Chick lit, cozy crime, crime, historical, holiday reading, romance

Summer Reading Recommendations 2016

So you’ve read my Comfort Reading Picks post, now you want the Beach Reads don’t you?  Well, here we go…

Eligible

Curtis Sittenfeld’s retelling/reworking of Pride and Prejudice is my top pick for the beach. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of this before it came out here in May and had to restrain myself from raving about it straight away.  It’s part of the Austen Project and it’s so clever.  Sittenfeld has taken P&P and rather than translating it direct to the current day, she’s thought about what the modern equivalent of the books situations might be.  So we have Lizzy the magazine writer brought home by her dad’s health scare,  Jane the Yoga Instructor, Bingley the Reality TV star (and doctor) and Darcy the neurosurgeon.  Kitty and Lydia are crossfit obsessed Paleo fans and Mrs B is a kleptomaniac desperate to marry off her nearly 40 year old oldest daughter. I thought it was brilliant – funny and smart and spot on.  I lent it straight to my mother – I wasn’t sure if she’d buy into the changes the way I did, but she loved it too.  Perfect beach reading – it’s a hardback, but I’m hoping there’ll be airport paperback copies too if you’re buying en route.  If not: Amazon, Waterstones, FoylesKindle, Kobo.

Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins

If you’ve been watching the ITV series, you may already have read James Runcie’s books about Grantchester’s vicar.  I prefer them to the TV version and I particularly like their episodic nature – each book has several mysteries, some (most) involving deaths and some which don’t.  As you work your way through the series you see Sidney grow and mature.  He’s 32 in the first one – which is set in the 1950s, and by the fourth one we’re into the 1960s.  I haven’t read book five yet – because it’s only out in paperback, but if you’re looking for a series to read while sitting in the garden enjoying the British summer, a visit to Grantchester might be an ideal option for you.  I think it would work best if you start at the beginning of the series, but the latest paperback (Forgiveness of Sins) should be fairly easy to find in the shops at the moment. Forgiveness of Sins: Amazon, Kindle, Foyles, Waterstones, Kobo.  Shadow of Death: Amazon, Kindle, Foyles, Waterstones, Kobo.

Fahrenheit Press

Ok, so this is a second crime recommendation – and a much broader one.  Go have a look at Fahrenheit Press’s catalogue.  There will definitely be something that you’ll like.  I’ve already picked Black Rubber Dress, Murder Quadrille and Death of a Nobody as Books of the Week, and I could have added others to that list.  I have their subscription – and I have several books waiting for me to read on my Kindle – including more Sam Jones which I’m saving for a holiday binge.  There’s thrillers, more cozies, historical and pretty much every other type of crime there, all with a slightly different perspective.  I defy you not to find a beach read there – and more are being added at a rate of knots.  They’ve only just started bringing out actual physical books – so the best way to find them is to search for Fahrenheit Press on Amazon – or check out their website.

The Highlander

This is about as close to an Old School Historical Romance novel as you get in new books these days – and does all the best bits of those late 80s and early 90s books, but without the rape and rapey bits I find so problematic.  This is not subtle.  It’s big, it’s melodramatic, it’s very Scottish.  I recommended The Highwayman last year – and this isn’t quite as good as that, but it is very good.  It has governesses and secret identities – which I like – but also an asylum (which I didn’t like and might be triggering for some) and a subplot with a brother which I didn’t like.  I know that sounds a bit less than enthusiastic from me – but it’s not – I kept turning the pages and I was engrossed.  Worth a look if you like your romances Gothic with brooding damaged Scottish heroes.  Amazon and Kindle are probably your best bet for this, as although Waterstones lists the two earlier titles in this series, it doesn’t have this one there yet.

So there you go.  My Summer reading suggestions.  Slightly later than planned (sorry) but hopefully still in time for the summer.  And if you’re still at a loss – I’ve stuck to books I haven’t recommended before, so don’t forget The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, Sunset in Central Park, The Tumbling Turner Sisters and Jane Steele which would all be great to read on the beach.

Authors I love, Chick lit, cozy crime, crime, Fantasy, Series I love

Pick Me Up Books

It’s a funny old time at the moment isn’t it?  There’s so much news about – and lots of it is depressing for various reasons, that working in news for my day (and this week night) job* is getting a bit tough.  I’ve retreated into the world of Happy Endings.  Dystopian fiction is firmly off the menu, as is anything that might end on death, destruction or a down note.  This means I’ve been revisiting some old favourites again as well as reading loads of romance and cozy crime.  You’ll get some posts soon on the best of the new stuff – but I thought I’d also share some of my favourite old friends and Not New books.

Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell books from Virago
Aren’t they gorgeous? And there are more coming later in the year too.

Witty interwar comedies, mostly of manners, set in Barsetshire.  They’re a bit Mapp and Lucia (but with more sympathetic characters) and they remind me of the Diary of a Provincial Lady as well.  If you like the world of Golden Age crime, but don’t want the murders, then come take a look for a bit of wry social satire.  Virago are re-releasing them at the moment – and they’re gorgeous – but you should also be able to get them from a good second hand shop too.  You may remember I had Northbridge Rectory as a BotW a few weeks back, but as well as that one, if you liked Provincial Lady… start at the beginning of the series with High Rising, but if you loved boarding school stories, start with Summer Half and if you liked Downton, start with Pomfret Towers.

Charlaine Harris

 

Charlaine Harris books
The Charlaine Harris shelf, several series, mostly matching but with a few size issues!

Sookie Stackhouse, Harper Connelly, Lily Bard, Aurora Teagarden (a new book coming soon!) or Midnight, Texas, it doesn’t matter.  Yes they all have a body count, and you might lose a character you like from time to time.  But as escapist reading they’re pretty much all you could want.  Soapy melodrama with vampires (sometimes), small towns and kick-ass women (although Rue can be a bit wet at times).  Perfect for binge reading to take your mind off the real world.  After all there aren’t any vampires, werewolves or witches in the real world.

The Cazalet Chronicles

I had four matching copies. Then the fifth book arrived. And I got the hardback.

Retreat into the world of Home Place, the Brig and the Duchy, their children and grandchildren.  You meet them in 1937 and you can follow them through the Second World War and beyond across five books – until the grandchildren are grown up with families of their own.  There are so many characters and so many different stories that you can read 400 pages without out noticing.  Everyone has a favourite or two – mine are Rupert (from the children) and Polly and Clary (from the grandchildren).  I think my mum’s copies are so well thumbed that they fall open to my favourite sections about each of them – especially in Casting Off.  Glom on them on the beach if you’re on holiday, as I resist the temptation to rebuy a new matching set – you can get all 5 books for £6.99 from the Book People as I write this.

Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody

My kindle go-to at times like these is Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody serieses.  I tried to pick one, but I couldn’t.  I mentioned both in passing in my Nightshift books post back in this blog’s early days and Amelia got a shout out in my Summer Reading post two years ago, but I was shocked I hadn’t given either a post of their own.  Amelia is a female Egyptologist in the late nineteenth century.  Vicky is an art historian in sort-of fairly recent times.  Both end up in thrilling adventures.  Amelia picks up a crew of regular side-kicks along the way including, but not limited to a husband, a son, a faithful site foreman and an arch-nemesis and Vicky just keeps running into this gentleman thief-con artist type.  Both remind me in some ways of a female Indiana Jones, but funnier.

And on top of all that, there’s Georgette Heyer, Janet Evanovich, Peter Wimsey and a few of my recent BotW picks that would serve the same purpose and cheer you up too – check out Little Shop of Lonely Hearts, The Rogue Not Taken, Sunset in Central Park and Fangirl.  Also, if in doubt, read Georgette Heyer – start with Venetia or Regency Buck. Coming soon: Summer Holiday reading recommendations…

*In case you missed it I’m a journalist in real life.

 

Book of the Week, Chick lit, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: A Christmas Cracker

It will be absolutely no surprise to you regular readers that this week’s BotW is Trisha Ashley’s latest – A Christmas Cracker. You can see my previous musings on her work herehere and briefly here. I’m not usually a Christmas book in October kind of person (although I seem to have read a few of them already this year) but I’m always read to make an exception for Trisha.  Her books are totally my catnip.  Warm and humourous, with heroines on journeys and a variety of different types of heros.  Her heroines have usually made had problems in their love lives before – whether through picking Bad Men or through mistakes and misunderstandings.  I always think of them as second chance romances (as in slightly older people, and not their first love affair), but I know that the “proper” definition of that trope is the “we met when we were young but it didn’t work out, but now we’re trying again” type of story, although Trisha has written a couple of those and they’re really very good.

