Authors I love, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Suddenly Last Summer

Yes.  I know. This is late.  And short.  But Christmas preps + work + Noirville = stressed and behind Verity.  Sorry.  Normal service will be resumed soon.  I hope.  Or at least if it doesn’t I’m going to cry.  Any how.  It was also a hard choice this week – I loved the new Gail Carriger novella, Romancing the Werewolf, but it’s only been a few weeks since Imprudence was my BotW.  I also read a lot of Christmassy books – some of which you’ll be hearing about soon so I couldn’t use them either.  So this week’s BotW is the very unseasonal Suddenly Last Summer by Sarah Morgan, because I read two of the three Snow Crystal books last week, back to back, because they were so much fun.

Cover of Suddenly Last Summer

Suddenly Last Summer is the middle book of the three – the other two are Christmas-themed – and I read the first one in December last year and then the third one last week when it was on offer for this Christmas and I discovered I already had this on my kindle waiting for me. Yes.  I have so many books on my Kindle that I don’t know what’s on there.  I don’t know why that surprises you given everything you know about my to-read pile.  Moving on, so this is the story of Sean-the-surgeon and Elise-the-French-chef.  Sean is too busy for a relationship – not that that stops women from trying – and Elise has sworn off relationships for good.  They had a fling the previous year – and spark is still there.  Will they be able to work things out to get a happy ending?

Well they do of course, because this is Romancelandia, but the fun is watching them get there. The chemistry between Sean and Elise is great – they have a firey passionate relationship that starts out as just a physical thing (or at least they tell themselves that) but develops into something more than they were expecting or can handle.  This also has a really strong sense of place and family ties.  It’s set in and around the Snow Crystal resort that Sean’s family owns and he has a very conflicted relationship with the resort and it affects how he gets on with his family.  Sean loves the place – or at least he does when he spends enough time there to remember how much he likes the outdoor life and the things that come with it, but he hates the responsibility that comes the family’s ownership of the resort and how it affected his father and stopped him from being able to do what he wanted.  Elise is French and is struggling with events that happened in Paris in her past and that is colouring how she makes all of her relationsjips.  Watching the two of them work through their issues – because as always with Sarah Morgan, love doesn’t solve the problem – is really rewarding.

I read this at totally the wrong time of year, but I still really enjoyed it.  In fact it made a nice break from Christmas stories and Noir.  As I’ve said before, Sarah Morgan writes great romances where characters have real problems to solve and where finding love isn’t the protagonist’s main goal – they’re trying to sort their lives out in some way and finding love is a delightful side effect of that.  Morgan is a prolific writer and there always seems to be one of her books on offer for 99p on Kindle – as I write this it’s former BotW Moonlight over Manhattan, which I highly recommend.

Suddenly Last Summer is available on Kindle, Kobo and in paperback if you can find it – Amazon have it, but I suspect you’ll have to order it in to your local bookshop rather than find it on the shelves.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Gone Gull

A quickie and a bit of a cheat for this week’s BotW – I’ve been busy writing the Christmas gift posts and reading the books to put in them.  I’ve written about Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series before, although it’s the first time I’ve made one Book of the Week – mostly because the point when I was glomming on the early series was before I started writing BotW posts the way that I do now.

Cover of Gone Gull by Donna Andrews

Anyway, Gone Gull is the 21st book in the series and sees Meg and her family spending the summer at her grandmother’s newly established craft centre.  Meg is teaching blacksmithing, her husband is teaching acting and helping look after the children, her grandfather is teaching ornithology and her dad is on hand two.  But it looks like someone may be trying to sabotage the centre and then one of the teachers is found dead.  Soon Meg is investigating and trying to work out who has it in for Biscuit Mountain.

One of the joys of this series is the crazy extended family and almost all the regular characters in the series are here – there’s not much of Meg’s mum or brother, but that’s fine because it’s nice to get to know Meg’s Grandmother Cordelia better.  The problem for a lot of long running murder series is that often it seems like the detecting character is the harbinger of doom (aka don’t be friends with Jessica Fletcher or you’ll end up dead) but one of my favourite things about this series is the way that Andrews manages to find different locations to take her characters so that it doesn’t feel quite so dangerous in Meg’s home town! It was also really nice to see Meg back at her anvil – her blacksmith business was prominent in the early books in the series, but had faded into the background somewhat while the twins were little.

