Children's books, children's books, Forgotten books, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Dimsie, Head Girl

For this week’s BotW, we’re back in the world of the boarding school books that I love so much, after I happened upon this on the collectible shelf of the charity shop last week for the bargain price of £2.  My love of the Chalet School, Drina books and boarding school and ballet books in general is well known, but I’d never had a chance to read any of the Dimsie series – which was out of print by the time I was old enough to read them.  This is the sixth book in the series, and so probably not the best place to start, but I’m not one to let a trifle like that stop me!

Colour illustration from the front of Dimsie, Head Girl
Who hasn’t felt a bit confused when reading a Girl’s Own book? The illustration is lovely though.

Dimsie is a prefect at Jane Willard Foundation, and the start of this book sees the prefects shaken by the unexpected departure of the head girl Erica and her replacement with the dreamy second prefect Jean.  The title gives it away that Jean’s reign may not be a long one, but it’s a lot of fun watching how it all unfolds.  Dimsie is a butter-inner, slightly lacking in tact, but utterly devoted to her school.  When she sees that Jean isn’t pulling her weight in the way that she should be, she tries to set the Head girl on the right track.  When one of the new prefects proves to be too officious and inflexible in her dealings with the younger girls, it’s Dimsie who tries to sort the situation out.  To be honest, I’m surprised she wasn’t Erica’s replacement in the first place – except for the fact of course that that if she had, the author wouldn’t have had a book!

It wouldn’t be a boarding school book without the Middles causing trouble – here it takes the form of insubordination to the prefects, illegal pet keeping and midnight feasts.  What more could you want?  And yes, this is a slightly higher level of spoilers than I usually give out – but to be honest, I can’t  imagine that many of you are going to be able to lay your hands on a copy of this!  Which is a shame really, because it’s not half bad – some of it is funny in a way the author didn’t intend but that’s one of the joys of reading a book written for children in the 1920s now!  It does have some of the usual problems of outdated language and a very homogeneous cast, but that’s sadly to be expected in a children’s book of this era and it’s by no means as bad as some.

My copy of Dimsie, Head Girl
Im inclined to think that this was a proper bargain for £2.

This was my Dorita Fairlie Bruce book, and I suspect it won’t be my last – I’ve already been playing on the used book websites to see if I can find more.  Because of course what I need at the moment is more books.  Of course it is.  The big worry is if it sends me off down another rabbit hole of classic school story authors that I haven’t read.

Happy reading!

Uncategorized

Recommendsday: The Early Birds

Longtime readers will be well aware of my love for Laurie Graham.  Gone With the Windors is one of my all-time favourite books and while reading Paula Byrne’s biography of Kick Kennedy I’ve been reminded again how good her historical research is.  It’s been seven years since she wrote a contemporary novel, but the Early Birds is her first sequel and is actually a return to the group of women we first met in Future Homemakers of America, which came out more than 15 years ago.

Copy of The Early Birds by Laurie Graham
Here’s the airport edition – spotted at Luton on the way to Croatia the other week

For those who haven’t read the first book, the gang were brought together by a coincidence of geography in the 1950s.  Most of them were US airforce wives, posted to Suffolk along with their spouses.  One, Kath, was a local they met on a trip off-base.  That’s all you really need to know.  The Early Birds rejoins them in American in at the turn of the millennium when the ladies are in their 70s.  Peg is moving across the country to help with the care for her ex-spouse.  Old age is catching up with the gang, but their friendship and their sense of fun endures. Then 9/11 happens and the world changes and there are lots of new questions – not least was life as an air force wife worth it?

My favourites of Laurie Graham’s books tend to be the laugh out loud funny ones.  This is more a wry smile and the occasional giggle sort of book, but it is a wonderfully touching portrait of female friendships and camaraderie that has endured through time, distance and changing circumstances, forged in the shared terror of what could happen to your husband while he was flying a jet plane – and what would happen to you if the worst did happen.  They don’t all like each other all the time, they sometimes enjoy a bitch about each other, but when something bad happens to one of them, they’ll move heaven and earth to help.

