Book of the Week, historical, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Ask a Historian

I offer you a non fiction book this week – and after a few weeks where I’ve been recommending new (or newish) releases, here’s one that’s not quite as new a release because it came out in October…

Anyway, Greg Jenner’s latest book does exactly what it says on the tin – it answers fifty questions from history that are the sort of thing that most people actually want to know – as opposed to the sort of history people thing they ought to know. So you can find out how women dealt with their periods in the past – but also how historical periods got their names, where history starts and pre-history ends and why people are so obsessed with the Tudors (see also the question about how many nipples Anne Boleyn had) and then more horrible histories type stuff like how much horse manure was created each day in London or what the Flintstones got right. And because it’s fifty questions it makes for great bite sized reading – I read a couple of questions a night before bed.

As I’ve mentioned before, Greg and I overlapped at the same university and we did student radio at the same time although in different departments (I was news and he was speech) so we didn’t really hang out together although we were in the Langwith bar at the same time a few times after the weekly meeting. I really like the niche he’s carved himself as a public historian – he is incredibly knowledgable but wears it very lightly and his writing style is fun and accessible. And he’s the sort of history writer who wants to appear like he knows it all right off the top of his head – he’s not afraid to show his working and tell you which historians or other experts he spoke to in the main text and not hidden in the footnotes. And if there’s something you’re particularly interested in, there’s always a further reading list at the back – complete with notes about which are the more academic books as opposed to the more lay person friendly ones. As well as working for the grownups, I think this is also the sort of book that would appeal to a kid who read horrible histories and is now looking for something else fun and historical. It’s got a few swear words in it, but I think that teens and tweens will love that (and parents: they’ve heard all the words already at school, that ship has sailed)

My copy (complete with signed book plate) came from Big Green Books, but it should be fairly easy to get hold of from any reasonably sized book shop as well as on Kindle and Kobo. And if you read it and like it, then try Greg’s other books Dead Famous (definitely more for the adults) and A Millions Years in a Day. And as a bonus Greg reads his own audiobooks, which is always delightful – if you listen to his podcast You’re Dead to Me you know what he sounds like and it would be weird for it not to be him narrating!

Happy Reading!

romance, women's fiction

New release: Book Lovers

I said on Tuesday that last week had been a good one for reading new stuff, and it was because here I am again with a new release that’s perfect for reading while sitting on a beach – or more likely in the garden (if the sunshine lasts).

Emily Henry’s new novel is about a New York book editor, who keeps getting dumped when here boyfriends go on business trips to small towns and fall in love. Nora is the before woman. When her sister drags her to a small town in North Carolina to spend a month, she encounters Charlie – her work nemesis. He’s the editing equivalent of her, but he turned down her biggest novel and she’s not over it. And they keep bumping into each other…

And it’s delightful. As you can probably tell, it’s a book for people who love reading romances and seeing someone do something different with the tropes and archetypes. It’s a romance, but it’s closer to the woman’s fiction end of the spectrum because Nora has some issues of her own to deal with and that along with her relationship with her sister takes up almost as much time as the romance does. It will probably make you cry, you will probably worry if there’s going to be a happy ending but it’s worth it in the end, even if I wanted a slightly longer epilogue (what’s new!).

My copy came from NetGalley, but Book Lovers is out today in paperback – it came out on Kindle and Kobo on the 3rd – because release dates are confusing and annoying. Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Book previews, historical, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting

There were lots of options for this post today. I like a week like that. I’ve gone for a historical romance because it’s been a few weeks and this was a lot of fun and I needed something fun and frothy and if I hadn’t written it already, another entry for the marries the person you’re trying to save someone from post.

