book adjacent, book related

Book adjacent: Magpie Murders

Something a bit different today – and I’ve been watching the TV adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s novel Magpie Murders. I read the book back when it first came out and I really enjoyed it – but had no idea how they would manage to turn it into a TV series, so I got myself a Britbox subscription especially to watch it!

In case you haven’t read the book, a reminder of the plot: Susan Ryeland has been editing the Atticus Pünd novels for years. The series’s author, Alan Conway is not her favourite person, but she puts up with him because the series has been incredibly popular with fans of the Queens of Crime. But when she reads the latest manuscript, not only is the end missing, but she’s convinced that Conway has hidden another story within his new novel.

Now, what the book blurb doesn’t tell you, but the TV trailer does, is that Alan Conway ends up dead and that as she searches for the missing chapter, she’s also trying to figure out who killed him. I had no clue how they were going to make this work on screen because of the book-within-a-book nature of the story but it really clicks – with cast doubling their roles and different filters on the camera to make it even easier to tell the two apart – as well as the different costumes for the different time periods. I was a bit sceptical about whether the adaptation really needed six parts but it turns out that it sort of did – because there is a lot of plot with two parallel mysteries to a solve and not a lot to cut. Anthony Horowitz has adapted this himself from his novel -and it really works. As you can see from the trailer, a lot of the cast play two roles – the real people who knew Alan and their fictional equivalents in the book.

There are a lot of familiar faces in the cast and the performances are great. Lesley Manville makes a great Susan – tenacious about trying to find the missing chapter of the book, but guarded and prickly about her personal life. I’m not a Game of Thrones viewer, so I’m not sure I’d seen Conleth Hill in anything before I saw him in Holding, and then here he is again in this turning in another great – but very different – performance. I really hope they do the second in the series, The Moonflower Murders, and I also really hope that Horowitz writes a third. He does have two meta-murder mystery series though, and he seems to be doing more with the Hawthorne books – which is even more meta as a fictional version of Horowitz is in that one. I really can’t imagine how they would do a TV version of that. But I said that with the Atticus Pund series, so what do I know! There is a fourth Hawthorne book coming this summer which I’m already looking forward to reading.

As I said at the top, this one is on Britbox, which you can get direct from them or as an add-on to an Amazon Prime subscription. You get a seven days free trial, and there are a couple of other Britbox originals that I fancy having a look at, so I’ve gone beyond the trial for now!

Enjoy.

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Nonfiction roundup

Yes, this was meant to have more than two books in it. Yes, I’ve been working on this for a while. Yes, it’s because I’ve been on a binge of re-reading old favourites and not reading a lot of non fiction. And then I used it for a book of the week. Looking at you Ask a Historian. So I’m going with the two, and then I will endeavour to pull myself together.

Worn by Sofi Thanhauser*

This is an interesting but also quite depressing look at clothing and the way that it is produced today. From fast fashion to microplastics and more, it covers all the issues that you know about from modern discourse about sustainability and clothes, but also explains the history of everything and how we got to this point. After reading it, I’m not sure that there is any fabric that isn’t in some way problematic and that it’s harder than I thought to be sustainable in your clothing choices. There aren’t a lot of solutions to that presented here – but as it’s a history of clothing perhaps that’s not a surprise!

Agatha Christie’s Poirot by Mark Aldridge

This is a really quite nifty look at Poirot through the ages, but manages to do that without actually giving away who any of the murderers are! I certainly hadn’t realised before reading this how long a duration the Poirot books were written over and that Christie kept him contemporary to when she was writing, rather than when she had started writing them. I suspect this is probably because I read a lot of these when I was in my early teens after watching some of the TV versions (which stay static in the inter war period) so didn’t notice/realise the time period differences in the books. I also enjoyed seeing the way that Poirot has been adapted for other mediums – and how many more of them there were than I was aware of, despite the fact that I’ve watched quite a lot over the years!

