Despite all the books I really ought to be finishing, I started a new series last week and it was fun so that made my choice today easier – because the other option was V for Vengeance and not only have I written about Kinsey Milhone before, I’m nearing the end of the series and I feel a series I love post on that in my future!
Carole Sedden is sensible. She makes sensible decisions about what to do with her sensible retirement from her sensible house in the desirable but slightly insular village of Fethering on the south coast. She doesn’t want to get drawn into the petty rivalries of her neighbours or draw too much attention to herself. Her new neighbour Jude is clearly not a sensible person. She wears clothes that waft and encourages visits to the pub and day drinking. Carole isn’t going to encourage her. Except that Carole found a body on the beach while she took her dog on it’s morning walk, the police can’t find the body and don’t believe her and a woman has turned up at her house and waved a gun at her. She’s not quite sure why she told Jude about it, but soon the two of them are investigating the (potential) murder and Carole is doing some very un-sensible things indeed!
So I was recommended this as a “if you like Richard Osman try this” series* and I would say that that’s not a bad call. They predate the Thursday Murder Club series by about twenty years and the protagonists are not quite as old, but this is a fun and clever mystery with two interesting central characters and a cast of eccentric secondary characters. I love Simon Brett’s Charles Paris series, and they have a similar sense of humour in the writing style, although Carole is nothing like the probably alcoholic, grass is always greener, not as successful as he would like Charles. But if you like Charles, definitely try these.
The Body on the Beach is in Kindle Unlimited at the moment and also available on Kobo. If you want a paperback, you’ll probably have to dig around a bit or go second hand (or both!
*yes I am aware of the irony of reading this start to finish whilst not having finished the new Richard Osman, but there are a lot of these in the series and I’ll have to wait another year for the next Osman.
I’m going to start this review with an apology: Ambush or Adore is a fan service piece from Gail Carriger, so really it will only work for you if you’ve already read a lot of Gail Carriger’s works. But it was also the only book I read last week that made me cry and it was the book I enjoyed the most. So sorry to the rest of you – but you have mini reviews coming up tomorrow to help ease your pain and if reading this makes you want to read some of the Carrigerverse I will provide pointers on that at the end.
Agatha Woosnoss is the greatest intelligence gatherer of her generation, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. In fact, so skilled is she that you probably wouldn’t be able to find her in the room to look at her, even if you knew she was there. Pillover Plumleigh-Teignmott is a professor of ancient languages at Oxford. He’s also probably the only person who has always seen Agatha, even if she doesn’t realise it. Ambush or Adore spans more than forty years and follows these two from school through Middle Age, so you can see what happened to them after Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Academy crashed.
If you don’t know what Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Academy was (or how it was able to crash) this book probably isn’t going to be for you. Yes it’s a slightly star crossed friends to lovers story across the decades but really this is for the fans. It starts with the flight home at the end of Reticence, skips back to the end of Manners and Mutiny and fills in the gaps of what happened to two members of the Finishing School posse across the course of the entire Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocol Series. There are guest appearances from everyone’s favourite vampire* and some of the other finishing school crew. There are references to the ones you don’t see. There are nods to the events of the series. It has pretty much everything I wanted and I loved it. As I said at the top, it made me cry with all the heartache and yearning but it’s also incredibly tender and there is such a satisfying resolution to it all.
I had my copy of Ambush and Adore preordered but you can buy direct from Gail Carriger as well as from Kindle and Kobo and the audiobook will arrive some time in the near future.. There is no physical edition at the moment, but it will be included in a hardcover omnibus of the Delightfully Deadly series that it’s a part of early next year. If you have not read any Gail Carriger before and now fancy reading about a steampunk Victorian Britain with vampires, werewolves and a society of lady intelligencers, you have two options: chronological order or publication order. I’ve written a whole post about the series, but in short chronological order puts the Young Adult Finishing School series first, publication see you start with Soulless and the Parasol Protectorate series, then go backwards to Finishing School and then forwards again to Prudence, which is set a decade or so after the end of the Parasol Protectorate. I prefer chronological because you get some delightful reveals, but that may also be because that’s the order I read them in. How can I really tell because things are only a surprise once! Whatever you try it’ll be fun.
* Lord Akeldama of course. Who else could possibly be.
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.
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.
Have I already written about one book about We Work? Yes. Is it going to stop me from writing another one? Nope. You’re welcome and also welcome to my reading life!
Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell’s The Cult of We is, as the subtitle suggests an examination of start up culture viewed through the prism of the rise (and fall) of We Work. In case you’ve missed my previous post or in fact the whole We Work saga, We Work was set up by Adam Neumann as reimagining the work space. It was subletting office space to smaller companies – like other companies had done before – but managing to make it sound like something new and revolutionary and get it classed alongside tech startups with much lower price overheads. The company started to implode when it tried to launch its IPO – which it needed to raise more money to keep the lights on – but Neumann walked away with much of his fortune intact.
