book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Vanderbilt-adjacent books

As I mentioned in yesterday’s BotW post, you may well come away from reading Vanderbilt wanting to know more about some of the people and situations in it. And I can help with that because this is not my first rodeo with this family or with American High Society in the Gilded age. So for today’s recommendsday, I’ve got a selection of books that tie-in in some way with some of the events or people that feature in Anderson Cooper’s book.

Lets start with the non-fiction, because that’s probably the short of the two lists. First of all is Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clarke Newell. I talked about this in my non-fiction Rich People problems post a couple of years ago. It’s the investigation into the life of a reclusive heiress, who wasn’t photographed for decades and who lived in a hospital for twenty years, despite owning mansions on both coasts of the US. Huguette Clark isn’t a Vanderbilt, but her family money was made at the same sort of time, she moved in the same circles and her family also had a penchant for building giant mansions. It’s mind boggling and she only died a couple of years back. Also mentioned in that 2019 post is The Unfinished Palazzo by Judith Mackerell, which features as one of its leading characters Peggy Guggenheim. Again, not a Vanderbilt, but another one of those big American families that you may well have heard of. Off the back of reading Vanderbilt, I’ve ordered myself Anne de Courcy’s The Husband Hunters, which is about the thirty year period where the British aristocracy looked across the pond to replenish their family coffers with American money by marrying American heiresses. I shall report back, but in the interim, may I suggest the tangentially related The Fishing Fleet, also by Anne de Courcy about the women sent out from Britain to India to try and snag a husband. Lastly, you can read Consuelo Vanderbilt’s own memoir – The Gitter and the Gold but I slogged through it last year, so you don’t have to. It’s a fascinating story, but she (and her ghost writer) aren’t the best at telling it and I definitely don’t suggest you read it first, because she doesn’t give you a lot of context about who the people are that she’s talking about, so you may well find yourself utterly lost or googling every few pages!

Let’s move on to fiction – and more particularly fictionalised real-lives, a corner of fiction that I really enjoy. In the later stages of the book, we see more of Anderson Cooper’s mother’s life. Gloria Vanderbilt was the subject of a notorious custody case when she was a child, but as an adult she was part of the group of women who Truman Capote called his Swans. I’ve read a couple of novels about this group – which probably means there are a stack more that I don’t know about. I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin back in 2016, before I knew much more about Truman Capote than you can get from the film Capote. And that fact made the reveal of how that little group blew up work really well although I was somewhat hazy about where the real life stuff ended and the fiction began! I read Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott a couple of years later – about the same group and the same events – and that was a BotW. In Swan Song you know what Truman has done quite early and you really see the consequences of his actions for the women concerned – you just need to stick with it beyond the initial few chapters which are a bit confounding until you figure out what is going on.

Downton Abbey prompted a surge of books set in the Gilded Age or featuring American heiresses, both in historical fiction and straight up historical romances. In the former category I’ve read My Last Duchess (known in the US as The American Heiress) by Daisy Godwin who is the writer behind the TV series Victoria. Cora Cash is American heiress whose marriage is going really quite badly and who is also having to navigate British High Society with very little help and a lot of people willing her to fail. I preferred The Fortune Hunter which she wrote a couple of years later and which is about Sisi, the Empress of Austria, but that doesn’t really fit this post does it? And then there’s Theresa Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman, which is about Alva Vanderbilt and her quest to be queen of society. I found it tricky because everyone in it is really quite unlikeable – and it doesn’t have the humour that can make reading about horrible people fun, but I know that other people enjoyed it more than I did.

On the romance front, Eloisa James’s My American Duchess was one of the first to hit this trend – it came out in 2016 and I reviewed it for Novelicious back in the day. It’s got a heroine who has already jilted two fiancés and a hero who wants to marry a Proper English woman. You know where this is going, except that it’s more than just the fish-out-of-water, comedy of manners, forbidden love novel that you expect from the blurb. I haven’t reread it since, but at the time I said that it wouldn’t be a bad place to start if you want to dip your toe into the historical romance genre, and I would stand by that, because Eloisa James in this period was one of the most consistent of the romance genre. Joanna Shupe has written a couple of series set in Gilded Age New York, but my mileage with her varies a little – she tends towards more melodrama than I like and her characters tend to do abrupt about faces that annoyment. But I did quite like Baron, from the Knickerbocker Club series, which features a fake medium who needs to seduce a railroad millionaire in order to stop him from exposing her latest scheme and also Prince of Broadway from the Uptown Girls series which has a casino owner and the daughter of a family he is trying to ruin financially. More recently there’s Maya Rodale’s An Heiress to Remember (published in 2020) which sees an American heiress return to New York after her divorce to try and claim her family’s department store for herself. Only trouble is that it’s being run by the man whose heart she broke when she married a duke. It’s the third in a series – but I haven’t read the others, so I can’t speak to whether they work as well as this one did (for me at least).