Voila. I have read some memoirs as well, but they sort of deserve there own post…

Happy Wednesday!

Book of the Week, Children's books, children's books

Book of the Week: The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair

Last week it was a graphic novel, this week it’s a middle grade novel, I’ve got mystery book posts planned and all sorts for June. I really am giving you the full range this month aren’t it!

Amy Makechnie’s The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair is about a ten-year-old girl who moves to Iowa to try and help her mother’s recovery from a brain injury that has left her unable to remember anything past the age of 13. Crow is where her parents grew up and Jed is desperately hoping that coming back will jog Vienna’s memories. Gwyn and her little sister Bitty are used to the bright lights of New York, so small town life comes as a bit of a shock to them, especially their new neighbour Gaysie Cutter. They soon make friends with Gaysie’s son Micah and his friend Jimmy, but they also discover that Gaysie was friends with their parents when they were at school. When Gaysie’s only friend, farmer Wilbur Truesdale, goes missing Gwyn is determined to solve the mystery but she may also find out more than she wants to know about her parents’ past.

Because of Jed’s absence and the age of Gwyn’s grandmother, the children are able to spend a lot of time running around outside without a lot of adult supervision. This gives the story an almost out of time feel – except for the references to current pop culture. The neighbourhood is full of interesting characters for Gwyn to met and things for her to try and work out. Gwyn has decided that she wants to be a lawyer and she is obsessed with finding out people’s stories, but often jumps to the worst possible conclusions (which is understandable given what has happened to her family) but also isn’t actually very good at asking the right questions or showing empathy to people. She wants to solve problems because there is one big problem that can never be solved – Vienna:

Gwyn calls her mum Vienna – because she’s not a mum to her because of her injury. Her dad is obsessed with trying to find a cure for her but as you go through the book you realise that what is initially described as memory loss is actually not amnesia, but massive and irreversible brain damage. Gwyn knows this. Gwyn’s grandmother knows this, everyone in town knows this – even if they’re not saying it – but Jed thinks a miracle is possible, because Vienna has survived this far. This all means that Gwyn is older than her years in someways, but she has her own trauma from what happened to her mum. She’s taken on the role of her sister’s protector, but she can’t see when she is hurting other people’s feelings – most notably when she is throwing herself into what she has decided is a murder investigation- heedless of Micah and Jimmy’s feelings.

Looking through the reviews and blurbs for this, I can see comparisons to To Kill A Mockingbird and I can sort of understand that – small town, weird neighbours, gang of roaming children – but there are a lot of differences too. Lots of things about Gaysie Cutter do remain unexplained, but she is a much more visible character than Boo Radley is, and you can often see glimpses of what is going on and understand her a little bit, even if Gwyn can’t.

It’s a really interesting read – and I’ve just realised that I’ve got this far without even mentioning that Gwyn has a pet cow, or the Big Peril at the end. It even made me get a bit teary eyed. And I’m still thinking about it, a couple of days on from finishing it, which is a recommendation in itself.

Anyway I read this in paperback (as you can see from the photo!) but it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo. I bought my copy online a so I’m not sure how easy it will be to find in stores – but I suspect it will be tricky as I can’t find it at all on Foyles website… But if you do happen across a copy it’s worth it.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: June 6 – June 12

Well, what a crazy busy week. I had two nights in London – which included my trip to Ben de la Creme – and then a book launch on Thursday night for Lizzy Dent’s The Set Up. Then we went out for dinner on Friday, we had a busy weekend with my sister and her partner visiting from Carlisle and lunch out and a car show with them and my dad on Sunday. And all the usual work stuff too. Is it any wonder the list is shorter than usual?!

