Uncategorized

New Releases: January 20th

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

Covers of A Fatal Crossing, The Maid and The Christie Affair

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!

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

Recommendsday: Christmas Books 2021 edition!

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.

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Me and White Supremacy

It’s nearly the end of June, and this week’s pick is one that has been on the in progress reading list for a few weeks. But that’s because it’s a work book, designed to do a day at a time and I’ve been really trying to do that. Last week was the week I got to the end of the book, but the work isn’t over and will never be over. I’m still thinking about what I learned and unpacking everything that I have discovered about myself.

Cover of Me and White Supremacy

Me and White Supremacy started as an Instagram challenge. In fact, the two year anniversary of the challenge fell this weekend just past. It became a free workbook and now in its expanded and published form it has become a New York Times bestselling book. If you’ve been seen the best seller lists or the anti-racism reading lists these past few weeks you’ll have seen this one on there. The idea of the book is that over the course of four weeks, readers will look at difference aspects of white supremacy and examine your own behaviours and biases. As a white person, it’s not comfortable, and it’s not easy. And it’s not something that you can dismiss as being an “American problem” – no matter how much you would like to. Layla F Saad is an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman who was born and grew up in the West, and lives in Middle East and writes from her experiences and perspective. Your reflex response may be not to agree with her, but do think about that and think about why you might be reacting that way, and then sit with it.

Reading one book isn’t a solution what’s going on at the moment, but it’s a good way to start and if you are white, you definitely want to read a book like this before you decide to wade in and try to “fix” things yourself. If you don’t know what I mean by that, then you probably need to read a book like this. You’ll find out why when you read it. Everyone wants to think of themselves as a good person, but you need more than good intentions to achieve that. Self-reflection is always hard, but add racism to the mix and it becomes even harder. So do yourself a favour and read this book (or something else from an antiracist reading list, preferably written by someone who is not white) in a quite corner, google anything you don’t understand, and think about what it’s telling you. And then go and read some more books and listen to some more people. And keep working at it.

Now there’s a lot of people doing this work at the moment, so it’s hard to buy a physical copy of this book – or most of the others on the various reading lists that are circulating. So place an order with your local indie – or with a black owned bookshop – and then be patient while you wait for the next print run to come through. They can’t make publishing work any faster. Alternatively you can buy the ebook in Kindle or Kobo. It’s £4.99 at the moment.

Keep Reading.

 

Book of the Week, non-fiction, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Catch and Kill

It may have been a shorter than some reading list again last week, but nevertheless I am back to normal service with the BotW posts today and I’ve got a cracker for this week’s pick. And yes it’s had a lot of hype but it’s really worth it.

Cover of Catch and Kill

I think you’d have to have been under a rock to have missed the Harvey Weinstein story breaking last year. The former movie mogul – the producer behind many Oscar-winning movies – was accused sexual harassment and paying settlements to women in a New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and then five days later by multiple women of a pattern of predatory behaviour of sexual assaults (including rape) in a New Yorker article written by Ronan Farrow. Weinstein has always denied wrong doing, saying that via his lawyers that any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied and there are cases still making their way through the courts in the US. But Farrow’s investigation of Weinstein originally started as part of his work for NBC News. This is the story behind that original New Yorker article – of how Farrow assembled the witnesses and evidence to stand the story up and of the efforts that he says were being taken to stop the story getting on air.

Two years after those first articles (which saw Kantor, Twohey, Farrow, the NYT and New Yorker share a Pulitzer Prize) we already know most of the allegations about Weinstein and this book has mostly made headlines because of the allegations made about the attempts to suppress the story. But it’s also a pacey and incredibly readable piece of narrative nonfiction. It’s very easy to read, and Farrow is realistic about his role and position in the world – in case you’ve missed it, he’s the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen and was a child genius who went to college in his teens and who is estranged from his father. Farrow has a way with words – this reads almost like a thriller novel, and not just because of the presence of secretive Israeli spies. It’s also wryly funny in places – mostly when Farrow’s partner, podcaster and former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett, appears, something that Lovett has Thoughts About when it comes to the audiobook:

This is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read this year and would make a great Christmas book gift – even though the subject matter doesn’t sound like it would. I borrowed my copy from the library, but you should be able to get a copy of Catch and Kill from all good bookshops (I’m thinking it’ll be on a table/new books display), as well as on Kindle, Kobo and Audible, although I understand that there have been some problems in some territories with legal threats.  Is it any wonder that I’ve read and rewritten this post several times?!