Kitty Talbot’s parents have died, leaving their daughters with debts and an uncertain future. Determined to secure her sisters’ future, she decides the solution is to marry well and heads to London with the last money they have to try to secure a rich husband. She’s never moved in this sort of society before, but with the help of her mother’s best friend she’s sure she can succeed. And indeed she soon attracts a suitor and is intent on reeling him in, until his older brother, Lord Radcliffe comes to town to put a stop to it. He knows she’s a fortune hunter and is determined to keep her out of his family, but somehow he finds himself helping her ingratiate herself with the ton…

As you might be able to tell from that summary – which doesn’t even cover half the book – this has got a lot of plot and a lot of twists. It rattles along so fast that you don’t have time to think about it, but when I was trying write that plot summary I realised how much had gone on beside the whole fortune hunter main idea. It pulled it off, but I do wonder whether there are any ideas left for Sophie Irwin’s next book! But I enjoyed this a lot so I’ll definitely be looking for it when it comes to see. It’s “not quite in the common way” of the historical romances I have read recently, not least because the steam level is basically smouldering glances for most of the book and never gets higher than kissing – so not so much enemies to Lovers as enemies to soon to be marrieds!

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s coming out on Thursday in ebook and hardback and if you pre-order it today it’ll drop onto your Kindle or Kobo or your doormat on release day.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Count Your Lucky Stars

Did I finish this on Monday? Yes. Am I breaking my rules? Absolutely. Is this perfect? No, but it’s a lot of fun and the issues I have will the last quarter are not uncommon. So this weeks BotW is Alexandria Bellefleur’s Count Your Lucky Stars

This is the third in the Count Your Lucky Stars series – which I’ve read two of now and have the first one waiting to be read at some point in the Misty future when I remember about it. Anyway, this is a second chance romance between Olivia and Margot, who were best friends in high school that turned into something more for a week and then… wasn’t. Now a decade later they meet again because Olivia is planning Margot’s best friend’s wedding. And then Margot accidentally offers Olivia somewhere to stay after Olivia’s apartment is flooded and then it all gets complicated.

Now as I said at the top, for 75 percent of this I was all in. A lot of Margot and Olivia’s issues could be solved by a proper conversation and they had that and I was looking forward to the big finish and then… they had another big misunderstanding/problem that could have been fixed by having a conversation but the author decided to make that impossible. And I get it, I do. You need tension and a final resolution, except that it sort of already felt like a final resolution had happened and I was wondering if the book was going to have a preview of another book as the final ten percent because it felt like it was wrapping up. But it wasn’t. And it still left a plot thread sort of hanging in the resolution. And I realise that now I sound like I didn’t like this, but I actually did. There is witty dialogue and a fun group of friends and an amusing cat. I just wanted them to have a conversation to sort stuff out!

Anyway, I know that usually I’m complaining about romances wrapping up too quickly and here I am sort of grousing about one that doesn’t do that, but hey, I’m allowed to be inconsistent. This is a fun contemporary romance with a nice group of central characters and a cat. What’s not to enjoy.

My copy came from the library, but it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo and in paperback – Foyles even have it in stock in some stores.

Happy Reading!

books, literary fiction

Enchanted April

It’s the last day of April, and as I mentioned yesterday it’s (early) May bank holiday weekend here which always makes me think that summer is on the way so I have a bonus book review for you today.

Enchanted April tells the story of four women who respond to an advert offering an Italian castle to rent for a month in April. They are very different and clash to start with but over the course of the holiday bond together. This was published in the 1920s – which as you all know is the absolute sweet spot for me in terms of twentieth century fiction. And it doesn’t hurt that my copy of it is one of those gorgeous Virago designer classic ones! It’s a slightly distressed rich people type story – the women would undoubtedly consider themselves ladies albeit it some of them ladies in reduced circumstances*

There’s a film of it from 1991, which I really need to try and watch – it’s got an interesting looking cast which includes Alfred Molina and Miranda Richardson and it got a trio of Oscar nominations too. A couple of years back there was The Enchanted August which took the premise of Enchanted April and moved it to modern day Maine which I enjoyed when I read it in 2016 – my notes from the time say “It’s not quite a rich people problems story – but it’s an escape from the daily struggles to an island and rediscover yourself and your relationships novel.” And we all know that another thing I love are rich people problems book – or things that are nearly rich people problem novels. So start with the original, but if you like Enchanted April there are options for you.

