Book of the Week, crime, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Black Plumes

Another week, another classic crime Book of the Week pick. And this time it’s a Margery Allingham that’s *not* an Albert Campion. On to that in a second, but first a reminder that there will be Mini Reviews tomorrow, and that if you missed the July Stats you can find them here.

Black Plumes starts with the slashing of a painting at a prestigious art gallery. Then the owner’s son-in-law is murdered. At the centre of the mystery is 90-year-old Gabrielle Ivory, formerly a society beauty, now side-lined by the younger generation who think she’s past it. But as the mystery develops it becomes clear that she may know more than they think she does – and she’s not going to let them ignore the threat to the gallery and chalk it up as a practical joker – even if there is a risk that the person behind them may be rather close to home.

This is a clever and atmospheric murder mystery. There are a lot of unlikeable characters in this, but also a lot of suspects – not all of whom are the unlikeable ones! You see this story mostly by following Frances, youngest of the Ivorys. At the start of the book her brother-in-law is pressuring her to marry the unpleasant co-owner of the gallery and artist and family friend, David Field, proposed a fake engagement to her as a way of getting out of it. Frances is convinced that something is wrong at the gallery but her concerns are dismissed by other members of the family – even after the murder has happened. David – whose painting is the one that is slashed at the start of the novel – is one of the only people who listens to her, but he is a bit of a rogue and some of the clues seem to point at him. I really enjoyed it – and if you haven’t read any Allingham before, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – especially as the Campion series takes a while to settle in, which can make it tricky for people who like to start series at the beginning.

My copy came from Kindle Unlimited but it’s also available to buy on Kindle where they also have a modern paperback edition, which Foyles also has available to order but not in store pickup. This was originally published in 1940 so there are likely to be second hand copies around – but I can see from some reviews mention of racially offensive language, which as I didn’t notice it in my Kindle edition has presumably been edited out in the newer versions but which will be in old editions

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, historical, new releases

Book of the Week: Yours Cheerfully

As I said yesterday, plenty that I want to write about from last week’s reading, so it was hard to pick what to write about today. But in the end I went with Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce because it made me smile and it’s been a while since I wrote about some historical fiction. On top of that it came out last week so I’m being timely *and*’my paperback copy of V for Victory turned up the other day – just to remind me how much I like books like this when they are done well. And this one is done well and has a pretty cover. What’s not to like.

Yours Cheerfully is the sequel to Dear Mrs Bird, which I reviewed in a summer reading round up a couple of years back – after reading it on a sun lounger in Gran Canaria. Those were the days. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy Yours Cheerfully, but if you have you will get a little more out of it, purely because you know the characters better, not because you’re missing chunks of plot or backstory. We rejoin Emmy as she is finding her feet as the new advice columnist at Women’s Friend. The war is in full swing and the magazine is soon asked to take part in a ministry of information campaign to recruit more women workers for the war effort. Emmy is excited to step up and help, but soon she is finding out that there are a lot of challenges for war workers – and she wants to try and help her new friends.

Where Dear Mrs Bird focused very much on Emmy’s own problems at work to create the drama and tension, swapping that for Emmy’s dilemma about helping the women in the munitions factory works well – if you’ve read the first book you can see Emmy’s growing confidence in her role at the magazine and her journalistic ambitions. A more obvious option would have been to focus on Emmy’s relationship and whether her sweetheart would be sent abroad to fight but even aside from my dislike of splitting couples up in sequels purely for the drama, this works much better – and the knowledge of the worries of the women at the factory heightens your sense of the stakes for Emmy as well as providing context for the wider peril of the war – because it could all have been a little cozy and felt a bit low stakes – despite the war. That’s not to say this is a gritty depressing read – because it’s not -it’s charming and the magazine world is lovely – but it’s not saccharine or unbearably rose tinted. Like the first book this ends a bit unexpectedly and in a bit of a rush but I really enjoyed spending time with Emmy and Bunty and Charles and seeing what was happening at the magazine. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a third to come. I’m certainly hoping there is!

