This week’s BotW is one I picked up as a Kindle Daily Deal a couple of weeks back: Anna and her Daughters by DE Stevenson. You may remember me waxing lyrical about my love for Miss Buncle and her book back in a #Recommendsday about Comfort reads a while back and this was the first non-Buncle book I’ve read by DE Stevenson.
The Plot: Anna’s husband has died and the family’s finances are in a mess. They’re going to have to sell the London house and move to somewhere smaller. Anna decides that she wants to go back to the area of Scotland that she grew up in and starts making plans. None of her three nearly grown up daughters are precisely keen on the idea, but only one, Jane, is prepared to make the best of it. Anna and the girls move – Helen and Rosalie are practically kicking and screaming – and start their new lives.
The story is told through Jane’s eyes – she’s the plain but clever sister, who would have gone to Oxford if it hadn’t been for the money problems. Helen is pretty, but selfish and used to getting her own way. Rosalie isn’t as pretty as Helen, but isn’t clever like Jane either and tends to drift along in Helen’s shadow. The combination of the three sisters makes for fascinating reading. Anna is remarkably clear sighted about her daughters in some ways – she sees their faults in a way that many parents do not. She tries to explain her attitude to Jane, who (justifiably) gets angry about the way that Helen treats people and the fact that she gets away with it.
As the book goes on we see the girls grow and change. Jane discovers a gift for writing, Rosalie chooses security and Helen continues to be Helen, regardless of the consequences. This book is very melodramatic in some ways but also feels like nothing much happens. I loved it. Especially when Miss Buncle gets a quick mention.
Anna and her Daughters is available in Kindle or you’ll have to go and find a secondhand paperback copy, which by the look of Amazon maybe expensive.
This week’s BotW is Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery, which I devoured* last week. This has been on my radar for a while – I read A Monster Calls (Dowd’s concept but written by Patrick Ness) last year before the movie came out and thought I’d like to read more of Dowd’s work and then one of my favourite middle-grade authors Robin Stevens (you’ve all seen how much I’ve written about Wells and Wongbefore) was announced as writing a sequel to The London Eye Mystery. That came out last month, so of course I needed to read the first one before reading the second one. You know me: read series in order, glom on stuff you like, read everything authors you like have ever written.
Anyway, to the plot: Ted and his big sister Kat take their cousin Salim to the London Eye when he comes to visit them. They watch him get into the pod and then they watch the pod go around and wait for him to get off. But he doesn’t get off when they expect him to. Or from the next pod. Or the next one. He’s vanished. But how does someone vanish from a closed pod on a giant rotating wheel? The police start looking, but so do Ted and Kat, and it’s not long before they’re following a trail of clues across London to try and work out what happened to Salim.
This is a clever, well-written locked room mystery: all the clues are there for the reader to be able to work out what happened to Salim, if only they can spot them. But spotting them is not as easy as you think because Ted’s his brain works differently. Ted says he has a “syndrome” and although it’s never said what it is, it’s clearly a disorder on the autism spectrum, possibly Asperger’s. Ted has developed his own operating system – with tips and tricks to navigate the difficulties his syndrome causes him. And he is very adept at dealing with the challenges of social interactions and situations. But this does still mean that the reader isn’t always getting the whole picture. Ted notices somethings that other people don’t – but he also doesn’t see somethings that other people would and this adds to the experience for the reader.
I pretty much figured things out at the same time as Ted did – which is great as I read a lot of mysteries and this is a middle-grade mystery and I’m definitely not a middle grader. In fact I’m old enough to have my own middle grader and not have been a teen mum. So depressing. Anyway, I digress. I loved the London Eye Mystery, will probably be lending this to my niece-in-law and will definitely be bumping the sort-of-sequel The Guggenheim Mystery to the top of my to-buy list. Although I might wait for the paperback.
You should be able to get hold of the London Eye Mystery from all good bookshops. My favourite is The Big Green Bookshop who will order it for you and post it out to you because they’re nice like that. Or you could get it on Kindle or Kobo. And I’m sure this won’t be the last time that I mention the Guggenheim Mystery here…
*I started it the week before, but only really got a good run at it at the weekend and basically read it in one big gulp.
Chaos continues. I mean honestly. I have words for my own incompetence in setting my Week in Books as ready to publish without adding my Sunday reading. I’m surprised I’m allowed out alone. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed your Bank Holiday Monday if you had one. Anyway, on to another (quite brief) BotW.
Doreen Green is off to college. Her first task is to keep her secret identity as Squirrel Girl under wraps. But that’s easier said than done when you have a tail, your squirrel sidekick has followed you to campus and the world is under threat from all manner of bad guys.
