Best of..., book round-ups, series

Series of the Year 2022

So this is the point where I look back on the series I’ve read this year and pick out some highlights for you.

Let’s start with a new to me discovery – Her Majesty the Queen Investigates. These were fun cozy Murder mysteries with a royal twist. As I said in my series post about them, I think they work best in slightly closed settings – or at least not London – but I liked the characters and the tone a lot. It’s a shame there’s a year until the next one.

Moving on to Richard Osman. This year we got the third Thursday Murder Club book and they continue to be both clever and witty and fun but occasionally heartbreaking. This is the series that spawned the copycats that are popping up all over the place at the moment – I’m reading my way through some of them so you don’t have to!

I really enjoyed the Nanette Hayes mysteries, but I wish there were more of them. I am still looking for more 90s crime series that I missed out on (too young at the time!) and can catch up on now because they do seem to work for me – see some of the Fahrenheit series I’ve enjoyed. And I have another of the Liz Evans books waiting that I picked up from the charity book stall at the shopping centre. If you have any suggestions please do whack them in the comments please.

I’ve also carried on working my way though some of the other series I’ve been reading for years. I’m up basically up to date on the Kate Shackleton series now, as well as Dandy Gilver. It continues to be tricky to find new historical-set mystery series that I don’t wish to throw across the room, but I’m still trying. I hope Carola Dunn is having a happy retirement but I do miss her and the prospect of a new Daisy Dalrymple. But I’ve basically binged the Mary Russell series over the last two years, which has been good, but that age gap still annoys me. Royal Spyness continues and Kerry Greenwood has written a new Phryne that I’m saving for a special occasion. All hail Kerry.

Roll on 2023!

Best of..., book round-ups

Books of the Year: New Non-fiction

Following on from Tuesday’s post about new release fiction, today I’m looking back at my favourite new non-fiction of the year, and this is a list that skews somewhat towards the memoir I’m afraid. But hey, there have been some really good ones this year, so sorry not sorry. Oh, and after all the success of my fiction picks matching up with the Goodreads picks, today we’re back to normal…

Stories I Might Regret Telling You by Martha Wainwright

Things I might regret telling you

This comes in the brutally honest confessional memoir category – as I said in my BotW review, possibly the most unflinching one I’ve read since Viv Albertine‘s. Martha Wainwright carries the personal revelations you’re used to in her music (Bloody Motherf*cking Asshole for example) into her look at her life so far. I saw her live in London this summer and she read a few excerpts from the book as well as singing songs from through her career and it was great. Anyway, if you haven’t listened to any of her music, but are interested in what it’s like to be an artist/creative type in a whole family of artists, this will still work for you.

A Pocketful of Happiness by Richard E Grant

A Pocketful of Happiness

This is another very raw book- Richard E Grant’s memoir about the loss of his wife and their life together. I read it on holiday and the showbizzy stories helped break up the sad bits and added up to something quite special. He’s very clearly still not over it, and maybe should have waited a little longer to write it, but his love for his wife and their wonderful marriage shines through it all. I hope writing it has helped him – and also that the reaction from readers helps too. You can see more about it in my BotW review.

Mean Baby by Selma Blair

Mean baby

Selma Blair’s memoir is another person looking back at their life fairly unflinchingly, perhaps unexpectedly if you only know about her from her movies. This is another book that featured in my Actor Memoirs post, and was nominated for Best Memoir or Autobiography in the Goodreads Choice awards – but lost out to Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died (which is also on my list). One of the fascinating things about this book is that despite some terrible behaviour at various times, Selma is clearly the sort of person that people want to be friends with because she’s managed to keep so many people in her life despite of the self destructive behaviour and alcoholism.

Get Rich or Lie Trying by Symeon Brown*

Get Rich or Lie Trying

Finally something that’s not a memoir- right! Anyway this looks at the influencer economy and social media and provided me with plenty of food for thought. It was a BotW back in March and a lot of it has stuck with me. As I said in that review, I’ve got a long standing fascination with books and podcasts about scams, and this sort of fits into that in a weird way – it’s not one big con like Bad Blood or Bad Bets but it’ll give you a sense of all the sort of scams that the internet has opened up.

And an honourable mentions should go to Harvey Fierstein’s memoir I Was Better Last Night about his amazing life in showbizness. I told you it was a memoir heavy list!

Best of..., book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Not New Books of the Year

So yesterday we had new fiction books of the year, tomorrow I have new non-fiction for you, but today we have my favourite not new books of the year.

