American imports, Book of the Week, historical, new releases, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: After the Wedding

As you may have noticed from yesterday’s post, I did a lot of reading last week – even for me.  And there were a lot of contenders for this week’s BotW, but it seemed serendipitous that Courtney Milan’s latest romance is actually out today, whereas the release dates had already passed for the other contenders.  And don’t worry, some of the other books from last week will feature in upcoming posts I have planned – there’s another cozy crime round up due as well as the traditional Holiday Reading post.  I read through my holiday so that you can benefit from it when picking your holiday reading.  Or at least that’s a happy accident of the fact that my preferred way of spending my holiday is reading!  Anyway, on to the review.

The cover of After the Wedding

After the Wedding is the second book in Courtney Milan’s Worth Saga.  I haven’t read the first, but that didn’t in any way impair my enjoyment.  Set in the late 1860s, it tells the story of Camilla and Adrian. Camilla has been moving around from family to family for years since her father was convicted of treason, but she never seems to be able to keep any of them happy enough with her to be allowed to stay.  Adrian is juggling a lot of things.  He’s trying to run the family business while trying to convince his uncle (a bishop) to recognise his family, who were disowned when his mother ran off with a black abolitionist. This sees him doing things that he would rather not be doing – like impersonating servants to obtain vital information.  When the two of them find themselves married – at gunpoint no less – they begin an awkward dance to work out what to do next.  He has definite ideas about what he wants from marriage, she can’t see how the world can make anything worse for her, but has had enough blows that she knows that she can’t rule anything else.

This is a really good historical romance – but it’s not your typical historical romance.  There is a a sadness in each of the character’s backstories that goes beyond what you normal find, and that is never going to go away or be resolved fully.  But that makes a lot of the other events of the book even sweeter.  Milan says in the afterword that this book is about hope – and I can totally get on board with that.  It’s showing two characters who face obstacles in their lives work out how they’re going to get around them – or live with them – and come to terms with themselves in the process.  The Camilla of the end of the book is not the same bowed, cowed and undermined character that she is at the start, but that’s not because everything has been magically fixed for her because she has found a man.  She’s done it for herself.   Adrian also works out what his priorities are and what he really wants but he’s also working for the best outcome for Camilla because he knows that she has even less choices than he does in many ways.  For me, the best sort of romances are the ones where the characters grow and develop and the fact that they’ve fallen in love in the process is a happy consequence, not the fix.  And that’s how it should be.   You can’t – and shouldn’t – rely on someone else to make you happy or to make your life complete.

I think this is my favourite new romance of the year so far and a timely reminder to me to go back and read more of what Courtney Milan has written.  I really, really like what she is doing with her historical romances – they’re something a bit different from what you expect and have a cast of characters who not only aren’t all dukes, but aren’t all white members of the haut ton.  And they’re stories that I want to read more of.  The conflict at the heart of this is not a misunderstanding that could have been fixed by having a conversation. And that makes for a really satisfying conclusion when you get to the happy ending.

I received my advance copy of After the Wedding from the author via her Facebook page, but as mentioned at the top, this is out today.  As I write this, I can only find it in Kindle and Kobo in the UK, but fingers crossed there’ll be some physical copies at some point.  I’m off to buy more of Courtney Milan’s back catalogue.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, graphic novels, new releases

Book of the Week: Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up

Firstly, it came to my attention slightly belatedly over the weekend, that Anita Shreve has died.  Her last book The Stars are Fire was a BotW back in May last year – it’s out in paperback in 10 days time and is well worth a read.  She’s definitely on the list of authors I need to read more of – just as soon as I get the TBR pile down…  Anyway, this week’s BotW is not out for a few weeks yet (sorry, but it had to be done), but I enjoyed it so much and have things to say, so I picked it anyway.  The Moon is Up is second Lumberjanes novel and it’s been a while since I wrote about the series (nearly a year in fact ) so I thought it was ok to mix it up a little bit and go back for some more middle grade action.

