Authors I love, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Suddenly Last Summer

Yes.  I know. This is late.  And short.  But Christmas preps + work + Noirville = stressed and behind Verity.  Sorry.  Normal service will be resumed soon.  I hope.  Or at least if it doesn’t I’m going to cry.  Any how.  It was also a hard choice this week – I loved the new Gail Carriger novella, Romancing the Werewolf, but it’s only been a few weeks since Imprudence was my BotW.  I also read a lot of Christmassy books – some of which you’ll be hearing about soon so I couldn’t use them either.  So this week’s BotW is the very unseasonal Suddenly Last Summer by Sarah Morgan, because I read two of the three Snow Crystal books last week, back to back, because they were so much fun.

Cover of Suddenly Last Summer

Suddenly Last Summer is the middle book of the three – the other two are Christmas-themed – and I read the first one in December last year and then the third one last week when it was on offer for this Christmas and I discovered I already had this on my kindle waiting for me. Yes.  I have so many books on my Kindle that I don’t know what’s on there.  I don’t know why that surprises you given everything you know about my to-read pile.  Moving on, so this is the story of Sean-the-surgeon and Elise-the-French-chef.  Sean is too busy for a relationship – not that that stops women from trying – and Elise has sworn off relationships for good.  They had a fling the previous year – and spark is still there.  Will they be able to work things out to get a happy ending?

Well they do of course, because this is Romancelandia, but the fun is watching them get there. The chemistry between Sean and Elise is great – they have a firey passionate relationship that starts out as just a physical thing (or at least they tell themselves that) but develops into something more than they were expecting or can handle.  This also has a really strong sense of place and family ties.  It’s set in and around the Snow Crystal resort that Sean’s family owns and he has a very conflicted relationship with the resort and it affects how he gets on with his family.  Sean loves the place – or at least he does when he spends enough time there to remember how much he likes the outdoor life and the things that come with it, but he hates the responsibility that comes the family’s ownership of the resort and how it affected his father and stopped him from being able to do what he wanted.  Elise is French and is struggling with events that happened in Paris in her past and that is colouring how she makes all of her relationsjips.  Watching the two of them work through their issues – because as always with Sarah Morgan, love doesn’t solve the problem – is really rewarding.

I read this at totally the wrong time of year, but I still really enjoyed it.  In fact it made a nice break from Christmas stories and Noir.  As I’ve said before, Sarah Morgan writes great romances where characters have real problems to solve and where finding love isn’t the protagonist’s main goal – they’re trying to sort their lives out in some way and finding love is a delightful side effect of that.  Morgan is a prolific writer and there always seems to be one of her books on offer for 99p on Kindle – as I write this it’s former BotW Moonlight over Manhattan, which I highly recommend.

Suddenly Last Summer is available on Kindle, Kobo and in paperback if you can find it – Amazon have it, but I suspect you’ll have to order it in to your local bookshop rather than find it on the shelves.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: China Court

As we get closer and closer to Christmas, it’s getting harder and harder for me to pick BotW’s that don’t infringe on my Christmas reading suggestion posts.  Hence why this week’s choice is Rumer Godden’s China Court – a book which I still can’t make up my mind what I think about it, several days after I finished reading it.

Copy of China Court by Rumer Godden
Another train based photo…

China Court is the story of the homecoming of Tracy, who arrives back at her grandmother’s house the day after her grandma has died.  Brought up in America, Tracy spent the favourite part of her childhood living at China Court and is worried about what her grandmother’s death may mean for the old house.  But as well as being about Tracy’s return, the book is also the story of family who have lived in the house over the years and their trials and tribulations.

Regular readers will know that I love a good family saga, and that I love time slip novels, and this is a bit of both – a huge cast of characters and two timelines, one present, one past – although the past one moves through time rather than being the story of just one person in the past.  And although it took me a while to get into it (as evidenced by the length of time it spent in the Week in Books posts), once I had got into it, I didn’t want to put it down* because I wanted to know what happened.

