Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+

Book of the Week: Proud

Picking a BotW this week was a mix of hard and actually quite easy this week. I read a lot of stuff, but actually didn’t love a lot of it – and some that I did like were by authors that I’ve already written a lot about. But then there was Proud. And it was Pride in London this weekend and I spent my Saturday walking through happy, rainbow-bedecked crowds – firstly on their way to the parade, which started by work and secondly wandering through the after parties in Soho on my way to the theatre in the evening and then back to my hostel afterwards.

Proud is a collection of Young Adult short stories poetry and art edited by Juno Dawson and featuring a mix of new and established LGTBQ+* authors. There’s a huge range of experiences and identities here – including a few that I haven’t seen represented much in my own reading.

I can’t pick a favourite of the stories, because they’re all good and there were several that I really liked. I love a Pride and Prejudice retelling, so I Hate Darcy Pemberley really appealed to me. But then so did The Courage of Dragons – a story about a group of Dungeons and Dragons playing friends who band together during prom to right some wrongs done to one of their number. And then there is Penguins – about prom and crushes and two male penguins who have fallen in love.

Although I read a lot of Middle Grade fiction, I don’t really read a lot of YA – because I find it can tend towards the depressing – particularly when dealing with LGTBQ+ issues. But this is the opposite of that – the stories are affirming and joyous and romantic which is exactly what you want in a book called Proud.

My copy came from NetGalley (yes, I know, I’m super behind because this came out in March and I’ve only just read it) but you should be able to get a copy of Proud from any good bookshop and it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Here’s a bonus picture of the post-Pride march parties.

Partying in the street in Soho near the King Edward Theatre which has Rainbow flags on its big screens

Happy reading!

* I’m using LGTBQ+ here as this is how the book itself describes itself and its contributors.

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Seduction

June’s stats coming up tomorrow, but first, this week’s Book of the Week – where we’re still firmly in non-fiction (that’s three BotW posts in a row now!) and in a different part of my historical sweet spot: classic Hollywood.

Cover of Seduction

As the subtitle suggests, this is an examination of the machinations of movie mogul Howard Hughes.  A controversial and massively famous figure in his day, if you’re not into Hollywood history you’ve probably still seen Howard Hughes references in all sorts of stuff – like the episode of The Simpsons where gambling is legalised and Mr Burns turns weird, or Willard Whyte in Diamonds are Forever or the fact that Stan Lee cited him as an inspiration for Tony Stark.  And of course there’s the Martin Scorsese film The Aviator in which he’s played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  But like Hallie Rubenhold in The Five last week, Karina Longworth is coming at this from the perspective of the women in the case – and there were a lot of them – she examines what Hughes’s obsessions with sex, power and publicity meant for the women in his orbit and how it affected them. Hint: he was a real piece of work, even more than you might already be thinking.

This was where the majority of my commute reading time went last week (five of my six train journeys) because although it’s fascinating it’s also super long. I’m a recent* convert to Longworth’s podcast, You Must Remember This, and was a little bit worried that this was going to be covering some of the same ground that that has already covered, but actually that’s not a problem. Some of the stuff has been touched on, but this is much more in depth and with more space to develop an overarching theme and narrative.

Obviously #MeToo has been much in the news over the last few years and if you want an illustration of what powerful men in Hollywood have been getting away with since the silent era then this is it. It would also serve as a great starting off point for a wider journey into Hollywood lore – I know there’s a few more lives I want to explore and a couple of books off the bibliography that I’ll be keeping an eye open for.

My copy of Seduction came from the library, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo as well as audiobook read by Longworth. NB: if you haven’t listened to her podcast, she’s got a very particular way of talking which can take a bit of getting used to and I know doesn’t work for everyone.  I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to find in bookstores – it’s available to buy from Waterstones’ website, but not on click and collect – ditto Foyles.

Happy Reading!

*as in a couple of series ago.

 

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: The Five

Ok, so this is *technically* cheating, because I finished it yesterday, but as this is where a lot – if not the majority – of my reading time went last week, so it’s a fair pick really guv.