And finally, there have also been a couple of murder mystery series set in and around the mansions that the Vanderbilts and their rivals built in Newport, Rhode Island. Of the ones that I’ve read, the best was Murder at Beachwood by Alyssa Maxwell, which is a historical mystery set in 1896 with a debutant heroine who is a fictional cousin of the Vanderbilts (an actual Vanderbilt connection! yay me!) who ends up trying to solve a murder after a baby is abandoned on her doorstep. It’s bit meladramatic – but that works with the time setting. It’s also the third in a series, and writing this has reminded me that I haven’t read the other two and I’m not sure enough of the Anderson Cooper book is set in Rhode Island for me to be able to use it for the state if I do the 50 states challenge again this year.

So there you are, a monster Recommendsday post with – hopefully – something for everyone. Happy reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Enemies to Lovers Romances

As my top romance pick of the year was an Enemies to Lovers romance, I thought it was about time that I did a Recommendsday post about one of my absolutely favourite romance tropes! And honestly, it actually turned out to be quite difficult to find ones I haven’t already written about before – particularly contemporary ones because so many of them have already been Books of the Week!

My much-loved TV tie-in edition of Pride and Prejudice

Lets start off with something very obvious: Pride and Prejudice. This is the grandaddy of them all. If you’ve never read it, you should, but there are also stacks of retellings of it from pretty much every different twist you can think of. My favourite is probably still Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, which is set in modern day (well modern five years ago) Cincinnatti, which has a lot of the wit that makes Austen so much fun but which you don’t always get in the retellings.

Next up, The Viscount Who Loved Me – second I Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series and the basis for the upcoming next season on Netflix. Who knows how they’ll make it play out in the TV series (although the first one was quite faithful to The Duke and I) but in the book Kate is determined to save her older sister from marriage to reformed rake Anthony Bridgerton. Anthony has decided that he needs to marry (for reasons that you don’t really ever get to the bottom of in the book) but is determined not to marry for love (for reasons that you do discover). The two of them really don’t get on – until they do and it is delightful. Read it before the second series drops at the end of March.

Very worn copy of Regency Buck

I mentioned Regency Buck years ago in a post about comfort reads (and even longer ago in my post about Georgette Heyer), but it is one of my favourite historical romances with this trope. Judith and her brother come to London against the wishes of the guardian that they have never met. Of course they discover the Duke of Worth is the annoying man they met en route, the son of a man their father was friends with. Judith spends most of the book fighting against Worth’s every word and the reader isn’t really sure what he is up to until the reveal – which makes the resolution all the more satisfying. Side note: if anyone has come up with a modern (non problematic) twist on the guardian and ward trope, let me know in the comments!

Before I move on, I’ve featured a lot of Sarah MacLean books here before, and she does a great line in truly epic grovelling – which does often goes hand in hand with the enemies to lovers trope – like Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart, which is the last in her Love By Numbers series and has a deeply rule following hero who thinks the rule-breaker heroine is trying to trap him him to marriage. The Rogue Not Taken is also an enemies to lovers.

Cover of Act Like It

I have featured a lot of contemporary romances with this trope, to the point where it is hard to find stuff I haven’t already recommended! Basically all Lucy Parker’s books are enemies to lovers – but as well as Battle Royal being my favourite romance of last year, Headliners, The Austen Playbook and Pretty Face have been books of the week and Making Up got a mention in a summer reading post too. So that only leaves me with Act Like It that I haven’t already given a big old plug to. So here it is: it’s a fake relationship between two actors who can’t stand each other, to try and help a bad boy actor to rehab his image. It’s the first in the London Celebrities series, and when I read it I had a few issues with some of the British-isms not being right (Parker is from New Zealand) but even writing about it here has made me want to read it again!

If you want to go old school romance, then a couple of Susan Elizabeth Philips’ Chicago Stars books also have enemies to lovers going on. Nobody’s Baby But Mine is that rare thing – a pregnancy romance that I like. And that surprised me because the heroine deliberately sets out to get pregnant by the hero which is so far from my thing. But Jane is actually a very different character than you would expect from that description- she’s a scientist who thinks she’s making a rational decision about her life. Cal, our hero is the quarterback of the team and is (unsurprisingly) unhappy about Jane’s entire plan for his only involvement in their baby’s life to be conception. It’s funny and touching and very escapist. The first in the series, It Had To Be You, is also an enemies to lovers, with a heroine who inherits a football team and the team’s extremely Alphahole head coach. But that has rape in Phoebe’s backstory which I know is a no-no for some people.

Other contemporary romances that have been Books of the Week include: Talia Hibbert’s Act your Age Eve Brown , Ali Hazelwood’s Love Hypothesis, Christina Lauren’s Unhoneymooners (see also The Honey-Don’t List which was in a Mini review roundup), Jen De Luca’s Well Met, Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material, Alisha Rai Hate to Want You and Kate Claybourn’s Love at First. All of those are relatively recent releases (as in new or new ish when I wrote about them) but if you want something else a bit older, then how about Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me – which is now nearly 20 years old (!) – and features a first date that’s the result of a bet…

One last book before I go and that doesn’t really fit into any of the other categories – Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, which is the first of the trilogy set in the world at the centre of Cath’s fandom in Fangirl – and is the equivalent of Harry and Draco in Harry Potter books.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: December 2021 Mini Reviews

It may be January 5th, but we still have the important matter of the December Mini reviews to deal with. Now quite a lot of the month was taken up with trying to finish the 50 states challenge for the year – the results of which can bee seen in this post from Sunday. However, in the quest to tick states off, sadly some of the books that I read in December were somewhat disappointing. And this leaves me with less than usual to talk about in my mini reviews. Which is sad, but considering how many posts I’ve written recently, I’m hoping you won’t feel short changed.

