Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Vanderbilt

Say hello to a non-fiction pick that is both a hardback and a book that I got for Christmas – and so hasn’t lingered on the pile at all. Now that may be because it was a book that I specifically asked for, or it may just be a fluke but, hey lets celebrate small wins when we get them.

You’ll know Anderson Cooper as a news anchor on CNN, but he’s also part of the Vanderbilt family and this book, written with Katherine Howe, as the subtitle suggests is a look at the rise and fall of the dynasty. It is not a complete and comprehensive examination of every member of the family, but more a look at the key figures and key moments in the family’s fortunes from making their money, through breaking into New York society, to the various court battles and all the way to Cooper’s own childhood as the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. It takes you from seventeenth century New Amsterdam through to the present day, but with its main focus from the mid-ninteenth century onwards.

I knew bits and bobs about some of the Vanderbilts, but not a whole lot so this was really interesting to me – even before the personal aspect that Cooper’s own connection to the story adds. I’ve read a lot of books at various points about the British nobility in the nineteenth century, and portions of this story are the American equivalent to that – and they interface at some points too, for example when Consuelo Vanderbilt is married off to the Duke of Marlborough. If you’ve got an interest in this sort of history, it’s definitely worth a look – even if it’s not the most comprehensive account and may well leave you wanting to read more about some of the characters you meet. But that’s never a bad thing really is it? We’ve all already got to-read piles bigger than we should have, so what difference do a couple more books make…

My copy of Vanderbilt was a Christmas gift from my parents (thanks mum and dad!) but you can get it now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo. It’s also on audiobook read by Anderson Cooper himself, which sounds delightful from the sample. I still haven’t been into a bookshop this year, but I suspect it’ll be a case of ordering it in – I’ve put a Waterstones link as I know that’s where mum got it from so I know it will actually work.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Christie Affair

In a frankly shocking move to anyone who knows me, this week’s pick is a book that I mentioned in my upcoming books post, and that I’ve managed to read ahead of it’s release. I am however breaking one of my rules – because I’m writing about it nine days ahead of its publication date, and I usually try and wait for books to be published before I recommend them. But as the other books that I really liked last week were Christmas-themed books, and here we are in nearly mid-January. But I have a plan for dealing with that. I promise. Anyway, to the review.

Cover of The Christie Affair

If you’ve read anything about Agatha Christie’s life, you’ll probably have come across the mysterious incident in 1926 when she disappeared for 11 days after her husband asked her for a divorce because he had fallen in love with another woman. It sparked a massive hunt for her across the UK until she was found staying at a hotel in Harrogate. The newspapers reported that she was suffering from memory loss and Christie herself doesn’t even mention the incident in her autobiography. Nina De Gramont’s debut novel reimagines what happened, told from the perspective of the fictional Nan O’Dea. Nan is the woman who Christie’s husband is leaving her for – the Goodreads blurb describes her as “a fictional character but based on someone real, which is to say there was a woman who Archie Christie was leaving Agatha for – but that is about as far as the resemblance goes. The novel jumps backwards and forwards through time – showing the reader Nan’s tough upbringing in London and her escape to Ireland during the Great War alongside the hunt for Agatha and the events at the hotel that she’s staying at in Harrogate. Why has Nan infiltrated the Christie’s world and what is it she wants?

I really enjoyed reading this – but it’s so hard to explain why without revealing too much. In fact, I’ve tried three times just to write that plot summary without giving too much away. I think it’s fair to say that this departs a long way away from the actual facts of the Christie divorce fairly quickly. But the story sucks you in so completely that you end up googling to check which bits are real and which aren’t. It’s clever and enthralling and twistier than I expected it to be. There’s also a murder mystery plot in there that’s neatly reminiscent of something Christie herself wrote. I’ve written whole posts about fictionalised real lives, and if you like that sort of thing you should try this – although bear in mind those notes above about it not being what actually happened. It’s a thriller, it’s a mystery and it’s a romance. It’s also very easy to read and evocative. I read it on the sofa snuggled under a blanket wishing I was in front of a roaring fire, but I think it would also make a great read for the commute or a sun lounger. And it wouldn’t make a bad book club pick either. Well worth a look.

My copy of The Christie Affair came from NetGalley, but you can pre-order a signed copy from Waterstones, or the usual Kindle or Kobo editions. It is a hardback release, so the Kindle prices do match that, but if you’ve still got some Christmas book money to spend…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction, reviews

Book of the Week: The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym

After a string of Christmas-themed recommendations for BotW, I’m starting the new year with a non-fiction pick, and it’s a title that you may be rather familiar with as it’s been on the ongoing list for quite some time – but don’t hold that against it. Why then has it taken me so long to read? Well firstly because it is long (500+ pages!) and secondly because non-fiction requires proper concentration and for me to be in the right mindset – which has been difficult recently but in 2021 in general – as previously discussed.

