Is it a series when there are only two books? A duology? A pair? A duo? Anyway, to fit in with my titles, I hereby christen Cat Sebastian’s two London Highwaymen books a series and they are definitely a bingeable one, because I read them one after another across the space of 48 hours.
So what we have here are two stories featuring the same characters but focussing on different couples. Firstly we have retired (through injury) highwayman Kit, who is dragged into helping Percy, Lord Holland with a robbery he needs to save his family. Of course it goes wrong, but can they make it work together despite that?
Then there’s Marian, she’s been being blackmailed by a charismatic criminal, but it’s him she turns to when she shoots her husband. No, it wasn’t an accident, no he wasn’t a nice man. So the question is can she escape punishment for the shooting and can she make a new happy ending with Rob the Ex-highwayman.
You need to read these in order. Trust me when I say it will spoil some of the fun if you read Marian first. I don’t read a lot of highwayman stories, but these were right up my street. They’re very easy to read, there is peril but (for the most part) no misunderstandings that could be cleared up by a simple conversation. If you’re after some historical romance that has less of the balls and ton and more of the coffee shops and normal people, these will do the trick for you I think. They certainly did for me.
I got my copies on Kindle, but they are (I think) also available in paperback although I haven’t seen them in an actual bookshop yet.
Given the whole shingles situation here over the last week, I’ve been feeling the need for some nice, calming, swoon worthy romantic fiction. So hit me up with your recommendations for good contemporary romances – preferably new ones or authors you haven’t seen me read before.
For recommendsday this week, I have for you a selection of fake relationship romance novels. Which I’ll have you know was a bit of a challenge, because I love a fake relationship book when it works and that means they often end up being BotWs. More of those at the end…
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
I’m going to start with one of my lesser mentioned Georgette Heyers. Cotillion was actually one of the very first I read of hers and writing this has made me think that I need to go back and read it again. Kitty’s Uncle Matthew says he will leave his fortune to her – if she marries one of his great-nephews. Two of them promptly propose to her – but not Jack who is the one she likes best. So Kitty asks Freddy to pretend to be engaged to her for a month – partly to make Jack jealous. Of course complications ensue and it all goes from there. This is at the witty and comic end of the Heyer oevre (think Frederica or Arabella) rather than one of the big emotion romances.
Well Matched by Jen DeLuca
I mentioned this in the quick reviews back in February, but I’m going to give it another quick shout out here: the third in DeLuca’s Ren Faire series is about April who agrees to pretend to be her friend Mitch’s girlfriend at an event with his family which starts a chain of events that threatens to derail her long held plan for what she will do when her daughter leaves for college..
If I Never Met You by Mhairi MacFarlane
Another one I’ve mentioned before – but this time two years ago (I actually read this at the start of our last holiday before the pandemic when we had no idea what was about to happen!). Laurie’s boyfriend has just broken up with her but because she still has to work with him everyday it’s all the office can talk about, Jamie needs a girlfriend to impress his new boss. The two of them come up with a plan to pretend to be a couple to solve both of their problems. This comes with a slight warning that the heroine’s break up at the start is very bleak, but the fauxmance between Laurie and Jamie is really good and well done and the resolution works out really neatly.
I have shingles. It’s horrid. If I thought my concentration was shot before, it is even worse now. I’ve basically been sleeping and watching easy to understand TV – or rewatching old favourites like Howl’s Moving Castle, the Joan Hickson Miss Marples and the Inspector Alleyns from a couple of years later. September has really been a doozie – only five more days to get through. I do hope that October is a better month.
A few impulse buys while my will power was low. But really who can blame me.
Bonus photo: Ihaven’tleft the house all week. Well except to go into the back garden. So maybe Ishould more accuratelybeIhaven’t passed the front door? Anyway, that means that this week’s picture is of my house plants. In honour of the retirement of the Goat and my favourite ever tennis player, this is Roger the Swiss Cheese plant.
An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley.
It was the Japanese MotoGP Grand Prix today – time differences mean it’ll already be all over by the time this post goes up, but for today’s Not a Book, I’m writing about Amazon’s Drive to Survive rival – which focuses on the world of grand prix motorcycle racing.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the motorbike racing world, MotoGP is the premiere category in motorbike racing. The riders ride purpose built, specially designed bikes – as opposed to World Superbikes where they race versions of production models. MotoGP weekends also include two feeder series, Moto 2 and Moto 3, with smaller bikes and developing riders – a bit like Formula one has F2 and F3, except that the paddocks are all more linked – some of the MotoGP teams have junior teams in the junior categories and some of the riders themselves own junior teams. The first season of MotoGP Unlimited follows the 2021 season, primarily looking at the MotoGP action, but the other categories feature where the action crosses over.