These books fall at the humorous end of the cozy crime spectrum – they’re not laugh a minute, but as the pun-based titles suggest there’s plenty of fun in these – with eccentric characters and strange set ups.  I’m nearly up to date with the series now – I thought I was bang up to date, but the Christmas book (How the Finch stole Christmas) came out at the end of October, although I suspect it’ll take a while before I can justify buying it.

As always with posts about series, I think you’re best starting at the beginning – a Murder with Peacocks is the first one and although it’s out of print new, there are secondhand copies on Amazon and it’s under £4 on Kindle as I write this. But actually, these are stand alone – the thing you miss by not going back to the start is the building of the cast of characters and Meg’s relationship.  As well as meeting her ever expanding extended family over the course of the books, Meg doesn’t hurry into marriage – or into having children – which makes for a really fun journey for her and for the reader.  I think a reader could have fun wherever they start the series – so what ever you decide:

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Series I love

Book of the Week: The Days of Anna Madrigal

Quite a short BotW post this week, for a multitude a real life reasons, so sorry about that.  Any way, this week’s pick is the final (for now at least) Tales of the City books.

Library copy of Days of Anna Madrigal
In case they’ve somehow passed you by, the nine Tales of the City Books tell the interconnected stories of the residents of a house in San Francisco, starting in the 1970s and going up until pretty much the present day. Written by Armistead Maupin, the books started off as a newspaper column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Most of the books are episodic and jump between the different characters’ points of view. 

True to my no-spoilers policy, there’s not a lot about the plot of this that I can tell you, except that we rejoin the redoubtable Anna Madrigal, now in her 90s and some of her former tenants as she prepares for a road trip that will see her revisit her past and try to resolve some unfinished business. If you haven’t read the other books in the series, please don’t start here, go back to the start and read Tales of the City and follow them through. It’s taken me three years to do the whole series, and it’s been so worth it.

This isn’t my favourite of the nine, perhaps because I knew it was the last one and I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters, but it’s still a wonderful trip with old friends, who you feel like you know inside out because you know them so well. A bittersweet end to the journey.

My copy of The Days of Anna Madrigal came from the library, but you should be able to find it in all good bookshops. 

Happy Reading!

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

Book of the Week: To Bed With Grand Music

I knew less than halfway through this book that I was going to have to lend this to my sister and my mother, and as soon as I finished this book that it was going to be this week’s BotW.  Hands down.  And as you’ve probably never heard of it (I hadn’t before I got given a copy) this makes it possibly the best sort of BotW – because hopefully it means I might point a few more people towards it.

My copy of To Bed with Grand Music
Ok, so it’s not the most exciting looking book ever, but don’t let that fool you…

In To Bed With Grand Music we follow the wartime adventures Deborah, a young wife and mother whose husband has been posted to Cairo.  On the first page, while in bed together before he leaves, he says that he cannot promise to be physically faithful to his wife because “God alone knows how long I’ll be stuck in the Middle East, and it’s no good saying I can do without a woman for three or four years, because I can’t.”  Instead he promises not to fall in love and not to sleep with anyone who might possibly take her place.  He asks Deborah to promise same.  But Deborah doesn’t take him up on his offer, instead she promises to be absolutely faithful to him and not act on any attraction she might feel to anyone else – in the hopes that he’ll change his mind and do the same.  He doesn’t and is soon off to Egypt, leaving Deborah and their son Timmy at home in the countryside with the housekeeper come nanny.

But it doesn’t take long for Deborah to get fed up of life in the countryside and bored of her son.  Deborah, it turns out, is a terrible person.  She’s got a gift for rationalising in her mind whatever it is that she wants to do as being the best solution to whatever problem (real or imagined) that she is facing.  So she decides that the best solution is for her to get a war job in London.  This would mean being away from Timmy during the week and leaving him in the cae of the housekeeper, but she rationalises this as being the best thing for him – because although he’ll see her less, he’ll only see the best parts of her because she’ll be so much happier in herself.  So off she goes to London, where she meets up with an old friend in the hopes that she can help her find a job.  She and Madeleine (the friend) end up going out for dinner with a couple of soldiers and Deborah ends up staying the night and sleeping with one of the men.  Oops.  So much for that promise Deborah.  She’s repulsed by her own actions and scurries back to the countryside and puts off the idea of getting a job.  But soon she’s bored again and changes her mind and takes a job in London and moves in with her friend, however she’s determined not to make the same mistake again…

Madeleine at first was quite prepared to make Deborah’s life less lonely.  She accepted as a natural obligation that for a week or two she would introduce Deborah to people until gradually Deborah could build up a circle of her own.  But Deborah resisted all Madeleine’s suggestions for companionable evenings: if I once give in, she told herself, I’m done for, certain in her own mind that even a sherry party or a game of bridge could have only one conclusion.  She martyred herself til her very martyrdom became her excuse for her release.

