book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: March 2021 Mini Reviews

So we made it to the end of a year of the quarantimes. And despite the fact being back in March meant it felt like we’d never left March at all and the world had ground to a halt in 2020 and given us endless March, itwas actually quite a good month in my reading life. Here are a few books I enjoyed that I haven’t told you about yet.

Women vs Hollywood by Helen O’Hara

Hardback copy of Women vs Hollywood

Empire Magazine’s Helen O’Hara’s new book is an examination of pioneering women through Hollywood history and the ways in which they’ve been left out of the history of the silver screen. It also examines what could be done to help redress the balance and for films to tell some different stories from some different points of view. It’s impeccably researched and well argued and will left me wanting to go out and spend some money at the cinema on female-centric films. As the cinemas are still closed, I contented myself by watching Lady Bird and Emma. and a couple of Katherine Hepburn films.

 

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

Cover of the Consequences of Fear

I’ve written about the Maisie Dobbs series here before. And this is another engrossing and twisty instalment in the series. With long running series it’s always a challenge writing a review that doesn’t give away too much of the plot – or spoil earlier books in the series. But what I can say is that now the books have reached World War Two, Jacqueline Winspear is consistently finding interesting aspects of the conflict to entangle Maisie in, and if a few liberties are taken with the timeline, they are minor and you forgive them because it’s so page-turning and engrossing. This also sees some really interesting developments in Maisie’s personal life too – so all around this is a really good read.

You’re History

Cover of You're History

What’s not to love about a book with a cover as gorgeous as this and I did enjoy it, but that comes with a few caveats. I think I was missing some of the background on some of the songs to get the most out of it. Although the names listed in the blurb are all people you will have heard of – Kate Bush, Nikki Minaj,  Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift and TLC – in quite a lot of cases it’s actually taking quite a deep, in depth dive into their musical back catalogues. Really I think it needs to come with a playlist so you can listen to the songs that are being talked about as you read the book, because unless you’re really, really into music you may get lost here unless you’ve done some prep work. I used to work at radio stations as well as watching a fair few music documentaries both general and artist specific, so I consider myself fairly well across music, and I still had to do a fair bit of googling. I have a goal to try and read more books about music and musicians – because when I do I invariably enjoy that – and this fits in to that but it’s not my favourite of the genre.

Happy Singles Day by Ann Marie Walker

Cover of Happy Singles Day

This is a sweet, fluffy holiday (by which I mean vacation not Christmas!) romance set on an island off North Carolina, with a widowed hero with a B&B he can’t face running since the death of his wife and the professional organiser who visits for an out of season holiday. Lucas is focussed on raising his daughter and ignoring the bills that are coming due – so his sister relists the B7B without telling him – until Paige is booked and on the way. When Paige arrives, she finds that her accomodation doesn’t quite match the online brochure and decides to return home. But bad weather means the ferry isn’t running and she’s stuck on the island… Nothing revelatory or surprising, but a nice fun weekend read featuring a grumpy hero, a sunny heroine, a bit of forced proximity, a cute kid and some puppies.

Flake by Matthew Dooley

Hardback copy of Flake

So this is a really genuinely charming graphic novel about an ice cream seller and his van and the rivalries and challenges he faces. Low key but remarkably emotional. It had been sat on my shelf for a few months – my friendly local comic book shop had managed to get me a copy just before her last lockdown started again and I had been saving it for a treat. And I was right that it was a treat because it was really, really good.