Anyway, Paula Byrne’s latest book is a biography of the author Barbara Pym. Pym wrote a series of novels about everyday women in the middle of the twentieth century, was briefly acclaimed, then forgotten and then rediscovered in the years immediately before her death in 1980. If you haven’t read any of them, then you really should – she’s been compared to Jane Austen. She was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1977 for Quartet in Autumn, but I’ve mostly read her earlier books – my favourite of hers Excellent Women, which I have in a rather delightful Virago Designer Hardback edition.

After growing up in Shropshire, Barbara Pym went up to Oxford in the early 1930s. There she threw herself into student life – and into love. She travelled to Germany in the 1930s, was a Wren during the war and then worked for years as an assistant editor for a journal of anthropology. Her novels often feature anthropologists, as well as vicars – whether she’s writing about London’s bedsit land or English country life. In later life, she was friends with Philip Larkin – which in part led to her rediscovery in the late 1970s

Using Pym’s own diaries and papers, Byrne has written a comprehensive re-examination of Pym’s life piecing together her relationships, friendships and love affairs as well as her career in publishing. It’s a fascinating insight into the life behind the writer – and how her personal life bled into her novels. Considering that she never married and that her books focus on unmarried or in some way frustrated women, you may be surprised by what you discover about her. Two of Byrnes other books – Kick (about Kathleen Kennedy) and Mad World (about Evelyn Waugh) are on my keeper shelf of history books already and this would join them, if it wasn’t an ebook! And if I haven’t already won you over with my thoughts, it was on the Times’ list of best books of 2021 too.

As an added bonus for me, given my current Wimsey phase, Pym was an undergraduate at St Hilda’s just a couple of years before Gaudy Night is set. Through her experiences you can get a glimpse of what the students of Shrewsbury College might have been getting up to out of sight of the dons.

My copy of The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym came via NetGalley, but you should be able to get hold of the hardback fairly easily – Foyles have it available as click and collect at a lot of their stores and will even knock a couple of quid off the cover price if you order it via their website. If the hardback price is a bit rich for you, then I’m so behind hand with my NetGalley list that it’s actually out in paperback in April, so you could hang fire for that. Or of course it’s available in Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Christmas books, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: The Christmas Card Crime

Cheating again this week because I finished this on Monday, but really there is only so long you can recommend Christmas-themed books for and the first week of January is past that limit, but also seems a little early to be starting putting together the Christmas-themed books post for 2022, although to be fair, I have started it in the spring before!

The Christmas Card Crime is another of those charming British Library Crime Classics collections that I mentioned in my Christmas books post last week. So yes, it’s also slightly cheating to be picking this for BotW so soon after that post – although in fairness I did read the other one in November so it seems less recent to me! This has less of the names that the casual crime fan will have heard of and but many of them are regulars in the BLCC stable – like E C R Lorac and John Bude – and some of them are more towards the thriller/chiller end of the mystery spectrum. Most are good, a couple didn’t suit me but overall it was a nice way to spend a post-Christmas afternoon hiding from the rain. It should be noted that there is one story in here that overlaps with A Surprise for Christmas – and it’s one of the really good ones, so I was glad I had borrowed them both from Kindle Unlimited rather than bought them outright.

You can get The Christmas Card Crime as an actual paperback from the British Library shop or you can get it on Kindle – it will reappear on other platforms once it has rotated out of the KU selection.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Christmas in Paradise

A short post this week, but a festive -themed one. I read a whole bunch of books last week for my 50 states (and D.C.) challenge but there wasn’t a lot I wanted to write about – except this one which is not the first in a series and is a series I’ve written about before. But hey ho, rules are made to be broken at Christmas aren’t they?

Christmas in Paradise is the fourth book in Kathi Daley’s Tj Jensen series. The series is set at a resort on a lake in a town called Serenity. As you might suspect from the title, this one is set at Christmas and Tj is planning a big celebration but also waiting for the arrival of the man who says he is the real father of one of her sisters. Tj’s mother is dead – and she’s the guardian of her two younger sisters and is worried about what this might mean for their little family unit. When the new boyfriend of one of her neighbours is found dead in the grounds of the resort, Tj can’t help but try and find out who did it – to clear her friends’s husband of suspicion.

This is another Henery Press cozy crime from the period where they were really on good form. This isn’t too gory or thrillers – it’s a good mystery that runs nicely alongside the ongoing story strands for the main characters. I’ve read these wildly out of order, but this is the seventh in the series that I’ve read and they’re a very easy way to pass a few hours. And of course this has the added bonus of being set at Christmastime – and we’re just days away now.

