Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books, reviews

Book of the Week: Smallbone, Deceased

So after a week of old favourite authors and only a few new things, I find myself back in the realms of classic mysteries for this week’s BotW pick.

So Smallbone Deceased is a murder mystery set in the offices of a firm of London solicitors. Horniman, Birley and Crane is a well established and prestigious firm – who have just lost their senior partner, Mr Horniman. Some weeks after his death, when his son has taken over his share in the firm, a body is discovered in a deed box and the firm is thrown into turmoil. Inspector Hazlerigg is sent to investigate what strongly seems to be an inside job, and receives some assistance from Henry Bohun, the newest solicitor of the firm – newly qualified and arrived after the body must have been placed in situe.

Michael Gilbert was a solicitor by training, and this is a wonderfully drawn picture of the characters of the law firm and the way the wheels of the legal profession turned in the late 1940s. I think I’ve mentioned before how much I like all the details about the advertising company in Dorothy L Sayers’s Murder Must Advertise, and this does the same sort of thing for a solicitors office. The mystery itself is very clever, although a little slow to get started, the pace picks up nicely and by the end its tense and fast paced as Hazlerigg and Bohun race around (not together!) trying to catch the killer.

I’ve read a lot of British Library Crime Classics now and written about a fair few of them here (like Murder by Matchlight, The Sussex Downs Murder and The Division Bell Murder). I find them such a reliable series for discovering new-to-me Golden Age murder mysteries. They may not all be to my precise taste, but they’re always well constructed – even in the ones when the writing style doesn’t appeal to me. And they also have a habit of rotating their titles through Kindle Unlimited so if you’re smart you can work your way through them quite nicely.

My copy came via the wonders of the aforementioned Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available to buy in the Crime Classics edition on Kindle for £2.99. Kobo has a slightly different looking version, for a slightly higher price. The Crime Classics version is also available in paperback – and if you get a big enough bookshop you should be able to get hold of it fairly easily. You could also buy it from the British Library shop direct – where they’re doing 3 for 2 on their own books so you could also grab

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: July 19 – July 25

What a week. We had a heatwave which made everyone hot and sticky and unable to concentrate. The Olympics have started. And most importantly, my little sister and her boyfriend are safely back from their two years in China and currently quarantining. So yes, the list is probably a little shorter than it would have been had the weather been cooler and there had been no Olympics, but may yet be shorter next week – as although the weather maybe cooler, the Olympics is still going AND  I’ve got a big weekend of catching up with Little Sis planned as soon as they get the ok to leave quarantine…

Read:

Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin

Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh

Death in the Fearful Night by George Bellairs

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le*

The Lock in by Phoebe Luckhurst*

The Hippopotamus Pool by Elizabeth Peters

Started:

Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs

How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford*

Still reading:

Locked Rooms by Laurie R King

Bonus photo: It’s only fitting that this week’s bonus picture is a screen grab of me tracking my sister’s flight as it headed across Russia on Friday night – as their plane headed towards Tomsk, a place I first head of because there’s a Womble named after it… I fell asleep before I could see how close they got as they flew over!

Flight tracker screengrab

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Book of the Week, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light

The reading list yesterday was a little shorter than usual, and with some relistens and old favourites on it but the pick for today was actually easy because as I mentioned the new Helen Ellis essay collection arrived last week – and of course I read it!

Copy of Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light on a bookshelf

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light is a series of essays examining friendship between adult women and what it’s like to be a woman pushing 50. There’s stories of Middle Aged sex, a trip to a psychic and what happens when one of your friends has a bad mammogram. And there are so many characters: bridge ladies, cat lady plastic surgeons and platinum frequent fliers. It’s the first book in a while I’ve found myself reading bits of out loud to Him Indoors – and the first time in even longer that he didn’t tell me to shut up! Sample response: “is this real? Do her friends know she’s writing this?” (Answer: yes, and yes). It’s witty and wise and I want Helen Ellis to be my friend too.

I first discovered Helen Ellis through a proof copy on the Magic Bookshelf at work. The Magic Bookshelf is now a thing of the past, but when it existed it was a library trolley full of books that lived near the entertainment and arts teams. It had a label on it telling you that you could take them – as opposed to all the other bookshelves up there which has labels telling you absolutely not to take the books. It’s where I was introduced to Curtis Sittenfeld (via Eligible), Brit Bennet (The Mothers) and Lissa Evans (Crooked Heart) – all of whom are now on my preorder list because of the books I read from the shelf. I miss the shelf – because I wonder what I’m missing out on because I don’t stumble across new (to me) books there any more. But still, I already have more books waiting to be read than some people own to start with so I really can’t complain. Anyway, every now and again I recommend an essay collection. Yes, it’s often one from Helen Ellis, but if you like Nora Ephron, or fiction like Katherine Heiny, this is the essay equivalent. You’re welcome.

