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New Releases: January 20th

Three books from my anticipated books post are out today – and for once I’m ahead of the game and have finished all of them. Why aren’t I saving one of to be in the running for a BotW post? Well one of them already has been and the other two are thrillery and have plots that I can’t really tell you too much about without ruining it

Covers of A Fatal Crossing, The Maid and The Christie Affair

Let’s start with Tom Hindle’s A Fatal Crossing, which I read in basically three sittings, it’s just they were spread across ten days because I got distracted by Ashes of London. I requested this from NetGalley because it’s a murder mystery on a 1920’s cruise ship and but it’s actually quite hard to explain what’s going on without spoiling it all. Many of the passengers are on their way to an art fair in New York and as well as the murder there is a stolen artwork to deal with. And on top of that, you see it all through the eyes of Timothy Birch, an officer on board the ship who is running away from a tragedy at home but can never quite escape it. This is page turning and atmospheric and I thought I knew where it was going, but i was wrong. I might have figured it out if I hadn’t been convinced of my rightness and had thought a bit harder about the other possible options! It’s hard to tell though once you know – even if you go back and read again, you can never read it again like you don’t know!

From the 1920s to the present day and The Maid by Nita Prose. Molly is a maid at an upmarket boutique hotel. She knows that she’s not like everyone else – but now her gran is gone she has no one to explain human behaviour to her any more. So now she throws herself into her job – where her obsession with cleaning and etiquette as an asset. But when she finds one of the guests dead in his penthouse suite, she finds herself at the centre of a murder investigation where her personality quirks mean the police think she’s their prime suspect. But soon some friends she didn’t know she had are helping her to clear her name. Molly is one of the most unique narrators I have recently come across – and it’s definitely one of those cases where the reader can see things that Molly can’t. I was quite infuriated early on in the book by the way that Molly had been treated, but never fear, her situation was much improved by the end of the book – and without her changing her essential Molly-ness. This is maybe my favourite of the three. But then it’s also the one that I read last, so it could just be recency bias. I do think that this is the easiest to recommend though – I can see why it’s had so much buzz and has been picked out by Good Morning America and the New York Times. I think it will appeal to readers across genres in the way that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Where’d You Go Bernadette did.

And finally, I have already written about The Christie Affair – it was last week’s book of the week and if you’ve already read that post, consider this your reminder to go and read a sample/buy a copy! If you’re only going to read one of two historical mystery picks, I’m struggling to decide which one to suggest, except that I think the Christie Affair is closer to the murder mysteries that it’s protagonist writes and A Fatal Crossing is less traditional in terms of genre rules when it comes to the resolution. So for me I found the Christie Affair more satisfying but a Fatal Crossing is potentially more thought provoking – or at least might generate more arguments at your book club!

But all three of these are good books and if it wasn’t January and we weren’t in the midst of an omicron wave I would say that all three would be the sort of book you could read on your sun lounger by the side of the pool. As it is, read them on your sofa wrapped in a blanket!

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Vanderbilt-adjacent books

As I mentioned in yesterday’s BotW post, you may well come away from reading Vanderbilt wanting to know more about some of the people and situations in it. And I can help with that because this is not my first rodeo with this family or with American High Society in the Gilded age. So for today’s recommendsday, I’ve got a selection of books that tie-in in some way with some of the events or people that feature in Anderson Cooper’s book.

