Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books, reviews

Book of the Week: Smallbone, Deceased

So after a week of old favourite authors and only a few new things, I find myself back in the realms of classic mysteries for this week’s BotW pick.

So Smallbone Deceased is a murder mystery set in the offices of a firm of London solicitors. Horniman, Birley and Crane is a well established and prestigious firm – who have just lost their senior partner, Mr Horniman. Some weeks after his death, when his son has taken over his share in the firm, a body is discovered in a deed box and the firm is thrown into turmoil. Inspector Hazlerigg is sent to investigate what strongly seems to be an inside job, and receives some assistance from Henry Bohun, the newest solicitor of the firm – newly qualified and arrived after the body must have been placed in situe.

Michael Gilbert was a solicitor by training, and this is a wonderfully drawn picture of the characters of the law firm and the way the wheels of the legal profession turned in the late 1940s. I think I’ve mentioned before how much I like all the details about the advertising company in Dorothy L Sayers’s Murder Must Advertise, and this does the same sort of thing for a solicitors office. The mystery itself is very clever, although a little slow to get started, the pace picks up nicely and by the end its tense and fast paced as Hazlerigg and Bohun race around (not together!) trying to catch the killer.

I’ve read a lot of British Library Crime Classics now and written about a fair few of them here (like Murder by Matchlight, The Sussex Downs Murder and The Division Bell Murder). I find them such a reliable series for discovering new-to-me Golden Age murder mysteries. They may not all be to my precise taste, but they’re always well constructed – even in the ones when the writing style doesn’t appeal to me. And they also have a habit of rotating their titles through Kindle Unlimited so if you’re smart you can work your way through them quite nicely.

My copy came via the wonders of the aforementioned Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available to buy in the Crime Classics edition on Kindle for £2.99. Kobo has a slightly different looking version, for a slightly higher price. The Crime Classics version is also available in paperback – and if you get a big enough bookshop you should be able to get hold of it fairly easily. You could also buy it from the British Library shop direct – where they’re doing 3 for 2 on their own books so you could also grab

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light

The reading list yesterday was a little shorter than usual, and with some relistens and old favourites on it but the pick for today was actually easy because as I mentioned the new Helen Ellis essay collection arrived last week – and of course I read it!

Copy of Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light on a bookshelf

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light is a series of essays examining friendship between adult women and what it’s like to be a woman pushing 50. There’s stories of Middle Aged sex, a trip to a psychic and what happens when one of your friends has a bad mammogram. And there are so many characters: bridge ladies, cat lady plastic surgeons and platinum frequent fliers. It’s the first book in a while I’ve found myself reading bits of out loud to Him Indoors – and the first time in even longer that he didn’t tell me to shut up! Sample response: “is this real? Do her friends know she’s writing this?” (Answer: yes, and yes). It’s witty and wise and I want Helen Ellis to be my friend too.

I first discovered Helen Ellis through a proof copy on the Magic Bookshelf at work. The Magic Bookshelf is now a thing of the past, but when it existed it was a library trolley full of books that lived near the entertainment and arts teams. It had a label on it telling you that you could take them – as opposed to all the other bookshelves up there which has labels telling you absolutely not to take the books. It’s where I was introduced to Curtis Sittenfeld (via Eligible), Brit Bennet (The Mothers) and Lissa Evans (Crooked Heart) – all of whom are now on my preorder list because of the books I read from the shelf. I miss the shelf – because I wonder what I’m missing out on because I don’t stumble across new (to me) books there any more. But still, I already have more books waiting to be read than some people own to start with so I really can’t complain. Anyway, every now and again I recommend an essay collection. Yes, it’s often one from Helen Ellis, but if you like Nora Ephron, or fiction like Katherine Heiny, this is the essay equivalent. You’re welcome.

