To be honest I don’t have a lot to talk to you about this month and that’s mainly because of the massive Donna Andrews binge that has taken up so much of my reading time. Which is kinda hilarious in itself. And so I offer you just two this month.
Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood by Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova
This is exactly what you would expect or hope it to be Drag Race favourites Trixie and Katya giving very tongue in cheek advice. I listened to this on audiobook because I love listening to Trixie and Katya and it was a fun way to spend a few hours – just don’t listen to it on speaker in a public place – or even on your headphones if you’re a person who blushes easily!
Rivers of London: Deadly Ever After by Ben Aaronovitch et al
Slightly rule breaking here as this is the tenth of the Rivers of London graphic novels, but it is actually one that can be picked up standalone I think as the main characters are Beverly’s sisters Olympia and Chelsea who accidentally break an enchantment and fairy tale havoc ensues. I love the art for this series and I love the world. It’s always a long wait for the next instalment, and then they’re over too soon but I really enjoyed it.
And that’s it for December. Most of my content for December was sort of Christmassy which feels a little out of date now we’re into January, but if you want it you can still find it all under the Christmas tag!
As it’s been a week of Girls Own content, lest carry it on with another classic children’s series – this time an adventure one for boys and girls.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the series, they follow a group of children going on outdoor adventures during the school holidays. There are three families – the Walkers (the Swallows), the Blacketts (the Amazons) and the Callums (the Ds) – who appear in various configurations across the series, but the opening books (which are my favourites) mostly centre on the Walkers and the Blacketts who start off as rivals but become friends. Sailing is often involved – and many of the books are set in and around the Lake District in the North West of England.
I first encountered the Swallows and the Amazons when my Year 3 teacher read the first book out loud to our class and I carried on reading most (if not all) of the rest of the series by borrowing them from my local library. What’s not to love about a group of children going off to camp on an island and sail around a lake all summer long. There’s “pirates” and actual crime and it’s just wonderful. Let’s be honest, which child didn’t wish they’d had a grown-up free holiday or two, or been allowed to roam around without supervision for days on end – I think it’s one of the reasons why Secret Island was one of my favourites of the Enid Blyton series when I was little.
I should say at this point that I am not by any means an outdoors person. We never went camping when I was a child, so when I was first reading these the idea sounded fun – I think I “camped” on the floor of my bedroom for a few weeks after reading the first book, but I was not a big walker or hiker. I also suffered from travel sickness so being on a boat of any size was always pretty awful, but I loved the books – and still continue to enjoy them whenever I get a chance for a re-read. There’s something about children with a secret code between themselves and who go on what are basically quests that just really appeals. Also you learn a lot about various countryside-y things from the mid 20th century – most of what I know about charcoal smoking and dowsing for water comes from this series – which of course means I’m hopelessly out of date, but I didn’t know that at the time.
There are a couple of books in the series that get a bit weird – and as with a lot of books of similar era, there are some bits that haven’t aged well. I probably should have had a reread before I posted this – but I remember that I found Missee Lee very weird when I read it when I was about 10. And I don’t own all of them – I have some from when I was little and I’m picking the others up as I see nice copies at sensible prices. But I do own the first two on audio book and have listened to their fairly regularly. I treated myself to Pigeon Post (my other childhood fave) the other week and it’s next on my to listen list.
The first book has been turned into a film twice – it’s been a while since I saw the original film, but I remember it as being fairly true to the actual plot. I have seen the most recent one has had a fair few alterations to the plot – and not just the fact that they renamed the unfortunate to modern ears Titty. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself from the trailers!
Anyway, delightful outdoors fun, even if pemmican – real or fake – sounds disgusting!
