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.

Series I love

Series I love: Amelia Peabody

As I mentioned in the Week in Books, I spent a fair bit of time last week (and now this week too) re-reading Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody series, but that’s not quite the whole story. During lockdown, Him Indoors and I actually started listening to the audiobooks of the series together. He’s never read the books before, and I have, some of them a lot of times, and it’s been a lot of fun rediscovering the series through his (fresh) eyes.  I’ve mentioned the series a few times before as part of round-up type posts, but it’s been a few years and I thought it was probably time to give Amelia a post of her own.

Cover of Crocodile on the Sandbank

Anyway, the set up: at the start of the first book it’s 1880-something and Amelia is heading to Egypt after the death of her father. She’d been the dutiful stay at home daughter until his death, but has decided that she’s now ready for adventures of her own (much to the disgust of her brothers) and heads for Egypt (via Rome) to see some ancient ruins. On her way she picks up a companion – Evelyn – who she rescues from the clutches of a fortune hunter and then heads off to look at some archaeology in action. The archaeologists she meets are grumpy Radcliffe Emerson and his brother Walter, who are excavating a tomb in Armana. Radcliffe emphatically does not want Amelia around, but soon they’re competing to solve a mystery. And by the end of the first book, well, it’s a a spoiler (but I think that’s unavoidable in a 20 book series) they’re married with a baby on the way.

Each book in the series covers a different archaeological season, and across the course of the series, the Emersons age and develop a little gang – including their son Ramses and his friends. The first books in the series are all written as Amelia’s diaries – introduced by an editor – but once Ramses grows up, the narrative is supplemented by extracts from the “recently discovered Manuscript H” which follows the younger members of the family. One of the things that Him Indoors has enjoyed the most about the series is the shift in how you view Amelia and how cleverly Peters moves the series on as it moves through times from Late Victorian through to the 1910s. Amelia is a feminist for her times and is wearing divided skirts and later trousers when it was still a bit of a scandal – but as her family grows up you see her grapple with the fact that the generation below her are doing things that she thinks scandalous – and have freedoms that even she never allowed herself. We’ve reached the 1911 season on our listening (book 11) together and I’m hopping with glee at all the fun he has to come. To be honest, books 10 to 13 are among my favourites in terms of character development and I couldn’t help myself in getting a little ahead of the audiobooks and reading ahead to get to all my favourite parts.

Cover of Thunder in the Sky

There are catchphrases – “another shirt ruined” and describing her husband as “the greatest Egyptologist of this or any other time” and variants thereof – and running stories like Amelia’s obsession with “the so-called Master Criminal” who they (first) encounter a couple of books in to the series. And Elizabeth Peters is a pen name for Barbara Mertz, who was an Egyptologist in real life and so there’s lots of proper archeological detail. She’s cleverly woven the exploits of the Emersons in with the activities of the real-life archaeologists who were working at the same time – like Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. As well as being a feminist, Amelia is also quite forward thinking when it comes to what she things about Empire and her attitudes to the local people that she meets. It’s hard to categorise the series, but they’re basically historical mystery romances with a side order of parodying Victorian-era adventure novels. I’ve previously described them as a Victorian female Indiana Jones, but funnier and I stand by that. As I’ve mentioned before, if you like series like Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell, then you should be reading Amelia Peabody. And if you’ve already read them, may I suggest Peters’ Vicky Bliss series – which is modern-set and has a link back to the Emersons as well.

If this has given you an urge to read the series, definitely start at the beginning, and the first book is only £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at the moment. I’ve discovered/remembered in re-reading that first time out I borrowed a bunch of them as physical copies from the library (well it was 2012!), so I have gaps in my e-book collection, which I suspect I will be filling in shortly.

Happy Reading!

 

Book of the Week, historical, historical

Book of the Week: Her Last Flight

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, it was somewhat of a strange week last week for me, reading wise. Still don’t quite know why, but I do know that I really, really enjoyed Beatriz Wiliams’ latest book at the start of the week, so it made for a really easy pick for Book of the Week. Which is good, because decision making is not my strongest suit at the moment.

