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New Releases: January 20th

Three books from my anticipated books post are out today – and for once I’m ahead of the game and have finished all of them. Why aren’t I saving one of to be in the running for a BotW post? Well one of them already has been and the other two are thrillery and have plots that I can’t really tell you too much about without ruining it

Covers of A Fatal Crossing, The Maid and The Christie Affair

Let’s start with Tom Hindle’s A Fatal Crossing, which I read in basically three sittings, it’s just they were spread across ten days because I got distracted by Ashes of London. I requested this from NetGalley because it’s a murder mystery on a 1920’s cruise ship and but it’s actually quite hard to explain what’s going on without spoiling it all. Many of the passengers are on their way to an art fair in New York and as well as the murder there is a stolen artwork to deal with. And on top of that, you see it all through the eyes of Timothy Birch, an officer on board the ship who is running away from a tragedy at home but can never quite escape it. This is page turning and atmospheric and I thought I knew where it was going, but i was wrong. I might have figured it out if I hadn’t been convinced of my rightness and had thought a bit harder about the other possible options! It’s hard to tell though once you know – even if you go back and read again, you can never read it again like you don’t know!

From the 1920s to the present day and The Maid by Nita Prose. Molly is a maid at an upmarket boutique hotel. She knows that she’s not like everyone else – but now her gran is gone she has no one to explain human behaviour to her any more. So now she throws herself into her job – where her obsession with cleaning and etiquette as an asset. But when she finds one of the guests dead in his penthouse suite, she finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation where her personality quirks mean the police think she’s their prime suspect. But soon some friends she didn’t know she had are helping her to clear her name. Molly is one of the most unique narrators I have recently come across – and it’s definitely one of those cases where the reader can see things that Molly can’t. I was quite infuriated early on in the book by the way that Molly had been treated, but never fear, her situation was much improved by the end of the book – and without her changing her essential Molly-ness. This is maybe my favourite of the three. But then it’s also the one that I read last, so it could just be recency bias. I do think that this is the easiest to recommend though – I can see why it’s had so much buzz and has been picked out by Good Morning America and the New York Times. I think it will appeal to readers across genres in the way that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Where’d You Go Bernadette did.

And finally, I have already written about The Christie Affair – it was last week’s book of the week and if you’ve already read that post, consider this your reminder to go and read a sample/buy a copy! If you’re only going to read one of two historical mystery picks, I’m struggling to decide which one to suggest, except that I think the Christie Affair is closer to the murder mysteries that it’s protagonist writes and A Fatal Crossing is less traditional in terms of genre rules when it comes to the resolution. So for me I found the Christie Affair more satisfying but a Fatal Crossing is potentially more thought provoking – or at least might generate more arguments at your book club!

But all three of these are good books and if it wasn’t January and we weren’t in the midst of an omicron wave I would say that all three would be the sort of book you could read on your sun lounger by the side of the pool. As it is, read them on your sofa wrapped in a blanket!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction, reviews

Book of the Week: The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym

After a string of Christmas-themed recommendations for BotW, I’m starting the new year with a non-fiction pick, and it’s a title that you may be rather familiar with as it’s been on the ongoing list for quite some time – but don’t hold that against it. Why then has it taken me so long to read? Well firstly because it is long (500+ pages!) and secondly because non-fiction requires proper concentration and for me to be in the right mindset – which has been difficult recently but in 2021 in general – as previously discussed.

Anyway, Paula Byrne’s latest book is a biography of the author Barbara Pym. Pym wrote a series of novels about everyday women in the middle of the twentieth century, was briefly acclaimed, then forgotten and then rediscovered in the years immediately before her death in 1980. If you haven’t read any of them, then you really should – she’s been compared to Jane Austen. She was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1977 for Quartet in Autumn, but I’ve mostly read her earlier books – my favourite of hers Excellent Women, which I have in a rather delightful Virago Designer Hardback edition.

After growing up in Shropshire, Barbara Pym went up to Oxford in the early 1930s. There she threw herself into student life – and into love. She travelled to Germany in the 1930s, was a Wren during the war and then worked for years as an assistant editor for a journal of anthropology. Her novels often feature anthropologists, as well as vicars – whether she’s writing about London’s bedsit land or English country life. In later life, she was friends with Philip Larkin – which in part led to her rediscovery in the late 1970s

Using Pym’s own diaries and papers, Byrne has written a comprehensive re-examination of Pym’s life piecing together her relationships, friendships and love affairs as well as her career in publishing. It’s a fascinating insight into the life behind the writer – and how her personal life bled into her novels. Considering that she never married and that her books focus on unmarried or in some way frustrated women, you may be surprised by what you discover about her. Two of Byrnes other books – Kick (about Kathleen Kennedy) and Mad World (about Evelyn Waugh) are on my keeper shelf of history books already and this would join them, if it wasn’t an ebook! And if I haven’t already won you over with my thoughts, it was on the Times’ list of best books of 2021 too.