My copy of Yours Cheerfully came via NetGalley, but as I mentioned to the top it’s out now in Kindle and Kobo as well as in hardback. I saw Dear Mrs Bird in quite a lot of shops when that came out, so I’m hoping this will be the same. Judging by the fact that Foyles have it in stock for click and collect at a bunch of their locations, I’m optimistic on that front.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Second First Impressions

After yesterday’s little essay at the start of my Week in Books I feel a little bit like I’ve already talked way too much this week. But I’ve got plans in my head for a summer reading post and a couple of last weeks books are likely to feature in that. So this weeks BotW is a fun and frothy romance, perfect for reading any time of year, not just in a sunny garden in summer.

Ruthie has been working at Providence Retirement Villas for six years. That’s her whole adult life – and she’s turned the job into her entire life. She’s shrunk her world so that it revolves around the residents (human and turtles) and maintaining the place. She is nervous, risk averse, acts way older than her age and her latest fear is what the property developer who has just bought the site might do to up end her life. It turns out that the first thing he’s going to do is land Providence with his son. Teddy has run out of places to stay and needs to raise money for his share of the tattoo parlour he wants to open. He’s tall, dark and handsome – and dangerous for Ruthie’s self control. So she sets him up with the one job no one has ever lasted at: personal assistant to two rich, 90 year old trouble making ladies – who get most of their enjoyment from setting their assistants fiendish tasks. But Teddy looks set to be the one who stays the course – but is his charm for real or is is all just an act?

That’s quite a long plot summary and makes this sound way more complicated than it is. It’s a charming opposites attract romance with a sweet but wary heroine and a charming people pleaser hero who have to do a lot of figuring out about what they both want in life. The retirement village provides an excellent cast of supporting characters to make you laugh as you watch Ruthie and Teddy do some cautious getting to know each other. It does suffer a little bit from the end wrapping up too quickly (oh a common theme returns to my reviews) but I sort of forgive it because it was just so charming for the rest of the book. I’ve been hearing good things about Sally Thorne for a while, but this is the first time I’ve managed to get around to reading one of her books – even though I think I may own the Hating Game. I am annoyed that it’s taken me so long. But again: what is new there. In summary: charming escapist reading.

My copy of Second First Impressions came from the library but it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo and in (very expensive) hardback. No paperback (in the UK at least) until next year.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, literary fiction, new releases, Thriller, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Feast

Well it was actually a proper contest for BotW this week between this and the new Taylor Jenkins Reid book, Malibu Rising, but The Feast really impressed me and is definitely lower on the radar than the TJR. But I’m sure I’ll find a way to talk about that too – after all summer holidays are coming – theoretically at least, so perhaps there’s a sunlounger (in your garden if no where more exotic) reading post in my future!

Cover of The Feast

This one is really hard to summarise without giving too much away, and that would really ruin some of the enjoyment, but here goes: At the start of The Feast we hear about the Pendizak Manor Hotel, now buried under a collapsed cliff, with seven guests dead. The rest of the book is set in the week running up to that cliff collapse, which happened in the middle of summer 1947. You spend the book getting to know all the people who live and work at the hotel and the ins and outs of their lives. I went through the book wondering whether it was going to turn out to be a thriller, or a tragedy or something else – it’s a complete page-turner. And the characters, oh the characters. Of all of the adults, there’s really only Nancy who is sensible. The hotel is owned by a formerly genteel family fallen on hard times and who have turned the family home into a boarding house to try and make ends meet, and their guests tend to be people Mrs Siddal thinks are the “right sort” – although as you learn about them, you realise that “the right sort” may not be nice people at all…

The Feast was first published in 1949 and this is a new edition with an introduction from Cathy Rentzenbrink. Now I’ve been had by spoilers in introductions before so I deliberately skipped it before I read it so it wouldn’t ruin anything for me and I recommend you do the same because it really repaid me – both in reading the book the first time through and then when I read the introduction in giving me more layers and levels to think about. I read Margaret Kennedy’s more famous book, The Constant Nymph, a couple of years back and could see why it was influential, but didn’t love it – mostly because the characters were annoying but not in a so annoying you want to see them get their comeuppance sort of way – but with this lot, the ones that are annoying are really annoying, and you have the added suspense of whether they’re going to end up under the cliff or not! And on top of everything, the cover for this new edition is gorgeous too. I’m seriously tempted to get myself a physical copy.