Why can I never get a good photo of a book with foil lettering on the cover?
The heroine of A Christmas Cracker is Tabby.  She’s ended up doing prison time for a crime she didn’t commit, her fiance has dumped her and given her cat away, one of her friends lied about her in court and her life is generally in tatters.  Then she gets a second chance from Mercy.  She’s been working in Africa for years, but has retired and come back to try and rescue the family cracker business, which is floundering.  She thinks that Tabby could be the breath of fresh air that it needs to save it from the chop.  But Mercy’s nephew Randall think’s Tabby is a con-woman and out for what she can get – he’s got his own plans for Marwood’s Christmas Crackers and he’s watching her like a hawk…

I’m hoping that you’ve read that and thought – “Gosh that sounds generally delightful and festive too” – and it really is (if you didn’t, I’m sorry – I haven’t done it justice).  Tabby is a wonderful and relatable heroine.  I was initially sceptical about a lead character who starts off the book in the clink, but I shouldn’t have doubted Trisha – it’s a masterstroke.  Trisha Ashley’s books have a long history of giving us quirky/fun older/elderly lady characters too (Great Aunt’s Hebe and Ottie in A Winter’s Tale, Mad Aunt Debo in Creature Comforts, I could go on) and Mercy is another great addition to the list – she’s a bundle of energy in light-up trainers who sees the best in everyone and will give hospitality to anyone.

Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about A Christmas Cracker – I got an e-copy via NetGalley – but I went out at the weekend to buy myself an actual copy as well.  And not just because I have all her other books in paperback (and most of them in ebook as well) and I have a thing about sets and completion, but because I wanted to read it again, in a proper book, so I can pick out my favourite scenes so I know where they are in the book so I can go back and read them again.

If you only read one Christmas book this year (or before December at any rate) make this it.  It should be everywhere – Tesco were selling it for a very special price of £2 at the weekend (so cheap that I almost wanted to go and buy it somewhere else in case it meant the author royalties would be smaller) and I’d expect it to be all over the place in the other supermarkets and bookshops.  If I’ve sold it to you as being so good that you can’t wait to go to a shop (and you wouldn’t be wrong), the Kindle and Kobo editions are £2.99 at time of writing. Prices aren’t quite as special for the paperback at the online retailers, but here are the Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles links just in case.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Chick lit

Book of the Week: A Very Big House in the Country

As promised last week, here’s a link to my review of The Spider in the Corner of the Room on Novelicious.  I’ve read some more stuff for Novelicious this week – and you’ll see links to them in future BotW posts.  Now to business.  This week’s BotW is Claire Sandy’s latest A Very Big House in the Country.  I was so excited when this appeared in the post* – after all I raved about What Would Mary Berry Do? last summer.  You may have noticed that this was on the reading list for a couple of weeks – and that is because I forced myself not to gobble this up in one sitting.**

The Herreras, the Littles and the Browns are sharing a massive Devon mansion for two long hot weeks of the summer holidays.  There are secrets. There are romances. There’s something lurking in the bushes – and it may not just be the Herrera’s dog on the pull.  There’s step-sons, trophy wives, a glamourous (and possibly slutty) nanny and an outdoor pool.  And gallons of wine.  Tongues will loosen, inhibitions will fall away and people may get a little too honest.  When everyone packs up and heads out at the end of the summer will they all still be friends? And will everyone be going home in the same car they arrived in?

Ok.  I know, there’s not a lot of plot in that little summary, but I think it gives you a flavour of the book.  It’s warm, touching and funny, with a bit of a sarcastic edge.  The house may be luxurious, but the book is very down to earth. You’ll probably recognise things from your own families and group holidays in this.  Summer may be ending, but grab hold of its coattails and recapture the hot weather after a particularly wet bank holiday weekend with one last sun-lounger read.

  
This one is all up in the supermarkets – so you shouldn’t have any problems getting hold of it next time you happen to accidentally on purpose walk through the book aisle as you arrive in TescAsdWaitburys.  But in case you can’t wait, here’s an Amazon link and a Kindle one and a Foyles one.

 

* My copy was sent to me by the author – but as per usual, my reviews are honest and BotW goes to my favourite book I read the previous week and this. was. it.

** I’m currently doing the same thing with The Shepherd’s Crown, because once it’s gone there Is No More New Pratchett and I don’t want it to be over yet.

books, Chick lit, cozy crime, historical, reviews, romance

Summer Reading 2015 Recommendations

Here it is at last – Verity’s top suggestions for what to read on your holiday. And less than six weeks after my holiday when I started the list of what I wanted to include. Ahem. It has a lot of footnotes (sorry) and I still haven’t got to the bottom of the list of books that I thought I might want to include, so it may yet have a sequel!