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, memoirs, non-fiction, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Southern Lady Code

I had a really lovely week of reading again last week. And there were difficult choices for book of the week this week, but actually I haven’t picked a book of essays in a while and this one was just delicious.

Cover of Southern Lady Code

I wrote about American Housewife back in 2016 and I’ve been waiting for more from her ever since.  American Housewife was a short story collection though, and this a bit different. Across more than twenty essays, Ellis examines what it means to her to be a Southern Lady – and in particular what it’s like to be a Southern Lady living in Manhattan.  Her mantra is “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way” and there are a lot of laughs to be had because of this, but there are also ghosts, retro buffets, cleaning as a method of keeping the spark in a marriage and how to shop for a formal event.  It’s funny, clever and true – or at least mostly true. Probably.  But basically Helen Ellis makes me laugh.  I’m not a Southern lady, and I’m a bit younger than Ellis, but there was so much here that amused me and spoke to me.

If you like wry sideways takes on American life, this would make a great addition to your autumn reading list. It was definitely worth waiting two months in the hold queue for it.

As you might guess from that, my copy of Southern Lady Code came from the library, but I’ll be buying myself a copy when it’s out in paperback here. It’s available in hardback, kindle and kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: A Case of Murder in Mayfair

Just a short BotW this week, because as I said yesterday it’s been A Week. And I don’t see this one being any less busy. Anyway, this second Freddy Pilkington-Soames mystery was what I needed on the late nights trains last week.

Cover of A Case of Murder in Mayfair

I read the first in this series back in February last year . And I said then in my review on Goodreads that the premise was basically a slightly less stupid Bertie Wooster accidentally solves crimes and I stand by that assessment. Freddy is a somewhat hapless reporter for a London newspaper, where he got the job because of his mum’s connections. In the first book he’s trying to solve the murder because he stumbled upon the corpse and is keen not to be the prime suspect. In this he’s off duty at a party with a friend when the actress-hostess falls to her death from the balcony of her hotel room. But was it an accident or was she pushed? And then there’s the small matter of a rival reporter snooping around while investigating the cocaine trade in London.

This mixes elements from not just PG Wodehouse, but also a bit of Death Bredon from Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise and a touch of nosy Nigel Bathgate from Inspector Alleyn. And it all works out rather nicely. There are not a lot of surprises here and it’s not doing anything groundbreaking or original but you’ll enjoy it while you’re reading it – just like you do with a contemporary-set cozy crime novel. I could nitpick but that would be mean and this series (or what I’ve read of it) is not mean.

You can get A Case of Murder in Mayfair on Kindle – where it’s currently 99p – and Kobo or in paperback where it’s not 99p! Or you can start at the beginning of the series and read A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia – which is free on Kindle as I write this.

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: An Extraordinary Union

So. Here’s the thing. I try not to repeat myself too much with these BotW reviews. In another week, The Confessions of Frannie Langton would have been my pick. But I already wrote about that. And yes, I finished An Extraordinary Union on the commute on Monday. And yes it’s only a couple of weeks since I recommended Alyssa Cole, but I loved this and I’m still annoyed about the racism in RWA and so there, I’m chosing it, it’s my blog, try and stop me.

Cover of An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Elle Burns is fighting the Confederacy by returning to the south to spy for the Union as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator. As everyone in the house thinks she is mute, she’s perfectly placed to hear conversations filled with valuable information that she can then pass on to pass to the Loyal League. Malcolm McCall is a Pinkerton’s detective, undercover and trying to infiltrate a Rebel enclave. The two of them find themselves working together and fighting an undeniable attraction. But as the net of intrigue tightens around them, it seems impossible for anything good to come out of a relationship – of any kind – between a black woman and a white man in Virginia. Or can it?

I would say this is more historical romantic suspense than a a straight-up historical romance – there is very real peril here at every turn for both Elle and Malcolm. But don’t panic, this is a romance, so don’t worry too much, there is Happily Ever After for these two, but it takes a lot of twists and turns and danger to get there. Elle is a fantastic character – smart and resourceful and determined to do her bit to try to defeat slavery. She knows exactly what is at stake and the risks that she faces on all fronts .  There’s the reality of being an enslaved woman, then there’s being a spy and finally as a woman contemplating any kind of relationship with a white man – not just inside the Confederacy but in the north if they both manage make it out alive. I was a little uncertain about how the relationship in this would work out given that Malcolm has so much more power than Elle, any way you look at their relative situations. But Alyssa Cole has written this so cleverly. Malcolm saw the Highland Clearances as a child and knows about power imbalances and persecution and this informs how he interacts with Elle and his determination to do his bit to overthrow slavery and oppression.