At the start, there is a family tree, but also a note from the author asking you to only look at it if you really have to because her aim is for the family and their relationships to unroll in their own time and for you to work it out for yourself.  I mostly managed that, but I did have to have a few looks at the family tree when I was picking the book back up again after a few days break.

I haven’t read a lot of Rumer Godden’s books – and most of what I have read have been her children’s books.  And as I said at the start, I still can’t work out what I thought.  The ending isn’t as satisfying as I wanted it to be – even though all the ingredients seem to be there for it to work.  I didn’t like a lot of the characters – or what they were doing – but I really liked Tracy and her story line.  Even writing this hasn’t really helped me work out what I though of this and whether I liked it or not.  I still don’t know if it’s going to go on to the bookshelf, or get lent to mum or sent straight to the charity shop.  Puzzling.

Coming soon: Christmas reading recommendations.  While you’re waiting, don’t forget the Christmas gift guides – Him, Her and Me are still here.

Happy Reading!

*but I did, because I had to go to work.  And I didn’t like it *quite* enough to break my rules about not taking books that I have less than 100 pages left to read to work with me.**

** Because it’s a waste of bag space if it’s not going to last me all the way down and most of the way back.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Gone Gull

A quickie and a bit of a cheat for this week’s BotW – I’ve been busy writing the Christmas gift posts and reading the books to put in them.  I’ve written about Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series before, although it’s the first time I’ve made one Book of the Week – mostly because the point when I was glomming on the early series was before I started writing BotW posts the way that I do now.

Cover of Gone Gull by Donna Andrews

Anyway, Gone Gull is the 21st book in the series and sees Meg and her family spending the summer at her grandmother’s newly established craft centre.  Meg is teaching blacksmithing, her husband is teaching acting and helping look after the children, her grandfather is teaching ornithology and her dad is on hand two.  But it looks like someone may be trying to sabotage the centre and then one of the teachers is found dead.  Soon Meg is investigating and trying to work out who has it in for Biscuit Mountain.

One of the joys of this series is the crazy extended family and almost all the regular characters in the series are here – there’s not much of Meg’s mum or brother, but that’s fine because it’s nice to get to know Meg’s Grandmother Cordelia better.  The problem for a lot of long running murder series is that often it seems like the detecting character is the harbinger of doom (aka don’t be friends with Jessica Fletcher or you’ll end up dead) but one of my favourite things about this series is the way that Andrews manages to find different locations to take her characters so that it doesn’t feel quite so dangerous in Meg’s home town! It was also really nice to see Meg back at her anvil – her blacksmith business was prominent in the early books in the series, but had faded into the background somewhat while the twins were little.

These books fall at the humorous end of the cozy crime spectrum – they’re not laugh a minute, but as the pun-based titles suggest there’s plenty of fun in these – with eccentric characters and strange set ups.  I’m nearly up to date with the series now – I thought I was bang up to date, but the Christmas book (How the Finch stole Christmas) came out at the end of October, although I suspect it’ll take a while before I can justify buying it.

As always with posts about series, I think you’re best starting at the beginning – a Murder with Peacocks is the first one and although it’s out of print new, there are secondhand copies on Amazon and it’s under £4 on Kindle as I write this. But actually, these are stand alone – the thing you miss by not going back to the start is the building of the cast of characters and Meg’s relationship.  As well as meeting her ever expanding extended family over the course of the books, Meg doesn’t hurry into marriage – or into having children – which makes for a really fun journey for her and for the reader.  I think a reader could have fun wherever they start the series – so what ever you decide:

Happy Reading!