Lets start with the non-fiction, because that’s probably the short of the two lists. First of all is Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clarke Newell. I talked about this in my non-fiction Rich People problems post a couple of years ago. It’s the investigation into the life of a reclusive heiress, who wasn’t photographed for decades and who lived in a hospital for twenty years, despite owning mansions on both coasts of the US. Huguette Clark isn’t a Vanderbilt, but her family money was made at the same sort of time, she moved in the same circles and her family also had a penchant for building giant mansions. It’s mind boggling and she only died a couple of years back. Also mentioned in that 2019 post is The Unfinished Palazzo by Judith Mackerell, which features as one of its leading characters Peggy Guggenheim. Again, not a Vanderbilt, but another one of those big American families that you may well have heard of. Off the back of reading Vanderbilt, I’ve ordered myself Anne de Courcy’s The Husband Hunters, which is about the thirty year period where the British aristocracy looked across the pond to replenish their family coffers with American money by marrying American heiresses. I shall report back, but in the interim, may I suggest the tangentially related The Fishing Fleet, also by Anne de Courcy about the women sent out from Britain to India to try and snag a husband. Lastly, you can read Consuelo Vanderbilt’s own memoir – The Gitter and the Gold but I slogged through it last year, so you don’t have to. It’s a fascinating story, but she (and her ghost writer) aren’t the best at telling it and I definitely don’t suggest you read it first, because she doesn’t give you a lot of context about who the people are that she’s talking about, so you may well find yourself utterly lost or googling every few pages!

Let’s move on to fiction – and more particularly fictionalised real-lives, a corner of fiction that I really enjoy. In the later stages of the book, we see more of Anderson Cooper’s mother’s life. Gloria Vanderbilt was the subject of a notorious custody case when she was a child, but as an adult she was part of the group of women who Truman Capote called his Swans. I’ve read a couple of novels about this group – which probably means there are a stack more that I don’t know about. I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin back in 2016, before I knew much more about Truman Capote than you can get from the film Capote. And that fact made the reveal of how that little group blew up work really well although I was somewhat hazy about where the real life stuff ended and the fiction began! I read Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott a couple of years later – about the same group and the same events – and that was a BotW. In Swan Song you know what Truman has done quite early and you really see the consequences of his actions for the women concerned – you just need to stick with it beyond the initial few chapters which are a bit confounding until you figure out what is going on.

Downton Abbey prompted a surge of books set in the Gilded Age or featuring American heiresses, both in historical fiction and straight up historical romances. In the former category I’ve read My Last Duchess (known in the US as The American Heiress) by Daisy Godwin who is the writer behind the TV series Victoria. Cora Cash is American heiress whose marriage is going really quite badly and who is also having to navigate British High Society with very little help and a lot of people willing her to fail. I preferred The Fortune Hunter which she wrote a couple of years later and which is about Sisi, the Empress of Austria, but that doesn’t really fit this post does it? And then there’s Theresa Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman, which is about Alva Vanderbilt and her quest to be queen of society. I found it tricky because everyone in it is really quite unlikeable – and it doesn’t have the humour that can make reading about horrible people fun, but I know that other people enjoyed it more than I did.

On the romance front, Eloisa James’s My American Duchess was one of the first to hit this trend – it came out in 2016 and I reviewed it for Novelicious back in the day. It’s got a heroine who has already jilted two fiancés and a hero who wants to marry a Proper English woman. You know where this is going, except that it’s more than just the fish-out-of-water, comedy of manners, forbidden love novel that you expect from the blurb. I haven’t reread it since, but at the time I said that it wouldn’t be a bad place to start if you want to dip your toe into the historical romance genre, and I would stand by that, because Eloisa James in this period was one of the most consistent of the romance genre. Joanna Shupe has written a couple of series set in Gilded Age New York, but my mileage with her varies a little – she tends towards more melodrama than I like and her characters tend to do abrupt about faces that annoyment. But I did quite like Baron, from the Knickerbocker Club series, which features a fake medium who needs to seduce a railroad millionaire in order to stop him from exposing her latest scheme and also Prince of Broadway from the Uptown Girls series which has a casino owner and the daughter of a family he is trying to ruin financially. More recently there’s Maya Rodale’s An Heiress to Remember (published in 2020) which sees an American heiress return to New York after her divorce to try and claim her family’s department store for herself. Only trouble is that it’s being run by the man whose heart she broke when she married a duke. It’s the third in a series – but I haven’t read the others, so I can’t speak to whether they work as well as this one did (for me at least).

