Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Mysteries set on Cruise Ships

Well the clue is in the name this week – I am all about mysteries set on cruise ships. I nearly said books on boats and then ships, but I realised I could be more specific than that… and then even further – they’re all murder mysteries too!

Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare*

It’s 1936 and Lena is on the way to New York. She’s leaving her troubles behind and moving on from her job singing in a nightclub in Soho to a role on Broadway. But first she has to negotiate a luxury cruise ship journey and when a wealthy and aristocratic family take her under their wing things start to get complicated. Then someone dies. This has glamour, intrigue, a whole bunch of secrets and a slowly unravelling mystery. If you look at the list you’ll see it’s took me a while to read – but don’t let that distract you – really I started it, got distracted by other books and then came back to it and read most of it in a week. It would be a great book to read on a sunlounger this summer. But maybe not on a cruise ship!

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

It’s been a couple of years so it’s safe to mention A Dangerous Crossing again. It’s got a new cover since I read it, but this was a BotW back in 2017. A slight 1930s theme to the start of this post as this is the story of a journey from the UK to Australia in the summer of 1939. Lily, our heroine is going down under on an assisted passage scheme to work as a domestic servant (despite having previously said she wouldn’t return to service) and the journey throws her into contact with all sorts of people she wouldn’t normally have come across. The normal rules of society are suspended and there is a gathering sense of unease as the news from home gets worse at every port they stop at. It’s tense and twisty and I really enjoyed it once I got a chance to have a run at reading it. I’ve got another Rachel Rhys on the Kindle waiting to be read and this has reminded me that I really must get around to it…

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Still in the 1930s, but this time actually written in the 1930s with the granddaddy of all cruise ship Murder mysteries. If you’ve never read it, Hercule Poirot finds himself on a Nile cruise with a newly married couple and the wife’s former friend who used to be engaged to the husband. Murder ensues. I’ve been listening to this again on audiobook recently – I have the version read by Kenneth Branagh, which is really good and you’ll probably see it on next week’s week in books because I’m nearly finished it. I revisited it because I want to see the new film version and wanted to remind myself what was in the book as opposed to the 1978 film with Peter Ustinov and a very starry cast, or the 2004 TV version with David Suchet and Emily Blunt – both of which I’ve seen recently!

Several mystery series have books set on cruise ships too – Terns of Endearment in Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series sees the gang on a cruise holiday because Grandfather is due to give a lecture series. So of course there is a murder! I’ve said before that you really need to read these in order to understand who everyone is and all the running back stories but this is a relatively self-contained story, considering it’s the twenty fifth in the series!

And I haven’t quite reached it in my reread yet, but the fifteenth in Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series, Death by Water sees our heroine take a trip on cruise ship to catch a jewel thief. I also need to reread Ngaio Marsh’s Singing in the Shrouds, where Roderick Alleyn has to catch a multiple murderer who is attempting to make his escape on a ship to Cape Town. I remember it being a clever mystery but with some Of It’s Time attitudes that I didn’t make a note of in my goodreads review. And as ever if you have any more for me, put them in the comments!

Enjoy!

historical, series

Series: Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels

Today is day two of the bumper bank holiday weekend here in the UK to mark the Platinum Jubilee. I wanted to write a post about a royal related series today to tie in, so I’m going back in history for Philippa Gregory’s historical novels about the Tudor Royals and adjacent families.

Covers of The Constant Princess, The Boleyn Inheritance, The Queen's Fool and The Virgin's Lover

Now this is a complicated series to write about because although they are lumped now together on Philippa Gregory’s website, on Goodreads and on Amazon as the Plantagenet and Tudor novels, they used to be two listed as two distinct series – the Tudor Court and The Cousins’ War. And I agreed with that because the Cousin’s War books have magic in them and the Tudor Court does not which to me suggests that they can’t really be seen as being in the same timeline. And the order that they were written is not at all the chronological order either. The magic issue is also one of the reasons why I haven’t read all of them – after the magic in The White Queen I didn’t fancy doing the others in that part of the series. The other is that as the series has gone on we’ve got into some of the figures where I know it ends badly (as in beheadings) and as we know I’m not always in the mood for that. I’d also not really appreciated exactly how many of them there are now – because I have been ignoring the potentially magic including newer titles…

