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!

Book of the Week, mystery, reviews, Thriller

Book of the Week: A Dangerous Crossing

I read a few good books this week, but in the end I picked Rachel Rhys’s A Dangerous Crossing for my BotW, although I realise as I write this that there have been rather a lot of historical mystery picks recently, but I know this is one I’m going to be lending out to various people, so it deserves a mention here.  As you may have realised, i’ve got a big soft spot for historical mysteries, but this has a healthy dose of suspense mixed in as well so it does make for a bit of a change, honest!

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
I love the glamorous 1930s style cover for this – although the paperback one looks like its going to be different.

Set on a liner on its way to Australia in 1939, it follows Lily Shepherd who is heading down under on an assisted passage scheme to escape her past.  On board, she finds herself mingling with people who she would never have socialised with on dry land and is drawn into their intrigues and secrets. By the time the ship docks in Melbourne, two passengers are dead and Lily’s life will never be the same again.

The cast of characters in this is really cleverly constructed.  Lily is young and innocent in many ways and doesn’t always realise that her behaviour is being judged by other people.   A lot of the action focuses around Lily’s table mates at dinner – a brother and sister who are heading to Australia after he had a health scare, a young man whose father is sending him away from the risk of war.  There is the upper-class couple who keep visiting tourist class and a young Jewish girl fleeing Austria without her parents.  Lily’s massively judgmental roommate and an older companion who is supervising them on the journey pop up to point out the class divisions that Lily is crossing when she is mixing with people they see as above  – and below – her station and putting her prospects in Australia at risk.

The mystery itself is a proper slow burn – after teasing you with the arrival in Australia at the very start, you then spend a lot of the rest of the book on edge waiting for something bad to happen.  And it’s very, very effective. In the author biography it says that Rachel Rhys is the pen name of an “already sucessful suspense author”* so that’s not really a surprise.  I thought it was very page-turnery and doom laden but not so creepy as to be terrifying, which makes it pretty much my ideal sort of suspense!

A Dangerous Crossing is out now in Hardback and comes out in paperback in August. You should be able to get it from all the usual places (Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones) or order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  The ebook edition is availble on Kindle and Kobo and there’s an audiobook from Audible** as well.

Happy Reading!

*It’s Tammy Cohen whose other books look far too terrifying for me – if I’d known when I picked this up, I might not have read it, which would have been a shame!

** You’ll need to be logged in for the link to work.

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Stars Are Fire

This week’s BotW is Anita Shreve’s new novel, The Stars Are Fire, which came out last week and which I finished at the weekend.  Shreve has been on my list of authors that I really ought to have read, and this piqued my interest when I saw it on NetGalley so it seemed like an opportunity to rectify that omission.  And it turned out to be a good decision.

Cover of The Stars Are Fire
I think this cover is pretty – but I’m not sure it really represents Grace.

The Stars Are Fire is set in Maine in 1947 where Grace Holland is struggling with her marriage.  Her husband Gene is distant and won’t talk about the war, her mother-in-law hates her, she has two small children and a third on the way.  When a massive fire breaks out after a long summer drought, Gene goes to join the volunteer firefighters to try and prevent it from reaching the town.  Grace is left alone to try and defend their house and protect their children.  When the flames arrive, she watches her home burn to the ground and is forced into the sea to shelter from the waves.  When the morning comes, her home is gone and her husband is missing and she’s forced to try and build a new reality.

I was a little sceptical about this book when I started reading it, and while I still have a few reservations, the book was engrossing and kept me turning the pages eager to know what happened next.  My main issue with the book was with Gene, who doesn’t feel like a fully rounded character.  You’re not meant to like him, but I struggled to get a sense of who he was and why Grace had been interested in dating him in the first place.  For me the most enjoyable part of the book was the middle section, but I always knew that it wasn’t going to last.  The final section of the novel felt a little rushed and underdeveloped.  I was a little worried about how it was all going to be resolved (or if it was going to be resolved) but at the end I was happy.

That all sounds a little negative, but they’re fairly small quibbles when set against the beautiful writing and how engaging and intriguing Grace is as a character.  She’s strong and reslient and seizes opportunities out of the ruins left by the fire.  I hadn’t heard of the Great Fire of 1947 before I read this book and Shreve paints a vivid picture of the heat and drought leading up to it as well as the terror of the actual events.  The stifling atmosphere before the fire is mirrored in the way that Grace feels in her marriage – although she doesn’t realise how trapped she feels at the time.  Although the fire brings her personal loses, it is also the making of Grace and the woman we leave at the end of the book feels very different to the one we met at the start, which makes for a satisfying read.

