the Middle East, and it’s no good saying I can do without a woman for three or four years, because I can’t.”  Instead he promises not to fall in love and not to sleep with anyone who might possibly take her place.  He asks Deborah to promise same.  But Deborah doesn’t take him up on his offer, instead she promises to be absolutely faithful to him and not act on any attraction she might feel to anyone else – in the hopes that he’ll change his mind and do the same.  He doesn’t and is soon off to Egypt, leaving Deborah and their son Timmy at home in the countryside with the housekeeper come nanny.

But it doesn’t take long for Deborah to get fed up of life in the countryside and bored of her son.  Deborah, it turns out, is a terrible person.  She’s got a gift for rationalising in her mind whatever it is that she wants to do as being the best solution to whatever problem (real or imagined) that she is facing.  So she decides that the best solution is for her to get a war job in London.  This would mean being away from Timmy during the week and leaving him in the cae of the housekeeper, but she rationalises this as being the best thing for him – because although he’ll see her less, he’ll only see the best parts of her because she’ll be so much happier in herself.  So off she goes to London, where she meets up with an old friend in the hopes that she can help her find a job.  She and Madeleine (the friend) end up going out for dinner with a couple of soldiers and Deborah ends up staying the night and sleeping with one of the men.  Oops.  So much for that promise Deborah.  She’s repulsed by her own actions and scurries back to the countryside and puts off the idea of getting a job.  But soon she’s bored again and changes her mind and takes a job in London and moves in with her friend, however she’s determined not to make the same mistake again…

Madeleine at first was quite prepared to make Deborah’s life less lonely.  She accepted as a natural obligation that for a week or two she would introduce Deborah to people until gradually Deborah could build up a circle of her own.  But Deborah resisted all Madeleine’s suggestions for companionable evenings: if I once give in, she told herself, I’m done for, certain in her own mind that even a sherry party or a game of bridge could have only one conclusion.  She martyred herself til her very martyrdom became her excuse for her release.

And that pretty much sets the tone for all that happens next.  I think you can probably work out where this is going, but I don’t want to spoil it for you because it’s so much fun watching in fascinated horror as Deborah manages to justify abandoning bit by bit whatever moral code she has as she tries to get herself the glamourous life she thinks that she deserves – and how the climate in wartime allows her to do that.

As you’ve probably worked out, this is not a home fires burning, sweet little wife pining at home sort of World War II novel.  This is the seamier side of wartime relationships – if you can’t cope with casual sex and marital infidelity, don’t read this book.  But if you read the Camomile Lawn and want to read about a character who has all of Calypso’s worst traits and then some, then this may well be the book that you have been searching for.  Equally if you’ve read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, then there’s all the bad bits of Villy and Louise and early Zoe here without the redeeming features.  Deborah is brilliantly, splendidly dreadful and her exploits are compulsively readable.

To Bed With Grand Music was originally published in 1946, with the author given as “Sarah Russell”.  It’s now been republished by Persephone Press (one of my favourite sources for books like this) with the real name of its author – Marghanita Laski who (under her own name) was a journalist and author from a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals.   Given the book’s frank depiction of sex and morality, I can totally understand why the author didn’t want to attach her real name to the book at the time.

You should be able to get hold of the Persephone Press edition from Big Green Books or order it from Amazon – I can’t find an ebook edition at the moment.

Happy reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: October 23 – October 29

Plenty of late night train journeys for reading this week and some progress down the pile. Some excellent books, some… not, but it was all enjoyable on some level.

Read:

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Kidnappers at Elmhurst School by Betty Laws

Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis

To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski (writing as Sarah Russell)

Get Me the Urgent Biscuits by Sweetpea Slight

Moonstruck 1 by Grace Ellis et al

Top Secret Twenty One by Janet Evanovich

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin

Started:

Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon

Marling Hall by Angela Thirkell

Still reading:

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin

China Court by Rumer Godden

No actual books bought, but two ebooks bought…

American imports, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: First Grave on the Right

Ok, so this week’s BotW post is a little cheating – because I actually finished this on Monday.  But in my defense, I was going to have to break the (my self-imposed) rules this week whatever happened, because it was either pick this, or have a Sarah Morgan book as BotW for the second week in a row.  So I chose this, because it was my favourite book I started reading last week, so it’s only fair.

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
Another book on the train picture, but I do spend a lot of time there…

First Grave on the Right is the first in the Charley Davidson by Darynda Jones.  Charlie is a private investigator with a secret – she’s a grim reaper.  It’s actually the secret to her success as a PI – after all, what better way to solve murders than to ask the dead person who did it?  She’s also a consultant to the local police force – where her uncle is a cop.  Her mysterious (to everyone else) ability to solve crimes has raised more than a few eyebrows over the years, but Charley is used to that.  What she’s not used to is the mysterious presence that’s haunting her dreams and the effect that it’s having on her.  And when three lawyers end up dead on the same she’s got a high profile case to solve – if she can just keep one step ahead of the Bad Guys.

