The first three months of the year are coming to an end and I’ve been doing a bit of reflection on 2022 so far. Obviously my recent bought of Covid is right at the top of mind, but before that happened life was starting to feel a bit more normal – I was going to the theatre, meeting up with friends and making plans to go places and to fill the ticket box.
On the book front, I’ve read some really good stuff – and I’ve got some more interesting stuff preordered. We haven’t had a holiday yet this year, so I haven’t had a chance to do any lounging around in the sun reading a stack of books but that will come I’m sure. I’m not sure I’ve made massive progress down the physical to read pile, but I don’t think it’s for any bigger! Anyway here are some of my favourite books that I’ve read so far this year – that aren’t from part way through a long series or re-reads!
So some of you may already have finished the new series of Bridgerton, which is based on the second book in the series – the Viscount who Loved Me. In case you need a recap, our hero Anthony is a reformed rake and the heroine Kate doesn’t think she’s ever going to get married but is determined to stop him marrying her sister because she doesn’t think he’ll make a good husband. So if you’ve watched the series and want to read something similar I am here for you. And so today we are looking at historical romances with reformed rakes for heroes.
And I’m going to start with the daddy of all rakes (in my eyes at least) the Duke of Villiers from Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses series. You don’t need to have read the five previous books in the series, but if you have by the time he gets his own book A Duke of Her Own, you’ve seen him being all rake-y through all the previous books – he’s even got the children to prove it and isn’t hiding them. Which probably explains why his matrimonial options are not huge. But that makes the happy ending (when it comes) even better. When this series originally came out, this one wasn’t initially published in the UK, but I was so keen to find out what happened that I ordered myself a copy from the US. But that’s not a problem now because you can get it on Kindle.
In Sabrina Jeffries The Truth About Lord Stoneville, the hero has been raking it up since the death of his parents but has to reform himself because his grandmother is threatening to disinherit him. The plot involves a fake engagement, an American heroine and a very feisty matriarch. It’s also the first in a series – with all of Stoneville’s siblings also having to get married if they don’t want to lose their inheritance from her.
My first Sarah MacLean book, as I’ve told you many times before, was Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake – and if you’re in the US it’s just come out in a new edition. Lisa Kleypas also has a lot of rake-y heroes – my favourite of them is probably Devil’s Daughter but I know lots of others Love Cold Hearted Rake. In the previous book of the week stakes, there’s also The Governess Game by Tessa Dare. And of course also in the Bridgerton series, is my favourite When He Was Wicked.
It’s nearly the end of March and I’m back to some classic crime and another British Library Crime Classic for this week’s pick.
This is the first of John Bude’s Inspector Meredith series and sees the detective investigation what appears to be the suicide of one of the co-owners of a petrol station in a deserted corner of the Lake District. The dead man was due to get married and as Meredith investigates he discovers a plan to emigrate after the marriage. And when he digs a bit deeper he discovered suspicious going’s on at the garage. What follows is a complicated plot involving all sorts of aspects of rural life that I can’t really go into with spoiling things!
This isn’t the first book in this series I’ve read and the Sussex Downs Murder was a book of the week as well when I read that five years ago. I’ve had this on my radar and been wanting to read this and waiting for this to come into my hands for a while. It’s really cleverly done, a little bit bonkers in its own way and also a lovely window onto 1930s life, which I really enjoyed. Definitely worth a couple of hours of your life if you can get hold of it. I’ve got the next book, The Cheltenham Square Murder, lined up to read already.
My copy came from the Willen Hospice bookshop, but it’s available on Kindle, Kobo and from the British Library themselves. It was in Kindle Unlimited when I started writing this post, but it’s dropped back out now and the cover has even changed. A couple of the other books in the series are in KU at the moment though, so if you want to try some John Bude, there is that option for you if you’re a subscriber.
Another Covid-y week although I have now tested negative a couple of times. The early part of the week was spent sleeping on the sofa while the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice played in the background, the later part catching up on all the stuff I’d missed. All without leaving the house! I’ve shifted the Paustovsky off the reading list for a while – reading about beautiful cities in Ukraine is not something my brain can cope with at the moment. But I will come back to it at some point.
No books bought. Clearly Covid is affecting my ability to buy books., i’m sure the to-read shelf is thanking me?!