Read:

Death in Fancy Dress by Anthony Gilbert

Burying the Crown by T P Fielden

Death Before Wicket by Kerry Greenwood

The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair by Amy Makechnie

Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron by Julia Quinn and Violet Charles

Started:

Cue the Easter Bunny by Liz Evans

Rotten to the Core by T E Kinsey*

Murder Before Evensong by Rev Richard Coles

Still reading:

Paper Lion by George Plimpton

Plan for the Worst by Jodi Taylor

Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare*

Beach House Summer by Sarah Morgan*

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Bonus photo: This was the venue for our Friday night meal – and it gave me such strong Happy Valley-but-make-it-rural-England vibes, that it just had to be this week’s picture!

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

 

film, not a book

Not a Book: Judy Garland

Friday marked 100 years since the birth of Judy Garland, so I’m going all Hollywood again here today.. When we went to Wicked earlier in the year, I had a moment as it started where I wasn’t sure if our nieces had seen the Wizard of Oz – but when I checked at the internal they had, so I think it’s still impossible not to have seen a little of her work.

And although you might first encounter her as a child in The Wizard of Oz, if as you grow up you start wandering into Hollywood history (or maybe even if you don’t!) you soon discover the troubled life – the child star whose life was wrecked by her fame and career. She’s not the first troubled child star, but she’s the one who everyone remembers – the drugs she got hooked on after the studio gave them to her to keep her thin, give her energy to work or get her to sleep after work, the troubled personal life, the early death. It all over shadows the actual talent. I’ve put the Get Happy clip in here as well as the Wizard of Oz trailer because people forget that she did upbeat.

And of course there’s so much Garland-related media to consume. Rufus Wainwright is doing his Judy show again this week for the anniversary – I’m still hopeful that one day I will manage to see him do it live, but I’ve listened to the CD to death (yes, I’ve had it that long).

Then of course there’s the plays and movies. I still haven’t watched Renee Zelwegger in Judy, but I did see Tracie Bennett in End of the Rainbow when that was touring and it was really quite something. The clip from the Tony Awards really doesn’t do it justice at all.

And then I was in the Royal Albert Hall for the John Wilson Movie Musical Prom where Caroline O’Connor did this amazing version of The Man That Got Away.

I’ve only watched the 1954 Star is Born once – because as we all know I’m all about the upbeat, but Garland is amazing in it and I still don’t know how she didn’t win the Oscar – and the story about the cameras coming to her hospital room (she’d just given birth) to film her in case she won breaks my heart every time. And The Man That Got Away lost the best song prize too – to a song I’ve never heard off. What a swizz.

In terms of reading material – after all this is a book blog – I read Get Happy by Gerald Clarke more than a decade ago and it’s still considered to be the definitive one so that’s worth a look if you’re interested. But if you don’t want 500 whole pages, she’s Chapter 10 in Anne Helen Petersen’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood as part of the Broken by the System section. And she gets a few mentions (as an example) in Helen O’Hara’s Women vs Hollywood too if you want to read about the bigger picture of Hollywood being awful to women.

But let’s end on the woman herself performing and not on the sadness. I’ve picked the Trolley Song from Meet Me In St Louis, because it’s upbeat and because Judy said that this film, directed by Vincente Minnelli who she went on to marry, was the first time she had ever felt beautiful. Which is sad, but she does look amazing in this film and I’m glad she could see it.

books

Books in the Wild: Foyles

One of my frequent refrains over the last two years has been that I don’t know if various books I’ve been recommending will be easy to find in bookshops or not, so being in the vicinity of Foyles earlier this week I thought I would take the opportunity to see what was around and available and write about it!

Let’s start with the pride themed window display, which is actually the last photo I took – after they chucked me out at closing time! Bad Gays getting plenty of promotion – it’s got a table inside too, and if it hadn’t been a hardback I would have probably bought it, the blurb was intriguing. But I had already decided that I only had space in my suitcase for a paperback at most, so it will have to wait.

