Book of the Week, books, historical, Thriller

Book of the Week: The Hourglass Factory

So, a difficult choice for BotW this week – I finished the latest Laurie Graham last week and really enjoyed it – but I also read Lucy Ribchester’s Hourglass Factory and enjoyed that too.  So in the end, I’ve picked The Hourglass Factory for BotW and decided to do an Authors I Love post on Laurie G instead, which’ll be coming up in a few weeks. So more for you to read. Bonus.

The Hourglass Factory
Some of my best photos are taken on the train. No idea why.

In The Hourglass Factory, tom-boy reporter Frankie George is trying to make waves in Fleet Street, but all she’s getting are the women’s interest stories an the gossip columns.  When she gets assigned to write a profile of trapeze-artist-turned-suffragette Ebony Diamond she gets short shrift.  But then Ebony disappears and Frankie finds herself drawn into a world of corsets, circuses, tricks and suffragettes.  Where has Ebony gone?  What is going on with the suffragettes? And will anyone listen to Frankie if she finds out?

This has been sitting on my shelf for aaaaaages (what’s new) and I kept meaning to read it.  Then I saw it recommended by another blogger (Agi’s onmybookshelf) as one of her books of the year of 2015 – alongside several other books that I had read and liked and it gave me the push that I needed.

I really enjoyed this.  I haven’t studied the women’s suffrage movement in Britain in much depth – apart from as part of my history GCSE – so I knew the basics, but I don’t think you’d have too much trouble if you knew even less.  Lucy Ribchester paints a vivid picture of 1912.  Post-Edwardian London springs to life – all dark corners, imminent peril, seedy clubs, variety acts, cuthroats, suffragettes and jails.  Some passages were tough going – early 20th century jails were not nice places to get stuck in – but it was totally worth it.  This is quite a long read (500 pages) but it is pacy, exciting and thrilling – you don’t notice the pages going by.  So good.  And another cautionary tale about letting books sit on the shelf.

Get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones or Foyles, from Audible, or on Kindleebook or Kobo.  You’re welcome.  And thank you Agi for giving me the kick to read it.

Authors I love, books, cozy crime, historical, Series I love

My Big Obsessions of 2015

As you may have noticed, I am a total binge reader when I discover an author I like and promptly buy up their back catalogue (or borrow it from the library) to fulfill my desperate craving for another fix.  This does not help the state of the to-read pile or my bank balance and can make me look a little unhinged.  So here – for your amusement – are my big obsessions of 2015 and a few examples of the ridiculous lengths I’ve gone to…

Janet Evanovich

Can it really be true that I only read my first Janet Evanovich novel in April?  Goodreads assures me that it is so and thus it must be.  Since my first taste (Wicked Business), I’ve read 18 Stephanie Plums – and all four between the numbers fill-ins, the other two Wicked books, two Full books, two Fox and O’Hares and a standalone romance. So that’s 30 Janet Evanovich novels in less than nine months.  This is why people think I’ve got a bit of a book problem.

Janet Evanovich books
I’ve read so much Janet Evanovich this year, I’ve a whole shelf of her books – non-matching of course!

Deanna Raybourn

I read Silent in the Grave back in January – and since then I’ve read three more of the Lady Julia series – with a fourth waiting for me on the shelf.  And the only reason that that has been waiting is because the price of the next one has been so expensive.  And ditto her standalone novels.  But in a piece of glorious serendipity, they’re all on offer on Amazon Kindle at the moment – so last night I spent just under £20 on 8 (!) books and novellas – buying up the rest of Lady Julia, the first Veronica Speedwell and two standalones and their prequel novellas.  Now that is what I call obsession…

Deanna Raybourn books
Only four of my Deanna Raybourn’s are here – Silent in the Grave is on loan to Little Sis!

 

 

Historical Romance

My love of historical romance has continued this year.  In fact it’s turned into more of a quest – to find more authors who write my favourite sort of smart, witty, sexy romance novels.  Because this is the problem with being a binge reader.  You find someone that you like, you binge on their back catalogue and then you have to start following their publishing schedule like everyone else does – so you might have to wait a year before you can get another fix from them.  So you need another author to read. In 2015 I’ve read some really good, some really bad and a lot of in between. Among the good were Sabrina Jeffries, Kerrigan Byrne, Johanna Shupe and Courtney Milan.  I’m not going to mention the bad!  There’s loads more I want to read – listening to the DBSA podcast each week will do that to you – but the prices of those sort of American-published romances are often really quite high over here – and fall into the same buying rules as the cozy crimes. So often I play roulette with NetGalley – requesting new releases there and hoping I like them.  Sometimes it pays off – the aforementioned Byrne and Shupe for example – and sometimes it doesn’t…

Cozy Crime

I’ve always had a soft spot for the “lighter” end of the crime market, but I’ve really been rattling through various cozy murder mysteries this year.  I’m still reading Donna Andrews (three of them this year) – but now I’m closer to the end of the series the books have got more expensive to buy and I have rules about what I’ll spend on a book that will only take me a couple of hours to read.  So as a consequence my net has spread wider.  Jenn McKinlay’s become firm favourite and there’s a bunch of other series I’ve dipped into too (again thanks to NetGalley) – to varying success.  I feel more coming on in 2016.