Cover of The Five

Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper does exactly what it says on the tin – and that is the opposite of what most books about Jack the Ripper do.  Rubenhold has researched what the lives of the canonical five victims were like before they were killed.  She’s not interested in who they were killed by – or the gruesome details of their deaths.  She is interested in their lives and whether prevailing idea about them – ie that they were prostitutes – is accurate.  Thus she puts the victims back at the centre of a narrative that has long dismissed them as incidental to the identity of their killer and at the same time gives an important insight into what life was like for working class women in Victorian London.

As a rule, I’m not interested in books about Jack the Ripper.  I was wracking my brains to think what the last one I read was, and I think it was probably Laurie Graham’s novel The Night in Question three and a half years ago.  I don’t want gruesome details of murders and rampant speculation.  But The Five has caused something of a stir.  Rubenhold’s book has got the Ripperologists’ knickers in a twist – because of her assertion that three of the five women were not sex workers.  The angry push back – and her measured responses – were enough to make me want to read this book for myself.  And it was well worth it.  The women in these pages are three dimensional people with messy complicated lives and they deserve to be at the centre of their own stories, not pushed aside in favour of the speculation about who killed them.

As a journalist, I’ve worked on a lot of coverage of murders and killings and one of the common themes when you’re deciding what how to cover them is how to refer to the victims and their killer.  All too often serial killers names are remembered but not their victims.  The first case that I was in court for after I qualified was the Ipswich murders.  Most people probably know the case as “Suffolk Strangler” or worse “the Ipswich Ripper” and could probably tell you who carried out the killings, but not the name of any of the victims (Paula Clennell, Anneli Alderton, Gemma Adams, Annette Nicholls and Tania Nichol).  Harold Shipman, Peter Sutcliffe,  Fred and Rose West, Myra Hindley – I bet all of those names are familiar to you (if you’re a Brit anyway) and yet I doubt you could name many of their victims.  There are books and books about these cases – and you could fill a library with just books about Jack the Ripper.  After the recent mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed never to say the gunman’s name.  The Five is doing something similar with the Ripper.  We’ll never know who the killer actually was or how many victims they really killed but there is – as Rubenhold demonstrates – a wealth of information about the lives these women lived before their deaths.

And in learning about their lives, you’ll learn a lot about what it was really like to be poor and a woman in Victorian Britain.  When I was little, the geriatric hospital in Northampton was St Edmunds Hospital.  But a lot of the old people in Northampton would do anything to avoid going in to this George Gilbert Scott-designed building.  Why?  Because it was formerly a workhouse and they had been brought up to fear the shame of going into the workhouse.  And once you’ve read The Five you’ll get it – you’ll understand why sleeping on the streets might be preferable to going into one. St Edmunds closed in the 1990s (I think) and has been derelict ever since.  Work has recently started to renovate it – and to turn it into a retirement village.  We’ll see if the elderly of Northampton are prepared to live there yet.

So why do the Ripperologists hate this book so much?  I have my theories – and I don’t think it’s just because Rubenhold’s research demolishes their pet theories or because it feels seedy to be obsessed with a murderer when you know more about the lives of their victims.  But I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.  But if you like social history, and books looking at the lives of women in history, this might be your ideal next read.

My copy of The Five came from the library (after a long wait on hold!), but you should be able to find it pretty much anywhere.  It’s popping up on a lot of summer holiday reading recommendation lists and I’d expect it to be front and centre on the history book table at any (good) bookshop.  Sadly I can’t tell you if it’s got an airport paperback edition – because there was a mix up with our baggage when we went on holiday the other week and instead of browsing the airport bookshop and eating a leisurely breakfast before our flight, I spent all my time running around Luton airport trying to get our suitcase taken off an Amsterdam flight and retagged and put on our flight to Nice – but I hope it does.  It’s also availabe on Kindle and Kobo or from Book Depository.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective

So as I said in yesterday’s Week in Books, I was on holiday last week and spent a good proportion of my time in the very sunny south of France working my way down my to-read pile.  There was a lot of good stuff and you’ll be hearing more about some of the books on the list later, but I really wanted to highlight The Adventures of Maud West Lady Detective as my BotW because it was such tremendous fun, it dovetails so well with my favourite things to read and it came out last week – so I’m timely (for once).