If you haven’t come across the Lumberjanes before, you can read my previous posts about here and here, but I’ll give you the quick rundown now too:  the series follows a group of campers at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types.  Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley  are te girls of Roanoke cabin.  They all have different backgrounds and different strengthgs but they’re also  feisty, fun and best friends who look out for each other whatever the circumstances.  The graphic novel series runs to 9 volumes now, and this is the second spin off novel.

Cover of Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up

In The Moon is Up, the girls of Roanoke are taking part in the Galaxy Wars contest, which sees them up against their fellow campers in a series of space-related challenges and competitions.  There is the usual weird creature of the week type plot – this time a Moon Pirate – that we get in the graphic novels, but the novel format gives us a chance to see a bit more inside one of the characters – in this case Jo, who is trying to make a decision about whether she should take up the offer of a place at a prestigious science camp, and who also happens to be trans.

Apart from the excellent storytelling and fun adventures, one of my favourite things about the Lumberjanes graphic novels has always been the fact that it has a really diverse cast of strong female characters, who have a range of interests and strengths and support each other and know that when they work together they’re better.  And this novel is absolutely doing the same thing.  Jo is the analytical one in the gang and it’s fun to see inside her head as she tries to work out what the right thing to do is and to see the other girls giving her space to work out whatever is bothering her.  It’s a great example of how female friendships should be – and how people with different interests can be the best of friends.

All this makes it sound like the book might be a bit preachy and boring, but it’s the total opposite of that.  It’s a fun adventure romp that absolutely fits in with some of my favourite camp stories from when I was younger.  My copy was an advance e-copy from NetGalley and didn’t have the final artwork, so I know I’m going to be trotting out to the shops to have a look at the finished article as well as looking for the first book in the series too.  The novels are a great addition to the Lumberjanes universe, and I can’t wait to read more of them.

Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up is out on May 8, and is available to preorder now in Kindle and Kobo and hardcover from Amazon, Book Depository and Foyles.  The first in the series, Unicorn Power is available now from all the same places.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: A Princess in Theory

Normal service is nearly resumed here this week – real life is still super busy, but I read some really good stuff last week and I have an excellent BotW pick in Alyssa Cole’s latest book, A Princess in Theory.  After a few weeks of crime picks, I’m back on a romance reading spree, and this one is one of the best that I’ve read in a long time.  And it’s on offer at the moment as an ebook in the UK – so I’m all about enabling your book-buying habit as well!

Cover of A Princess in Theory

A Princess in Theory’s heroine is Ledi, a smart, fiercely independent orphan who’s come through the foster care system and built her own life.  She’s an epidemiologist – aka someone who studies diseeases – and is really fed up with getting taken advantage of at work.  She just doesn’t have time to deal with these weird scam emails claiming that she’s betrothed to an African prince. Prince Thabiso is one of Africa’s most eligible bachelors, sole heir to the kingdom of Thesolo, so why is he so hung up on the idea that the girl he was betrothed to when he was a child is the one for him? When he tracks her down, she ends up thinking he’s just another normal guy – could this be the best way to find out if they could be the real thing? Ledi really likes this clueless new guy who’s moved in across the hall, but what will happen when she finds out who he really is?

This is full of some of my favourite tropes – secret identities, fake relationships and most of all: a Super Competent Heroine. Ledi is such an engaging character – you really feel like you understand who she is, and what she wants and what her hopes are. She’s so used to being let down – describing herself as “defective Velcro” that people just don’t stick around to – that she’s put up big walls to keep people out and stop her from being hurt any more. She’s clever and driven, but she’s used to not being taken seriously and to people not treating her fairly – as a black woman in a male-dominated STEM field, she’s used to trying to get what she’s due whilst trying to avoid being labelled troublesome. One of the things I liked most about the resolution to this was that it didn’t diminish Ledi’s own accomplishments and skills in her finding her happy ever after. She and Thabiso are going to be a team, and he’s on her side.