Adventure, Authors I love, Book of the Week, historical, Series I love

Book of the Week: Imprudence

This may be one of the least surprising BotW picks ever, considering that the first book in the Custard Protocol series was a BotW,  as were several of Gail Carriger’s other books (Sumage Solution, Manners and Mutiny and Timeless) and she was one of my discoveries of the year back when this blog was but a child.  In fact, the only question you have may be: What took me so long to read Imprudence, given that it came out in July last year.  Fear not.  There are answers ahead.

The paperback of Imprudence on a shelf next to Prudence

Firstly though, the plot:  Rue and her crew are back in London after the events of Prudence, which have landed her in a whole heap of hot water with the powers that be.  On top of this, her best friend keeps getting engaged to unsuitable military types and there’s something going on at home.  Rue’s vampire father is angry, her werewolf father is not himself, and her mother is being even more difficult than usual.  What is going on?  Finding out will take the Spotted Custard and her crew to Egypt and beyond

Now, part of the reason this has taken so long for me to read is that it was all boxed up with the to-read pile at the back end of last year, but the reason it was still waiting to be read at that point was a line in the blurb: “her werewolf father is crazy”.  Having read Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, I had a fair idea what was going on there, and I was worried about how it was going to resolve itself.  I love and adore Rue’s Paw – Conall Maccon and although he has his stupid moments (to whit, his idiotic behaviour in Blameless) I was a bit worried about what might happen to him.  And I had a few rocky moments early on in the book, which involved near tears and sniffling.  But I got through it and I was ok.  And that’s as much as I can say without it all being a big old spoiler.  And while we’re talking about the Parasol Protectorate, I found myself wishing that I’d re-read Timeless before I read this, because a lot of the action is in Egypt and there’s a lot of references to the events of that book.  It did all come back to me, but I think I would have been cooing with delight sooner if I’d done a reread first.  And so of course now I need to go and do that reread to check if there were any references that I missed in Imprudence.  There are old friends here – and some who are less friendly.

If I have a quibble, it’s that everything is wrapped up very quickly in the end – the main romantic through line and the adventure-quest one.  I could have read another 50 pages of that resolving itself.  But maybe that’s just me.  And if you’re wondering what prompted me to read this now, it’s the fact that the latest novella that Carriger has written is set after this book, and I *really* want to read that and so needed to do things in order. Because I’m like that.  And we all know that I’ll be pre-ordering the next in this series, Competence, just as soon as there’s a paperback preorder link.  Because I’m like that too.

As always in posts like this, I’m going to remind you all that this is the second in this series, but really actually the seventh if you’re counting Parasol Protectorate (which as you may have guessed have a fair bit to do with this) and eleventh if you’re going chronologically and including the spin-off prequel Finishing School YA series.  So don’t start with this one.  If you’re impatience, go and read Prudence first, but really, what you want to do is start with Soulless and work your way through Alexia’s story before you come to Rue.  And then do the Finishing school, because that is so much more fun once you start to work out who everyone is and how it all fits together.  Just my two-penneth.  They’re all available in Kindle and Kobo and Audible* and you should be able to order the paperbacks from any good bookshop.  Like the Big Green Bookshop.

Happy Reading!

And for longtime readers: No, I still haven’t sorted out the size mismatch issue with my Parasol Protectorate books, I still don’t know the best way to shelve them, but at least I haven’t caved in and bought a second copy of Heartless! There’s still time…

*Although NB, the first audiobook pronounces Lord Akeldama’s name wrong.  It’s Ak-el-dama not A-keel-duhma or however she says it.  It’s fixed by book 2 and I can just about cope with it in book one, even if my brain does repeat it pronounced correctly after every time it’s used.

Book of the Week, Series I love

Book of the Week: The Days of Anna Madrigal

Quite a short BotW post this week, for a multitude a real life reasons, so sorry about that.  Any way, this week’s pick is the final (for now at least) Tales of the City books.

Library copy of Days of Anna Madrigal
In case they’ve somehow passed you by, the nine Tales of the City Books tell the interconnected stories of the residents of a house in San Francisco, starting in the 1970s and going up until pretty much the present day. Written by Armistead Maupin, the books started off as a newspaper column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Most of the books are episodic and jump between the different characters’ points of view. 