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in March were Wild Rain, Act Your Age, Eve Brown, Mrs Tim of the Regiment and Heroes are my Weakness. And here are the links to the mini reviews from January and February.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: February 2021 Mini Reviews

A bit of a strange month all in, because although I read a lot of stuff, there were a lot of series, and there weren’t a lot of books that I really liked that I haven’t already told you about. Still there are a few, so here we go again…

We Are Bellingcat by Elliot Higgins*

Cover of We Are Bellingcat

If you’re a casual news consumer you’ll probably have come across Bellingcat as a result of their investigation into the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. But the open source investigation team has its roots further back – in the Arab Spring and the dawning of citizen journalism via social media. It’s an absolutely fascinating read, but a warning: if you worked in a newsroom in the period 2011-2015 (roughly) approach this book with care. I wanted to read this book because I was interested in their verification techniques, mission statement and how they work – after all my day job is in a newsroom. But reading it brought back some memories that I’d rather not think about. It’s not that the book is overly graphic – or even excessively so. But if you watched the sort of pictures they’re talking about first time around – most of which didn’t make the tv news because they were so graphic, you’ll find it coming back to you. I started at the BBC fulltime almost exactly ten years ago – and my first job was in picture intake. That first year – through the Arab Spring, Japanese Tsunami, Utoya Island, the assassination of Mummar Gaddafi – I saw so much really grim footage that I invented the Panda scale of how many times did I have to watch my video of baby pandas playing to cheer myself up. And I didn’t even get the worst of it. This brought back some of the images from that time that I thought I had forgotten. But if you’re interested in open source investigation and in how the masses of UGC (user generated content) from the conflicts of the last decade are being preserved and the hopes for how it might be used in the future- this is the book for you.

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

Cover of Teach Me

Not my first time writing about Olivia Dade – and I’ve read this series out of order – but this is a lovely romance between a newly divorced Dad and the teacher whose world history class he’s unwittingly stolen. What I really like about this whole series is that there is no stupid drama. Rose has reasons why she doesn’t trust people and why she won’t let people in. Martin has issues around his self worth. But there’s no big misunderstanding that could (should?) be resolved by a simple conversation, it’s all about two people working out if they are right for each other beyond just chemistry, and then starting to negotiate life together. And it’s very, very romantic despite – Dade is proving you don’t necessarily need high stakes drama to make a satisfying romance. And I don’t need any more angst at the moment, so this was perfect!

These two reviews have turned out to be not quite so mini as I intended, so a quick rattle through a couple of other things: I listened to the audiobook of Strong Poison for the umpteenth time – I still find the mystery incredibly satisfying and Sayers portrayal of “bohemian” writers life, the interwar craze for Spiritualism and surplus women all make for something a little out of the ordinary run of murder mysteries of the time. And that’s before you get to the fact that it is the start of Peter and Harriet. I read The Sugared Game, the second part of the Will Darling Adventures by K J Charles and it was really good and I’m annoyed that there’s no date for the final part yet – although I do have Charles’s new book (in a different series) so that is something. And I also ended up listening to The Unknown Ajax again after I found out that her next series is about smugglers! Apart from that, I read some more romances – historical and contemporary- that I had too many quibbles with to fully recommend, and I carried on with the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in February were: Beekeepers Apprentice, Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, Boyfriend Material and The Holdout. And January’s mini reviews are here.

Happy Reading!

Children's books, Recommendsday

#Recommendsday: Finding Langston

I had a hard time picking my Book of the Week yesterday, because there was a lot of good stuff I read last week, but picked This Book is Anti-Racist as a call to action for the times that we’re in. So as a bonus for #Recommendsay, I’m writing about the other book which I read and loved last week and just needed to tell you about.

Cover of Finding Langston

Langston is eleven and he’s just moved to Chicago with his dad. It’s 1946 and the move was prompted by the death of Langston’s mum. Unsurprisingly Langston is struggling with all the upheaval in his life, not helped by the fact that he is being bullied at school for being from the South. But Langston finds a refuge in the local library. In Alabama, the library was only for white people, but his nearest branch is for everyone. And inside Langston finds his namesake – the poet Langston Hughes, who has the words to express how it feels to be uprooted from the south and transplanted to the North.