I usually have a limited tolerance for princes as heroes, but actually Thabiso is kinda charming in his clueless way. Of course he should have told Ledi who he was straight away (although the book wouldn’t be the same at all if he had!) but he knows that and if he starts to look like forgetting that, he has his super efficient, super sarcastic assistant Likotsi to remind him. And Likotsi is a lot of fun too – she’s not going to let Thabiso get away with taking away Ledi’s decision making power and she’s firmly on Ledi’s side later in the book. I really liked that for once in this sort of book, the prince’s advisor/friend who was trying to sabotage his relationship.

I had a few concerns at the midpoint about whether this was all going to be resolved in a totally satisfactory manner, but I shouldn’t have been worrying. This is a fun, smart contemporary romance, with a great voice and that’s diverse and inclusive and bringing something different to the genre. This is my first Alyssa Cole – but it definitely won’t be the last, because I’ve already got the next book in this series preordered! I’ve heard Alyssa interviewed a couple of times on The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast and not only does she seem like great fun and someone you’d really like to go out for a meal with, but she’s a great advocate for her genre and for the need for more books representing people other than white women. Oh and she lives in the Caribbean and it all sounds super exciting.

Anyway, I think I’ve gone on about how much I enjoyed this enough – so here are the links: I bought my copy on Kindle (it’s only £1.99!), but it’s also available on Kobo. There is a paperback edition, but I suspect if you want it, you’re going to have to order it in, either from Amazon or Foyles or Big Green Bookshop.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The House of Hopes and Dreams

In a change from recent form, it’s not a crime pick this week – but perhaps the pick won’t be a surprise to regular readers with an eye on the new release lists. I’m a long-time Trisha Ashley fan, and she has a new novel out this week and I was lucky enough to have an advance copy sent to me by the publishers. If you follow me on Litsy (I’m @Verity there) you’ll have seen me get excited about this when it arrived and it’s taken a lot of willpower to save it until close to release to read it.

Proof copy of The House of Hopes and Dreams

The House of Hope and Dreams follows Carey and Angel, who’ve been friends since art college, although life has taken them in slightly different directions. At the start of the novel TV interior designer Carey is in hospital recovering after nearly losing his leg after being knocked off his bike. He’s been dumped from his show, but when a lawyer arrives to tell him that he’s inherited a minor historic house in Lancashire it looks like he may have a new project. Angel’s life had been turned upside down after the death of her partner – who she’d been working with at his stained glass company for more than a decade. She’s lost her job and her home, but luckily her skills are exactly what her old friend is looking for and there’s space for her at Mossby. Soon Angel is setting up a workshop so she can repair Mossby’s unique windows and Carey is working on a new TV series about the renovation of the house and the secrets that it’s hiding. But how long will it take the two of them to work out that there’s more to their relationship than just friendship?

If you were to ask me about my book catnip, high on the list are old houses, competency porn (aka heroines who are really good at what they do) and friends to lovers stories, so straight away this ticks a lot of boxes for me. And this is back in a corner of Lancashire that has a lot of old friends from previous visits to TrishaWorld – Carey’s house is just up the road from Middlemoss so you get a few glimpses at old friends from novels gone by. This is a little sadder in the backstory and less funny than some of her other books, but I relaxed happily back into it and although I always had a very fair idea where everything was going, it was an enjoyable ride to get there.

If you’re very familiar with Ashley’s books (and I speak as someone who has read everything she’s published except her historical novel) then this may feel a bit like a Greatest Hits album – which I found a bit of a mixed blessing. But I think there’s a lot here for newer fans to love, especially people who’ve only started reading her in her last couple of novels and haven’t come across this part of her imaginary corner of England before. And they’ll be able to go away and discover more of it with the side characters in this, which in turn may lead them to my absolute favour of Ashley’s novels, A Winter’s Tale (another story about an old house with secrets) .

The House of Hopes and Dreams is out on Thursday – you should be able to find it in supermarkets (that’s where I picked up my first Trisha) and bookshops, or if you can’t wait here are the preorder links for Amazon and Kindle. I’ll be buying one too – because my preview copy doesn’t have the recipes in the back!

if you want to go and read some of my previous ramblings about Trisha’s world, try here, here and here.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, children's books, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: A Spoonful of Murder

This week’s BotW is the latest Wells and Wong mystery, A Spoonful of Murder, which makes three mystery books in a row, but I don’t see a problem with that.  The only surprise here is that I managed to pace myself and take two and a half weeks to read this, rather than glomming it on the day it came out, which is what I usually do and what nearly happened.