Here is a confession: I preordered this from Amazon, in hardback and it’s the American edition. That’s how much I love Helen Ellis. I regret nothing because it is wonderful. But that does mean it’s a little expensive and might be harder to get hold of over here for now at least. It’s available in Kindle and Kobo – at the pricier end of the e-book scale, and Foyles say they can get hold of it in a week, but I wouldn’t expect to find it in a store – not yet anyway.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: July 12 – July 18

A busy week in life and reading. It’s also so hot here it’s hard to concentrate on reading anything. But hey ho, that’s the summer in England – if it’s hot it’s also muggy and some how it’s just not the same as lying on the beach on holiday! Also when you’re on holiday, there’s often air conditioning in your room – which I definitely don’t have in my hundred year old house…

Read:

Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh

The Camelot Caper by Elizabeth Peters

Subtle Blood by K J Charles

Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh

Connect by David Bradford and Carole Robin*

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light by Helen Ellis

Started:

Locked Rooms by Laurie R King

Death in the Fearful Night by George Bellairs

Still reading:

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le*

The Lock in by Phoebe Luckhurst*

I didn’t actually buy any books last week – although the pre-order of the Helen Ellis turned up which was a lovely treat.

Bonus photo: So I got out of the house this week – to somewhere other than the park! We took the nieces to to Thorpe Park for a birthday treat. It was the most people I’ve seen in one place for a long time, but it was a lot of fun, and I only got a little patch of sunburn on my neck.

Part of The Swarm rollercoaster at Thorpe Park

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: The Guncle

As I said yesterday, there were two books in contention for this, and to be honest the only reason I dithered about this is because the cover fits in better with the covers of the other books in the Summer Reading post than the others do. But I have more to say about this than a round up post will allow, even if there is a slight hiccup about how easy The Guncle is to get hold of in the UK at the moment.

When Patrick is asked to look after his brother’s kids for the summer he thinks it’s a terrible idea. He likes spending time with then when they visit him in Palm Springs, he likes being Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP!) but he’s not cut out for being in charge of them full time for weeks on end. But the kids have just lost their mum and their dad has problems of his own he needs to deal with, so he says he’ll do it – mostly because his sister thinks he can’t do it. But it turns out that a summer with them might be exactly what he needs as well as what they need. He’s been drifting since the end of the TV show he starred in and this might be the kick he needs.

This is Steven Rowley’s third book and I absolutely loved it. Patrick is funny and a bit broken and infuriating and endearing. Maisie and Grant just about hit the sweet spot for children in books – funny but not sickly or too good to be true. The relationship that the three of them build is a wonderful blend of exasperated and snarky and loving. This is a book about dealing with grief but it’s also campy and funny. The cover really captures the feel of it all. I haven’t read any of Rowley’s other books – and although Lily and the octopus has great reviews it sounds a bit too much like it’s going to break me for me to want to read it at the moment – but although this did give me the sniffles, the death is already over by the start of the book and there’s enough funny bits to keep it from being a four alarm snot bomb.

My copy of The Guncle came from the library, but it seems like it’s a tricky one to get hold of in the UK – Amazon only have a hardback copy that is priced like it’s a real import or a library edition (which ditto on the price), and Foyles and Kobo aren’t listing it at all. They do have Steven Rowley’s other books though, which is perhaps a sign that it’ll come along at some point later this year – as both Lily and the Octopus and The Editor have Kindle editions.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: July 5 – July 11

Well I’ve already told you about one book on this list, because as previously discussed last Week’s BotW was somewhat cheaty. But I’m not beating myself up because last week I also did quite a good job of reading some of the books from this month’s NetGalley list and we all know that I’m traditionally not great at that. However I have not a clue what I’m going to pick tomorrow because two of the books could be a BotW or feature in my summer reading list (still coming very soon I promise). It’s going to be one of those weeks where I just start writing and see what happens isn’t it?

Read:

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Death and Croissants by Ian Moore*

Meet the Georgians by Robert Peal*

The Idea of You by Robinne Lee*

Skincare by Caroline Hirons

The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog by Elizabeth Peters

Rosaline Palmer Takes The Cake by Alexis Hall

Started:

The Lock in by Phoebe Luckhurst*

Still reading:

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le*

The Camelot Caper by Elizabeth Peters

Bonus photo: so this last week in the England was very much dominated by football. And for about 65 minutes on Sunday night it looked like football might be “coming home”. But as ever, it all went to penalties and ended in tears. But this week’s photo is a picture of Wembley stadium that I took from my speeding train on my way home from work on Friday night when there was still the hope that England mighty win a major tournament for the first time in 55 years. Only 18 months until the World Cup I guess…

Wembley stadium, as seen in the distance from a train...