Cover of Her Last Flight

It’s 1947 and former war correspondent Janey Everett is researching a planned biography of a forgotten aviation pioneer. Sam Mallory was a Great War fighter pilot who went on to take part in flying races and barnstorming displays before going missing while flying planes in the Spanish Civil War. Her quest for the truth takes her to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, to talk to Irene Lindquist, owner of an island hopping airline, who she thinks might actually be Irene Foster, Sam’s former student whose mysterious disappearance during a round the world flight in 1937 remains an unsolved mystery. At first Irene won’t engage with Janey, but when she finds out that Janey has found the wreck of Mallory’s airplane in a Spanish desert, she starts to reconsider. And that’s as much as I’m going to tell you about the plot.

It’s an incredibly readable story with two fascinating women at the heart of it. Structurally, it is split between Janey’s first person account and extracts from a book about Irene – so a time-slip novel with a bit of a twist. It works really, really well. I have a slightly patchy history with Beatriz William’s books – but when she works for me, it really works and this might be my favourite so far. It’s a complete page turner – it’s tense and emotional at times and it’s got plenty of twists (only one of which I predicted). I would say this is a perfect beach read, but it feels like beaches are back to being a long way off again, even if the weather has been lovely for the last week.

I’ve read a few books around aviatrixes – fiction and non fiction – if you read this and like it try Deanna Raybourn’s City of Jasmine for another fictional aviatrix or for a fictionalised account of a real aviatrix, try Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun about Beryl Markham. If you just want time-slip novels in general – try Lauren Willig or Chanel Cleeton. My copy of Her Last Flight came from the library, but it’s just come out in paperback. I still haven’t been in to a bookshop so I can’t speak for how easy it will be to get hold of, but as ever, give your local indie a call and I’m sure they’ll be able to order it in if they don’t have it in stock. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook.

Happy Reading!

 

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from August

Another month gone, and here we are with another group of mini-reviews.  This isn’t a recommendation fest this month – some of them are books that I just wanted to talk about in a non Book of the Week way.

We Germans by Alexander Starritt*

Cover of We Germans

Meissner, was a soldier on the Eastern Front and now an old man, his Scottish-German grandson ask him what he did in the war, he initially shuts down and refuses to talk about it and then writes a letter. We Germans is that letter (interspersed with memories and stories about his grandfather from the grandson, Callum) and tells the story of a rampage he and a small group of colleagues went on during the final days before the Russians overran what was left of the Nazi forces. Separated from their unit, the men see other soldiers carrying out atrocities – and commit some crimes of their own.  At times it is incredibly graphic and it is a lot to grapple with – but then there is a lot to think about about what happened to the men who fought in for the Nazis once the conflict was over – and how to reconcile their actions during the war with what happened after. I found it a complete page turner, and it gave me a lot to think about. I studied First World War Literature as part of my A-Levels and found this an interesting and Second World War addition to the various more modern novels I read as part of that module.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Cover of The Gravity of Us

Cal wants to be a journalist and his following on social media platform Flashframe has snagged him an internship at BuzzFeed. But all his plans are derailed when his dad is selected as an astronaut on Nasa’s mission to Mars. Soon he’s moving into a new house in Houston, and into the world of the reality TV show that covers the lives of the astronauts and their families. But Cal’s family isn’t like any of the picture perfect ones on the show, and his new life is a struggle – until he meats Leon. Leon’s mum is also on the mission and as the two of them bond, they also start to fall in love. But when things start going on in the programme, Cal has to try to find a way to get to the truth of what is going on. Now long-time readers will know that I’m a big fan of books about the space race. I’ve previously recommended The Astronaut Wives Club and The Right Stuff and when I went to Washington two years ago I spent Thanksgiving Day wandering round the Air and Space Museum annexe to look at the Space Shuttle. So this was so up my street it was unbelievable. This is just a lovely blend of space race nostalgia and astronaut nerdery and angsty first love romance. I had a few minor gripes with some of the journo ethics of the hero, but then that’s what my day job is and so it’s maybe not surprising, and I’ve seen much, much worse.

