book round-ups, historical

Platinum Jubilee: Royal-related books…

As I said yesterday, it’s the Platinum Jubilee holidays here this (long) weekend, so today I thought I’d do a recap of the various royal related books I’ve talked about here over the years. I’m going to try and work my way back in time rather than split this into fiction and non-fiction. We’ll see how that goes…

I took this on Wednesday in my favourite Italian deli when I was buying lunch. It just tickled me!

To start with, I did a post about books featuring the Queen back on the actual anniversary of her accession. Then from the pre Elizabeth II half of the twentieth century we have in non-fiction: Andrew Lownie’s Traitor King about Edward VIII after his abdication, Mary S Lovell’s The Riviera Set which also features the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the background. In fiction there is TP Fielden’s Stealing the Crown mystery set in Buckingham Palace during World War II, the Royal Spyness series of mystery books and Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell books have more than one royal connection across the series so far. Oh and don’t forget my beloved Gone With The Windsors by Laurie Graham – what would Maybell say if I didn’t mention her experiences with Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII?

Back into the nineteenth century now and I have a whole post about books related to Queen Victoria’s Dynasty and there’s more on Hannah Pakula’s An Uncommon Woman about Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter and wife of Kaiser here as well. There’s also Greedy Queen about the food that Queen Victoria ate. Daisy Goodwin’s The Fortune Hunter features Empress Sisi of Austria and a cameo from Queen Victoria and John Brown. Pre Queen Victoria there’s a royal connection in Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck. Honorable mention to the Pink Carnation series, which features Royalist plots, the Napoleonic Empire and Sultans at various points so could rightly be considered Royal Related. In fantasy novels, both Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown and V E Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy are set in alternate universe Regency Londons as is a lot of Gail Carriger’s Parasolverse.

Pre-nineteenth century I’ve written about a lot less royals – here at least, although there are reviews of more over on my Goodreads profile if you can find them. But there’s still Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Romanovs (I’m still not past the Napoleonic era), David Starkey’s Elizabeth about Elizabeth I, yesterday’s post about Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels and some of Shakespeare’s various Kings get a mention in my post about Sir Antony Sher. I really should try and write some more here about of it. After all I was a history student at university and I’ve read a lot on the French Revolution, the French monarchy, and the Stuarts – even if not all of it is royal related. I must pull my socks up and do better in future. I think I’ve got at least half a dozen bits on the to read shelves virtual and physical at the moment that could fit in this post- including more than one about Charles II and about the Bourbon Kings.

I also did a whole post of Royal Romances – which covers a whole bunch of different time periods so I’m putting it on the end, but there’s also Talia Hibbert’s The Princess Trap which is a contemporary romance. I also wanted to mention Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone set in a West Africa inspired magical world which has a heroine fighting the monarchy to return magic to the people.

And if this doesn’t break WordPress’s little brain with all the links back to my own blog, I don’t know what will. Have a great weekend everyone!

Book of the Week, historical, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Ask a Historian

I offer you a non fiction book this week – and after a few weeks where I’ve been recommending new (or newish) releases, here’s one that’s not quite as new a release because it came out in October…

Anyway, Greg Jenner’s latest book does exactly what it says on the tin – it answers fifty questions from history that are the sort of thing that most people actually want to know – as opposed to the sort of history people thing they ought to know. So you can find out how women dealt with their periods in the past – but also how historical periods got their names, where history starts and pre-history ends and why people are so obsessed with the Tudors (see also the question about how many nipples Anne Boleyn had) and then more horrible histories type stuff like how much horse manure was created each day in London or what the Flintstones got right. And because it’s fifty questions it makes for great bite sized reading – I read a couple of questions a night before bed.

