Book of the Week, historical

Book of the Week: A Dangerous Collaboration

Yes, I know.  This post is a day late.  And yes, I’m sure you’re not surprised by today’s pick.  I mean I’ve got form with Deanna Raybourn, even if this is technically a violation of my first in series rule.  Sorry about the lateness – the bank holiday threw me off schedule and I remembered I’d forgotten to set this live in bed last night.  Oopsy daisy.  Anyway, I got here in the end. Normal service will be resumed next week, I promise.

Cover of A Dangerous Collaboration

A Dangerous Collaboration is the fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell series.  Veronica is a Victorian adventuress with a passion for butterflies and a penchant for solving crimes. She has a on again/off again professional partnership with natural scientist and taxidermist Stoker, the black sheep of a noble family.  The start of this book sees Veronica take to the seas briefly to get away from Stoker after developments (that I’m not going to spoil) at the end of book three. On her return to Britain, Stoker’s older brother Tiberius asks her to pose as his fiancée and accompany him to a house party at a castle on an island off the south coast, dangling the prospect of a rare butterfly to add to her collection as inducement.  But on arrival on the island, it turns out their host, Lord Malcolm Romilly has assembled a group of people with connections to his missing wife, who disappeared on her wedding day.  Can Veronica figure out what’s going on?  What is Tiberius hoping for from his trip with Veronica?  What is Stoker playing at? Can I survive another book with these two if it has the same level of unresolved sexual tension as the last one?

I’ve been looking forward to this since I finished the third book in the series last year and this pretty much lived up to what I was hoping. It does have a bit of a slow start, but it’s a great set up for the later stages of the book.  I don’t want to say too much more or I’ll ruin it for everyone else, but there’s definite significant progress here moving along some of the ongoing plot strands.  And so. much. sexual. tension. Hooo boy.

I said in my post about book three last year that this is a great series if you’re an Amelia Peabody fan, but I’d add to that now Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series if you want another Victorian lady being smart and resourceful in a slightly different way.  My dad has a kindle attached to my account and I know that he’s read and enjoyed this series too – because he’s asked me if there are any more of them in the past!

My copy of A Dangerous Collaboration came from the library – it came out in March, so I only had to wait two months for it on hold – but it’s also available from all the usual places like Book Depository and Amazon, but is a hardback release from the US at the moment so the Kindle and Kobo are priced accordingly (the Kindle £5 cheaper than the Kobo at time of writing but still nearly £10) and I can’t currently see a paperback release date in the UK.  But if you haven’t tried any of Deanna Raybourn’s books yet, the first in her other historical series – featuring Lady Julia Grey – is only 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment and that is definitely well worth it because it has one of my favourite opening lines in a book:

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.

And if that doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, historical, romance

Book of the Week: Day of the Duchess

This week’s pick is a book that I brought back from my American Adventure with me and have been saving for a time of need.  And last week was my time of need for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: a book hangover after finishing the Blessings series, a super stressy week at work, not enough sleep and general life stress that I’m not going to talk about because talking about it makes me anxious. So it seemed like the time to crack out the emergency MacLean.

Paperback copy of Day of the Duchess

Day of the Duchess is the last book in the Scandal and Scoundrel series, which was inspired by modern celebrity scandals and translated them back to the nineteenth century. Seraphina is the most scandalous of the sisters that we’ve been following – she left her husband Malcolm and fled abroad but now she’s back and she wants a divorce. The book flashes backwards and forwards between Sera and Mal before their relationship imploded and now when Sera is very clear that she wants her freedom and her future back no matter what the consequences and Mal is equally determined that he wants her back and that they should and can fix things.

And it is really good – an estranged couple, a battle of wills, a fiery relationship with amazing chemistry and the ultimate question: is love and chemistry enough? What happens when you are head over heels for someone – and they are for you – but there is a fundamental problem in your relationship and a conflict that isn’t just a misunderstanding. How do you work past that? This is much more melancholic and reflective than a lot of historical romance – if I hadn’t known it was a romance (and that it was written by an author who I trust and who knows the genre rules!) I would have been worried that there wasn’t going to be an Happily Ever After. But there is and I had strong feelings about what needed to happen to get there too. But the end I was a satisfied customer although it sort of broke me and put me back together again along the way, which was not quite what I was expecting.