Ask a historian cover

Lets start with the newest – and it’s Greg Jenner’s Ask a Historian, which is out now in paperback and answers all sorts of questions that he’s been asked over his years as a public historian. He also has a new book for kids this year called You Are History, which I haven’t read yet but sounds like it’s a middle grade cross between Ask a Historian and his A Million Years in a Day. Anyway, Greg’s writing style is as much fun as he is in his podcasts, and Ask a Historian is a great book for reading in little bits when you get a chance, if you’re trying to get more reading done for example, because the question and answer format makes it easy to pick up and put down.

Moving on to some fiction, and I found it really hard to pick my favourite of the Persephone books I read as part of my gift subscription last Christmas, so I’ve ended up including a few of them here. Jocelyn Playfair’s A House in the Country was written during the war and deals with wartime life at a big country house. If you like books like The Cazalet Chronicles or Dorothy Whipple, then this maybe one for you to read. Then there’s The Young Pretenders by Henrietta Fowler about two young children who move to live with their aunt and uncle while they wait for their parents to return from India. I feel like if you’re the sort of person who liked Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes when you were younger, then this might be a book for you.

I’ve read a lot of classic crime this year – as all the British Library Crime Classics posts I’ve done demonstrate – but it’s been hard to pick favourites. So I’ve gone with a couple that were Books of the Week – Green for Danger by Christianna Brand, the creepy war time murder mystery in a hospital; Fire in the Thatch by E C R Lorac, about an arson attack; John Dickson Carr’s Til Death Do Us Part, with an impossible locked room mystery and Lois Austen-Leigh’s The Incredible Crime about a a murder and a drug gang in Cambridge.

This is already a long list, but two more before I go – for kids, Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais about three girls’ cross country cycle trip in France, and a romance: Jackie Lau’s Donut Fall In Love which features a Hollywood movie star and a baker falling in love and taking part in a baking show. Not necessarily in that order!

Happy Reading!

Best of..., book round-ups

Books of the Year: New Fiction

We’re hurtling towards the end of the year, and so it’s time for my annual lookback at what I read this year and for me to try and pick my favourite things. Today we’re looking at the new release fiction that I’ve loved this year. And trust me when I say it’s been tough! And it doesn’t happen often, but for once some of the books that I loved have made it onto a bunch of best books of the year lists. Oh and I should add that this only looks at standalone books and not later instalments in series.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin*

Cover of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

I’ve already recommended Gabrielle Zevin’s novel to a bunch of people – and it’s been named Amazon’s Book of the Year, as well as being voted Fiction book of the year in Goodreads Choice Awards as well as Book of the Month’s favourite of the year in their vote and it’s on The Atlantic’s Most Thought-Provoking Books of the Year too. It’s a hard one to describe – even Zevins says she struggles! – although I did give it a go in my BotW review but it’s a story about friendships and opportunities missed and love all set in the world of computer games development. I think there’s something here for most people, even if they’re not expecting it. It’s being turned into a movie – so read it now and be ahead of the game!

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Cover of Lessons in Chemistry

And another of my favourites that other people are picking too is Bonnie Garmus’ novel about Elizabeth Zott. It also won a prize at the Goodreads Choice awards – this time best debut, but it’s also on the Good Housekeeping list, and she’s also Waterstones’ Author of the Year. Elizabeth is a chemist turned TV chef who uses her platform to try and improve women’s lives, all while bringing up her daughter alone. I read this the same week that I read The Unsinkable Greta James (see below) – so this ended up in Quick Reviews rather than as a BotW – but it was in my best books of the first half of the year – and I’ve kept recommending it since, but do please bear in mind the warning for sexual violence and death early in the book. This one is also getting an adaptation this time into a series – Brie Larson is starring in it and it’s going to be on Apple TV+ next year apparently.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry*

Cover of Book Lovers

I’ve actually done quite well in the Goodreads Choice awards this year – because Book Lovers won Best Romance – beating out TikTok favourite Colleen Hoover, even if you add her two nominated books together! This is big city literary agent in a small town for the summer where she discovers a professional enemy is also in residence. It’s a delight – I love enemies to lovers romances as you know and add a twist on the small town trope and it’s just a delight.

