And I’ve already got my copy of Amongst Our Weapons in my grubby little hands as you can seee! I told you that I’d got a signed copy pre-ordered from Big Green Books – and they appear to have some of them left if you’re in the market. As it’s the ninth book in the series, it’d be breaking all my rules if it ends up being a Book of the Week – but I’m not ruling it out, although if previous books are anything to go by, you really need to have read at least some of the others to get the most out of. So instead, I’m going to remind you that I have a Series I Love post about them from two years ago from not long after the False Value came out.
I know I said that I was mostly reading romance and mystery at the moment, but I’m veering outside that today for this week’s BotW, with a new release book that’s looking at the influencer economy and how it is changing our daily lives.
This is a sobering look at the changes that social media has brought to the world – particularly when it comes to the blurring of lines between real and fake and the Wild West of promotions, adverts and sponcon. Symeon Brown is a correspondent at Channel Four news and in his first book he examines realities of influencer culture – and what lies behind the carefully curated lives that people are presenting on social media platforms. And it turns out that what is behind the glossy facade is even murkier than you are imagining. For every success story, there are countless people handing over their own money in the hopes of being the next big thing.
Across the course of the book, Brown takes you through the full range of online smoke and mirrors – from predatory plastic surgery firms taking advantage of young women who want to look more like their filtered photos, the promises of quick riches through crypto currencies or various new types of MLMs, streamers who get paid to be racially abused, influencers who are making serious money out of activism and much, much more. But at the centre of it all there are a lot of vulnerable people desperate for a better future who are being preyed on or exploited.
I’ve recommended books about scammers or frauds here before, but they’ve usually been about single people or companies perpetuating a con – whereas this covers a huge range of ways that people are being bamboozled as part of online hustle culture. It’s well written and hard to put down – and it’s going to give you a lot to think about. Very, very sobering.
After a few weeks of murder mystery picks of various types, I’m back with another romance book for this week’s BotW – and it’s even a new release! Check me getting new books read in a timely manner. I know. Astounding
Ever since her mum died, Samadhi has watched YouTube streams of video gamers to help her destress. Sam plays games herself as well, so when she’s selected in a contest to partner her all-time favourite streamer, Blaze, in a competition to promote a new game, it’s her lucky day. Except that in real life she’s trying to get her fashion business off the ground and she needs all her time to do that. Blaze is a swashbucking pirate type – with a big following and as well as wanting to make sure she doesn’t embarrass herself in front of the internet, she’s also got a bit of a crush. Ok, make that a lot of a crush. But what she doesn’t know is that in real life, Blaze is actually Luke – the shy guy from her office who has been helping her with her crowdfunding campaign. And of course Luke doesn’t know that Sam is Bravura. And every day as Luke is working up the courage to ask Sam out, Sam is falling a little bit harder for Blaze. How will the competition end – and will Sam realise who Luke is before it’s too late?
So I love a double identity/mistaken identity romance which is something I could list a whole bunch of historical romances with that trope but I’m going to save that til tomorrow (!) and obviously there are also films like You’ve Got Mail, Pillow Talk and Some Like it Hot. And this is a delight. I really appreciated that Luke never took advantage of the fact that he realised who Sam was first (which is my problem with You’ve Got Mail and Pillow Talk if I think too hard about it) and there is also plenty of competency porn and calling out of people being icky to women in the gaming world and in the bottom half of the internet. But the slow burn romance is the main attraction here – and it’s a delight to watch especially as I wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to work out.
This is the first book that I’ve read by Jeevani Charika – but she also writes as Rhoda Baxter and I’ve heard her interviewed before on the Smart Bitches podcast and have been meaning to try and read some of her books. And I enjoyed this so much that I’ll definitely be doing that. If they’re all as much fun as this, I’ve got some really good reading in front of me. I complain a lot about wanting more romantic comedies and how hard it is to find them – so I really enjoyed finding one and I’m hoping that the act of buying some of the back catalogue will help the algorithm put some more my way!
My copy of Playing for Love came from NetGalley, but it’s out now and is a bargain 99p on Kindle and £1.99 on Kobo as I write this. And it’s also coming out in paperback, but not until April – and don’t worry Foyles will let you preorder it.