Cover of The Adventures of Maud West

You’ve probably never heard of her, but Maud West ran a detective agency in London for more than thirty years, starting in 1905. No, seriously. This isn’t fiction, this is biography.  In her first book, Susannah Stapleton tries to separate the truth from invention about a real-life lady detective, who was working in London while the golden age of Crime fiction was happening.  And it’s very hard to work out what the truth is.  Maud was a mistress of self promotion, but some of her stories read exactly like the detective stories of the era.  Stapleton takes you through her research and her quest to find out the truth about Maud’s life and her cases.

This has got a Jill Paton Walsh quote attached to the blurb:

If you are susceptible to Miss Marple and Harriet Vane you must read The Adventures of Maud West. You will never know the difference between fact and fiction again.

Which is obviously my catnip.  If you’ve been around here a while, you’ve already pretty much figured out that this is a sweet spot in a Venn diagram of my reading interests – detective fiction and books (fiction and non-fiction) about the first half of the twentieth century and may I please point you in the direction of my posts about Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion, Roderick Alleyn, TV detectives, Phryne Fisher, Daisy Dalrymple, Maisie Dobbs, Dandy Gilver, A Dangerous Crossing,  for the first half of that Venn Diagramme and Old Baggage, Gone with the Windsors, Blitzed, Angela Thirkell, Queen Lucia, my History book keeper shelf non fiction round up, my 500th post for the second. And that list is by no means exhasutive.  I didn’t even start on the children’s books.

Anyway, this totally lives up to that quote – Maud’s life is fascinating, Stapleton is an engaging writer – and you get to see behind the scenes of the process – of how she tracked down the traces Maud has left behind in the historical record.  And that latter bit is almost as fascinating to me as the actual story. As a history grad who did her dissertation research in an undigitised archive in the middle of France it was awesome to see Stapleton using the full power of digital archives to find a life that could otherwise have been lost to history.  It was almost enough to make me miss historical research.  Although as I’m still getting dissertation anxiety dreams more than a decade on, it was quite a fleeting feeling!

I raced through this – starting it on the plane out on Sunday and finished it off in the Riviera sun.  I even rationed my self to read it slower to make it last.  That’s how good it was.  There’s all sorts of period details in here too – I know I’ll be walking down New Oxford Street looking for the spot where her offices used to be. And if that’s not enough to convince you – the research in this book is so fresh, that Maud has only had a Wikipedia page since Sunday – three days after the book was published.  I look forward to seeing what Stapleton does next – and I can only hope that this book does really well and persuades publishers that we need more books like this.  And historians and writers out there – please go and write them.  And if you’ve got any suggestions for books like this that I should read, put them in the comments please.  Pretty please.

I got my copy from NetGalley, but The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective is out now in hardback and should be available in bookstores near you.  I went to look for it in Waterstones in Milton Keynes yesterday* – and one branch had *just* sold their copy and the other was sold out too which is lovely because it means its selling, but means I still haven’t see it in the wild and couldn’t have a closer gander at the pictures.  It’s also on Kindle and Kobo. I’m off to be annoyed that I’m on a late shift tomorrow so can’t go and hear Susanna Stapleton speak at the Kibworth book festival which is only 25 miles from where I live and thus totally doable if only I wasn’t working.** Anyway, I’m off to listen to her interview on Woman’s Hour instead.

Happy reading!

*And no, I didn’t manage to leave Waterstones without buying something – I took home a shiny signed copy of Rukmini Iyer’s new cookbook, the Quick Roasting Tin.

**Irritatingly Ben Aaronovitch is there tonight (as this publishes, not as I write) and I won’t be able to get home from work in time to get to that either. Gah.  I’m not having much luck with author readings at the moment. These are not the first two that have been in my area that I haven’t managed to get to in the last month or two

 

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Luckiest Lady in London

Back in historical romance for this week’s BotW, which was a tricky week to pick a book from in some ways. It was a short list, but there were some really good books. I binged on the Alisha Rai series because they were really addictive – but the first of those was last week’s choice and I don’t repeat (or not that quickly anyway). I loved the latest Vinyl Detective – but the the four in the series and you ready need to have read the others. Then there was the Susan Mallery – who I’ve definitely already talked about enough. So that leaves The Luckiest Lady in London, which I did enjoy – but which isn’t my favourite Sherry Thomas and its only six months since Study in Scarlet Women was a BotW. But it is a lot of fun and it is a stand-alone choice. And I love Thomas’s writing style. Welcome to my stream of consciousness decision making everyone.