Board Stiff by Kendel Lynn

Cover of Board Stiff

Elliot Lisbon works for a charitable foundation based on an island in South Carolina. Her usual jobs include keeping the peace between foundation members and smoothing over potential problems. In her spare time she’s working towards her PI licence – very slowly. Then the chair of the foundation’s board is accused of murder and her bosses as her to try and sort the situation out. Trouble is the new in town detective leading the investigation is her ex-boyfriend and he really doesn’t want her sticking her nose in. Trouble is if she doesn’t Elliot is likely to be out of a job. This one joins Double Whammy in the list of books that are trying to do similar things to the Stephanie Plum series (and I did read the last but one in the Plum series in December too and the less said about that the better). This has a few issues, but it rattles along at a nice pace and there’s plenty of potential here for the series. I have the next one cued up ready on the Kindle.

Oh. What. Fun by Chandler Baker

Cover of Oh. What. Fun.

This is another Christmas-themed short story – I know, I know, I said that last week was the limit, but that was for Books of the Week. Or at least I’m allowed to bend the rules if I want to! Anyway, Tyler, Channing and Sammy have returned home for Christmas. Their mum Claire has always brought the holiday magic in their family – with traditions galore that she just loves doing for them all. Or does she. Maybe they should all have been paying more attention to her because this year is about to go very differently. This is a witty but thought provoking look at Christmas and the people who make it special and whether we should be appreciating them more – or if you are the Claire, whether you should be getting more help!

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R King

Cover of Dreaming Spies

Yes, I know, another rule that I’m breaking – with a later book in a mystery series, where you really need to have read the earlier ones to make it all work at it’s best. But it’s been one of those months, so the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series makes another appearance on the blog. As with several times before in this series, the timeline is jumping about somewhat – it opens immediately after the events of Garment of Shadows (the previous book in the series) but a large section of this takes place between the events of The Game and Locked Rooms five books earlier. This fills in what happened when Mary and Sherlock were in Japan – events which have been hinted at before. And it’s a delicious mix of everything you have come to expect from the series – with lashings of early 20th century Japanese culture thrown in. I don’t know enough about the reality to be able to say how accurate it all is, but it certainly makes for a rather delightful reading experience. Do start at the beginning of the series though – with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Just don’t think too hard about the age gap between Mary and Sherlock.

Release the Beast by Bimini Bon Boulash

Bimini was the breakout star of the second series of Drag Race UK – even if they didn’t win – and this is their debut book – all about their views on gender, class, capitalism, the patriarchy and more. If you enjoyed watching them on Drag Race, you’ll probably enjoy reading this too and getting more of a perspective on their life and their art. This the latest addition to my shelf of books about or by drag queens, and although I don’t like it as much as I like Legendary Children, it’s interesting and it’s a good way of throwing some coins the way of a Queen while the pandemic is making times hard for live gigs.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in December were Basket Case, Double Whammy, Christmas in Paradise and The Christmas Card Crime. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October and November.

Happy Reading!

 

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: November 2021 Mini Reviews

November was a really good month for books I want to talk about, but things were made easier on the picking front by the need to save the festive stuff for my Christmas reading post. So this round up is dominated by crime (and with a slight locked room, closed group twist) because that’s most of what else I was reading last month!

Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville 

Cover of Weekend at Thrackley

This isn’t a murder mystery exactly but it is another British library Crime Classic, and another featuring a closed group. Jim Henderson is invited to a weekend party at the house of a man he’s never met, but who claims to have been a friend of his father. On arrival he finds a strange assortment of guests – including one of his friends – a sinister Butler, and an attractive daughter of the house. Cue attempted robbery, a missing guest and much danger. It’s fast paced and you’re never quite sure what it’s going to do next. It’s in Kindle Unlimited too.

IQ by Joe 

Cover of IQ

Isiah is a high school dropout who solves crimes. He charges what is clients can afford- whether it’s home cooked food or a lot, lot more. It is a modern take on Sherlock Holmes in some ways – but in tough LA neighbourhood. This first book in the series shows you him in action solving the mystery of who is trying to kill a big name rapper but also shows you his backstory and how he came to be doing what he is doing. I read most of this across the course of 24 hours because it’s really, really readable. Very readable indeed.

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris*

Cover of The Dublin Railway Murder

This is a meticulously researched investigation into a real life locked room mystery in Dublin in 1856. It is undoubtedly very well researched, but oh boy is the author going to make sure we know about it. The start of the book, setting out the crime is actually quite pacey but it feels like it all gets a bit bogged down in the minutiae of the investigation. There are also so many people to keep track of and that doesn’t help. I think I was expecting a bit more of a conclusion at the end, but maybe that’s me being over optimistic about what can be achieved in a book about a 150 plus year old Murder.  I picked it up because I enjoyed The Haunting of Alma Fielding, and was hoping for something similar – so a solid read, but not as good as say The Five.