And finally, there have also been a couple of murder mystery series set in and around the mansions that the Vanderbilts and their rivals built in Newport, Rhode Island. Of the ones that I’ve read, the best was Murder at Beachwood by Alyssa Maxwell, which is a historical mystery set in 1896 with a debutant heroine who is a fictional cousin of the Vanderbilts (an actual Vanderbilt connection! yay me!) who ends up trying to solve a murder after a baby is abandoned on her doorstep. It’s bit meladramatic – but that works with the time setting. It’s also the third in a series, and writing this has reminded me that I haven’t read the other two and I’m not sure enough of the Anderson Cooper book is set in Rhode Island for me to be able to use it for the state if I do the 50 states challenge again this year.

So there you are, a monster Recommendsday post with – hopefully – something for everyone. Happy reading!

Series I love

Series I Love: Royal Spyness

It’s been a while since I posted a Series I Love post – since Amelia Peabody in January last year to be exact – so I thought it was time for another. As I finished the latest in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series this week, and really enjoyed it but because I said I wasn’t going to write about any more Christmas books, this seemed like a good solution!

Set in the 1930s, our heroine is Lady Georgiana Rannoch, daughter of a duke and a cousin of George V, and whose family lost most of their money in the Great Crash late in the 1920s. Her father is dead and she’s trying to survive on her own, because life with her brother and sister-in-law is just too unpleasant (and cold) to contemplate. Luckily for her, Queen Mary quite likes her and keeps asking her to undertake little tasks to help out the Royal Family. Unluckily for her, this also tends to lead to her stumbling across bodies as well as the dashing but possibly disreputable Darcy O’Mara. There are 15 books in the series now and they’ve taken Georgie around various of the royal residences, the English and Scottish countryside, over the water to Ireland and the south of France and much further away to Transylvania and Africa.

If you’re a history nerd like me, you have to not think to hard about where in Queen Victoria’s family tree exactly Georgie’s family are meant to fit in, but equally if you’re a history nerd all the details about the royals in the 1930s are really quite delightful and more accurate than a lot of similar books are (I’m naming no names, but there are some terrible attempts out there). Georgie is a very fun narrator – she’s very inventive and determined not to end up dependent on her brother and end up as free labour for her sister-in-law, the awful Fig. At the start of the series she starts a housecleaning business – trading on the snobbery of people who want to be associated with a distant royal, whilst hiding the fact that she doesn’t actually have a staff and is doing the cleaning herself. But she’s also grown up quite sheltered from the real world, which means that the reader can often see stuff coming that she can’t – like when she tries to hire herself out as a dinner and theatre companion, when her housecleaning business starts struggling.

Georgie is also surrounded by an entertaining group of supporting characters. As well as the handsome Darcy, there is her accident prone and not very good maid Queenie (who she can’t bring herself to get rid of) and her daring Bright Young Thing friend Belinda. There’s also her maternal grandfather a former policeman who is uncomfortable around all of Georgiana’s posh friends and royal relations. Then there’s his daughter – Georgie’s mother Claire – who after managing to marry into the peerage with Georgie’s father, is now working her way through a string of rich husbands and gentleman friends. The books are working their way through the 1930s and Claire is set up as a bit of a rival to Wallis Simpson and you get some delightful sparring between the two of them whenever they come into contact with each other.

The latest book in the series, God Rest Ye Royal, Gentleman is set at Christmas 1935, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next as we move into the somewhat frantic events of 1936 and the Mrs Simpson situation comes to a head. As regular readers will know, I do love a book set around the abdication crisis (Hello Gone with the Windsors) so I’m hoping Rhys Bowen has got some fun ideas for how to get Georgie involved in it all.

I started reading the series slightly out of order – as I picked up a few of the early ones from the Works (see my BotW post about A Royal Pain for details) but I’ve been up to date for a while now and reading them as they come out. I would say you can read out of order – if you want – up until about book 11, after that, you sort of want to be going in order a little bit. Or at least you do to get the maximum fun out of it all.