This is just such a gorgeously written book. While you’re reading it you can see post-war Chicago absolutely vividly and clearly and understand the life that Langston and his dad are leading, on the edge of poverty but hoping for better times soon. It’s about loss and upheaval and the Great Migration, but it’s also a love letter to books, words and poetry and the power they have to help you through difficult times. This is Lesa Cline-Ransome’s debut novel (she has previously written several picture books) and has won a ton of praise and totally deserves it. It has a companion novel about one of the bullies that I would now really like to read as well. This is a middle grade novel and would make a great addition to school reading lists or just for kids who like books about people who like books. And maybe have some Langston Hughes handy for afterwards because it will make you want to read more of his poetry. It’s just wonderful.

I borrowed my copy of Finding Langston from the library, but it is available on Kindle and Kobo and in paperback. At time of writing, Amazon has just a couple of copies left of the paperback, so it may be out of stock at your local indie too, but do put it on order.

Happy Reading!

book adjacent, Recommendsday

#Recommendsday: Book-adjacent stuff to watch

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been having some problems concentrating on books at various points during the Current Situation, so I’ve been watching a lot of TV in those concentration lapses. As I watch news all day every day at work, I don’t watch news on my off days, and tend to favour non-news TV. I thought today I’d mention some of the bookish things that I have watched, along with all the Drag Race, Tiger King, My Lottery Dream Home and Great British Menu.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

A couple of years back I read Judith Mackerell’s The Unfinished Palazzo, about a house in Venice that was owned by Luisa Casati, Doris Castelrosse and Peggy Guggenheim. When I wrote about the book in my Rich People Problems nonfiction post last year, I said I would happily read more about any of them, which is true, but Peggy is the one I ws really curious about. So imagine my delight when I found a feature length documentary about her on BBC Four the other week.  And it turns out, she’s just as interesting as I thought she would be – and possibly as much of a nightmare to be around as I suspected too.  I am still definitely in the market for a good book about her – but this was a very good watch.  Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is available to watch for people in the UK (with a TV licence) on the BBC iPlayer for another nine days.

Becoming Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s memoir was huuuuuge when it came out – huge to the point were a year on it’s still not out in paperback and there’s still a hold queue for it at my library. Now Netflix has a new documentary that follows her on the tour she did to promote the book, which saw her talking to huge arenas and small groups. If you haven’t read the book (and I haven’t yet) it is a really good insight into her life and her story. I assume if you have read the book, it does the same but even more so! It’s got bonus appearances from Barack Obama, and for the news junkies like me you get to see behind the scenes of some of the TV interviews you may have seen her (and her mum) do at the time of the booklaunch. This one’s on Netflix now.

Wise Children

There’s a lot of theatre that has been on YouTube or TV during the lockdown, but this has been one of the most interesting to me. This is an adaptation of Angela Carters book about two ageing music hall stars, the unacknowledged daughters of the most famous Shakespearian actor of the day. I read the book two years ago, and while it is very good it didn’t really strike me as a show that would be easily adapted for the stage – despite the fact that it is about the theatre. But Emma Rice has done it and now we can all watch. I haven’t got to the end of this yet, but I’m really enjoying as much of it as I have watched. Wise Children is available to watch for people in the UK (with a TV licence) on BBC iPlayer until at least the start of June.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I read the book the other year, but I saw the film first and it has a special place in my heart because of that. All of the Studio Ghibli stuff is available on Netflix now, so if you haven’t seen them already, now is your chance. I’m planning on watching it again – but this time with subtitles instead of the English language dub.

Voila – a few ideas from me. Please put any suggestions you have for me in the comments – I will run out of Drag race soon…

Happy Watching!

 

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!


		
new releases, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: American Sweethearts

March Stats coming tomorrow, delayed by a day because I wanted to do a quick #Recommendsday post today.  American Sweethearts came out on Monday and I really enjoyed it when I read it a few weeks ago and I didn’t want to be a big old tease and tell you about a book that you couldn’t buy!

