Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical

Book of the Week: Sorcerer to the Crown

After that run of (excellent) murder mysteries a few weeks back, I’m trying to make sure there’s a bit of variety in the BotW posts – obviously reading material permitting – and this week we have some magical historical fiction action for a change, with Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, which you may have spotted on the Week in Books lists just a few times.  This was mostly because I started reading it and then it got buried in a pile and a bit forgotten about because I didn’t want to make it all battered by putting it in my work bag.  But as you can see, in the end I found a way of dealing with it and it made it to work and back a couple of times while I read it and is still in fairly pristine nick…

Copy of Sorcerer to the Crown
It’s been a while since we had a Reading-on-the-Train photo…

Sorcerer to the Crown is the story of Zacharias, the new Sorcerer to the British king and his new apprentice, Prunella.  Now women are only allowed to be witches, and grudgingly at that, but Prunella seems to have more magic at her untrained fingertips than she knows what to do with and Zacharias thinks she might be able to help him work out what has happened to England’s supply of magic, and at the same time help him reform English Magick in general.  Prunella has other plans though.  She’s trying to find out where she came from and what the mysterious gift is that her father seems to have left her.  On top of all that, Zacharias is a freed slave and despite the fact that he was the adopted son of the previous Sorcerer to the Crown, his skin colour means that the other magicians are disinclined to follow his lead – especially given the rumours surrounding the circumstances of the death of his predecessor.  That plus an impulsive and impetuous young girl makes for a fairly explosive combination.

I found the story is a little slow to get going, but once it does there is plenty of adventure and action.  I wanted to know a more about the world that we were and how it worked sooner, but a lot of information is held back from the reader for a long time.  This makes it very hard for you to get a sense of where you are and to get your bearings early on.  Prunella is a great character, full of derring-do and get up and go, but I didn’t find her very likeable.  Zacharias is more promising, but because he’s so caught up in rules and problems and on top of that is a bit wet, so I found it a bit hard to find some one to like and root for.  But he was definitely on the side of right, and Prunella probably was, so that helped!

I had heard a lot of talk about Sorcerer to the Crown and lots of recommendations from bookish people, but in the end I liked rather that loved it.  A sequel is coming I believe and I’ll probably look for that at the library rather than buying it outright.  That said, this was still the best book that I read last week, and so for that reason it’s a merited BotW.  It’s also inspired me to write a post about magical worlds, so you can expect to see that at some point in the near future, once I’ve done a little bit more reading!

My copy of Sorcerer to the Crown came from Big Green Bookshop, but you should be able get from any good bookshop with a reasonable fiction section.  Or you can get it online from Amazon or in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Adventure, Authors I love, Book of the Week, historical, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: A Treacherous Curse

So it was my birthday last week and I treated myself to a few books, one of which was Deanna Raybourn’s latest book A Treacherous Curse. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Ms Raybourn’s work – from Lady Julia, through her standalone books to this latest series so this BotW pick will be no surprise to you.

Cover of A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series and sees Veronica and Stoker investing an Egyptian-themed mystery. Stoker’s former expedition partner has disappeared along with a valuable artefact and Stoker is one of the prime suspects. Veronica is determined to clear his name and the two of them are drawn into a web of intrigue that includes an ill-fated excavation in the Valley of the Kings, an Egyptian god appearing on the streets of London and a disgruntled teenage girl.

Now as you know, I try not to give spoilers in my reviews and that means it’s quite hard to say anything more than that about this without giving away major plot points from the first two books in the series.  But this has interesting developments on the various ongoing plot points that are enough to leave you impatient for book four – which must be a year away given that this one has only just come out and is obviously a major disadvantage of reading a book as soon as it comes out!

There’s unresolved sexual tension galore, wise cracks, peril and moths. I also really like the Eypgtian connection in this – it tapped into some of the things that I love about the Amelia Peabody books.  And if you like Elizabeth Peters’s series and you’re not already reading Veronica’s adventures, then you should be.  But maybe start from the first book (A Curious Beginning) or you’ll get some serious plot spoilers from this.

I haven’t seen these in the supermarkets, but they are usually in the bigger bookshops and I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would be able to order a copy in for you. I bought my copy on Kindle but it’s available on Kobo too although the Kobo version was slightly more expensive at the time I wrote this.  There’s also a really good (and completely spoiler free) interview with Deanna Raybourn on this week’s Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast if you want to know more about the book (and the series) before you take the plunge.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, mystery, romance, women's fiction

Veritys in fiction

Today is my birthday, so it seemed like a perfect time to talk about Veritys in fiction. I’ve always really liked my name, but it seems to give some people problems. Back in my reporting days, people used to mishear it all the time – I’d get messages to Sarah T, or Dorothy or a variety of V-names – and you should see the mess Starbucks make of it. There aren’t many of us, but here are five notable ones from my reading back catalogue.