I’m not a politics person, but I love working on elections. I love listening to the experts telling me what might happen and what to watch for and what it might mean if it does happen. And then we see what happens when the votes come in. And that was my day on Friday. And I’m going to spend this weekend relaxing and recovering. I was going to recommend some political books today, but then I realised that there isn’t really anything much I haven’t already recommended at some point – and most of it is about American politics rather than the British scene. And then of course on the US side of things it’s been a momentous week as well, so maybe people don’t want politics books this week. Maybe escapist reading is what people are after this weekend? Anyway here are some links to options for both:
Here are my politics related-y type stuff – there’s the recent JFK-adjacent and Vanderbilt-adjacent posts, and there’s a review of Red, White and Royal Blue in the Royal Romances post. There’s also my inauguration reading post from 2017, but that has a bit of repetition in it – after all it’s been five years…
Happy Saturday everyone
PS the photo is from last year – as there weren’t any elections in my area this time out
Happy Friday everyone. The last few Fridays we’ve been doing Series I Love, today we have a new type of post – Series to Binge. What is the distinction? Well principally it needs to be a series where you can read the books back to back without spotting the formula and getting annoyed. Now a series having a formula doesn’t make it a bad thing – and in the usual pattern of reading when you get each book as it comes out – you don’t necessarily notice it. But when you’re a reader like me who finds something you like and then rattles through as many of them as you can get your hands on as fast as possible, you do sometimes start to notice things. There are some series that I really like but that, I wouldn’t recommend you to read back to back to back – like some of the cozy crimes. Him Indoors likes to read Steph Plum when we’re on holiday – but he can only do about three before it gets a bit repetitive for him.
The Sookie Stackhouse series however, you absolutely can read one after the other. Or at least I can – I read three back to back the other week and started a fourth, put the fourth down for a few days to read other things last week, came back to it this week, finished it and went straight on to the fifth. In fact, in terms of how angry some of the fandom got with the way that it ended, it’s probably best to read them back to back (as you can now) rather than reading them as they came out – because it leaves less time to get involved in the speculation about who Sookie is going to end up with (which is why some of the fans were so disappointed). Coming back and reading them again, I’m spotting even more things that point at the way it turned out, but that’s another story.
Anyway, for those of you who haven’t come across the series before – it’s also known as the Southern Vampire Mysteries or the True Blood books – they’re about a telepathic waitress from a small town in Louisiana. A couple of years prior to the start of the books, the world’s vampire population went public and in the first book Sookie meets the new vampire that’s moved into her town and gets sucked into the problems of the local vampire population. Across the course of the series, Sookie discovers more and more about the supernatural world – and that’s what makes them so bingeable – each book adds something new or takes her somewhere different, so they don’t get samey. For example book two is in Dallas, book three is in Mississippi and introduces some extra complexity to how the vampire world is organised and how some of the other supernaturals get on with the vampires. Book four adds in more supernaturals and more complications and so on and so on. You get the idea and as you can tell you need to read them in order!
I do also need to add a proviso – these books are violent. There’s death and killing – and sexual violence too. I’ve read all the books – and I’m reading them again – but I’ve never watched the TV series because I’m fairly sure it’s going to be too violent for me. I can cope with it on the page but not on screen, much to Him Indoor’s confusion. I do normally tell you when I’m recommending something violent – and it’s sort of why I don’t say that I *love* this series – because the violence can get a bit much and I feel a bit weird about saying that I love something that has such a high body count. But then I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (for all it’s problems) so maybe I’m just being contrary. Anyway, if you need something to binge to take your mind off the outside world – and you fancy some urban fantasy then this may be your thing.
They should be fairly easy to get hold of – there are omnibus editions on kindle (as you can see from the image as well as the individual books. I have the omnibus of the first three (which I read on holiday in Greece nearly a decade ago) and then picked the rest up from various charity shops – and then got rid of them in the house move – so this time I’m borrowing the ones I don’t have from the library. All in all they should be an easy to get hold of binge.
Oh we’re back in the weird American stuff corner of my world this week. I’m on a big documentary kick at the moment by the way and it’s taking some effort on my part to spread out the posts about all of them!
LuLaRich is about the rapid rise and the somewhat fall of Lularoe, a multilevel marketing firm based out of Utah. In case you’ve never heard of them, they rose to fame for their “buttery soft” leggings and the collapse came when they had some…quality issues. If you haven’t already, there are a lot of articles about it – Stephanie McNeal (then of Buzzfeed) wrote this one and it won’t spoil your enjoyment of the documentary if you read it first.