So really I suppose I’m writing about the first five to be published: The Other Boleyn Girl, the Queen’s Fool, The Virgin’s Lover, the Constant Princess and the Boleyn Inheritance which cover (in the order I’ve given the titles) Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall, the changing fortunes of Henry VIII’s two daughters during the decade from the late 1540s to the late 1550s, Robert Dudley’s time as favourite of Elizabeth I, Catherine of Aragon’s time in England and the fourth and fifth marriages of Henry VIII. From this you can see that they are not exactly chronological – and have now ended up being (again in the order I gave the titles at the start of this paragraph) books 9, 12, 13, 6 and 10 in the amalgamated Plantagnet and Tudor series! There is a sixth book from this phase in Philippa Gregory’s career – The Other Queen, about Bess of Hardwick and Mary, Queen of Scots – which I haven’t read, but writing this post has reminded me that I would like to!

Anyway, I first read the Other Boleyn Girl back when I was at university and borrowed it off my sister in the holidays. I have a vivid memory of buying the Airport Paperback edition of The Virgin’s Lover at Stansted on my way to Tours during my year abroad and can see it now sitting on the bookshelf in my room in halls there. The others were bought either by my sister of me and we shared our copies between us – which probably explains why I don’t have any of them in my house anymore. I reread the Virgin’s Lover a few times during my time in Tours – because I didn’t have many books in English and buying more was expensive – and reread the others too at the time but I haven’t read any of them for a while.

Of course this means I’m not quite sure how they stand up these days, but I remember them as fun historical romps which were accurate enough in terms of the time line of things happening, but took a lot of liberties with what the actual people got up to. If you went to school in Britain, it would be nearly impossible not to know the vague outline of events – because as Greg Jenner says in Ask a Historian we have a national obsession with the Tudors. But even knowing what happens, it’s still a really good read to get there – and the books often focus on side characters whose stories intersects with the Big Figures rather than the figures themselves which means you can still hope for a happy ending (for Mary Boleyn in the Other Boleyn Girl for example) or for comeuppance (for Jane Boleyn for example!) as well as trying to work out where the liberties are being taken with the timeline and historical fact if you’re a history student!

I have two of the later books sitting unread on my kindle because they’ve been Kindle Daily Deals at some point – although I think little sister has read them – and once I get my new library card, I will look at filling in some more of the gaps in the Tudor section of the series without the risk of buying (more?) books with magic in them that I will give up on! You should be able to get hold of any of these very easily – Philippa Gregory is in practically every bookshop, they’re also often in the second hand and charity bookshops and they’re on all the ebook platforms too. They’ve been through several editions – the covers I have in the photo for the post are the current Kindle ones, which are totally different to the ones my old paperbacks had and there are several different styles that I’ve seen in the shops too.

Happy Friday everyone – whether it’s day two of the four day Jubilee weekend or the eve of the Whit weekend or just a normal Friday!

Book of the Week, historical

Book of the Week: Better Luck Next Time

And for the third week in a row I’ve picked something other than romance or mystery for BotW. Today we’re in the historical fiction portion of my reading life for one of my library books that was coming due and which I really did enjoyed as I read it over the weekend.

It’s 1938 and Ward is a cowboy working at a dude ranch just outside Reno that caters to women who are visiting town to get a quickie divorce. To qualify for a divorce, they need to satisfy the residency requirements and that’s where the Flying Leap fits in – we’re told it was even designed by a Hollywood set designer. Ward’s family lost their money in the Great Depression – which also forced him to drop out of university and he’s got the job at the Flying Leap because of his handsome good looks. No one at the ranch knows about his somewhat well heeled previous life and he likes to keep it that way, enjoying the assumptions that the guests make about him – they think he’s pretty but dumb and using his looks to try and get ahead. He, in return, thinks he has the women who visit the ranch all figured out, but one particular group are different. Among them is Nina, the heiress and aviatrix, back for her third divorce and Emily who says the bravest thing she has ever done is to drive to the ranch leaving her cheating husband behind. Over the course of their stay friendships and relationships are made and broken.

Don’t worry, it’s not miserable, for all that I’ve put broken in that last sentence. It’s a cleverly put together glimpse at the six weeks at the ranch that changed Ward’s life. It’s more bittersweet than anything else, if we’re using book blurb code phrases, and it is not a romance – if you’re a romance reader, I’ve described this as historical fiction for a reason! But if you want some 1930s hi jinx with an interesting premise that I hadn’t come across before, then this would make a great choice for your sun lounger or sofa.