Here is a confession: I preordered this from Amazon, in hardback and it’s the American edition. That’s how much I love Helen Ellis. I regret nothing because it is wonderful. But that does mean it’s a little expensive and might be harder to get hold of over here for now at least. It’s available in Kindle and Kobo – at the pricier end of the e-book scale, and Foyles say they can get hold of it in a week, but I wouldn’t expect to find it in a store – not yet anyway.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: The Guncle

As I said yesterday, there were two books in contention for this, and to be honest the only reason I dithered about this is because the cover fits in better with the covers of the other books in the Summer Reading post than the others do. But I have more to say about this than a round up post will allow, even if there is a slight hiccup about how easy The Guncle is to get hold of in the UK at the moment.

When Patrick is asked to look after his brother’s kids for the summer he thinks it’s a terrible idea. He likes spending time with then when they visit him in Palm Springs, he likes being Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP!) but he’s not cut out for being in charge of them full time for weeks on end. But the kids have just lost their mum and their dad has problems of his own he needs to deal with, so he says he’ll do it – mostly because his sister thinks he can’t do it. But it turns out that a summer with them might be exactly what he needs as well as what they need. He’s been drifting since the end of the TV show he starred in and this might be the kick he needs.

This is Steven Rowley’s third book and I absolutely loved it. Patrick is funny and a bit broken and infuriating and endearing. Maisie and Grant just about hit the sweet spot for children in books – funny but not sickly or too good to be true. The relationship that the three of them build is a wonderful blend of exasperated and snarky and loving. This is a book about dealing with grief but it’s also campy and funny. The cover really captures the feel of it all. I haven’t read any of Rowley’s other books – and although Lily and the octopus has great reviews it sounds a bit too much like it’s going to break me for me to want to read it at the moment – but although this did give me the sniffles, the death is already over by the start of the book and there’s enough funny bits to keep it from being a four alarm snot bomb.

My copy of The Guncle came from the library, but it seems like it’s a tricky one to get hold of in the UK – Amazon only have a hardback copy that is priced like it’s a real import or a library edition (which ditto on the price), and Foyles and Kobo aren’t listing it at all. They do have Steven Rowley’s other books though, which is perhaps a sign that it’ll come along at some point later this year – as both Lily and the Octopus and The Editor have Kindle editions.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Empire of Pain

As I suspected yesterday, I finished Empire of Pain last night and it seems the obvious pick to write about even with that slightly cheaty caveat and joins the list of really very good narrative non-fiction books I’ve written about here – but rather than dealing with a tech startup squandering millions of dollars on something that doesn’t work (Bad Blood) or a business model they can’t get a profit from (Billion Dollar Loser), or the investigation into Harvey Weinstein (Catch and Kill) this is the story of the Sackler dynasty – the family behind Perdue Pharma.

If you’ve heard of Purdue Pharma, it’s probably as part of coverage into the opioid epidemic in the United States, as the company is behind the painkiller OxyContin. But until the last few years, you probably didn’t know that the Sacklers were the owners of the company. If you’d heard of them at all it was probably because of the galleries or museums or university departments named after them all around the world. But then a series of court cases accused Perdue and the family behind it of being the root cause of the opioid epidemic in the US. Patrick Radden Keefe started writing about the family in an article for the New Yorker, which has expanded into this look at the three generations of the family, how they made their money originally and their role in the modern world of pharmaceutical advertising that you see in the US today.

I first heard the Sackler name in connection with the opioid crisis when I was in Washington in the autumn of 2018 when the court cases and bankruptcy hearings are getting underway, and there have been plenty of articles and books since then about the crisis itself and its effect on communities across the country. But what Radden Keefe is doing here is looking at the family themselves and setting out the longer term picture – the way the Sackler family built their fortune and helped set up the conditions for the sale and marketing of OxyContin whilst keeping their name separate from the business but well known for philanthropy.