Bonus photo: honestly I really struggled for a photo for today, because i haven’t been anywhere and no one needs to see my covid tests again. Anyway, here’s Mr Darcy and mr Bingley as seen from my sofa.
An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley
We’re still on a bit of a documentary jag in our house – and there’s been quite a good run on Sky Documentaries recently – I just need to remember to check through their listings and set the TiVo to record. I Am Jackie O was one we stumbled across a few weeks back – and I’ve been saving this to post until after the JFK-adjacent Recommendsday post.
If you don’t want to read a biography of Jackie O or don’t know that much about her, this will do that for you. And you’ve read any/some/many of the books I mentioned in the Recommendsday post, it has archive footage of all of the key moments that you’ve read about, plus home movie footage as well as talking heads and archive soundbites of the key figures at the time. A lot of Kennedy related documentaries are either wildly sychophantic or deep into the gossip (that’s if they’re not swimming in conspiracy theories) but this manages to dodge that a strikes a nice balance between examining the facts and looking at motivations. It’s not groundbreaking or revelatory, but it is a fairly even handed look at Jackie’s life. There’s obviously a fair bit of death – and images of those deaths – but I think you expect that when you’re going into a documentary about the wife of an assassinated president – whose family have had a lot of tragedy around them.
It’s not necessarily a doc to go out and buy – but if you’re interested in the subject, stick a bookmark on it on your platforms of choice to record it when it comes around again. It’s still fairly new, so you can rent it on various platforms at the moment, but I don’t think it’s outside the realms of possibility that it will be free on one of the streaming platforms at some point in the future.
Say hello to a slightly leas tidy bookshelf. The clue to this one is in the title. It’s a bit of a bits and bobs shelf. Along the front from left to right you can see some classic Girls Own with Angela Brazil, Elsie Oxenham and Dorita Fairlie Bruce. Then a couple of odd hardbacks – a Noel Streatfeild and a duplicate Sadlers Wells, followed by the Arthur Ransome selection. Then it’s a group of books I’ve had since I was a kid. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the omnibus Prince Caspian and Dawn Treader are TV tie in editions that I got given for Christmas when I was about 8. The other Narnias are from the same era and so are the pile of books on top. The Beat series were one of the first crime books I read, I remember crying buckets when Paul the Chief Inspector and love interest was killed off – it was probably one of the first books with a main character death I read. Behind all these, which you can’t see are my original paperback Sadler’s Wells and all my original chalet School paper backs. I keep telling myself that I’ll have a rationalise and get rid of them, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to bring myself to. Also in the back is my set of early 90s Drina reprints which I know I’ll never be able to part with as they’re all tied into childhood holidays – as well as the fact I don’t have a hardback set of Drina *and* I’m fairly sure there isn’t a matching set of hardbacks that includes Drina, Ballerina…
Writing this and staring at the photo (and the shelf) has made me realise that I probably need to have a bit of a tidy up and organise – if book conference goes ahead this summer, perhaps a bit of weeding out will help me with some motivation?!
Do you know what day today is? It’s the day the second season of Bridgerton arrives on Netflix! And so to celebrate, I’m writing about the book series that inspired the TV show.
The series follows the eight children of Violet Bridgerton and her late husband as they find love. Although the kids are named in alphabetical order (Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory and Hyacinth) the books aren’t in age order – so the happily ever afters are Daphne, Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Eloise, Francesca, Hyacinth and Gregory. There are no secret babies here, but there are fake relationships, widows, widowers, rakes, Cinderella stories, secret identities and more. As with other similar romance series you can read them in any order, but you’ll get slight spoilers for the other books if you do – for example the real identity of Lady Whistledown the gossip columnist isn’t revealed in the first book (like it is in the first series of the TV show) you only find out when that character is the main character of one of the books.*
That said, the first book in the series that I read was book six – When He Was Wicked – which is actually pretty self-contained. Our heroine is Francesca who is recovering from the death of her first husband, with the help of her dear friend and confident Michael. Michael was Francesca’s husband’s cousin and succeeded him as the earl. He’s also been in love with Francesca since the first time he saw her – 36 hours before her wedding. Some of the action takes place on the earl’s estate in Scotland so you don’t get to see much of the fun sibling dynamics that makes the other books. It also runs paralel to Romancing Mr Bridgerton and To Sir Phillip, With Love so I’m really interested to see how the TV series deals with all that when it gets there.
