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!

Book of the Week, Christmas books, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: The Christmas Card Crime

Cheating again this week because I finished this on Monday, but really there is only so long you can recommend Christmas-themed books for and the first week of January is past that limit, but also seems a little early to be starting putting together the Christmas-themed books post for 2022, although to be fair, I have started it in the spring before!

The Christmas Card Crime is another of those charming British Library Crime Classics collections that I mentioned in my Christmas books post last week. So yes, it’s also slightly cheating to be picking this for BotW so soon after that post – although in fairness I did read the other one in November so it seems less recent to me! This has less of the names that the casual crime fan will have heard of and but many of them are regulars in the BLCC stable – like E C R Lorac and John Bude – and some of them are more towards the thriller/chiller end of the mystery spectrum. Most are good, a couple didn’t suit me but overall it was a nice way to spend a post-Christmas afternoon hiding from the rain. It should be noted that there is one story in here that overlaps with A Surprise for Christmas – and it’s one of the really good ones, so I was glad I had borrowed them both from Kindle Unlimited rather than bought them outright.

You can get The Christmas Card Crime as an actual paperback from the British Library shop or you can get it on Kindle – it will reappear on other platforms once it has rotated out of the KU selection.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Christmas in Paradise

A short post this week, but a festive -themed one. I read a whole bunch of books last week for my 50 states (and D.C.) challenge but there wasn’t a lot I wanted to write about – except this one which is not the first in a series and is a series I’ve written about before. But hey ho, rules are made to be broken at Christmas aren’t they?

Christmas in Paradise is the fourth book in Kathi Daley’s Tj Jensen series. The series is set at a resort on a lake in a town called Serenity. As you might suspect from the title, this one is set at Christmas and Tj is planning a big celebration but also waiting for the arrival of the man who says he is the real father of one of her sisters. Tj’s mother is dead – and she’s the guardian of her two younger sisters and is worried about what this might mean for their little family unit. When the new boyfriend of one of her neighbours is found dead in the grounds of the resort, Tj can’t help but try and find out who did it – to clear her friends’s husband of suspicion.

This is another Henery Press cozy crime from the period where they were really on good form. This isn’t too gory or thrillers – it’s a good mystery that runs nicely alongside the ongoing story strands for the main characters. I’ve read these wildly out of order, but this is the seventh in the series that I’ve read and they’re a very easy way to pass a few hours. And of course this has the added bonus of being set at Christmastime – and we’re just days away now.

Christmas in Paradise and the rest of the series are in Kindle Unlimited, which means they’re off the other digital platforms at the moment – unless you want the audiobook. But if you’re a KU member, it’s an ideal time to binge!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: Murder in the Basement

Another week, another British Library Crime Classic pick. I’m not going to apologise though because they’ve got seem to have changed their Kindle Unlimited selection and you have to take advantage of that while you can!

Murder in the Basement opens with a newly married couple moving into their first house together and promptly discovering a corpse being in the cellar. It has been there for some time and Chief Inspector Moresby’s first task is to figure out who it is. The first section of the book deals with the routine police work necessary to try and identify a body in pre-DNA times. When Moresby discover it, the reader is still left in the dark – you know it is a woman who worked at a school – but not which one. The next section of the story is a book within a book as you read the novel that Moresby’s friend Roger Sheringham wrote while working at the school and try to figure out who the victim is. And then the final section features the attempt to prove a case against the Very Obvious Suspect.

Now if I’ve made that sound complicated, I apologise but do go with me – it makes much more sense when you read it and it really is very cleverly put together and out of the ordinary for Golden Age crime novels. This is only my second Anthony Berkeley and from what I can deduce from my review of the other one I didn’t like that anywhere near as much as this one. I can’t quite work out whether part of my delight in this is because I love a boarding school story so much that seeing the seething rivalries between the teachers in the book within a book really really works for me, but it may well have something to do with it. Moresby and Sheringham are both interesting characters and the resolution is somewhat unexpected. Definitely worth a look – especially if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member.

And if you aren’t a Kindle unlimited person, the kindle edition isn’t too much to buy or you could just get the paperback. I assume the Kobo edition will reappear when it rotates out of KU.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, holiday reading, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Traitor King

So as you can see from yesterday’s post, I read a lot of stuff while we were on holiday, so I had plenty of choice, and a lot of the stuff from that list will pop up somewhere else on the blog. But for today’s pick I’m going with Traitor King – which I spotted in Waterstones in hardback the other week and really wanted, but couldn’t justify buying two hardbacks – as I was also buying a signed hardback of the new Judith Mackerell. But when I spotted the airport version (that’s the giant sized paperback, but it’s still a paperback and not a hardback so easier to read) in the WH Smiths at Luton, I was delighted to pick myself up a copy as my holiday book.