Christmas in Paradise and the rest of the series are in Kindle Unlimited, which means they’re off the other digital platforms at the moment – unless you want the audiobook. But if you’re a KU member, it’s an ideal time to binge!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: Double Whammy

As mentioned yesterday, most of my books last week were to help finish my Read the USA challenge for the year. And among them were a bunch of books that were first in series and a couple that were pitching themselves at people who like the Stephanie Plum series. And today’s pick is one of them.

Davis Way has just landed a new job: working for the Bellissimo Casino’s security team. But when she starts work, she soon runs into her ex-husband, her doppelgänger and a rigged slot machine game. Investigating what is going on sees her stuck behind bars and struggling to clear her name, until her landlord rides to the rescue. But can they figure out who is trying to frame Davis and will they be able to clear her name?

So there’s a lot going on in Double Whammy, and you’re going to have to suspend your disbelief a little. Well a lot. Also it maybe helps if you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of how casinos work and the rules about them in the US. It’s also doing a lot of series set up so expect to meet a lot of characters to keep track of. And it moves fast. There’s a lot of plot. But I enjoyed it as long as I didn’t think too hard about any of it! Davis is an interesting mix of smart and stupid, she’s quite snarky and can be a bit mean at times but I liked what the book was trying to do.

This first came out a few years back and started as Henery Press series from that era when I was having so much luck with their books. Looking back at my goodreads I see I read book six back in 2017 and enjoyed it but thought I was missing a lot of backstory that would have made me enjoy it more. The double cover here is because I discovered I had an earlier edition on my Kindle already when I borrowed the latest one from Kindle Unlimited and it grouped the two of them together on my iPad! I assume I bought the first.l book after I read book six, meaning to go back to the start and then promptly got distracted and forgot about it. Gretchen Archer has written ten books in this series now and all but the newest one are in KU at the moment, so once I’ve sorted out this pesky reading challenge I intend to read book 2 to see what happens next. And then who knows what might happen!

So as mentioned the Double Whammy is in Kindle Unlmited at the moment, which means it’s not on other vendors in ebook. I can see Amazon offering a paperback version, but I have no idea what sort of edition that is, and I’ve never seen one of these in a store in the UK (or the US when I was out there) so I suspect ebook is going to be the way forward.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Basket Case

As we hurtle towards the end of the year, this week’s book of the Week is the first in a cozy crime series that I picked up as part of my fifty states challenge for the year. Technically I finished it on Monday, but a lot of the other stuff I read last week was from series I’ve written about before – or didn’t like enough to write about.

Leslee Nix – Nixy to her friends – goes to Lilyvale to check in on her aunt. One of the local detectives has been calling her after a series of kitchen explosions at Aunt Sherry’s house and he wants Leslee to go and find out what’s going on before officials have to take more notice. Aunt Sherry shares her house with five friends – who call themselves the Silver Six. When Sherry arrives in town, she finds them in the midst of hosting a craft fair, with products that they’ve all made. But when a property developer who has been trying to bully Aunt Sherry into selling her house turns up dead, Nixy finds herself investigating to try and clear her aunt’s name.

This has a lot of the cozy crime tropes – small town, a police detective who is interested in the heroine, a quirky group of friends and a hobby/pastime – in this case crafting of various kinds for the aunts. The mystery is quite a good one – the victim is a horrible person so there are plenty of suspects and Nixy being new in town makes her snooping easier and explains why everyone has to tell her all about themselves. It is doing a fair bit of set up introducing the characters as the first in the series, but it’s actually relatively late in the book that it starts dealing with Nixy needing to stay in town – rather than returning to her job at an art gallery in Houston. And even writing that I think you’re probably going to have an idea how that’s going to work! There are a few bits that are a little bit mad, and there are two characters who confusingly had the same first name which threw me when the second one turned up late on, but all in all a fun way to spend a few hours and I’ll pick up the next one so that I can see what happens next.

I bought my copy in paperback from Amazon, but as it’s a US mass market paperback, I suspect that’ll probably be the only place you can get a physical copy. But it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, memoirs, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Educated

Well. I’m going to preface this with a Not For Everyone warning, and I’m going to depart from my recent well trodden path of crime and romance recommendations and go with a nonfiction memoir. And I’m only about four years behind, which is fairly par for the course for me to be honest as you all well know.

Educated is Tara Westover’s memoir about growing up in a doomsday prepping, fanatically religious household in Idaho and about how she struggled free. Her father is convinced that the end of days is coming, and that the government is plotting against him. This means that Tara is home schooled, but home school actually often involves working in the family junkyard. Her father also doesn’t believe in doctors or the medical profession in general and so injuries and illnesses go untreated. Eventually Tara manages to escape to university and finds herself in a world that she is ill equipped to deal with and lacking basic knowledge that others take for granted. But conflict with her family remains and she has to find a way to navigate that.