The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E Smith

Unsinkable Greta James

Now this got a whole lot less attention than the picks above, which is a shame because I adored it. I picked it as a BotW over Lessons in Chemistry partly because it was lesser known, and it really annoys me that more people haven’t heard about it. Greta is an indie popstar with a problem – she has writers block after her mother’s death and a meltdown on stage. She finds herself accompanying her father on the Alaskan Cruise that he was meant to be taking with her mum and things happen. It’s wonderful if sad at times, but the ending is perfect.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Killers of a Certain Age

Now this was nominated for Best Crime and Thriller in the Goodreads Choice, but lost out to Nita Prose’ The Maid, which I read at the start of the year and enjoyed, but I think this is more fun. It’s about a group of women who have spent their lives working for an elite agency of assassins, but upon retiring find that they are now the targets. If you like Raybourn’s historical mystery series, you’ll like this. And if you’ve read the Richard Osman Thursday Murder Club books and are looking for something sort-of similar (The Bullet that Missed was also nominated in the same category) this might well scratch that itch.

That’s my five fiction picks. Honourable mentions should go to Carrie Soto is Back – which won the Historical fiction prize in Goodreaders choice (beating Lessons in Chemistry) – Thank You for Listening, Mad About You and Something Wilder.

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!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: October Quick Reviews

As promised yesterday, here is this month’s batch of quick reviews – and stay til the end for the links to the other bits and bobs from this month.

The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Croft

The first of two British Library Crime Classics novels this month, this features a really intriguing series of disappearances. The Hog’s back of the title is a ridge in the North Downs near where Dr James Earl and his wife live. When the doctor disappears from his home, initially it seems like a domestic affair – with a husband giving up on an unhappy marriage, but then other people disappear mysteriously – including one of his house guests. Yesterday I mentioned that the suspense element of When Stars Collide doesn’t follow the rules of mysteries – well this not only follows the rules, at the end when Inspector French is talking you through his solution, it gives you the page numbers for the clues!

Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

The second BLCC is a variation on the locked room mystery – with the victim in a compartment on a moving train when he is shot. At first it seems like Sir Wilfred Saxonby has shot him self, but there’s no motive and soon inconsistencies appear and a murder investigation is underway. I had the solution- or most of the solution worked out before the end of this but it was still a good read, although if you’re only going to read one of these, maybe make it Hogs Back because that’s a totally baffling one for a long time.

The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatio Sancho by Paterson Joseph*

This was the very last book I finished in October and definitely deserves its mention here. This fits into the fictionalised real lives genre – in this case the life of a black writer and composer who lived in Regency London. As you might expect there are significant challenges facing him – and they are presented in this in the guise of a diary designed for his son to read when he is older (and it is suggested that Sancho will not be around to tell him them himself). Sancho was born on a slave ship and was given as a gift to three sisters who brought him up to be their servant before he escaped from them. I won’t say much more than that because it gives too much away – maybe I have already. The author is the actor Paterson Joseph who has spent two decades researching the life of his main character which he turned into a play before he wrote this novel.

And there’s a stack of other books I’ve written about – including older lady killers and other adventure stories, plenty of Halloween options if you still want spooky reading but also a really moving memoir and four series to get into

Happy Humpday!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: September Quick Reviews

As previously mentioned September was a very strange month, with a somewhat truncated reading list, so I don’t have a lot to talk about this month at all. After all I skipped a whole bunch of Books of the Weeks for various reasons. And so there are only two quick reviews for you today – sorry about that.

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood

When Bee gets her dream job working at NASA, her celebrations are cut short when she discovers that the co-lead on her project is Levi, her grad school arch-nemesis. When she arrives in Houston, her equipment is missing and the other staff are ignoring her, but maybe Levi might be on her side after all? I read this in The Week of Shingles and although I didn’t love it the way that I loved The Love Hypothesis, it was still exactly the book that I needed to read at the time. I’m a little fed up of Teeny Tiny heroines and Great Big Heroes – but that may be because I am 5’10” and no one is ever picking me up and carrying me around! I will never be tired of competency porn though, and Bee (and Levi) are very, very good at their jobs. I was expecting one strand of the plot to be A Bigger Thing in the resolution, but actually the whole of the end wrapped up very quickly – but it was very satisfying.

