Back with another documentary this week – this time a film about the band Sparks – namely brothers Ron and Russel Mael. If you’re not sure who they are, the song that you’re most likely to recognise is This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us:
The brothers first formed a band in the mid 1960s but broken through nearly a decade later in the mid 1970s and have been constantly producing music and evolving ever since, whether people have been watching or not – and some times people really haven’t been watching. But they have a lot of high profile fans. Don’t believe me? Watch the trailer:
Directed by Edgar Wright (yes him from Hot Fuzz) this is a two and a bit hour love letter to one of pop’s most enigmatic bands. Who are still enigmatic at the end of the film, but you’ve really enjoyed watching them go through their career and making music. The film is structured by working it’s way through the bands albums and what was going on in the band at the time. But only in the band. I still don’t know if the brothers have partners, or kids or anything. But I do know that Ron has a very cool and very retro car.
It’s also totally notable that although many other musicians have joined them in the band at various points only to be jettisoned as the brothers moved on, lots of them appear in the film and seem to be absolutely fine about it. In fact Ron and Russel are often described as gentlemen and a joy to work with. So not your normal music documentary on that front either.
Maybe it could have been shorter, but why wouldn’t you want to include puppets and incredibly literal props and visual gags. It’s just a lovely way to pass the time, and you’ll end up listening to a Sparks playlist afterwards. I’ve even included on for you so you don’t have to go looking for it. You’re welcome. The Sparks Brothers is on Netflix in the UK. Enjoy.
Now you’ve seen a couple of these on the lists already. Bloodlust and Bonnets was a BotW and came on the same trip to the comic bookshop as Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron and Heartstopper part 1. Inverts is from That Trip To Foyles and The Setup is the book launch I went to the other week. Then we have another Persephone pick, the next library lover mystery because I read the one I ordered last month and my nice signed preorder of the Reverend Richard Coles murder mystery. Not a bad haul in all really!
The new Lady Hardcastle book came out last week and I’ve just finished it so it seems like an ideal week to feature the series here!
These are Edwardian-set mysteries, following the widowed Lady Hardcastle and her lady’s maid. Lady Emily is in her forties and spent most of her marriage abroad with her husband who was in the diplomatic service. She moved to the countryside with the faithful Florence hoping for a quiet life – but they keep stumbling across murders! The books are written in the first person from Florence’s point of view and this gives you a fun perspective on the somewhat eccentric and very headstrong Emily. As you go through the series you discover more about what the two women got up to abroad, which explains why they’re good at solving murders. And the core duo get some regular assistants as the books go on too.
The duo live in the Gloucestershire and their village and the surrounding area provides the settings for the various murders so that it doesn’t seem like the Edwardian version of Midsummer! The series are fun, lightly comic, easy to read, very bingeable and the Edwardian setting makes a change from the various Victorian and 1920s series that are more common.
With the latest release, there are eight books in the series, with a ninth already planned for the autumn. As you can see from the picture, I own a couple and then they’re all in Kindle Unlimited at the moment – so perfect for a binge. And if you’re not in KU, they are somewhat of a bargain at the moment: books one and two are 99p (or free in Kindle Unlimited) A Quiet Life in the Country is the first and In the Market for Murderis the second.
Something a bit different today – and I’ve been watching the TV adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s novel Magpie Murders. I read the book back when it first came out and I really enjoyed it – but had no idea how they would manage to turn it into a TV series, so I got myself a Britbox subscription especially to watch it!
In case you haven’t read the book, a reminder of the plot: Susan Ryeland has been editing the Atticus Pünd novels for years. The series’s author, Alan Conway is not her favourite person, but she puts up with him because the series has been incredibly popular with fans of the Queens of Crime. But when she reads the latest manuscript, not only is the end missing, but she’s convinced that Conway has hidden another story within his new novel.
Now, what the book blurb doesn’t tell you, but the TV trailer does, is that Alan Conway ends up dead and that as she searches for the missing chapter, she’s also trying to figure out who killed him. I had no clue how they were going to make this work on screen because of the book-within-a-book nature of the story but it really clicks – with cast doubling their roles and different filters on the camera to make it even easier to tell the two apart – as well as the different costumes for the different time periods. I was a bit sceptical about whether the adaptation really needed six parts but it turns out that it sort of did – because there is a lot of plot with two parallel mysteries to a solve and not a lot to cut. Anthony Horowitz has adapted this himself from his novel -and it really works. As you can see from the trailer, a lot of the cast play two roles – the real people who knew Alan and their fictional equivalents in the book.