True to my no-spoilers policy, there’s not a lot about the plot of this that I can tell you, except that we rejoin the redoubtable Anna Madrigal, now in her 90s and some of her former tenants as she prepares for a road trip that will see her revisit her past and try to resolve some unfinished business. If you haven’t read the other books in the series, please don’t start here, go back to the start and read Tales of the City and follow them through. It’s taken me three years to do the whole series, and it’s been so worth it.

This isn’t my favourite of the nine, perhaps because I knew it was the last one and I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters, but it’s still a wonderful trip with old friends, who you feel like you know inside out because you know them so well. A bittersweet end to the journey.

My copy of The Days of Anna Madrigal came from the library, but you should be able to find it in all good bookshops. 

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: To Bed With Grand Music

I knew less than halfway through this book that I was going to have to lend this to my sister and my mother, and as soon as I finished this book that it was going to be this week’s BotW.  Hands down.  And as you’ve probably never heard of it (I hadn’t before I got given a copy) this makes it possibly the best sort of BotW – because hopefully it means I might point a few more people towards it.

My copy of To Bed with Grand Music
Ok, so it’s not the most exciting looking book ever, but don’t let that fool you…

In To Bed With Grand Music we follow the wartime adventures Deborah, a young wife and mother whose husband has been posted to Cairo.  On the first page, while in bed together before he leaves, he says that he cannot promise to be physically faithful to his wife because “God alone knows how long I’ll be stuck in the Middle East, and it’s no good saying I can do without a woman for three or four years, because I can’t.”  Instead he promises not to fall in love and not to sleep with anyone who might possibly take her place.  He asks Deborah to promise same.  But Deborah doesn’t take him up on his offer, instead she promises to be absolutely faithful to him and not act on any attraction she might feel to anyone else – in the hopes that he’ll change his mind and do the same.  He doesn’t and is soon off to Egypt, leaving Deborah and their son Timmy at home in the countryside with the housekeeper come nanny.

But it doesn’t take long for Deborah to get fed up of life in the countryside and bored of her son.  Deborah, it turns out, is a terrible person.  She’s got a gift for rationalising in her mind whatever it is that she wants to do as being the best solution to whatever problem (real or imagined) that she is facing.  So she decides that the best solution is for her to get a war job in London.  This would mean being away from Timmy during the week and leaving him in the cae of the housekeeper, but she rationalises this as being the best thing for him – because although he’ll see her less, he’ll only see the best parts of her because she’ll be so much happier in herself.  So off she goes to London, where she meets up with an old friend in the hopes that she can help her find a job.  She and Madeleine (the friend) end up going out for dinner with a couple of soldiers and Deborah ends up staying the night and sleeping with one of the men.  Oops.  So much for that promise Deborah.  She’s repulsed by her own actions and scurries back to the countryside and puts off the idea of getting a job.  But soon she’s bored again and changes her mind and takes a job in London and moves in with her friend, however she’s determined not to make the same mistake again…

Madeleine at first was quite prepared to make Deborah’s life less lonely.  She accepted as a natural obligation that for a week or two she would introduce Deborah to people until gradually Deborah could build up a circle of her own.  But Deborah resisted all Madeleine’s suggestions for companionable evenings: if I once give in, she told herself, I’m done for, certain in her own mind that even a sherry party or a game of bridge could have only one conclusion.  She martyred herself til her very martyrdom became her excuse for her release.

And that pretty much sets the tone for all that happens next.  I think you can probably work out where this is going, but I don’t want to spoil it for you because it’s so much fun watching in fascinated horror as Deborah manages to justify abandoning bit by bit whatever moral code she has as she tries to get herself the glamourous life she thinks that she deserves – and how the climate in wartime allows her to do that.