As I’ve mentioned before, Greg and I overlapped at the same university and we did student radio at the same time although in different departments (I was news and he was speech) so we didn’t really hang out together although we were in the Langwith bar at the same time a few times after the weekly meeting. I really like the niche he’s carved himself as a public historian – he is incredibly knowledgable but wears it very lightly and his writing style is fun and accessible. And he’s the sort of history writer who wants to appear like he knows it all right off the top of his head – he’s not afraid to show his working and tell you which historians or other experts he spoke to in the main text and not hidden in the footnotes. And if there’s something you’re particularly interested in, there’s always a further reading list at the back – complete with notes about which are the more academic books as opposed to the more lay person friendly ones. As well as working for the grownups, I think this is also the sort of book that would appeal to a kid who read horrible histories and is now looking for something else fun and historical. It’s got a few swear words in it, but I think that teens and tweens will love that (and parents: they’ve heard all the words already at school, that ship has sailed)

My copy (complete with signed book plate) came from Big Green Books, but it should be fairly easy to get hold of from any reasonably sized book shop as well as on Kindle and Kobo. And if you read it and like it, then try Greg’s other books Dead Famous (definitely more for the adults) and A Millions Years in a Day. And as a bonus Greg reads his own audiobooks, which is always delightful – if you listen to his podcast You’re Dead to Me you know what he sounds like and it would be weird for it not to be him narrating!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Book previews, historical, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting

There were lots of options for this post today. I like a week like that. I’ve gone for a historical romance because it’s been a few weeks and this was a lot of fun and I needed something fun and frothy and if I hadn’t written it already, another entry for the marries the person you’re trying to save someone from post.

Kitty Talbot’s parents have died, leaving their daughters with debts and an uncertain future. Determined to secure her sisters’ future, she decides the solution is to marry well and heads to London with the last money they have to try to secure a rich husband. She’s never moved in this sort of society before, but with the help of her mother’s best friend she’s sure she can succeed. And indeed she soon attracts a suitor and is intent on reeling him in, until his older brother, Lord Radcliffe comes to town to put a stop to it. He knows she’s a fortune hunter and is determined to keep her out of his family, but somehow he finds himself helping her ingratiate herself with the ton…

As you might be able to tell from that summary – which doesn’t even cover half the book – this has got a lot of plot and a lot of twists. It rattles along so fast that you don’t have time to think about it, but when I was trying write that plot summary I realised how much had gone on beside the whole fortune hunter main idea. It pulled it off, but I do wonder whether there are any ideas left for Sophie Irwin’s next book! But I enjoyed this a lot so I’ll definitely be looking for it when it comes to see. It’s “not quite in the common way” of the historical romances I have read recently, not least because the steam level is basically smouldering glances for most of the book and never gets higher than kissing – so not so much enemies to Lovers as enemies to soon to be marrieds!

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s coming out on Thursday in ebook and hardback and if you pre-order it today it’ll drop onto your Kindle or Kobo or your doormat on release day.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, historical, Series I love

Series I Love: Veronica Speedwell

Today I want to talk about Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series, because the latest book in the series came out this week, and it seemed like a really good moment to introduce newbies to the wonderful world of Veronica (and Stoker).

Our heroine, Veronica Speedwell is an orphaned, independent woman. When we meet her at the start of the series, she has just buried her aunt and is about to resume her life of travelling the world in the pursuit of butterflies. But while she is back in Britain, she is drawn into a mystery and into the orbit of the incredibly grumpy taxidermist and natural historian Stoker. The latest book, An Impossible Imposter, is the seventh in the series and so far we have discovered secrets about Veronica’s family and about Stoker’s past, romped through artists colonies, archaeological circles, women’s clubs, private clubs and gothic Cornish castles. The latest one promises an amnesiac heir and I can’t wait. Although I may have to, because I’m not meant to be buying hardcover novels at the moment, no matter how much I want to.

It’s hard to talk about them much more than that, or you give too much away – as you’ll see if you click through to the BotW reviews for A Treacherous Curse and A Dangerous Collaboration, but basically they’re fast paced Victorian-set adventure capers with a feisty heroine and a grumpy hero, if Stoker can be classed as such (he definitely wouldn’t like it). They’re also witty and have clever premises as well as good mysteries. What is not to like?