The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance by Kirsty Greenwoodª

This was my favourite book that I read on holiday – and not just because the fab Kirsty runs Novelicious (who I also review for).  The Vintage Guide is funny and sweary and perfect and I nearly got sunburnt because I was to distracted by Jessica Beam’s antics.  I laughed and I cried (on the beach – how embarrassing) – and I was rooting her on.  She’s got a lot to figure out and some issues to overcome, but Jess is so easy to identify with.  Everyone’s had similar experiences to some of the stuff that she goes through albeit probably less extreme. Perfect for lazy days on the sunlounger. Amazon* Kindle Kobo

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnettª

This one isn’t out in paperback yet, so it might be one for your e-reader rather than your suitcase, but Laura Barnett’s debut novel is well worth a read.  It’s been hyped as a One Day meets Sliding Doors – and that’s kind of right – except that I liked it much more than I liked One Day – and it’s got three different realities to Sliding Doors’ two. The Versions of Us presents three different futures based on one encounter in Cambridge in the 1950s. For me, the best part of it was that none of the possibilities seemed to be marked out as being the “right” one – all of the different versions felt real – with ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. I’m not usually one for books that have been really hyped – but this one’s worth it. Foyles, Kindle, Kobo

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willigª

Another hardback recent release (I’m sorry) but Lauren Willig’s latest stand-alone book just had to go on this list.  Rachel Woodley infiltrates the Bright Young Things after discovering that her life-story isn’t quite what she thought it was.  If you’re interested in the 1920s, you’ll spot familiar faces as Willig weaves her fictional characters into the real crowd who were racketing around causing chaos and scandalising their parents.  This is less romance than Willig’s other books** – and is the first to be set just in one time period, and it’s engrossing and brilliant.  This one is pricier and harder to get hold of in the UK, although if you’re holidaying in the States you could buy it out there. KindleAmazon, Foyles, Kobo

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

This is new Christie Estate sanctioned Poirot mystery – out now in paperback and which should be easy to get hold of at the airport should you arrive there and discover that you’re short of reading matter.  I enjoyed it – but a week on I’m still trying to work out if it felt like a “proper” Poirot or not.  It certainly helps that Hannah has created herself a new policeman who narrates the story – so the famous Belgian is not always centre stage.  The mystery is well put together and intriguing although I have some of the same reservations about this that did about the Wimsey continuations – but I can’t go into them because it’s a sort of plot spoiler. Never the less it’s a good crime novel set in the Golden Age which will entertain you by the side of the pool. Amazon*, Kindle, Kobo.

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens

It wouldn’t be a list of recommendations from me without a kids/YA recommendation – and this time its the latest Wells and Wong mystery.  Both the previous books in the series have already appeared on the blog (first one, second one) and book 3 is Steven’s homage to Murder on the Orient Express.  Yes I know, two Poirot-y books in one post, sue me. One of our regular treats when I was little was to borrow the audiobook of David Suchet reading Murder on the Orient Express from the library to listen to in the car on the way to our holiday – and my parents had their first date at the Peter Ustinov film version, so it has a very special place in my heart.  Stevens’ story has enough nods to the Poirot for those who’ve read it to get the warm fuzzies inside, but still manages to be totally its own book too.  One for the late primary kid with a good reading age, or lower secondary kids and of course for grown-ups who are children at heart. Foyles, Waterstones*** Kindle, Kobo

So there you have it.  My favourite holiday books for your summer break.  Or your next holiday if you’ve already been and got back! Hopefully there’s something here that appeals to you.  And sorry again for the footnotes, but the history graduate in me finds it the best way to deal with my stream of consciousness ramblings!

ª Books with an ª next to their titles came to me via NetGalley.  The others I bought for myself, with actual, proper money.

*By a fortuitous chance, several of my picks are in Amazon’s 3 for £10 promotion – so I’ve put amazon links to those (rather than Foyles) to help cut the cost of buying my recommendations. If you don’t make it to three on Amazon, recent BotW’s The Cake Shop in the Garden and The Day We Disappeared are also in the promotion, as is the paperback of Marian Keyes’ The Woman Who Stole My Life – a BotW back in November, RJ Palacio’s Wonder (a March BotW) and Graeme Simison’s The Rosie Project which I have raved about plenty and you should have read already!

