Book of the Week, historical, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Swan Song

A tricky choice for my book of the week this week – partly because of a reduced list this week because of exciting things like holidays with friends, but partly because I had little quibbles with everything I read.  In the end it came down to Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song and The Vacationers (apt because I was on vacation!) but as I’ve recommended Emma Straub before, I thought I’d go with Swan Song instead.  And to be fair, writing this post turned out to be really quite easy in the end!

Copy of Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my love of novels based on real events, and this one takes a look at the downfall of Truman Capote, who after years of friendship (and patronage) with a group of elite high society women, committed social suicide by using their lives as material.  He called them his Swans, and they tell the story as a sort of Greek chorus, switching between their lives, his life and the stories he told them.  Hopping backwards and forwards through time, the Swans recount the various versions of Capote’s childhood that they’ve been told, full of inconsistencies and embroideries, they tell the stories of their friendship with him and its implosion and the aftermath.

This is really good. While it is most definitely a bit of a Rich People Problems type of situation, there is proper scandal, betrayal and heartbreak on all sides here. There are a lot of novels that talk about the unhappiness of rich and privileged people, and although they can sometimes be my favourite books to read, when it doesn’t work it’s hard to muster any sympathy.  But that’s not the case here at all – the women who Truman exposes have all their unhappiness exposed to the world – all the things that they have managed to ignore or put up with to keep their status are suddenly out there in print and although Joe Public might not know who the stories are about at first, the veil disguising their identities is very thin and people work it out – fast. I still can’t make up my mind if Truman knew that what he was about to do was going to explode his life but did it because he was terrified about failing to deliver a follow up to In Cold Blood, or if he thought that the women wouldn’t mind and couldn’t believe that they would be prepared to turn their backs on him.  My main quibble was around the last quarter – which I didn’t think worked quite as well as the earlier part had done, mostly because after the swans have broken with him, using them as a narrative device didn’t work quite as well for me.

There is a big cast of characters here but I was fine, knowing a bit about the story and having read another novel based around this very same issue before.  But my other quibble was whether you’d get lost if you didn’t know anything about this set before – as I was slightly when I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue – which didn’t tell you what it was that he’d done! Swan Song does give you the details on that – which is good, and I think if you keep reading beyond any initial confusion, it will all start to slot in to place. It’s just that the first part is a little bit like Truman’s brain after he’s had a few Orange Drinks and some pills. And obviously there is Wikipedia to help too if you’re really stuck – to be honest I think you can get all you need to know from Truman’s entry and then disappear off down any rabbit holes that strike your fancy!

Last week I recommended a book of fiction so cleverly done that you can’t believe the band isn’t real and actually these two make quite a good pair and overlap in time in some patches – although you may find that hard to believe.  You’ve got Truman and his swans living in the high society world of the East Coast which still feels like a relic of an earlier era, while over on the West Coast, Daisy and the Six are living it up in the new world of rock and drugs and feel much more contemporary.  And both would make great books to read on the beach if you’re about to head off on Spring/Easter break.  And writing post this has reminded me again that I really need to finish writing that Rich People Problems books post – it’s sitting half done, waiting for an opportune time to finish it (and for me to finish reading a couple more books).  Maybe this will be the push that I need!

I’ve had this on the pile for a while – twice in fact as I managed to get a NetGalley ebook copy when I already had a paper copy via the joys of my proper job – but although it came out last summer, I’m sort of timely – as earlier this month it was named on the longlist for the Women’s Fiction prize at the moment. The paperback isn’t out until the end of June so you could preorder it (and Amazon do have that pre-order price guarantee) but the hardback isn’t a bad price on Amazon at the moment if you just can’t wait, and would expect (or hope at least!) there might be a copy in any reasonably sized bookshop – especially now it’s been longlisted for a prize, even more so if it makes the shortlist. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo too.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime, historical

Book of the Week: The Corpse at the Crystal Palace

I treated myself to this the day before my flight, and what greater treat to read for part of my flight (I slept and watched two documentary films* too) than the first Daisy Dalrymple book in quite a while. Long term reader may remember my long time love of Daisy – which has spawned my (mostly unsuccessful) quest for more similar sort of mysteries.

Cover of the Corpse at the Crystal Palace

We rejoin Daisy and her family as they prepare for a visit from the long lost relatives she discovered in a previous book (Heirs of the Body). As part of the visit they make a trip to the Crystal Palace, where they stumble upon a body. Of course Daisy can’t help but get involved in the investigation. Over the course of the investigation there’s nightclubs, showgirls and Russian emigrés. Meanwhile in the background there’s a chance of a promotion for Alec. Can Daisy solve the crime? And is Alec ready for a new job?