I was delighted to find Martha Wainwright’s memoir so nice and prominent – and signed. If I’d known it was going to crop up signed, I might have waited to buy it, I’ve only ever seen her playing small venues – audiences in the low hundreds – so I had no sense of how well it was going to do or how easy it would be to get hold of so I preordered it because preorders are important. And to be fair, she signed my ticket at when I saw her live, so it’s not like I don’t have an autograph already and if I really want the book signed I can take it with me when I see her live in the summer and see what happens!

And I was also delighted to see A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting, because that was another one where I couldn’t tell ahead of time whether it would get a push here. And in years gone by it probably wouldn’t have, but Bridgerton has made such a difference to Historical Romance sales in the UK. I saw my first Julia Quinn as one book in a much bigger Waterstones window display back in my Southend days more than a decade ago, and I’m so used to needing to order them in – initially in US editions, and then preordering the UK editions because they were never in shops if you went in on the off chance – that it’s still a surprise and delight to see them front facing in the main section of the store. And Lady’s Guide… also has a different style of cover to the half headless lady clutching an entirely headless gentleman and it’s variants that we’re getting on so much at the moment because that’s what the latest editions of the Bridgerton series have…

And this was the other non fiction hardback that seriously tempted me. As you can’t help but know at this point, I’ve read a lot of history books about the interwar period and Nancy Cunard is in so many of them. But I have an Anne de Courcy paperback still waiting to be read on the shelf, so I will try and be good and wait until the paperback comes out (because they get read sooner anyway) or maybe I’ll put it on the prospective Christmas book list!

And finally, I loved this display for the colours and the range of authors in it. I haven’t read any of Anthony Horowitz’s James Bond novels, but I have read several of his own series – and reviewed them too (Moonflower Murders for example). I’ve got a signed copy of the Richard Coles ordered from Big Green Books or I would have been tempted by that one too. I’ve read some Emma Straub before, but this one is sort of time travel or sliding doors-y if that makes sense, and I don’t usually do well with do-your-life-over books so I’ll wait and see on this one. The covers on the other two were just so pretty I had to pick them up and see what they are. The House with the Golden Door is the second in a planned trilogy about Pompeii so that was relatively easy for me to resist – I have a poor record on books set before 1300 let alone in the first century and when you know a volcano eruption is coming! But The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley sounds like interesting eighteenth century magical realism with an unusual setting, so it has gone on The List.

And what did I end up buying? Well I did think about keeping you in suspense until books incoming, but I’m not that mean.

I loved the cover design, and the blurb sounded right up my street – a 1920s setting and a plot around a lavender marriage so the main characters can do what they want. I hadn’t heard of it before I saw it in the display so I have no idea what I’m letting myself in for or what the reviews say. I read the first few pages in the shop but that was it because it was suddenly five minutes to closing time and I had to run to the till to pay!

romance, series

Bingeable series: Desperate Duchesses

Yes I know I’ve already done a whole post of books on offer this week, but I spotted this one after I’d written the June Discounts post– and it inspired me to write a whole post. And yes, Villiers got a mention in the Reformed Rakes Recommendsday, but the rest of the series weren’t as good value at that point or I’d have done them a post of their own before this!

These are Georgian-set romances – which is an earlier and naughtier time than the Regency. In Georgette Heyer terms, we’re Masqueraders and These Old Shades sort of times, in fashion (as you can see from the cover pix) it’s bodices to the actual waist rather than the Empire-lines of Bridgerton. Kiera Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice rather than Jennifer Ehle. In trope terms we’ve got a several already married couples among the duchesses with a variety of issues, as well as a cross dressing plot, so some of my favourite things. And then there is Villiers – as previously mentioned, the rake of rakes who gets his book at the end of the series when you’ve had time to watch him develop.T

These were written in the late 2000s – and the first four got a UK release, making them on of the first series I discovered when rampaging through my local library in search of more books like Julia Quinn. So if you’ve read the Bridgerton books after watching the Netflix series, these were written around the same time and gave the same sort levels of heat. There were six books in the initial Desperate Duchesses series, but there’s a spin off Desperate Duchesses By Numbers that Amazon and Kindle count as the same series but is a second generation so if you like them, there are 9 to binge on – and if you read the first six, you’ll figure out whose second generation it is and who you’ll get to see again. I think the later ones are slightly more steamy, but still fairly restrained by the levels you see in contemporary romance novels written at the same sort of time.