Murder of a Martinet by E C R Lorac 

Cover of Murder of a Martinet

I know I’ve already written about another Lorac book this month, but this one is also really good. A horrible matriarch is murdered in the house where all her family live. If it wasn’t for the indisposition of the old family doctor, it might have gone down as natural causes, but as soon as it doesn’t Inspector MacDonald is called in. He has to try and figure out what on Earth happened in a house seething with tensions and rivalries. I liked it a lot. And apologies for the picture quality on this – it’s the best I could do with the cover it had on Kindle Unlimited…

The Ex Hex by Erin Stirling 

Cover of The Ex Hex

I’m just throwing in one romance quickly to finish! When Rhys Penhallow returns to a Graves Glen to recharge the town’s ley lines, he thinks the worst that can happen will be running into the woman whose heart he broke (unwillingly) nine years earlier. But it turns out Vivienne nursed her broken heart with tears… and a curse. Now the two of them will have to work together to fix the problems they’ve caused with the town’s magical energy. This is much less dramatic than I was expecting but was a nice sweet second chance-y romance with witches. I’m too late for Halloween but it’s still worth a look.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in November were Educated, The Love Hypothesis, Murder in the Basement, These Names Make Clues and All The Feels. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October. Come back tomorrow for the monthly stats!

Happy Reading!

 

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: October 2021 Mini Reviews

Here we go again – another selection of books I have read and want to talk about or recommend. This month it is a particularly varied selection – with literature in translation, history, historical crime and short stories and essays about relationships. Something for everyone really.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold and Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe*

There always seems to be a busy Japanese novel around and Before the Coffee Gets Cold was The One a couple of years back. The follow up came out last year and of course I’m super behind with things as always and then read them both back to back. You need to read them in order though as they tell a series of stories about a cafe where you can travel back in time, if you are sat in the right seat and only for the duration of time a cup of coffee is warm for. Across the two novels you meet a range of people who wish to make the journey, but also learn about the people who work at the cafe. I had to stop reading it on the train because it made me cry, but they were both absolutely wonderful. I recommend.

Stealing the Crown by T P Fielden

T P Fielden is the author of the Miss Dimont mysteries, that I’ve written about here before, but the author is also a biographer and royal commentator and this uses his knowledge about the royals during the Second World War as part of a murder mystery that sees a painter who has ended up with a job at Buckingham Palace investigating the death of another staff member. It’s a pacey and enjoyable read and in one of those serendipitous moments you some times find, mentioned Camp Siegfried in it, just a couple of weeks after I’d been to see a play set at the camp – which was for American-German Nazis (or at least nazi sympathisers). There’s a second book in the series which I will keep an eye out for.

 

Index, History of the by Dennis Duncan*

 So, this sort of does what it says on the tin: it’s a history of the humble index. They’re in every reference book, but if you’re my age or younger, you’ve had the safety net of the computer search since you were old enough to be starting on serious research. But before Google and before the computer library catalogue, the index was the key to research and learning. Dennis Duncan’s book examines how the index came into being, how it has evolved through history and how it’s use has evolved too. I’m not sure I’d ever given much thought to how indexes started, or even what people did about an index before the printing press, but now I know all the answers! And it’s fascinating to see that the same sort of arguments that are made about computer search diminishing people’s knowledge were made about the index when it first appeared – if you don’t have to read the whole book, how can you possibly be getting the full benefit of the book? This would make a great gift for the book worm or history fan in your life this Christmas as well.

The One series from Amazon

 I read the kindle versions of this collection rather than the audio versions, but I really quite enjoyed the range of stories within The One. From Jacqueline Woodson writing about how she found her partner, through a dog with more than one family, how a young widow deals with bereavement to a friendship that moves in cycles of closeness and separation, the stories take on the different paths people can take to find The One in their lives. They’re bite sized but often thought provoking and were perfect for those moments when I wanted to read something but didn’t have the time or concentration to commit to a full length book. And they are free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited. What is not to like.

This is Your Time by Ruby Bridges

This was one of my impulse purchases on during my weekend in London in the middle of the month. I studied the desegregation of US schools as part of my history GCSE and it sort of boggles my mind that 14 year old me didn’t twig that the students involved were my parents age. It is that recently that a little girl needed an escort from the national guard to attend a school – and that her father lost his job because of the fact that his daughter was desegregating the city’s schools. This is aimed at middle grade students and sees Ruby Bridges explaining what she did and what the response was and how she sees that fitting in to civil rights protests in America today. This would make a valuable resource for primary school libraries and educators.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in October were Ambush or Adore, Body on the Beach, The Man Who Died Twice and All The Feels. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August and September.

Happy Reading!

 

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: September 2021 Mini Reviews

Another month has come and gone, and so I’m back with some more mini reviews. And as promised yesterday, you don’t need to have already read 9 novels to get the most out of them. You’re welcome!

