Book previews

Out this week: Well Traveled

Genuinely very excited for this one – the fourth in Jen DeLuca’s Renaissance Fair series, which came out on Tuesday and I’m hoping will be waiting for me at home when I get there tonight, because like a fool I preordered the paperback again, not the kindle edition (it’s the preorder price guarantee that makes the difference half the time tbh). Anyway, this features Dex, one half of Duelling Kilts who we met in the Cyrano-y plot of Well Played, and Lulu who is the cousin of Mitch – the other half of Duelling Kilts who was the hero of that last book. Dex has been a playboy-y figure whenever we’ve seen him so far and I’m looking forward to seeing how DeLuca deals with that again – having done it really successfully with Mitch in Well Matched and considering that Well Played with Dex has been the one that I liked the least so far – although I didn’t dislike if if you know what I mean!

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: November Quick Reviews

We’re into December now and I have lots more Christmassy books to tell you about, but today I’m sticking with the quick reviews – because after all, everyone needs a break from Christmas at some point in December!

Better than Fiction by Alexa Martin

As previously mentioned, Alexa Martin wrote some of my favourite American Football romances, and this is her second standalone rom-com. Drew has inherited her beloved Grandmother’s book store in Colorado, and feels way over her head as a self-proclaimed non-reader. Jasper is an author who comes to the store to do a reading and event and who decides to try and change her mind about books in return for her help with his settings for his new novel. I’m not usually a fan of people tryng to turn others into readers – or telling them that they just haven’t found the right things to read yet, but this actually manages to make it work. Drew and Jasper are engaging characters and the gang of old ladies are a delight. Plus Martin makes hiking in Colorado sound so beautiful that even I started thinking that it might be fun – and I *hate* hiking

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra*

Cover of Mercury Pictures Presents

This tells the story of Maria Lagana, an Italian in Los Angeles in the 1940s. I really like stories about the movie industry, and stuff set in World War Two and this is both of those – split between Mussolini’s Italy and California, it looks at the immigrant experience in America in war time and the risks that people will take to survive and the sacrifices people will make for the people they love. If you’ve read non-fiction (or fiction) about the studio system or the Hollywood blacklist, this might well be of interest to you.

Chester House Wins Through by Irene Smith

And finally another from my Book Con haul and this makes it onto this list as it’s a massive curio really – a book about a girls school where there is rivalry between the day girls and the boarders. That’s not unusual in itself – but here, the day girls have their own house and are deeply unpopular with the rest of the school for not pulling their weight and for behaving badly in town. It’s also from the late 1960s so it has a side order of society changing and girls wanting to go out and do things in the evenings and not be so protected. So far, so interesting, except there’s a lot of talking about doing things, and not a lot of actual doing on the page. The day girls do turn it around, but it has to be said that there’s not a lot of likeable characters here. One for the Girls Own collectors really.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Book of the Week, crime, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Green for Danger

Another week, another British Library Crime Classic pick – and I would apologise except that this is really really good and a new to me author so I’m not really sorry.

Green for Danger is set in World War Two, at a military hospital in Kent. At the start of the novel, a postman delivers seven acceptance letters to people who want to work at the hospital. A year later, he returns to the hospital as a patient, and dies on the operating table during what should have been a routine operation. At first it is thought to be an accident, but Inspector Cockrill is sent to double check. When he is stranded at the hospital during an air raid, events start to unfold that prove that Joseph Higgins’ death was no accident.

This is a really clever and atmospheric novel – enough to make you afraid of ever having an operation again, for all that it’s set in the middle of World War Two and technology has obviously changed and moved on since then. I didn’t guess who did it – but I probably could have done if I had tried hard enough because the clues were there if you thought about it hard enough. As I said at the top, this is the first Christianna Brand novel that I’ve read – having spotted this on the BLCC table at Waterstones in Piccadilly a couple of months ago and waited to see if it would rotate into Kindle Unlimited – which it has. And if they are all as good as this, I’ve got a treat coming, even if this is her most famous mystery. And I chose my words wisely there – because she’s also the creator of Nurse Matilda – which was adapted for screen by Emma Thompson and turned into Namny McPhee, which is one of my favourite kids films of the last twenty years. And not just because it has Colin Firth in it!

