book round-ups, mystery, romance, women's fiction

Veritys in fiction

Today is my birthday, so it seemed like a perfect time to talk about Veritys in fiction. I’ve always really liked my name, but it seems to give some people problems. Back in my reporting days, people used to mishear it all the time – I’d get messages to Sarah T, or Dorothy or a variety of V-names – and you should see the mess Starbucks make of it. There aren’t many of us, but here are five notable ones from my reading back catalogue.

Verity-Ann Carey – The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent Dyer

I think Verity-Ann was the first time I encountered my name in a book – and I didn’t really count it at the time because of the Ann! Verity-Ann is one of what I think of as the second generation of Chalet girls: she joins the school during the Second World War year’s in Armiford and becomes Mary-Lou’s sister-by-marriage. Verity-Ann is always described as silvery and fairy-like and has a beautiful singing voice. Even when I was a child I had nothing in common with her: my sister has banned me from singing in public and I’m a tall brunette. Never mind. The school stories are great though – even if Verity-Ann was never one of Brent Dyer’s pet characters and had very little to do except be dreamy and sing solos in school plays.

Verity Hunt – Nemesis by Agatha Christie

I saw this on television before I read the book and it creeped me out no end. I was eleven at the time and hadn’t met another Verity and one of the first ones I encountered was the murder victim in a Miss Marple! But once I got past the fact that the dead girl had the same name as me, it’s a cracker of a story – darker in the novel than the Joan Hickson TV version (don’t get me started on the Marple version – which had added nuns!). It’s not my favourite Miss Marple, but it’s right up there.

Verity Kindle – To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

A new discovery last year, Verity Kindle is the female lead in Willis’s time-travel romp. She’s also much more my style: for a start she’s a historian and a Cat fan. Well, sort of. To Say Nothing of the Dog was one of my favourite books of last year: a screwball comedy full of literary in jokes, Peter Wimsey references and all the worst bits of Victoriana. I’d been lent it by a friend and really didn’t want to give him his book back. Which reminds me, I must buy myself a copy so I can reread it and then lend it out….

Verity Browne in the Lord Edward Corinth series by David Roberts

Like me, Verity Browne is a journalist, however that’s pretty much where the similarities end. This Verity is abrasive and has communist sympathies – which don’t help her in the 1930s. I read this whole series nearly four years ago in my ongoing quest for good historical mystery series. This is very much Wimsey crossed with spies and Verity can be quite hard to like. But if you like mismatched detecting duos, they’re worth a look.

Verity Love – True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop books by Annie Darling

Verity Love is a bookseller at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop in Annie Darling’s first book, but in the sequel she gets her own happily ever after. This Verity is a huge Jane Austen fan who has invented herself a boyfriend to stop her friends’ attempts at matchmaking and to give herself an excuse not to do things she doesn’t want to. Of course this plan goes awry and she finds herself with a real pretend boyfriend. Lots and lots of fun and I had a lot of sympathy with this Verity! Also I can’t wait for book three in this series to come out next month.

So there you have it: five fictional Veritys to celebrate my birthday. I think there’s one for most reading tastes here, if you only read one, make it Verity Kindle. She’s smart, plucky, loyal and fun – a set of character traits most people would be happy with I think. And if you can think of any more Veritys I ought to read about, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, book round-ups, The pile

My Big Obsessions of 2017

We’re a few days in to 2018 now, so it’s well past time to tell you about my Big Obsessions of 2017.  I’ve found it really hard to find new obsessions this year – because so much of what I’ve read has been a continuation of things that I’ve been reading previously.  I think that’s partly because I discovered a lot of new authors last year and have continued to glom on them, but also because I’ve been trying to work my way through the to-read pile backlog rather than buying lots of new books.