None of the family spoke to Radden Keefe for the book – and in his end notes he sets out the efforts that he took to try and secure an interview and the conditions they wished to impose on him in order for one to be granted. But he does set out how the book was fact checked and who he did speak to – over two hundred people on and off the record – with the on the record sources meticulously chronicles in end notes that take up nearly 20 percent of the kindle edition. He’s also made use of the mass of court papers, archival collections and Arthur Sackler’s own columns in the Medical Tribune. But he goes on to say that although there were almost too many documents for him to handle, there are still even more out there as the bankruptcy hearing could result in a repository of documents about Purdue running into tens of millions of papers. And the story isn’t over yet.

This is a long book (500+ pages on Kindle including those end notes) but if you’ve been following the opioid epidemic and the effect that it has had on the US – or even if you haven’t and have maybe only heard of OxyContin as a prescription pain pill that various celebrities have had issues with, this is worth the hours of your time.

My copy of Empire of Pain came from the library, but it’s out now in Kindle, Kobo and hardback. It should be fairly easy to find – Foyles have it on Click and Collect at six stores which is usually a good indicator. And if you’re wondering why Patrick Radden-Keefe’s name seems familiar – he’s written various books before as well as being a New Yorker writer, but he was also the host of the Winds of Change podcast that I wrote about in my Pandemic Podcast recommendation post.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, book round-ups

Book of the Week… or not

So. I said in yesterday’s post I didn’t know what I was going to write about today. And I didn’t. And I sat and stared at the list of things I read last week for a while and I still didn’t. And then I ended up writing this.

My favourite thing I read last week was probably The Game, but that’s the sixth in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series and I have a rule about books in series and you really will get the most out of that if you’re reading them in order. Also it’s not that long since I wrote about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – and I suspect the next stop on this journey is going to be a post about the series. So that rules that out. Side note: It’s one of those annoying ebooks where you can’t see a proper cover for it at the start of the book. Why do publishers do this to me?

I finished Theatre for Dreamers last week, but I hated almost everyone in it and I couldn’t work up the energy to write about them all. I originally bought it as a gift for mum and then when it arrived I read the start and realised that it wasn’t going to be for her. I was right. Good decision not to give it to her past Verity. But if you want to read about the writers’ and artists’ colony on Hydra in the early 1960s, go for it – it’s well written and it’s got Leonard Cohen in it, but it’s about as cheerful as one of his songs. Maybe by the time I have enough books for another Fictionalised Real People post, I’ll have mellowed on it a bit. At the moment I’m just annoyed at them all.

I went into A Few Right Thinking Men thinking (hoping?) it might fill the Phryne Fisher-shaped hole in my reading. And it is set in Australia, at a similar sort of time and with a hero with a monied background but more colourful and less conservative leanings, but whilst it does have a murder to solve, also gets very deep into the societal factions of conservatives and communists and to me felt like it tended more towards the thriller end of the spectrum and less towards the historical cozy one. It’s also less witty and fun than Phryne is and I’m not sure how much I liked any one in it. I might read some more, but I’ll need to be in the right mood.

The Larks of Jubilee Flats was a fun Career novel from the Girl’s Own era that I love, but it’s slight, and niche, and probably only of interest to a very small subset of people – many of whom were at the Bristol Conference with me a couple of years back. If you want to read a book doing a bit of not very subtle encouraging of young teen girls to have a bit of ambition (but only before they get married) and to Do The Right Thing, then it’s sweet but it’s also going to cost you at least £5 plus shipping for a book that took me less than an hour to read. Also, Covid scuppered the next edition of book conference both last summer and the rearranged date this year, so I have to wait another whole year before I get to go and play with the book people and spend all my money on obscure titles again.

And after that there was nothing else in the list that was nearly finished enough for me to kid myself I could get it read and count it on a technicality. So instead you get a couple of little summaries from me and a sheepish apology for having had a busy week and on top of that a sort of social life for the first time in a year. I’ll try and do better next week.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Second First Impressions

After yesterday’s little essay at the start of my Week in Books I feel a little bit like I’ve already talked way too much this week. But I’ve got plans in my head for a summer reading post and a couple of last weeks books are likely to feature in that. So this weeks BotW is a fun and frothy romance, perfect for reading any time of year, not just in a sunny garden in summer.