If you like historical mystery series like Phryne Fisher or Daisy Dalrymple then these are worth giving a try. Bowen also writes the Molly Murphy series, which I’ve not read – yet – because I’ve never managed to get hold of the early ones in the series at a price I’m happy with. I’m sure it will happen at some point though. If you read the Boyfriend Club series or some of the early Sweet Dreams books when you were a teenager, Rhys Bowen is also Janet Quin Harkin, so you may find that you like the writing style, even if you don’t usually read historical mysteries.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: December 2021 Mini Reviews

It may be January 5th, but we still have the important matter of the December Mini reviews to deal with. Now quite a lot of the month was taken up with trying to finish the 50 states challenge for the year – the results of which can bee seen in this post from Sunday. However, in the quest to tick states off, sadly some of the books that I read in December were somewhat disappointing. And this leaves me with less than usual to talk about in my mini reviews. Which is sad, but considering how many posts I’ve written recently, I’m hoping you won’t feel short changed.

Board Stiff by Kendel Lynn

Cover of Board Stiff

Elliot Lisbon works for a charitable foundation based on an island in South Carolina. Her usual jobs include keeping the peace between foundation members and smoothing over potential problems. In her spare time she’s working towards her PI licence – very slowly. Then the chair of the foundation’s board is accused of murder and her bosses as her to try and sort the situation out. Trouble is the new in town detective leading the investigation is her ex-boyfriend and he really doesn’t want her sticking her nose in. Trouble is if she doesn’t Elliot is likely to be out of a job. This one joins Double Whammy in the list of books that are trying to do similar things to the Stephanie Plum series (and I did read the last but one in the Plum series in December too and the less said about that the better). This has a few issues, but it rattles along at a nice pace and there’s plenty of potential here for the series. I have the next one cued up ready on the Kindle.

Oh. What. Fun by Chandler Baker

Cover of Oh. What. Fun.

This is another Christmas-themed short story – I know, I know, I said that last week was the limit, but that was for Books of the Week. Or at least I’m allowed to bend the rules if I want to! Anyway, Tyler, Channing and Sammy have returned home for Christmas. Their mum Claire has always brought the holiday magic in their family – with traditions galore that she just loves doing for them all. Or does she. Maybe they should all have been paying more attention to her because this year is about to go very differently. This is a witty but thought provoking look at Christmas and the people who make it special and whether we should be appreciating them more – or if you are the Claire, whether you should be getting more help!

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R King

Cover of Dreaming Spies

Yes, I know, another rule that I’m breaking – with a later book in a mystery series, where you really need to have read the earlier ones to make it all work at it’s best. But it’s been one of those months, so the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series makes another appearance on the blog. As with several times before in this series, the timeline is jumping about somewhat – it opens immediately after the events of Garment of Shadows (the previous book in the series) but a large section of this takes place between the events of The Game and Locked Rooms five books earlier. This fills in what happened when Mary and Sherlock were in Japan – events which have been hinted at before. And it’s a delicious mix of everything you have come to expect from the series – with lashings of early 20th century Japanese culture thrown in. I don’t know enough about the reality to be able to say how accurate it all is, but it certainly makes for a rather delightful reading experience. Do start at the beginning of the series though – with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Just don’t think too hard about the age gap between Mary and Sherlock.

Release the Beast by Bimini Bon Boulash

Bimini was the breakout star of the second series of Drag Race UK – even if they didn’t win – and this is their debut book – all about their views on gender, class, capitalism, the patriarchy and more. If you enjoyed watching them on Drag Race, you’ll probably enjoy reading this too and getting more of a perspective on their life and their art. This the latest addition to my shelf of books about or by drag queens, and although I don’t like it as much as I like Legendary Children, it’s interesting and it’s a good way of throwing some coins the way of a Queen while the pandemic is making times hard for live gigs.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in December were Basket Case, Double Whammy, Christmas in Paradise and The Christmas Card Crime. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October and November.

Happy Reading!

 

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: November 2021 Mini Reviews

November was a really good month for books I want to talk about, but things were made easier on the picking front by the need to save the festive stuff for my Christmas reading post. So this round up is dominated by crime (and with a slight locked room, closed group twist) because that’s most of what else I was reading last month!

Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville 

Cover of Weekend at Thrackley

This isn’t a murder mystery exactly but it is another British library Crime Classic, and another featuring a closed group. Jim Henderson is invited to a weekend party at the house of a man he’s never met, but who claims to have been a friend of his father. On arrival he finds a strange assortment of guests – including one of his friends – a sinister Butler, and an attractive daughter of the house. Cue attempted robbery, a missing guest and much danger. It’s fast paced and you’re never quite sure what it’s going to do next. It’s in Kindle Unlimited too.