Misfits by Michaela Coel*

Cover of Misfits

First up is this book version of a speech that Coel made to an audience of creatives and media people at the Edinburgh TV festival a few years back. It looks at her experiences in the industry and what that tells you about how marginalised people are treated by the tv machine. I think Coel is amazing and I love what she’s doing in her writing and I could hear her voice reading this throughout. Whether it will work as well if you’re not as familiar with her, I don’t know. An uncomfortable read for the creative industry and for people from more dominant cultural backgrounds.

A Line to Kill by Antony Horowitz*

Cover of A Line to Kill

This is the third in the really quite meta Hawthorn series and sees the fictional version of Antony Horowitz on the island of Alderney for a literary festival with Nathanial Hawthorn, the detective he’s writing a series of books about. While they’re there a murder takes place and they find themselves involved in the investigation. The island setting means it has a clear set of suspects and on top of that, there are plenty of them because the victim is not a particularly likeable character. The solution is quite satisfying and I continue to enjoy the weirdness of the conceit of this series. Horowitz has two meta series on the go at the moment – and I don’t think I like them as much as I like the book-within-a-book Atticus Pünd series, this is still a really readable murder mystery with a strong sense of place

A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody

I’ve been working my way through this series when I can pick them up a a sensible price which means that I’ve read them slightly out of order, but it hasn’t impaired my enjoyment. In case you haven’t come across them before, Kate Shackleton lost her husband in the Great War and after the war was over started a business of a private investigator. Her father is an senior police officer so she has some connections and also a regular group of helpers. This book is skipping back in the series compared to where I’ve been and this fills in some gaps I had wondered about. Kate is on holiday with her goddaughter in a house whose former owner was convinced that the wrong person was convicted (and hanged) for a murder she witnessed. Kate feels called to investigate but also finds herself exploring a community that she could potentially be about to a part of and who really don’t want her investigating their secrets.

Peril in Paris by Katherine Woodfine

Cover of Peril in Paris

I really enjoyed the Sinclair Mystery series and this is the first book in the follow up series. Sophie and Lil have set up their Private Investigation agency and are also doing a little government work on the side. This is definitely more of an espionage story than a mystery and sees our heroines gallivanting in Paris and beyond in a story that has plucky royal children, dastardly deeds and aeroplanes. Oh and for the older people like me, there are some lovely nods to Girls Own stories of years gone by, including a shout out to the Chalet Schools own Belsornia.

Murder Most Fowl by Donna Andrews

Cover of Murder Most Fowl

And lastly this month, I wanted to give a shout out to the latest Meg Langslow mystery. I’ve written about how much I love this series before, but I’m so impressed that Donna Andrews manages to keep coming up with more scenarios for Meg and the gang. This time it’s troupe of actors rehearsing Macbeth, complete with historical reenactors camping nearby and the ongoing inter-departmental feud at the college. The mystery is good and it’s funny too. Roll on this year’s Christmas book!

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in September were Traitor King, The Cult of We, Death in High Eldersham and The Chelsea Girls. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June and July.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: August 2021 Mini Reviews

I can’t believe the summer is nearly over. And August’s weather has been ridiculous so it feels like the summer was that one sweltering week in July. Anyway, there was a bunch of bonus posts last month (all the links are at the end as usual), so I’ve already talked about a lot of books over the last few weeks, but that’s just not enough so here are the mini reviews for August.

How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford*

Cover of How to Make the World Add Up

I love a good non-fiction read as you all know, but I mostly tend towards the narrative non-fiction, so this is a bit of a change for me as Tim Harford’s latest book sets out how to examine the numbers and statistics that we encounter in the world. The aim is to equip you with the skills you need to be able to work out what they actually mean and how important they are. I was really keen to read this because I’m not really a numbers person  – I got the grades that I needed to at GCSE and then promptly dropped maths (and sciences) in favour of history, languages and literature – so I thought this would be really helpful – and it was. It sets out what to look for and how to interrogate the information that you’re given so that you can draw your own conclusions about it. A really useful book.

The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton*

Cover of The Two Hundred Ghost
This is a bit of a cheat as I have already written about Henrietta Hamilton this month – in the BotW post about The Man Who Wasn’t There, but when I went back through my Netgalley lists I found that I had this waiting for me – and it’s the first one in the series and the origin story.  This is a murder mystery set in the world of Antiquarian booksellers, which also features to really rather gently set up the relationship between Johnny and Sally which you see in the later books. So gently in fact that if you didn’t know it was coming (it is on the cover though) you might be a bit surprised when it actually happens towards the end. Anyway, the plot: Heldar’s shop at 200 Charing Cross Road is reputed to be haunted – and one morning after the “ghost” is spotted, the really rather nasty Mr Butcher is found dead in his office. There are plenty of suspects among the employees, so Sally – who works in the shop – starts to do her own investigation to try and make sure the police don’t arrest the wrong person. She’s helped by Johnny, one of the family who owns the story who also wants to see it all tied up as soon as possible. I loved the eccentric characters that this has – and the mystery is good too. Definitely worth a look.