Anyway, my copy of The Feast came from NetGalley, but this new edition is out now in paperback – Foyles appear to have copies at Charing Cross Road (and a couple of other London stores) and Bristol judging by their click and collect, so I’m hoping it’ll be fairly findable in the larger book stores. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo. Audible also appear to have a fresh version of it too – which is a bit tempting I have to say. The blurb describes this as “rediscovered” which suggests that it may not be that easy to find secondhand – the cheapest that aren’t this new edition all appear to be in the US (with the associated postage costs) so it might have to be an actual antiquarian/second hand bookshop rather than the charity shop if you want something older, but the introduction in this edition is a really nice touch – provided of course you don’t read it first!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, romance

Book of the Week: Wilde Child

As I said yesterday, a busy week in real life last week and a lot of reoccurring authors on the list. But for today’s BotW pick I’m back into my romance happy place, with the latest book from an old favourite author of mine – Eloisa James.

A little bit of my historical romance reading origin story first: Eloisa James was one of the first current historical romance authors I read back when I discovered that there were modern authors doing takes on Georgette Heyer, back in my Southend days so circa 2009 – about a decade after I first read Georgette Heyer – I know. What took me so long? I don’t know – except I suppose that back when I was reading Georgette Heyer originally there wasn’t really a section of the UK market that was historical romance that wasn’t Mills and Boon – and that was what my granny read. Then – and I know exactly how it happened – I saw Julia Quinn’s What Happens in London in the window of Waterstones on Southend High Street and went to investigate. The Essex Library system was good – and I then requested and worked my way through every Julia Quinn they had and started to look for other similar authors. And it turned out there were a few authors who had made the jump across the Atlantic – and you just had to know what to look for in the cover art. My first Eloisa James was Duchess by Night – with a blindfolded lady in a corseted dress on the cover. And I ate up that series – or as much as it as was published in the UK. Which was not all of it – and at that point they weren’t available on Kindle – even if I had had one* so I started looking at the US editions, with their very, very different covers to the UK ones and started ordering them so I could get to Villiers’ story. And so what I’m saying here is that I have a long history with Eloisa James and I see her books as reliable comfort reads for me.

This is the sixth in the Wilde’s of Lindow Castle series, and the titular Wilde Child is Joan, who the Duke of Lindow has raised as his own despite the fact that her father is the Prussian count who his (now ex) wife had an affair with. This fact of her birth has made her some what scandalous – and she has done every thing in her power to scandalise the polite society who judge her for something she can’t help or change. Our hero is Viscount Greywick, who needs sensible scandal free wife but just can’t help trying to keep Joan out of trouble. The two of them strike a bargain – he’ll help her achieve her dream of acting on stage (incognito of course) and then she’ll settle down and marry a man of his choosing. We all know where this is going, without me even saying any more than that.

Now, this is not perfect. I like others of James’ books more. I think the relationship skips a stage – they go straight from antipathy to liking each other, without really properly explaining how. Yes, there are a lot of “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I can’t stop touching your hair” books out there – but there’s usually a big revelation moment where they work out that that it’s not actually hate, it’s repressed desire – and that doesn’t quite land here. I still think James’ earlier books are cleverer and funnier, but I read it this in under 24 hours and it made me smile – and having read all the other books in this series, I’m just a touch invested and I liked seeing the previous couples reappear. I am going to go on record that I have been holding out hope throughout the series that the at some point Horatius, the dead eldest son, is going to turn out not to be dead and reappear to close the series, not just because of The Drama but also because that would solve one of the ongoing problems of one of the couples – which makes a reappearance in this story (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read North’s book). James has her first book out under her own name (Mary Bly) soon – which is a contemporary women’s fiction novel – so I’m hoping this isn’t it for Eloisa James – but it may well be.