IQ by Joe 

Cover of IQ

Isiah is a high school dropout who solves crimes. He charges what is clients can afford- whether it’s home cooked food or a lot, lot more. It is a modern take on Sherlock Holmes in some ways – but in tough LA neighbourhood. This first book in the series shows you him in action solving the mystery of who is trying to kill a big name rapper but also shows you his backstory and how he came to be doing what he is doing. I read most of this across the course of 24 hours because it’s really, really readable. Very readable indeed.

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris*

Cover of The Dublin Railway Murder

This is a meticulously researched investigation into a real life locked room mystery in Dublin in 1856. It is undoubtedly very well researched, but oh boy is the author going to make sure we know about it. The start of the book, setting out the crime is actually quite pacey but it feels like it all gets a bit bogged down in the minutiae of the investigation. There are also so many people to keep track of and that doesn’t help. I think I was expecting a bit more of a conclusion at the end, but maybe that’s me being over optimistic about what can be achieved in a book about a 150 plus year old Murder.  I picked it up because I enjoyed The Haunting of Alma Fielding, and was hoping for something similar – so a solid read, but not as good as say The Five.

Murder of a Martinet by E C R Lorac 

Cover of Murder of a Martinet

I know I’ve already written about another Lorac book this month, but this one is also really good. A horrible matriarch is murdered in the house where all her family live. If it wasn’t for the indisposition of the old family doctor, it might have gone down as natural causes, but as soon as it doesn’t Inspector MacDonald is called in. He has to try and figure out what on Earth happened in a house seething with tensions and rivalries. I liked it a lot. And apologies for the picture quality on this – it’s the best I could do with the cover it had on Kindle Unlimited…

The Ex Hex by Erin Stirling 

Cover of The Ex Hex

I’m just throwing in one romance quickly to finish! When Rhys Penhallow returns to a Graves Glen to recharge the town’s ley lines, he thinks the worst that can happen will be running into the woman whose heart he broke (unwillingly) nine years earlier. But it turns out Vivienne nursed her broken heart with tears… and a curse. Now the two of them will have to work together to fix the problems they’ve caused with the town’s magical energy. This is much less dramatic than I was expecting but was a nice sweet second chance-y romance with witches. I’m too late for Halloween but it’s still worth a look.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in November were Educated, The Love Hypothesis, Murder in the Basement, These Names Make Clues and All The Feels. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October. Come back tomorrow for the monthly stats!

Happy Reading!

 

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: October 2021 Mini Reviews

Here we go again – another selection of books I have read and want to talk about or recommend. This month it is a particularly varied selection – with literature in translation, history, historical crime and short stories and essays about relationships. Something for everyone really.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold and Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe*

There always seems to be a busy Japanese novel around and Before the Coffee Gets Cold was The One a couple of years back. The follow up came out last year and of course I’m super behind with things as always and then read them both back to back. You need to read them in order though as they tell a series of stories about a cafe where you can travel back in time, if you are sat in the right seat and only for the duration of time a cup of coffee is warm for. Across the two novels you meet a range of people who wish to make the journey, but also learn about the people who work at the cafe. I had to stop reading it on the train because it made me cry, but they were both absolutely wonderful. I recommend.

Stealing the Crown by T P Fielden

T P Fielden is the author of the Miss Dimont mysteries, that I’ve written about here before, but the author is also a biographer and royal commentator and this uses his knowledge about the royals during the Second World War as part of a murder mystery that sees a painter who has ended up with a job at Buckingham Palace investigating the death of another staff member. It’s a pacey and enjoyable read and in one of those serendipitous moments you some times find, mentioned Camp Siegfried in it, just a couple of weeks after I’d been to see a play set at the camp – which was for American-German Nazis (or at least nazi sympathisers). There’s a second book in the series which I will keep an eye out for.