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: June 2021 Mini Reviews

The end of another month has been and gone, and despite the fact that I forgot to trail it yesterday or Monday, it’s time for another set of Mini Reviews! It was a very varied month in reading, and there more books from last month that you’ll hear about in my summer reading post, but here are a few things that I read last month that I wanted to talk about.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls*

Cover of Mrs England

Lets start with a new to me author. Mrs England is Stacey Halls third novel, but the first of hers that I’ve read – despite the fact that I own at least one of the other two. This is a clever and creepy story of Ruby, a Norland Nurse who takes a job in the household of an northern mill owner in after she turns down the chance to move abroad with her previous family in 1904. From the start you know there’s something not quite right in the new house, but on top of that there’s also something in Ruby’s past that she’s hiding as well. I had several different theories at various points about what was going on, but the reveal surprised me. For some reason, dark and damp are the words that spring to mind about this book – but I kind of think that makes it perfect for reading in the sunshine if you know what I mean!

The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery*

Cover of the Stepsisters

Susan Mallery is an author who has appeared on my reading lists a lot over the last few years – with her Fools Gold and Happily Inc romance series. The Stepsisters is one of her women’s fiction novels – it has romantic elements, but it’s definitely not a romance. The Stepsisters of the title are three women, all with the same father (but two different mothers), who find themselves thrown back together as adults after one of them has an accident. They have a complicated history between them abd all have different problems in their current lives, but over the course of the book you watch them try and work out if they can they put their history behind them and move forward. Told from the points of view of two of the stepsisters, Daisy and Sage, this has the characters finding themselves and each other. Another read that’s perfect for a sunny garden with a glass of something chilled.

Tommy Cabot was Here by Cat Sebastian

Cover of Tommy Cabot was Here

I’ve written about Cat Sebastian here before, and this is the first in a new series of novellas. Like Hither, Page this is another more modern historical story, this time set in the 1950s with the scion of a family that sounds very Kennedy, and his best friend from school. They meet each other again for the first time in years when Tommy is dropping his son off at their old school – where Everett now teaches. The rediscovered romance between the two of them is very nice to watch and there’s a refreshing lack of the sort of unmasking peril that you find in a lot of historical m/m romances. Very relaxing and charming. There next in the series is set a year or so later and features Tommy’s nephew – who we meet briefly in this – and is due out in September.

Love in the Blitz by Eileen Alexander*

Cover of Love in the Blitz

I’ve mentioned how much I’m interested in the history of the first half of the twentieth century, and last week I picked novel set in the same period that this book is set in, so it’s not easy to see why I wanted to read Love in the Blitz. And on top of that people who I like a lot have really enjoyed this. But I really struggled. This is a collection of genuine letters written by the very real Eileen Alexander to her fiancée, Gershon Ellenbogen. Eileen was the eldest daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, who lived in Cairo, but also had homes in London and Scotland. At the start of the book she’s recently graduated from Girton College and through the book you see her searching for war work at various of the ministries as well as the progress of her relationship, the tensions with her parents and the general day to day of living through the war. I found Eileen’s style a little hard going and I didn’t actually like her much. But as a look at what it was like in a corner of England during the Second World War it is an insightful document – particularly as Eileen and her family are Jewish and have a lot of connections abroad and this gives you a different perspective than the one that you so often get on what it was like being on the Home Front.

The Last Party by Anthony Haden-Guest

Cover of The Last Party

This really surprised me: it takes a fascinating subject and makes it hard to follow and dare I say it – dull. Having read Empire of Pain the week after finishing this, it really hit home to me that this had so much promise but under delivered. But I think the problem was the breadth of subject that Anthony Haden-Guest was taking on – and the fact that he was part of the scene at the time and knew everyone involved. I think that affected his ability to pick a narrative through line and make it make sense. Characters appear for a couple of pages and then vanish again. Some times they get loads of background about who they are, sometimes none. It jumps from club to club but also around in time a bit. I learnt a few new things, but not nearly as much as I expected and it was hard going all through. I would definitely read more about this time period and this club scene – it just needs more focus.

So there you have it, another month finished and another batch of mini-reviews. And in case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in June were Yours Cheerfully, Second First Impressions, The Feast and sort of Circus of Wonders, which was published in June but read in May . And finally, just to complete the link-fest, here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February, March, April and May.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Empire of Pain

As I suspected yesterday, I finished Empire of Pain last night and it seems the obvious pick to write about even with that slightly cheaty caveat and joins the list of really very good narrative non-fiction books I’ve written about here – but rather than dealing with a tech startup squandering millions of dollars on something that doesn’t work (Bad Blood) or a business model they can’t get a profit from (Billion Dollar Loser), or the investigation into Harvey Weinstein (Catch and Kill) this is the story of the Sackler dynasty – the family behind Perdue Pharma.