I forgot to check if Foyles had any in stock when I was in there the other weekend, but my suspcion is that if you want this in physical editions, you’re going to have to order them specially. But they are on Kindle and Kobo and do try and read them in order if you can, it will work so much better if you do. And if you’ve already read all of these, then you should really check out some of Raybourn’s other books – especially the Lady Julia series.

Enjoy!

Book of the Week, historical, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: Ashes of London

This week’s fiction book is a historical mystery that has been sitting on my Kindle waiting for me to read it for literally years. And as is so often the case, something I’ve been meaning to read for years turns out to be very good. So I’m owning up and writing about it!

So as The Ashes of London opens, the city is on fire. It’s 1666 and as the cover illustration suggests, the heart of the capital has gone up in flames. Among those watching St Paul’s cathedral going up in flames is James Marwood, who has been forced into a position as a government informer because of the actions of his printer father. In the aftermath of the fire he is drawn in to the investigation into a corpse found with his thumbs tied in a tomb that should have been empty. The investigation takes him back into circles that he would rather not be in but also brings him into contact with Cat Lovett. Cat is searching for her father but is also trying to escape from the people who are looking after her. But the secrets she is hiding are tied up with the answers that James needs.

Firstly an important warning: if you don’t read books with sexual violence in them, then avoid this. Spoiler alert, but in the interest of not letting people in for stuff they don’t want: there is an on page rape in this, which is over quickly but which forms part of Cat’s motivation going forward. I get why Andrew Taylor did it, but I wish he’d come up with another way of achieving the same thing. I’m going to read the second book in the series and I’ll update you if you can jump straight to that without missing too much background.

Now I’ve got that out of the way, I really liked the Restoration setting of this book and the slow drip, drip reveal of all the characters’ backstories. I don’t even think you need to know that much about the period to get the most out of it – as long as you know that Charles I was executed (in 1643) and that for nearly 20 years England was a republican commonwealth ruled by a Lord Protector. In 1660 the monarchy was restored and Charles II (son of the executed Charles) becomes king. And now I’ve told you do you do, and toh can get stuck into the intrigue and suspicion of the Restoration court, and in fact country. I liked the mystery, and the suspense and although ther is some violence and gore, it isn’t too graphic. If you’ve been a fan of the Tudor-set mysteries, and fancy a new scene then try this and if you do like it there are now four more books in the series. As I said at the top, I will read book two and take it from there.

As mentioned this has been on my kindle for ages and was actually part of the NetGalley backlog. But it’s on Kindle and Kobo for £2.99 as I write this and it should also be fairly easy to get hold of in paperback – Foyles have click and collect copies which is always a good sign!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, new releases

Book of the Week: Circus of Wonders

So as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m still not really in the headspace for books where I don’t know how they’re going to end. This of course is the main reason why I’ve mostly been reading romance and mystery for the duration of the pandemic – in the midst of all the global uncertainty, I need to know that it’s going to be ok at the end. This doesn’t seem to have got through to the part of my brain clicking request on NetGalley though, which is a bit of an issue to be honest. But I did manage to read this – and enjoy it – so here’s a change from the recent fiction picks and a bit of historical fiction.

Cover of Circus of Wonders

In Circus of Wonders we meet Nell. She’s always been different, because of the birthmarks that cover her skin. When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders comes to her coastal village, she is kidnapped after her father sells her. Ripped away from her beloved brother and the seaside, at first Nell tries to escape. But soon she discovers the community of performers and meets Jasper’s younger brother Toby. Toby and Jasper were in Crimea together and the show is what they have always planned together, even before they were on the battlefield. But when the show gets to London, Nell is its star, but can Jasper cope with his “leopard girl” eclipsing him?