Ruthie has been working at Providence Retirement Villas for six years. That’s her whole adult life – and she’s turned the job into her entire life. She’s shrunk her world so that it revolves around the residents (human and turtles) and maintaining the place. She is nervous, risk averse, acts way older than her age and her latest fear is what the property developer who has just bought the site might do to up end her life. It turns out that the first thing he’s going to do is land Providence with his son. Teddy has run out of places to stay and needs to raise money for his share of the tattoo parlour he wants to open. He’s tall, dark and handsome – and dangerous for Ruthie’s self control. So she sets him up with the one job no one has ever lasted at: personal assistant to two rich, 90 year old trouble making ladies – who get most of their enjoyment from setting their assistants fiendish tasks. But Teddy looks set to be the one who stays the course – but is his charm for real or is is all just an act?

That’s quite a long plot summary and makes this sound way more complicated than it is. It’s a charming opposites attract romance with a sweet but wary heroine and a charming people pleaser hero who have to do a lot of figuring out about what they both want in life. The retirement village provides an excellent cast of supporting characters to make you laugh as you watch Ruthie and Teddy do some cautious getting to know each other. It does suffer a little bit from the end wrapping up too quickly (oh a common theme returns to my reviews) but I sort of forgive it because it was just so charming for the rest of the book. I’ve been hearing good things about Sally Thorne for a while, but this is the first time I’ve managed to get around to reading one of her books – even though I think I may own the Hating Game. I am annoyed that it’s taken me so long. But again: what is new there. In summary: charming escapist reading.

My copy of Second First Impressions came from the library but it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo and in (very expensive) hardback. No paperback (in the UK at least) until next year.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, literary fiction, new releases, Thriller, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Feast

Well it was actually a proper contest for BotW this week between this and the new Taylor Jenkins Reid book, Malibu Rising, but The Feast really impressed me and is definitely lower on the radar than the TJR. But I’m sure I’ll find a way to talk about that too – after all summer holidays are coming – theoretically at least, so perhaps there’s a sunlounger (in your garden if no where more exotic) reading post in my future!

Cover of The Feast

This one is really hard to summarise without giving too much away, and that would really ruin some of the enjoyment, but here goes: At the start of The Feast we hear about the Pendizak Manor Hotel, now buried under a collapsed cliff, with seven guests dead. The rest of the book is set in the week running up to that cliff collapse, which happened in the middle of summer 1947. You spend the book getting to know all the people who live and work at the hotel and the ins and outs of their lives. I went through the book wondering whether it was going to turn out to be a thriller, or a tragedy or something else – it’s a complete page-turner. And the characters, oh the characters. Of all of the adults, there’s really only Nancy who is sensible. The hotel is owned by a formerly genteel family fallen on hard times and who have turned the family home into a boarding house to try and make ends meet, and their guests tend to be people Mrs Siddal thinks are the “right sort” – although as you learn about them, you realise that “the right sort” may not be nice people at all…

The Feast was first published in 1949 and this is a new edition with an introduction from Cathy Rentzenbrink. Now I’ve been had by spoilers in introductions before so I deliberately skipped it before I read it so it wouldn’t ruin anything for me and I recommend you do the same because it really repaid me – both in reading the book the first time through and then when I read the introduction in giving me more layers and levels to think about. I read Margaret Kennedy’s more famous book, The Constant Nymph, a couple of years back and could see why it was influential, but didn’t love it – mostly because the characters were annoying but not in a so annoying you want to see them get their comeuppance sort of way – but with this lot, the ones that are annoying are really annoying, and you have the added suspense of whether they’re going to end up under the cliff or not! And on top of everything, the cover for this new edition is gorgeous too. I’m seriously tempted to get myself a physical copy.