Slightly battered copy of Traitor King - its been to Spain and back as well as to the beach in the beach bag!

Andrew Lownie’s Traitor King examines the life of the former Edward VIII did in the years following his abdication. As the title suggests (I mean it doesn’t have a question mark after Traitor King, so I think it’s fair to say that) what Lownie says he did was a lot of scheming and intrigue against the interests of his former Kingdom in the interests of himself and his wife both in terms of their position and their financial gain.

A lot has been written about the events leading up to the abdication, but not so much about what happened after – or at least not in as much detail as this. Lownie starts with the day of the abdication and moves on from there – assuming that the reader will know what has happened, which obviously I did because I’ve read a lot of stuff – fiction and non-fiction about this whole sitauation. Most of what I have read has suggested that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (as they became) were as the blurb says “naïve dupes” of the Germans in the run up to and the early stages of the Second World War, but Lownie’s thesis is that they knew what they were doing and were active participants themselves. He draws together threads of stories that I’ve come across before – the closeness of Wallis to von Ribbentrop, the rather dubious Charlie Bedaux and the trip to visit Hitler among other things – and comes to the conclusion that this was part of a concerted effort by the couple to conspire against British interests to try and benefit themselves. Unfortunately for Edward – and fortunately for the UK – Edward was not that bright and his plans were spotted by the various arms of the British establishment that were keeping an eye on him (which range from his friends, to his secret service detail, to the embassy staff and more) and documented. This is the documentation that Lownie uses to make his case – and he’s got the footnotes to prove it! The book also touches on the more usual aspects of the Windsor’s married life – ie were they actually in love, was it worth it and did Wallis learn sex tricks in when posted with her first husband in China – and draws some conclusions about them that I won’t spoil here, but the main focus is on the macchinations.

And it’s a very enjoyable and interesting read. As regular readers of this blog will know, I am very interested in the history of the first half of the Twentieth Century and the abdication crisis is one of the key events of it for Britain, outside the two World Wars. I’ve read a lot on the subject and this added some new perspectives and interpretations of events that I have read a fair bit about before. It’s got an extensive set of references – whether it’s the author’s own research or references to other authors working in the field – and it’s also got a really good further reading list at the back, which has a fiction list featuring my beloved Gone with the Windsors, as well as the nonfiction stuff. Speaking of Laurie Graham’s novel, I don’t think you can read that and come away with it with a particularly high opinion of the couple, but it would seem from this that Graham understated the case when it came to their meanness and the way they treated their friends and their staff. Despite the couple’s efforts to establish their relationship as the romance of the century, public opinion at the time was mostly against them and reading about it in the history books it is hard to draw a lot of favourable conclusions about them – even before you come to the Nazi connection.

I’m very pleased with my decision to buy this, it’s about to be sent out on loan to my mum and when it returns, it will undoubtedly find it’s way on to the Keeper Shelf. If you’ve got an interest in the period, or in the history of the British Monarchy, or even on stories about awful people, this is probably one you’ll be interested in. You’ll probably do best with it if you have a working knowledge of the abdication crisis to start you off with, but it does give you the basics so it’s not essential. I’m off to try and get hold of some of the other books Lownie mentions at the end, as well as his previous book about the Mountbattens.

As mentioned at the top, this is a hardback if you’re not going to an airport anytime soon, but it’s in the bookshops (the Waterstones I found it in isn’t a massive one in the grand scheme of things, especially as they have their top floor shut at the moment for Covid safety reasons) and Foyles have lots of options for click and collect. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo as well – but because it’s a hardback, the ebook versions are fairly expensive at the moment – more than £7 as I write this.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, historical

Book of the Week: The Chelsea Girls

Yes I finished this on Monday. So yes, I’m cheating for the second week in a row. I make the rules, so I can break them if I want to. Anyway, you should all just be glad that I didn’t pick another mystery!

Maxine and Hazel meet on a USO tour in the last months of the Second World War. They meet again in New York in the 1950s when Maxine is an up and coming film star and Hazel is an aspiring playwright. Both living in the famous Chelsea Hotel, soon they’re working together on Hazel’s first play which is going to be staged on Broadway. But the red scare is well underway and the production and their careers are threatened by the witch hunt for communists turning its attention to the entertainment industry. As the pressure starts to build what will happen to the women and their friendship?