And I know that might sound strange, but that’s because the big selling point about this doc (or at least it was for me) is that it has interviews with the founders DeeAnn Brady and her husband Mark Stidham so you can see what they have to say about it all. And it’s also got plenty of people who were involved in selling Lularoe too. It’s really quite something.
MLMs are such a peculiarly American thing too – I mean I remember my mum going to Tupperware and weekenders parties and buying stuff from Avon when I was little, but its by no means the same thing as in the states – I’ve seen people talking about having to run a gauntlet of MLM vendors at church, there are several reality TV stars who seem to make their main income from selling MLM products online (like Meri Brown from Sister Wives who is a Lularoe seller – and one of the top tier) so stuff like this fascinates and horrifies me in equal measure. I watched all four parts of this in one sitting with my sister the other week and it sort of blew my mind.
Anyway, if you’ve got any more good documentary series suggestions for me, please put them in the comments. I don’t want gore or sexual violence, I want more stuff like this or like the Man Who Stole Cricket about Alan Stanford. Thanking you!
Honestly I am amazed at my own restraint. No seriously. And actually I’m also pretty transparent. The Jenn McKinlay is the book I told you I bought in the Cupcake Bakery post. Poison for a Teacher is because of Death Goes On Skis. Lions of Fifth Avenue is because I was shopping for a birthday book for my mum (hi mum!) and bought this for myself at the same time, and the Unforgettable Guinevere St Clare is something I had my eye on for the 50 States Challenge last year so I treated myself to it for this year’s edition. There are two more books that haven’t arrived yet – I put in an order for the Antony Sher memoir and also a book about musicals, but everything else has been an ebook or a preorder…
Two shelves today… but there’s a reason, I promise! This is what started as the Chalet School shelf, but then grew into the Chalet school shelf and a half and Other Girls Gone by shelf. And no it’s not very tidy. And no, I’m not stacking any books on top of the Chalet School ones. They are my preciouses. No it’s not logical. But you shouldn’t expect logic from me by now.
I should also probably fill you in on who Girls Gone By are – they’re a small publisher who are republishing Girls Own Titles, most of which were written between 1920 and 1960. They came to my attention in the early 2000s because of their reprints of the hardback versions of the Chalet School – at a point when I was on a student budget and buying a hardback copy of any of them was going to cost you at least £50. And so I started collecting them in their editions. At this point there are only a few they haven’t published so I have as complete a set as I can get.
Anyway, along with the actual Chalet School books, there is the encyclopaedia of the series and a selection of fill-in titles. On the bottom shelf there is also stack of Mabel Esther Allens – both writing as herself and writing as Jean Estoril – some Gwendolyn Courtney, Antonia Forest, Phylis Matthewman and Patricia Caldwell. The non Girls Gone By books are a stack of really quite battered paperbacks – mostly puffins – by authors like Lucy M Boston, Enid Blyton and Anne Digby. Right on the end there are a couple of annuals.
I am running out of space on these two shelves (and on this bookshelf as a whole) but that’s mostly because I have stuff here that I don’t really want to keep forever, but that I’ve been holding onto to take to the non-dealer sale at the Bristol Conference – which should have happened in 2020 but has been postponed (twice) by the pandemic. So if it all goes ahead as planned this year, hopefully by the autumn these shelves will have been weeded and look a bit neater. Or at least that’s the plan. But last time I went to Bristol I came home with a lot of books…
Happy Friday everyone. Today’s series I love is an excuse to talk about my favourite book that I read last week which also happened to be the third book in a trilogy – which is a series right? – but which I think you really need to have read the other two books to get the most out of.
At the start of Miss Buncle’s Book, Barbara Buncle has a problem: she is running out of money. She is already living in Reduced Circumstances, with just her faithful former nanny to help her out, but when her dividends come in at a much reduced rate she needs to find another source of income. So she writes a book. The trouble is that she thinks she doesn’t have any imagination so she writes about the people she knows: the inhabitants of her village. She sprinkles in some excitement for them and that, as well as her very perceptive eye means that the book is accepted by a publisher. When the book is published, it is a great success but doesn’t take long for the village to find out about it and start to try to work out who is responsible.