As you’ve probably worked out, this is not a home fires burning, sweet little wife pining at home sort of World War II novel.  This is the seamier side of wartime relationships – if you can’t cope with casual sex and marital infidelity, don’t read this book.  But if you read the Camomile Lawn and want to read about a character who has all of Calypso’s worst traits and then some, then this may well be the book that you have been searching for.  Equally if you’ve read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, then there’s all the bad bits of Villy and Louise and early Zoe here without the redeeming features.  Deborah is brilliantly, splendidly dreadful and her exploits are compulsively readable.

To Bed With Grand Music was originally published in 1946, with the author given as “Sarah Russell”.  It’s now been republished by Persephone Press (one of my favourite sources for books like this) with the real name of its author – Marghanita Laski who (under her own name) was a journalist and author from a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals.   Given the book’s frank depiction of sex and morality, I can totally understand why the author didn’t want to attach her real name to the book at the time.

You should be able to get hold of the Persephone Press edition from Big Green Books or order it from Amazon – I can’t find an ebook edition at the moment.

Happy reading!

American imports, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: First Grave on the Right

Ok, so this week’s BotW post is a little cheating – because I actually finished this on Monday.  But in my defense, I was going to have to break the (my self-imposed) rules this week whatever happened, because it was either pick this, or have a Sarah Morgan book as BotW for the second week in a row.  So I chose this, because it was my favourite book I started reading last week, so it’s only fair.

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
Another book on the train picture, but I do spend a lot of time there…

First Grave on the Right is the first in the Charley Davidson by Darynda Jones.  Charlie is a private investigator with a secret – she’s a grim reaper.  It’s actually the secret to her success as a PI – after all, what better way to solve murders than to ask the dead person who did it?  She’s also a consultant to the local police force – where her uncle is a cop.  Her mysterious (to everyone else) ability to solve crimes has raised more than a few eyebrows over the years, but Charley is used to that.  What she’s not used to is the mysterious presence that’s haunting her dreams and the effect that it’s having on her.  And when three lawyers end up dead on the same she’s got a high profile case to solve – if she can just keep one step ahead of the Bad Guys.

I’ve been hearing about this series for ages, but it’s taken me a while to get hold of the first book at a reasonable price.  And it lived up to the hype.  Charley is a kick ass heroine with a complicated backstory, a big secret (from most people at any rate), a difficult family life and a great gang of friends.  The various mystery plots are clever and well written and Charley’s inner monologue is a joy.  I’m already annoyed that I’m meant to be avoiding buying books which means I can’t immediately buy book 2 (although to be fair it’s over my price limits at the moment any way).  If I was trying to do an elevator pitch for this, I think the closest I can get is Steph Plum meets Sookie Stackhouse, but in a good way.  It sits in the cross section of murder mysteries, thrillers, supernatural and romance – it’s not hard-boiled, there’s some violence but it’s not too graphic and there’s definitely a fair bit of heat going on in the romance stakes.  All of which is right in my wheelhouse – and if anyone has any recommendations for similar books, please do let me know.

Books with supernatural elements are a bit of a hazy area for me, as long time readers will be aware.  When they work for me, they really work and I love them; but when they don’t it’s horrid.  And I’m still incapable of working out what makes some books work, while others don’t.  The closest I can get is that they have to be part of a well worked out world, with definite rules and that the supernatural element shouldn’t be fetishised in anyway.  And if there can be punning and wise cracking that helps too.

Anyway, I raced through this – if I hadn’t been working at the weekend it would definitely have been finished before Monday morning!*  I suspect you may need to order a copy of First Grave on the Right if you’re in the UK – I certainly haven’t seen it in the supermarkets, although I haven’t had a chance to check the bookshops to see if they have it.  I’m sure Big Green Books would be able to get hold of it if you asked them.  It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo for £.399 at time of writing.

Happy Reading!

*I do hate it when real life gets in the way of my reading time.