This is a really atmospheric book – mixing the world of Victorian circus performers and the horror of war, as well as looking at identity, difference and fame. I worry that this makes Circus of Wonders sound very worthy, but it’s actually a real page Turner as well as being very clever. And give the renewed interest in the period and the circus after The Greatest Showman it is perhaps and opportune time for something like this. Really very readable. I read Elizabeth Macneal’s first book, The Doll Factory on my birthday holiday at the start of last year* and I found it creepy and atmospheric but only really liked one strand of the story and wanted a more definite resolution. This one, I like Toby and Nell’s story and it does have a very definite ending so that’s a definite win here. If you’re after for something to read in the sun, this would be a good choice.

My copy of Circus of Wonders came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback as well as Kindle and Kobo. I would expect the physical copies to be front and centre in the book shops – because it’s in the hardback top 10 at the moment. Side note: I had read two books in each of the fiction top tens in the Sunday Times this week – unfortunately this was slightly undermined by the fact that one of the books in each list was the same book – The Thursday Murder Club – which is in both hardback and paperback lists! For the completists, the other book that I had read in the paperback list is the wonderful The Vanishing Half. But at any rate, if you haven’t read the either the Richard Osman or the Brit Bennett (which are doing very different things), they’re now in paperback – ideal for your sunlounger.

Happy Reading!

*It seems like a lifetime ago, but that trip which seemed so extravagant at the time- to pay for sunshine in January – now seems like the smartest idea we ever have, as it was our only proper holiday last year and it was a proper sunshiney one.

Book of the Week, historical, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: Wild Rain

More romance this week – but this time historical. I’ve also recommended Beverly Jenkins before – but for her contemporary Blessings series. This is also pretty new – it came out February so I’m fairly up to date for the second week in a row!

Cover of Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins

And so the plot: self-sufficient and self-contained female rancher Spring finds Garrett injured in the snow, and takes him back to her cabin to escape the storm. Garrett has travelled to Wyoming from Washington DC to write an article about Spring’s doctor brother. But soon he’s finding Spring much more interesting. Spring, however, is not interested in men or relationships – after a traumatic incident in her past she just wants to be left alone to raise her horses in peace. But as the attraction between the two of them grows, will they be able to overcome their differences and find a happy ending?

Well it’s a romance so you know they will, but it’s a really interesting journey to get there and I really liked that it was Garrett who did most of the adapting. All too often it’s the woman in a romance – particularly in a historical romance who has to do all the changing to fit the man’s circumstances. Garrett may fall for the community he finds in Wyoming, but he has to do some thinking about what he wants from life as well. I don’t read many western-set romances – mostly because there’s a lot about the American West that makes me uncomfortable- but if someone was going to tempt me, of course it would be Beverly Jenkins. She creates such interesting characters and worlds and I love her writing style. This did everything I wanted it to do – The peril with the villain ends up wrapping up a little quickly, but then the romance is what you’re there for so, actually it was fine by me.

My copy of Wild Rain came from the library, but it’s available now on Kindle and Kobo and if you’re in the US it should be able to buy fairly easily in paperback. I suspect in the UK it will be harder but several stores seem to have it available to order – although it’s a bit confusing as Book Depository say they can send it to you now, but Waterstones and Bookshop.org.uk have it as a preorder.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, historical

Book of the Week: Her Last Flight

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, it was somewhat of a strange week last week for me, reading wise. Still don’t quite know why, but I do know that I really, really enjoyed Beatriz Wiliams’ latest book at the start of the week, so it made for a really easy pick for Book of the Week. Which is good, because decision making is not my strongest suit at the moment.

Cover of Her Last Flight

It’s 1947 and former war correspondent Janey Everett is researching a planned biography of a forgotten aviation pioneer. Sam Mallory was a Great War fighter pilot who went on to take part in flying races and barnstorming displays before going missing while flying planes in the Spanish Civil War. Her quest for the truth takes her to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, to talk to Irene Lindquist, owner of an island hopping airline, who she thinks might actually be Irene Foster, Sam’s former student whose mysterious disappearance during a round the world flight in 1937 remains an unsolved mystery. At first Irene won’t engage with Janey, but when she finds out that Janey has found the wreck of Mallory’s airplane in a Spanish desert, she starts to reconsider. And that’s as much as I’m going to tell you about the plot.