And that pretty much sets the tone for all that happens next.  I think you can probably work out where this is going, but I don’t want to spoil it for you because it’s so much fun watching in fascinated horror as Deborah manages to justify abandoning bit by bit whatever moral code she has as she tries to get herself the glamourous life she thinks that she deserves – and how the climate in wartime allows her to do that.

As you’ve probably worked out, this is not a home fires burning, sweet little wife pining at home sort of World War II novel.  This is the seamier side of wartime relationships – if you can’t cope with casual sex and marital infidelity, don’t read this book.  But if you read the Camomile Lawn and want to read about a character who has all of Calypso’s worst traits and then some, then this may well be the book that you have been searching for.  Equally if you’ve read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, then there’s all the bad bits of Villy and Louise and early Zoe here without the redeeming features.  Deborah is brilliantly, splendidly dreadful and her exploits are compulsively readable.

To Bed With Grand Music was originally published in 1946, with the author given as “Sarah Russell”.  It’s now been republished by Persephone Press (one of my favourite sources for books like this) with the real name of its author – Marghanita Laski who (under her own name) was a journalist and author from a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals.   Given the book’s frank depiction of sex and morality, I can totally understand why the author didn’t want to attach her real name to the book at the time.

You should be able to get hold of the Persephone Press edition from Big Green Books or order it from Amazon – I can’t find an ebook edition at the moment.

Happy reading!

Adventure, Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Lots of painting and filling and cleaning in my week off work, and not as much reading as usual, but in the end it was an easy choice for this week’s BotW – Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog. Delightfully this was a recommendation from a work colleague who thought I would love it and he was totally right. I love it when that happens.

Ned Henry has time-lag. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s trying to find a hideous artefact in the ruins of Coventry cathedral. But all those jumps have scrambled his brain and he’s sent to Victorian England to recover away from the demands of Lady Schrapnell – who is rebuilding the original Coventry cathedral in the middle of Oxford. The bad news is he has one job to do in the nineteenth century before he can relax. The trouble is, the time-lag means he can’t remember what it is. There’s a boat trip, eccentric dons, drippy maidens, dopey undergrads, a cat and a fellow time traveller called Verity Kindle.

I loved this so much. It’s got so much of my catnip in here: it’s got modern people having to grapple with the Victorian era, it’s full of references to other books – of particular interest to me through thread of Peter Wimsey and Golden Age crime novels – and a mystery adventure plot as they try and hunt down the Bishop’s Bird Stump and prevent the future from being altered because of their actions.

To recap: time travel, history, humour, literary in-jokes and Peter Wimsey references galore. What more could I want?

This was my first Connie Willis book, so now the research is going on to figure out which of her other novels might be my cup of tea. If you like the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, by Jodi Taylor, you should definitely try this but I can’t think of many other books to compare this to (If you have any other suggestions for fun time travelling novels please do let me know) although I think if you like steampunky novels this might work for you, ditto books full of references to books. I need to go and read Three Men in a Boat because that’s a big influence here, and I’ve never read it. I also need to go and buy myself a copy of this because I want one for myself so I can lend it and I’m going to have to give this copy back.

You can get a copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog from all the usual sources.

Happy reading!

 

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Born a Crime

This week’s BotW is Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, which I’ve wanted to read since I heard about it and picked up in a Kindle Daily deal a while back.  I started off by reading it in chunks (hence why it took me a few weeks to read) and then ended up reading the second half pretty much in one sitting.


For those of you who don’t know, Trevor Noah is a South African comedian who succeeded Jon Stewart as the host of the Daily Show in late 2015.  This book isn’t an about his rise to fame though, it’s a collection of essays about his childhood and adolescence in South Africa, where as the child of a white father and a black mother he was literally illegal.  Hence the title.