The Illegal by Gordon Corera

Cover of The Illegal

This is a Kindle single, so it’s short, but don’t let that put you off.  The Illegal looks at the practice of embedding spies in countries during the Cold War through the case of Canadian businessman Gordon Lonsdale – actually a Russian called Konan Molody – who arrived in London in the mid-1950s. If you’ve read any John Le Carré or watched any spy films, this will be of interest to you. It looks at how he was chosen, how his cover was established, what he got up to and how he was caught. It’s under 100 pages, but it’s packed with information and will probably leave you wanting to watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy again.

Hang the Moon by Alexandria Bellefleur

Cover of Hang the Moon

So this was one of the potentials for the Summer reading post, but I already had plenty of romances there, so it’s here instead. This should also come with a note that it’s the second in a series and I haven’t read the first so I absolutely didn’t get the most out of this in terms of the references to the couple from the first book.  Anyway, this is a sweet romantic comedy featuring a heroine who arrives to surprise her best friend with a visit only to discover that her friend is out of town. So instead of hanging out with her bestie, Annie ends up hanging out with Brandon, her friend’s brother. Brandon has had a crush on Annie for years and is a proper romantic who has developed a dating app. Annie has given up on dating. You can see where this is going. I didn’t love it, love it, but it was a pleasant way to while away an afternoon in the garden.

And in case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in August were nearly a full set of mysteries: Black Plumes, The Man Who Wasn’t There, A Third Class Murder and Death at Dukes Halt with just Battle Royal breaking the detective monopoly. The bonus posts were summer reading and history books. And finally in the link-fest here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June and July.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: July 2021 Mini Reviews

Here we go – another month, another batch of books that I wanted to talk about but didn’t have quite enough to say about to give them a post all to themselves. There’s romance, comedy, adventure and history here – so a nice mix.

Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs

Cover of Surfeit of Suspects

I picked a British Library Crime Classic for Book of the Week last week – and this is another cracker. It was actually a close call for BotW this week, but I thought I might look too one note (not that that’s ever bothered me before). A Surfeit of Suspects is the 41st (!) book in the Inspector Littlejohn series, and concerns an explosion at a joinery company, that kills three of the company’s directors. The company itself is teetering on the brink of insolvency and there is a suspicion that the explosion may have been an insurance job on a rather spectacular scale. But why would the firm have had any dynamite to explode if it hadn’t been planted there. And why had the previously profitable firm fallen so far? There is potential fraud and corruption, but also personal rivalries and love affairs. There’s also a lot of focus on the local banking eco-system – which as Bellairs had worked in a bank, he was very well placed to write. And despite the fact that banking has changed a lot in the fifty plus years since this was published, it’s all easy to follow – and actually quite informative for those of us who have grown up in the era of big banking chains. Oh and it’s a good solution too. I got it on Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available in paperback.

The Lock In by Phoebe Luckhurst*

Cover of The Lock In

I keep talking about the summer reading post (I promise it is coming) and this was a contender for that, but it’s a little too domestic for a sunlounger read. Or at least it is for me, so I’m writing about it here instead. Ellen, Alexa and Jack are housemates. They’re also locked in their attic on a Saturday morning, with terrible hangovers and Alexa’s Hinge date from the night before. Why are they locked in the attic? Well the kitchen is flooding and they were looking for the way to switch off the water when the handle broke off the attic door. They only have one phone – and it’s Jacks that’s very low on battery and the signal is poor. But he’s mostly live tweeting the situation. Ben and Alexa are getting to know each other, and Ellen is becoming convinced that she’s met Ben before.  Will they get out? Will they still be friends when they do – and will they survive the wrath of their landlord? I think I’m a little too old for this – I did my dating before apps were a thing – but this is a funny portrait of possibly the worst hangover ever. I was sort of expecting more romance, but it’s much more of a comedy than it is a romantic comedy. Worth a look. Newly out this summer – should be fairly easy to get hold of.

The Camelot Caper by Elizabeth Peters

Paperback copy of The Camelot Caper

This one is probably only worth a look for Elizabeth Peters completists. This is from the very late 1960s and is interesting because it’s sometimes listed as a prequel to the Vicky Bliss series. It’s much less connected to that than that makes it seem – basically the connection is to “Sir John Smythe” in a way that I can’t reveal without giving some big old spoilers for Vicky Bliss. And it’s quite a minor connection – so don’t go into this expecting lots of him. And if you’ve not read Vicky Bliss (or Amelia Peabody to which its even more tenuously linked) then it’s just a late 1960s thriller-slash-cozy-mystery with no murder but a lot of chasing around Britain by an American Tourist, who is being hunted down by mysterious thugs, and the charming Brit who is helping her out. Your mileage on that may vary. I’m glad I read it, but if I’d read it first, I probably wouldn’t have read the rest of the Vicky Bliss series, and that would have been a shame. Second-hand only, and no ebook.