As I said at the top, my copy of Better Luck Next Time came from the library but it turns out that I’ve managed to be accidentally timely as it comes ot in paperback this Thursday! It’s hard to work out if it’ll be available in stores, but I suggest it’s going to be an order in job as that’s what her other novels are on Foyles’ website. But of course it’s available on Kindle and Kobo as well as in audiobook from the usual sources.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Queen Elizabeth II

It was the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s accession on Sunday, so this week I thought I’d make recommendsday about books either about or featuring Elizabeth II. Some of these are a little tenuous… but that’s the way I role!

I’m going to start with Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. In it, the Queen discovers the joys of reading after coming across a mobile library and borrowing a book to be polite. Soon she’s asking guests about their reading matter when they meet her and turning up late for events because she needed to read “just one more page”. It’s only a novella but it’s really very funny.

I haven’t actually read a lot of non-fiction actually about the Queen directly, although I have read various biographies of people whose lives have intersected hers. In fact the only one I could find on my reading lists is by Angela Kelly, who is the Queen’s dresser and I can’t really recommend it because I learned even less from it than is expected – and I didn’t expect much as she is still working for the Queen and the book was approved!

On a slightly surreal note, there’s a bit of Elizabeth in Darling Ma’am – which is a book about Princess Margaret that is described as “a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography” which is about right. In actual fiction, the young Princess Elizabeth makes brief appearances in various books in the Royal Spyness series, as well as in my beloved Gone with the Windsors. Elizabeth and her sister Margaret play larger roles in Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal, but I had so many issues with that I nearly threw it at the wall – only the fact that I was reading it on the iPad stopped me!

Right, thats it – I’m off to try and work out which is the best of the actual biographies of Elizabeth II and dig out the Mountbatten book by the guy who wrote Traitor King for some more Elizabeth adjacent reading. And if anyone has read the new detective novel where the Queen is solving murders, let me know what it’s like in the comments – I keep seeing it but haven’t got around to taking a look yet!

Have a good Wednesday everyone!

Book of the Week, fiction, historical

Book of the Week: The Chelsea Girls

Yes I finished this on Monday. So yes, I’m cheating for the second week in a row. I make the rules, so I can break them if I want to. Anyway, you should all just be glad that I didn’t pick another mystery!

Maxine and Hazel meet on a USO tour in the last months of the Second World War. They meet again in New York in the 1950s when Maxine is an up and coming film star and Hazel is an aspiring playwright. Both living in the famous Chelsea Hotel, soon they’re working together on Hazel’s first play which is going to be staged on Broadway. But the red scare is well underway and the production and their careers are threatened by the witch hunt for communists turning its attention to the entertainment industry. As the pressure starts to build what will happen to the women and their friendship?

The Chelsea Girls follows a twenty year friendship between two women forged through a trauma in Italy, through the ups and downs of their careers. They’re both engaging and intriguing characters – Hazel’s mother is always comparing her to her brother who was killed in the war and finding her lacking, while Maxine is using the theatre to build a better life for her and her German immigrant grandmother. And as the red scare comes to Broadway, they both find themselves in the spotlight because of the actions of Hazel’s brother years before. And as well as being tense it’s also a wonderful portrait of the Chelsea Hotel – famously home to artists and bohemians, it becomes Hazel and Maxine’s refuge as they battle the outside forces trying to tear their lives apart.

I’ve been wanting to read this for ages. It came out two years ago and it’s been on my want to read list for about that long – so I’ve no idea where I even heard about it to start with. I read one of Fiona Davis’s other books a year or two back and liked the idea but didn’t love the execution, but this one really worked for me. It took me a day or two to properly get into it, but then I read 200 pages at a sitting because I wanted to see where it was going. I am fascinated with Old Hollywood, in fiction and non-fiction and this lives adjacent to that. I’ve written about some other books in this area before (like Trumbo and Karina Longworth’s Seduction) and this fitted right in to my wheelhouse. Well worth a look.