Juan Pablo Campos and Priscilla Gutierrez have been on and off (mostly off) since he decided that he didn’t want to be a police officer after all – right after Priscilla had signed up. These days, he’s a physical therapist for the New York Yankees, and she’s a detective – working a tough beat looking after kids in trouble. But she’s not sure it’s her dream job any more. So the last thing she needs is a private jet ride with to a wedding in the Dominican Republic with the one person who knows her better than anyone else. By the end of the wedding trip, they’ve come to the conclusion that it might be worth trying again – but can they work through the issues that have kept them apart for so long to find their happily ever after?

This is the fourth book in Adriana Herrara’s Dreamers series, but is the first of hers I’ve read.  I suspect if you’ve read the other three you’ve seen these two bickering in the background – because this also has plenty of sightings of the previous couples. This is also steeeeeaaaaamy. Like if you were allowed out – and don’t go out, stay home and save lives – but if this were normal times I’d be warning you not to read it on public transport because it might make you blush. And it’s really very good. It’s not so much a second chance romance as an umpteenth chance romance as these two try and figure out if they can put their fractious history behind them and finally make it work. It’s incredibly sex positive, and really natural about that. It also deals with what to do when it turns out that your dream career maybe isn’t the right thing for you any more (or maybe at all) and what you do next when it’s all tied up in your self  identity and your family’s dreams for you. And that’s something that’s more unusual in a romance – we have lots of people finding their dream jobs, or achieving their dreams (and finding romance at the same time) but not so many re-evaluations and people finding new dreams.

So American Sweethearts is out now – my copy came from NetGalley but you can get it on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from February

Yes, this was meant to go up last week. I did say the week got away from me a bit… anyway, it’s here now.  Only a couple this time because February was a short month, but I am trying to make this a regular thing this year, so I didn’t want to fall down on month two. If you missed January’s mini reviews, you can find them here.

World of Wolf Hall 

The Mirror and the Light is now in the shops but if you’ve forgotten what happened in the first two, this kindle freebie (which I’ve also saw in actual paperback in Foyles, but no idea how much it costs/how to qualify for one) recaps the events so far, the cast of characters, the world and some key themes and reader questions. It’s slight, but if it’s been a while since you’ve read the first two parts then it’s a nice reminder. I’m still conflicted about whether to buy this in hardcover (I love the cover, I prefer to read these on paper) or in ebook (so much lighter, but so much easier to ignore in favour of romances). I’ll keep you posted.

Meat Cute by Gail Carriger

This is definitely not the place to start the series, but this is the long wished for prequel that tells the story of the infamous hedgehog episode where Alexia Tarabotti (heroine of the Parasol Protectorate series) meets Conall Maccon. If you’re a fan of this does everything you’re hoping for, and a little bit more! If you’re not yet a fan, I have a lot of posts about my love for Gail Carriger’s steampunk world. My advice is start with Soulless and go from there.

Case of the Drowned Pearl by Robin Stevens

There’s still a few months to go before the final (sniff) full-length book in the series comes out, but there’s a Wells and Wong short for World Book Day. The Case of the Drowned Pearl sees the Detective Society and the Junior Pinkertons on a seaside holiday with Daisy’s Uncle Felix. Again, probably not the place to start the series, but it’s a lot of fun. The mystery is clever and Olympic-themed and I loved Hazel’s reaction to the British seaside. This has some Daisy PoV stuff too, which is always nice. Do start at the beginning with these too – and if you haven’t already bought them for the middle-grader in your life, why not?

So there you go, three slightly belated mini reviews for other stuff that I read in February. I bought all of my copies of these (except for the free one but you know what I mean) so you should be able to get all of them fairly easily – although you might want to rush if you want a physical copy of the Robin Stevens.

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday, reviews

Recommendsday: Mini reviews from January

I feel like I covered a lot of ground in January already, but there were a couple more books I wanted to talk about quickly before I forgot.

 

Copy of Maigret and the Killer on a bookshelf

First lets start with another one of my airport purchases from the holiday: Maigret and the Killer was another of my airport purchases.  I keep meaning to read more of Georges Simenon’s classic French detective – especially after the recent TV adaptations with Rowan Atkinson and this was an interesting change.  It’s clever and intriguing and more psychological thriller than typical procedural murder mystery.