Oh I’m breaking rules again today. You know I am and I know I am but I don’t care because today I shall write about the new Stockwell Park Orchestra book because it made me laugh so much last week and I don’t care that it’s the fourth in the series…
We rejoin the lovable scamps from everyone’s favourite community orchestra soon after the viral excitement of their European tour. And more excitement is heading their way: firstly a poet wants to be artist in residence with them, then they’re approached to take part in a TV talent competition for classical music groups. And so we’re off on another adventure. Your favourite side characters are here – think terrible singers and handsome horn players – along with some newcomers. The running jokes are glorious. I love the group dynamic that they have and the sarcastic and slightly sly humour. And as a bonus you get the orchestra sight reading their way through Ruslan and Ludmilla overture (aka the theme from Cabin Pressure) and imagine their horror/come out in a cold sweat if you’ve ever had to play a piece with lots of runs and scales at speed on an instrument. I for one still have nightmares about the wind band arrangements of the Theme from Big Country (the clarinets get all the twiddly bits that the violins get at the start and then none of the delightful tune) and the Candide Overture (clarients get twiddly bits galore and endless shifts in rhythm and tempo to boot) and neither of those are anything like as bad as Ruslan and Ludmilla – although equally delightful when it’s going well!
As you can tell, I am a wind band veteran (photographic evidence here), so it makes it hard for me to predict how it will land for people who didn’t play instruments – and who never had to mime their way through difficult sections so they didn’t get picked on by the conductor but Isabel Rogers has created such an engaging group of characters that I think it will work for non musicians. And if you have a healthy scepticism about talent competitions then so much the better. I ate it up with a spoon and then went off to relisten to some Cabin Pressure because I had the theme stuck in my head (the Ottery St Mary episode if you’re interested) which only increased the joy. I can’t wait for the next one.
Time for another quick round up of some recent releases that I’ve read but not yet told you about…
Shady Hollow by Juneau Black*
This is possibly the most unusual book I’ve read in a while. It’s a small town cozy mystery, except that the residents of the small town are woodland creatures. Or at least creatures that you would find in a north American woodland. Apart from that, there are the usual staples of cozy crime – a local reporter (who is a fox), a bookshop (owned by a raven), police officers (who are bears) and a murder victim (a toad). Think Jasper Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, but more cozy crime than comic crime. I’m still not quite sure how the differing scales of the animals works – is it more Animals of Farthingwood or Arthur the Aardvark? – or how the interspecies relationships work, but I read it and enjoyed it and would happily read the next one. This is the first in a series that was originally published in 2015 but is now being republished by Vintage – this came out last week and the next one is out in early March and the third (and final so far) follows in April.
The Missing Page by Cat Sebastian
This is the long awaited sequel to Hither Page and came out at the end of January. James is called back to the house where he spent his childhood summers for the reading of a will and discovers that he may not know the whole truth about what happened the last summer that he spent there. It is basically a country house murder mystery, except that the murder happened decades ago. Part Agatha Christie, part cozy crime, part romance, you get to spend more time with Leo and James and get to know them better Side note: the reading of a will is always such a great device for a murder mystery. Anyway, this will work better if you’ve read the first book – which is why it didn’t get a slot of its own, but it is delightful, so I wanted to talk about it!
Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Smugglers Secret by Annabelle Sami*
This is the fourth book about Zaiba and her group of friends who investigate crimes. It’s the first one that I’ve read, but I love a middle grade mystery series – and I would say this would work best for the younger end of the age group – it’s got illustrations and the language is simpler so it’s more of a first chapter book than say Robin Stevens‘ books – and there’s no murder which means it works for younger kids too. It’s fun, a little unlikely in patches – adults accepting eleven year olds helping investigate stuff – but no less unlikely than some other stories in the genre. I loved the sections with Zaiba’s aunt in Pakistan and all the food references made me really hungry! It’s out now in paperback, with the ebook following next month. These are going on my list of books to suggest for younger children – although I think all of the people I regularly purchase for are too old for this now sadly.
Happy Thursday everyone!
*denotes that my copy came via Netgalley
In a frankly shocking move to anyone who knows me, this week’s pick is a book that I mentioned in my upcoming books post, and that I’ve managed to read ahead of it’s release. I am however breaking one of my rules – because I’m writing about it nine days ahead of its publication date, and I usually try and wait for books to be published before I recommend them. But as the other books that I really liked last week were Christmas-themed books, and here we are in nearly mid-January. But I have a plan for dealing with that. I promise. Anyway, to the review.