But if 2017 was anything, it was the year of contemporary romance.  After getting into Sarah Morgan in 2016, I tried a lot of other contemporary romance authors this year.  Some of them weren’t my thing, but quite a few were.  I’ve been on quite a few binges on new authors this year and I suspect it may continue.  I finally read Jennifer Crusie‘s Bet Me, which I’d heard people raving about over and over in Romancelandia. I read nearly a dozen of Jill Shalvis‘s novels and discovered that I really quite like small town romances, eight of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s and got quite into sports romances even when they’re about American football and three Kristen Higgins books and thought about taking a trip to a winery.  I’ve started requesting a few more contemporary romances from NetGalley to see if there are any other tropes that I like.  So far I’ve worked out that I’m not a big fan of biker gangs and I really don’t like billionaires, but I’m hopeful that I’ll find some more that I do like at some point in 2018.

I’m still reading other genres though, especially crime and I’ve worked my way through a few series this year.  I’ve added Nick Bryan‘s Hobson and Choi series to my autobuy list, because I really need more snarky teen and cynical older bloke detective novels in my life.   I’m practically counting the days until the next Vinyl Detective novel from Andrew Cartmel, after reading the first two.  I’ve tried out some more of Henery Press’s cozy mysteries and found a couple of series there to dig into: the Tj Jenson series by Kathi Daley, Susan M Boyer‘s Lowcountry series and Julie Mulhern‘s 70s-set Country Club Murders.  Also in series set in the past, I read all three of the TE Kinsey Lady Hardcastle mysteries and the Christmas novella too and three more Royal Spyness books.

I have expanded my non-fiction reading this year – I’ve been concentrating on finding stories and voices from different perspectives than my own and I’ve really enjoyed it.  Actually that’s one of my themes in general this year in fiction as well.  It’s been a bit of a challenge at times, some times finding the books, but sometimes because I’ve got such a big selection of books to chose from that it means that I can ignore books on the shelf for ages in favour of things that are more familiar.  But I’m going to keep challenging myself in 2018.

So there you have it. It remains to be seen whether my consistency – as witnessed by revisiting my 2016 obsessions – will continue now the latest batch of renovation work is done and the book pile unpacked, but I hope I do add something random and new to my reading in 2018 or I might worry that I’m getting boring in my old age!

book round-ups

Magnificent Meals

It’s Christmas Day and I’m hoping that you’ll all be gorging yourselves on amazing food.  Spare a thought for me as you do, because I’m in the News Dungeon today – working the Big Day so other team members don’t have to (and so I don’t have to next year).  You should be all Christmas Booked up by now, so to celebrate the Big Meal on the Big Day I’ve put together a list of books with fabulous food, fantastic feasts or magnificent meals.  It has ended up being rather children’s book heavy, but hey it’s Christmas and the season for reading children’s books.  Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Boarding School books

I know.  I’ve mentioned my love for boarding school series enough already.  But back in the day, the writing about the midnight feasts in Mallory Towers or the meals at the Chalet School was enough to make Childhood Verity – queen of the fussy eaters – think she might be able to get over her dislike of all sorts of things.  At the Chalet School they didn’t have midnight feasts, but they did have fresh warm rolls – so far so good – accompanied by milky coffee for Kaffee and Kuchen.  Now coffee makes me feel sick* but I was convinced that I would have loved it.  From my memory, basically pick a Mallory Towers or St Clares and there’ll be a midnight feast or a food related mishap, if you want to go Chalet School, try The Chalet School and the Lintons which has a rare example of a midnight feast in the series or start with School at the Chalet for the full on Austrian food experience.

The Harry Potter series

I argued long and hard with myself about what to do with Harry Potter – because it’s sort of a boarding school series to start with but it goes far beyond that.  So separate it is.  Whether it’s Butter Beer or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans or the celebratory banquets there’s something fabulous about the food in the Potterverse.  I was eating a packet of Jelly Beans the other day and came across a gross one (Cinnamon I think) and all I could think of was Dumbledore and the earwax flavour.

Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers

This is very nearly a spoiler including this, but the last meal of Philip Boyes is gone over in such detail in this, the first of the Harriet and Peter books, that it’s forever stuck in my mind. And although for everyone else Turkish Delight is inexorably linked with Edmund in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, for me it’s more about this book.  Not that I’ve ever liked Turkish Delight anyway, but I swear this book would put you off it permeantly too!