Cover of The Luckiest Lady in London

Ok, to the plot: Felix Rivendale is The Ideal Gentleman, or at least that’s what society believes. After the death of his parents, he made himself into society’s dream man, worth of his title, the Marquess of Wrenworth. He’s been playing the role so long, he can almost believe it is really who he is. But there’s one person who sees through it. Louisa Cantwell can see through the flattery and attention and knows that he shouldn’t be trusted. She has planned and prepared for her season in London because she needs to marry well. Unfortunately no one else can see through Felix and they keep pushing the two of them together. At the end of the season, his is the only proposal and she reluctantly accepts. After all, there’s something between them – but what is it, what game is he playing and can she ever trust him enough to fall in love with him?

Now that is quite a lot of plot. It’s more than I usually give you – but this isn’t a book that ends with a wedding or an engagement. It’s more complicated than that, and to only give you that part of the plot would be to short change you about what this book is really about. It’s playing with historical romance tropes in a way that really works for me. Louisa has a plan for how to catch the husband that she needs – but she’s never portrayed as scheming or deceitful. Felix sees what she’s doing but doesn’t shame her for it – this isn’t an enemies to lovers romance because he ruins her prospects. This is more of a marriage of convenience with a twist. Felix is charming but manipulative and has a lot to learn about being in a relationship and giving up some of his power. I liked him as a hero and I thought his issues were well handled. Having read Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, the feisty smart heroine and her voice are familiar, but the setting is not. I thought it all wrapped up a bit quickly at the end, but that’s a minor quibble really and one I often have with romances.

If you like the Lady Sherlock series (and I like it enough to have the next one preordered even though it’s an American import and really quite expensive for a paperback) then I think you’ll like this. If you’re not into Sherlock Holmes retelling but like smart heroines who aren’t passive, then I think this would be a good book to try.

My copy of The Luckiest Lady in London came from the library, but you can get it on Kindle and Kobo and it’s only £1.99 at time of writing, which is a total bargain. The paperback is slightly harder to get in the UK but it should be manageable if you’re prepared to special order or to buy through Amazon.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical

Book of the Week: A Dangerous Collaboration

Yes, I know.  This post is a day late.  And yes, I’m sure you’re not surprised by today’s pick.  I mean I’ve got form with Deanna Raybourn, even if this is technically a violation of my first in series rule.  Sorry about the lateness – the bank holiday threw me off schedule and I remembered I’d forgotten to set this live in bed last night.  Oopsy daisy.  Anyway, I got here in the end. Normal service will be resumed next week, I promise.

Cover of A Dangerous Collaboration

A Dangerous Collaboration is the fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell series.  Veronica is a Victorian adventuress with a passion for butterflies and a penchant for solving crimes. She has a on again/off again professional partnership with natural scientist and taxidermist Stoker, the black sheep of a noble family.  The start of this book sees Veronica take to the seas briefly to get away from Stoker after developments (that I’m not going to spoil) at the end of book three. On her return to Britain, Stoker’s older brother Tiberius asks her to pose as his fiancée and accompany him to a house party at a castle on an island off the south coast, dangling the prospect of a rare butterfly to add to her collection as inducement.  But on arrival on the island, it turns out their host, Lord Malcolm Romilly has assembled a group of people with connections to his missing wife, who disappeared on her wedding day.  Can Veronica figure out what’s going on?  What is Tiberius hoping for from his trip with Veronica?  What is Stoker playing at? Can I survive another book with these two if it has the same level of unresolved sexual tension as the last one?

I’ve been looking forward to this since I finished the third book in the series last year and this pretty much lived up to what I was hoping. It does have a bit of a slow start, but it’s a great set up for the later stages of the book.  I don’t want to say too much more or I’ll ruin it for everyone else, but there’s definite significant progress here moving along some of the ongoing plot strands.  And so. much. sexual. tension. Hooo boy.

I said in my post about book three last year that this is a great series if you’re an Amelia Peabody fan, but I’d add to that now Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series if you want another Victorian lady being smart and resourceful in a slightly different way.  My dad has a kindle attached to my account and I know that he’s read and enjoyed this series too – because he’s asked me if there are any more of them in the past!