Cover of A Spoonful of Murder

Anyway, this is the sixth instalment in the Wells and Wong series and sees Hazel sent for by her father after the death of her grandfather.  Hazel heads back home to Hong Kong, accompanied by Daisy for moral support.  And she needs the support when she gets home and discovers that more has changed than just the death of her beloved Ah Yeh.  As always with this series, the mystery is clever, the action is fast-paced and you just keep turning the pages.  The stories are getting more mature as we go through the series – not unlike the Harry Potter books did – so the murder is a little bit more gruesome, the girls see a little bit more and are in a bit more danger, but there’s nothing here that should give a middle grader nightmares.  Or at least not in the way that I scared myself with Miss Marple books when I was about 10 any way.

The big change in this book from the others, is that although we are still seeing the action through Hazel’s eyes, for once it is Daisy who is the fish-out-of-water and Hazel is on her home turf.  One of the things that I have always loved about this series is the way that it takes classic boarding school stories and adds in new layers and gives you a different viewpoint.  The reader has always been aware that Hazel is seen as an outsider and that she doesn’t always know how things work in Britain, but it’s only really in this book, where Hazel is back at home and Daisy is her guest that you really realise how different her life is at home and how much she’s had to adapt to be accepted in England.  The way that you see Daisy struggle to work out a world she doesn’t understand and to figure out where she fits in and accept (well sort of) that here she isn’t seen as important the way she is in Britain is so cleverly done.  Daisy is still Daisy, but she’s realising that there’s more to Hazel’s life than she thought and that she has hidden skills that Daisy hadn’t appreciated.  And this is all done without meanness or cruelty and seamlessly with everything that we already know about the two girls.

And there’s obviously been a huge amount of research done into this.  The picture that Robin Stevens paints of high society in interwar Hong Kong in this feels grounded in research and facts, but it wears it very lightly.  I came away wanting to know more about Hong Kong’s history and what it was like as well as wanting to read more books set there.  It worked for me on every level – it’s a great mystery, with great characters and a great setting that just happens to be aimed at 8 to 11 year olds.  Perfect.  And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you liked St Clares or Mallory Towers or (my beloved) Chalet School when you were little and like Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime authors – then you should read this.  And if you have a middle grader in your house, this makes a great chapter book to read with them.  It has maps and everything.

You should be able to get this from any bookshop with a children’s section and I’ve seen them in the supermarkets too.   For best effect, start at the beginning with Murder Most Unladylike, especially if you’re giving to a child at the younger end of the age spectrum as it’s less for them to cope with on the death and violence spectrum.

Happy Reading!

Adventure, Authors I love, Book of the Week, historical, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: A Treacherous Curse

So it was my birthday last week and I treated myself to a few books, one of which was Deanna Raybourn’s latest book A Treacherous Curse. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Ms Raybourn’s work – from Lady Julia, through her standalone books to this latest series so this BotW pick will be no surprise to you.

Cover of A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series and sees Veronica and Stoker investing an Egyptian-themed mystery. Stoker’s former expedition partner has disappeared along with a valuable artefact and Stoker is one of the prime suspects. Veronica is determined to clear his name and the two of them are drawn into a web of intrigue that includes an ill-fated excavation in the Valley of the Kings, an Egyptian god appearing on the streets of London and a disgruntled teenage girl.

Now as you know, I try not to give spoilers in my reviews and that means it’s quite hard to say anything more than that about this without giving away major plot points from the first two books in the series.  But this has interesting developments on the various ongoing plot points that are enough to leave you impatient for book four – which must be a year away given that this one has only just come out and is obviously a major disadvantage of reading a book as soon as it comes out!