If you’ve heard of Purdue Pharma, it’s probably as part of coverage into the opioid epidemic in the United States, as the company is behind the painkiller OxyContin. But until the last few years, you probably didn’t know that the Sacklers were the owners of the company. If you’d heard of them at all it was probably because of the galleries or museums or university departments named after them all around the world. But then a series of court cases accused Perdue and the family behind it of being the root cause of the opioid epidemic in the US. Patrick Radden Keefe started writing about the family in an article for the New Yorker, which has expanded into this look at the three generations of the family, how they made their money originally and their role in the modern world of pharmaceutical advertising that you see in the US today.

I first heard the Sackler name in connection with the opioid crisis when I was in Washington in the autumn of 2018 when the court cases and bankruptcy hearings are getting underway, and there have been plenty of articles and books since then about the crisis itself and its effect on communities across the country. But what Radden Keefe is doing here is looking at the family themselves and setting out the longer term picture – the way the Sackler family built their fortune and helped set up the conditions for the sale and marketing of OxyContin whilst keeping their name separate from the business but well known for philanthropy.

None of the family spoke to Radden Keefe for the book – and in his end notes he sets out the efforts that he took to try and secure an interview and the conditions they wished to impose on him in order for one to be granted. But he does set out how the book was fact checked and who he did speak to – over two hundred people on and off the record – with the on the record sources meticulously chronicles in end notes that take up nearly 20 percent of the kindle edition. He’s also made use of the mass of court papers, archival collections and Arthur Sackler’s own columns in the Medical Tribune. But he goes on to say that although there were almost too many documents for him to handle, there are still even more out there as the bankruptcy hearing could result in a repository of documents about Purdue running into tens of millions of papers. And the story isn’t over yet.

This is a long book (500+ pages on Kindle including those end notes) but if you’ve been following the opioid epidemic and the effect that it has had on the US – or even if you haven’t and have maybe only heard of OxyContin as a prescription pain pill that various celebrities have had issues with, this is worth the hours of your time.

My copy of Empire of Pain came from the library, but it’s out now in Kindle, Kobo and hardback. It should be fairly easy to find – Foyles have it on Click and Collect at six stores which is usually a good indicator. And if you’re wondering why Patrick Radden-Keefe’s name seems familiar – he’s written various books before as well as being a New Yorker writer, but he was also the host of the Winds of Change podcast that I wrote about in my Pandemic Podcast recommendation post.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: June 28 – July 4

Such mixed week of reading last week – three of the titles on this list are audiobook relistens (The Wimsey, Alleyn and Amelia Peabody) but I also got a long way through the Patrick Radden Keefe, which is a really, really fascinating read, and if I finish it today may be the Book of the Week tomorrow (I’m only about 30 page out from the end, but I had to go to sleep last night before I could finish!). Obviously in the real world, it was a stunning week for English football – who knows what the situation will be by this time next week. I can dare to dream.  Coming up on Wednesday is the Mini Reviews for last month, and if you missed it the stats are already up.

Read:

Mrs England by Stacey Halls*

Happy Endings by Thien-Kim Lam

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers

Shirley Flight, Air Hostess and the Diamond Smugglers by Judith Dale

The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh

The Last Camel Died at Noon by Elizabeth Peters

Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke

Started:

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

The Camelot Caper by Elizabeth Peters

Death and Croissants by Ian Moore

Still reading:

Rosaline Palmer Takes The Cake by Alexis Hall

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le*

A couple of ebooks and a cookbook. Very restrained!

Bonus photo: I mean this is the furthest from home that I ventured last week. I was going to say that I would have a more exciting photo for next week – but actually the exciting thing that I was due to be doing has now been cancelled, so may be I won’t!

the park - again

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

books, stats

June Stats

Books read this month: 32*

New books: 28

Re-reads: 4 (all audiobooks)

Books from the to-read pile: 5

NetGalley books read: 9

Kindle Unlimited read: 3

Ebooks: 5

Library books: 6 (all ebooks)

Audiobooks: 4

Non-fiction books: 3

Favourite book this month: Tough – because I liked a lot of books this month – a lot of which I haven’t told you about yet-  but maybe The Feast or Malibu Rising or Summer Seekers.

Most read author: Dorothy L Sayers – two audiobooks

Books bought: Eight, plus a few more preorders, and a few preorders arriving too.

Books read in 2020: 202

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 604

A really quite summery month in reading – which fitted some of the weather. I liked a lot of it too, so more coming up on some of the books that I’ve read in the next couple of weeks. May July bring more of the same

Bonus picture: summer tree cover in the park. Sadly no blue sky above them…

*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels (2 this month)