There’s not much to smile about in Peg’s husband’s descent into Alzheimer’s, but those passages of the book do capture a lot of what I remember about my grandparents when the were suffering from dementia.  I was never as involved in their care the way that Peg is, but I remember the sadnesses and the frustrations of people forgetting who you are and the adaptations that you make to try and make more days “good” days.

I probably should have re-read Future Homemakers before I read this, and I’m probably going to go back and read it again now I’ve seen the girls dancing through their dotage. The world needs more books about strong women supporting each other.

You should be able to get a copy of The Early Birds from all the usual sources – like The Big Green Bookshop and the like – but you may need to order it.  IIt’s in hardback at the moment – but there’s a large format airport paperback as demonstrated in the photo!  And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.  Future Homemakers of America is also available on Kindle and Kobo – and new and second-hand copies can be found on Amazon (I think it may be out of print as it’s showing as out of stock everywhere else I search).

Happy Reading!

reviews, Uncategorized

Bonus Post: Escapist reading

A bonus post from me, for you to enjoy this weekend as I recover from my nights.  I’m looking for escapist reading this week after a busy news week, so here are some suggestions for you as I try to read myself back into day time living.

Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera by Jennifer Bohnet

I read this on holiday – it’s a sweet romance set in the French Riviera.  Rosie’s opening her dream cafe, but a Michelin starred chef is opening up a fancy hotel nearby.  She’d be mad, only she didn’t find him so attractive.  There’s also two friends – one recently widowed with a daughter and the other newly single – and you follow them all across the course of the first spring and summer season in business.  Perfect for a spring weekend, but t may make you want to move abroad though.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Immerse yourself in the world of Singpore’s super rich.  Rachel Chu has agreed to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend’s family.  But what she doesn’t know is that Nick is one of the island’s most eligible bachelors and that she doesn’t measure up to his family’s expectations for a potential wife.  There’s outrageous wealth, spoilt IT girls and culture clashes galore – not just Rachel’s ABC (American-born Chinese) background, but also the old money versus new money of Singapore’s old family’s and China’s new superrich.  It’s bonkers, it’s addictive and it’s perfect to escape from your normal life.

The Accidental Detective by Michael R N Jones

I read this modern Sherlock Holmes retelling on holiday.  Victor Locke is a beer-drinking genius, who’s banned from owning laptops or smart phones after getting caught hacking into something he shouldn’t have done.  Dr Jonathan Doyle is his court-appointed psychologist and the two of them race around Middlesbrough (of all places) solving crimes and outwitting shadowy government figures.  This is from my perennial favourites Fahrenheit press, so if you’ve read some of my other recommendations from them you’ll have an idea about the sort of tone we’re looking at.  Funny and escapist, read it with a drink in your hand like Victor would!

And if these three aren’t enough, try recent BotW’s Bet Me or the Roanoke Girls or one of my smart, funny romance recommendations as well.

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Blitzed

So, you may have noticed from yesterday’s WiB that I didn’t finish that many books last week. But that was not a problem when it came to picking a BotW, because one of the books that I did finish was Norman Ohler’s Blitzed.

It’s only in hardback at the moment I’m afraid, but I’m just happy it’s been translated at all.

Ohler’s thesis is that large amounts of drugs were consumed by Nazi troops as they steamrollered through Europe, that drugs were equally consumed by people on the homair front and that during the latter stages of the war (from around 1941 onwards) Hitler himself was dependent on hard drugs. Ohler backs up his assertions with primary source research using documents held in archives in Germany and in America and makes a persuasive case.

Now before I go any further, I need to say that although I have a history degree, I have, in the main, avoided study of Nazi Germany because I find it too unbearably terrible. Luckily my school stopped studying WW2 Germany at A-Level the year before I started sixth form* and at university I managed to avoid Twentieth Century history for all but one term** so I am no expert.