My copy of Wilde Child came from the library, but it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback – and these are often spotted in the supermarkets and book stores – at time of writing, Foyles have it in stock in six of their seven stores.

Happy Reading!

* I got my first Kindle in May 2012 before I went to Poland to work at EURO 2012 – because lord knows I wasn’t going to be able to take enough books to read with me for a month.

new releases, Thriller

Book of the Week: Dial A for Aunties

As I said yesterday, lots of reading done last week to finish of April. Mini-Reviews coming up tomorrow, but today’s Book of the Week is quite hard to define by genre, but it’s one of the most fun books I’ve read so far this year. And bonus: it was new last week so I’m on time with my review again!

Cover of Dial A for Aunties

Meddelin Chan has always thought that her family are a pain. Her mum and her three aunts are always messing in her life, and not just because they all work together in the family wedding business. But when Meddelin accidentally kills her blind date, the aunts swing into action to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately it’s also the night before their biggest job yet: a swanky billionaire’s wedding at an island resort. An already tricky situations – trying to find a way to get rid of the body and make the wedding perfect – gets even worse when it turns out that Meddelin’s The One That Got Away is on the island too. Can the Chan’s pull it all off: disposing of a corpse, the perfect wedding and getting Meddy’s ex back into her life?

This is just the funniest and also weirdest book I have read in ages. It’s a farcical comedy thriller caper with a romantic subplot and yes that’s a lot of genres but it’s just wonderful. Meddelin is a charming character – she’s trying to figure out how to live her own life and achieve her dreams but without disappointing her family. But when the date goes wrong it turns out that her family have got her back no matter what. The aunts and their bickering is hilarious. But they’re all also very good at their day jobs – which is why the body disposal is so much fun. And yes, as a premise it’s a bit dark, but just go with it and the dark humour all gets balanced out by the fun and frothy wedding antics. And I loved the details about Meddy’s Chinese and Indonesian heritage.

I hope this is absolutely massive – I hope like my future is full of people asking for recommendations for books like this – even though there isn’t really anything like it that I can think off. Think Steph Plum crossed with Aunty Lee, with a dash of Crazy Rich Asians and you’re sort of getting there. the afterword says it’s already been optioned by Netflix and I can’t wait to watch what they do with it.

My copy of Dial A for Aunties came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in Kindle and Kobo as well as paperback. I still haven’t made it into a bookshop, so I don’t know whether they’ll have it in stock, but Foyles are showing copies available to order with a short delivery time, so I’m hopeful it’ll make it to the tables in the end.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: He’s Not My Boyfriend

I said yesterday that I was having trouble picking and I did. There were a few options for today. But the Deanna Raybourn is the sixth in a series – and I’ve written about Veronica before. The Grand Sophy was a reread via audiobook and that book is the very definition of a problematic favourite. I’ve written about several Lumberjanes before (including the novelisations) as well. And when I came to write up my reading list I realised that although I’ve read eight of Jackie Lau’s books and novellas over the last year, I haven’t made one of them a BotW yet. So that made my mind up for me.

Cover of He's Not My Boyfriend

Iris Chin likes her independence. She’s a successful structural engineer and a bit of a party girl and life would be pretty much perfect if her family didn’t keep setting up up with men to try and get her married off. But her job and her home life collide when she discovers that Alex Kwong, the one night-stand she snuck out on the next morning, is the man she’s going to have to work with on a new project for work. On top of that she’s moved in with her nosy, meddling grandma and you’ve got a recipe for a disaster…

This makes for a really fun read. Alex and Iris are both convinced that they don’t want to be in relationships – Iris, because she thinks her parents and grandparents relationships weren’t successful, and Alex because his mum has died and left his family broken hearted and he doesn’t want to go through that pain again. But they have great chemistry together, and Iris introduces Alex to her family to help him with some of the female family he’s missing without his mum. Watch them work out their relationship is really good, but Iris’s grandmother nearly steels the show. She’s a 90-something ball of energy – who has learnt English since her husband died, taken a string of cookery courses to fill time and has started reading Harlequin romance novels. She’s brilliant, and I would read a whole series of her setting up her hapless relatives on blind dates!