I’ve already said a lot about how many different types of romances there should be, and how everyone should see themselves reflected in romance. And yet a lot of people seem sceptical that black characters can have Happily Ever Afters in Historical Romance. Well take a seat and let Alyssa Cole show you how wrong that idea is. She’s not sugar coating it, and yes it’s harder for Elle than it is for a wilting wallflower in Almacks. But that hard won happy ending is deeply, deeply satisfying.

I’ve already borrowed the second Loyal League book to read the story of Malcolm’s brother Ewan and I’m on the waiting list for the third book. That’s how much I liked it. My copy came from the library, but you can get hold of it on ebook on Kindle (a bargainous £2.37 at time of writing!) and Kobo. It’s slightly harder to get the paperback in this country – Amazon is showing me the French version in paperback and a large print hardback on the same page as the kindle edition – so I think it’s a special order job again. Or you can look and see if your library has it.

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

Reccomendsday: Trisha Ashley

There’s a Trisha Ashley book out tomorrow and as she’s one of my favourite authors, I thought I’d pull together a post of my writing about her.

The new book is a reissue of one of her early novels. I managed to borrow Happy Endings from the library back in the day, but others haven’t been so fortunate. It’s now called Written from the Heart and tells the story of Tina Devino, a not as successful as she’d like author and book doctor, and her somewhat tangled love life. The introduction tells me it’s been polished and tweaked here and there rather than rewritten. I’m midway through reading it and so far that seems like a fair description. But it has been a while since I read it.

The Trisha Ashley collection - next to the Laurie Graham collection

I’ve written a fair few Trisha posts over the years, but I think my favourite book of hers is still the first one I read, A Winter’s Tale, which combines several of my favourite things – a big old house in trouble, a heroine with A Past, a suave yet plausible rogue and a hidden hottie just waiting to be noticed. I’ve written recently about how much I miss so-called Chick Lit and this is the sort of book I mean: the heroine is feisty, the writing is funny, the characters are appealing and the fact that Sophie ends up with a bloke is a happy consequence: she’s already saved the house on her own.

In fact all of the books set around that little bit of Lancashire are like that. I don’t mean that they’re all saving stately homes, obviously, but they’re all heroines with a problem, who fix it themselves and get a relationship out of it as a bonus. Several of them intertwined as well with brief glimpses of previous characters as a little Easter egg for the faithful.  A lot of them were published before I started the blog – so I don’t have reviews to link you to on here – but A Winter’s Tale, Wedding Tiers, The Magic of Christmas and Chocolate Wishes are all set in and around the same patch.

More recently the novels have shifted slightly, with a little more tragedy in the backstory and a little bit more angst in the present. We’re not talking terminal cancer diagnoses for the heroines though – think more towards Lucy Dillon and less towards Katie Fforde. But they are still very readable and I enjoy them a lot and writing this post has made me notice how gradual that shift has been..  Anyway – to the links:

 

Every Woman for Herself

 

 

 

Every Woman for Herself – Another early Trisha re-released a few years back and the origin of the running Skint Old Northern Woman newsletter/Magazine that pops up through her novels.  Charlie is returning to her childhood home after a break up and discovers that an actor has moved into the neighbourhood.

 

 

 

 

 

Creature Comforts – A secret past and a dog rescue in trouble, Izzy is trying to restart her own life, help her beloved aunts and regenerate the village she’s returned to.  Set in Lancashire, this in a new village rather than the ones around Winter’s End.

 

 

A Christmas Cracker – probably not the season for this, but Trisha has always done a good line in festive novels. This one features a heroine who is just out of prison (but there are Reasons for that) and a christmas cracker business that needs saving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Teashop of Lost and Found – Alice was abandoned on the moors as a baby – now she’s back, setting up a teashop near where she was found and looking for answers.

 

 

The House of Hopes and Dreams – Trisha’s most recent (new) novel. Carey’s longtime partner has died and his son has kicked her out of their home and their stained glass business.  So she goes to stay with an old friend who is recovering from a motorbike accident.  She sets up on her own and finds herself as well as a new start.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Summer at Willow Lake

Happy Christmas everyone!  I hope you’re having (or have had depending on when you’re reading this!) a fabulous day and that Santa left you plenty of books in your stocking/pillowcase/under the tree.  A lot of my reading last week cropped up in my Christmas reading post, which ruled it out for here, and several of the other books onthe list would have been repeats, so you’ve ended up with a totally seasonally inappropriate book of the week – Summer at Willow Lake.  I’m only a little bit sorry about it though, because this was a lot of fun and I know there’ll be people out there with Christmas-overload at the moment.  But if you do want something more seasonally appropriate, check out my Christmas Day post from last year about Magnificent Meals.