The Stars Are Fire is out now in hardback (sorry) and ebook.    As previously mentioned, my copy came from NetGalley but you can get hold of it from on Kindle or Kobo and from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or you could order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  I suspect it’s the sort of book that will be out on the tables in bookshops and at the airport, although I don’t suggest that you read it on the beach or somewhere hot as it may leave you paranoid about wildfires!  I read it on the train and it made several journeys to and from work fly by.

Happy Reading!

historical, non-fiction, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Kindle May Madness Sale

Happy Wednesday everyone – you’re halfway to the weekend.  My week this week involves a lot of preparations for the local elections here tomorrow – I’m working on the results output at work on Friday.  I’ve already recommended political books recently and I haven’t added a lot to that list recently, so I won’t repeat myself today.  Instead I thought I’d mention Amazon’s May Madness Kindle sale – I’ve picked up a few bargains there this week (shhh, don’t tell Him Indoors), although sadly they’re not all being price matched over at Kobo.  Lots of the books are 99p – which is my sort of ebook pricing!


Among my purchases was Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime which I’ve heard lots of good things about.  I’m not the biggest fan of his version of the Daily Show (I still miss Jon Stewart) but I’m fascinated by his childhood in apartheid era South Africa and I like his sense of humour when he’s doing his stand up stuff.

I also grabbed the trio of Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor books (numbers 7 through 9 if you’re interested) because I’ve really enjoyed the books of hers that I’ve read but they’re hardly ever at a price I can justify – so 99p for three is a really good deal.  And to top it all off – this is being price matched on Kobo!  While I’m on the subject of romance, I also bought Christina Lauren’s Wicked Sexy Liar because I keep hearing this series mentioned on the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcast and this is the first time I’ve seen one of them at a price I’m prepared to pay!  This one is 99p on Kobo as well. If you’re into your old school romances (I can’t cope with the rapey-ness but I know others love them) there’s a Julie Garwood in the sale too – Honor’s Splendour (Kobo).

Also on offer is Cesca Major’s second novel The Last Night.  I know Cesca through my Novelicious reviewing – and I have a copy of this in one of the to-read boxes waiting to be read (I know, the boxes are still with me, the building work still isn’t finished) but I’ve heard nothing but good things about this – it’s a Heat pick this week.

Also in the sale is The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin – I reviewed it when it first came out and really enjoyed it.  It tells the story of a love triangle (of sorts) between dashing Captain Bay Middleton, Empress Sisi of Austria and Bay’s fiancée Charlotte.  I’ve read a few books about Sisi since (and visited a few of her palaces in Vienna – which is well worth it), but I think this is still my favourite.  If you need further encouragement, Goodwin also created the recent TV series about Queen Victoria (you know, the one with Rufus Sewell) and wrote My Last Duchess, which I adored.  This is also being price matched over on Kobo.

Not 99p, but still very reasonable at £1.99 is Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies – which is the book which inspired the TV series Harlots.  I’m interested in watching the TV show – but I like to have read the book first if I can (which is why I’m reading Cold Comfort Farm at the moment!) so this seemed like an ideal moment to pick up the book – especially as the TV series is on ITV Encore at the moment which I don’t currently get so I’m going to have to wait for the DVD which gives me a fighting chance of actually getting to the book before I get my hand on the show!

Right.  I’m going to stop now – because the more I write for this post, the more I spend, and I think we all know how my books bought total is going to look at the end of the week!  Anyway, I hope there’s something on the list for you and if you spot any more you think I might like, leave me a note in the comments – after all we all know my willpower is poor!

Happy reading!

detective, historical

Book of the Week: Maisie Dobbs

We’re back in my (constant) hunt for new historical crime series for this week’s BotW.  I finally got my hand on the first Maisie Dobbs book during a trip to the charity bookshop and immediately read it.  And it’s really good, so I went on and read book 10 in the series – which was in the library book pile and was far too big a jump in the series to do, but that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed the first one.

Copy of Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
My copy of Maisie Dobbs, complete with lovely blue-y cover

We meet Maisie as she is setting up her own private investigation firm in London in 1929.  Her first client asks her to investigate whether his wife is having an affair.  But the investigation forces Maisie to revisit her experiences of the Great War and she finds it hard to keep her professional and her private life separate as she works to resolve the case.