Away from specific books and on to food stuffs…

Chowder

I’ve read a lot of cozy crime books set in New England and I think every series has invoked chowder at some point or another.  Whether it’s the local diner where the detective talks the crime through with her friends while eating a bowl or the weird looking out of the way hut that turns out to be the home of amazing seafood, set a mystery book (or series) in New England and someone will be eating chowder at some point.  Try Jenn McKinley’s Library Lover’s series if you fancy some Chowder action.

Ices from Gunter’s

It’s not a Regency Romance if someone hasn’t mentioned Ices from Gunter’s – whether they’ve been provided for a party or an afternoon trip for younger relatives. I blame Georgette Heyer for starting it, so that’s where I’m sending you.  The Grand Sophy has some Gunter’s action (also a problematic depitction of a Jewish Money lender which I suggest you just skip past) and so does Frederica and a number of others.  If you’re Heyered out, try some Julia Quinn – there’s definitely some Gunter’s action in at least one of the Bridgerton books.

And finally, if you’re at all interested in food in history, can I suggest The Greedy Queen by Annie Grey which looks at the food Queen Victoria and her household ate and where it came from.  Really, really interesting.

Enjoy your Christmas dinner – and I hope you got the books that you wanted and will have time to read them!

Happy Reading!

*Long story, but the TL:DR is travel sick child + coffee factory = psychosomatic link between coffee and vomiting.

book round-ups, Christmas books

Christmasy Books 2017

No Book of the Week this week, instead I have some Christmas-themed books for you to read that are not new.  Some of these may come up on offers as ebooks in the run up to the big day – so if they take your fancy it might be worth adding them to your watch list.

Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen

The sixth book in the Royal Spyness series (yes I still hate the name) sees Georgie acting as a paid hostess (not like that you filthy minded people) at a Christmas house party to escape from her own relations in Scotland.  But when there’s a spate of seemingly unconnected deaths in the village, Georgie is convinced that something more sinister is going on and starts investigating.  It would probably work best if you’ve already read some of the other books, but if you haven’t, Georgie is 30-somethingth in line to the throne, daughter of a newly impoverished Scottish Earldom and trying her best not to be married off to a chinless foreign prince by her royal relations.  In order to avoid this, she needs to find a way of earning some money of her own or find someone rich to marry herself. Trouble is she’s fallen in love with the equally impoverished and somewhat secretive heir to an Irish title and there’s not a lot of jobs suitable for an almost royal, especially an almost royal with a scandalous actress turned socialite for  a mother. Enjoy!

One Snowy Night by Jill Shalvis

A short but sweet seasonal novella about to ex-schoolmates sharing a ride back to their hometown for Christmas.  She’s always had a crush on him but he has reasons why she’s the last person he’d want to be with.  But being stuck in a blizzard with only his dog as a buffer between them sees secrets come out and a new way forward emerging.  This is part of Shalvis’s Heartbreaker Bay series, but I hadn’t read any of the other books when I read this and I enjoyed it just fine.  If you haven’t read any Shalvis before, my version had lots of first chapter (or two) previews for other books of hers two if you like it and want to dip your toe in and try more.

A Christmas Surprise by Jenny Colgan

Jenny Colgan has a Christmas novel pretty much every year – although I’m running a few behind (it’s only a three years since I mentioned trying not to buy this…)- usually a sequel to one of her previous novels.  They work best if you’ve already read the first one – or in this case two – books in the series, but they’re better if you have.  This is the third book about Rosie Hopkins and her sweetshop in the wilds of Derbyshire.  Helpfully it has a story-so-far catchup section at the start for newbies.  Despite the title, it’s not all festive cheer – and covers a difficult, but ultimately rewarding year in Rosie’s life.  I had a little sniffle at a couple of points – and although I had a problem with the portrayal of one character (the social worker), it was ultimately an enjoyably Christmassy experience.

I’ve already mentioned a lot of Sarah Morgan books this year – and in the last few months – but her Christmas romances are rotating through offers at the moment – so here is my review of Moonlight over Manhattan – but the Snow Crystal Christmas books and the Puffin Island Christmas book are also very good.