Anyway, the paperback of Green for Danger is fairly easily found: in the British Library shop, and I’ve seen it in several more bookshops since that first time in Piccadilly. And as I said it’s in KU at the moment, which means it’s off Kobo for a while, but should be back there at some point.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: November 28 – December 4

A good week of reading in the end in terms of the mix of genres, even if I didn’t finish any more of the long runners. I’m still working on it though. We’re into December now though – so we have the quick reviews this week after last week’s stats but there is more Christmas stuff coming up and you’ve already had buy me a book and the stuff I bought myself.

Read:

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

Murder Mystery Book Club by Danielle Collins

Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Willis Crofts

James Bond: My long and eventful search for his father by Len Deighton

This Telling by Cheryl Strayed

Luck of the Draw by Kate Claybourn

A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear

Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews

Started:

Death Checked Out by Leah Dobrinska*

Still reading:

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Going With the Boys by Judith Mackrell

The Inverts by Crystal Jeans

The Empire by Michael Ball*

Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd

Bonus photo: the South Bank arts complex on Tuesday night as I walked across the river

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

theatre

Not a Book: Best of Enemies

Getting this in quickly before the barrage of Christmas posts as I went to see this the other week when it was in late preview stages and it’s now open and has been reviewed.

Best of Enemies is a new play by James Graham about the televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jnr at the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1968. The two men represented the new left and the new right respectively and hated what each other stood for. In real life, they remained enemies for the rest of their lives – with lawsuits and counter suits – extending even beyond Buckley’s death when Vidal was still happy to insult him. The play uses transcripts of the dialogue from the TV debate for those sections and imagines what was going on behind the scenes.

In the play Buckley is David Harewood and Vidal is Zachary Quinto. Casting a black actor as the white Buckley does highlight the times when Buckley is talking about race – but that’s not the main focus of the clashes between the men shown in the play. Quinto is excellent as Vidal – arch and snarky and supremely confident in his own abilities and beliefs. The staging – as you can see from the photo has TV like windows – that can show you the control room behind or be used as TV screens to project the actors during the debates, or the sections of rival newscasters talking you through the events of the day.

The play is making the argument that the debates are the start of the commentator-led, TV politics that has turned into the polarisation you see on social media – and while that may sound like a bit of a reach, the debate sections of the play feel very timely – almost spookily so at times. I thought it was really, really good – and if you’re in London before the 18th of February and fancy a show, this would be a good pick.

book round-ups

Buy myself a Book for Christmas

As I mentioned in last week’s Buy me a Book for Christmas post, I did a bit of purchasing while I was putting that post together, so this weekend, here’s the stuff I bought, in case you need further inspiration!

Firstly I should say that the way that I put together the Buy Me a Book post is the same every year – I go through my Amazon wishlists of Books and my Goodreads to-read shelf to look for books that I’ve added over the course of the year but haven’t bought. And then I go wandering around the various book buying websites to see how easy (or otherwise) they are going to be to get hold of. And secondly I try not to ask for books that might go on offers, be available in the supermarket 2 for however many offers and thirdly I should say that I was writing the original post in November, but it’s now December, so bear that in mind if I’m mentioning offers. Oh – and there are no graphic novels on the list because I buy those from my local comic book store and want to give them the custom.

Fiction picks

And the reason that the Buy me a book post was non-fiction heavy was partly because a lot of the fiction I was after was on some kind of offer! So I picked up the latest Emma Straub novel, This Time Tomorrow, and also the next book in Alexis Hall’s baking show series, Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble. I also preordered the next in Jen DeLuca’s Willow Creek series Well Traveled as well as the new Olivia Dade (which as you know already came out and I’ve already read), and I finally bought Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow. And because I happened to wandering around the Waterstones site, I picked up a signed copy of Rainbow Rowell’s new short story collection Scattered Showers. I did look at the British Library Crime Classics selection too – but that just added a load of books to my Kindle Unlimited list! Finally there’s Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, which was on offer in a special tie-in edition because the movie came out a couple of months back.