It’s always nice to be back in Daisy’s world and this is particularly fun because there’s a lot of familiar faces showing up here from earlier books, some of whom we haven’t seen for a really long time. It’s not my favourite book in the series, but that was mostly because I wanted a bit more from the actual mystery. But as far as historical cozy crime series go, it’s hard to beat Daisy.

You should be able to get this in ebook from all the usual places like Kindle and Kobo, but I suspect the physical book will be harder to find in bookshops unless you order it in. Do yourself a favour though, if you’re new to Daisy and go back at start at the beginning and Death at Wentwater Court. It’s the sort of series where it’s worth it.

Happy reading!

historical, new releases, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: The Governess Game

Bonus post this week – because the new Tessa Dare book came out yesterday.  I read it back at the start of the month and really, really enjoyed it.  It is the second book in the Girl Meets Duke series and features the romance between one of the friends of the heroine of the first book and a man you saw her run into in that book.  The Duchess Deal was a BotW back in May, and is also well worth reading.

Cover of The Governess Game

Alexandra Mountbatten makes a living by setting clocks in the London houses of the rich.  But when she loses her equipment, she finds herself the governess to two out of control orphans who are in the care of a renowned libertine.  Alexandra knows that what they need is a stable, loving home.  Chase is the heir to a duke and lives by one rule: no attachments.  He won’t settle down and he doesn’t want anyone depending on him.  He knows he’s not to be trusted – all he wants is for his new governess to turn his wards into proper young ladies so that they can find men that they can rely on when they grow up.  And we all know where this is going.  It’s got a grumpy scared to love rakish hero with two children to take care of, a very wary accidental governess who sees the job as her ticket to her own independence and a bit of forced proximity. Bingo, my catnip.

The dialogue is sparky, the characters are great from the hero and heroine, right the way through all the minor characters.  I loved the running joke about the funerals.  You’ll get it when you read it – but if I tell you it’ll spoil it.  Here’s what the author had to say about it on twitter:

And if that doesn’t make you want to read it, I don’t know what will.  Anyway, if I had one quibble, it’s that the heroine’s surname is Mountbatten which I *think* originated as one of the invented surnames for some of the British end of the Royal Family when they were Anglicizing things during World War One – in this case the bits of the Battenburg family that married Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter and one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters.  It’s also the one that Prince Philip adopted just before he married the then Princess Elizabeth – meaning the current British royal family has the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.  If you’re not a massive nerd like me, it probably won’t bother you, but it made me think of Prince Philip every time it was mentioned.*  I’m sorry if by mentioning it I’ve caused the same issue for you.

My copy came via NetGalley, but The Governess Game is available on Kindle and Kobo and if it’s anything like the Duchess Deal it may pop up in larger supermarket book selections and some of the bigger bookshops when it comes out in paperback in the UK next week.  If not, order it from your local friendly indie.

Happy Reading!

*Oddly not the only romance novel I’ve read recently that has done this.

Book of the Week, historical, new releases, reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Old Baggage

This week’s Book of the Week is Lissa Evans’s new novel – which is appropriate because it comes out on Thursday! You may remember that one of her previous books, Crooked Heart, was a Book of the Week just under 18 months ago so I was thrilled to spot this one on NetGalley and be able to pick it up.  You don’t need to have read Crooked Heart to read this – but if you have I think it will add an extra layer to your enjoyment.

The cover of Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Old Baggage is the story of Matilda.  Before the war, she was a suffragette and her life revolved around the quest to get women the vote.  Now it’s 1928 and women are about to get parity – the vote on the same terms as men.  Mattie is pleased but she doesn’t think the battle is over.  Unfortunately no-one else seems to agree with her and she’s rather at sea trying to figure out what she should do next.  The book follows Mattie as she searches for a new mission – with her loyal friend Florrie Lee (known as The Flea) supporting her and trying to be a calming influence.  Along the way she encounters old friends who’ve faced a similar dilemma and is stung by a criticism from one of them, who is trying to recruit Mattie to help with her facist youth group, that she is just a dabbler.  And so she sets up a rival group – to try and educate young women about why they take an interest and get involved in causes that they believe in – or that Mattie thinks that they should believe in.