Hilariously you can chart the progress of historical romance availability by looking at how I consumed this series: I read the first four from the library, I own three in the American step back editions – the final two because they weren’t available in the UK in paperback or on kindle and Duchess by a Night because it was my favourite of the first four and I wanted to read it again and had moved away from the library service who had copies. And when I ordered it, the copy that turned up was the US version not the UK one. And then I have the Desperate Duchesses by Numbers on the kindle because that had changes by the time they came out!

Anyway, if you want to start a binge, Desperate Duchesses – aka the first book in the series is on offer for 99p on Kindle and the rest of the early books in the series are also quite cheap right now.

Happy Friday!

not a book, theatre

Not a Book: Ben De La Creme

We interrupt our scheduled programming for a rare midweek Not a Book post – because what’s the point of a review of a show if the show is already over…

Ben De La Crème’s new one woman show is called Ready to be Committed and it follows my favourite drag Queen as she tries to get married so she doesn’t end up alone and eaten by cats. The only problem, is well, everything – starting with the fact that she doesn’t have a groom. Over the course of the show De La goes on to breakdown marriage and the patriarchy in a style that she describes at the start as “take the smart but make it stupid”. She sings, she raps, she dances and she plays *all* the characters – including wedding cake toppers and a sentient Dorito.

And it’s very funny. De La’s character is a twist on a 50s-y ingenue and that makes her search for a husband (on Grindr) cringingly brilliant. It’s also very clever – think adult drag Queen Horrible Histories and you get a bit of a sense of some of it. And De La knows what she’s doing – most of the audience, like me were there because they had seen her on Drag Race rather than because they’d seen her live before (I know because she checked!) and she swept us all up in the personality that you knew from the show, but demonstrated that she has more range and versatility than you expected. And if you saw her on All Stars you already knew she was good.

This has been in my diary for two years – I originally bought a ticket to see this in February 2020 and it was one of the first casualties of the pandemic in my ticket box. I had the option to rearrange my ticket in to her Christmas show with Jinx Monsoon, but I hung on for Ready to be Committed and I’m so glad I did. Tuesday night when I went was the first night and it wasn’t full, so if you like the sound of it from the review you might be able to get a ticket, although I’m hoping for De La’s sake that it’s all sold out now! Run don’t walk!

Ben De La Creme is at the Leicester Square Theatre until Saturday, in Brighton on Sunday and then Manchester on Tuesday. Then she goes back to the US where the tour continues…

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: June Kindle offers

I’m trying a new thing this month, and doing a round up of good books that are on offer on Kindle in the UK at the moment. Now this will only work if there are books that I’ve read on offer, so who knows if it’ll be a regular thing!

Cover montage

First up is recent release Book Lovers, which I did a post about the day it came out, and which is now 99p. Perfect for reading on a sun lounger. And if you’re into Bridgerton and have already read the whole series, Just Like Heaven, the first book in Julia Quinn’s Smythe Smith series is 99p. I bought the paperback back when it first came out – in my pre-Kindle let along pre-blog days. The series is is about a group of young ladies who play in a string quartet – most of whom are oblivious to the fact that the music they play sounds terrible. Honoria is the exception – she knows they’re awful and she’s determined to get married so she doesn’t have to play any more. The hero is her brother’s best friend who is meant to be looking out for her and keeping her out of trouble…

I wrote about Paula Byrne’s biography of Barbara Pym a few months back and now the first Barbara Pym novel I read is on offer – ok the Kindle edition of Excellent Women isn’t as pretty as my designer hardback, but for 99p you don’t expect it to be. In other books I’ve mentioned recently, the first Nicola Upson Josephine Tey novel An Expert in Murder is 99p as well as Dear Little Corpses, the latest.