It’s an incredibly readable story with two fascinating women at the heart of it. Structurally, it is split between Janey’s first person account and extracts from a book about Irene – so a time-slip novel with a bit of a twist. It works really, really well. I have a slightly patchy history with Beatriz William’s books – but when she works for me, it really works and this might be my favourite so far. It’s a complete page turner – it’s tense and emotional at times and it’s got plenty of twists (only one of which I predicted). I would say this is a perfect beach read, but it feels like beaches are back to being a long way off again, even if the weather has been lovely for the last week.

I’ve read a few books around aviatrixes – fiction and non fiction – if you read this and like it try Deanna Raybourn’s City of Jasmine for another fictional aviatrix or for a fictionalised account of a real aviatrix, try Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun about Beryl Markham. If you just want time-slip novels in general – try Lauren Willig or Chanel Cleeton. My copy of Her Last Flight came from the library, but it’s just come out in paperback. I still haven’t been in to a bookshop so I can’t speak for how easy it will be to get hold of, but as ever, give your local indie a call and I’m sure they’ll be able to order it in if they don’t have it in stock. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook.

Happy Reading!

 

book round-ups, historical, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: The Happy Valley Set

For this week’s Recommendsday, a post that has been some considerable time in the making, about books set in the Happy Valley in Kenya. Now between the World Wards, this particular patch of the British Empire was somewhat notorious for being a haven for rich people living scandalous lives, with spouse swapping, drugs and murder among the real life activities that went on.  So this postis basically historical rich people problems – fiction, non-fiction and barely fictionalised.  Given the difficult state of the world at the moment, I thought that spending some time among a gang of dissolute loafers in the mid-20th century might be a bit of a change. And as most of these are fairly modern, they have an eye on the fact that colonising places is not a good idea. This is a bit of mix of fiction and non-fiction, but I think it’s a nice introduction to the subject. I’ve tried to provide a bit of a guide as to how to lay your hands on these at the moment if you are so minded, but if you want a physical copy, obviously try your local independent bookshop first to see if they can get hold of them for you – they need your money more than the conglomerates do at the moment.

Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Cover of Spear of Summer Grass

Delilah Drummond’s family want her out of Europe after one scandal too many. She finds herself exiled to her favourite step-father’s house in Kenya.  What she finds there is a crumbling estate in a community of seething rivalries and intrigue.  Ryder White, a safari guide (of sorts), quickly catches her eye as not being quite like the rest of the colony.  But when an act of violence happens, will Delilah stick to her plan to leaving as soon as possible or has she discovered someone – or somewhere – that she can’t leave behind? I’ve written about Deanna Raybourn before – you can find posts about Veronica Speedwell here and here – but this is one of her standalone novels and as far as this post goes it is firmly in the fiction camp – I don’t think there are any real people here – but is clearly inspired by in what was really going on in colonial Kenya and what the Brits out there got up to. Delilah is engaging but self destructive and you spend a lot of time while reading it hoping that she doesn’t screw this up for herself.  I could happily have read another 100 pages. This one has the bonus of being on Kindle Unlimited at the moment – or £1.49 to buy on Kindle or Kobo.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen

Cover of Love and Death Among the Cheetahs

This is the thirteenth instalment in the Royal Spyness series and sees Georgie and her new husband honeymooning in Kenya’s Happy Valley. Now while I wouldn’t recommend starting the series here (you’ll miss all the drama in Georgie’s love life if you do), it would make a gentle introduction to the Happy Valley set. I thought Rhys Bowen did a really good job of writing about life in that little set while keeping it within the bounds of what regular readers of her series expect – which is not really sex and swingers.  While the antics might have been eye opening for Georgie, they were actually fairly subtle compared to some of what actually went on. This one is not cheap at the moment as it is the latest in the series and only out in hardback and ebook. The Kindle is £9.99 or £9.49 on Kobo, but I expect that might drop a little when the paperback comes out in July.

Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Cover of The Ashford Affair

I’ve written before about how much I liked Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, but she also does a very good line in standalone novels. This is a time-slip novel with dual narratives – one in the 1920s, the other in 1999.  Lawyer Clemmie finds herself poking around in her family’s history after a relative drops hints about a family secret at her grandmother’s 99th birthday party. It’s got Great War-era British high society, a grand country house, Kenya and modern day (ish!) Manhattan. I read it a couple of years back and liked it a lot – Ihink I even got a bit teary-eyed at the conclusioN.  You’ll find some similar themes here to the previous two but with the added bonus of more Britain in it – if you think that’s a bonus. This is an astonishing £10.44 on Kindle at the moment or a slightly better but still quite pricey £7.55 on Kobo. There are third party sellers on Amazon with secondhand hardback copies at a more sensible price though.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Cover of Circling the Sun

This is Happy Valley adjacent: a fictionalised version of the real-life story of Beryl Markham, who had an unconventional upbringing in Kenya and went on to be the first woman to break into several male dominated areas – the first to get a horse trainer’s licence, the first to get a pilot’s B Licence. But for all the independence of spirit that her Kenyan upbringing gave her, she struggled with relationships – and being entangled in the upper class expat crowd in Kenya (including the Happy Valley set) did not make for a peaceful, happy or harmonious personal life.  When I read it a couple of years ago, I thought enjoyed it, liked that didn’t feel like it was judging her – but it wasn’t entirely satisfying, mostly because I felt like I was missing some key background – I think the author assumed that everyone has read (or knows about) Out of Africa (which I hadn’t at the time) so I was sometimes at sea with the complicated comings and goings of Karen Blixen and her crowd. This one is a few years old now as well so it’s £2.99 on Kindle or Kobo or Amazon have the paperback for £3.99.

The Bolter by Frances Osbourne

Paperback copy of the Bolter

The only proper non-fiction book on this list and this is on the bibliography at the end of the aforementioned Love and Death Among the Cheetahs because the titular Bolter – Idina Sackville – plays a role in the novel. This was my first introduction to the Happy Valley set back in my pre-Goodreads days, soon after it came out, and is still on my shelves (as the photo proves!).  The author is the subject’s great-granddaughter and makes use of family papers to tell Idina’s story.  Perhaps for that reason its not quite as salacious as you might expect, especially given that its subject was the inspiration for The Bolter in Nancy Mitford’s novels.  The Temptress by Paul Spicer looks at the Valley’s other Femme Fatale – Alice de Janze – I liked it but I didn’t think it was as successful as the Bolter, and felt more interested in the murder of the Earl of Errol at times than it was in Alice herself. This one is £4.99 on Kindle and Kobo, but I’ve seen second-hand copies in the charity shops around here fairly regularly if you can wait until they reopen.

Miscellaneous bits and bobs

The classic book in this area is obviously Isak Dinesen/Karen Blitzen’s Out of Africa. I’ve read it and I can see why it was such a big deal – and if you read all of these and are super keen on the subject, it’s definitely worth reading, but its not necessarily the easiest going and I preferred some of the others.

In the course of writing this and looking for other options I read Kat Gordon’s An Unsuitable Woman, which fell into the good in principle but not as good in the execution. This one features a young boy who goes out to Kenya with his family and gets caught up in a group of people inspired by the Happy Valley set. It’s got a readable style, but I wasn’t quite sure where it was going for most of the book – and couldn’t understand why the Scandalous Set took a 14-year-old boy into their gang to start with. And it had a really sudden plot development near the end that didn’t have enough time to properly play out. But if you’ve read all the rest of these and want some more – it’s an option!

Happy Reading!