I really liked Mattie as a character – she’d be a nightmare to be friends with because you’d never get a word in edgeways and she would always tell you if she disagreed with you and go into details about why – but she’s fascinating to read about.  For all her talk of being sensible and levelheaded, she has some very real blindspots.  She’s definitely on the right side of history but she’s not always going about it in the right way.  And when she picks the wrong person to try and take under her wing, it puts everything that she’s worked for at risk.  On top of this, Mattie’s history with the suffragettes – her confrontations with police, her time in prison etc – often means that there are people who aren’t prepared to listen to her or take her seriously.  It almost goes without saying, but the title of this book is so clever and well chosen – Mattie has a lot of baggage from her suffragette days but a lot of people see her as an old baggage – a nuisance of an old woman, out of touch and past her prime.

I also really liked the Flea – for all Mattie’s talk and noble aims, it’s Florrie who is out there in the real world trying to do something to make a difference on a day to day basis.  She’s the sensible counterpoint to Mattie’s idealist and shows that you need the quiet organisers behind the scenes to get things done as well as the people on the frontline.  And Ida, one of the young women who is drawn into Mattie and Florrie’s orbit, is an interesting character in her own right and not just a plot device for showing the strengths and weaknesses of Mattie and Florrie.

It’s 100 years this year since some women in Britain got the vote and a lot has been written about the Suffrage and Suffragette movements.  There’s a stack of new books out this year – and I’ve got many of them on my to-buy list – many of them non-fiction.  But sometimes the situation calls for some fiction too and Old Baggage reminds us – in a very readable and compelling way – that the fight didn’t end in 1918 and takes a very plausible (in my view) look at what might have happened next to some of the women whose lives had revolved around trying to get the vote before the start of World War One.  Evans has used a very light hand when it comes to the flashbacks of the realities of Mattie’s life as a suffragette – I could have read pages more about it. 

I may not have read much last week in the grand scheme of things, but I think this would probably have been my BotW pick even if I’d read a dozen books.  It’s not onle massively readable – I raced through it and wished that I could have been disciplined enough to make it last longer – but it makes you think and gives you things to chew over long after you’ve finished reading it.  As I mentioned at the top, my copy was an e-galley – so it’s also going on my to-buy list because I know that my mum and my sister will really enjoy this.

Old Baggage is out in hardback on the 14th – you’ve still got time to preorder it and have it get to you on the day of release if you’re quick.  I hope it gets a good push at the bookshops – I’d expect it to be in all the good bookshops, but I’m not sure about the supermarkets.  I’m sure Big Green Bookshop will be happy to get it in for you, but it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo if you want an ebook.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical

Book of the Week: Sorcerer to the Crown

After that run of (excellent) murder mysteries a few weeks back, I’m trying to make sure there’s a bit of variety in the BotW posts – obviously reading material permitting – and this week we have some magical historical fiction action for a change, with Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, which you may have spotted on the Week in Books lists just a few times.  This was mostly because I started reading it and then it got buried in a pile and a bit forgotten about because I didn’t want to make it all battered by putting it in my work bag.  But as you can see, in the end I found a way of dealing with it and it made it to work and back a couple of times while I read it and is still in fairly pristine nick…

Copy of Sorcerer to the Crown
It’s been a while since we had a Reading-on-the-Train photo…

Sorcerer to the Crown is the story of Zacharias, the new Sorcerer to the British king and his new apprentice, Prunella.  Now women are only allowed to be witches, and grudgingly at that, but Prunella seems to have more magic at her untrained fingertips than she knows what to do with and Zacharias thinks she might be able to help him work out what has happened to England’s supply of magic, and at the same time help him reform English Magick in general.  Prunella has other plans though.  She’s trying to find out where she came from and what the mysterious gift is that her father seems to have left her.  On top of all that, Zacharias is a freed slave and despite the fact that he was the adopted son of the previous Sorcerer to the Crown, his skin colour means that the other magicians are disinclined to follow his lead – especially given the rumours surrounding the circumstances of the death of his predecessor.  That plus an impulsive and impetuous young girl makes for a fairly explosive combination.

I found the story is a little slow to get going, but once it does there is plenty of adventure and action.  I wanted to know a more about the world that we were and how it worked sooner, but a lot of information is held back from the reader for a long time.  This makes it very hard for you to get a sense of where you are and to get your bearings early on.  Prunella is a great character, full of derring-do and get up and go, but I didn’t find her very likeable.  Zacharias is more promising, but because he’s so caught up in rules and problems and on top of that is a bit wet, so I found it a bit hard to find some one to like and root for.  But he was definitely on the side of right, and Prunella probably was, so that helped!

I had heard a lot of talk about Sorcerer to the Crown and lots of recommendations from bookish people, but in the end I liked rather that loved it.  A sequel is coming I believe and I’ll probably look for that at the library rather than buying it outright.  That said, this was still the best book that I read last week, and so for that reason it’s a merited BotW.  It’s also inspired me to write a post about magical worlds, so you can expect to see that at some point in the near future, once I’ve done a little bit more reading!