If you’ve read anything about Agatha Christie’s life, you’ll probably have come across the mysterious incident in 1926 when she disappeared for 11 days after her husband asked her for a divorce because he had fallen in love with another woman. It sparked a massive hunt for her across the UK until she was found staying at a hotel in Harrogate. The newspapers reported that she was suffering from memory loss and Christie herself doesn’t even mention the incident in her autobiography. Nina De Gramont’s debut novel reimagines what happened, told from the perspective of the fictional Nan O’Dea. Nan is the woman who Christie’s husband is leaving her for – the Goodreads blurb describes her as “a fictional character but based on someone real, which is to say there was a woman who Archie Christie was leaving Agatha for – but that is about as far as the resemblance goes. The novel jumps backwards and forwards through time – showing the reader Nan’s tough upbringing in London and her escape to Ireland during the Great War alongside the hunt for Agatha and the events at the hotel that she’s staying at in Harrogate. Why has Nan infiltrated the Christie’s world and what is it she wants?
I really enjoyed reading this – but it’s so hard to explain why without revealing too much. In fact, I’ve tried three times just to write that plot summary without giving too much away. I think it’s fair to say that this departs a long way away from the actual facts of the Christie divorce fairly quickly. But the story sucks you in so completely that you end up googling to check which bits are real and which aren’t. It’s clever and enthralling and twistier than I expected it to be. There’s also a murder mystery plot in there that’s neatly reminiscent of something Christie herself wrote. I’ve written whole posts about fictionalised real lives, and if you like that sort of thing you should try this – although bear in mind those notes above about it not being what actually happened. It’s a thriller, it’s a mystery and it’s a romance. It’s also very easy to read and evocative. I read it on the sofa snuggled under a blanket wishing I was in front of a roaring fire, but I think it would also make a great read for the commute or a sun lounger. And it wouldn’t make a bad book club pick either. Well worth a look.
My copy of The Christie Affair came from NetGalley, but you can pre-order a signed copy from Waterstones, or the usual Kindle or Kobo editions. It is a hardback release, so the Kindle prices do match that, but if you’ve still got some Christmas book money to spend…
Welcome to post two of this week’s start of month extravaganza. As it’s a Tuesday, this is Book of the Week as usual but it’s also a new release – that dropped onto my Kindle on Tuesday last week and was in front of my eyeballs soon after. I’m slightly inside my year rule for author repeats, but this is a different series of Dade’s and as I said I’m being timely for once!
All the Feels is the follow up to Spoiler Alert, set in the same world and with an overlapping timeline – if you care about spoilers you’ll want to read Spoiler Alert first. Our hero, Alex, is one of the stars of a Game of Thrones-esque TV behemoth. After a fight in a bar while filming the final season of the show he finds himself with a new minder – Lauren – who is going to watch his every move until the last season airs. He is not very keen on the arrangement, but once she’s living in his guest house, he discovers that he actually might like hanging around with her. Lauren was in holiday in Spain when her awful cousin roped her in to babysitting one of his misbehaving actors. Burnt out from her job in the ER, looking after a spoilt star should surely be a breeze. But what she discovers behind the bad headlines is a man who cares – really very much – about the people around him and who doesn’t always think before he jumps in to try and rescue them. Then another scandal puts Alex in even more trouble and loses Lauren her job. But Alex isn’t ready to let her go and starts trying to figure out a way to keep him in his life.
This is fun and sweet and was exactly what I needed last week. Alex is the hero equivalent of a big friendly puppy – maybe a golden retriever – who bounces around causing chaos with a flick of his tail. If you’ve read Spoiler Alert, you’ll know what the scandal is that loses Lauren her job and you’ll also know that like Marcus, Alex likes to write a bit of fan fiction. You get extracts of that, plus the delightful group messages between the God of the Gates stars at appropriate points between chapters of the story. I didn’t reread Spoiler Alert before I read this, but if my memory is correct this is probably a little less… explicit than you might expect from Alex’s very frank disclosures in that. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have any bedroom action – because it does, but it comes later in the story than maybe you would expect based on what you already knew about Alex in the last book.
Flicking through the goodreads reviews (always dangerous I know), I can see that this has divided opinion somewhat, with some people feeling like it didn’t live up to Spoiler Alert and not buying the chemistry or liking Alex. I liked them as a couple but I can see how people would have taken a dislike to Alex – based on seeing him through Lauren’s point of view at the start. But I think that sorts it out once you get into his POV and also realise a bit more about how Lauren sees herself and the way that her family treat her. And as for not living up to Spoiler Alert – that probably depends on which tropes you like and possibly on the steam level you’re expecting from this. Spoiler Alert missed out on Book of that Week here – mostly because I read it very close to Well Met which was just glorious and has a slightly similar feel in terms of fandoms and the like.