My copy of A Dangerous Collaboration came from the library – it came out in March, so I only had to wait two months for it on hold – but it’s also available from all the usual places like Book Depository and Amazon, but is a hardback release from the US at the moment so the Kindle and Kobo are priced accordingly (the Kindle £5 cheaper than the Kobo at time of writing but still nearly £10) and I can’t currently see a paperback release date in the UK.  But if you haven’t tried any of Deanna Raybourn’s books yet, the first in her other historical series – featuring Lady Julia Grey – is only 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment and that is definitely well worth it because it has one of my favourite opening lines in a book:

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.

And if that doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: The Bride Test

You all knew this was coming.  You knew I’d been looking forward to this.  It was in my anticipated books post, Helen Hoang’s debut, The Kiss Quotient, was a Book of the Week and one of my favourite books of last year.  It is on my bullet journal list of 2019 books I want to read and only came out two weeks ago.  The reading list yesterday was short.  Doris Day died and I’ve been watching romantic comedies and being nostalgic.  This was the perfect book to be reading last week and the perfect BotW pick.

Cover of The Bride Test

So, Khai Diep doesn’t have feelings.  Not like everyone else seems to anyway.  The big feelings that everyone else gets, he doesn’t seem to.  Or at least he doesn’t think he does.  So it wouldn’t be fair on him to have a relationship with anyone – because he can’t give them what they need.  Except that his family knows better – he feels things, it’s just that his autism means he doesn’t process them the same as everyone else does.  So that’s why his mum makes a trip to Vietnam to find a woman for him.  Esme Tran has always felt out of place in Ho Chi Minh City – as a mixed race girl in the slums.  So when she gets the chance to spend a summer in America, she just can’t turn it down.  She could make a better life for her family, she could try and find her father.  But Khai isn’t what she expected.  There’s a language barrier and a culture barrier sure, but there’s something else as well that’s making Khai hold back.  But holding back isn’t a problem for Esme – everything that she’s doing to try and make Khai fall for her is only making her fall for him more.  And Esme’s on a clock – she’s only got a tourist visa and if she doesn’t make Khai want to marry her by the end of the summer, it could all have been for nothing. How will these two get to happily ever after?

I loved this.  Esme is a fantastic heroine – she fierce and determined and resourceful and she’s taking an opportunity to make her life better.  Her story mirrors that of many immigrants from around the world – who are looking for a better future.  You’re willing her on every step of the way.  Khai’s family are the other end of that migration story – they’ve been in America, they’ve arrived, they’ve set down roots and they’ve started the next generation.  And Khai is a fabulous hero – smart, but clueless, generous and caring but in ways that people don’t always recognise.  They make a great couple and it’s a real treat watching them work out their relationship.

There’s a lovely afterword from Helen Hoang talking about how her mother’s life inspired and informed elements of Esme’s life, and it shows.  What also shows is the care and attention Hoang has taken with Khai.  Like Stella in The Kiss Quotient, Khai is in the autistic spectrum, but the two of them are very different and that is absolutely as it should be.  Austism comes in many forms and we need more representation of neurodiverse characters in books.  I’ve been lucky enough to read a lot of books who feature heroes and heroines who I can see myself in – and everyone in society and the world deserves that for themselves too.  Books have also always been one of the ways that I expand my horizons and my understanding – so having more books (and knowing where to look for them) about people who don’t look like me fills me with joy.

This would make the perfect holiday read – I’m almost sorry I didn’t manage to save it for my next vacation.   The next book in the series just can’t come soon enough – especially as it’s Quan’s story and I’ve been itching to find out more about him.  I know I’ll be pre-ordering it just as soon as it that’s an option.

My copy of The Bride Test was pre-ordered on Kindle, which is good because at my library the hold list for the ebook is currently around 19 weeks. But it’s available now on Kobo (£1.99 at time of writing) and Kindle (only £1.19! total bargain)  or you can pre-order the paperback – which comes out on June 6th – from Amazon, Book Depository or wherever you buy your books.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Happy Reading!

Bonus photo:  The aforementioned upcoming books master list in my journal.

Double page journal spread with a bookshelf on one side and a list of books on the other