Adventure, Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Lots of painting and filling and cleaning in my week off work, and not as much reading as usual, but in the end it was an easy choice for this week’s BotW – Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog. Delightfully this was a recommendation from a work colleague who thought I would love it and he was totally right. I love it when that happens.

Ned Henry has time-lag. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s trying to find a hideous artefact in the ruins of Coventry cathedral. But all those jumps have scrambled his brain and he’s sent to Victorian England to recover away from the demands of Lady Schrapnell – who is rebuilding the original Coventry cathedral in the middle of Oxford. The bad news is he has one job to do in the nineteenth century before he can relax. The trouble is, the time-lag means he can’t remember what it is. There’s a boat trip, eccentric dons, drippy maidens, dopey undergrads, a cat and a fellow time traveller called Verity Kindle.

I loved this so much. It’s got so much of my catnip in here: it’s got modern people having to grapple with the Victorian era, it’s full of references to other books – of particular interest to me through thread of Peter Wimsey and Golden Age crime novels – and a mystery adventure plot as they try and hunt down the Bishop’s Bird Stump and prevent the future from being altered because of their actions.

To recap: time travel, history, humour, literary in-jokes and Peter Wimsey references galore. What more could I want?

This was my first Connie Willis book, so now the research is going on to figure out which of her other novels might be my cup of tea. If you like the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, by Jodi Taylor, you should definitely try this but I can’t think of many other books to compare this to (If you have any other suggestions for fun time travelling novels please do let me know) although I think if you like steampunky novels this might work for you, ditto books full of references to books. I need to go and read Three Men in a Boat because that’s a big influence here, and I’ve never read it. I also need to go and buy myself a copy of this because I want one for myself so I can lend it and I’m going to have to give this copy back.

You can get a copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog from all the usual sources.

Happy reading!

 

historical, non-fiction, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Kindle May Madness Sale

Happy Wednesday everyone – you’re halfway to the weekend.  My week this week involves a lot of preparations for the local elections here tomorrow – I’m working on the results output at work on Friday.  I’ve already recommended political books recently and I haven’t added a lot to that list recently, so I won’t repeat myself today.  Instead I thought I’d mention Amazon’s May Madness Kindle sale – I’ve picked up a few bargains there this week (shhh, don’t tell Him Indoors), although sadly they’re not all being price matched over at Kobo.  Lots of the books are 99p – which is my sort of ebook pricing!


Among my purchases was Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime which I’ve heard lots of good things about.  I’m not the biggest fan of his version of the Daily Show (I still miss Jon Stewart) but I’m fascinated by his childhood in apartheid era South Africa and I like his sense of humour when he’s doing his stand up stuff.

I also grabbed the trio of Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor books (numbers 7 through 9 if you’re interested) because I’ve really enjoyed the books of hers that I’ve read but they’re hardly ever at a price I can justify – so 99p for three is a really good deal.  And to top it all off – this is being price matched on Kobo!  While I’m on the subject of romance, I also bought Christina Lauren’s Wicked Sexy Liar because I keep hearing this series mentioned on the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcast and this is the first time I’ve seen one of them at a price I’m prepared to pay!  This one is 99p on Kobo as well. If you’re into your old school romances (I can’t cope with the rapey-ness but I know others love them) there’s a Julie Garwood in the sale too – Honor’s Splendour (Kobo).

Also on offer is Cesca Major’s second novel The Last Night.  I know Cesca through my Novelicious reviewing – and I have a copy of this in one of the to-read boxes waiting to be read (I know, the boxes are still with me, the building work still isn’t finished) but I’ve heard nothing but good things about this – it’s a Heat pick this week.

Also in the sale is The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin – I reviewed it when it first came out and really enjoyed it.  It tells the story of a love triangle (of sorts) between dashing Captain Bay Middleton, Empress Sisi of Austria and Bay’s fiancée Charlotte.  I’ve read a few books about Sisi since (and visited a few of her palaces in Vienna – which is well worth it), but I think this is still my favourite.  If you need further encouragement, Goodwin also created the recent TV series about Queen Victoria (you know, the one with Rufus Sewell) and wrote My Last Duchess, which I adored.  This is also being price matched over on Kobo.

Not 99p, but still very reasonable at £1.99 is Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies – which is the book which inspired the TV series Harlots.  I’m interested in watching the TV show – but I like to have read the book first if I can (which is why I’m reading Cold Comfort Farm at the moment!) so this seemed like an ideal moment to pick up the book – especially as the TV series is on ITV Encore at the moment which I don’t currently get so I’m going to have to wait for the DVD which gives me a fighting chance of actually getting to the book before I get my hand on the show!

Right.  I’m going to stop now – because the more I write for this post, the more I spend, and I think we all know how my books bought total is going to look at the end of the week!  Anyway, I hope there’s something on the list for you and if you spot any more you think I might like, leave me a note in the comments – after all we all know my willpower is poor!