In other books I have recently mentioned, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, which came up in my books set in schools post, is also 99p, as is Three Sisters, Three Queens which one of the later Philippa Gregory Tudor books that I haven’t read yet! You’ll probably have noticed Sarah Morgan’s Beach House Summer on my in progress list – but it’s 99p at the moment as well if you want to try and finish it before me!

In past books of the week that are on offer, T J Klune The House in the Cerulean Sea was one last year, Lyssa Kay Adams’s The Bromance Book Club was one in 2019. In Authors who I like, but who I haven’t read *this* one of – there’s Ian Mortimer’s A Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval Britain – I’ve listened to the Elizabethan and Restoration ones of these on audiobook and they’re lovely, but I’ve never read (or listened to) this one.

There’s almost always a Terry Pratchett book on offer – that’s how I’ve picked up my Kindle copies to supplement my hard copies. This month it’s Eric (which I haven’t read in ages) and the very first one, the Colour of Magic, which as I explain in Where to start with Terry Pratchett isn’t actually where I tell people to start usually! Sadly the deal on Wee Free Men was a one day one, but it will come around again I’m sure.

In books I own but haven’t read yet, there is The Strawberry Thief, the fourth in Joanne Harris’s Chocolate series. Charlie Homberg’s The Paper Magician – which is the first in the series is 99p, books 2 and 3 are £1 each and only book 4 is not on offer (and the whole series is in Kindle Unlimited ). Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata, is one of two of hers sitting on the tbr shelf I think! Harriet Evans’ latest The Beloved Girls is 99p again too – I bought it last time it was on offer! There’s also Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, which I really need to read as I have a hard copy I borrowed from a friend about a year ago sitting on my bureau…

I read Umberto Eco’s In the Name of the Rose as part of my history degree, and I think £1.99 is a bit of a bargain for it, plus the latest cover is gorgeous. It was adapted for TV the other year, which was an interesting watch as it was much more violent than I remembered!

And finally, because this post has got super long, in books I mention because other people liked them but I didn’t, (and really didn’t in this case) there is Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had, which was even long listed for the Women’s Prize, which just goes to prove everything I’ve ever said about me and award nominated (or winning) novels!

Enjoy – I hope I haven’t cost you all too much money

Book of the Week, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Bloodlust and Bonnets

It was a really fun week of reading last week – and I had a few options for this today. But I decided to pick a graphic novel for the first time in a long time this week and it’s a really fun one.

Bloodlust and Bonnets is a pastiche of romantic literature, where a trio of misfits go chasing after vampires for Reasons. Lucy is an innocent and highly suggestible debutant. Shram is a mysterious bounty Hunter. Lord Byron is, well Lord Byron. There is a psychic eagle and a talking castle and lies, flirting and manipulation. And lots of gory slapstick stuff. It’s a lot of fun and very clever.

With my poor record of having read the classics, I think I’ve read more books about Romantic literature or pastiching romantic literature than I’ve actually read of actual classic novels this is based on, but I still got most of the jokes – especially about Byron after I read The House of Byron last year. And I really love Emily McGovern’s art – I have one of her Life as a Background Slytherin prints on my kitchen wall – and this is just as delightful. She does so much with not many lines and it’s so clever. As you can see from the cover, the faces are basically eyebrows and dots and yet they convey so much. It’s a delightful way to spend a few hours. This was McGovern’s first graphic novel – her second, Twelve Percent Dread, is out in July and I already have it on order at the comic book store.

My copy of Bloodlust and Bonnets came from my local comic store, and you should try yours first for it too – if they don’t have it they can order it in for you. Otherwise, you should be able to order it from the usual sources.

Happy reading!