I found Ohler’s book incredibly readable and very well researched. It’s an appealing idea. The Nazis were off their heads on drugs. That’s why they did it. It’s comforting and reassuring – it was the drugs which made them do it – and means that you don’t have to worry about what you would have done in their place. I don’t think this is what Ohler is trying to say. In the case of Hitler he’s very specific that it doesn’t explain all of Hitler’s actions – just enabled him to maintain and continue his rule. As for the man on the street, or the soldier in a panzer regiment, the drugs enabled them to keep going for longer than otherwise. So I suppose what I’m saying is that this book shouldn’t be seen in isolation or viewed as the whole story. That would be far too simplistic. But it has new ideas and research I haven’t heard about before and is worth reading, if only so that you know what the historians are arguing about.  Because they are going to argue about this.

Get your copy of Blitzed from Amazon, Waterstones or Foyles or on Kindle or Kobo.  The paperback is out in May – pre-order on Amazon. Or if you don’t want to read the whole thing, Dan Snow interviewed Norman Ohler on his History Hit Podcast and it was reviewed in the December issue of Literary Review (subscription needed).

Happy Reading!

*We did Tudor England, the French Revolution, France 1814-1914 and the Italian Risorgimento which was much more to my taste.

** the second term of my first year, where my seminar tutor was a German Post Grad whose thesis was on “images of death in 20th Century Germany”.

Gift suggestions, Uncategorized

Give a Book for Christmas: 2016 edition

It’s that time of year, Christmas present shopping has hit last minute panic mode is in it’s final throes and I’d like to remind you all that books and bookish related paraphernalia make great presents and are easily available without venturing into a department store.  The fractured elbow has slowed my progress somewhat – this should have been with you a week or more ago  – sorry.  But here are some suggestions from me.

Books for Him

My other half has just devoured the new Guy Martin book Worms to Catch in about 3 days (very fast for him).  I mentioned him last year, but he keeps turning out very readable books for the petrolhead in your life.  I don’t think you can go wrong with A Kim Jong-Il Production (a BotW pick a few months back) because as far as narrative non-fiction goes it’s just so bonkers it’s hard to believe it’s true.  I keep hearing Mary Roach recommended places – and they sound like they might be perfect books for men (although I’m still hoping one might end up in my stocking) Grunt  – all about how science and war and people collide – or Stiff – about what happens to human cadavers (as long as the recipient isn’t squeamish like me) seem to be the top picks.

For Fiction, I read The Murdstone Trilogy (actually just one book) by Mal Peet earlier this year – about a writer whose sensitive YA novels about troubled teens stop selling and who ends up writing fantasy – it’s a dark and funny look at fantasy tropes with some horror thrown in too.  If he’s read Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones or the like there’s probably something here for him.For my last pick, I’m suggesting Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, another book that I haven’t read yet, but have heard great things about.   It’s set in the future where natural resources are scarce and people escape into immersive video games like OASIS.  Then one player stumbles upon the first clue to a series of Easter Eggs which could lead him to a fortune.  I have the audiobook of this waiting on my phone for just as soon as I finish The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore – which is good, but very, very gory and long – only 20 hours of that to go!

Books for Her

Lets start with the fiction.  It feels like a long time ago that I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (April) but I’ve lent it on since then and had nothing but good feedback, so I’m going to recommend it again.  I can’t remember why it wasn’t BotW at the time (maybe because I was half expecting to be reviewing it for Novelicious) but it is definitely one of my favourite books of the year, and hands down my favourite Pride and Prejudice retelling.  I reviewed Lucy Dillon’s All I Ever Wanted over on Novelicious the other week, and that would also make a really good pick – it’s sort of Christmassy (it starts at Christmas) but it’s not all tinsel and mistletoe, it’s a great wintery read to give to someone who wants to spend Boxing Day (or longer) curled up on the sofa with a book in front of a roaring fire if you have one. Helen Ellis’s collection of short stories American Housewife (a previous Book of the Week) would also make a nice stocking filler if you have a woman with a dark sense of humour in your life (get a taste of what I mean here).