		
Authors I love, historical, Series I love

Series I love: The Cazalets

It’s been a while since I wrote a series I love post – and as we’re all in the market for some binge-reading at the moment, I thought I would offer a suggestion for Easter at the same time.  I have written about Elizabeth Jane Howard’s series in roundup posts before, but it’s been a few years and now seems like the time to have a proper moment for them.

So the series tells the stories of the Cazalet family from the last years before World War Two until the 1950s. A the start of the series in The Light Years, you meet the characters in 1937 as they gather at Home Place – where The Brig and Duchy live.  They have four grown-up children, sons Hugh, Edward and Rupert – who all work in the family firm – and a daughter, Rachel, who lives at home.  Their lives look perfect on the surface, but underneath they all have problems.  Hugh is still struggling after the Great War, Edward is chronically unfaithful to his wife, Rupert has a younger, demanding wife and Rachel is putting her loyalty to the family above any chance of personal happiness.  All three of the sons have children and we see their lives too, complete with rivalries, alliances and fears. As the series goes on, you see them all age and mature (and in some cases die) until by the final book of the series even the youngest of the children from the first book are adults.

The narrative moves from character to character, so they all have their own stories that add up to a bigger picture that only the reader is fully aware of.  I have been known to go through the series just reading the bits about my favourite characters. I don’t know how Elizabeth Jane Howard does it, but she juggles a huge cast of characters while making them all seem different and distinct, and by the end you have sympathy even for the people who you found the most unlikable at the start *cough* Edward *cough* Villy *cough* and have seen promising children turn into horrors.  It’s not quite a Rich People Problems book, because although they are well off upper class types (not aristocracy though) the war is a genuine real problem with genuine consequences, but it’s not far off.

I first read the original quartet while raiding my mum’s bookshelves in my teens and my sister read them not long after. I actually own then as actual books and as ebooks and they are one of the few series that we all own our own copies of. Well, at least we all own the first four books. I think I’m the only one with a copy of the fifth. All Change came out in 2013 nearly 20 years after Casting Off – which had finished the series off perfectly – to my mind at least.  Looking back at my goodreads review from the time, I found it true to the series and not contrived, but it is telling that I haven’t been back to re-read it since then. It’s quite melancholy and sad in places – more than the others are because it doesn’t have the same payoffs at the end.  It was inevitable – and well signposted in the earlier books – that the war was going to change the lives and lifestyles of the family, but All Change really leans into the reality of that and it makes me a bit sad and means you end the series on a bit less of a satisfying high than you do if you finish at Casting Off. I don’t think it spoils the whole series (which was my big fear before it came out) but I prefer to think of them all as they were at the end of Casting Off – heading out into their futures with all sorts of possibilities unexplored and ahead of them.

The weather is just starting to turn properly nice here at the moment – with flowers blooming in the garden and the sun shining – which makes it an ideal time to start reading about the last golden summers before the Second World War.  At 400 pages each, they’ll also keep you going over the long Easter weekend and beyond if you want them to.  I originally read these not long after I had read Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Hold the Dream series and was looking for something similar – telling the stories of a family over years and years.  Once I’d read the Cazalets, I was spoiled forever for the genre.  Lots of people have tried to tell stories like this, but very few have done it as well as Elizabeth Jane Howard did. The original books came out in the early 90s, so it’s very possible that some of you reading this haven’t come across her before – so if you like authors like Harriet Evans, Dinah Jeffries or have enjoyed Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan books, you should totally try these.  And if anyone has any recommendations for other series that I could read that do the same sort of thing – then drop them in the comments. Also: if you like this and haven’t read The Camomile Lawn, then you should totally read that too.

As the bookshops are closed, and these aren’t new releases, I suspect you’ll have to buy them as ebooks.  The Kindle and Kobo editions of the Light Years are £3.99 at the moment, which isn’t too bad.  After that the prices go up for books two and three and Casting Off is a bargainous 99p (Kindle/Kobo)- but whatever you do, don’t start there, it won’t work for you anywhere near as well.

Happy Reading and stay safe.