My copy came from the library, but it’s available now on Kindle and Kobo (and at time of writing is slightly cheaper on Kobo) as well as in paperback, although I’m not sure how easy that will be to get hold of in store – Foyles have stock to order, but not to click and collect.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: June 2021 Mini Reviews

The end of another month has been and gone, and despite the fact that I forgot to trail it yesterday or Monday, it’s time for another set of Mini Reviews! It was a very varied month in reading, and there more books from last month that you’ll hear about in my summer reading post, but here are a few things that I read last month that I wanted to talk about.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls*

Cover of Mrs England

Lets start with a new to me author. Mrs England is Stacey Halls third novel, but the first of hers that I’ve read – despite the fact that I own at least one of the other two. This is a clever and creepy story of Ruby, a Norland Nurse who takes a job in the household of an northern mill owner in after she turns down the chance to move abroad with her previous family in 1904. From the start you know there’s something not quite right in the new house, but on top of that there’s also something in Ruby’s past that she’s hiding as well. I had several different theories at various points about what was going on, but the reveal surprised me. For some reason, dark and damp are the words that spring to mind about this book – but I kind of think that makes it perfect for reading in the sunshine if you know what I mean!

The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery*

Cover of the Stepsisters

Susan Mallery is an author who has appeared on my reading lists a lot over the last few years – with her Fools Gold and Happily Inc romance series. The Stepsisters is one of her women’s fiction novels – it has romantic elements, but it’s definitely not a romance. The Stepsisters of the title are three women, all with the same father (but two different mothers), who find themselves thrown back together as adults after one of them has an accident. They have a complicated history between them abd all have different problems in their current lives, but over the course of the book you watch them try and work out if they can they put their history behind them and move forward. Told from the points of view of two of the stepsisters, Daisy and Sage, this has the characters finding themselves and each other. Another read that’s perfect for a sunny garden with a glass of something chilled.

Tommy Cabot was Here by Cat Sebastian

Cover of Tommy Cabot was Here

I’ve written about Cat Sebastian here before, and this is the first in a new series of novellas. Like Hither, Page this is another more modern historical story, this time set in the 1950s with the scion of a family that sounds very Kennedy, and his best friend from school. They meet each other again for the first time in years when Tommy is dropping his son off at their old school – where Everett now teaches. The rediscovered romance between the two of them is very nice to watch and there’s a refreshing lack of the sort of unmasking peril that you find in a lot of historical m/m romances. Very relaxing and charming. There next in the series is set a year or so later and features Tommy’s nephew – who we meet briefly in this – and is due out in September.

Love in the Blitz by Eileen Alexander*

Cover of Love in the Blitz

I’ve mentioned how much I’m interested in the history of the first half of the twentieth century, and last week I picked novel set in the same period that this book is set in, so it’s not easy to see why I wanted to read Love in the Blitz. And on top of that people who I like a lot have really enjoyed this. But I really struggled. This is a collection of genuine letters written by the very real Eileen Alexander to her fiancée, Gershon Ellenbogen. Eileen was the eldest daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, who lived in Cairo, but also had homes in London and Scotland. At the start of the book she’s recently graduated from Girton College and through the book you see her searching for war work at various of the ministries as well as the progress of her relationship, the tensions with her parents and the general day to day of living through the war. I found Eileen’s style a little hard going and I didn’t actually like her much. But as a look at what it was like in a corner of England during the Second World War it is an insightful document – particularly as Eileen and her family are Jewish and have a lot of connections abroad and this gives you a different perspective than the one that you so often get on what it was like being on the Home Front.

The Last Party by Anthony Haden-Guest

Cover of The Last Party

This really surprised me: it takes a fascinating subject and makes it hard to follow and dare I say it – dull. Having read Empire of Pain the week after finishing this, it really hit home to me that this had so much promise but under delivered. But I think the problem was the breadth of subject that Anthony Haden-Guest was taking on – and the fact that he was part of the scene at the time and knew everyone involved. I think that affected his ability to pick a narrative through line and make it make sense. Characters appear for a couple of pages and then vanish again. Some times they get loads of background about who they are, sometimes none. It jumps from club to club but also around in time a bit. I learnt a few new things, but not nearly as much as I expected and it was hard going all through. I would definitely read more about this time period and this club scene – it just needs more focus.

So there you have it, another month finished and another batch of mini-reviews. And in case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in June were Yours Cheerfully, Second First Impressions, The Feast and sort of Circus of Wonders, which was published in June but read in May . And finally, just to complete the link-fest, here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February, March, April and May.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, historical, new releases

Book of the Week: Yours Cheerfully

As I said yesterday, plenty that I want to write about from last week’s reading, so it was hard to pick what to write about today. But in the end I went with Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce because it made me smile and it’s been a while since I wrote about some historical fiction. On top of that it came out last week so I’m being timely *and*’my paperback copy of V for Victory turned up the other day – just to remind me how much I like books like this when they are done well. And this one is done well and has a pretty cover. What’s not to like.