The big difference between the actual sports is that motorbike racing is much more dangerous than F1 is. Every year MotoGP has broken bones and injuries. In fact if you look across the three categories you’d probably say every weekend has a rider breaking something. There are a number of people in the paddock in wheelchairs as a result of bike crashes. And sadly sometimes people die – and I warn you that it happens in one of the junior categories in this season although you don’t see it happen, but you do very much see the effect it has on the riders.
Then I would say there are two big differences between the MotoGP Unlimited and Drive to Survive. The first is that while English is the first language of the paddock in F1, it is very much not in MotoGP. So the producers decided to let the riders speak which ever language they are most comfortable with – which means a lot of Spanish and Italian. Initially they released the series dubbed, but there was an outcry and they added a subtitles version (much better). This means you get a real sense of the riders and their personalities and the rivalries and friendships, which I don’t think you would have got if the producers had forced them to speak in English.
The second is that while Drive to Survive picks centres each episode around one story and follows it across a couple of races or even most of the season, Unlimited takes the season in chronological order. As someone who watches both sports all season long, I think the unlimited approach gives you more of a sense of what it actually felt like to follow along, whereas the DTS approach creates more drama and tension and gives you backstage shenanigans you don’t know about as the races are happening. Both approaches have their merits – DTS has come under fire for creating drama where there was none but it has also boosted F1’s profile enormously, made Daniel Ricciardo everyone’s second favourite driver, turned Günter Steiner into a meme and boosted Haas’s profile. I’m not sure Unlimited has done the same for MotoGP, but it’s only had one season yet so give it time.
I’m not sure it will convert fans the same way that Drive to Survive has, but if you’re a casual motor bike racing fan it’s definitely worth a look – and hopefully we’ll get a second season to see it get into its stride – MotoGP is struggling a little this year with how to deal with the retirement of charismatic sporting icon Valentino Rossi which could make for an interesting side story to the 2022 title fight.
Bonus photo: We went to the Silverstone race that features in the series – and here’s my best attempt at a photo of Valentino Rossi at the end of the race.
I was staying at a different hostel to usual last week, so took the opportunity to make a visit to the big Piccadilly Waterstones as I walked down to the Palace on my way home. I’ve mostly focused here on the stuff you don’t find in a normal sized bookshop!
Firstly, they have one of the biggest selections of British Library Crime Classics outside of the British Library’s own bookshop. Not only was there this table downstairs, but there was another one in the crime section upstairs. I only had a small bag with me (and no space in my suitcase for more than one book) so I managed to resist, but I did add a much more to the list of books I want to read. I’m going back for them…
I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this table, because it has so many books I’ve already read or have waiting to be read on it! Obviously there’s the latestVinyl Detective, but also several Nicola Upsons. I still haven’t read the book of Holding, but as mentioned, I really enjoyed the TV series. Then there’s a nice Albert Campion, a Maisie Dobbs, Death and Croissants that I read last year, a recent Hamish MacBeth that I haven’t read yet and the new Frances Brody standalone book and A Spoonful of Murder that I have waiting on the pile to read. On the other side there is a Peter Wimsey, an Agatha Raisin that I’ve actually read, a Grantchester novel, one of the Ian Samson County murder novels and Death on the Nile. It’s basically a table tailor made for my crime fiction reading interests. I have added Death in August and The Room of the Dead to the want to read like!
I’ve written plenty about Persephone Books too, but again this is the largest selection I’ve seen in the wild – including some of my favourites: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, A House in the Country and The Young Pretenders.
And finally, it’s a long time since I saw a big Romance section and this was a wonderfully big one. This is just two bookshelves of it – there were about eight more and I had a ball – spotting stuff in the wild I’ve only seen as ebooks and seeing some old friends too. Genuinely I had a lovely time and it was a bright spot in a somber week in London.
As the observant among you may have noticed, I have now read all the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries and so 18 months after The Beekeepers Apprentice was a Book of the Week post, I am back with a Series post for Laurie R King’s Sherlock adaptation or continuation or whatever you want to call it.