So All the Feels is out now in the UK – on Kindle, Kobo and in paperback. But because of supply chain issues, its release in the States has been pushed back a few weeks – sorry not sorry that for once the UK readers have got something first!
Why, hello. I bet you weren’t expecting this were you? What do you mean you were? Am I that predictable? Yes. I am. We all know I am. It’s why you love me. I know you love me really. Deep down. Definitely. Probably. Maybe. Sometimes. Perhaps.
This is the sequel to The Thursday Murder Club, which you can’t possibly have missed over the course of the last year – even despite the pandemic. Written by Richard Osman of Pointless and House of Games fame; the first book sold loads, it’s been everywhere that sells books and some places that don’t usually sell them. And it was a Book of the Week here too.
The Man Who Died Twice finds our gang of pensioners with a fresh set of troubles. A figure from Elizabeth’s past has reappeared and it’s going to be a real headache. Joyce and Ron are eager to help out, but Ibrahim has some issues of his own to resolve. There are diamonds, mobsters, spies, drugs and a collection of bodies that threatens to grow at speed. It’s all really quite dangerous. Will the foursome manage to solve the find the diamond, solve the murder and take their revenge?
First of all it’s lovely to be back in the Thursday Murder Club world. I was a bit worried about whether this sequel would be able to live up to the first, but actually it’s a joy. The characters continue to be a delight – and the more we find out about them the more I like them. And because the central foursome are already established we also get to see some more of their non-retirement complex friends and see some more potential plot strands develop. And of course we learn more about Elizabeth, Joyce, Rob and Ibrahim. I really, really enjoyed it – and for once I managed to pace myself and make it last a bit as well!
My copy of The Man Who Died Twice came via NetGalley but it’s out now in hardback as well as Kindle and Kobo and will be available absolutely everywhere. Foyles have even got some signed copies. And I suspect it’s going to be an awful lot of people’s go to book gift this year. As I write this, it sits at the top of the best seller list, while its predecessor is on top of the paperback chart. Domination indeed.
I’m going to start this review with an apology: Ambush or Adore is a fan service piece from Gail Carriger, so really it will only work for you if you’ve already read a lot of Gail Carriger’s works. But it was also the only book I read last week that made me cry and it was the book I enjoyed the most. So sorry to the rest of you – but you have mini reviews coming up tomorrow to help ease your pain and if reading this makes you want to read some of the Carrigerverse I will provide pointers on that at the end.
Agatha Woosnoss is the greatest intelligence gatherer of her generation, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. In fact, so skilled is she that you probably wouldn’t be able to find her in the room to look at her, even if you knew she was there. Pillover Plumleigh-Teignmott is a professor of ancient languages at Oxford. He’s also probably the only person who has always seen Agatha, even if she doesn’t realise it. Ambush or Adore spans more than forty years and follows these two from school through Middle Age, so you can see what happened to them after Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Academy crashed.
If you don’t know what Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Academy was (or how it was able to crash) this book probably isn’t going to be for you. Yes it’s a slightly star crossed friends to lovers story across the decades but really this is for the fans. It starts with the flight home at the end of Reticence, skips back to the end of Manners and Mutiny and fills in the gaps of what happened to two members of the Finishing School posse across the course of the entire Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocol Series. There are guest appearances from everyone’s favourite vampire* and some of the other finishing school crew. There are references to the ones you don’t see. There are nods to the events of the series. It has pretty much everything I wanted and I loved it. As I said at the top, it made me cry with all the heartache and yearning but it’s also incredibly tender and there is such a satisfying resolution to it all.
I had my copy of Ambush and Adore preordered but you can buy direct from Gail Carriger as well as from Kindle and Kobo and the audiobook will arrive some time in the near future.. There is no physical edition at the moment, but it will be included in a hardcover omnibus of the Delightfully Deadly series that it’s a part of early next year. If you have not read any Gail Carriger before and now fancy reading about a steampunk Victorian Britain with vampires, werewolves and a society of lady intelligencers, you have two options: chronological order or publication order. I’ve written a whole post about the series, but in short chronological order puts the Young Adult Finishing School series first, publication see you start with Soulless and the Parasol Protectorate series, then go backwards to Finishing School and then forwards again to Prudence, which is set a decade or so after the end of the Parasol Protectorate. I prefer chronological because you get some delightful reveals, but that may also be because that’s the order I read them in. How can I really tell because things are only a surprise once! Whatever you try it’ll be fun.