Dance Away With Me by Susan Elizabeth Philips

Cover of Dance Away with Me

This is the first of the not quite as positive reviews, but I wanted to chuck this in here, because I loved the Chicago Stars series and read this hoping that it was going to be somewhat similar in feel despite being sold as “a novel”, but it’s… not. Recently widowed Tess has upped sticks for rural Tennessee looking for space to grieve. Her new neighbours at her isolated retreat are an enigmatic street artist Ian North and a free-spirit, not really in the real world pregnant model. This has so much plot, with so many different strand and so much angst and tragedy that it’s really hard to see how it can be satisfactorily resolved. Because there is so much going on, Tess feels quite one dimensional – even though you spend so much time with her and because and a lot of that plot also doesn’t actually involve the hero I never got to know North well enough to really understand him and root for him. Overall: Not awful just not what I wanted. But it will probably be absolutely someone’s jam. Just maybe not in a pandemic. Never mind!

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Cover of Untames

Now back at the start of the year I did a round up post of self-help books, and this was one of the ones I didn’t get to back then. Now it may seem like all you can do at the moment is get through the day what with the Quarantimes and the ‘Rona, but my library hold came in so I got stuck in to this. Glennon Doyle had built a successful career as a Christian mommy blogger and motivational speaker, but while on book tour for her book about the how she and her husband saved their marriage after infidelity and betrayal, she looked across the room, saw a woman and fell in love. Untamed is the story of what happened next, and how she built a new life. Now this isn’t exactly a recommendation, because I am not the target audience for this and I don’t think I’m implementing anything from this book into my life. Back in that January post, I wrote that Rachel Hollis’s book was Not What I Was Looking For and this is much less preachy than this, but it’s still aiming at a target audience that is Not Me, but it is an interesting read, and could serve as a template for the aforementioned Rachel Hollis on how to pivot your career when the thing about your life that made your name is suddenly gone.

 

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews for the rest of the year: July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from August: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, V for Victory, The Moonflower Murders, Daring and the Duke and The Great Godden.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be)

Book of the Week, fiction, historical, new releases

Book of the Week: V for Victory

So as mentioned yesterday, a bit of a strange week of reading last week, but today’s BotW pick was a real joy. And for the second week in a row, it’s a book that’s actually coming out in the next few days. So I am both timely and slightly ahead of the game. Make a note, it doesn’t happen often – and two weeks in a row is a real rarity!

Cover of V for Victory

It’s 1944 and in their house on Hampstead Heath, Vee Sedge and her fifteen year old “ward” Noel are just about scraping by with a house full of lodgers selected for what they can teach Noel more than their ability to pay. When Vee witnesses a road accident and is called to court disaster beckons – as Vee is not actually the person she is pretending to be. As the household tries not to get its hopes up too far that the end of the war is in sight, Noel and Vee move towards a new future.

This is the third (and final?) book about this group of characters and ties together the story of Noel and Vee as we saw them in Crooked Heart, with Mattie from Old Baggage. I’ve written several different sentences to explain that fact and have settled on that slightly vague one as being the way not to give too much away about the other two. Now you could read this standalone, but you’ll get so much more from this if you’ve read the other two. And why wouldn’t you want to read the other two – Crooked Heart is Goodnight Mr Tom but if Mr Tom was the female equivalent of Private Walker and Old Baggage is about a feisty but ageing former suffragette looking for a new cause to fight for. Both were books of the week here, that’s how much Iiked them – and liked this to be coming back for a third mention!

V for Victory is funny and warm and moving and made me cry at the end. I mean what more could you want from a book? It also does really well at capturing the shades of grey of wartime – and of people in general. It’s just wonderful and a perfect read for a grey and miserable day. And we’ve had a few of those in the last week. I mean I’m writing this on the train to work, wearing welly boots and with a mac because it’s raining like it’s November in mid-August!

My copy of V for Victory came from NetGalley , but I’ll be buying a paperback once that comes out so I have the set. It’s out on Thursday in hardback (here’s a Foyles link), Kindle and Kobo. I still haven’t been into a bookshop in person, but I think that the last one was fairly easy to get hold of in bookstores, so I hope this will be too.

Happy Reading!