Talking of the TV series, it’s been said before and it’s worth saying again here that the books aren’t as diverse as the TV version is. Also Queen Charlotte isn’t a character in the books the way that she is in the show. But don’t let that stop you reading the books – because they really are great fun and very romantic. And they’re a total binge read too. Hopefully the arrival of series two will put some of them back onto offer on Kindle again – but they’re definitely much easier to get hold of in paperback than they used to be. You can see from my copies that I’ve had them for a while (I started reading them in my Southend era a decade plus ago) but the redesign of the Duke and I to tie in with the TV show seems to have sparked a mass redesign of historical romance covers in general which has been interesting to see.
*yes I know you know who it is if you’ve watched the TV series, but I’m trying not to do spoilers for the people who haven’t!
I’ve suddenly started to get a slew of emails through again for in person book events! I’m so excited. I’ve met some wonderful friends through author fandoms – and at author events of various kinds. And one of the last events that I went to before the End of the Beforetimes (although I didn’t know it then!) was Ben Aaronovitch at Foyles and I can’t wait to hear some people talking about their books again!
And Ben is doing another event there for the next Rivers of London book too – I’ve already got a copy of the book preordered, but I haven’t ruled out going to this on April 11th as well! He’s also doing a bunch of events around the country – including at my old favourite indie cinema – City Screen in my beloved York.
Not strictly a book – but being held at the British Library is HistFest. I did the online version of this last year and it was really good. You can also attend online this year and you can either book a weekend or day pass or the sessions individually. I’m really interested in The House of Dudley – which is tied into a new book – and also The City of Tears about the St Bartholomew’s day massacre, which I studied at uni.
I do quite like the dual in person and online events that we’re seeing now – I’ve got my eye on the online stream for the VE Schwab event that Waterstones have happening on Friday, but Friday nights are a little tricky for me. Waterstones also have an in person only event with Natasha Solomons next week which is a bit tempting if I can make my office schedule work for it.
There are a couple of local (to me) indies who do events too – but as they require a little bit of extra planning as well as some petrol – I haven’t got anything booked in yet. And of course the next thing I’m hoping for is there to be another Sarah MacLean meet up this summer…
Last month, I wrote a post of Vanderbilt-adjacent books after picking Vanderbilt as my Book of the Week. And while I was writing it, I realised that I’ve actually read quite a lot of books that could be described as JFK-adjacent at various points, so now I’ve finished The Editor, here is a look at the best of them – and believe me when I say I’ve read some bad ones too!
Lets start with the non-fiction. And I’m going to start by saying that whether some of these will work for you will depend on how much you already know about the Kennedy clan. There are loads of biographies of each of the various members of the family, many of them really quite long. If you want a straight up biography of the man himself, the one I have read is Robert Dalek’s An Unfinished Life: John F Kennedy, which is long, but it is only one volume and it does give you a sense of what drove him and what the family was like. His dad comes across as being a particular type of nightmare – with massive ambitions for his kids that they could never live up to and that coloured all their relationships with other people as well. Of the non-politics members of the family, Kathleen Kennedy is possibly the most interesting – she had the family charisma and charm which she used to great effect while living in London while her father was the Ambassador. She married the heir to the Duke of Devonshire – who was then killed in combat. And she herself was dead long before her older brother became President. Paula Byrne wrote a biography of her called Kick – I think Byrne perhaps liked her subject a bit too much to grapple with some of the later parts of her life in depth, but it’s really good on most of her life and for what it was like to be one of the “other” Kennedys. I enjoyed it enough that it’s still on my bookshelves five years after I read it. There’s also (obviously) details about Jack and Jackie in Kate Andersen Brower’s books about the White House and its residents – I mentioned First Women the other week, but The Residence has a lot of detail about Jackie’s alterations and redecoration of the White House if that sort of thing interests you. You probably only need to pick one of them though – at least if you’re only reading for the Kennedy bits or if you’re planning to read them back to back!