As an added bonus for me, given my current Wimsey phase, Pym was an undergraduate at St Hilda’s just a couple of years before Gaudy Night is set. Through her experiences you can get a glimpse of what the students of Shrewsbury College might have been getting up to out of sight of the dons.

My copy of The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym came via NetGalley, but you should be able to get hold of the hardback fairly easily – Foyles have it available as click and collect at a lot of their stores and will even knock a couple of quid off the cover price if you order it via their website. If the hardback price is a bit rich for you, then I’m so behind hand with my NetGalley list that it’s actually out in paperback in April, so you could hang fire for that. Or of course it’s available in Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook.

Happy Reading!

Best of..., book round-ups

Recommendsday: Best New Books of 2021

Yes, we’re not quite at the end of the year yet, but we’re close enough that I’m feeling fairly safe in posting this. Of course now I’ve written that, I’ll undoubtedly read something new and amazing in the last three days of the year to upset the apple cart. But hey, wouldn’t that be a delightful surprise. Anyway, these are my picks for the best new books that I read this year – they’ve all been Book of the Week Picks – so there’s plenty more detail about all of them in those posts if you click the links.

Non Fiction: Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Cover of Empire of Pain

This was actually quite a tough decision because I’ve read a lot of really good non-fiction books this year. Empire of Pain was a Book of the Week back in July, and it has really stuck with me. In fact, I originally borrowed it from the library, but I ended up buying it on Kindle as well so that the other people who share my Kindle account could read it too. THis is the story of the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma – the company that invented OxyContin. I think it will be of interest to people who know very little about the US opioid epidemic as well as those who know a bit more to start with. It will probably make you quite cross though to say the least. If you want something that will make you less rage filled at lives lost or ruined, try one The Cult of We, about We Work, although the enormous amounts of money being thrown at so called unicorn-startups may also induce rage.

Mystery: Dial A for Aunties by Jessie Q Subanto*

Cover of Dial A for Aunties

I’ve read a lot of mysteries this year, but not many of them were newly published. But Dial A for Aunties was a real treat – a farcical comedy murder mystery with a wedding setting to counteract the dark undertones of the premise of the heroine accidentally killing her blind date. I liked the inter-auntie bickering as well as the romantic subplot. The sequel – featuring Meddy’s wedding is due out in 2022 and I’m already looking forward to reading it.

Romance: Battle Royal by Lucy Parker

Cover of Battle Royal

This is another fabulous enemies to lovers romance from Lucy Parker to start her new series. It’s got a grumpy stuffy hero with a glittery, sunshine heroine. Both have darkness and sadness in their pasts (more details on that in the BotW post), but they work out that they are perfect for each other without any stupid misunderstandings or problems that can be solved with a conversation. Also you have to love a romance set on a baking show – see also Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake.

Other Fiction: The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Cover of The Guncle

Depressed and drifting since his big TV role ended, lapsed actor Patrick thinks that having to look after his niece and nephew for the summer is the worst idea ever. They’ve lost their mum, he’s lost his sister and having them around isn’t going to help him deal with it all. Except that it does. It’s also funny and snarky and camp. And the kids don’t fall into the super-irritating trap that so many book children do. Just a delight -even if it might give you the sniffles It’s still a nightmare to get hold of in the UK though – but since I wrote about it in July, it’s got onto NPR’s best books of the year list (as well as the Goodread awards list), so hopefully that situation will improve in 2022.

Bonus pick: Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light by Helen Ellis

Copy of Bring Your Baggage and Don't pack light

I didn’t quite know where to put this, because I haven’t read a lot of essay collections this year – and I haven’t read a lot of memoirs either, but i couldn’t do a best books post of this year without mentioning it. Helen Ellis’s latest essay collection is full of hilarious characters and incidents and makes you want to be in her friendship group – as long as she’s not going to write about you of course. I had this preordered ahead of it’s release – and it was BotW here the week it came out because I read it straightaway. It’s easier to get hold of than The Guncle, but it is a bit pricey as it’s still only in hardback here. It’s worth it though.

Here’s to plenty of new books to talk about in 2022!

Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: Double Whammy

As mentioned yesterday, most of my books last week were to help finish my Read the USA challenge for the year. And among them were a bunch of books that were first in series and a couple that were pitching themselves at people who like the Stephanie Plum series. And today’s pick is one of them.

Davis Way has just landed a new job: working for the Bellissimo Casino’s security team. But when she starts work, she soon runs into her ex-husband, her doppelgänger and a rigged slot machine game. Investigating what is going on sees her stuck behind bars and struggling to clear her name, until her landlord rides to the rescue. But can they figure out who is trying to frame Davis and will they be able to clear her name?