Cozy crime books
All my Donna Andrews bar one are out on loan, but the McKinlay collection is growing!

 

Historical Crime

This is often the meeting of two of my other obsessions – Cozy crime and Historical romance.  The Daisy Dalrymple and Phryne Fisher series were two of my discoveries of 2014 – and now I’ve read all of them, I’ve been searching for more – and not just those set in the 1920s and 1930s.  That’s how I discovered Deanna Raybourn and started that obsession.  But as well as Lady Julia, there’s Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily and James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers. And then there’s the ones which are more crime-y and less romance – like Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver, Carola Dunn’s Eleanor Trewynn.  And no romance at all – like Flavia de Luce (because she’s a child!). So many good books.

Historical crime books
I thought the light shining behind them was a nice touch…

So there you are.  My five big obsessions of the year. Of course some would argue that books in general are my biggest obsession of them all. And they’d be right.  There’s nothing like sitting down with a book and being transported to another world to make life seem better.  You can live so many different lives and visit so many different places by reading a book.  And then there’s the friends that you can make – real people I mean – because of books and the book community.  The ones that you chat to on Twitter, the ones you meet at author events and who turn into proper friends and everything in between.  Long may my book obsession continue.

Happy 2016 everyone – and thank you for reading my bookish wafflings. I hope you’ve enjoyed them – and I’m sure that there’s more where they came from.

Book of the Week, historical

Book of the Week: A Hundred Summers

A fairly easy choice for BotW this week – Beatriz Williams’ A Hundred Summers was my favourite read last week – although Alexander McCall Smith’s children’s book School Ship Tobermory is great fun too (I’ve already posted my copy to Eldest Niece because I think she’ll love it).  And it’s nice to feature a new (to me) author for BotW too.

I started reading A Hundred Summers on the train to work and was glued to the sofa when I got home!

A Hundred Summers tells the story of Lily Dane, who has returned to her family’s summer house in Rhode Island.  Also back in Seaview in summer 1938 is her childhood friend Budgie and her new husband – and Lily’s former fiancé – Nick.  As the summer unrolls, Lily falls back in with glamourous Budgie and the truth about how she and Nick betrayed Lily starts to emerge as a storm barrels towards them.

Regular readers will know that I love stories set in the early 20th century – and more specifically between the two world wars.  And I love time slip books.  And while a narrative which jumps between 1932 and 1938 isn’t quite as big a gap as some, and it features the same characters in both, it still ticks all my boxes for that too.  There’s something about the interwar period – in the UK, the US or Europe – that just really works for me and Beatriz Williams has created a fabulous and believable world with a dark secrets at its heart.

I was fascinated by Lily’s story.  She’s an interesting character – smart and independent in someways, but quite naive and unworldy in others. For a while I thought I had it all figured out – then the book surprised me again and I really do like it when that happens.  Reading as many books as I do it can become quite easy to be a bit cynical and jaded and to spot how a plot is going to unfold before it happens, and it’s always nice when your expectations are challenged.

I’ve been wanting to read Beatriz Williams’ books for a while – several US authors that I like have recommended her at various points and she’s writing a book with Lauren Willig (who I love as you know) – but it’s been hard to get hold of them over here for a reasonable price.  I think that has changed with A Hundred Summers – this got a wide release and was in the supermarkets over the summer if I recall correctly.  It certainly made it to the point where Amazon were offering it for practically half price – which usually means it’s in the supermarkets’ 2 for £7 promotions.  I’m certainly hoping that I’ll be able to get hold of more of her books now – and the samples at the back of A Hundred Summers certainly hint at that.

Get your copy from Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, Foyles and Kobo (at time of writing Amazon not only the best price for paperback by a little way, but it was included in its 3 for £10 deal in case you need any further encouragement to buy books…).  I’m off to hunt for her back catalogue and to put some pre-orders…

 

Book of the Week, historical, romance

Book of the Week: The Highwayman

Back into proper historical romance territory with this week’s BotW.  I read a couple of good books last week – but you’ve already heard enough about my love of Janet Evanovich and Lauren Willig and Kerrigan Byrne’s The Highwayman bucked the trend of not-so-good historicals that I’ve had recently.