Non fiction picks

I’ve had my eye of Julia Boyd’s Travellers in the Third Reich for a while and this year a follow up is out. but both Travellers and A Village in the Third Reich were on offer on Kindle when I was putting the post together so rather than asking for the paperbacks, I just bought them! The new Anne De Courcy about Nancy Cunard (another in that group from the 1920s who pops up a lot) Five Love Affairs and a Friendship was on offer on Kindle at a sensible price for non-fiction, as was Mary Churchill’s War (the wartime diaries of Winston Churchill’s daughter, edited by Emma Soames) and Spying and the Crown by Richard J Aldridge and Rory Cormac. Then there is Heiresses by Laura Thompson, about heiresses from the Seventeenth Century to the present, which is in Kindle Unlimited at the moment, so I borrowed it. Oh What a Lovely Century would also have been on the list for this Christmas – if I hadn’t found that copy in the work charity book sale.

And I think that’s the lot. Have a great weekend everyone!

series

Wintry series: O’Neil Brothers

We’re moving towards Christmas and so I thought I would start a seasonal series strand to help with your festive reading needs! And I’m starting with an old favourite author – Sarah Morgan and her O’Neil Brothers series, which is are nearly a decade old now – which is frankly quite scary.

And I’m going to say at the outset, that only two of the three books in this series are set at Christmas – but that’s two thirds so it still counts. This series is set in the Snow Crystal ski resort in Vermont. Our three heros are the O’Neil brothers – whose family run the resort. In the first book in the series. Sleigh Bells in the Snow, Kayla would rather ignore Christmas than celebrate, but she heads to Snow Crystal to try and win the marketing business of the resort’s owner Jackson. Suddenly Last Summer is about Elise, a chef in the town and the runway brother Sean, who is a surgeon who had a one night stand a few years back and are busy ignoring it. And the third book in the series is Maybe this Christmas where ex-ski racer and single dad Tyler ends up with his friend Breanna (who is secretly in love with him) staying in his chalet because the resort is overbooked. So that’s a career girl finding love while turning aroudn the fortunes of a ski resort, a second chance romance and a single dad romance. If you don’t want to read the whoel series – and why wouldn’t you because you’ll then get to see the previous couples pop back up again – you can pick your trope and start there!

Sarah Morgan has a long list of Christmas books now, so it took a bit of thinking to pick one to feature here – but I went for the O’Neil brothers, because the snowy setting makes it feel extra Christmassy. But if you want more Sarah Morgan Christmas, there is a Christmas book in her Puffin Island and From Manhattan with Love series as well as various standalone novels.

You should be able to get hold of these fairly easily in ebook, but I don’t know how likely you are to find paperbacks nearly decade on. But to get yo sgtarted here is the Kindle link to Sleighbells in the snow and a Kobo link to the “box set” of all three.

Happy Friday everyone!

books, stats

November Stats

Books read this month: 30*

New books: 30

Re-reads: 0 – which is frankly astonishing given this year so far

Books from the to-read pile: 8

NetGalley books read: 5

Kindle Unlimited read: 8

Ebooks: 9

Library books: 0

Audiobooks: 0

Non-fiction books: 1

Favourite book this month: Probably Carrie Soto is Back – for all that it took me ages to read

Most read author: SJ Bennett on that binge read of HM the Queen Investigates series

Books bought: Oh dear. Quite a lot. Because of the research for the Christmas books posts. Yes, posts. About 20 books, including a couple of pre-orders. Eeeeeeeeep.

Books read in 2022: 350

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 667

Well. This is quite an interesting list. I have two audiobooks that I’ve nearly finished, but not in time for this list. I’m on a big podcast kick at the moment, and the proportion of my listening time that is audiobooks has gone down. And the fact that I didn’t reread anything is interesting. But then it’s nearly the end of the year and I have been trying to get on top of the NetGalley list again so have focused on that a little. But good progress in reading stuff off the physical to-read pile so that’s good. Win some and lose some.

Bonus picture: an action shot from the figure skating. As I said, hard to do on a phone but this is the best I have!

*includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels – including 3 this month

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Books to reread

It’s getting pretty wintery, and when the weather is like this, it often makes me feel like rereading something that’s going to make me feel cozy and warm inside. Please note, that that last sentence was going to be about liking nothing more than to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a book to reread. But we all know that that’s not just a winter thing. Give me a comfy seat, a blanket and a good book and you won’t see me again for a few hours. Anyway, this week, have some suggestions for books that hold up to more than one reading.

Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield

So this was one of my picks for escapist books for difficult times back in the early pandemic and I stand by it as being one of the best comfort reads. It is what the title suggests – a provincial lady in the 1930s struggling to keep control of her household. I sometimes describe it as being a bit like the Bridget Jones of its time, but I think that’s underselling it. It’s very low stress, very low stakes and it’s charming and witty. If you liked Miss Buncle and haven’t read this, then why not?

Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham

It will surprise you not at all if you’ve been here a while that Gone with the Windsors features on this list. Because I read it so often I own multiple copies and I keep them scattered around the house. If you don’t already know, it’s the story of the Abdication Crisis as seen through the eyes of a school friend of Wallis Simpson, who comes to England to visit her sister. It’s brilliant for just dipping into, or for reading the whole thing. And it still makes me chuckle eleventy billion reads later.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

Again, not a surprised that I’d have a Georgette Heyer on this list either, but maybe a surprise that it’s Sylvester. A year or two ago, it would probably have been Regency Buck or Devil’s Cub, but I’ve listened to the audiobook of this at least three times this year and that’s before we talk about the times I’ve picked up the boo, so I’m going to put it here because I do grab it more often than most of them. This has two people who definitely don’t want to marry each other, but then get thrown together a lot – there is the Regency equivalent of a road trip as well as a trapped at an inn situation, an adorable nephew (“Uncle Vester will grind your bones”) and it’s just delightful.

There were a lot of things that I could have included in this, but a lot of them that I’ve already written about relatively recently, so just want to throw in here that I do regular rereads of Soulless, the Rivers of London series and the Peter and Harriet end of the Wimsey series.

Happy Wednesday everyone.

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Jane Fills the Breach

So I read a fair few things last week, some from series that I’ve talked about before and some that you’ll see pop up in other posts over the next few weeks. But BotW is one of those where very much not recommending the book that I’m talking about, but just needed to talk about it because it’s bonkers.

Bessie Marchant wrote adventure stories for girls in the first half of the twentieth century. She was the subject of one of the talks at this summer’s Book Conference, and I bought this after the talk because it promised to be absolutely crazy. And oh boy, did it deliver.

Firstly I cannot convey to you exactly how much plot this has got. It’s under 250 pages, but it has a kidnapping, a runaway marriage, the rescue that you can see on the cover above, the heroine’s attempt to replace her missing (presumed kidnapped) brother in the family firm, a subplot around a will, a shipwreck and a romance – and that’s just the main stuff. Our heroine is Jane – she’s basically a plucky doormat who will Do The Right Thing – she puts everyone else’s interests ahead of her own but secretly is smarter than all of them. Or at least I think that’s what Marchant was aiming for, it’s hard to tell because the writing is so muddled. At one point within the space of a page Jane goes from thinking it’s ridiculous that the senior partner in the firm has retired to study bees to completely understanding it because his garden is so pretty.

The dialogue is consistently dreadful – in a genre where dialogue can sometimes be a bit weird, it jumps out as feeling particularly unrealistic. It’s meant to be set in Argentina but to be honest it’s basically Generic South America as envisaged by someone who has never been there. It also has all of the British colonialist attitudes of a lot of the adventure books for girls and boys, although thankfully it doesn’t have much religion in it.

As I said, this is very much not a recommendation – it is is objectively terrible, but if you are a Girls own reader who has mostly read school stories, this and C Bernard Rutley will give you a taste of the utter bonkers that got published before World War Two.

I bought my copy at the book conference for £5, and that’s probably too much to pay for this – but the talk was genuinely entertaining and the speaker was selling her spares so how could I not get one. I have no idea where you could find a copy, and suggest you don’t try.

Happy reading.