Hellions Waltz by Olivia Waite

 Cover of The Hellions Waltz

Sophie’s family has moved to a new town to start over after they were taken in by a conman who ruined their business. Maddie is busy planning to ruin the draper who has been cheating and defrauding the local weavers for years. When recently cheated Sophie sees that Maddie has some sort of con going on, she starts to investigate. And of course the only thing for Maddie to do to distract her is seduce. And it all goes on from there. The middle book in this trilogy, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows was a BotW pick here earlier this year, but be aware the connection between three books is looser than you usually see in romance series – there’s barely any mention of the previous leads, and there was nothing in the previous book to mark out who was going to feature in the next (if you know what I mean) or if there was it was so subtle that I missed it. The link between them is women with a craft or a passion – in this case a musician and a silk weaver. But this was a fun read – I liked all the details about the various pianos and about the silk reading, and the denouement – although fast – is satisfying.

Meet the Georgians by Robert Peel*

Cover of Meet the Georgians
I’m including this one in here because I think if you don’t know anything about the Georgians, this would be a good introduction to some of the characters in it – and also to the idea that the Victorians were the prudish ones and that life before that was much more interesting/racy! For me (degree in history in which I mostly did post 1700 stuff in Britain, France and wider Europe) there wasn’t a lot new here. But that said: I like the idea, and the choices of who to feature are good because the people are fascinating, but the writing style is strangely uneven – at times it feels like the author is wants to emulate Greg Jenner‘s chatty informal style but is trying to hard and it’s only in patches before it reverts to something more standard for a history book. It’s still very accessibly written in the rest of it, but it has these weird bits where it all sounds a bit “how do you do fellow kids”. For me, the introduction also spoilt a bit of the fun/mystery of finding out who the people were – a lot of the key details were in there. Thinking about it, it’s a bit like a history essay in book form: here is my theory, here is the evidence for my theory, here is my conclusion with a reminder of my theory and a look ahead. Additionally the cover is a bit out of step with the audience I feel like it’s trying for. Great idea and if you’re a newbie to the era, it will probably work better for you than it did for me!

 

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in July were Empire of Pain, The Guncle, Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light and Smallbone Deceased. And finally, just to complete the link-fest, here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February, March, April, May and June.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: June 2021 Mini Reviews

The end of another month has been and gone, and despite the fact that I forgot to trail it yesterday or Monday, it’s time for another set of Mini Reviews! It was a very varied month in reading, and there more books from last month that you’ll hear about in my summer reading post, but here are a few things that I read last month that I wanted to talk about.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls*

Cover of Mrs England

Lets start with a new to me author. Mrs England is Stacey Halls third novel, but the first of hers that I’ve read – despite the fact that I own at least one of the other two. This is a clever and creepy story of Ruby, a Norland Nurse who takes a job in the household of an northern mill owner in after she turns down the chance to move abroad with her previous family in 1904. From the start you know there’s something not quite right in the new house, but on top of that there’s also something in Ruby’s past that she’s hiding as well. I had several different theories at various points about what was going on, but the reveal surprised me. For some reason, dark and damp are the words that spring to mind about this book – but I kind of think that makes it perfect for reading in the sunshine if you know what I mean!

The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery*

Cover of the Stepsisters

Susan Mallery is an author who has appeared on my reading lists a lot over the last few years – with her Fools Gold and Happily Inc romance series. The Stepsisters is one of her women’s fiction novels – it has romantic elements, but it’s definitely not a romance. The Stepsisters of the title are three women, all with the same father (but two different mothers), who find themselves thrown back together as adults after one of them has an accident. They have a complicated history between them abd all have different problems in their current lives, but over the course of the book you watch them try and work out if they can they put their history behind them and move forward. Told from the points of view of two of the stepsisters, Daisy and Sage, this has the characters finding themselves and each other. Another read that’s perfect for a sunny garden with a glass of something chilled.

Tommy Cabot was Here by Cat Sebastian

Cover of Tommy Cabot was Here

I’ve written about Cat Sebastian here before, and this is the first in a new series of novellas. Like Hither, Page this is another more modern historical story, this time set in the 1950s with the scion of a family that sounds very Kennedy, and his best friend from school. They meet each other again for the first time in years when Tommy is dropping his son off at their old school – where Everett now teaches. The rediscovered romance between the two of them is very nice to watch and there’s a refreshing lack of the sort of unmasking peril that you find in a lot of historical m/m romances. Very relaxing and charming. There next in the series is set a year or so later and features Tommy’s nephew – who we meet briefly in this – and is due out in September.

Love in the Blitz by Eileen Alexander*

Cover of Love in the Blitz

I’ve mentioned how much I’m interested in the history of the first half of the twentieth century, and last week I picked novel set in the same period that this book is set in, so it’s not easy to see why I wanted to read Love in the Blitz. And on top of that people who I like a lot have really enjoyed this. But I really struggled. This is a collection of genuine letters written by the very real Eileen Alexander to her fiancée, Gershon Ellenbogen. Eileen was the eldest daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, who lived in Cairo, but also had homes in London and Scotland. At the start of the book she’s recently graduated from Girton College and through the book you see her searching for war work at various of the ministries as well as the progress of her relationship, the tensions with her parents and the general day to day of living through the war. I found Eileen’s style a little hard going and I didn’t actually like her much. But as a look at what it was like in a corner of England during the Second World War it is an insightful document – particularly as Eileen and her family are Jewish and have a lot of connections abroad and this gives you a different perspective than the one that you so often get on what it was like being on the Home Front.