Bats in the Belfry by E C R Lorac

I’ve recommended a few E C R Lorac books now – and this is another good one. For some reason I don’t have a photo of the British Library Crime Classic edition that I read, so you’ll have to make do with this Crime Club cover that the kindle edition has. Anyway this is the story of the mysterious disappearance of Bruce Attleton. Bruce had a dazzling start to his literary career but has fizzled ever since. He’s been receiving threatening phone calls and then when he’s suddenly called away to Paris he seems to vanish completely – until his suitcase is discovered in an artists studio in Notting Hill. Inspector MacDonald is the man in charge of figuring out what has happened. It’s clever and intricate and worth sticking with – also it appears I’ve read three of these that are next to each other in the series – this comes immediately after These Names Make Clues, which comes after Post After Post Mortem.

That’s it. I said there were only two. I don’t even have a lot of links for the month either, so rather than depress myself further at how badly September went, let’s end it here.

Happy Wednesday everyone.

book round-ups, books on offer, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: September Kindle Offers

Another month, another batch of Kindle offers for you all to enjoy.

Let’s start with one I’ve recommended already this year: A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle is 99p – I suspect to coincide with that paperback release which I mentioned the other day in Books in the Wild. In things I read, but longer ago, there is The Ex Hex by Rachel Hawkins, Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld and former Book of the Week V for Victory by Lissa Evans – although as that’s the third of three connected novels, you’ll get the most out of it if you read the others first. Recommended even longer ago is Rosie Effect by Graeme Simision – which has reminded me that I need to read the final book in that trilogy too!

There are a couple of other recent releases too – I’ve read Infamous by Lex Croucher*, which is billed as Bridgerton’s rowdy little sister – but I haven’t got to Ten Years by Pernille Hughes yet, although it is waiting on my kindle. Also waiting on my kindle is The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson which came out last year originally.

In old favourites, there’s one of my very favourite Katie Fforde books at 99p this month Stately Pursuits must be nearly 20 years old now, but a lot of the tropes you’ll find in it are still among my favourites: a grumpy brooding hero, something that needs saving (in this case a big old house) and a heroine who just throws herself into tackling any problem in her path.

In series I love, Tales from the Folly by Ben Aaronovitch – the short story collection that ties in to Rivers of London is 99p this month, and I don’t remember seeing it this cheap before. In other series with books on offer, MC Beaton Death of a Bore in the Hamish Macbeth series is 99p. I’ve only read a few JD Robbs, but I know they’re hugely popular and the series is really long – so always good to pick them up on offer. This month it’s Judgement in Death, the 11th in the series

Some of the Georgette Heyer novels now seem to be dropping out of copyright and appearing in random editions (or at least I think that’s what they are) but in terms of the editions that I know are proper and well formatted etc, this month it’s Spanish Bride on offer for 99p. This is one of the less traditional Heyers – it’s got all the battle description that I find the least interesting bit of Infamous Army and is based on a true story. Spoiler: The marriage happens very early. The £1.99 Heyers are the aforementioned Infamous Army, Pistols for Two (the short stories collection), my beloved Devil’s Cub and another slightly more obscure one – Beauvallet.

And finally in non fiction, Andrew Lownie’s The Mountbattens is 99p – I haven’t read this yet, but I very much enjoyed his book Traitor King this time last year. And Burnout by Emily Nagoski is also on offer. I read this before the pandemic, but I think the help and advice it offers is needed more now than ever.

Hopefully there’s something here for you somewhere. Have a good Wednesday.

book round-ups, Recommendsday

August Quick reviews

There’s definitely not as much to write about this month – because I’ve already written about so many books that I read in August! Still I have scared up three books to tell you about today so, yay me.

Quick Curtain by Alan Melville

I talked about a bunch of theatre-set books of various types in August – and here’s another which was part of my haul from the conference book sales. Alan Melville’s murder mystery is another that sees an actor murdered on stage in front of an audience. Where it differs from the Ngaio Marsh novels with a similar premise is the satirical slant it takes on the detecting. On that front it’s closer to Nancy Spain’s Cinderella Goes to the Morgue, although this does care about solving the crime! A very nice way to spend an afternoon.

Femina by Janina Ramirez*

This is a fascinating look at the Middle Ages via the lives of writings and artifacts left behind by some of the women who lived through the period. Some of the names were people I had heard of, but I knew very little about any of them except for Margery Kempe. This is easy to read, but incredibly well researched and has plenty of pictures of the artifacts being talked about. It also has a huge bibliography at the back if you want to go and read more about any of the women. Well worth a look, even if you don’t usually do books on the Middle Ages. I mentioned this on publication day and it’s taken me a while to finish – but that’s because my brain has been fried and I only had the concentration for small bursts. Luckily it’s broken down into nice bite-sized sections!