 

Index, History of the by Dennis Duncan*

 So, this sort of does what it says on the tin: it’s a history of the humble index. They’re in every reference book, but if you’re my age or younger, you’ve had the safety net of the computer search since you were old enough to be starting on serious research. But before Google and before the computer library catalogue, the index was the key to research and learning. Dennis Duncan’s book examines how the index came into being, how it has evolved through history and how it’s use has evolved too. I’m not sure I’d ever given much thought to how indexes started, or even what people did about an index before the printing press, but now I know all the answers! And it’s fascinating to see that the same sort of arguments that are made about computer search diminishing people’s knowledge were made about the index when it first appeared – if you don’t have to read the whole book, how can you possibly be getting the full benefit of the book? This would make a great gift for the book worm or history fan in your life this Christmas as well.

The One series from Amazon

 I read the kindle versions of this collection rather than the audio versions, but I really quite enjoyed the range of stories within The One. From Jacqueline Woodson writing about how she found her partner, through a dog with more than one family, how a young widow deals with bereavement to a friendship that moves in cycles of closeness and separation, the stories take on the different paths people can take to find The One in their lives. They’re bite sized but often thought provoking and were perfect for those moments when I wanted to read something but didn’t have the time or concentration to commit to a full length book. And they are free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited. What is not to like.

This is Your Time by Ruby Bridges

This was one of my impulse purchases on during my weekend in London in the middle of the month. I studied the desegregation of US schools as part of my history GCSE and it sort of boggles my mind that 14 year old me didn’t twig that the students involved were my parents age. It is that recently that a little girl needed an escort from the national guard to attend a school – and that her father lost his job because of the fact that his daughter was desegregating the city’s schools. This is aimed at middle grade students and sees Ruby Bridges explaining what she did and what the response was and how she sees that fitting in to civil rights protests in America today. This would make a valuable resource for primary school libraries and educators.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in October were Ambush or Adore, Body on the Beach, The Man Who Died Twice and All The Feels. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August and September.

Happy Reading!

 

Book of the Week, book round-ups

Book of the Week… or not

So. I said in yesterday’s post I didn’t know what I was going to write about today. And I didn’t. And I sat and stared at the list of things I read last week for a while and I still didn’t. And then I ended up writing this.

My favourite thing I read last week was probably The Game, but that’s the sixth in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series and I have a rule about books in series and you really will get the most out of that if you’re reading them in order. Also it’s not that long since I wrote about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – and I suspect the next stop on this journey is going to be a post about the series. So that rules that out. Side note: It’s one of those annoying ebooks where you can’t see a proper cover for it at the start of the book. Why do publishers do this to me?

I finished Theatre for Dreamers last week, but I hated almost everyone in it and I couldn’t work up the energy to write about them all. I originally bought it as a gift for mum and then when it arrived I read the start and realised that it wasn’t going to be for her. I was right. Good decision not to give it to her past Verity. But if you want to read about the writers’ and artists’ colony on Hydra in the early 1960s, go for it – it’s well written and it’s got Leonard Cohen in it, but it’s about as cheerful as one of his songs. Maybe by the time I have enough books for another Fictionalised Real People post, I’ll have mellowed on it a bit. At the moment I’m just annoyed at them all.

I went into A Few Right Thinking Men thinking (hoping?) it might fill the Phryne Fisher-shaped hole in my reading. And it is set in Australia, at a similar sort of time and with a hero with a monied background but more colourful and less conservative leanings, but whilst it does have a murder to solve, also gets very deep into the societal factions of conservatives and communists and to me felt like it tended more towards the thriller end of the spectrum and less towards the historical cozy one. It’s also less witty and fun than Phryne is and I’m not sure how much I liked any one in it. I might read some more, but I’ll need to be in the right mood.

The Larks of Jubilee Flats was a fun Career novel from the Girl’s Own era that I love, but it’s slight, and niche, and probably only of interest to a very small subset of people – many of whom were at the Bristol Conference with me a couple of years back. If you want to read a book doing a bit of not very subtle encouraging of young teen girls to have a bit of ambition (but only before they get married) and to Do The Right Thing, then it’s sweet but it’s also going to cost you at least £5 plus shipping for a book that took me less than an hour to read. Also, Covid scuppered the next edition of book conference both last summer and the rearranged date this year, so I have to wait another whole year before I get to go and play with the book people and spend all my money on obscure titles again.