I’ve been hearing about this series for ages, but it’s taken me a while to get hold of the first book at a reasonable price.  And it lived up to the hype.  Charley is a kick ass heroine with a complicated backstory, a big secret (from most people at any rate), a difficult family life and a great gang of friends.  The various mystery plots are clever and well written and Charley’s inner monologue is a joy.  I’m already annoyed that I’m meant to be avoiding buying books which means I can’t immediately buy book 2 (although to be fair it’s over my price limits at the moment any way).  If I was trying to do an elevator pitch for this, I think the closest I can get is Steph Plum meets Sookie Stackhouse, but in a good way.  It sits in the cross section of murder mysteries, thrillers, supernatural and romance – it’s not hard-boiled, there’s some violence but it’s not too graphic and there’s definitely a fair bit of heat going on in the romance stakes.  All of which is right in my wheelhouse – and if anyone has any recommendations for similar books, please do let me know.

Books with supernatural elements are a bit of a hazy area for me, as long time readers will be aware.  When they work for me, they really work and I love them; but when they don’t it’s horrid.  And I’m still incapable of working out what makes some books work, while others don’t.  The closest I can get is that they have to be part of a well worked out world, with definite rules and that the supernatural element shouldn’t be fetishised in anyway.  And if there can be punning and wise cracking that helps too.

Anyway, I raced through this – if I hadn’t been working at the weekend it would definitely have been finished before Monday morning!*  I suspect you may need to order a copy of First Grave on the Right if you’re in the UK – I certainly haven’t seen it in the supermarkets, although I haven’t had a chance to check the bookshops to see if they have it.  I’m sure Big Green Books would be able to get hold of it if you asked them.  It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo for £.399 at time of writing.

Happy Reading!

*I do hate it when real life gets in the way of my reading time.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: October 16 – October 22

Another week with lots of work and lots of unpacking.  So another steady week of reading.  What can you do?!

Read:

The Doctor’s Engagement by Sarah Morgan

Cold as Ice by Julie Mulhern

Dancer in Danger by Lorna Hill

Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett

Death at the Alma Mater by GM Malliet

Started:

Get Me the Urgent Biscuits by Sweetpea Slight

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Still reading:

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin

China Court by Rumer Godden

No actual books bought, but three ebooks bought.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Moonlight over Manhattan

I was going to save this book for one of the Christmas book posts, but as I didn’t like anything else I read last week enough to write more than a couple of paragraphs about them, it seemed a bit disingenous to call anything else the BotW.  So another Sarah Morgan book gets the nod.  Sorry, not sorry.

Cover of Moonlight over Manhattan
Moonlight over Manhattan is the latest book in Morgan’s From Manhattan with Love series, which started off with three romances for the ladies who run an events company and has now told the linked stories of the three siblings linked the dog walking company that the events company uses.  That sounds really weird and tangential, but it’s actually not and makes total sense if you read them in order.  Moonlight over Manhattan is a run-up-to-Christmas story (as in it’s Christmassy, but not so super Christmas-focused it feels weird reading it in October before Halloween is over and done with) about the shy twin from the Bark Rangers, Harriet, who is setting out to conquer her shyness now that her twin has found love and has moved away from New York to the Hamptons for a while (see the previous book).  Harriet is thrown out of her comfort zone when she ends up dog sitting for Emergency Room (that’s A&E for us Brits) doctor Ethan, whose life is turned into chaos when he has to look after his sister’s pet when his niece is involved in an accident across the country.  Ethan is recently divorced, blames himself and is determined not to hurt another woman.  Harriet had a difficult childhood and doesn’t want to be rejected by a man the way that her father rejected her as a child.  The stage is set.

Harriet is a great heroine and the thing that I really liked about this story is that she gets over her fears herself rather than the hero fixing everything for her.  Yes, she gets her happy ending, but se gets it because she did the hard work herself and not because love magically fixed things for her – or worse because the presence of The Man in her life made every thing better, or even worse The Man did everything for her.*  As a couple, Harriet and Ethan work really well together, bringing out each other’s strengths and supporting each other at times of weakness.  And that’s what I love to see in romances – and in real life to be honest – couples who bring out the best in each other and who become the best versions of themselves with the support of their partners.  Anyway, sappy bit over.