Knit to Kill by Anne Canadeo

This is more of a lesson in doing more research than a review, because I picked this up on Kindle Unlimited thinking it was a first in series – because it says it is in the title but when I started reading it it really confused me because it didn’t read like introducing a new set of characters. So off to Goodreads I went where I discovered it was actually the first since a change of publishers – and actually the ninth book about this set of characters. Then things made more sense. Remind me to research the KU stuff the same way I do the rest of the books in future!

And in case you’ve forgotten, here’s all the other books I talked about in August: Piglettes, A Time to Dance, Thank you for Listening, Husband Material, A Twist of the Knife, the Sadler’s Wells Series, Swallows and Amazons series, London Celebrities series, Amory Ames series, books set in theatres, late summer romances and Actor Memoirs.

Happy Wednesday!

book round-ups, memoirs, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Actor Memoirs

This Recommendsday post has been a long time in the making, but actually really fits in with the theme of this month in a way – I’ve written about the theatre and careers on the stage a fair bit – but also featured a children’s film starring one of the actors in it!

Forever Young by Hayley Mills

So lets start with that one – Hayley Mills is the star of my favourite version of The Parent Trap, but was also the biggest child star of her day. She was born into an acting family – her father was Sir John Mills, her Mother Mary Hayley Bell and her sister Juliet is also an actress. She won a Bafta for her first film role and was signed by Disney. This book takes you through her childhood career and what happened when she grew up. It’s got plenty of Old Hollywood and British Acting Royalty detail in it as well as all the sorts of thing you want to know about being a child star and what sort of effect it has on you. It doesn’t talk a lot about her life after the mid-1970s, but given that most people are probably reading this because they’ve watched her juvenile performances, and by that point she’s all grown up and married, that’s probably a reasonably wise decision unless the book was going to be much longer. The good news is that I came out of the end still liking her, although some of the decisions she made in her early adulthood were not the best!

Home Work by Julie Andrews

From the star of one of my favourite childhood films to the star of two of them! This is the second memoir that Julie Andrews has written – and the first of them, Home, finishes just before she becomes a major star. So as the Sound of Music and Mary Poppins are among my favourite movies, I was looking forward to reading this to see what the experience of making them was like for her. And that is in there – but just not in as much detail as I was expecting. Andrews and her co-writer, her daughter Emma, rattle through 30 years of her career and personal life at breakneck speed and without ever really letting you in on what Andrews was thinking or feeling. She’s been in psychoanalysis since the 1960s, so you would assume that she has more insight into what was going on than she is telling you, but she’s definitely keeping you at an arms length and preserving that Old School Hollywood aloofness that some old school stars like her have cultivated since the early days of their career. Now whether some of her reluctance to talk about what must have been the very real difficulties of her second husband’s prescription drug dependence are because she was writing this not long after his death (or even before) and she doesn’t have the perspective yet, I don’t know. But for all that the details of making Mary Poppins and SoM are satisfying (in as much of them as you get, and I’m not sure there’s masses here I didn’t already know) the lack of everything else holds this back.

I Was Better Last Night by Harvey Fierstein

Most of us probably first saw Harvey Fierstein in Mrs Doubtfire – or heard his voice in Mulan, but Fierstein is something of a Broadway legend – he wrote the play Torch Song Trilogy, the book for the musical version of La Cage aux Folles and won a Tony as the original Broadway Edna in Hairspray. His memoir follows him through growing up in 1950s Brooklyn through all those big moments and achievements. It’s a long and hard journey – with addiction and loss along side spectacular highs but as well as being a personal story, it also shows the development and evolution of New York theatre in the last third of the twentieth century and the changing face of gay culture.

Mean Baby by Selma Blair

At the other end of the spectrum to Julie Andrews is Selma Blair’s memoir. Blair doesn’t hold anything back – her drinking from an incredibly young age, her fraught relationship with her mum, her self destructive behaviour – it’s all here along along with the professional successes you already know about, or at least that you know about if you’re my age – Legally Blonde, Cruel Intentions, Hellboy – and her activism after her diagnosis with MS three years ago. It’s a story of resilience through adversity and proof that no matter how someone’s life might look like on the outside – movie roles, front row seats at fashion shows – you never know what is going on in secret and the struggles that are going on behind the scenes.

And that’s your lot for this post. I do have several more actor memoirs sitting on the pending self, so there may well be a follow up at some point, but who knows when that might be given my current track record!

Happy Humpday everyone!