The Chelsea Girls follows a twenty year friendship between two women forged through a trauma in Italy, through the ups and downs of their careers. They’re both engaging and intriguing characters – Hazel’s mother is always comparing her to her brother who was killed in the war and finding her lacking, while Maxine is using the theatre to build a better life for her and her German immigrant grandmother. And as the red scare comes to Broadway, they both find themselves in the spotlight because of the actions of Hazel’s brother years before. And as well as being tense it’s also a wonderful portrait of the Chelsea Hotel – famously home to artists and bohemians, it becomes Hazel and Maxine’s refuge as they battle the outside forces trying to tear their lives apart.

I’ve been wanting to read this for ages. It came out two years ago and it’s been on my want to read list for about that long – so I’ve no idea where I even heard about it to start with. I read one of Fiona Davis’s other books a year or two back and liked the idea but didn’t love the execution, but this one really worked for me. It took me a day or two to properly get into it, but then I read 200 pages at a sitting because I wanted to see where it was going. I am fascinated with Old Hollywood, in fiction and non-fiction and this lives adjacent to that. I’ve written about some other books in this area before (like Trumbo and Karina Longworth’s Seduction) and this fitted right in to my wheelhouse. Well worth a look.

My copy came from the library, but it’s available now on Kindle and Kobo (and at time of writing is slightly cheaper on Kobo) as well as in paperback, although I’m not sure how easy that will be to get hold of in store – Foyles have stock to order, but not to click and collect.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: A Third Class Murder

I nearly broke away from the mystery theme of the last few weeks for today, and then I changed my mind. So much of my recent reading has been murder mysteries, that maybe I’ll end up doing mystery month. Although to be fair, a lot of them have been Inspector Littlejohn novels and that would get a little boring for you all!

When an antique dealer is murdered on a train, the police soon make an arrest. But Reverend Lucian Shaw was also on the train and soon becomes convinced that the police may have got the wrong man. When he starts to investigate he discovers that there may have been even more under currents in his parish than he knew about – although his wife could have filled him in on some of them!

A Third Class Murder really wants you to think that it’s a British Library Crime Classic, but it’s not. But don’t hold it against it,because it’s actually a nice, easy fun cozy crime novel that happens to be set in the 1930s. It’s not earth shattering or ground breaking, and yes I figured out who did it before the reveal but that’s fine – I wanted a murder mystery that I could enjoy and not have to think too hard about. Perfect lazy afternoon reading.

My copy came via my Kindle Unlimited Subscription, which means it’s only available on Kindle (at the moment at least).

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Black Plumes

Another week, another classic crime Book of the Week pick. And this time it’s a Margery Allingham that’s *not* an Albert Campion. On to that in a second, but first a reminder that there will be Mini Reviews tomorrow, and that if you missed the July Stats you can find them here.

Black Plumes starts with the slashing of a painting at a prestigious art gallery. Then the owner’s son-in-law is murdered. At the centre of the mystery is 90-year-old Gabrielle Ivory, formerly a society beauty, now side-lined by the younger generation who think she’s past it. But as the mystery develops it becomes clear that she may know more than they think she does – and she’s not going to let them ignore the threat to the gallery and chalk it up as a practical joker – even if there is a risk that the person behind them may be rather close to home.

This is a clever and atmospheric murder mystery. There are a lot of unlikeable characters in this, but also a lot of suspects – not all of whom are the unlikeable ones! You see this story mostly by following Frances, youngest of the Ivorys. At the start of the book her brother-in-law is pressuring her to marry the unpleasant co-owner of the gallery and artist and family friend, David Field, proposed a fake engagement to her as a way of getting out of it. Frances is convinced that something is wrong at the gallery but her concerns are dismissed by other members of the family – even after the murder has happened. David – whose painting is the one that is slashed at the start of the novel – is one of the only people who listens to her, but he is a bit of a rogue and some of the clues seem to point at him. I really enjoyed it – and if you haven’t read any Allingham before, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – especially as the Campion series takes a while to settle in, which can make it tricky for people who like to start series at the beginning.

My copy came from Kindle Unlimited but it’s also available to buy on Kindle where they also have a modern paperback edition, which Foyles also has available to order but not in store pickup. This was originally published in 1940 so there are likely to be second hand copies around – but I can see from some reviews mention of racially offensive language, which as I didn’t notice it in my Kindle edition has presumably been edited out in the newer versions but which will be in old editions

Happy Reading!

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!