There’s unresolved sexual tension galore, wise cracks, peril and moths. I also really like the Eypgtian connection in this – it tapped into some of the things that I love about the Amelia Peabody books.  And if you like Elizabeth Peters’s series and you’re not already reading Veronica’s adventures, then you should be.  But maybe start from the first book (A Curious Beginning) or you’ll get some serious plot spoilers from this.

I haven’t seen these in the supermarkets, but they are usually in the bigger bookshops and I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would be able to order a copy in for you. I bought my copy on Kindle but it’s available on Kobo too although the Kobo version was slightly more expensive at the time I wrote this.  There’s also a really good (and completely spoiler free) interview with Deanna Raybourn on this week’s Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast if you want to know more about the book (and the series) before you take the plunge.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime, crime, new releases

Book of the Week: Death of a Devil

Well ladies and gentlemen a real treat for you here today. You’ve already read the interview, but I was lucky enough to been given* a copy of the new Danny Bird mystery by Derek Farrell – which is out today. You may remember that I enjoyed Dannys 1 and 2 so much that they made it into my favourite books of 2016 post so I was delighted to be asked if I could review it for release day and juggled my posting schedule accordingly!

A recap of the story so far: Danny’s trying to turn a geezer pub in a dodgy bit of south London into a gay bar. He’s helped by a motley crew of friends and workers and hindered by that same crew, and also the fact that the Marq is owned by a local mobster who demands his cut. Setbacks so far include: a diva dropping dead just before she was due to perform in the bar and a wake with a larger body count than it should have had.

Cover of Death of a Devil

We rejoin Danny as he tries to juggle a seance featuring a heath inspector and the (optimistically named) First Annual Fancy Dress Halloween Party at the Marq. And then a body turns up. Again.  But this time it’s in the cellar, so that makes a change. Soon Danny and the gang are trying to solve a 20-year-old murder with gangland connections.  Meanwhile Lady Caz has got some issues with her family that need sorting out and Danny’s a bit worried that the catering freezer in the kitchen is about to give up the ghost, which isn’t great when you serve food and have Environmental Health on the premises.

So, probably most important thing in a story like this is the mystery and whether it holds up.  And this does:  there are plenty of suspects and with a link to one of the staff at the pub and the body being found on the premises, there are genuine reasons for Danny to be involved in trying to figure out whodunnit.  Next you need an engaging hero and Danny definitely is that.  He’s funny and loyal, and as a reader you’d like to go on a night out with him and persuade him to be your friend**.  Danny’s also tougher than he looks and will do anything he can for his friends and to keep his pub in business – in that order (I think).  And almost every good detective needs a sidekick and Lady Caz is a great one: she is posher and drunker than ever in this installment and the subplot with her family is excellent too.  There’s plenty of witty repartee and a lot of pop culture references.  I’m not sure there’s a oneliner that beats the “Poirot on poppers” from book two, but to be fair,  that was a work of genius.

There’s also a nod to the detective fiction author’s problem of how to create corpses for their hero, when two passers by mention that bodies just keep turning up at the Marq, but in this case because this body is 20 years old, it helps avoid the Jessica Fletcher effect.***  I’m hoping that the increased involvement of Chopper the mobster in this book and the widening of some of the character’s backstories/families will help avoid this happening to Danny as the series goes on, because I’m not sure how many more bodies can turn up at the Marq before Danny’s business drops off so much that he goes out of business!

As regular readers will know, I read a lot of cozy crime novels, which is a particularly American genre, and I’d describe this as cozy adjacent – there aren’t any cupcakes or crafters here, but there is a (murder) mystery story that gets solved without too much blood and gore or psychological thrillery-ness.  This isn’t as noir as many of the Fahrenheit books, but it does have the sly and subversive world view that you find from the Fahrenheit gang.  It’s fun and funny and won’t leave you terrified to go out of an evening.

Death of a Devil is out today: here’s the magic link.

Happy Reading!

*Translation: Begged and screamed until I got one early even though I have a Fahrenheit Press subscription so would get on on/near release day.

**Well as long as you don’t have to see any bodies or get arrested.

***So many bodies start turning up around Jessica that you start to wonder if she is the problem/an Angel of Doom/killing them herself.  There are many theories.