Yours Cheerfully is the sequel to Dear Mrs Bird, which I reviewed in a summer reading round up a couple of years back – after reading it on a sun lounger in Gran Canaria. Those were the days. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy Yours Cheerfully, but if you have you will get a little more out of it, purely because you know the characters better, not because you’re missing chunks of plot or backstory. We rejoin Emmy as she is finding her feet as the new advice columnist at Women’s Friend. The war is in full swing and the magazine is soon asked to take part in a ministry of information campaign to recruit more women workers for the war effort. Emmy is excited to step up and help, but soon she is finding out that there are a lot of challenges for war workers – and she wants to try and help her new friends.

Where Dear Mrs Bird focused very much on Emmy’s own problems at work to create the drama and tension, swapping that for Emmy’s dilemma about helping the women in the munitions factory works well – if you’ve read the first book you can see Emmy’s growing confidence in her role at the magazine and her journalistic ambitions. A more obvious option would have been to focus on Emmy’s relationship and whether her sweetheart would be sent abroad to fight but even aside from my dislike of splitting couples up in sequels purely for the drama, this works much better – and the knowledge of the worries of the women at the factory heightens your sense of the stakes for Emmy as well as providing context for the wider peril of the war – because it could all have been a little cozy and felt a bit low stakes – despite the war. That’s not to say this is a gritty depressing read – because it’s not -it’s charming and the magazine world is lovely – but it’s not saccharine or unbearably rose tinted. Like the first book this ends a bit unexpectedly and in a bit of a rush but I really enjoyed spending time with Emmy and Bunty and Charles and seeing what was happening at the magazine. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a third to come. I’m certainly hoping there is!

My copy of Yours Cheerfully came via NetGalley, but as I mentioned to the top it’s out now in Kindle and Kobo as well as in hardback. I saw Dear Mrs Bird in quite a lot of shops when that came out, so I’m hoping this will be the same. Judging by the fact that Foyles have it in stock for click and collect at a bunch of their locations, I’m optimistic on that front.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, romance

Book of the Week: Wilde Child

As I said yesterday, a busy week in real life last week and a lot of reoccurring authors on the list. But for today’s BotW pick I’m back into my romance happy place, with the latest book from an old favourite author of mine – Eloisa James.

A little bit of my historical romance reading origin story first: Eloisa James was one of the first current historical romance authors I read back when I discovered that there were modern authors doing takes on Georgette Heyer, back in my Southend days so circa 2009 – about a decade after I first read Georgette Heyer – I know. What took me so long? I don’t know – except I suppose that back when I was reading Georgette Heyer originally there wasn’t really a section of the UK market that was historical romance that wasn’t Mills and Boon – and that was what my granny read. Then – and I know exactly how it happened – I saw Julia Quinn’s What Happens in London in the window of Waterstones on Southend High Street and went to investigate. The Essex Library system was good – and I then requested and worked my way through every Julia Quinn they had and started to look for other similar authors. And it turned out there were a few authors who had made the jump across the Atlantic – and you just had to know what to look for in the cover art. My first Eloisa James was Duchess by Night – with a blindfolded lady in a corseted dress on the cover. And I ate up that series – or as much as it as was published in the UK. Which was not all of it – and at that point they weren’t available on Kindle – even if I had had one* so I started looking at the US editions, with their very, very different covers to the UK ones and started ordering them so I could get to Villiers’ story. And so what I’m saying here is that I have a long history with Eloisa James and I see her books as reliable comfort reads for me.

This is the sixth in the Wilde’s of Lindow Castle series, and the titular Wilde Child is Joan, who the Duke of Lindow has raised as his own despite the fact that her father is the Prussian count who his (now ex) wife had an affair with. This fact of her birth has made her some what scandalous – and she has done every thing in her power to scandalise the polite society who judge her for something she can’t help or change. Our hero is Viscount Greywick, who needs sensible scandal free wife but just can’t help trying to keep Joan out of trouble. The two of them strike a bargain – he’ll help her achieve her dream of acting on stage (incognito of course) and then she’ll settle down and marry a man of his choosing. We all know where this is going, without me even saying any more than that.

