tribute

VE Day 75

So today marks 75 years since VE Day and the end of the Second World War in Europe. The world is upside down at the moment, and although we have a bank holiday here in the UK today plans for big events to celebrate this have been shelved, for obvious reasons. This morning I was hanging out of the attic window trying to spot the Red Arrows flying over on their way home after their central London flyover and then I watched (and observed) the two minute silence at 11 am.

I was going to write a post full of World War Two reading recommendations for today, but it didn’t really feel right. Instead, I want to ask you to be kind to yourself, to your family and to your friends; and to take a bit of time if you can to remember all the people who served or contributed to the war effort. I have been thinking mostly about my grandfathers today, and I wanted to share a bit about them with you.

Black and white photo of Douglas Ward in army uniformThis first photo is my Grandpa on my mum’s side, Douglas Ward. He was in the Royal Engineers, worked on the railways (including on the Hush Hush train and on the Mallard) and helped build components for the Mullberry harbour that towed across the Channel to Arromanches, then he landed on the beaches on D Day and went on across Europe to Hamburg where he worked on boats at the docks. Mum still has his army book because he was never properly demobbed. It shows if he hadn’t been released for essential work – to go back and take over as chief engineer at the factory he worked in pre-war – he would have been posted to the Far East. He went on to be the chief engineer at a number of shoe factories in Northampton. We lived next door to him and my grandma for most of my childhood (my parents live in my grandparents house now) and he hardly ever talked about the war. But he was very proud of being a Royal Engineer and the skills that he learned.

Photo of RAF service ment

Crouching down in the middle of this photo is my other grandad, Ivor Wilde. I know even less about what he was up to during the war because he died when I was a baby. But I do know that he was in the RAF and served in India. The photo below is of him and my granny. They got married during the war, and my dad’s older sister was born in 1946. My grandad went on to be a farmer, stand as a candidate to be an Member of Parliament and eventually set up a fencing company which is still in the family today. I wish he’d been around a bit longer for me to get to know him the way that I knew my other grandpa.

Photo of my grandad with my granny during the war

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope everyone is enjoying the bank holiday. Stay safe and happy reading.

 

 

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from April

Another month is over, so here’s the latest selection of mini reviews – these are for books that I enjoyed in the previous month, but which I haven’t already talked about. Two of these are new releases that I got from NetGalley (they have the asterisks) the other is one I bought for myself after seeing other people recommend it. If you want a physical copy of these – and Mooncakes is only available as a physical copy – then please get in touch with your local independent bookseller – or in the case of Mooncakes your local comic book store.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

paperback copy of Mooncakes

A graphic novel to start – Mooncakes is a YA fantasy story about a magic and witches and first love. Set in New England, when Nova Huang follows reports of a white wolf one night she discovers her childhood crush Tam Lang battling a horse demon. With the help of her grannies and the spellbooks from their bookshop, the two are soon trying to defeat the dark forces that threaten their town – but also discovering that they still have feelings for each other. I loved the artwork for this as well as the story – it really worked for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan in me. I see on Goodreads it’s getting a “people who read this also read…” to Pumpkinheads, but I think it would also work for fans of Lumberjanes who are a little older – either grownups like me or teens who have aged out of middle-grade. As I said at the top, this is only available as a paperback – so no ebook links here I’m afraid.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healy*

Cover of The Animals at Lockwood Manor

Need some creepy gothic fiction set in World War 2? Well maybe try this: it’s summer 1939 and Hetty Cartwright has been entrusted with evacuating the natural history museum’s collection of mammals to keep them safe from the looming war. But when she gets to Lockwood Manor where she will stay to look after them, she discovers a very strange household indeed.  Lord Lockwood is short-tempered and unpredictable, his daughter is friendly towards Hetty but clearly troubled and the servants really don’t like the large collection of taxidermy that they’re now having to help look after. And then things start moving, and then going missing altogether. But for all the talk of ghosts and haunting, that sort of thing isn’t real is it? This has a lot of themes in it that I like – women trying to make their way in a world built for men, big country houses, the time period (and a gorgeous cover) – but the pace was a bit slow for me. Other people whose opinions I respect haven’t had that problem though so I’m still happy recommending it. This came out in March in hardback and ebook (Kindle/Kobo) and audiobook.

Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert*

Cover of Unflappable

Are you one of the many people who’ve been watching Tiger King in lockdown? I have and that’s exactly why I requested this from NetGalley. Luna Burke is on the run. Her estranged husband has stolen a bald eagle from a wildlife sanctuary and she’s determined to steal it back from his private zoo and get it to safety in Canada where it can be reunited with its mate. This is classed on Goodreads under chick lit and romantic comedy but I actually think it’s trying to be an adventure caper – there’s certainly not a lot of romance in it. But whatever it is a story featuring craziness from wildlife rescuers is perfectly timed at the moment. I didn’t think it was entirely successful – better in the idea than the excecution – but there are enough people on Goodreads who’ve loved it that I think it might work better for other people.  One thing is for sure though: the plot seemed a lot less far-fetched than it would have done before I had watched the exploits of Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin! This one is a paperback original – but looks like it’s probably a special order from the states, so it’s probably easier to get the ebook – in Kindle or Kobo.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from April: Dead Famous, A Cowboy to Remember, Murder to Music and Death of a Demented Spiv, the blog tour post for Conjure Women, the Series I Love post for the Cazalets, my escapist coronavirus fiction suggestions and my #Recommendsday post for the Happy Valley Set.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Logging Off

There are Mini Reviews from April coming up tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s another BotW post. And for the second week running it’s not a mystery. Logging Off is a comedy but it does have romantic elements, so don’t panic, I’m not that far outside my current trends.

Cover of Logging Off
Andy Bellows has got a problem – he’s feeling awful. He’s got insomnia, anxiety and neck-ache, on top of the IBS he’s had for years. When he googles his symptoms, the internet convinces him that he’s got a fatal illness, so he heads to the doctors. But what the doctor diagnoses is an unhealthy reliance on the internet and modern technology and instead of getting a death sentence, Andy is prescribed a digital detox. He’s is convinced the doctor is wrong, but his best friend convinces him to give it a go. Soon Andy is trying to navigate the world the old-fashioned way and realising how different it is without a smartphone in his hand. But when a story about his detox appears in the local paper, he becomes a hero to other people who are worried they have the same problems – and suddenly Andy has a new problem to deal with. Will Andy ever be able to figure out how to balance his life?

It might seem a bit of a strange choice to pick a book about a digital detox at a time when most of us are using technology more than ever to keep in touch with family and friends, but this made me laugh so much that I couldn’t help myself. Admittedly it took me a little bit to get into – but I’m blaming that on the poo-splosion incident near the start, which was too close to humiliation humour for me* but that’s just me. Andy’s adventures without his phone were funny and relatable, the secondary characters are great and  I thought the resolution was really clever.  It also reminds you not to take what you see on the internet too seriously as a model for your own life and will make you think about your own technology consumption – especially if you’re reading it on a Kindle like I was – but in a good way not in a boring preachy way that will make you feel bad about it. I mean I work in a tech heavy and tech reliant job and I was definitely thinking “well at least I don’t do that” rather than “uh oh, I have a problem” while I was reading it.

This is the second Nick Spalding book I’ve read – I read Bricking It back in December 2015 and that was a BotW as well as getting a mention in my books about renovations post.  I’m not to sure why it’s taken me so long to read him again, because I really enjoyed that too. Four and a bit years ago, my main complaint with Bricking It (according to my Goodreads review)  was that the resolution was a bit too sudden, and this one doesn’t have that problem. There is a definite dilemma that Andy is going through and it resolves itself in stages – and you don’t really notice that it’s doing it until you realise that it’s done. Which is neat.

Anyway, this came out at the start of April, and I hope that the fact that everyone is stuck inside on their phones hasn’t discouraged people from buying it. My copy came from NetGalley, but you can get hold of it now on Kindle (it’s in Kindle Unlimited at the moment too!) or as a paperback or audiobook exclusively from Amazon.

Happy Reading!