I’ve already written about Reeves Wiedeman’s Billion Dollar Loser, which also covers Neumann and We Work and yet I still got new perspectives from this. This answers some of the questions Wiedeman didn’t – partly because it had more time to see what happened, but also takes a bigger look (I think) at how the financing of these sorts of companies is done and how made investors went for unicorn start ups that weren’t making profits. It could be recency bias, but my inclination is to say that this is the better choice if you’re only going to read one – you get all the mind boggling stories about the antics of Neumann (extra cleaning on private planes because of the cannabis-fueled partying on board) and his wife Rebekah (including the recipe for Cheezy sprinkle – hint, there is no cheese but there is nutritional yeast) but you also get more detail on the high finance side of things and who was investing in all of this.
Which ever book you read though, the story of We Work probably won’t make you as angry as Bad Blood or Empire of Pain – but that may be because office rental is not as easy to get worked up about as revolutionary blood testing or the opioid epidemic. Or maybe the story of Theranos really is that bonkers. But it’s still definitely worth a read if you like a Big Business explosion story and also if you don’t want to get so angry about the contents you want to throw the book/e-reader across the room!
My copy of The Cult of We came from NetGalley, but it’s out now and should be available via all the usual sources as well as in Kindle and Kobo. It’s also available in audiobook and I would expect the hardback to be in stock in the larger bookstores – Foyles have click and collect as an option for several stores, in London and outside, which is usually a good sign.
Back with another murder mystery again this week. It’s another British Crime Classic, but it’s a new to me author so that makes variety right?!
Scotland Yard are called in to investigate the murder of the landlord of a pub in an East Anglian village known for its insular nature and hostility to outsiders. Samuel Whitehead was a stranger to the neighbourhood, but somehow he seemed to be making a reasonable go of it – right up until the point that someone stabbed him in is own bar around closing time one night. Detective Inspector Young is struggling to make inroads in the case, so he calls on a friend and amateur sleuth, Desmond Merrion, to help him solve the murder.
This is the first book by Miles Burton that I’ve read, but it has a number of recognisable Golden Age crime tropes – east Anglia and it’s villages being a bit strange (see also: a fair few Margery Allinghams, but particularly Sweet Danger, Sayers’ The Nine Tailors, the Inspector Littlejohn I read the other week) and of course the gentleman amateur detective. Burton’s Merrion has a military background – but this time it’s the navy, which is useful because there is a lot of sailing in this plot. It’s a bit uneven in places – the focus of the narrative switches abruptly to Merrion from Young, Mavis the love interest is a little bit of a one dimensional Not Like Other Girls character and the secret is, well. But if you’ve read a lot these sort of classic murder mysteries it’s worth a look – to see how someone different tackles all these things. I would read some more of these – partly just to find out what Merrion turns into and see if he evolves the way that some of the other similar characters did (but particularly Campion). The British Crime Library have republished at least one other of these so I’ll keep an eye out.
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.
I’m finishing the month as I started it, with another murder mystery book pick for my Book of the Week, in a slightly cheaty move because I finished it on Monday, but I’ve talked enough about Inspector Littlejohn recently already, and that was pretty much all I actually finished last week! But before I get down to my review of the new Derek Farrell, a quick reminder that tomorrow is the Mini Reviews and Thursday will be the August Stats.
Danny Bird is facing up to a scary prospect: a weekend at a country house to help Caz fulfill a promise to a dead friend. Pub manager Ali is chauffeuring them down to Dukes Halt where they find a mismatched set of weekend guests: a Hollywood actress, a right-wing MP and an Albanian gangster among them. Soon there’s a body in their midst and Danny is detecting again to try and clear himself and his friends. But he’s also trying to work out what happened at the house decades ago when he discovers an unhappy boy’s secret diary.
This is the fifth outing for Danny and the gang and it’s a good one. Farrell has taken Danny out of the Marq (the Asbo twins are left in charge of running a talent night while they’re gone and I look forward to seeing how that works out) and put him into a country house murder mystery in the grand tradition of the genre. It’s got everything you would expect from an Agatha Christie – but updated to the present day. In one of the earlier books in the series Danny is described as Poirot on poppers, which is a great line but doing Danny a slight disservice now because he is not the isolated external figure that Poirot is. He’s got friends, relationships, a perspective and that all comes into focus in this. You also see him more on his own in this that he has been in the previous series so there’s a lot more about who Danny is and what he believes in that you’re used to and that’s a really good development. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of witty banter and oneliners. The pandemic means there has been a longer break between full length books than I was hoping when I finished Death of an Angel (although Death of a Sinner did help) but I think Death at Dukes Halt has been worth the wait.