Now, this is not perfect. I like others of James’ books more. I think the relationship skips a stage – they go straight from antipathy to liking each other, without really properly explaining how. Yes, there are a lot of “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I can’t stop touching your hair” books out there – but there’s usually a big revelation moment where they work out that that it’s not actually hate, it’s repressed desire – and that doesn’t quite land here. I still think James’ earlier books are cleverer and funnier, but I read it this in under 24 hours and it made me smile – and having read all the other books in this series, I’m just a touch invested and I liked seeing the previous couples reappear. I am going to go on record that I have been holding out hope throughout the series that the at some point Horatius, the dead eldest son, is going to turn out not to be dead and reappear to close the series, not just because of The Drama but also because that would solve one of the ongoing problems of one of the couples – which makes a reappearance in this story (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read North’s book). James has her first book out under her own name (Mary Bly) soon – which is a contemporary women’s fiction novel – so I’m hoping this isn’t it for Eloisa James – but it may well be.

My copy of Wilde Child came from the library, but it’s out now on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback – and these are often spotted in the supermarkets and book stores – at time of writing, Foyles have it in stock in six of their seven stores.

Happy Reading!

* I got my first Kindle in May 2012 before I went to Poland to work at EURO 2012 – because lord knows I wasn’t going to be able to take enough books to read with me for a month.

Best of..., Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Novelised Real Lives

The latest instalment of my intermittent Recommendsday series, is a post about a trio of books that feature fictional versions of real life people. It’s a part of literature that I’ve read quite a lot of over the years – and quite enjoy. I date it back to my A-Levels when I derived a lot of enjoyment when studying the Literature of the First World War and reading Pat Barker’s Regeneration and then in spotting all the various poets popping up in all in various other pieces of fiction about the era – and then deciphering who was meant to be who in Siegfried Sasson’s Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man.  The books in this have been read over some considerable time – and I could have held off on publishing this for ages as I have more of these on my to-read pile. But after not enjoying one of the potentials to be added the other week, I got a bit of a bee in my bonnet and wanted to get it out there.  These three fall into some of my preferred areas of reading too – Hollywood’s Golden Age and what I’m going to call the extended post first world war period…

Mr Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe*

Cover of Mr Wilder and Me

After a chance meeting with Billy Wilder while backpacking around the US in the 1970s, Calista finds herself on a Greek Island working as a translator on the set of Wilder’s latest film. Calista is barely out of her teens, young, naive and slightly without a direction in her life. Through the course of the summer, she watches a Hollywood great who is falling out of favour in the new world of Scorseses and Spielbergs, and learns about the sadness that haunts Wilder. I love a book about Old Hollywood and I also love novels that fictionalise real people, so even the blurb for this really, really appealed to me. And it didn’t disappoint. Mr Wilder and Me is incredibly readable – even if after you finish it you realise Calista herself is not a massively well developed character and exists mostly as a way of getting you into Wilder’s world. There is not a lot of drama here – but it doesn’t need it. It’s an examination of cinema, and fame and what you do and how you cope when people think your glory days are behind you but you don’t.

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain*

Cover of Love and Ruin

I really like what McLain does with fictionalising real people. Admittedly, so far she hasn’t done one on anyone who’s life I was already massively familiar with, but I’m not sure I care. Having tackled Hadley Richardson’s relationship with Ernest Hemingway in The Paris Wife, in Love and Ruin, McLain returns to Hemingway’s life – but this time through the eyes of his third wife, legendary war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. It’s a fascinating portrait of a relationship between two incredibly strong characters, neither of whom are prepared to let go of what they want to do (although Gellhorn definitely makes more compromises than Hemingway does). I would happily read another 100 pages of What Martha Did Next – and came away from this with even more respect for her than I already had. Really, really good – and very readable.

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer*

Cover of The Age of Light

This is the story of Lee Miller – a model-turned-photographer, who was Man Ray’s assistant and then went on to work as a photographer in her own right and one of the first female war correspondents. I liked the idea of this – but ended up feeling distinctly mixed. I didn’t like any of the characters really – but that’s not a necessity. What is a necessity is feeling like there has been some resolution or outcome at the end of it all. And I didn’t get that. I felt like a spent a lot of time in the presence of someone very damaged, but I didn’t feel like I came away understanding her any better than at the start. Or at least not on any deeper level. – just not as good as the other books that I’ve read recently that have been telling fictionalised versions of real people’s lives (or portions of them).