As I said at the top, this has been on the shelf for a while and there has been another Sarah MacLean since this  which has started a new series which has some set up going on here, but in a subtle way. On reflection I think that I probably should have reread the rest of the series first because it’s nearly 18 months since I read A Scot in the Dark and I forgotten a little bit where everything fitted in and what we already knew. But that’s not to say that it would be a problem to start reading Sarah MacLean here – because it totally isn’t.  It’s more that if you’re a nerd like me it’s nice to remind yourself who everyone else is and how we got here. Although to be fair, I could also just have gone back and checked the archives here to start with!

As I mentioned at the top, my copy of Day of the Duchess came from the US – specifically the Clarendon Market Common Barnes and Noble – and I’d expect this to be easy to find in any US bookstore with a reasonable romance section – because Sarah MacLean is a Big Name.  If you’re not in the US, you can get the UK version (with a cover that does it no justice) from Kindle or Kobo. Amazon are also carrying the paperback, but I suspect if you want to get it from a real shop it’ll be a special order. All I need to do now is figure out how I’m going to get an American edition of the next Bareknuckle Bastards book when that comes out in the summer. I’m open to offers y’all.

Happy Reading!

Blog tours, historical, new releases

Blog Tour: The Confessions of Frannie Langton

A Friday bonus post for you today because I am on the blog tour for The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, which came out on Tuesday in the UK.  I actually mentioned this book last week in my post about diverse authors, although  that was focusing on romance and this is a mystery thriller Gothic page turner, definitely not a romance. It’s also a debut and I have many things to say about it.

Hardback of The Confessions of Frannie Langton

Let’s start with the plot. This is the story of a young Jamaican woman named (by her owners) Frances Langton.  When we meet her she is in a cell in Newgate prison, awaiting trial for the murder of her employer and his wife. Over the course of the novel we go back over her life, starting at the plantation in Jamaica where she was born a slave and then the journey that led her to the trial which may see her hanged.

Frannie is an incredible character.  She is smart she is determined and she wants to believe that she can better herself and better her situation in life, despite all the advice from her friends and all the evidence that the world is trying to stop her from doing anything, being anyone and achieving anything.  The story she tells is fractured and oblique at times – there’s a lot of reading between the lines to do and there are lots of twists and turns and information withheld from the reader until very late on – which is more powerful than unravelling it all at once.  I had some of the revelations figured out quite early on, which didn’t make it anyway shocking when it was finally revealed – if anything it made it worse, because I was hoping I was wrong!   I was unsure about how the central mystery, that is who killed Marguerite and Mr Benham, was going to be resolved, but I think that’s the point – the book is keeping you on a knife edge.

You will know by now I read a lot of historical fiction, and it’s easy to forget when you read them what the reality of life was like for most people, and even worse that most of the money, if not all of the money, that was supporting the lives of wealthy people was supported by the slave trade or by sugar plantations which themselves were run by slaves.  This is the book to read to remind yourself of that and to counteract. It’s dark and disturbing and unflinching at the violence that was inflicted upon slaves by their masters, but it’s also a big old page turner.

Along with my hardback, I got sent some bits and bobs about the book, among them some notes from Sara Collins, who says that this book is in part a response to reading Jane Eyre as a child in the Caribbean and wanting to write a story with a Jamaican former slave in a similarly ambiguous, complicated Gothic love story.  As she puts it “like Jane Eyre, if Jane had been given as a gift to ‘the finest mind in all of England’ and then accused of cuckolding and murdering him.” If you need further convincing, it’s also compared to Sarah Waters, Alias Grace and the Wide Sargasso Sea.

I enjoyed it a lot – and will be looking forward to seeing what Sara Collins does next.  My copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton was sent to me by the publisher, but you can get hold of one of your very own now – in Kindle, Kobo and hardback which is rather well priced at Amazon at time of writing, but I’m expecting it to be in all the bookshops fairly prominently, and I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would be happy to order it for you too in their new online-only incarnation.

Happy reading!

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!