** Willig’s 12th and final Pink Carnation book has just come out as well – if you haven’t discovered her yet and are looking for a series to binge on on your holiday, they may be a good choice – timeslip historical spy romances – featuring a heroine in Napoleonic France and a modern day American grad student researching her.

***Waterstones have totally championed the Wells and Wong series – so they get a link as well as Foyles.

Book of the Week, Chick lit

Book of the Week: The Cake Shop in the Garden

This week’s BotW is Carole Matthew’s latest – The Cake Shop in the Garden.  Last week was a heavy detective fiction week, and as my highest rated book on Goodreads was the second Peter Grant book and it’s only a couple of weeks since the first was my BotW, I thought a fun summer read should be my Book of the Week.

Fay runs a cake shop from her garden, next to the canal near Milton Keynes.  Her mum is difficult and cantankerous and her sister is thousands of miles away in New York, getting up to antics her mum isn’t meant to know about.  Then Danny Wilde arrives at the bottom of the garden on his boat and she starts to question her decisions.  When tragedy strikes, it looks like everything is going to change.  Will Fay have the courage to make the decision that’s right for her?

This is a fun, romantic summer read which is set not far from where I live (which I’ll admit added to the attraction of the book for me).  I thought it was well set up and the plot worked really well – with a few twists that I wasn’t expecting.  The only downside for me is that I found myself wanting to give Fay a shake sometimes and tell her to man up and stand up for herself.  But I know that that’s easier said than done, particularly in the situation that she found herself in.  I was happy with the resolution – although I was worried for a while that I wasn’t going to get the ending that I wanted.

So, another week, another great book for your holiday*.  OK the Costa del Keynes (as Matthews calls it) isn’t quite as hot as a beach in the Med, but I think this might be the perfect for a staycation in the UK – I can see people reading this on canalboat holidays or on the beach in Devon.  It’s not my favourite of Matthews books – that title still belongs to Welcome to the Real World – but this is a good page-turner.

The Cake Shop in the Garden should be fairly easy to get hold of – the paperback came out in April** – but here are some links to Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, Kindle and Kobo incase you can’t wait to go to a real shop.

* I promise the summer reads post is coming. Soon.  Before August starts.  There’s just a couple more books I want to read first…

**My copy came from NetGalley to coincide with that, but as usual, I’m behind on the NetGalley list.  Also, insert usual honest review disclaimer here.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Chick lit, reviews

Book of the Week: The Day We Disappeared

So this week’s BotW is Lucy Robinson’s latest – The Day We Disappeared.  And this is likely to be quite a short post because I’m terrified of saying too much about this.  You may remember Lucy Robinson from previous posts – about The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me which was one of my books of the year in 2014.

The Day We Disappeared tells the stories of Annie and Kate.  Annie has a secret and it’s caused her a lot of problems – but now there’s someone who wants to fix her.  Kate is running away and she’s not going to tell you why – because that would defeat the object the reinvention that she’s trying to pull off.  And there are undercurrents.  Lots of undercurrents – of different types – and there are complications.

And that’s all I dare say.  Which isn’t much more than the back of the book says.  But that’s because to tell you more would Give Too Much Away and Ruin It All.  And Lucy Robinson’s clearly worked really hard in writing this not to do that and I don’t want to spoil it.  Because this book blew me away – in a really good way.  As you can tell, I loved Unfinished Symphony, and I think I like this more – even if there isn’t a side-kick as funny as Barry.  This is a bit different though.  The last book had me in tears – of both types, whereas this one had me holding my breath and totally gripped.  I did laugh and I nearly cried, but there’s so much suspense and tension in this as well that wasn’t in the last one.

It did take me a while to read this – but that’s mostly because I was worried about ending up in tears in public again.  Crying on the train is so embarrassing. To be honest, my only problem with this book is that the cover does not match the rest of Lucy Robinson’s books – which is more about my issues with matching books than anything else.  And I read this on my e-reader. So it’s not really a problem at all until I buy a paperback version for completeness…

My copy came from NetGalley* (yes, I know, I’m behind again) but you can get yours from all over the place – like Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, Kindle (for a bargain £1.79 at time of writing), Kobo and hopefully the supermarkets too.  It’d be a great book to take on holiday,** as long as you don’t have any pressing plans to do anything other than reading it because you’ll be glued to your sun lounger!

*With the usual provisos – honest review, only write about stuff on here I do genuinely love etc.

** Yes I know, I promised a holiday reads post.  It is coming. It really is. I’ve even started working out what I’m going to include.  But there are a few more books that I need to read before I can be sure I’ve covered all bases.