If you want more fiction about real people, can I point you in the way of my post about the Happy Valley Set, Swan Song and also of some of Laurie Graham’s books like The Grand Duchess of Nowhere and Gone With the Windsors, the latter of which like Mr Wilder and Me inserts a fictional person into a real situation and remains one of my favourite books of all time.

Happy Reading!

*next to a name indicates that it came to me from NetGalley, probably some time ago!

book round-ups

Recommendsday: January 2021 mini reviews

In putting this post together, I realised that amidst the flood of end of year posts, I didn’t do a mini reviews for December. To be fair though, I think I had already written about pretty much everything I enjoyed. As previously discussed ad nauseam in the middle of January I had a severe case of loss of reading mojo that saw me retreat to the safety of old favourites. But before that there were a couple of books I read and wanted to mention to you.

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant*

Cover of The Hatmakers

This is a delightful middle grade story about an alternative version of Britain where there are magical families of makers who each make one thing. Our heroine, Cordelia, is a hatmaker. But after her father goes missing at sea, she finds it hard to concentrate on the hat her family are meant to be making for the king. But soon she’s swept up in trying to foil a plot against her family – and the makers. I really enjoyed this. I think it would appeal to a lot of children – it’s a fast paced adventure with enough peril, but not too scary and a magical world with consistent rules that are easy to make sense off. NetGalley told me it was out in January – but Amazon tells me it’s actually out mid-February. Either way, I will buy for the middle graders in my life.

If the Boot Fits by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Cover of If the Boot Fits

I don’t know how I missed that this was meant to be a Cinderella retelling until after I had finished and I was looking at other reviews. I can only chalk that up to the fact that I just automatically put holds on Weatherspoon’s new books without even looking at the plots – she’s just that reliable at turning out great romances! Anyway this features an aspiring screenwriter, who is trapped as the PA/dogsbody to an obnoxious second generation Hollywood starlet, who hooks up with the newest Oscar-winning actor at a post-Oscars party and then accidentally takes his statuette home with her. Amanda then runs into Sam again at his family ranch, where a friend is getting married. There’s a lot of dancing around whether they want to have a relationship or just a fling, and it’s all very romantic. The denouement is fun – although I wanted a little more comeuppance for our baddie. This came out in October and should be fairly easy to get hold of on Kindle, I don’t know about the paperback.

The House on Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams*

Cover of The House on Coco Beach

This is a twisty, historical romantic suspense novel about Virginia who travels to Florida in search of answers after the death of her husband. Virginia and Simon were estranged at the time of his death and as she tries to unravel what led up to his death, the reader discovers the story of their relationship. The narrative is split between 1917 when they met while she was working as an ambulance driver in France and their subsequent romance and 1922 as the story of their romance unravels. I got more and more anxious for Virginia as the story went on and the twists kept coming, but I was pleased/happy with the resolution. I’ve written about Beatriz Williams on here before and although I didn’t like it as much as I liked Her Last Flight, it is a lot of fun. In the US this is titled just Cocoa Beach, and it’s also connected to Williams’s earlier novel A Certain Age (Virginia is the sister of one of the characters in A Certain Age) but you don’t need to have read the previous book for this to make sense (I had in fact forgotten what happened in A Certain Age and it didn’t cause me any problems). If we were going to the beach right now, it would be a great beach read. This came out a couple of years back (when I got a copy from NetGalley and promptly forgot about it) and is available on Kindle and in paperback – in the BeforeTimes I used to find physical copies of Williams’s books in the bookshops and the libraries.

Other things…

Beyond those two, there was a new Stockwell Park Orchestra book which sees the gang on tour in Germany and Belgium, I read another Inspector Littlejohn (which wasn’t my favourite but was still good), And I finally finished the San Andreas Shifters series – which is Gail Carriger writing as G L Carriger and follows a gay werewolf pack and their friends/hangers on in modern day (but with supernatural creatures) California. I’d been saving the last full length novel for a time of need and was reminded that I had it waiting when Miss Gail’s author newsletter flagged that there was a new short story in the series out. So I read them both.

If you missed the Book of the Week picks from January, they were You Should See Me in a Crown, How Nell Scored, The House in the Cerulean Sea, Bag Man and Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer. I also wrote about Amelia Peabody, some tv picks and my favourite books of last year.