And now some non-fiction.  I’ve already mentioned The Best of Dear Coquette (which you should totally buy as a present for yourself at least!), but if you’re buying for someone who was a teenager in the mid 90s or later, As If! an oral history of the making of the movie Clueless might be perfect.  Clueless was one of the films that I watched on heavy rotation as a teenager (it came out just before I started secondary school so we had it on video at various slumber parties) and it still stands up today.  As If! is a fun look behind the scenes and a reminder of how different and big the film was at the time

Books for Children

For little children, I love Jon Klassen (I’ve mentioned this before) and this Christmas sees his third book about hats – We Found a Hat follows on from I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat which have been big hits among the children I buy for.

I really enjoyed the first two books in Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair’s Mysteries and  both The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth should be fairly easy to get hold of if you’ve got a middle-grade (upper half of primary school) reader to buy for.  Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong books got a mention last year, but the series has grown since then and I think it’s a great choice for a girl (or boy) who has done St Clares or Mallory Towers and some Famous Five/Five Find-outers and wants more.  They do contain death though

Other Bookish Gifts

In my post about presents for me last year, I said that I wanted a Literary Review subscription – I got one (thanks Little Sis!) and have just bought myself another two years worth.  I’ve enjoyed reading it, found books I want to read that I wouldn’t otherwise and used their reviews it to weed out books I don’t want to read/can wait to turn up in the secondhand shops.

I can’t believe how much I’ve talked about Fahrenheit Press already, but I’m going to do it again now – sorry! I bought myself their subscription earlier on this year – and it’s given me a string of Books of the Week and so much good stuff.  I’ve just renewed it for another year and if you have a crime reader in your life this might be just the gift for them.  2016 has had reissues of 90s crime series, new thrillers about all sorts of things, the Danny Bird series and James Bond and Stephanie Plum’s lovechild and more. They’re so good I feel like I’ve done nothing but talk about them all year.  And that’s before I write my Books of the Year post! Details here.

I got myself a Vanity Fair subscription this year which I’m still enjoying – and magazines are a gift that keeps giving through the year – I’ve bought Good Food, Gardener’s World and others at various points. Condé Nast keep emailing me to tell me that if I buy the wrong magazine for me giftee then I can change it for free too and so that’s practically a win win!

So there you have it, some gift suggestions from me. And if you need any more ideas, all my suggestions from last year still stand – gifts for him, her and kids. Coming next: What I want for Christmas…

cozy crime, detective, Uncategorized

The Second Annual Cozy Crime round-up

If you remember my post about comfort reading, you’ll remember me saying that I one of the genres I turn to is cozy crime. And I’ve been reading an awful lot of them recently, so I have books (and series) to recommend.  There are definite trends in cozies, and so I’ve tried to provide some variety – and also go for new/newer series that you might not have come across before.  I have lots of old favourites too, but here are some new (or at least new-to-me) series to take a look at.

Max Tudor by GM Malliet

Copyof The Haunted Season by G M Malliet
This is the 5th Max Tudor – currently waiting on the to-read pile!

Max Tudor is a vicar – who was in the secret service before he was ordained – which is a nice touch which explains why the police might be willing to have him involved in their investigations (always a problem when your “detective” isn’t actually a police man). He’s unmarried – and the subject of matchmaking among his parishioners – and his eventual choice makes for some nice conflict of its own. I’ve read the first four books in the series (which are all named after seasons) and am keeping my eyes open for the next two.  These are fun, clever and witty – even if the author needs to remember that no Land Rover owner would ever call their vehicle a Rover!