I loved Doreen. She’s feisty, smart and a little bit nutty and she’s going to save the world. I don’t read a lot of super hero comics, but I picked this up as my Super Hero Comic with a Female Lead for the Read Harder Challenge. I’d heard a lot about it and it totally lived up to the hype. Doreen is the hero (or heroine) we need: she’s Unbeatable because she’s got a solution to everything and it’s often not to beat her enemy to a bloody pulp, but something smart and clever. Considering that I’d had a stressful week, this really hit the spot for me.
I love stories with strong, smart women at their centre and this ticks all those boxes. My only problem with this – as it is with all graphic novels – is that I read them too fast, and they’re expensive. But they’re also art, and labour intensive and so I give them a bit of a pass, especially as I really enjoy going into my local comic book store. I think I’ll be passing my copy on to my older niece (she’s 9) because I think she’d love this too.
You can get Unbeatable Squirrel Girl from all the usual places that sell comics, and at time of writing, the Kindle version for a very bargainous £3. I’m not a reader of comics on tablet, but Volume 2 was also super competitively priced, so I’ve got bought it and I’m going to give it a go. I’ll keep you posted. But visit a comic book store.
It’s renovation chaos here: half of the contents of our house is in storage and we’re camped out in one room. So this week’s BotW is going to be short and sweet I’m afraid.
Death around the Bend is the third in the Lady Hardcastle cozy crime murder mystery series by T E Kinsey. I read the first one a few weeks back and picked up the third on a Kindle deal, and read it on the commute last week. The set up for the series is that Lady Emily Hardcastle is a widow with a somewhat more exciting past than is usual in the Edwardian era. She and her trusty maid Florence have moved to the English countryside for a bit of peace and quiet and relaxation but don’t seem to be getting much of it.
In book three, Emily and Florence have been invited to a friend’s estate for a weekend of racing – but it’s car racing, not horses. Lord Ribblethorpe has gone mad for motor cars and has set up his own racing team, complete with a track in the grounds of his estate. When a driver is killed during a race, the police think it’s an accident but Emily and Florence aren’t convinced and can’t help but try and solve the crime. With Emily asking questions above stairs, Florence is sleuthing below stairs. Then another body is found.
This is fun and fast moving (and not just because of the cars). I like the dynamic between Emily and Florence – and particularly that the story is told by Florence. I picked up the first one as part of my ongoing quest to find other series that scratch my Phryne Fisher and Daisy Dalrymple itch and it does this quite nicely – although it’s set earlier than either of those two series. Unfortunately there are only three books in the series (at the moment at least) so I only have one left to read, but hey ho, you can’t win them all.
All three Lady Hardcastle mysteries are on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (I’m not) but the two I’ve read have come around on discount deals at various points too (that’s how I got them!). You can find them all here.
We’re back in my (constant) hunt for new historical crime series for this week’s BotW. I finally got my hand on the first Maisie Dobbs book during a trip to the charity bookshop and immediately read it. And it’s really good, so I went on and read book 10 in the series – which was in the library book pile and was far too big a jump in the series to do, but that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed the first one.
We meet Maisie as she is setting up her own private investigation firm in London in 1929. Her first client asks her to investigate whether his wife is having an affair. But the investigation forces Maisie to revisit her experiences of the Great War and she finds it hard to keep her professional and her private life separate as she works to resolve the case.
I really, really enjoy books set in the interwar years. My beloved Peter Wimseys are all in this period, as is Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher and Dandy Gilver. The very best of them show how the Great War was still having ramifications years after – whether it’s Peter’s shellshock, or Alec using his military tie to get people to open up to him. Like Phryne, Maisie spent time at the front (although Phryne was driving ambulances while Maisie was a nurse) and it’s deeply affected her outlook on life and her understanding and compassion for the others who were there.
The mystery in this is centred in the Great War, allowing Maisie’s background and education to be explored and it works really well. In fact a lot of this book is setting up Maisie’s background and her personal history rather than resolving the case (or cases) that she’s investigating. But that was part of the enjoyment for me. Maisie’s got a complicated and fascinating backstory and I think understanding that is going to be key to understanding the other books in the series. Certainly when I read book 10 I would have been lost or at sea without the background I had got from book 1, so it’s one of those occasions where I’m very grateful to have restrained myself and started at the beginning.
Well worth a look if you like any of the other series that I’ve mentioned – I know I’ll be looking out for more Maisie Dobbs mysteries.
A bonus post from me, for you to enjoy this weekend as I recover from my nights. I’m looking for escapist reading this week after a busy news week, so here are some suggestions for you as I try to read myself back into day time living.
Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera by Jennifer Bohnet
I read this on holiday – it’s a sweet romance set in the French Riviera. Rosie’s opening her dream cafe, but a Michelin starred chef is opening up a fancy hotel nearby. She’d be mad, only she didn’t find him so attractive. There’s also two friends – one recently widowed with a daughter and the other newly single – and you follow them all across the course of the first spring and summer season in business. Perfect for a spring weekend, but t may make you want to move abroad though.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Immerse yourself in the world of Singpore’s super rich. Rachel Chu has agreed to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend’s family. But what she doesn’t know is that Nick is one of the island’s most eligible bachelors and that she doesn’t measure up to his family’s expectations for a potential wife. There’s outrageous wealth, spoilt IT girls and culture clashes galore – not just Rachel’s ABC (American-born Chinese) background, but also the old money versus new money of Singapore’s old family’s and China’s new superrich. It’s bonkers, it’s addictive and it’s perfect to escape from your normal life.
The Accidental Detective by Michael R N Jones
I read this modern Sherlock Holmes retelling on holiday. Victor Locke is a beer-drinking genius, who’s banned from owning laptops or smart phones after getting caught hacking into something he shouldn’t have done. Dr Jonathan Doyle is his court-appointed psychologist and the two of them race around Middlesbrough (of all places) solving crimes and outwitting shadowy government figures. This is from my perennial favourites Fahrenheit press, so if you’ve read some of my other recommendations from them you’ll have an idea about the sort of tone we’re looking at. Funny and escapist, read it with a drink in your hand like Victor would!
While reading Royal Flush last week, where one of Lady Georgie’s tasks is trying to keep the Prince of Wales away from Wallis Simpson, I couldn’t help but think of Gone with the Windsors – my favourite novel that features Wallis. Then I realised that I’ve mentioned it in passing several times on here* but never actually reviewed. So Recommendsday this week seemed the perfect time to remedy that.
Gone with the Windsors is the story of Wallis Simpson’s romance with Edward VIII as seen throught he eyes of her (fictional) best friend, Maybell Brumby. Maybell is a recently widowed Southern Belle who comes to London to visit her sister (married to a Scottish Earl) to one up her social rivals back home just as one of their old school friends is making a stir by stepping out with the Prince of Wales. Soon Maybell is hobnobbing with royalty as Wallis (with the help of Maybell’s money) sets London society ablaze. Maybell and her family are carefully woven into the real story and as someone who’s read a fair bit about the Edward and Mrs Simpson and the 1930s in general, I didn’t spot any howlers.
The Wallis of Gone with the Windsors is a ruthless social climber, with an aim in mind, who doesn’t mind stepping on anybody to get there. David is weak and easily led, thinking more of his own pleasure than of his responsibilities. But Maybell is a total joy. I mean you wouldn’t want to be friends with her, but she is a brilliant prism to watch the slow motion car crash that was the Abdication Crisis. She is delightfully dim (witness her dealings with her sister Doopie) and part of the fun is watching her misunderstand what’s going on – or miss the undercurrents. Her sister is firmly on the Royal Family’s side against Wallis, while Maybell is convinced she’s picked the winner, which makes for fraught times on the summer holiday in Scotland.
GWTW was my first Laurie Graham book – I spotted it in the window of Waterstones and had to have it – and since reading it she’s been an autobuy for me and I’ve picked up a lot of her back catalogue. I like her straight up novels too, but my favourite are the ones like this where she takes a historical event or person and puts her spin on it. I mentioned the Importance of Being Kennedy in my Inauguration Reading post, and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was my first review for Novelicious, but A Humble Companion (about a companion to one of George III’s daughters) and The Night in Question (about a music hall comedienne who gets caught up in the Jack the Ripper panic) are also excellent.
As you can see, I have two copies of Gone with the Windsors. The blue one is a signed copy sent to me by the author after I cried and wailed on Twitter about losing my original (white) copy** and it being out of stock everywhere, the other one is a secondhand copy I bought because the signed edition was too nice to read. So now the pristine blue on is on the shelf with the other Laurie Graham books and the white one lives by my bed for when I need a dose of Maybell.
In a fabulous twist of fate, Gone with the Windsors is coming out on Kindle later this month – I’d actually already written a sentence saying that I was said it wasn’t available Kindle so now I’m very overexcited at the prospect of having Maybell to hand whenever I need a pick me up. So, you too can preorder Gone with the Windsors on Kindle, or pick up a secondhand hardcover or a (new or secondhand) paperback copy from Amazon. I’m hoping the preorder link for her next novel – a sequel to Future Homemakers of America out in June – appears soon as it’s been more than a year since her last new novel came out and I’ve got withdrawal symptoms.
Gosh this has turned into a long post. But I feel very good for having told the world about my love of Maybell Brumby and her crazy view of the world. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it – and I hope you get0 the book.
*Usually when talking about another Laurie Graham book to say that GWTW is my favourite.
** I lent it out without writing my name in the front of it and never got it back. It was a salutary lesson.