Cover of Applied Electromagnetism

Over in romances – Applied Electromagnetism by Suzannah Nix. This is a forced proximity contemporary, where the heroine gets sent on a business trip with the office hottie.  She thinks he’s overconfident and rude and he can’t stand her either. But as the trip goes from bad to worse when a storm rolls in, things start to change. I had a few quibbles with the way this was set up to start with, but the longer the book went on the less it bothered me! And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve led what this was trying to do. This is part of a series of standalone romances with heroines working in STEM and we definitely need more of those. I’m going to be looking out for more of them.

Cover of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

There’s one kids book that I wanted to give a mention – Caitlin Doughty’s Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? I’ve read her first book for adults, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, about her work as a mortician and in a crematorium which was matter of fact and fascinating, and I have her second book, about death rituals in different cultures, on my wishlist.  This one may be aimed at kids, but it’s still fun and informative for adults too. Probably not one for the recently bereaved, but I enjoyed it, although I think if I’d read it at the “right” age, it might have scared me a little bit – but then I was very afraid of death as a child! Very good and suitably gross, which we all know most kids love!

Cover of Naturally Tan

And finally a memoir – Tan France’s Naturally Tan. I’m not a big viewer of Queer Eye, but this is an interesting memoir of growing up gay and south Asian in northern England and then finding career success and happiness in his personal life too. I didn’t love the writing style always – but I think it would work really well as an audiobook because of the chatty style. Lots of exclamation marks! Lots of talking directly to the reader! And if you’re a big fan of the program, obviously it’s probably a must read and even better it’s 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment!

Voila, four more books that I liked in January and all in keeping with the general themes of my reading – romance, mystery, kids and nonfiction!

Happy Reading!

Children's books, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: The Vanderbeeker series

Another week, another Recommendsday post to start off the new year.  Long term readers will know that I love middle grade stories – I’ve written before about my love of the Wells and Wong series as well as older books that I read when I was the “right” age. I discovered Karina Yan Glaser’s series at the end of last year – but ran into Christmas posts before I could write about it.

Cover of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

So the Vanderbeekers live in part of a brownstone in Brooklyn. There’s five children and it’s maybe not quite big enough but they’ve always lived there, their dad is the building superintendent and the building is like part of the family. All three books in the series so far are basically a modern take on the classic “children go on a quest” trope. In the first book their landlord is trying to evict them and they have to try and stop it. In the second, they’re trying to start a secret garden and in the third they’re trying to save their mother’s business after accidentally putting it at risk.

Cover of The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

I really, really loved these books. The characters are great, the relationships between the family are just wonderful and they’re quirky and fun without being annoying. There’s all the classic characters in the gang – the dreamy one, the adventurous one, the problem solver – but they’re also people you recognise and would like to be friends with. There are inventions, there are pets, there’s special food – just like in the Enid Blyton stories you remember but the plots deal with issues like gentrification and the gig economy – which are very twenty-first century but also, when you think about it probably the modern successors of the Enid Blyton quest stories of old.

They’re also more diverse. The family is biracial, the neighbourhood is multicultural and so you can give it to children when you want them to get all the feels you got from your childhood favourite adventures but without everyone being white and a bit posh or the risks of language that can be out of date at best and racist at worse.

I’ve already bought the first one for the nieces (as a Christmas book) – that’s how much I liked them. My copies came from the library, but they’re available in Kindle and Kobo editions as well as in paperback and hardback from all the usual sources – although they’re probably a special order job (Foyles have two of the three available to order at the moment)

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Royal Romances

Another bonus post for you today – there’s a new series of the Crown out on Netflix this week and there’s been a rush of romances about royalty recently (gee, I wonder why) – a lot of which I seem to have read – so I thought I’d round up a few for you here – new and old.