Headlines in High Heels by LynDee Walker

I wanted to include some competence porn in here – because I do love a book where the main character is good at their job.  Reporters/journalists make great leads in cozy crime series – because they have an excuse for coming across bodies – or at least getting involved in solving mysteries in a way that say… cupcake bakers don’t.  But there are some pitfalls.  I’ve recently been infuriated by a reporter in a book not doing their basic fact checking (it did come back and bite them, but they shouldn’t/wouldn’t have done it and it shouldn’t be a plot device) and while Nichelle Clarke does have a slightly dodgy (for her job) relationship, for the most part she’s a conscientious reporter who does the job properly.  And the cases are interesting too.  It didn’t surprise me to find out that the author is a journalist…

Mainely Needlepoint by Lea Wait

I’ve read three (of the four) books in this series and they are well put together mysteries set in Maine.  At the start of the series, our heroine, Angie returns to her home town after ten years when her missing mother is finally found.  She soon ends up helping her grandmother with her needlework business and sets about trying to reintegrate in a town where she struggled as a child as she tries to work out what she wants in her life.  I like Angie, and while these books don’t have the humour in them that I prefer in my cozies, they are interesting and page turning mysteries, even if I do find the references to guns and concealed carry a little disturbing and off-putting as a Brit who is not used to guns being around in every day life!

Amory Ames by Ashley Weaver

Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver
Another photo of a book taken on a train. I know. I’m so predictable!

I do love a good book set in the period between the wars – it’s my book sweet spot.  So many good series are tucked up in here – my beloved Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion and the early Inspector Alleyns all written at the time and series like Phyrne Fisher, Daisy Dalrymple and the Lord Edward Corinth series.  And Ashley Weaver’s Amory Ames series has potential.  Amory is a wealthy young woman who has married a playboy and is regretting it.  Milo is handsome and charming – but, Amory fears, unreliable and possibly (probably) unfaithful. There are only three books in the series so far – and I’ve read two of them – but this has a complicated central relationship and a sparky heroine and the mysteries are well worked out.  I have high hopes for book three.

So there you are.  As you can see, I’ve read at least two books in all of these series, more in some cases, because cosy series can take a while to hit their stride…  And this feels like only the tip of my cozy crime reading iceberg – to get to this (slender) list of recommendations I’ve read a few turkeys as well! And if this not enough cozy crime for you, in a nice piece of serendipity, I did a similar post this time last year, and those recommendations still stand too!  And don’t forget previous BotW picks Death of a Nobody (and Death of a Diva), Earthly Delights and Murder on the Half Shell.

Happy reading – and apologies if this has got a little expensive for you…

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: The Canal Boat Cafe

This week’s BotW is Cressida McLaughlin’s latest novel, The Canal Boat Café.  With the exception of this, I had a bit of a lacklustre week of reading last week – so I was glad to have something that I enjoyed and could actually recommend!

Paperback copy of The Canal Boat Café
Say hello to my garden table and my copy of The Canal Boat Café!

Summer Freeman returns to the waterside village of Willowbeck after her mother’s death to sort out her mother’s narrowboat, the titular Canal Boat Cafe.  Summer has been avoiding returning to the boat, but the family friend who has been keeping it going has run into some difficulties and needs Summer to take the reigns.  Soon she and her dog Latte are moving on board and making new friends as Summer tries to work out what her future holds and what part the canal plays in it.

This originally started out as a four part ebook story, but is now out in proper paperback format.  It’s still split into sections and there is a little bit of repetition of previous events, but as I was in the post-nightshift, too little sleep, too many hours at work haze it didn’t bother me because my concentration span was so shot!  What it doesn’t have are the big, jarring cliff hangers that you often get at the end of sections in these novelisations – the sort of thing that are designed to get you to buy the next part to see what happens, but are then resolved within a few pages.   And that is definitely a good thing.  That’s not to say that there isn’t drama – because there is, but it happens at the point that it needs to happen for the story – not at where a part needs to end.

Summer and her friends (and not friends) have distinct characters and problems and points of view and the canal makes for a really appealing setting for them all to play out.  It’s a lovely summer read, ideal for sitting out in the garden enjoying the sunshine – and it will probably make you want to go for a walk down the canal towpath, or even go on a holiday on the waterways.

You can get your copy of The Canal Boat Café from Amazon, Kindle, Foyles, Kobo, Waterstones – or like me from a large supermarket with a name that begins with T.