This needs all the warnings. I don’t think it’s giving too much to say that there is an incredible amount of violence in this – and whatever injuries you’re imaging went untreated, you are not imagining anything bad enough. I had been warned by my sister and I still wasn’t prepared. So go into this expecting: child abuse, child neglect, sibling violence, bullying and pretty much any behaviour that triggers a mandatory child protection referral if a teacher were to suspect it was going on. But of course Tara wasn’t in school so, yeah. It just goes on.

But if you want to know more about survivalists and some of the extremes of some of the offshoots of Mormonism then this will give you that. And some. Tara Westover has built a fresh life for herself and, spoiler alert, has managed to build healthy relationships – some of which are with some of her family. Unsurprisingly perhaps, her parents disagree with her descriptions of her childhood – and her mother has in fact written her own book in response to this, which she has self-published and in doing so has given all the real names of the people who Tara had given pseudonyms to. If you fancy an interesting half hour, after you have finished Educated, you can go and read the reviews of that on goodreads. I’m not sure you need to do any more than that because I think you’ll be able to draw your own conclusions from that.

Now I’m fairly sure my copy of Educated came from NetGalley, but so long ago now that it’s not even funny. You can get Educated everywhere. It has been on all the lists, been recommended by everyone who you could want to recommend it. I’ve seen it in pretty much every bookshop and some supermarkets too. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Love Hypothesis

I read a lot of books on holiday last week including a lot of mysteries but breaking with recent trends I’m going for a romance novel. But as I said yesterday there were lots of things I want to talk about, so I suspect you’ll be hearing about more of them soon anyway.

Olive needs to convince her best friend that she’s over her ex (because her best friend fancies him and won’t date him until Olive has found someone else). Because they’re all PHD students, Anh is demanding empirical proof of this, so Olive has a bit of a panic and kisses the first man she sees. Unfortunately the man in question is Adam Carlsen – a rising star in the science world, a professor at the uni and also known as a tyrant towards his PHD students. But for some reason, he agrees to her proposal that he be her fake boyfriend. But the more time they spend together, the more Olive finds that she may actually quite like him. But that wasn’t the deal was it? But what really is going on between them – and can it survive a science conference where Olive’s career takes a bit of a turn?

Goodness me I love a fake relationship romance and this one works really well. It’s all told from Olive’s point of view, which I wasn’t expecting, but it means that you *think* you know what’s going on with Adam, but you’re never quite sure. I don’t know a lot about the world of academia, but I did like the fact that the book explicitly addressed the issues of a relationship between teacher and a student and spelled out the reasons why it was ok and what they had done about it. I was worried for a little while that the denouement was going to rely on a Stupid Misunderstanding or People Not Having Basic Conversations which are two of my pet peeves in the romance genre, but it doesn’t and it’s actually really neatly done. I raced through it in an evening and was really sad when it was over. I was always an arts and languages person at school and not a STEM one, so I loved the details about what it’s like working in labs and working in higher levels of academia. This is Ali Hazelwood’s debut novel and I am really looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

My copy of The Love Hypothesis came from the library, but it’s out now in paperback, Kindle, Kobo and audiobook. The paperback isn’t showing any click and collect on Foyles’ website, so I suspect it may be an order it in thing – at the moment at any rate. One last thing: helpfully there are some content warnings for the book on Ali Hazelwood’s website – mild spoilers ahoy.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: Murder in the Basement

Another week, another British Library Crime Classic pick. I’m not going to apologise though because they’ve got seem to have changed their Kindle Unlimited selection and you have to take advantage of that while you can!

Murder in the Basement opens with a newly married couple moving into their first house together and promptly discovering a corpse being in the cellar. It has been there for some time and Chief Inspector Moresby’s first task is to figure out who it is. The first section of the book deals with the routine police work necessary to try and identify a body in pre-DNA times. When Moresby discover it, the reader is still left in the dark – you know it is a woman who worked at a school – but not which one. The next section of the story is a book within a book as you read the novel that Moresby’s friend Roger Sheringham wrote while working at the school and try to figure out who the victim is. And then the final section features the attempt to prove a case against the Very Obvious Suspect.

Now if I’ve made that sound complicated, I apologise but do go with me – it makes much more sense when you read it and it really is very cleverly put together and out of the ordinary for Golden Age crime novels. This is only my second Anthony Berkeley and from what I can deduce from my review of the other one I didn’t like that anywhere near as much as this one. I can’t quite work out whether part of my delight in this is because I love a boarding school story so much that seeing the seething rivalries between the teachers in the book within a book really really works for me, but it may well have something to do with it. Moresby and Sheringham are both interesting characters and the resolution is somewhat unexpected. Definitely worth a look – especially if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member.

And if you aren’t a Kindle unlimited person, the kindle edition isn’t too much to buy or you could just get the paperback. I assume the Kobo edition will reappear when it rotates out of KU.

Happy Reading!