There are a lot of familiar faces in the cast and the performances are great. Lesley Manville makes a great Susan – tenacious about trying to find the missing chapter of the book, but guarded and prickly about her personal life. I’m not a Game of Thrones viewer, so I’m not sure I’d seen Conleth Hill in anything before I saw him in Holding, and then here he is again in this turning in another great – but very different – performance. I really hope they do the second in the series, The Moonflower Murders, and I also really hope that Horowitz writes a third. He does have two meta-murder mystery series though, and he seems to be doing more with the Hawthorne books – which is even more meta as a fictional version of Horowitz is in that one. I really can’t imagine how they would do a TV version of that. But I said that with the Atticus Pund series, so what do I know! There is a fourth Hawthorne book coming this summer which I’m already looking forward to reading.
As I said at the top, this one is on Britbox, which you can get direct from them or as an add-on to an Amazon Prime subscription. You get a seven days free trial, and there are a couple of other Britbox originals that I fancy having a look at, so I’ve gone beyond the trial for now!
Yes, this was meant to have more than two books in it. Yes, I’ve been working on this for a while. Yes, it’s because I’ve been on a binge of re-reading old favourites and not reading a lot of non fiction. And then I used it for a book of the week. Looking at you Ask a Historian. So I’m going with the two, and then I will endeavour to pull myself together.
Worn by Sofi Thanhauser*
This is an interesting but also quite depressing look at clothing and the way that it is produced today. From fast fashion to microplastics and more, it covers all the issues that you know about from modern discourse about sustainability and clothes, but also explains the history of everything and how we got to this point. After reading it, I’m not sure that there is any fabric that isn’t in some way problematic and that it’s harder than I thought to be sustainable in your clothing choices. There aren’t a lot of solutions to that presented here – but as it’s a history of clothing perhaps that’s not a surprise!
Agatha Christie’s Poirot by Mark Aldridge
This is a really quite nifty look at Poirot through the ages, but manages to do that without actually giving away who any of the murderers are! I certainly hadn’t realised before reading this how long a duration the Poirot books were written over and that Christie kept him contemporary to when she was writing, rather than when she had started writing them. I suspect this is probably because I read a lot of these when I was in my early teens after watching some of the TV versions (which stay static in the inter war period) so didn’t notice/realise the time period differences in the books. I also enjoyed seeing the way that Poirot has been adapted for other mediums – and how many more of them there were than I was aware of, despite the fact that I’ve watched quite a lot over the years!
Voila. I have read some memoirs as well, but they sort of deserve there own post…
Last week it was a graphic novel, this week it’s a middle grade novel, I’ve got mystery book posts planned and all sorts for June. I really am giving you the full range this month aren’t it!
Amy Makechnie’s The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair is about a ten-year-old girl who moves to Iowa to try and help her mother’s recovery from a brain injury that has left her unable to remember anything past the age of 13. Crow is where her parents grew up and Jed is desperately hoping that coming back will jog Vienna’s memories. Gwyn and her little sister Bitty are used to the bright lights of New York, so small town life comes as a bit of a shock to them, especially their new neighbour Gaysie Cutter. They soon make friends with Gaysie’s son Micah and his friend Jimmy, but they also discover that Gaysie was friends with their parents when they were at school. When Gaysie’s only friend, farmer Wilbur Truesdale, goes missing Gwyn is determined to solve the mystery but she may also find out more than she wants to know about her parents’ past.
Because of Jed’s absence and the age of Gwyn’s grandmother, the children are able to spend a lot of time running around outside without a lot of adult supervision. This gives the story an almost out of time feel – except for the references to current pop culture. The neighbourhood is full of interesting characters for Gwyn to met and things for her to try and work out. Gwyn has decided that she wants to be a lawyer and she is obsessed with finding out people’s stories, but often jumps to the worst possible conclusions (which is understandable given what has happened to her family) but also isn’t actually very good at asking the right questions or showing empathy to people. She wants to solve problems because there is one big problem that can never be solved – Vienna:
Gwyn calls her mum Vienna – because she’s not a mum to her because of her injury. Her dad is obsessed with trying to find a cure for her but as you go through the book you realise that what is initially described as memory loss is actually not amnesia, but massive and irreversible brain damage. Gwyn knows this. Gwyn’s grandmother knows this, everyone in town knows this – even if they’re not saying it – but Jed thinks a miracle is possible, because Vienna has survived this far. This all means that Gwyn is older than her years in someways, but she has her own trauma from what happened to her mum. She’s taken on the role of her sister’s protector, but she can’t see when she is hurting other people’s feelings – most notably when she is throwing herself into what she has decided is a murder investigation- heedless of Micah and Jimmy’s feelings.