Happy reading!

detective, historical

Book of the Week: Maisie Dobbs

We’re back in my (constant) hunt for new historical crime series for this week’s BotW.  I finally got my hand on the first Maisie Dobbs book during a trip to the charity bookshop and immediately read it.  And it’s really good, so I went on and read book 10 in the series – which was in the library book pile and was far too big a jump in the series to do, but that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed the first one.

Copy of Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
My copy of Maisie Dobbs, complete with lovely blue-y cover

We meet Maisie as she is setting up her own private investigation firm in London in 1929.  Her first client asks her to investigate whether his wife is having an affair.  But the investigation forces Maisie to revisit her experiences of the Great War and she finds it hard to keep her professional and her private life separate as she works to resolve the case.

I really, really enjoy books set in the interwar years.  My beloved Peter Wimseys are all in this period, as is Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher and Dandy Gilver. The very best of them show how the Great War was still having ramifications years after – whether it’s Peter’s shellshock, or Alec using his military tie to get people to open up to him.  Like Phryne, Maisie spent time at the front (although Phryne was driving ambulances while Maisie was a nurse) and it’s deeply affected her outlook on life and her understanding and compassion for the others who were there.

The mystery in this is centred in the Great War, allowing Maisie’s background and education to be explored and it works really well.  In fact a lot of this book is setting up Maisie’s background and her personal history rather than resolving the case (or cases) that she’s investigating.  But that was part of the enjoyment for me.  Maisie’s got a complicated and fascinating backstory and I think understanding that is going to be key to understanding the other books in the series.  Certainly when I read book 10 I would have been lost or at sea without the background I had got from book 1, so it’s one of those occasions where I’m very grateful to have restrained myself and started at the beginning.

Well worth a look if you like any of the other series that I’ve mentioned – I know I’ll be looking out for more Maisie Dobbs mysteries.

You can get a copy of Maisie Dobbs on Kindle or Kobo or in paperback from all the usual places like The Big Green Bookshop – and probably at your local library as well.

Happy reading!

historical, mystery, Series I love

Reccomendsday: Dandy Gilver

Another Recommendsday post, another crime novel.  This time though it’s historical crime and the Dandy Gilver series by Catriona McPherson.  I read number 11 in the series – Dandy Gilver and a Most Misleading Habit – at the weekend and was reminded how much I like this series.  The previous book in the series was a joint BotW about 18 months ago, but perhaps didn’t get as much love as it deserved so this seemed like a good time to revisit it.

I’m trying not to hold the non-matching covers against them!

Dandy is an upper class lady turned private detective in the wilds of Scotland in the 1920s.  She falls into detection when some diamonds are stolen at a ball and discovers that a) she enjoys it and b) she is really quite good at it.  Soon she’s started her own detective agency with her friend Alec and the cases start coming in.  Dandy’s husband is not keen, but is prepared to put up with it (and the money it brings in) as long as her activities are thrust in his face all the time.  I think the series starts fairly slowly, but really hits its stride by book 5 when Dandy goes under cover as a lady’s maid for a case, although I like the second one, Bury Man’s Day a lot as well.

In …Most Misleading Habit, Dandy is investigating a death at a convent in an arson attack, while Alec, her partner in detection, is looking into a break out at an asylum nearby which happened on the same night.  The two must be connected – but an old war chum of Alec’s is being blamed for it and Alec is convinced that he’s being framed.  What really happened and who is it that’s still sneaking around the convent?

Dandy is often shelved with the cozy crime books – but it’s a bit darker than that. They do have their humorous moments, but the solutions often involve issues that you don’t come across very often in this sort of book.  I’ve spoken before about the Daisy Dalrymple and Phryne Fisher series, and Dandy is definitely darker than Daisy and as dark as the darkest Phryne’s.

I’ve read all bar one of the series now – and they’re really worth your time.  You don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning – and several of the installments are very competitively priced at the moment.  I’ve just bought the missing one while writing this because it was only £1.99 on kindle – but a couple of them are only 99p and one of them – Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder is one of my favourites and gives a fairly good indication of what the series is like.

Happy Reading!

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, Book of the Week, historical, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: The Rogue Not Taken

I retreated into the world of happy endings this week – and treated myself by letting myself read the new (well relatively new) Sarah MacLean which I have been saving for a Time Of Real Need.

This is the first in her new series – Scandal and Scoundrel – and after the massive high of the surprise reveal and general excitement of the final book of the Rules of Scoundrels, I wasn’t sure this could live up to my massive expectations.  And then I found out that the new series was inspired by celebrity scandals of today and got a bit worried.  But I really didn’t need to.  Sarah MacLean knows exactly what she’s doing.

Paperback copy of The Rogue Not Taken
The cover model is just a bit to… meh. All downcast eyes and no personality – completely un-Sophie like!