* Lord Akeldama of course. Who else could possibly be.
So as you can see from yesterday’s post, I read a lot of stuff while we were on holiday, so I had plenty of choice, and a lot of the stuff from that list will pop up somewhere else on the blog. But for today’s pick I’m going with Traitor King – which I spotted in Waterstones in hardback the other week and really wanted, but couldn’t justify buying two hardbacks – as I was also buying a signed hardback of the new Judith Mackerell. But when I spotted the airport version (that’s the giant sized paperback, but it’s still a paperback and not a hardback so easier to read) in the WH Smiths at Luton, I was delighted to pick myself up a copy as my holiday book.
Andrew Lownie’s Traitor King examines the life of the former Edward VIII did in the years following his abdication. As the title suggests (I mean it doesn’t have a question mark after Traitor King, so I think it’s fair to say that) what Lownie says he did was a lot of scheming and intrigue against the interests of his former Kingdom in the interests of himself and his wife both in terms of their position and their financial gain.
A lot has been written about the events leading up to the abdication, but not so much about what happened after – or at least not in as much detail as this. Lownie starts with the day of the abdication and moves on from there – assuming that the reader will know what has happened, which obviously I did because I’ve read a lot of stuff – fiction and non-fiction about this whole sitauation. Most of what I have read has suggested that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (as they became) were as the blurb says “naïve dupes” of the Germans in the run up to and the early stages of the Second World War, but Lownie’s thesis is that they knew what they were doing and were active participants themselves. He draws together threads of stories that I’ve come across before – the closeness of Wallis to von Ribbentrop, the rather dubious Charlie Bedaux and the trip to visit Hitler among other things – and comes to the conclusion that this was part of a concerted effort by the couple to conspire against British interests to try and benefit themselves. Unfortunately for Edward – and fortunately for the UK – Edward was not that bright and his plans were spotted by the various arms of the British establishment that were keeping an eye on him (which range from his friends, to his secret service detail, to the embassy staff and more) and documented. This is the documentation that Lownie uses to make his case – and he’s got the footnotes to prove it! The book also touches on the more usual aspects of the Windsor’s married life – ie were they actually in love, was it worth it and did Wallis learn sex tricks in when posted with her first husband in China – and draws some conclusions about them that I won’t spoil here, but the main focus is on the macchinations.
And it’s a very enjoyable and interesting read. As regular readers of this blog will know, I am very interested in the history of the first half of the Twentieth Century and the abdication crisis is one of the key events of it for Britain, outside the two World Wars. I’ve read a lot on the subject and this added some new perspectives and interpretations of events that I have read a fair bit about before. It’s got an extensive set of references – whether it’s the author’s own research or references to other authors working in the field – and it’s also got a really good further reading list at the back, which has a fiction list featuring my beloved Gone with the Windsors, as well as the nonfiction stuff. Speaking of Laurie Graham’s novel, I don’t think you can read that and come away with it with a particularly high opinion of the couple, but it would seem from this that Graham understated the case when it came to their meanness and the way they treated their friends and their staff. Despite the couple’s efforts to establish their relationship as the romance of the century, public opinion at the time was mostly against them and reading about it in the history books it is hard to draw a lot of favourable conclusions about them – even before you come to the Nazi connection.
I’m very pleased with my decision to buy this, it’s about to be sent out on loan to my mum and when it returns, it will undoubtedly find it’s way on to the Keeper Shelf. If you’ve got an interest in the period, or in the history of the British Monarchy, or even on stories about awful people, this is probably one you’ll be interested in. You’ll probably do best with it if you have a working knowledge of the abdication crisis to start you off with, but it does give you the basics so it’s not essential. I’m off to try and get hold of some of the other books Lownie mentions at the end, as well as his previous book about the Mountbattens.
As mentioned at the top, this is a hardback if you’re not going to an airport anytime soon, but it’s in the bookshops (the Waterstones I found it in isn’t a massive one in the grand scheme of things, especially as they have their top floor shut at the moment for Covid safety reasons) and Foyles have lots of options for click and collect. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo as well – but because it’s a hardback, the ebook versions are fairly expensive at the moment – more than £7 as I write this.