Looking through the reviews and blurbs for this, I can see comparisons to To Kill A Mockingbird and I can sort of understand that – small town, weird neighbours, gang of roaming children – but there are a lot of differences too. Lots of things about Gaysie Cutter do remain unexplained, but she is a much more visible character than Boo Radley is, and you can often see glimpses of what is going on and understand her a little bit, even if Gwyn can’t.
It’s a really interesting read – and I’ve just realised that I’ve got this far without even mentioning that Gwyn has a pet cow, or the Big Peril at the end. It even made me get a bit teary eyed. And I’m still thinking about it, a couple of days on from finishing it, which is a recommendation in itself.
Anyway I read this in paperback (as you can see from the photo!) but it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo. I bought my copy online a so I’m not sure how easy it will be to find in stores – but I suspect it will be tricky as I can’t find it at all on Foyles website… But if you do happen across a copy it’s worth it.
Well, what a crazy busy week. I had two nights in London – which included my trip to Ben de la Creme – and then a book launch on Thursday night for Lizzy Dent’s The Set Up. Then we went out for dinner on Friday, we had a busy weekend with my sister and her partner visiting from Carlisle and lunch out and a car show with them and my dad on Sunday. And all the usual work stuff too. Is it any wonder the list is shorter than usual?!
Friday marked 100 years since the birth of Judy Garland, so I’m going all Hollywood again here today.. When we went to Wicked earlier in the year, I had a moment as it started where I wasn’t sure if our nieces had seen the Wizard of Oz – but when I checked at the internal they had, so I think it’s still impossible not to have seen a little of her work.
And although you might first encounter her as a child in The Wizard of Oz, if as you grow up you start wandering into Hollywood history (or maybe even if you don’t!) you soon discover the troubled life – the child star whose life was wrecked by her fame and career. She’s not the first troubled child star, but she’s the one who everyone remembers – the drugs she got hooked on after the studio gave them to her to keep her thin, give her energy to work or get her to sleep after work, the troubled personal life, the early death. It all over shadows the actual talent. I’ve put the Get Happy clip in here as well as the Wizard of Oz trailer because people forget that she did upbeat.
And of course there’s so much Garland-related media to consume. Rufus Wainwright is doing his Judy show again this week for the anniversary – I’m still hopeful that one day I will manage to see him do it live, but I’ve listened to the CD to death (yes, I’ve had it that long).
Then of course there’s the plays and movies. I still haven’t watched Renee Zelwegger in Judy, but I did see Tracie Bennett in End of the Rainbow when that was touring and it was really quite something. The clip from the Tony Awards really doesn’t do it justice at all.
And then I was in the Royal Albert Hall for the John Wilson Movie Musical Prom where Caroline O’Connor did this amazing version of The Man That Got Away.
I’ve only watched the 1954 Star is Born once – because as we all know I’m all about the upbeat, but Garland is amazing in it and I still don’t know how she didn’t win the Oscar – and the story about the cameras coming to her hospital room (she’d just given birth) to film her in case she won breaks my heart every time. And The Man That Got Away lost the best song prize too – to a song I’ve never heard off. What a swizz.
In terms of reading material – after all this is a book blog – I read Get Happy by Gerald Clarke more than a decade ago and it’s still considered to be the definitive one so that’s worth a look if you’re interested. But if you don’t want 500 whole pages, she’s Chapter 10 in Anne Helen Petersen’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood as part of the Broken by the System section. And she gets a few mentions (as an example) in Helen O’Hara’s Women vs Hollywood too if you want to read about the bigger picture of Hollywood being awful to women.
But let’s end on the woman herself performing and not on the sadness. I’ve picked the Trolley Song from Meet Me In St Louis, because it’s upbeat and because Judy said that this film, directed by Vincente Minnelli who she went on to marry, was the first time she had ever felt beautiful. Which is sad, but she does look amazing in this film and I’m glad she could see it.
One of my frequent refrains over the last two years has been that I don’t know if various books I’ve been recommending will be easy to find in bookshops or not, so being in the vicinity of Foyles earlier this week I thought I would take the opportunity to see what was around and available and write about it!
Let’s start with the pride themed window display, which is actually the last photo I took – after they chucked me out at closing time! Bad Gays getting plenty of promotion – it’s got a table inside too, and if it hadn’t been a hardback I would have probably bought it, the blurb was intriguing. But I had already decided that I only had space in my suitcase for a paperback at most, so it will have to wait.
I was delighted to find Martha Wainwright’s memoir so nice and prominent – and signed. If I’d known it was going to crop up signed, I might have waited to buy it, I’ve only ever seen her playing small venues – audiences in the low hundreds – so I had no sense of how well it was going to do or how easy it would be to get hold of so I preordered it because preorders are important. And to be fair, she signed my ticket at when I saw her live, so it’s not like I don’t have an autograph already and if I really want the book signed I can take it with me when I see her live in the summer and see what happens!