*It’s hard to explain, but not good with humour based on embarrassment or humiliation. It’s why I struggle with Alan Partridge and The Office. They used to be one one after the other when I was at uni and I watched with my then boyfriend in the common room because everyone was and I didn’t want to be the boring one and I really struggled. When The Office Christmas Special was on, I watched it at home only to see if Tim and Dawn got a happy ending. To this day only you can make me come over all misty-eyed.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: April 27 – May 3

An interesting week in reading and an interesting week in general, which was somewhat derailed by a train failure on my way to work on Saturday – which not only made me late for work but also deprived me of an hour of reading time. Gah. On the brightside, I have a whole string of posts lined up for you because I had a rare burst of creativity in the middle of the week. I am almost pleased with myself.

Read:

False Value by Ben Aaronovitch

Staging is Murder by Grace Topping

Dimsie Moves Up by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

The Fall of the House of Byron by Emily Brand*

An Heiress to Remember by Maya Rodale

Logging Off by Nick Spalding*

Started:

Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen

Reticence by Gail Carriger

Defy and Defend by Gail Carriger

Still reading:

She-Merchants, Buchaneers and Gentlewomen by Katie Hickman

The Cuckoos of Batch Magna by Peter Maughan

Still not counting how many books I’ve bought, but Defy and Defend came out on Sunday, so how could I not, and a copy of the new Roasting Tin cook book also found it’s way to my house.

Bonus photo: My mum found my grandpa’s nail scissors being pressed into use this week to cut twine in the garden, and there is a family joke about them never being used for their proper purpose. It made me laugh last week, so here is a photo my mum took of them, with a mug for scale.

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley.

Surviving the 'Rona

Surviving Coronavirus: Kindle Unlimited

So I started a Kindle Unlimited trial at the back end of last year – the trial is about to end, so I thought now was a good time to do a little review, plus given the situation that we’re in at the moment, where people may have more time on their hands to read books but less money to spend on them, then it seemed like a good time to do a little recap. The first thing to note with this – as will any free trial – is that you need to diarise when you need to cancel your trial so that you don’t get charged if you don’t want to. I use Google Calendar for this – with a note on the actual date and a string of reminders ahead of time to make me do something. It’s also good if you have an annual subscription to something at a special rate that you want to haggle with to keep rather than pay the full price (hello New York Times). So my first point is that it’s only free if you remember to cancel it. And if you don’t cancel it, it’s only worth having if you are using it, so you need to work out a way of keeping track of what you’re reading. I’ve done this by creating a tag in Goodreads that I add to books from the service that I finish. It also really helped with writing this post!

Covers of Left-Handed Death, The Case of the Famished Parson, He Dies and Makes No Sign and The Colour of Murder

Next a quick primer for those who don’t know: how does Kindle Unlimited (KU) work? Well it’s a bit like a library – you can borrow up to ten books at a time from the included titles. And it’s super easy to know which titles are include because if you’re in the programme it’ll prioritise the option to read with Kindle Unlimited over the option to buy, and if you’re not in the programme it’ll be asking you if you want to read it for free by starting a trial. Once you’ve finished a book, you return it – and if you’re at the limit it’ll then let you borrow another one. If you belong to a library that does ebook loans via Libby this may sound familiar to you, but the difference is that the loans don’t have an expiry (you’ve got them til you give it back) and when you do give it back, it disapears from your Kindle completely – unlike libby loans which stay there and just tell you the loan has ended if you try to read it after the end of your loan.

Covers of Answer in the Negative, Murder in the Mill-Race and the Case of the Demented Spiv

So, how have I got on? So far (with about a week to go of the trial) Kindle Unlimited I’ve read 23 books and threehave them have been written about in Book of the Week posts (Murder by Matchlight – which also is about KU title Murder in the Mill Race), Answer in the Negative and Case of a Demented Spiv). I’ve also binged on a couple of series from Beth Byers – one of which I’m sure I’ll get around to writing about at some point soon. But it is a bit of a process of trial and error. Some of the stuff is really good, some of it is… less so. I’ve had a few total failures, but I’ve got better at working out from the description whether things are going to work for me or not.