Farah and Dougan are best friends at the orphanage in the 1850s.  They handfast – but then A Bad Thing happens and they are parted.  Jump forward 20ish years and Farah is working as a clerk at Scotland Yard when Ruthless Villain Dorien Blackmore is brought in for questioning.  She’s promptly kidnapped so he can keep her safe from Forces Which Threaten Her. But will he capture her heart?

The Highwayman (which doesn’t actually have a lot of actual highwaying in the actual narrative, so don’t go expecting the Masqueraders in Victorian times people) hits a whole lot of my catnip including – without giving too much away – tortured hero! Smart heroine! Marriage of convenience*!  It also has a side order of some of my peeves – comedy Scottish accents, kilts, lairds, handfasting – but it is good enough and different enough that I didn’t care. It wasn’t perfect – even if you don’t have my dislike of the Highlander trope in general there were some language choices that didn’t work – but it rattled along quickly and there was so much happening that you didn’t notice too much.  I had a few things pegged fairly early on, but it Didn’t Matter.

As I said at the top, I’ve had a run of not great historical romances recently and this was a breath of fresh air – the Victorian setting made a change (and meant that we didn’t get too far into my least favourite bits about Scottish heros/stories) and Farah is a smart sensible woman who lives up to the billing.  Yes its quite dark.  Yes the hero is a Bad Boy who has done stuff that Can’t Be Fixed, but it is not at all miserable. As you can probably tell from all the Capital Letters its a bit melodramatic – in a good way.  I really enjoyed The Highwayman and will be looking out for the next in the Victorian Rebels series.

Get your copy from Amazon or on Kindle but don’t expect to find it in the supermarket – its not that sort of romance!

*It’s in the blurb on Goodreads I’m allowed to mention it

Book of the Week, fiction, historical, reviews

Book of the Week: The Paris Wife

This week’s BotW is The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – which has been sitting on my to-read pile for far too long  What’s new.  How many times have I said that now?  But yes, once again, a really good book stuck in the backlog for ages.  You’d think I’d learn by now, and yet The Pile is still out of control. Hey ho. Moving on. 
The Paris Wife tells the story of the marriage between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson.  The novel is told predominantly from Hadley’s perspective, interspersed with occasional diary style snippets from Hemingway.  Hadley and Ernest are clearly very much in love when they get married and this paints a very convincing portrait of a marriage torn apart by genius, ego, Jazz Age Paris, children and other women.  You can see the train wreck coming and they can see it coming – but they don’t seem to be able to do anything to avert it.  But this isn’t a miserable book, it’s sad in places, but it’s also fascinating.

Whilst I haven’t read a lot of Hemingway’s work, I have read a fair bit of F Scott Fitzgerald’s – who is another member of this crew – and as I’ve mentioned before, I love this interwar time period. After reading this, I’ve realised that I’ve got a bit of a glut of books about this set sitting on my shelves – not only Mrs Hemingway, but also Villa America and I think another one that I can’t remember the title of.  I might have to space out reading them so I don’t get too confused/overloaded, but I am looking forward to reading them soon.

I wouldn’t expect you to have too much difficulty tracking this down in the bookshops – it’ll probably be on the shelves rather than the tables by now though. But here’s a link to Foyles and Kindle just in case.

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

Summer Reading 2015 Recommendations

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

The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance by Kirsty Greenwoodª

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

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnettª

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

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willigª

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

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

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

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book of the Week, historical, reviews

Book of the Week: Silent on the Moor

This week’s BotW is Deanna Raybourn’s Silent on the Moor – which is the third in her Lady Julia series, and I think these best so far in that the pueblo it’s two books worth of serial tension and angst comes to the boil in the harsh and unforgiving setting of the Yorkshire Moors.

Lady J had invited herself to Nicholas Brisbane’s new house, which is not only in the middle of nowhere, but had some unexpected (to Julia at least) residents. There are secrets and tensions and grim discoveries and oh so much Gothicky drama. I hasn’t realised that this was what this series has been waiting for, but it totally was. And thinking about it – unconventional widows, gypsies, seers, eccentrics – should have screamed melodrama to me.

The solution to the book’s puzzles is suitably ghastly – with definite ick factor – but it’s so in keeping and well executed that it seems both perfect and obvious once you’ve read it. Do not let the horrible pink cover of my copy confuse you, is is not saccharine or run of the mill by the numbers romance.  There is romance (mostly of the will they won’t they kind) and there’s mystery, but Julia (although she makes mistakes) is not a too stupid to live heroine. You’ll jump to some of the same conclusions she does, albeit with a nagging voice in the back of your head that you’ve missed something somewhere that she doesn’t always have.

I know I keep mentioning books that are from series and then telling you to go back to the start first, but I really do mean it with this, you need two books worth of build up to get the full emotional whack from this. So good. And a catnip (as the Smart Bitches say) that I didn’t know I had!

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