Cover of Enchanted August

And because I can’t resist an opportunity to quote from Peter Wimsey:

I said, ‘Really, Peter!’ but he said, Why shouldn’t he arrange continental trip for deserving couple? and posted off reservations to Miss Climpson, for benefit of tubercular accountant and wife in reduced circumstances. (Query: How does one reduce a circumstance?)

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers
Book of the Week, memoirs, new releases

Book of the Week: Stories I Might Regret Telling You

It’s been a while since we had a memoir as a Book of the Week, but it makes a change and having already written about the new Mhairi McFarlane and with a lot of rereads on last week’s list, it’s really a good thing that I enjoyed reading this so much!

This was actually on my pre-order list, and as I mentioned in that Martha Wainwright is a singer songwriter who has had a special place in my heart for a long time now. In the book she describes her self as a “child of… twice over” as both of her parents are well known musicians, and added to that her brother Rufus had mainstream success at a time when she was also trying to make it in the music business. This memoir looks back at her life and the decisions she’s made and the people she knows. She comes from a fiercely competitive family, with lot of competing egos and careers and it is very, very interesting to get the inside scoop on all that – from her point of view at least.

And the title isn’t joking – she’s probably already regretted some of this, as an earlier manuscript of the book was used in her divorce. It’s probably the most honest and unvarnished memoir I’ve read since Viv Albertine’s first book. Wainwright is fairly self aware and with the benefit of time, can see patterns in her own life and how things have affected her. And of course her music has always been the same way – but there’s a difference between a three minute song and a 200 page piece of extended writing. As well as the career and her relationships with her siblings and parents, it also looks at the pressures of juggling a career and motherhood – which is not exactly new, but it does feel a bit different because the arrival of her oldest son was unexpected and traumatic and came at a really difficult time in her life – as her mother was dying of cancer – and when she was in the UK rather than at home in Canada. All in all, a really interesting read for a fan like me – and I suspect there’s enough here for people who aren’t fans too.

As I said, I had my copy preordered so got it on the day it came out two weeks ago – but Foyles now have signed bookplate editions with a couple of quid off and everything, so I’m almost regretting that. But I have a ticket to see her live in London later in the year, so maybe I’ll take it along to that. I do already have a signed ticket from the last time I saw her (at the small but brilliant Stables in Milton Keynes where I would have gone to see her again if it wasn’t for the fact that the evening she’s playing there is the same day as we’re seeing The Glass Menagerie in the West End. Why does this always happen?) so it’s not like I’m missing out really. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Anyway, it’s out now in hardback, Kindle, Kobo and audiobook read by Martha herself.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: A House in the Country

I said on at the weekend that it’s sometimes been a struggle to finish something that’s not a reread and isn’t a later in series book that breaks a bunch of my rules do BotW posts. And this week was looking very like that, until I finished A House in the Country on Sunday evening.

A House in the Country is set in 1942, at the time of the fall of Tobruk. The titular house is a large, attractive country pile run by Cressida, a widow with an unhappy past. She is looking after it for its real owner who is away, and is supporting it by letting rooms. It’s filled with characters and types and shows the different ways that people are affected by wars. At times it’s comic, at times tragic. There is not a lot of Big Plot Action – although six bombs are dropped nearby one night they’re in the countryside and the war can feel a long way away from their every day lives – but it somehow manages to feel like everything is happening at the same time as well.

It was written in 1943, so at a time when no one knew which way the war was going to go and this gives it an underlying thrum of uncertainty that you don’t see in similar books set after the period. It’s like a little slice of some of my favourite things in the Cazalets – a dashing brother descends on his sister and wants advice on a love affair, young men picking the wrong women to propose to, older relatives not understanding the difficulties and shortages of war – but without the definite endings that strands of the Cazalets get. It will make you think and maybe break your heart a little bit, or a lot.

My copy was the second in my subscription picks from Persephone Books, and you can get it direct from them but you can get Persephone Books from good book shops too – like Foyles.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical

Book of the Week: Better Luck Next Time

And for the third week in a row I’ve picked something other than romance or mystery for BotW. Today we’re in the historical fiction portion of my reading life for one of my library books that was coming due and which I really did enjoyed as I read it over the weekend.