Collage of my current KU titles

My perception before I tried the service was that it was mostly authors that I’d never heard over but there are some big names available – the Harry Potter books are currently in KU.  However I’ve found it’s particularly good for finding and trying forgotten Golden-Age Crime writers – as you may have noticed from the BotW. I’ve also found its handy to check back regularly to see if titles by authors you like have gone in (or out) of the programme. For example there is a different selection of George Bellairs novels available this week than there was last time I checked, there’s a  Molly Thynne novel now that wasn’t there when I checked when I returned the one I read last week. There’s a Rhys Bowen standalone novel currently available and there’s a rotating selection of British Library Crime Classics books available. I have had less sucess so far with romance and non-fiction, but perhaps that’s because I’ve read less of them using KU so far so the algorhythm isn’t suggesting the right things to me.

I still haven’t quite decided if I’m going to pay for it monthly – and if I do i’ll have to keep it under review to make sure I’m using it enough, because goodness knows I already have a lot of books to read, but I’ve enjoyed it while I’ve had it. If you’ve got KU, please put your recommendations in the comments!

Happy Reading!

books, stats

April Stats

New books read this month: 32*

Books from the to-read pile: 5

Ebooks read: 12

NetGalley books read: 9

Library books: 6 (all ebooks)

Non-fiction books: 6

Favourite book this month: False Value by Ben Aaronovitch or Dead Famous by Greg Jenner, I can’t decide!

Most read author: George Bellairs – four books

Books bought: still not counting. There are bigger problems to worry about

Books read in 2020: 129

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 561

As we all settle into the New Normal, things are starting to get a bit back to normal. I’m actually surprised at how much non-fiction I read this month, because in my head I was reading nothing but crime and romance. Turns out my head was wrong! Anyway, actually not a bad mix of stuff – across library books, actual books and genres!

Bonus picture: My hammock reading set up from last weekend when the weather was glorious…

*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels (3 this month)

 

book round-ups, historical, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: The Happy Valley Set

For this week’s Recommendsday, a post that has been some considerable time in the making, about books set in the Happy Valley in Kenya. Now between the World Wards, this particular patch of the British Empire was somewhat notorious for being a haven for rich people living scandalous lives, with spouse swapping, drugs and murder among the real life activities that went on.  So this postis basically historical rich people problems – fiction, non-fiction and barely fictionalised.  Given the difficult state of the world at the moment, I thought that spending some time among a gang of dissolute loafers in the mid-20th century might be a bit of a change. And as most of these are fairly modern, they have an eye on the fact that colonising places is not a good idea. This is a bit of mix of fiction and non-fiction, but I think it’s a nice introduction to the subject. I’ve tried to provide a bit of a guide as to how to lay your hands on these at the moment if you are so minded, but if you want a physical copy, obviously try your local independent bookshop first to see if they can get hold of them for you – they need your money more than the conglomerates do at the moment.

Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Cover of Spear of Summer Grass

Delilah Drummond’s family want her out of Europe after one scandal too many. She finds herself exiled to her favourite step-father’s house in Kenya.  What she finds there is a crumbling estate in a community of seething rivalries and intrigue.  Ryder White, a safari guide (of sorts), quickly catches her eye as not being quite like the rest of the colony.  But when an act of violence happens, will Delilah stick to her plan to leaving as soon as possible or has she discovered someone – or somewhere – that she can’t leave behind? I’ve written about Deanna Raybourn before – you can find posts about Veronica Speedwell here and here – but this is one of her standalone novels and as far as this post goes it is firmly in the fiction camp – I don’t think there are any real people here – but is clearly inspired by in what was really going on in colonial Kenya and what the Brits out there got up to. Delilah is engaging but self destructive and you spend a lot of time while reading it hoping that she doesn’t screw this up for herself.  I could happily have read another 100 pages. This one has the bonus of being on Kindle Unlimited at the moment – or £1.49 to buy on Kindle or Kobo.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen

Cover of Love and Death Among the Cheetahs

This is the thirteenth instalment in the Royal Spyness series and sees Georgie and her new husband honeymooning in Kenya’s Happy Valley. Now while I wouldn’t recommend starting the series here (you’ll miss all the drama in Georgie’s love life if you do), it would make a gentle introduction to the Happy Valley set. I thought Rhys Bowen did a really good job of writing about life in that little set while keeping it within the bounds of what regular readers of her series expect – which is not really sex and swingers.  While the antics might have been eye opening for Georgie, they were actually fairly subtle compared to some of what actually went on. This one is not cheap at the moment as it is the latest in the series and only out in hardback and ebook. The Kindle is £9.99 or £9.49 on Kobo, but I expect that might drop a little when the paperback comes out in July.

Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Cover of The Ashford Affair

I’ve written before about how much I liked Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, but she also does a very good line in standalone novels. This is a time-slip novel with dual narratives – one in the 1920s, the other in 1999.  Lawyer Clemmie finds herself poking around in her family’s history after a relative drops hints about a family secret at her grandmother’s 99th birthday party. It’s got Great War-era British high society, a grand country house, Kenya and modern day (ish!) Manhattan. I read it a couple of years back and liked it a lot – Ihink I even got a bit teary-eyed at the conclusioN.  You’ll find some similar themes here to the previous two but with the added bonus of more Britain in it – if you think that’s a bonus. This is an astonishing £10.44 on Kindle at the moment or a slightly better but still quite pricey £7.55 on Kobo. There are third party sellers on Amazon with secondhand hardback copies at a more sensible price though.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Cover of Circling the Sun

This is Happy Valley adjacent: a fictionalised version of the real-life story of Beryl Markham, who had an unconventional upbringing in Kenya and went on to be the first woman to break into several male dominated areas – the first to get a horse trainer’s licence, the first to get a pilot’s B Licence. But for all the independence of spirit that her Kenyan upbringing gave her, she struggled with relationships – and being entangled in the upper class expat crowd in Kenya (including the Happy Valley set) did not make for a peaceful, happy or harmonious personal life.  When I read it a couple of years ago, I thought enjoyed it, liked that didn’t feel like it was judging her – but it wasn’t entirely satisfying, mostly because I felt like I was missing some key background – I think the author assumed that everyone has read (or knows about) Out of Africa (which I hadn’t at the time) so I was sometimes at sea with the complicated comings and goings of Karen Blixen and her crowd. This one is a few years old now as well so it’s £2.99 on Kindle or Kobo or Amazon have the paperback for £3.99.

The Bolter by Frances Osbourne

Paperback copy of the Bolter

The only proper non-fiction book on this list and this is on the bibliography at the end of the aforementioned Love and Death Among the Cheetahs because the titular Bolter – Idina Sackville – plays a role in the novel. This was my first introduction to the Happy Valley set back in my pre-Goodreads days, soon after it came out, and is still on my shelves (as the photo proves!).  The author is the subject’s great-granddaughter and makes use of family papers to tell Idina’s story.  Perhaps for that reason its not quite as salacious as you might expect, especially given that its subject was the inspiration for The Bolter in Nancy Mitford’s novels.  The Temptress by Paul Spicer looks at the Valley’s other Femme Fatale – Alice de Janze – I liked it but I didn’t think it was as successful as the Bolter, and felt more interested in the murder of the Earl of Errol at times than it was in Alice herself. This one is £4.99 on Kindle and Kobo, but I’ve seen second-hand copies in the charity shops around here fairly regularly if you can wait until they reopen.

Miscellaneous bits and bobs

The classic book in this area is obviously Isak Dinesen/Karen Blitzen’s Out of Africa. I’ve read it and I can see why it was such a big deal – and if you read all of these and are super keen on the subject, it’s definitely worth reading, but its not necessarily the easiest going and I preferred some of the others.

In the course of writing this and looking for other options I read Kat Gordon’s An Unsuitable Woman, which fell into the good in principle but not as good in the execution. This one features a young boy who goes out to Kenya with his family and gets caught up in a group of people inspired by the Happy Valley set. It’s got a readable style, but I wasn’t quite sure where it was going for most of the book – and couldn’t understand why the Scandalous Set took a 14-year-old boy into their gang to start with. And it had a really sudden plot development near the end that didn’t have enough time to properly play out. But if you’ve read all the rest of these and want some more – it’s an option!

Happy Reading!