You can get Death at Dukes Halt direct from the publisher, Fahrenheit Press, who have it in various ebook formats and paperback. If you do get the paperback from them, you get the ebook with it as well which is nice – I started reading the paperback and then switched to the kindle so I could read it on the move. But you can also get it on Kindle.
Making a break from the crime picks of recent weeks, I’m going with a romance pick, because why not. I’ll get to that in a minute, but because I forgot to mention it yesterday, don’t forget to check out my rather belated summer reading post. And also coming up this week is another batch of recommendations – this time for non-fiction history books.
Anyway, Battle Royal is the first book in Lucy Parker’s new Palace Insiders series. Sylvie was a contestant on a TV baking show four years ago. Her glittery, whimsical aesthetic was a fan favourite, but she got voted off the show when a bake went spectacularly awry. Since the show she’s set up her own bakery and now she’s back – as a judge. Dominic was the only judge who wasn’t impressed with Sylvie when she was on the show, even before the mishap. He’s a brilliant baker but he’s also serious and stuffy. He already thought he saw too much of Sylvie, because her bakery is opposite his, but now they’re going to be judging the show together. And then Princess Rose’s engagement is announced. Dominic’s family bakery has been baking cakes for royalty for years and they’re the bookies’ favourite to make the wedding cake, but Sylvie and her team think they’re a better fit for the unconventional princess’s big day. Suddenly Sylvie and Dominic are competing on every front…
Lucy Parker writes the best enemies to lovers romances. I mean I’m not sure what else I need to say. She comes up with wonderful scenarios where the heroine and hero have genuine reasons to not like each other but then works it all out so the bit where they get together is just the most satisfying thing ever. This one does need to come with a content warning: there’s some child neglect and a whole lot of bereavement in the backstories of our leads. I was a weepy mess at several points (and I don’t think it was because I was over tired) but because of the sad pasts and memories not because either the hero or heroine had done something unspeakably awful if you know what I mean.
I treated myself to this on release day last week and it did exactly what I wanted it too. It made me laugh, it made me cry and it gave me a big sweeping romantic arc where the hero and heroine work out that they’re perfect for each other without any Stupid Misunderstandings or conflict that could have been solved with a simple conversation. They are competing against each other but they’re not sabotaging each other or bad mouthing each other or anything like that. It was just wonderful. Pretty much my only regret is that now I’ve read it I have to wait a year for the next one. And based on the bits of the next couple that you see in this, that’s going to be a corker soon.
This is the first in the series, so nothing to worry about there, but if you like this and you haven’t read any Lucy Parker before, do go back and read the London Celebrities series – if you like this sort of trope and these sort of characters then you’re in for a treat.
My copy of Battle Royal was from the Kindle store, but it’s also available on Kobo. Amazon are also listing a paperback, but I can’t see it on the Foyles or Waterstones websites, which would fit with my previous experience that you’re probably going to have to import a copy if you want a physical one. But the ebooks are reasonably priced, so don’t let that deter you!
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).
Honestly I nearly started this with “another week, another crime pick” but then I got such bad deja vu that I realised I did that last week. But it’s still true. For the third week in a row, I’m picking a murder mystery book for my BotW. But as I said yesterday, I’m in a distinctly murder mystery mood so I don’t know how surprising this news is!
Sally and Johnny Heldar have helped solved mysteries before, so when the woman that Johnny’s cousin Tim wants to marry finds herself caught up in a murder case, it’s only natural that Tim turns to them for help. Prue’s employer has been murdered and as a result she’s called off their engagement. Tim is desperate for Sally and Johnny to clear Prue’s name and win her back for him; but the more they investigate, the more complicated the mystery gets, with infidelity and blackmail and wartime treachery to contend with.
I read a previous Heldar mystery, Answer in the Negative, last year and really enjoyed it. I like Sally and Johnny as characters in both books – they have a nice relationship where they both get to do investigating. This is a previously unpublished entry in the series that the author’s nephew discovered in a stash of manuscripts. It’s not known when exactly this was written, but I would guess around the time that it was set – which is the early 1950s. The introduction says it went unpublished because tastes changed, which makes me sad because it’s too good to have only come to light now.
I’ve read a lot of mysteries with roots in the First World War and a lot set in the Wars but not a lot in set in the fifties with links to the Second World War. So this is a nice change. It’s also interestingly twisty, but follows the rules that the clues are there if you know where to look. On the basis of this, I’m hoping that more of the unpublished Heldar books find their way into the light soon.
I got an advance copy of this, but it’s actually out on Thursday in Kindle and Kobo.