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.
Today’s Recommendsday book is Annette Dashofy’s latest cozy crime No Way Home, which came out yesterday and which I’m currently reading. This is the fifth novel in her Zoe Chambers series about a paramedic and deputy coroner who gets entangled with the crimes in her neighbourhood. No Way Home sees a rash of teen drug deaths in Zoe’s home town, the death of a popular town commissioner and the disappearance of Zoe’s best friend’s son in New Mexico – which sends Zoe out of her comfort zone and across the country to try and help find him.
This is the second book in the series that I’ve read (I read the first a few weeks back now) and they’re well-put together murder mysteries with an interesting cast of characters and a “detective” who has a great excuse for getting involved in investigations and a job that gives her access to information. Having skipped a couple of books there are some developments in this that I’ve missed, but nothing that means I can’t follow this book (and no spoilers so far for the plots of the other books).
Catnip wise, they’re set in small town, rural Pennsylvania with farms and horses and there’s also a slow burn romance going on too. As yet, no crafting or bakeries! Zoe is a little foolhardy at times, but never quite into Too Stupid To Live territory so far and I’m really quite enjoying this. Here’s hoping it doesn’t all go wrong in the final quarter.
My copy came from NetGalley and although I think it is an actual physical release, it’s super expensive over here, but it’s more reasonable on Kindle.
Borrowing shamelessly from one of my favourite things on Litsy (I’m @Verity if you’re over there, do come and find me) I thought I’d start recommending books on Wednesdays. Some times it might be a big long post about a book I haven’t talked about before, sometimes it might be a quick bump for one I’ve written about before, sometimes it might be a book that’s topical, you get the idea. I’m going to try and be good and post one each week, but we’ll see how that goes. Anyway, I’m kicking Recommendsday off with The Clancy’s of Queens which tells the story of Tara Clancy’s childhood and youth in Queens.
Tara’s parents divorced when she was small and she spent a lot of her childhood shuttling between her grandparents’ house in a geriatric neighbourhood, her father’s converted boathouse home and her mother’s boyfriend’s house in the Hamptons. This, unsurprisingly left her with some issues as she switched between working class, middle class and upper class communities. Tara talks about her experiences with humour and I haven’t seen many (any?) similar memoirs. I’m convinced that I wouldn’t have made it through the school system in Queens in one piece, but it makes for a great read.
I mentioned this book in my personal Christmas book request post after hearing about it on a lot of podcasts – and I got given it for my birthday. As it’s in hardback it’s taken me a few weeks to get around to reading it. But I’m very glad I did. It’s an American import, but you can get a copy from Amazon (I do hope Him Indoors didn’t pay £20+ for it for me!) or preorder the (slightly cheaper, but still fairly eyewatering) paperback. There is an audiobook version – but it’s not available on UK Audible.
I know. I know. This is a day late. And I’m sorry. It’s been one of those weeks. Work has been quietly bonkers, I’ve been exhausted and time got away from me. Rather than rush something out to keep to schedule, I thought I’d take the extra time and do it properly.
So the BotW is Helen Ellis’s short story collection, American Housewife. These a a series of deliciously dark and funny bite-sized tales, which I mostly read before bed. I’m not a massive short story reader, but they do make good bedtime reading because they have good obviously stopping places. And while these blackly humorous, there’s nothing here that’s going to give you nightmares. That said, Ellis doesn’t give you all the answers, some stories have distinctly ambiguous endings. Or even ambiguous middles.
I think my favourite story was the email war between two New York neighbours over their shared hallway. Or maybe the instructions on how to be a patron of the arts. Or the very unusual book club. Basically, there’s a lot of good stories here and I’m spoilt for choice.
If you fancy dipping your toe in the short story pond, this would be a very good place to start. And if you’re a short story fan, this should definitely be on your list. In fact I’d be surprised if it isn’t already. It is a hardback at the moment – and you’ll probably need to look in a proper bookshop for this (ie not the supermarket) or you can order it from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo – at the much friendlier price of £2.99 at time of writing.
This week’s BotW was an easy choice. I fell head over heels for Fangirl. I devoured it, nearly didn’t get enough sleep because of it and was annoyed when it broke two of my handbag-books rules (hardback, and at the point I was thinking of taking it to work I only had 150 pages left) so I had to wait longer to get back to it and finish it. And we should just contemplate for a minute, why it has taken me so long to read this. Yup. The state of the pile. Exactly. Hence my new shelf-reading kick (mentioned in yesterday’s post) to try and get down the pile.
Fangirl tells the story of Cath’s first year at college. Her twin sister Wren seems to be rebelling against their previous closeness, and she’s struggling to find her own way and place on campus with out her support. Then there’s Cath’s career as a successful Simon Snow fan-fiction author – the release date for the last book in the series is looming, and Cath has to finish her alternative ending first. And then there’s her worries about their dad, loving and sparky – but fragile – and now at home on his own.
I loved this so much. It tapped into some of my own experiences when I was Cath’s age. I’m not a fan fic writer, but I was a child who spent hours in pretend worlds based on the books that I had read. I could spend hours out in the garden during the summer, pretending I was in a series that I loved. Then when I was finishing A-levels I fell in love with a West End show and got heavily into its online community. I totally identified with Cath as she tried to fit Simon in with her “real” life. And while I’m not anxious to the extent that Cath is, I am quite shy and I can remember the terror of starting university – and not knowing *anyone* – so I was with Cath as she baby-stepped her way into college life.
This isn’t the first of Rainbow Rowell’s books that I’ve read – I read Eleanor and Park a few years back and really liked it, but this is the next level. I could go right back and read it all over again. And I do now have Carry On (the story that Cath was writing) sitting on the pile – and I have Attachments on the shelf too, which I’ll be reading sooner rather than later.
I’m late to the party, but you should be able to get this *anywhere* that is selling books. Amazon have it in their 3 paperbacks for £10 and it’s only slightly cheaper in Kindle. Waterstones and Foyles have it too – and I suspect it’ll be in W H Smiths, maybe HMV and perhaps even some of the supermarkets still too. Go forth and read it.