The Princess Plan by Julia London

Cover of The Princess Plan

This came out yesterday (in the UK at least) and is a historical romance which sees a prince and a commoner team up to solve a murder mystery. Prince Sebastian of Alucia is in Britain for trade talks when his private secretary (and friend) is murdered after a ball.  Eliza Tricklebank helps write a popular gossip sheet and receives a tip off about who committed the crime.  She is probably the only person in the country who doesn’t really care about Sebastian’s rank (for Reasons).  Soon the two of them are investigating what happened – with Eliza digging in the places Sebastian can’t go, while he investigates at court. And as they work together, they develop feelings for each other – but how can a prince marry a nobody – a spinster firmly on the shelf and with a scandal in her past? You know they’ll find a way! I read a lot of historicals – but not many that involve royalty – and this is really quite fun. The mystery is twisty and although I had the culprit worked out very early on, I didn’t work out how they were going to fix the Happily Ever After.  Lots of fun and it’s the first in a series. I had an advance copy from NetGalley, but the ebook for this looks like it’s on offer here this week for release – it’s £2.99 Kindle and Kobo at the moment.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Cover of Red, White and Royal Blue

Alex Claremont-Diaz is the First Son of the United States.  Prince Henry is, well a British Prince.  They hate each other, right until they don’t (hello enemies to lovers trope again) and then there’s a whole lot of secrecy and new problems to deal with. This is a lot of fun while you’re reading it – it rattles along so fast that you don’t get a chance to analyse or dissect the backstory and set up too much. I don’t read a lot of New Adult because usually it’s too angsty and drama-filled for me, but in this most of the drama and angst is external to the couple which worked well. And by the end I wanted the ending to be true in real life. Just don’t think too hard about it all or it all falls apart! Luckily it rattles on at enough speed that you don’t have time to think about it too much – a bit like the Royal Spyness series – and try not to over think it afterwards! This one is new and expensive – Kindle and Kobo are in the £7-£8 bracket at the moment, and the physical version even more.
The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne
Cover of The Runaway Princess
An older pick now – I read this five years ago, but it actually came out in 2012.  The title is something of a spoiler, but hey, I’ll try and not give too much away. Amy is a gardner, not a social butterfly, but when a drunk European prince crashes her friend’s party, she falls for Leo the guy who helps her sort the mess out.  But Leo and Amy’s lives are very different and soon Amy’s trying to decide if he’s worth the changes and problems that life with him would bring This is a fun, easy, romantic read with likeable characters and a lovely (if a perhaps a little bit underdeveloped male lead). It’s a modern princess story – but with a leading lady that’s not as polished and perfect as Kate Middleton (remember this came out in the year of the First Royal Wedding, not the Harry and Meghan era). Amy has some skeletons in her closet – and to be honest I’m surprised they didn’t come out sooner when the press started sniffing around. I had pretty much worked out what had happened (I’m being vague because I don’t want to give it away) but the resolution to that strand of the story was more inventive than I expected. Oh and the Kindle and Kobo editions are £1.99 at the moment.  A win all around.

Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole

Cover of A Prince on Paper

And I couldn’t let this post go by without reminding you of the Reluctant Royals.  I’ve reviewed Alyssa Cole a lot in recent years and two of this series have already been Book of the Weeks – A Princess in Theory and the novella Can’t Escape Love – but if you haven’t already checked out this series, they’re well worth a look.   The last in the series, A Prince on Paper, features a Playboy prince (or so we think) and a woman trying to find out who she is after discovering that her father has betrayed her. I had a few quibbles with how it all resolved itself (it seemed to easy) but absolutely raced through this the day that it came out – which says pretty much all you need to know about it! A Princess in Theory is £1.99 at the moment on Kindle and Kobo – but they’re all under £3 – and there are three novels and two novellas. Cole’s new series, Runaway Royals, starts next year with How To Catch A Queen and I’m looking forward to it already.

So there you have it – the best of my recent royal-themed reading and some older picks too.  If you’ve got some more recommendations for me, leave them in the comments!

Happy Reading!