So there’s a lot going on in Double Whammy, and you’re going to have to suspend your disbelief a little. Well a lot. Also it maybe helps if you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of how casinos work and the rules about them in the US. It’s also doing a lot of series set up so expect to meet a lot of characters to keep track of. And it moves fast. There’s a lot of plot. But I enjoyed it as long as I didn’t think too hard about any of it! Davis is an interesting mix of smart and stupid, she’s quite snarky and can be a bit mean at times but I liked what the book was trying to do.

This first came out a few years back and started as Henery Press series from that era when I was having so much luck with their books. Looking back at my goodreads I see I read book six back in 2017 and enjoyed it but thought I was missing a lot of backstory that would have made me enjoy it more. The double cover here is because I discovered I had an earlier edition on my Kindle already when I borrowed the latest one from Kindle Unlimited and it grouped the two of them together on my iPad! I assume I bought the first.l book after I read book six, meaning to go back to the start and then promptly got distracted and forgot about it. Gretchen Archer has written ten books in this series now and all but the newest one are in KU at the moment, so once I’ve sorted out this pesky reading challenge I intend to read book 2 to see what happens next. And then who knows what might happen!

So as mentioned the Double Whammy is in Kindle Unlmited at the moment, which means it’s not on other vendors in ebook. I can see Amazon offering a paperback version, but I have no idea what sort of edition that is, and I’ve never seen one of these in a store in the UK (or the US when I was out there) so I suspect ebook is going to be the way forward.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Love Hypothesis

I read a lot of books on holiday last week including a lot of mysteries but breaking with recent trends I’m going for a romance novel. But as I said yesterday there were lots of things I want to talk about, so I suspect you’ll be hearing about more of them soon anyway.

Olive needs to convince her best friend that she’s over her ex (because her best friend fancies him and won’t date him until Olive has found someone else). Because they’re all PHD students, Anh is demanding empirical proof of this, so Olive has a bit of a panic and kisses the first man she sees. Unfortunately the man in question is Adam Carlsen – a rising star in the science world, a professor at the uni and also known as a tyrant towards his PHD students. But for some reason, he agrees to her proposal that he be her fake boyfriend. But the more time they spend together, the more Olive finds that she may actually quite like him. But that wasn’t the deal was it? But what really is going on between them – and can it survive a science conference where Olive’s career takes a bit of a turn?

Goodness me I love a fake relationship romance and this one works really well. It’s all told from Olive’s point of view, which I wasn’t expecting, but it means that you *think* you know what’s going on with Adam, but you’re never quite sure. I don’t know a lot about the world of academia, but I did like the fact that the book explicitly addressed the issues of a relationship between teacher and a student and spelled out the reasons why it was ok and what they had done about it. I was worried for a little while that the denouement was going to rely on a Stupid Misunderstanding or People Not Having Basic Conversations which are two of my pet peeves in the romance genre, but it doesn’t and it’s actually really neatly done. I raced through it in an evening and was really sad when it was over. I was always an arts and languages person at school and not a STEM one, so I loved the details about what it’s like working in labs and working in higher levels of academia. This is Ali Hazelwood’s debut novel and I am really looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

My copy of The Love Hypothesis came from the library, but it’s out now in paperback, Kindle, Kobo and audiobook. The paperback isn’t showing any click and collect on Foyles’ website, so I suspect it may be an order it in thing – at the moment at any rate. One last thing: helpfully there are some content warnings for the book on Ali Hazelwood’s website – mild spoilers ahoy.

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, cozy crime, crime, detective, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: These Names Make Clues

I mean I would say that this is slightly cheating but you know that already because I told you yesterday that I hadn’t quite finished this because I went to see Jools Holland, so you already know that I finished this on Monday. But I did read most of it last week and it is my favourite thing I (mostly) read last week so it’s fair game for this.

These Names Makes Clues is a classic closed group mystery. Detective Inspector MacDonald is invited to a treasure hunt at the house of a well-known publisher. Along the other guests are writers of mysteries, romances and other books all with pseudonyms to hide their identities as part of the game. But before the night is over, one of the guests has been found dead in the telephone room and MacDonald is suddenly involved in an investigation filled with fake names and complicated alibis.

I really enjoyed this. I’ve recommended some books by E C R Lorac before and this is right up there. There are plenty of mysteries among the cast of suspects, even though some of them are revealed quite late on which is verging on cheating for the rules of Golden Age mystery writing but I forgave it because it’s a proper thrill ride towards the end as it all unravels. If you have kindle unlimited this is definitely worth a look as it’s currently in the rotation of British Library Crime Classics included in your membership in the UK.

My copy of These Names Make Clues came from the British Library bookshop during my book buying spree on my London trip in mid-October, but as mentioned above it’s available on Kindle Unlimited at the moment – which means I can’t find it on other ebook vendors, but when the unlimited period ends it may well pop up on Kobo again.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: The Body on the Beach

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!

Happy Reading!

*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.

Book of the Week, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: Ambush or Adore

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.

Happy Reading!

* Lord Akeldama of course. Who else could possibly be.

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!