Verity-Ann Carey – The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent Dyer

I think Verity-Ann was the first time I encountered my name in a book – and I didn’t really count it at the time because of the Ann! Verity-Ann is one of what I think of as the second generation of Chalet girls: she joins the school during the Second World War year’s in Armiford and becomes Mary-Lou’s sister-by-marriage. Verity-Ann is always described as silvery and fairy-like and has a beautiful singing voice. Even when I was a child I had nothing in common with her: my sister has banned me from singing in public and I’m a tall brunette. Never mind. The school stories are great though – even if Verity-Ann was never one of Brent Dyer’s pet characters and had very little to do except be dreamy and sing solos in school plays.

Verity Hunt – Nemesis by Agatha Christie

I saw this on television before I read the book and it creeped me out no end. I was eleven at the time and hadn’t met another Verity and one of the first ones I encountered was the murder victim in a Miss Marple! But once I got past the fact that the dead girl had the same name as me, it’s a cracker of a story – darker in the novel than the Joan Hickson TV version (don’t get me started on the Marple version – which had added nuns!). It’s not my favourite Miss Marple, but it’s right up there.

Verity Kindle – To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

A new discovery last year, Verity Kindle is the female lead in Willis’s time-travel romp. She’s also much more my style: for a start she’s a historian and a Cat fan. Well, sort of. To Say Nothing of the Dog was one of my favourite books of last year: a screwball comedy full of literary in jokes, Peter Wimsey references and all the worst bits of Victoriana. I’d been lent it by a friend and really didn’t want to give him his book back. Which reminds me, I must buy myself a copy so I can reread it and then lend it out….

Verity Browne in the Lord Edward Corinth series by David Roberts

Like me, Verity Browne is a journalist, however that’s pretty much where the similarities end. This Verity is abrasive and has communist sympathies – which don’t help her in the 1930s. I read this whole series nearly four years ago in my ongoing quest for good historical mystery series. This is very much Wimsey crossed with spies and Verity can be quite hard to like. But if you like mismatched detecting duos, they’re worth a look.

Verity Love – True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop books by Annie Darling

Verity Love is a bookseller at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop in Annie Darling’s first book, but in the sequel she gets her own happily ever after. This Verity is a huge Jane Austen fan who has invented herself a boyfriend to stop her friends’ attempts at matchmaking and to give herself an excuse not to do things she doesn’t want to. Of course this plan goes awry and she finds herself with a real pretend boyfriend. Lots and lots of fun and I had a lot of sympathy with this Verity! Also I can’t wait for book three in this series to come out next month.

So there you have it: five fictional Veritys to celebrate my birthday. I think there’s one for most reading tastes here, if you only read one, make it Verity Kindle. She’s smart, plucky, loyal and fun – a set of character traits most people would be happy with I think. And if you can think of any more Veritys I ought to read about, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, book round-ups, The pile

My Big Obsessions of 2017

We’re a few days in to 2018 now, so it’s well past time to tell you about my Big Obsessions of 2017.  I’ve found it really hard to find new obsessions this year – because so much of what I’ve read has been a continuation of things that I’ve been reading previously.  I think that’s partly because I discovered a lot of new authors last year and have continued to glom on them, but also because I’ve been trying to work my way through the to-read pile backlog rather than buying lots of new books.

But if 2017 was anything, it was the year of contemporary romance.  After getting into Sarah Morgan in 2016, I tried a lot of other contemporary romance authors this year.  Some of them weren’t my thing, but quite a few were.  I’ve been on quite a few binges on new authors this year and I suspect it may continue.  I finally read Jennifer Crusie‘s Bet Me, which I’d heard people raving about over and over in Romancelandia. I read nearly a dozen of Jill Shalvis‘s novels and discovered that I really quite like small town romances, eight of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s and got quite into sports romances even when they’re about American football and three Kristen Higgins books and thought about taking a trip to a winery.  I’ve started requesting a few more contemporary romances from NetGalley to see if there are any other tropes that I like.  So far I’ve worked out that I’m not a big fan of biker gangs and I really don’t like billionaires, but I’m hopeful that I’ll find some more that I do like at some point in 2018.

I’m still reading other genres though, especially crime and I’ve worked my way through a few series this year.  I’ve added Nick Bryan‘s Hobson and Choi series to my autobuy list, because I really need more snarky teen and cynical older bloke detective novels in my life.   I’m practically counting the days until the next Vinyl Detective novel from Andrew Cartmel, after reading the first two.  I’ve tried out some more of Henery Press’s cozy mysteries and found a couple of series there to dig into: the Tj Jenson series by Kathi Daley, Susan M Boyer‘s Lowcountry series and Julie Mulhern‘s 70s-set Country Club Murders.  Also in series set in the past, I read all three of the TE Kinsey Lady Hardcastle mysteries and the Christmas novella too and three more Royal Spyness books.

I have expanded my non-fiction reading this year – I’ve been concentrating on finding stories and voices from different perspectives than my own and I’ve really enjoyed it.  Actually that’s one of my themes in general this year in fiction as well.  It’s been a bit of a challenge at times, some times finding the books, but sometimes because I’ve got such a big selection of books to chose from that it means that I can ignore books on the shelf for ages in favour of things that are more familiar.  But I’m going to keep challenging myself in 2018.