I really, really enjoy books set in the interwar years.  My beloved Peter Wimseys are all in this period, as is Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher and Dandy Gilver. The very best of them show how the Great War was still having ramifications years after – whether it’s Peter’s shellshock, or Alec using his military tie to get people to open up to him.  Like Phryne, Maisie spent time at the front (although Phryne was driving ambulances while Maisie was a nurse) and it’s deeply affected her outlook on life and her understanding and compassion for the others who were there.

The mystery in this is centred in the Great War, allowing Maisie’s background and education to be explored and it works really well.  In fact a lot of this book is setting up Maisie’s background and her personal history rather than resolving the case (or cases) that she’s investigating.  But that was part of the enjoyment for me.  Maisie’s got a complicated and fascinating backstory and I think understanding that is going to be key to understanding the other books in the series.  Certainly when I read book 10 I would have been lost or at sea without the background I had got from book 1, so it’s one of those occasions where I’m very grateful to have restrained myself and started at the beginning.

Well worth a look if you like any of the other series that I’ve mentioned – I know I’ll be looking out for more Maisie Dobbs mysteries.

You can get a copy of Maisie Dobbs on Kindle or Kobo or in paperback from all the usual places like The Big Green Bookshop – and probably at your local library as well.

Happy reading!

holiday reading

Easter Bonus: Bank Holiday Reading

I don’t know about you but I’m hoping for some nice weather this Easter weekend so that i can sit in the garden and read. [Ed: Written more in hope than expectation, the forecast is promising clouds and rain] I always find this a weird time of year for reading – it’s too warm for wintry books, where people are snowed in or hanging around in front of fires with hot choclate, but it’s not warm enough for full on summer-y stories.  So here are a few ideas for things that you could read this weekend as well as what I’m hoping to read on my days off.

As you know I’m a big fan of cozy crime, and if you pick the right series they can be perfect for this time of year – you just want to avoid anything themed around a holiday or festival that’s not Easter, or stuff with snow on the cover!  Among the recent releases I’ve enjoyed (and haven’t already talked about!) is Lea Wait’s Tightening the Threads (a dysfunctional family in Maine turns deadly when a long-lost family member is introduced).  The third Max Tudor book, A Pagan Spring, is set around Easter time when a new arrival to the village dies after a getting-to-know-you dinner party.

Also Easter-y (but not cozy crime!) is Joanne Harris’s Chocolat.  Nomadic Vianne and her daughter arrive in a French village and set up a chocolate shop.  But Lent is about to start and Vianne is not a church-goer.  I just love it – and if all you’ve seen is the film then you’re missing out big time.

Not an Easter book, but another book which might work for this time of year is Lyndsay Faye’s The Whole Art of Detection – which is a collection of her Sherlock Holmes short stories. The mysteries are clever and Sherlock and John are good value, and although I haven’t read enough Holmes to really get the absolute most out of this, it looks like lots of Holmes-superfans really have enjoyed it.

Or you could start a series.  I love Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and the first book is 99p this weekend on Kindle. Amelia is a feisty Victorian Egyptologist (or wannabe Egyptologist in the first book) who spends her winters on the banks of the Nile looking for undiscovered tombs while bodies just keep popping up.  When you meet her, her father has just died and instead of going and living with one of her brothers, as a good unmarried sister should (in their opinon) she up sticks to go travelling with her inheritance.  Stick with the series and she develops an arch-nemesis, a husband and a son – who eventually marries as well (that’s how long the series goes on for).  If you liked Veronica Speedwell, you’ll like Amelia Peabody.

As for me, I’ve snapped up Dandy Gilver and a Most Misleading Habit which is book 11 in the series and was 99p on Kindle as I was writing this, Fern Britton’s A Seaside Affair which is free on Kindle for Easter*.  I’ve also got a stack of short stories to catch up on and a couple of children’s books that I’ve been meaning to get around to.  All of which sounds a bit ambitious for a three-day (for me) weekend!

Whatever you’re doing this Easter weekend, happy reading!

*There’s a nice selection of freebies from Harper Collins this weekend – which also includes Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance which is a (1980s) classic when it comes to the rags to riches sagas.  And previous BotW Sunset in Central Park by Sarah Morgan is free on Kindle at time of writing too – well worth snapping up.