And I was also delighted to see A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting, because that was another one where I couldn’t tell ahead of time whether it would get a push here. And in years gone by it probably wouldn’t have, but Bridgerton has made such a difference to Historical Romance sales in the UK. I saw my first Julia Quinn as one book in a much bigger Waterstones window display back in my Southend days more than a decade ago, and I’m so used to needing to order them in – initially in US editions, and then preordering the UK editions because they were never in shops if you went in on the off chance – that it’s still a surprise and delight to see them front facing in the main section of the store. And Lady’s Guide… also has a different style of cover to the half headless lady clutching an entirely headless gentleman and it’s variants that we’re getting on so much at the moment because that’s what the latest editions of the Bridgerton series have…
And this was the other non fiction hardback that seriously tempted me. As you can’t help but know at this point, I’ve read a lot of history books about the interwar period and Nancy Cunard is in so many of them. But I have an Anne de Courcy paperback still waiting to be read on the shelf, so I will try and be good and wait until the paperback comes out (because they get read sooner anyway) or maybe I’ll put it on the prospective Christmas book list!
And finally, I loved this display for the colours and the range of authors in it. I haven’t read any of Anthony Horowitz’s James Bond novels, but I have read several of his own series – and reviewed them too (Moonflower Murders for example). I’ve got a signed copy of the Richard Coles ordered from Big Green Books or I would have been tempted by that one too. I’ve read some Emma Straub before, but this one is sort of time travel or sliding doors-y if that makes sense, and I don’t usually do well with do-your-life-over books so I’ll wait and see on this one. The covers on the other two were just so pretty I had to pick them up and see what they are. The House with the Golden Door is the second in a planned trilogy about Pompeii so that was relatively easy for me to resist – I have a poor record on books set before 1300 let alone in the first century and when you know a volcano eruption is coming! But The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley sounds like interesting eighteenth century magical realism with an unusual setting, so it has gone on The List.
And what did I end up buying? Well I did think about keeping you in suspense until books incoming, but I’m not that mean.
I loved the cover design, and the blurb sounded right up my street – a 1920s setting and a plot around a lavender marriage so the main characters can do what they want. I hadn’t heard of it before I saw it in the display so I have no idea what I’m letting myself in for or what the reviews say. I read the first few pages in the shop but that was it because it was suddenly five minutes to closing time and I had to run to the till to pay!
Yes I know I’ve already done a whole post of books on offer this week, but I spotted this one after I’d written the June Discounts post– and it inspired me to write a whole post. And yes, Villiers got a mention in the Reformed Rakes Recommendsday, but the rest of the series weren’t as good value at that point or I’d have done them a post of their own before this!
These are Georgian-set romances – which is an earlier and naughtier time than the Regency. In Georgette Heyer terms, we’re Masqueraders and These Old Shades sort of times, in fashion (as you can see from the cover pix) it’s bodices to the actual waist rather than the Empire-lines of Bridgerton. Kiera Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice rather than Jennifer Ehle. In trope terms we’ve got a several already married couples among the duchesses with a variety of issues, as well as a cross dressing plot, so some of my favourite things. And then there is Villiers – as previously mentioned, the rake of rakes who gets his book at the end of the series when you’ve had time to watch him develop.T
These were written in the late 2000s – and the first four got a UK release, making them on of the first series I discovered when rampaging through my local library in search of more books like Julia Quinn. So if you’ve read the Bridgerton books after watching the Netflix series, these were written around the same time and gave the same sort levels of heat. There were six books in the initial Desperate Duchesses series, but there’s a spin off Desperate Duchesses By Numbers that Amazon and Kindle count as the same series but is a second generation so if you like them, there are 9 to binge on – and if you read the first six, you’ll figure out whose second generation it is and who you’ll get to see again. I think the later ones are slightly more steamy, but still fairly restrained by the levels you see in contemporary romance novels written at the same sort of time.
Hilariously you can chart the progress of historical romance availability by looking at how I consumed this series: I read the first four from the library, I own three in the American step back editions – the final two because they weren’t available in the UK in paperback or on kindle and Duchess by a Night because it was my favourite of the first four and I wanted to read it again and had moved away from the library service who had copies. And when I ordered it, the copy that turned up was the US version not the UK one. And then I have the Desperate Duchesses by Numbers on the kindle because that had changes by the time they came out!
Anyway, if you want to start a binge, Desperate Duchesses – aka the first book in the series is on offer for 99p on Kindle and the rest of the early books in the series are also quite cheap right now.