So there you have it. It remains to be seen whether my consistency – as witnessed by revisiting my 2016 obsessions – will continue now the latest batch of renovation work is done and the book pile unpacked, but I hope I do add something random and new to my reading in 2018 or I might worry that I’m getting boring in my old age!

Authors I love, children's books, cozy crime, crime, Fantasy, romance

My Big Obsessions of 2016: Revisited

It’s that time of the year when I look back at what I read the previous year and look at whether my habits have changed at all.  And as previously mentioned, this post is slightly later than it should have been because we’re already into 2018.  Sorry about that.

I think this year I’ve grown more slightly more consistent – if I was writing an obsessions post this year from scratch, several of last year’s obsessions would still be on it.  One of those would definitely be Fahrenheit Press. I had their subscription again this year and it’s given me another swath of great books to read.  My Dad is currently working his way through the Christy Kennedy series (and thinks they should be made into a TV series) and I can’t wait to see what they dish up this year.  I do hope the subscription is going again this year…

Another of my 2016 obsessions which has endured is Girls Own fiction. I’ve widened the pool of authors that I read again this year – adding some more classic authors like Elsie J Oxenham to my reading and to my little collection upstairs and some more obscure ones too.  Some were good, some were… not, but I had a wonderful time reading them.

My pace of working through The Chronicles of St Mary’s series has slowed somewhat this year – not because I’ve gone off them, but because I’m catching up to the end of the series – and as we all know I’m a terrible binge reader with no will control who would one click through to the next book without thinking and I’m meant to be regulating my book purchases. I’ve read a lot of the short stories and extras this year but no more of the actual novels.  Writing this has reminded me that I’ve got one waiting to be read on the kindle so you may well see that popping up on a Week in Books post soon!

Well this is one obsession that has well and truly endured this year – I’ve read another eleven of Sarah Morgan’s books this year – ranging from her new releases, through recent series and right back as far as some of her medical romances.  And she’s been the gateway into me reading a lot more contemporary romances this year than I would have expected.  Of that, more in my 2017 obsessions post – which will be coming soon.

And this final obsession is the one that hasn’t really endured.  I don’t think I’ve read a single Book with Brontes in it this year, unless we count Trisha Ashley’s The Little Tea Shop of Lost and Found which is set in Bronte country.  Publishing goes in phases and fads and clearly one of last year’s phases which hit my reading pile was the Brontes. As I’m not a particular fan of the Bronte’s I haven’t been looking out of anything else about them this year, and so I’m not surprised that it’s died off somewhat as an obsession.

So there you had it: Verity is still reading lots of crime and noir, Sarah Morgan and has a lingering fondness for time travelling historians.  Tune in to my next post to find out what I was obsessed with in 2017!

 

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, fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Camomile Lawn

This week’s BotW is another case of “why on earth haven’t I read this before”.  I have no idea why I hadn’t got around to the Camomile Lawn before.  All I can think is that the TV version had Jennifer Ehle in it and that my mum may have steered me away from it in the immediate aftermath of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice because I was 11 and if the TV series is anything like the book, it really wasn’t suitable for me at the time and I may have got it in my head that the book wasn’t worth it! Who knows.  Anyway.

A copy of The Camomile Lawn and a glass of Pimms
A book, a Pimms (sorry, summer cup for the Great British Menu viewers) and a weekend on the beach

The Camomile Lawn tells the story of five cousins, who we meet at their Aunt-by-marriage’s house in Cornwall in the summer before the start of the Second World War.  We follow them through the war and meet up with them again some years later as they reassemble for a funeral. There is beautiful, mercenary Calypso, outwardly conventional Polly, Oliver, Walter and much younger Sophy, who watches what the older ones are up to and wants to join in.  And then there is Helena – married to a man injured in the last war and bored by her life, watching the kissing cousins as they set out into the future.  As the war begins, life changes for all of them – new opportunities open up for the women and danger lurks for all of them – not just the obvious ones for the boys in the forces.

Mary Wesley was in her 70s when she wrote this – and it was only her second novel.  She lived through the war that she is writing about and was a similar age to the characters when it happened.  If she hadn’t been, perhaps there would be a temptation to say that the characters were having too much fun and too much sex considering that there was a war on.  This reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, but with the sex and antics turned up.  Wesley doesn’t really bother with description – except for some of the details of the house in Cornwall – but she writes in a wonderful, understated way dropping bombshells in like they’re nothing so that you do a double take as you read it.

I’m off to read some more Mary Wesley and to try and get my hands on a DVD of the TV mini-series.  You should be able to get hold of a copy of The Camomile Lawn fairly easily.  I got mine from a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road.  The Kindle and Kobo versions were £$.99 at time of writing and the paperback version was £5.99 on Amazon albeit in a slightly older cover than I saw in Foyles.

Happy Reading!