It’s 1938 and Ward is a cowboy working at a dude ranch just outside Reno that caters to women who are visiting town to get a quickie divorce. To qualify for a divorce, they need to satisfy the residency requirements and that’s where the Flying Leap fits in – we’re told it was even designed by a Hollywood set designer. Ward’s family lost their money in the Great Depression – which also forced him to drop out of university and he’s got the job at the Flying Leap because of his handsome good looks. No one at the ranch knows about his somewhat well heeled previous life and he likes to keep it that way, enjoying the assumptions that the guests make about him – they think he’s pretty but dumb and using his looks to try and get ahead. He, in return, thinks he has the women who visit the ranch all figured out, but one particular group are different. Among them is Nina, the heiress and aviatrix, back for her third divorce and Emily who says the bravest thing she has ever done is to drive to the ranch leaving her cheating husband behind. Over the course of their stay friendships and relationships are made and broken.

Don’t worry, it’s not miserable, for all that I’ve put broken in that last sentence. It’s a cleverly put together glimpse at the six weeks at the ranch that changed Ward’s life. It’s more bittersweet than anything else, if we’re using book blurb code phrases, and it is not a romance – if you’re a romance reader, I’ve described this as historical fiction for a reason! But if you want some 1930s hi jinx with an interesting premise that I hadn’t come across before, then this would make a great choice for your sun lounger or sofa.

As I said at the top, my copy of Better Luck Next Time came from the library but it turns out that I’ve managed to be accidentally timely as it comes ot in paperback this Thursday! It’s hard to work out if it’ll be available in stores, but I suggest it’s going to be an order in job as that’s what her other novels are on Foyles’ website. But of course it’s available on Kindle and Kobo as well as in audiobook from the usual sources.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Beware False Profits

Pinch, punch, first day of the month, white rabbits etc. Welcome to February everyone. Despite the fact that January is my birthday month, it does always feel like a bit of a slog to get to the end of the month, but we’ve made it through and into Freburary, which always feels like it rattles by at speed. All the usual goodies coming up on the blog this week – monthly stats, mini reviews etc. But first: a book of the week review.

In a week that saw most of my “reading” actually be revisiting audiobooks that I have listened to before, mostly from series that I have already written about so it’s a good thing that this was really good – even if it’s a sort of rule breaker because it’s not a first in series book! This is the third in the Ministry is Murder series, which features a Minister’s wife in small town Ohio. There are five books in the series – the newest of which is from 2010. In Beware False Profits, Aggie and her husband’s trip to New York is disrupted when a member of their congregation goes missing on a work trip there. And when they get back to Emerald Springs, the mayor’s wife is murdered at an event for the local foodbank – which is run by the missing man.

What I really like about Aggie is that she has an excuse for snooping – as a minister’s wife she has an excuse for being involved in the locals lives – especially as you need to keep your congregation happy to keep your job. And that’s another reason I like the series – it’s an insight into a way of life. I nearly wrote a profession, but that felt wrong – even though Aggie isn’t the one with a vocation, it’s her husband. I should add that it’s definitely not a Christian cozy – because I read one of those at the end of last year and this doesn’t have the detail of the sermons or biblical verses to reflect of that that did. Anyway there are a lot of cozy crimes featuring bakers and small businesses and the like and although Aggie also has a side line in house flipping, the ministry side of things gives it a nice twist. And the actual mysteries that need to be solved are good too. All in all a very nice way to spend an afternoon or two on the sofa.

Now because these are an older cozy (and boy does it feel weird to be saying that about something that was published this century!) they’re not available in Kindle – so in the UK you’re likely to be looking at picking them up from Amazon or second hand. I found the first in this series in a second hand bookshop – I think maybe one at a National Trust house, but subsequently I’ve bought from Amazon when the prices have been acceptable – I see that the first two at the moment are insanely expensive there though. So maybe one to add to your list to watch out for the next time you’re mooching around a charity shop!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Christie Affair

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

Cover of The Christie Affair

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

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

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

Happy Reading!