The Last Party by Anthony Haden-Guest

Cover of The Last Party

This really surprised me: it takes a fascinating subject and makes it hard to follow and dare I say it – dull. Having read Empire of Pain the week after finishing this, it really hit home to me that this had so much promise but under delivered. But I think the problem was the breadth of subject that Anthony Haden-Guest was taking on – and the fact that he was part of the scene at the time and knew everyone involved. I think that affected his ability to pick a narrative through line and make it make sense. Characters appear for a couple of pages and then vanish again. Some times they get loads of background about who they are, sometimes none. It jumps from club to club but also around in time a bit. I learnt a few new things, but not nearly as much as I expected and it was hard going all through. I would definitely read more about this time period and this club scene – it just needs more focus.

So there you have it, another month finished and another batch of mini-reviews. And in case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in June were Yours Cheerfully, Second First Impressions, The Feast and sort of Circus of Wonders, which was published in June but read in May . And finally, just to complete the link-fest, here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February, March, April and May.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: May 2021 Mini Reviews

Another month is over, so here we are with some more reviews of books that I’ve read this month, want to talk about but haven’t had the chance yet. And unlike last month, I actually read them all this month. By rights Early Morning Riser and Wicked Enchantment from last month’s post also belong here, but I broke all my own rules at the start of May. But that’s what rules are there for right?

Drop the Mikes by Duncan MacMaster

Paperback copy of Drop the Mikes

Anyone fancy a murder mystery inspired by the Fyre festival debacle? Yes? Well this is it. A buzzy tech start up is organising a music festival on an island to promote a new product. It’s already shaping up for a disaster – with no luxury villas for the guests and no musical acts because all the cheques bounced. But when the Boss’s right hand man is found dead, things take a turn for the even more serious. Kirby Baxter happens to be holidaying across the bay from the festival and is soon called in to consult. Long term readers will remember that I interviewed Duncan MacMaster a couple of years back, when Hack (the first Jake Mooney book) came out. This is the third Kirby Baxter, and although you don’t have to have read the previous ones if you have – and also if you have read the Jake Mooney books – there is extra fun to be had here. But even if you’re just reading it as a standalone, it’s still a funny and twisty murder mystery, based on a great idea.

Elizabeth and Monty by Charles Castillo*

Cover of Elizabeth and Monty

My love of books about Golden Age Hollywood is well known, so this was an obvious choice for me to request on NetGalley. But it’s a bit of a weird one. I’m not sure I learned that much new about Elizabeth Taylor – but it’s not that long since I read Furious Love about her and Richard Burton and she has also come up in a lot of the other books I’ve read, so perhaps that’s the reason why. I did however learn a lot more about Montgomery Clift, who often only features in things as a bit of a side note in the Elizabeth Taylor story. But there are frustratingly few conclusions here about the whys and wherefore as of his self-destructive behaviour – which began even before the car crash that damaged his matinee idol looks. If you like old Hollywood, go for it, it’s readable but imperfect.

The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by K J Charles

Cover of The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting

KJ Charle’s latest sees Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne (oh yes, the clue is there in the name) descend on London in the search of a fortune each. But the sucess of their venture comes under threat from Sir John Hartlebury, the uncle of the heiress Robin is courting. Will Robin be unmasked or is there Another Way to resolve this? This is a lot of fun. It mostly delivered what I was hoping it would – which was/is a queer Masqueraders sort of vibe (NB to audiobook producers, could you hurry up and record Masqueraders and put it on Audible, please and thank you) but with less Jacobites and the Old Gentleman and more snark. I was a bit dubious about The Arrangement between Robin and Hart, but Charles handles the potential pitfalls of a Pretty Women kind of situation very neatly. And that’s a close as I can get to explaining things without using proper spoilers.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Cover of The Wife Upstairs

Jane is a dog walker in a wealthy community in Birmingham, Alabama. She’s also on the run from her past and in need of some protection in case it catches up with her. When she meets widower Eddie Rochester, he seems like the solution to her prayers – although the recently deceased wife is a bit of a disadvantage. But as Jane falls for Eddie, so the mystery of what happened to Bea and her best friend the night the disappeared at the lake looms larger and larger. Will Jane get her happy ending? As mentioned several times this week already, it turns out I’m still not ready for suspense/thrillers – even when they’re based on a known property like Jane Eyre! But despite my squeamishness and need to space out reading it, this is really good. It’s twisty and inventive enough that you’re never quite sure that it is going to do what you think it’s going to do. And this “Jane” is a more complicated heroine than the original ever was! And I liked the ending.

So there you have it, another month finished and another batch of mini-reviews. And in case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in May were Wilde Child, Fabulosa! Love at First and Dial A for Aunties (even though I technically finished that on the last day of April, because it’s book of the *week* and weeks don’t end neatly for the end of the month… which means I could also count yesterday’s Circus of Wonders post as I finished that in May, but posted it in June. Even the rules I make myself are too complicated. And finally, just to complete the link-fest, here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February, March and April.

Happy Reading!