This is both a engaging look at the childhood of a very naughty and mischievous child and a fascinating but horrifying look at how Apartheid worked and its very real effects on people’s lives.  I’m in my early 30s and, because I was brought up in a house where if the radio was on it was playing Radio 4, I can remember the end of the Apartheid system, but until I read this I hadn’t really appreciated the full reality of what had been going on in South Africa less than 30 years ago.  And as Trevor Noah is pretty much my age – give or take a month or two – I could draw exact paralells between his childhood and mine – we were passing the same milestones at the same time.

This is darkly funny in places and profoundly shocking in others.  There are hilarious stories here about going from church on a Sunday, about dating and about the language barrier.  But Noah’s childhood was far from easy – he spent large periods being hidden inside houses to avoid detection – and if he did go out extreme measures were needed to protect him.  Even after the end of Apartheid, Trevor never really fits in anywhere – even in his own family.  But one of the things that shines through in this book is his mother’s love for him and her determination that he should dream bigger than the rules that society has set out for him.  It’s packed with background information about how South Africa worked – but wears it very lightly because it’s woven in to the narrative of the book so well.

I read this on my kindle, but could hear Noah’s own voice in every paragraph.  In fact if you’re more patient than I am, you can have him read it to you because he narrates the audiobook himself.  I gained even more respect for Noah having read this – and am even more annoyed that he had to cancel his tour date in my home town because he got the Daily Show gig.  I still have the unused ticket sitting in the bottom of my ticket box.  I suspect the opportunity to see him in a venue that small won’t come around again – but the book it good enough that I’ll try and get over it!

You should be able to get Born a Crime from all good bookshops – or you could order if from the Big Green Bookshop.  As I write this, the Kindle and Kobo editions are more expensive than the paperback one, but it has gone in deals before, so you could add it to your wishlist and wait.  And as I already mentioned, it’s also available as an audiobook from Audible and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

literary fiction, non-fiction, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Quick reviews

As the deadline for Fahrenheit’s #Noirville competition draws ever closer – you’ve only got three days to go people, three days – I’ve been trying to clear the decks a bit so that I’m ready to read the entries.  So I thought I’d mention a few books this Recommendsday that I’ve read recently but haven’t chatted about.  It’s a bit eclectic, but that’s just how I roll and I know you won’t mind!

The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray

Ever wondered what Queen Victoria ate?  Annie Gray has the answers.  As well as looking at what Victoria ate across the course of her reign, it looks at how the kitchens worked, who worked there and who else they were feeding as well as the Queen.  It jumps backwards and forwards  in the timeline a little bit, but I came away feeling like I’d learned a lot about upper class dining in the nineteenth century.  ITV’s TV series Victoria is back on screen at the moment – and although the Victoria in that is very much the young queen, this would still make a nice companion read for people who want to know a bit more about the Queen’s life and her household.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

Meet Nora and Dora Chance – former musical all stars, illegitimate twin daughters of a pillar of the theatrical establishment – on their 75th birthday, which by coincidence is also their father’s 100th birthday.  Join them as Dora tells you the story of their lives before they head to the (televised) party.  This is a whirling, magical realist journey through the world of the theatre – legitimate and otherwise – full of Shakespeare references and sets of twins galore.  I found it enjoyably bonkers although it took a little while before I got my head around it all – there is a big old cast of characters here – and I’m still thinking about it a couple of weeks later.

True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop by Annie Darling

You may remember me raving about the Little Bookshope of Lonely Hearts last year – and now it has a sequel.  The good news is that this is not the sort of sequel that breaks up the couple that you’ve invested so much in in the first book and then getting them back together.  This sees one of the other girls who works in the bookshop get her happily ever after.  I always find it slightly weird to read books where the main character has my name, but I liked Verity Love so much that I got over that quite quickly.  This Verity is an Austen mad introvert, who invents a boyfriend to keep her friends off her back and then ends up with a real life fake boyfriend.  I had a few issues with Johnny’s back story – and insufficient grovelling at the end – but was mostly swept away by this – I do love a relationship of convenience story.

Right, that’s your lot for now, but I hope there’s something in here that’s tickled your fancy and might help you fill a reading gap while I’m off reading all those Noirville entries.

Happy Reading!