So this is a couple of years old and the second in a series – I haven’t read the first, but the couple from that do pop up in this. The running theme in the Jackie Lau books that I’ve read are delicious food, meddling families and heroines who know what they want from life and aren’t afraid to go out and get it. So if that is your thing – and you don’t mind feeling hungry while reading, then definitely check this out. Her first book with Berkeley is out at in November and I’m really looking forward to reading it.

I bought my copy of He’s Not My Boyfriend on Kindle but it’s also available on Kobo – and it’s 99p on both of those at the moment. It’s also showing as available to order in paperback, but I can’t work out how easy it actually will be to get hold of.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Act Your Age, Eve Brown

After a slight diversion with Mrs Tim of the Regiment, a return to some familiar themes for my BotW post today: guaranteed resolutions,  romance and an author I’ve recommended before – but for once it’s a new release as this came out on the 9th so I actually read it pretty much on time for once – even if my review is this week. Just quickly, before we talk about the new Talia Hibbert – another of the books I read last week is out today – the new Maisie Dobbs book from Jacqueline Winspear. I’ve written a series I love post about Maisie – but I suspect this one will feature in my end of month mini reviews – I really enjoyed it, but as The Consequences of Fear is the 16th in the series, it’s really hard to talk at length about without giving loads of spoilers for previous books!

Cover of Act Your Age, Eve Brown

Eve Brown’s parents think she’s flighty. To be fair the string of half finished courses and short-lived careers might give that impression – but that’s just because she hasn’t found her passion yet. But when her parents give her an ultimatum after she “ruins” a wedding by releasing some doves too early (to be fair I would probably have liberated them too), she high tails it out of town to prove them wrong. Jacob is looking for a new chef for his B&B, but Eve is definitely not it. But then she accidentally hits hit with her car and he winds up with a broken arm and when he emerges from the fug of his concussion, she’s filing in for him trying to help. He’s a grump, she’s a purple haired Ray of sunshine in a slogan t-shirt. They should be each other’s worst nightmares but the more time they spend together, the more sparks fly.

So this is the third and final book in Talia Hibbert’s series about the Brown sisters and they’ve all been a delight – in fact I recommended the second book, Take a Hint, Dani Brown in June last year when that was a new released. If you’ve read the other two books in the series, you’ve caught glimpses of Eve, but I think whatever the opinions are you’ve formed of her, you’re probably wrong. It was a fascinating surprise getting to know her and watch her journey. And Jacob is a great hero – as the book unfolds you realise that he’s autistic but that’s not the most important thing about him – and nor should it be – but it’s still quite rare to see autistic characters getting their own love stories, so that feels unusual. This is a slow burn, dislike at first sight, enemies to lovers forced proximity romance – all tropes which I love.

The chemistry and banter between Eve and Jacob is great and the sex scenes are really, really steamy – if I had been reading on a train (as I likely would have been in the beforetimes!) I would have been blushing. I also loved the way that you see the two of them working out and navigating their relationship and its parameters. And there is also no stupid drama for the sake of it here. The conflict is well-thought out and really works – and if something could be sorted out with a conversation then it probably will be, which is also a really positive at this point in time. There’s no coronavirus in this books, but it very much is exactly the sort of book I want – no need – to read after a year of Covid-19 life. And on top of that you get some more of Gigi, the girl’s fabulous grandmother and appearances from the other sisters and their partners. Just lovely. I’m looking forward to whatever Hibbert writes next – but I’m really hoping that the next thing is about Jacob’s best friend…

My copy of Act Your Age, Eve Brown came from NetGalley, but it’s out now and should be nice and easy to get hold of in all formats. Words and Kisses – my current favourite purveyor of romance in the UK is out of stock at time of writing, but they’ll get it back – and I suspect this will be in the supermarkets and on the tables in bookshops (when that’s a thing again) and of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo and audio too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Mrs Tim of the Regiment

We’re midway through March and it’s been a while since I picked something from my list of slightly quirky out of the way authors. So here we are, with Mrs Tim of the Regiment, which firmly fits into the gentle English life subset of my reading.