Barbara is a charming character and watching her try to hide the fact that she wrote the book, whilst the resident search frantically and start to act like their fictional counterparts. She’s kind and often taken advantage of, but also wickedly observant and able to take her revenge (if she wants to) in her writing.
As you might guess from the title of the second book, Miss Buncle Married, there is also some excitement in Barbara’s personal life and the second book sees her moving to a new village to start her married life. By the third book, The Two Mrs Abbotts, it is the war and she has two children, and the focus of the book is less fully on her, but she continues throughout to be a delightful person to spend time watching.
There is no peril in these books and no body count. They are very gentle but very, very funny. If you like Diary of a Provincial Housewife, you should definitely read this. Another of DE Stevenson’s books, Mrs Tim of the Regiment, was a BotW here last year and that also is a delightful selection of characters not doing a lot or facing much peril but being very funny while they do it. And if you want Miss Buncle but *with* a body count, Death by the Book, the first book in Beth Byers’ Poison Ink series is so close to Miss Buncle that my good reads description says that it is “uncomfortably similar” until the murder!
All three of the Buncle books are available from Persephone books, both in Paperback and ebook. The actual books are gorgeous – if you’ve never seen a Persephone book in the flesh, the simple grey cover means the all match on the outside but on the inside each has a different pattern from an appropriate fabric to the period where it was published. They are delightful. And I’m told their new shop in Bath is also wonderful – Little Sister visited before Christmas.
Three books from my anticipated books post are out today – and for once I’m ahead of the game and have finished all of them. Why aren’t I saving one of to be in the running for a BotW post? Well one of them already has been and the other two are thrillery and have plots that I can’t really tell you too much about without ruining it
Let’s start with Tom Hindle’s A Fatal Crossing, which I read in basically three sittings, it’s just they were spread across ten days because I got distracted by Ashes of London. I requested this from NetGalley because it’s a murder mystery on a 1920’s cruise ship and but it’s actually quite hard to explain what’s going on without spoiling it all. Many of the passengers are on their way to an art fair in New York and as well as the murder there is a stolen artwork to deal with. And on top of that, you see it all through the eyes of Timothy Birch, an officer on board the ship who is running away from a tragedy at home but can never quite escape it. This is page turning and atmospheric and I thought I knew where it was going, but i was wrong. I might have figured it out if I hadn’t been convinced of my rightness and had thought a bit harder about the other possible options! It’s hard to tell though once you know – even if you go back and read again, you can never read it again like you don’t know!
From the 1920s to the present day and The Maid by Nita Prose. Molly is a maid at an upmarket boutique hotel. She knows that she’s not like everyone else – but now her gran is gone she has no one to explain human behaviour to her any more. So now she throws herself into her job – where her obsession with cleaning and etiquette as an asset. But when she finds one of the guests dead in his penthouse suite, she finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation where her personality quirks mean the police think she’s their prime suspect. But soon some friends she didn’t know she had are helping her to clear her name. Molly is one of the most unique narrators I have recently come across – and it’s definitely one of those cases where the reader can see things that Molly can’t. I was quite infuriated early on in the book by the way that Molly had been treated, but never fear, her situation was much improved by the end of the book – and without her changing her essential Molly-ness. This is maybe my favourite of the three. But then it’s also the one that I read last, so it could just be recency bias. I do think that this is the easiest to recommend though – I can see why it’s had so much buzz and has been picked out by Good Morning America and the New York Times. I think it will appeal to readers across genres in the way that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Where’d You Go Bernadette did.
And finally, I have already written about The Christie Affair – it was last week’s book of the week and if you’ve already read that post, consider this your reminder to go and read a sample/buy a copy! If you’re only going to read one of two historical mystery picks, I’m struggling to decide which one to suggest, except that I think the Christie Affair is closer to the murder mysteries that it’s protagonist writes and A Fatal Crossing is less traditional in terms of genre rules when it comes to the resolution. So for me I found the Christie Affair more satisfying but a Fatal Crossing is potentially more thought provoking – or at least might generate more arguments at your book club!