Sophie Talbot is the youngest of a line of scandalous daughters of a noveau riche peer.  Her sisters revel in their notorious reputations, but she’s not keen.  She’s the most retiring member of the family right up until she pushes her elder sister’s cheating husband into a pond at a party.  He’s a duke – old family, old money – she’s not.  Suddenly she’s the biggest scandal in society and facing being an outcast.  So she makes a run for it.  But she makes her escape it using the carriage belonging to the Marquess of Eversley, who’s fairly scandalous himself.  He thinks she’s trying to trap him into marriage.  She knows she definitely isn’t. But then Things Happen.

I enjoyed this so much. The characters are engaging, the dialogue is witty and fun.  There’s lots of proper plot – no wishy-washy misunderstandings that could be solved by one person asking the other a question.  And just when you think it’s nearly fixed, MacLean throws in another twist to the tail.  I was a little hesitant about one of these which happened towards the end of the book, but it was dealt with so neatly and resolved so satisfactorily that by the time the book was over I’d almost forgotten it had annoyed me.  I was also desperate to read the next in the series which isn’t out until August, but I’ll try and contain my impatience.

I still prefer the US cover to the UK one – cheesy thought the American romance covers are, they have no shame about what they are – there’s heaving bosoms, unlaced corsets that improbably reveal no under garments, ridiculous muscles and flowing locks, but they’re unapologetic about it, where as the ones here are misty and coy and undersell the contents.  But hey, at least with a British edition we don’t have to pay silly money to get them shipped in anymore.  Although – full disclosure – I got my copy from the publisher who gave them to everyone who went to Sarah MacLean’s London teaparty (she’s lovely) so I may yet buy a US version to match the rest of my books of hers…

Get your copy from Amazon, Foyles or Waterstones, or for Kindle or on Audible.  If you’re in the States, it should be everywhere fine, fine romances are sold (to quote Sarah Wendell.). Happy Romancing!

Book of the Week, books, historical, Thriller

Book of the Week: Beneath a Silent Moon

Difficult choice in the BotW stakes this week, but both options had a historical feel to them.  It was between the second of Tracy Grant’s Charles and Mélanie Fraser books and the first in Jodi Taylor’s time travelling adventure books.  And as you might be able to tell from the title, it was the Grant that won – in part because I really liked the first book in the series but I happened to read it in the same week as The Glittering Art of Falling Apart and it lost out in the BotW stakes that week.  So this – perhaps more than ever – comes with a warning about reading the series in order.  On that subject, more later.  First, the plot:

Charles and Mélanie Fraser are not your average society couple.  The Napoleonic Wars are over, but danger still lurks in the streets of London.  There’s something rotten in the Ton and the source of the answers may well be closer to them than they could possibly realise.  Assassination, espionage, and secrets in Charles’ family all add up to a fast paced, twisty and complex spy adventure.

With the end of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, I’ve been on the hunt for something to fill the Nineteenth Century set spy novel shape in my reading life.  And although Grant’s series actually started before Willig’s, I’ve discovered them the other way around.  I can’t remember how I first came across them – but it’ll probably have been an if-you-like-this-try-that from either Amazon or Goodreads (and probably based on purchasing Pink Carnations or Deanna Raybourn) and for that I am grateful!

These aren’t timeslip novels, but they do jump backwards and forwards in Charles and Mélanie’s lives – sometimes within the book, but definitely within the series –  this was the second book to be published,  but is set before the first.  And on top of that, the chronological order list on Goodreads gives it as book seven!*  But given the events of book one – about which I don’t want to say too much – I suspect reading them in order may have the most impact and will give it the most layers and nuance.

Charles and Mélanie have a complex relationship – founded in necessity, complicated by love and built on secrets.  Charles’ family is just as bad.  Possibly worse.  Add that to a murder and conspiracy and all in all it makes for a gripping page-turner of a book, with more secret compartments than James Bond’s suitcase and some incredibly devious twists and turns.  It’s not for the faint-hearted/weak of stomach in places, but it’s worth a bit of queasiness for a historical mystery this good.

I’ve already bought the next one (which is only available on Kindle) and may have put an order in for an actual copy of Book 4.  Now prices are variable on these – I’m not sure they’re all published over here (the UK), so the later titles are imports and more expensive.  But for the most part the Kindle prices are more reasonable.  The first book is Secrets of a Lady (originally Daughter of the Game) and is under £3.50 on Kindle at time of writing but nearly £10 in paperback from Amazon (although they do have second-hand copies for less).  Beneath a Silent Moon is under £3 on Kindle and only available second-hand via Amazon.  It gets even more complicated later on, but as I said, do start at the beginning…

*And to complicate things further, mid series the lead characters’ names change to Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch.  Not that I’ve got there yet, but my head is already aching!