My copy of Sorcerer to the Crown came from Big Green Bookshop, but you should be able get from any good bookshop with a reasonable fiction section.  Or you can get it online from Amazon or in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, books, detective, historical, mystery, Series I love

Book of the Week: Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

As discussed in yesterday’s Week in Books, I was not a happy camper last week what with being stuck at home (and mostly in bed), laid low with the lurgy.  However, one bright(er) spot in the week was reading the latest Dandy Gilver novel and so it was an obvious choice for my BotW this week.

paperback copy of Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

This is the twelfth book in the series and sees Dandy called in to help out one of her old friends, who is hoping to restore her family’s fortunes by exploiting the potential of the family pile.  The pile in question is a rundown castle, which happens to be located just down the road from a much grander stately home which is due to open for tourist tours shortly.  So Min and the Bewer’s have invited a theatre troupe to their castle to put on some Shakespeare, in the hope of attracting some of the visitors as they pass on their way to their rivals.  Why does Min need Dandy and Alec?  Well, there’s the small matter of a missing jewel, a curse and a long-vanished man that all need ironing out post haste.  And as it turns out there is also a host of secrets and lies lurking just under the surface.

This has got pretty much everything I’ve come to expect from a Dandy mystery – banter and friendly rivalry between Dandy and Alec, a huge (and somewhat complicated) cast of characters and an interesting setting and set up.  It doesn’t have a lot of Dandy and Hugh, which is a shame because they’re often a lot of fun and there’s very little Bunty in this either.  But it does have a mystery which will keep you turning the pages right to the end, even if I did figure parts of it out before the big reveal.  I’ve said before that one of the things that I like about the Dandy books is that although they appear to be a historical cozy crime series, the solutions to the mysteries are often a lot darker than you find in other similar books – and this keeps that trend going nicely.  I’m also impressed that McPherson manages to keep finding fresh settings for these books – I don’t think we’ve really repeated anything much yet through the series.

If you haven’t read any of the previous books, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – although this one doesn’t have a lot of explanation of the backstory to Dandy and her business with Alec.  I know I usually advise that you start at the beginning of a series, but this one did a fair bit of evolving over the first few books and which I don’t think really got going properly and hit its stride until about book five.  If you want to know more – check out my Recommendsday post about Dandy from last year.

You should be able to find a selection of the Dandy books in any large-ish bookshop and my library always has a couple in as well.  The hardback edition of this is available now, but my copy came from Bookbridgr ahead of the paperback release on February 8th, so if you’re an ebook reader it might be worth hanging fire on buying it until after that as the price often drops when the paperback comes out and the Kindle and Kobo versions were an eye-watering £13.99 at time of writing.

Happy reading!

Adventure, Authors I love, Book of the Week, historical, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: A Treacherous Curse

So it was my birthday last week and I treated myself to a few books, one of which was Deanna Raybourn’s latest book A Treacherous Curse. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Ms Raybourn’s work – from Lady Julia, through her standalone books to this latest series so this BotW pick will be no surprise to you.

Cover of A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series and sees Veronica and Stoker investing an Egyptian-themed mystery. Stoker’s former expedition partner has disappeared along with a valuable artefact and Stoker is one of the prime suspects. Veronica is determined to clear his name and the two of them are drawn into a web of intrigue that includes an ill-fated excavation in the Valley of the Kings, an Egyptian god appearing on the streets of London and a disgruntled teenage girl.

Now as you know, I try not to give spoilers in my reviews and that means it’s quite hard to say anything more than that about this without giving away major plot points from the first two books in the series.  But this has interesting developments on the various ongoing plot points that are enough to leave you impatient for book four – which must be a year away given that this one has only just come out and is obviously a major disadvantage of reading a book as soon as it comes out!

There’s unresolved sexual tension galore, wise cracks, peril and moths. I also really like the Eypgtian connection in this – it tapped into some of the things that I love about the Amelia Peabody books.  And if you like Elizabeth Peters’s series and you’re not already reading Veronica’s adventures, then you should be.  But maybe start from the first book (A Curious Beginning) or you’ll get some serious plot spoilers from this.

I haven’t seen these in the supermarkets, but they are usually in the bigger bookshops and I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would be able to order a copy in for you. I bought my copy on Kindle but it’s available on Kobo too although the Kobo version was slightly more expensive at the time I wrote this.  There’s also a really good (and completely spoiler free) interview with Deanna Raybourn on this week’s Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast if you want to know more about the book (and the series) before you take the plunge.

Happy Reading!