But all three of these are good books and if it wasn’t January and we weren’t in the midst of an omicron wave I would say that all three would be the sort of book you could read on your sun lounger by the side of the pool. As it is, read them on your sofa wrapped in a blanket!
I’ve already recommended one Christmas book this week, but it’s that time of year – and here are some of my favourite festive reads for this year.
The Christmas Wedding Guest by Susan Mallery*
This is the first full length novel in Susan Mallery’s new series. I’ve written about the Fools Gold and Happily Inc series here previously and I love the increasingly bonkers concepts of the towns these series are set in: after doing a wedding-themed town, this time she’s come up with a Christmas-themed town. It’s mad but it sort of works and makes sense if you’ve read any/many/much of Mallery’s other series. This has two romances – with sisters each getting their Happily Ever After – one is a second chance with a high school boyfriend, the other gets a rock star. I sort of wish that she had picked just one and focused on that but I understand why it needed to be the way it is because of the time lines. My first Christmas book of the year and it was a good one – even if it’s utterly bonkers escapist wish fulfilment stuff!
A Surprise for Christmas
This is another of the British Library Crime Classics themed collections. They have several around Christmas now as well as others themed around things like trains, the seaside, animals and Sports. I’ve read a couple of the festive ones, and this is a particularly good set – it features some of my favourite Golden Age authors – Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh as well as GK Chesterton and a few others you may not have heard of. Some of the stories are longer than others – and sometimes you’ll wish they were longer (or shorter) than they actually are but I enjoyed reading it – particularly because it had an extra dose of my beloved Roderick Alleyn.
Home for a Cowboy Christmas by Donna Grant*
This is mostly here because I really liked the short story that makes up the last 30 percent of this. Home for a Cowboy Christmas is a romantic suspense story set on a ranch in Montana with a heroine on the run from the mob. As they spend time together on the ranch, they realise that they might be perfect for each other, if only Emmy can stay alive through the trial. It wraps up a bit quickly at the end and the hero is called Dwight (not a sexy name!) but it’s quite a good read. The short story at the end is a forced proximity, stuck in a snowy cabin story, which is exactly what I like for Christmas. The heroine is a big city laywer reeling from a breakup, the hero has some trust issues. Very little peril but a sweet story. I read it on the beach, but it would be lovely to curl up in front of a fire to as well.
If the Fates Allow by Rainbow Rowell
Reagan has actually quite enjoyed all the social distancing – she likes watching people from afar, not up close. But she’s heading to her grandfather’s for Christmas because she doesn’t want him to be alone any more than he already has been. Then she runs into the boy next door (from a distance) when she’s out on the garden and.. well. You need to read it. This is another short story – and it’s just a short story, not a collection and is really quite short. But it is charming so I’m giving it a place here – it’s in Kindle Unlimited so if you’re a member it’s not going to cost you anything either.
Her Pretend Christmas Date
This is Jackie Lau’s Christmas offering from *last* year – and features a blind date that goes really badly, but that somehow turns into a fake relationship to try and get the heroine’s family off her back. I liked the dynamic between Julie and Tom – and I particularly like the competitive Christmas activities they ended up doing against her sister and parents. At just over 100 pages it’s into novella territory rather than short story, but it’s lots of fun and very, very festive – gingerbread! Snow Angels! Skating! It’s also just been released bundled with two of Jackie Lau’s other Christmas novellas – One Bed for Christmas and Second-Chance Road Trip in an anthology called There’s Only One Bed at Christmas – so you might sense a bit of a theme going on there too…
That’s it – for now at least. Who knows, I may go wild and read a bunch more Christmas books this week that I just have to tell you about, but knowing me I might also decide that I’m too cold and over reading about non-covid Christmases and just read nothing but summer holiday romances! It has been known… But if you need more Christmas reading ideas, here is the 2020 post, the two 2019 posts – old books and new books, the 2018 post and both 2017 posts – new and not new.