Anyway, my copy of The Feast came from NetGalley, but this new edition is out now in paperback – Foyles appear to have copies at Charing Cross Road (and a couple of other London stores) and Bristol judging by their click and collect, so I’m hoping it’ll be fairly findable in the larger book stores. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo. Audible also appear to have a fresh version of it too – which is a bit tempting I have to say. The blurb describes this as “rediscovered” which suggests that it may not be that easy to find secondhand – the cheapest that aren’t this new edition all appear to be in the US (with the associated postage costs) so it might have to be an actual antiquarian/second hand bookshop rather than the charity shop if you want something older, but the introduction in this edition is a really nice touch – provided of course you don’t read it first!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, romance

Book of the Week: Wilde Child

As I said yesterday, a busy week in real life last week and a lot of reoccurring authors on the list. But for today’s BotW pick I’m back into my romance happy place, with the latest book from an old favourite author of mine – Eloisa James.

A little bit of my historical romance reading origin story first: Eloisa James was one of the first current historical romance authors I read back when I discovered that there were modern authors doing takes on Georgette Heyer, back in my Southend days so circa 2009 – about a decade after I first read Georgette Heyer – I know. What took me so long? I don’t know – except I suppose that back when I was reading Georgette Heyer originally there wasn’t really a section of the UK market that was historical romance that wasn’t Mills and Boon – and that was what my granny read. Then – and I know exactly how it happened – I saw Julia Quinn’s What Happens in London in the window of Waterstones on Southend High Street and went to investigate. The Essex Library system was good – and I then requested and worked my way through every Julia Quinn they had and started to look for other similar authors. And it turned out there were a few authors who had made the jump across the Atlantic – and you just had to know what to look for in the cover art. My first Eloisa James was Duchess by Night – with a blindfolded lady in a corseted dress on the cover. And I ate up that series – or as much as it as was published in the UK. Which was not all of it – and at that point they weren’t available on Kindle – even if I had had one* so I started looking at the US editions, with their very, very different covers to the UK ones and started ordering them so I could get to Villiers’ story. And so what I’m saying here is that I have a long history with Eloisa James and I see her books as reliable comfort reads for me.

This is the sixth in the Wilde’s of Lindow Castle series, and the titular Wilde Child is Joan, who the Duke of Lindow has raised as his own despite the fact that her father is the Prussian count who his (now ex) wife had an affair with. This fact of her birth has made her some what scandalous – and she has done every thing in her power to scandalise the polite society who judge her for something she can’t help or change. Our hero is Viscount Greywick, who needs sensible scandal free wife but just can’t help trying to keep Joan out of trouble. The two of them strike a bargain – he’ll help her achieve her dream of acting on stage (incognito of course) and then she’ll settle down and marry a man of his choosing. We all know where this is going, without me even saying any more than that.

Now, this is not perfect. I like others of James’ books more. I think the relationship skips a stage – they go straight from antipathy to liking each other, without really properly explaining how. Yes, there are a lot of “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I can’t stop touching your hair” books out there – but there’s usually a big revelation moment where they work out that that it’s not actually hate, it’s repressed desire – and that doesn’t quite land here. I still think James’ earlier books are cleverer and funnier, but I read it this in under 24 hours and it made me smile – and having read all the other books in this series, I’m just a touch invested and I liked seeing the previous couples reappear. I am going to go on record that I have been holding out hope throughout the series that the at some point Horatius, the dead eldest son, is going to turn out not to be dead and reappear to close the series, not just because of The Drama but also because that would solve one of the ongoing problems of one of the couples – which makes a reappearance in this story (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read North’s book). James has her first book out under her own name (Mary Bly) soon – which is a contemporary women’s fiction novel – so I’m hoping this isn’t it for Eloisa James – but it may well be.

My copy of Wilde Child came from the library, but it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback – and these are often spotted in the supermarkets and book stores – at time of writing, Foyles have it in stock in six of their seven stores.

Happy Reading!

* I got my first Kindle in May 2012 before I went to Poland to work at EURO 2012 – because lord knows I wasn’t going to be able to take enough books to read with me for a month.