Paperback copy of Mrs Tim of the Regiment

As the title suggests, Mrs Tim – Hester Christie – is the wife of an army officer, in the 1930s. Told in the form of a diary, we see her navigate regimental life, including moving across the country when Tim gets promoted, and trying to make friends and raise a family. The first half of the book is more about the day to day, the second follows a holiday that Hester takes to Scotland with her young daughter to visit a friend and the complications ensue.

I’ve written a lot about the fact that I’ve been sticking to genres where I know that things will turn out ok in the end, and at first glance this might seem like a bit of a turn away from that, but this is actually very low stakes and relaxing to read. Hester is a wonderful narrator – she’s witty and observant of others, but also a little bit dense when it comes to herself. She is utterly oblivious to the fact that Major Morley is mad about her – and that he and her friend’s son are fighting over her when she’s on holiday in Scotland. This is a tricky tightrope for the author to tread, because Tim isn’t always around much and by its nature, domestic life of a married couple is less glamorous and exciting than holiday-ing in Scotland and dashing around the countryside. But I thought that Hester’s obliviousness – and her devotion to Tim (earlier in the book she worries about what to do if he is sent to India and whether they could afford to send their daughter to boarding school so she can go too because she doesn’t want to be apart from him again) means that this section is amusing and charming rather than feeling like you’re working up to Hester leaving Tim or being left at home unhappy. 

I’ve read D E Stevenson before – she’s the author of the wonderful Miss Buncle’s Book and Anna and her Daughters which I have written about before – and this has a lot of the things I liked about both of those, but also seemed to me to fit in along with books like Diary of a Provincial Lady and Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire books. It’s essentially a slice of life story from the interwar period, in the voice of a smart woman who is running a household (because that’s what you did when you got married in those days). There are three more books in the series, and I suspect I’ll be reading them at some point in the near future.

My copy of Mrs Tim of the Regiment was a birthday present (thanks mum and dad!) and you should be able to get hold of the charming paperback edition I have from any sensible bookshop (like Foyles), but it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Thriller

Book of the Week: The Holdout

Mini reviews coming up tomorrow, but this week’s BotW is The Holdout by Graham Moore. Regular readers will know that I’ve been keen on books with resolutions recently and have been sticking resolutely to romance and cozy crime where I know that it will all turn out ok in the end – the couple will end up together, the murderer will be found. And yet here I am today recommending a thriller – a genre where such things are not guaranteed. But this was such a page turned I couldn’t help myself!

UK cover of The Holdout

So ten years ago, Maya was part of the jury on a murder trial that saw a young black man acquitted of killing a wealthy white teenage girl. The experience in the courtroom inspired her to become a defence lawyer herself. When a true crime documentary decides to make an episode about her case, Maya finds herself back in the middle of all the controversy again. And then one of the other jurors is found dead in Maya’s room and now she has to prove her own innocence. But what are the secrets that the others have been hiding and which lead to murder?

So this had me on the edge of my seat. It’s dark and twisty and shows some of the workings of the legal system in a way that I haven’t seen a lot (or maybe I just haven’t read the right books!). The twists and turns keep coming at a pace that don’t allow you to think too hard about the bits where it’s getting a bit outlandish! I had an inkling of some of the reveals by the halfway point, but such is the nature of the book that you can’t ever really be sure that’s where it’s going. And Moore has picked out some of the flaws of the criminal justice system very neatly too.

If we were going to beaches at the moment, this would be a prime pick for reading on a sun lounger – at any rate somewhere nice and bright to counteract all the darkness in the book (darkness of subject matter not horror or creepy stuff though).

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, so it will be easy to get hold of from WH Smith and I suspect it will be in the supermarkets as well. It’s also 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.

Happy Reading!