The set up is thus: teenage orphan Mary Russell meets the aging Sherlock Holmes while wandering on the Sussex Downs. He sees something of himself in her and she becomes his apprentice (as the title of the first book suggests) and they start solving mysteries together. Mary does most of her growing up over the course of that first book – she’s at Oxford by book two and then the later books in the series are across a much shorter time span – it’s 1923 in book three and only 1925 by book 16 which is something that boggles my mind if I think about all that they get up to in between – for all that there is some jumping backwards and forwards in amongst it all. And I have significant reservations* about that massive age difference, given that Sherlock and Mary are married by book three, but mostly King deals with it well (and of course it’s a problem of her own making).
Mary and Sherlock make for a great duo – despite the reservations as mentioned above – his enjoyment in passing on his skills to her makes this feel different to the Sherlock and Watson dynamic and makes the series work (for me at least). And as the series goes on the books start to feature more of one (or the other) of the leads. Plus there are tie-ins and throw backs to the original Conan Doyle books but also references to other Golden Age crime novels – Peter Wimsey pops up at one point for example. But mostly I’ve enjoyed reading these because the adventures are good. They take you all over the world – from the countryside of England to the mountains of India, to the Holy Land and to San Francisco and a lot more besides. You do need to read them in order though to get the most out of them – if you haven’t read O Jerusalem, you’re missing a key element for Justice Hall. And if you haven’t read Justice Hall then you’re missing out in Garment of Shadows. And God of the Hive makes no sense at all if you haven’t read The Language of Bees.
It’s tough to chose a favourite from the series – but I think the ones that have stuck in my head the most are the aforementioned O Jerusalem and The Game. But the Pirate King is also fun (and could have gone into my Mysteries set on Cruise Ships post if more of it had been on the ship!), Locked Rooms gives you a look at 1920s San Francisco and Garment of Shadows has some 1920s Literati on the Riviera action.
These are really easy to get hold of – I’ve found them at the library (e book and real book) and in the bookshops (including The Works) and they’re often on offer on Kindle and Kobo, so if you pay attention you can pick them up when they come around on the offers.
*and that’s mostly why this isn’t a Series I Love post…
A lot of the advance copies I have waiting for me on the kindle now are Christmas books. As ever I’m planning on getting the Christmas reading suggestion post done early this year. And also as ever I suspect it will never happen. But what I do want are your recommendations for your favourite Christmas-set books. Not new ones, the old favourites you return to year on year. Please and thank you!
For today’s recommendsday I have a selection of country house-set books of various kinds for your entertainment.
Summer Lightning by P G Wodehouse
I’m going to start with a comedic classic. Summer Lightning is the fourth of the Blandings books but I think it’s my favourite. It has all the ingredients you want: Lord Emsworth and his prize pig, Lady Constance trying to manage him, a pair of lovers and the Honorable Galahad writing his memoirs and setting the town in a stir. Oh, and the Efficient Baxter. You don’t need to have read the others in the series, and you should be able to get hold of it nice and easily.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
It’s not often that I recommend a classic is it? And now I’ve given you two in one post. If you haven’t ever read Waugh’s tale of Charles Ryder’s entanglements with the Flyte family, then you really should – even if you start off only doing it because it gets referenced (whether you know it or not) in other things! It’s not my favourite of Waugh’s – but I have returned to it a a few times now, not least because I have the audiobook which is read in wonderfully soothing tones by Jeremy Irons – who starred in the famous TV adaptation.
Death in Fancy Dress by Anthony Gilbert
The Secret Service are trying to catch a blackmailer. There’s a been an increase in the number of suicides that seemed initially unconnected, but where on investigation the dead person had all the appearance of being a blackmail victim. Tony is a young lawyer who finds himself entangles in the mystery when the unpopular Sir Ralph is young dead the night after failing to appear at a house party being held at the house of a young woman who has just tried to break of her engagement to another man so she can marry Ralph – seeming under duress. Who killed him – and who is the blackmailer? This is an interesting mystery, with a clever premise but is not always the clearest in its writing with a set of male characters who could feel a little interchangable. Or maybe that was just me! I still enjoyed it though – and when I read it it was in Kindle Unlimited too.
To be honest I’ve written about scads of books set in country houses – you could also add The Austen Playbook, the Cazalet series, several of the Roderick Alleyns – notably A Man Lay Dead and Death and the Dancing Footman – as well as a whole bunch of Georgette Heyers like The Unknown Ajax or the gothic My Cousin Kate.