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Love at First

I like writing about swoony romantic books, so although I really liked the new Duncan MacMaster – I mean a murder mystery set at a Fyre-esque festival is lot of fun and I’m sure I’ll write about it properly at some point, but I just loved Kate Clayborn’s Love at First, so my inner romantic won out. Again.

Nora loves her flat, and the building it’s in. She’s loved it since she was a kid and visited her Nona every summer. Now her Nona is gone but the community of her friends is still there and Nora has taken over looking after them. She moved across the country to Chicago to live in it, she’s got her remote working situation sorted and now she just needs to make sure the building’s new occupant doesn’t change the atmosphere. For Will, the flat is an unexpected inheritance from an uncle he didn’t know and didn’t want to. He can’t imagine living in it – so he just wants to deal with it and move on. Soon Will and Nora are low key feuding as she tries to gently sabotage his plans. But it’s more like frenemies than enemies because there’s just something between the two of them…

So this has a lovely prologue setting it up, and then a delightful romance with enemies to lovers and friends with benefits stuff going on. Will and Nora both have reasons why relationships are tricky territory for them and watching them find their way towards each other is lovely. I also adored the other residents of the building with their quirks and their fun and sparky relationships with each other. I really liked Clayborn’s previous book, Love Lettering – I mean it was a Book of the Week and one of my favourites of last year – but I think maybe I like this one even more!

I borrowed this from the library, but I suspect I’m going to be ordering myself the paperback so that I can lend it around – after all I own Love Lettering in paperback and on Kindle… At the moment it’s only available as an import paperback in the UK but when I asked Kate Clayborn on Twitter what was going on, she said she thinks it’s just transitioning to a new imprint. I hope that’s what’s happening – because I have two books of a three book series of hers and I really need the third at some point, so I’ll keep my eyes open and try to remember to update you all when it’s on Kindle and Kobo again.

Happy Reading!

new releases, Thriller

Book of the Week: Dial A for Aunties

As I said yesterday, lots of reading done last week to finish of April. Mini-Reviews coming up tomorrow, but today’s Book of the Week is quite hard to define by genre, but it’s one of the most fun books I’ve read so far this year. And bonus: it was new last week so I’m on time with my review again!

Cover of Dial A for Aunties

Meddelin Chan has always thought that her family are a pain. Her mum and her three aunts are always messing in her life, and not just because they all work together in the family wedding business. But when Meddelin accidentally kills her blind date, the aunts swing into action to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately it’s also the night before their biggest job yet: a swanky billionaire’s wedding at an island resort. An already tricky situations – trying to find a way to get rid of the body and make the wedding perfect – gets even worse when it turns out that Meddelin’s The One That Got Away is on the island too. Can the Chan’s pull it all off: disposing of a corpse, the perfect wedding and getting Meddy’s ex back into her life?

This is just the funniest and also weirdest book I have read in ages. It’s a farcical comedy thriller caper with a romantic subplot and yes that’s a lot of genres but it’s just wonderful. Meddelin is a charming character – she’s trying to figure out how to live her own life and achieve her dreams but without disappointing her family. But when the date goes wrong it turns out that her family have got her back no matter what. The aunts and their bickering is hilarious. But they’re all also very good at their day jobs – which is why the body disposal is so much fun. And yes, as a premise it’s a bit dark, but just go with it and the dark humour all gets balanced out by the fun and frothy wedding antics. And I loved the details about Meddy’s Chinese and Indonesian heritage.

I hope this is absolutely massive – I hope like my future is full of people asking for recommendations for books like this – even though there isn’t really anything like it that I can think off. Think Steph Plum crossed with Aunty Lee, with a dash of Crazy Rich Asians and you’re sort of getting there. the afterword says it’s already been optioned by Netflix and I can’t wait to watch what they do with it.

My copy of Dial A for Aunties came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in Kindle and Kobo as well as paperback. I still haven’t made it into a bookshop, so I don’t know whether they’ll have it in stock, but Foyles are showing copies available to order with a short delivery time, so I’m hopeful it’ll make it to the tables in the end.

Happy Reading!