As always with Sarah Morgan, the medical bits are really good and feel like more than just set dressing (she used to be a nurse so she really does know what she’s talking about) and the setting is great too.  I’ve only been to New York once, but I always feel like the descriptions of the city in this series have been spot on.  And as a total bonus, there’s a lot of characters that you’ll have met before if you’re a regular Morgan fan – including a return visit to Snow Crystal.  This does feel like the end of the series this time – in that I didn’t spot anyone obviously being set up to be the next group of people in this, the way that you sort of did at the end of the first three of this – so I’ll be sad if it is, but it’s been a lovely series and this is a good way to finish.  I know it still seems a bit early to be starting on the Christmas books, but as I said earlier Christmas is very much the end point in this rather than the whole raison d’etre, so it’s a lovely book to read in the run up to the season before you get too fed up of it all!

My copy came from NetGalley, but Moonlight over Manhattan is out not and should be orderable from all the usual sources.  Morgan’s books often crop up in the supermarkets and WH Smith’s book display as well.  At time of writing Amazon have the paperback edition for £3.99 and the Kindle edition is £1.99 and the Kobo is £2.99.

Happy Reading!

*Tangent: this is my main gripe with Legally Blonde the musical as opposed to the film.  In the film, Elle is successful because she’s clever, she works hard and she turns out to be good at being a lawyer.  In the musical, Emmett does a lot more of the leg work for Elle and you always half feel like Elle is successful because he helped her (a lot) and underneath she can’t really do it on her own.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: October 9 – October 15

My house has furniture again!  More importantly my books are back – as you’ll know if you’ve read my new State of the Pile post.  But all the unpacking means that I haven’t read as many books as I was hoping for this week – although I have started making inroads into the newly returned backlog!

Read:

Moonlight over Manhattan by Sarah Morgan

Fireworks in Paradise by Kathi Daley

Margaret finds a Future by Mabel Esther Allen

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter

Started:

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin

China Court by Rumer Godden

Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett

Still reading:

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin

And given the state of the aforementioned pile, I’m redoubling my efforts not to buy books and so I have been newly virtuous and haven’t bought anything this week.  Lets see how long that lasts…

The pile

The State of the Pile: October 2017 edition

So.  My books have returned home.  So has my sofa and the rest of my furniture so life is looking up.  However, unpacking meant that it was time to face up to things and take stock of the pile.  It’s been a while since we did a state of the Pile post – nearly year in fact, which is when I first started packing up things up for the initial bits of the house renovation work.  Some of it has been in those boxes ever since, while we saved the money to do the next bits, some of it (the stuff in the top box mostly) got read while we we saving and of course more was added to the pile too.  Most of the time I like to ignore the size of the pile and it being in mostly boxes in a corner for 8 months and then out of the house in storage for another two made that very easy.  But you can’t ignore something and pretend it isn’t a problem when you have to unpack it and fit it back into your house.

Plastic storage boxes full of books
Two boxes are the downstairs keeper shelf. Another two and a half are the backlog

We’ve done a bit of a reorganisation too, so that I’m no longer keeping my to-read pile in a little bookshelf by my side of the sofa with the overspill on an increasing number of piles hidden behind my sofa arm.  Instead, I’ve got the formerly-DVD bookcase for them.  And it’s pretty full…

A very full bookshelf
One very full bookshelf containing the pile

Yeah.  That’s an Ikea half-Billy  bookcase double-shelved with unread books. Well except for the top section, which s going to have some CDs in it when we unpack that box.  It’s a little scary how many unread books I’ve got, but I think it’s going to be helpful or them actually to be out in the open.  Why?  Well because I now have a finite amount of space for the unread stuff.  I’ve promised myself – and Him Indoors – that I won’t let the pile get so it won’t fit in this bookcase.  And being on shelves means that I can organise it and get at stuff more easily, which I’m hoping will help stop me from getting in one of my “I have nothing to read” moods and going out and buying more books because I’ve forgotten about some of the really good stuff that’s hidden at the bottom of the furthest pile behind the sofa arm.

So now the nonfiction books are together, the romance books are together, the crime books are together, the literary fiction is together.  Nothing is harder to get to than the back row of a shelf.  If I’ve got more than one book by an author waiting to be read, the first one in the series is on the front shelf so I read it first.

And in unpacking and sorting I’ve found some books that I’d forgotten I had (not a surpise) and realised that I have books waiting to be read that fit some of the #ReadHarder squares that I’m missing – which is *amazing* because we’re in October and I still have a fair few to go (see September Stats for current progress) and only two and a half months to finish it in!

So, now I’ve been reminded of all the good books that I’ve got waiting to be read, lets see if it helps restrain my book buying urge.  It’s going to have to for a few weeks at least – because there’s no space for anything else yet!

I want to hear from you if you’ve got any tips for managing a book backlog and for restraining your bookbuying urges as I’m fairly sure I haven’t seen the last of the restless feeling of not being able to settle down to a book and having nothing to read!