Anyway, Summer at Willow Lake is the first in the Lakeshore Chronicles series, and I read it last week because I like to read series in order and the next book in the series looked wintry/Christmassy.  As I said, I was reading for the Christmas post last week.  And yes, I know, I was super behind, I need to be better organised and plan ahead more.  But in my defence, I plead the trip to Washington.  After all I’m not going to be able to use that as an excuse for very much longer so I might as well make the most of it while I can!

Olivia Bellamy is spending the summer renovating her family’s old summer camp.  Camp Kioga’s been closed for a decade, but her grandparents are determined to mark their Golden Wedding by renewing their vows at the spot they originally got married and as a “house fluffer” Olivia is the obvious choice to help make that happen.  Olivia is happy to have the excuse to get out of Manhattan, where the relationship that she thought was heading for the altar has unexpecctedly crumbled, although Kioga wouldn’t be her first choice.  She was very much the ugly duckling at school and her memories of camp are not the best.  Connor is the local contractor who is going to help make her vision a reality.  The trouble is, he’s also the boy that she had a huge crush on at camp.  From his point of view, he’s not keen on spending a summer renovating the camp where he spent his time as a scholarship camper as his alcoholic father was on the staff.  He doesn’t recognise Olivia at first, but soon the sparks are flying once again.  But can they put the past behind them?

That’s the main plot line, but there is a large cast of characters alongside Olivia and Connor who get quite meaty storylines of their own which (I hope/presume) set up the next books in the series.  It’s got a slightly saga-y feel if sagas were set in upstate New York.  There are big extended families with secrets and rivalries and dramas.  It’s all very enjoyable.  And if you grew up reading American middle grade novels about children being send off to summer camp, it’s a lot of fun to get a grown up summer camp novel!

As I said at the top, this is in no way seasonally appropriate, but I don’t care – especially as it’s only 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment which is a total bargain for nearly 400 pages of summer romance and angst.  Even if you don’t fancy reading it now, it might well be worth picking up for that moment at the end of spring when you just want to read about long hot summers. This is also the last Book of the Week post of 2018 – which means that my end of year roundup posts are on their way to you in the next week.  And the good news is, that I’m much more up to speed with them than I have been with my Christmas reading…

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Autumn Term

Given the fact that I’ve been on a school story binge after my weekend at the book conference, it’s hardly a surprise that I’d pick a boarding school book as my BotW at some point.  I picked up a copy of Antonia Forrest’s Autumn Term at Bristol for free – its owner was giving it away to someone who hadn’t read it, as the first few pages were loose so it was unsalable.

Copy of Autumn Term by Antonia Forest

Autumn Term is the first book in the Marlow series and tells the story of Nicola and Laurie Marlow’s first term at boarding school  Their older sisters are already there – one is the headgirl in fact – and the twins are confident that they know exactly how things are going to play out for them.  Except that it doesn’t go how they expect.  They get in a row before they even arrive, then they’re not in the form that they expect to be in and that throws all their plans into disarray.  How will they recover from this – and will they recover from this – is the subject of the book.

This is one of the best boarding school books I think I’ve read.  I can imagine that if I’d read it at the “right” age for it, I might not have loved it, but as an adult it completely knocked my socks off.  This has possibly the most complicated and rounded set of characters that I’ve come across in Girl’s Own fiction. Everyone has flaws and weaknesses – even the one’s that you’re meant to like.  There are no perfect paragons or cartoon baddies here.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and over the course of the book you get to see their triumphs and disasters.  You can cheer them on as things go well, or hide your head in your hands as they plunge themselves into trouble without thinking.

I’ve read one book in this series before – but it’s a holiday book and although it turned out to be quite an exciting spy adventure in the end, I didn’t really understand the characters the way that I do now having read this and there is a lot of naval and sailing detail to get bogged down in.  But having read this, I’ve put getting my hands on more of the Marlow books well up my acquisitions list.

As I mentioned, my copy came for free at a book sale (don’t worry, I bought other things from the same stall as well) and it’s out of print so if you want to read it you’re going to have to go secondhand as well as it’s not available on Kindle.  Abebooks has some for under £10 including postage – or you could try your local charity shop with a large childrens section.

Happy Reading!