There are also plenty of group biographies of the family out there but they do tend a bit towards the superficial – because there are a lot of Kennedy kids and thus a lot of Kennedy spouses! I read The Kennedy Wives by Amber Hunt and David Batcher around eight years ago – and even at that point I felt like I knew quite a lot of the detail already. But it was good for what happened to them all in the aftermath of JFK’s death – which is often where a lot of books stop. You will likely come away with the idea that the Kennedy men were hell to live with but that it is possible that some of the wives at least knew a little bit about what they were letting themselves in for. J Randy Tamborelli has also written about Jackie, Ethel and Joan – the wives of the political Kennedys – but it’s much older and I’ve not managed to get hold of it (yet). I have however read his biography of Marilyn Monroe – The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe – which had new (at the time in 2009) information about her relationship with not just JFK, but with Robert Kennedy and Pat Kennedy Lawford (and her husband Peter Lawford)
On the fiction side of things, I’ve read several novels which feature Jackie Kennedy’s post JFK life, none of which I feel able to recommend – except if you want to be really annoyed! Most of them focus on the triangle between Jackie, Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. I can however recommend Steven Rowley’s The Editor, which as I mentioned at the top I finished last week. His latest book The Guncle was a BotW last summer and I went looking for what else he had written and of the two options this jumped out at me. Set in the early 1990s, it’s about an aspiring writer whose first novel is bought by an editor at a major publisher – an editor who turns out to be Jackie Kennedy Onassis. The book follows him as he tries to works on his book with her help but also as she encourages him to work on his relationship with his own mother. She’s not the main character – and she’s a very enigmatic figure – so it’s not trying to see inside her head if that idea is something that worries you about novels about real people.
And finally there’s my favourite of the novels I’ve read about the Kennedys – The Importance of being Kennedy by Laurie Graham. Those of you who’ve been around a while will know how much I like Graham’s writing style and her books featuring real people. This was her next book after my beloved Gone With the Windsors and is another fictional person inserted into a real situation, in this case Nora Brennan, a nursery maid who takes a job with a family in Brookline Massachusetts that turns out to give her a ringside seat for history. She arrives when Joe jnr is a toddler and the book follows her through until Kathleen’s funeral. It’s sad when it needs to be, but it’s also witty and fun to read. If you’re only going to read one book from this post, maybe make it this one.
As I mentioned in Friday’s bingeable post, I read the new Jill Shalvis last week and although I finished it at the start of the week, somehow I knew it would be the pick, so I wrote this. And thank goodness I did because: covid.
When Levi Cutler gets stuck in a ski gondola in a snowstorm, his only companion is a mysterious stranger called Jane. When he calls his parents to say goodbye, he can’t bring himself to do it and instead lets his mum think he is happily settled and Jane is is girlfriend. But they survive. And now Levi’s family want to meet this girlfriend that he’s so happy with. Thus starts a fake relationship and off we go on one of my favourite tropes! Jane had a traumatic childhood and keeps people at a distance – that’s why she’s a travelling nurse who moves from trouble spot to trouble spot, stopping only to work the ski season near Lake Tahoe. The only person she has let get close to her (even if she won’t admit it) is Charlotte, her landlady and another fiercely independent woman who likes to keep other people at a distance. Charlotte definitely doesn’t need any help from anyone – especially not her annoying neighbour and co-worker Matteo…
I absolutely raced through this – it’s one of my favourite of Shalvis’ for a while. I haven’t always loved her Wildstone series, but this felt much more my sort of thing. I liked the primary and secondary romances and thought they both got about the right amount of time – too much plot in not enough time has been a recent problem for me with Shalvis – and and I liked the parallels between Jane and Charlotte’s lives and attitudes to relationships. And their different heroes are pretty good too. Plus Levi’s family is entertaining side show – I mean who doesn’t love meddling relatives – and it all ends on a nice heartwarming note. Plus it’s a ski resort romance that *isn’t* set at Christmas – which is a really rare find! There’s a sequel out at the end of June and I’mooming forward to reading it already.
My copy of The Family You Make came from the library, but it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo and paperback, although as ever I’m not sure how easy the paperback will be to find – Foyles have it available to order (but not click and collect) but it looks like a supermarket sort of book, but I haven’t been into a big Tesco for a couple of years right now, so I guess we won’t know until it turns up in The Works in six months time (or not)!