And after that there was nothing else in the list that was nearly finished enough for me to kid myself I could get it read and count it on a technicality. So instead you get a couple of little summaries from me and a sheepish apology for having had a busy week and on top of that a sort of social life for the first time in a year. I’ll try and do better next week.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: March 2021 Mini Reviews

So we made it to the end of a year of the quarantimes. And despite the fact being back in March meant it felt like we’d never left March at all and the world had ground to a halt in 2020 and given us endless March, itwas actually quite a good month in my reading life. Here are a few books I enjoyed that I haven’t told you about yet.

Women vs Hollywood by Helen O’Hara

Hardback copy of Women vs Hollywood

Empire Magazine’s Helen O’Hara’s new book is an examination of pioneering women through Hollywood history and the ways in which they’ve been left out of the history of the silver screen. It also examines what could be done to help redress the balance and for films to tell some different stories from some different points of view. It’s impeccably researched and well argued and will left me wanting to go out and spend some money at the cinema on female-centric films. As the cinemas are still closed, I contented myself by watching Lady Bird and Emma. and a couple of Katherine Hepburn films.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

Cover of the Consequences of Fear

I’ve written about the Maisie Dobbs series here before. And this is another engrossing and twisty instalment in the series. With long running series it’s always a challenge writing a review that doesn’t give away too much of the plot – or spoil earlier books in the series. But what I can say is that now the books have reached World War Two, Jacqueline Winspear is consistently finding interesting aspects of the conflict to entangle Maisie in, and if a few liberties are taken with the timeline, they are minor and you forgive them because it’s so page-turning and engrossing. This also sees some really interesting developments in Maisie’s personal life too – so all around this is a really good read.

You’re History by Leslie Chow*

Cover of You're History

What’s not to love about a book with a cover as gorgeous as this and I did enjoy it, but that comes with a few caveats. I think I was missing some of the background on some of the songs to get the most out of it. Although the names listed in the blurb are all people you will have heard of – Kate Bush, Nikki Minaj,  Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift and TLC – in quite a lot of cases it’s actually taking quite a deep, in depth dive into their musical back catalogues. Really I think it needs to come with a playlist so you can listen to the songs that are being talked about as you read the book, because unless you’re really, really into music you may get lost here unless you’ve done some prep work. I used to work at radio stations as well as watching a fair few music documentaries both general and artist specific, so I consider myself fairly well across music, and I still had to do a fair bit of googling. I have a goal to try and read more books about music and musicians – because when I do I invariably enjoy that – and this fits in to that but it’s not my favourite of the genre.

Happy Singles Day by Ann Marie Walker

Cover of Happy Singles Day

This is a sweet, fluffy holiday (by which I mean vacation not Christmas!) romance set on an island off North Carolina, with a widowed hero with a B&B he can’t face running since the death of his wife and the professional organiser who visits for an out of season holiday. Lucas is focussed on raising his daughter and ignoring the bills that are coming due – so his sister relists the B7B without telling him – until Paige is booked and on the way. When Paige arrives, she finds that her accomodation doesn’t quite match the online brochure and decides to return home. But bad weather means the ferry isn’t running and she’s stuck on the island… Nothing revelatory or surprising, but a nice fun weekend read featuring a grumpy hero, a sunny heroine, a bit of forced proximity, a cute kid and some puppies.

Flake by Matthew Dooley

Hardback copy of Flake

So this is a really genuinely charming graphic novel about an ice cream seller and his van and the rivalries and challenges he faces. Low key but remarkably emotional. It had been sat on my shelf for a few months – my friendly local comic book shop had managed to get me a copy just before her last lockdown started again and I had been saving it for a treat. And I was right that it was a treat because it was really, really good.

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in March were Wild Rain, Act Your Age, Eve Brown, Mrs Tim of the Regiment and Heroes are my Weakness. And here are the links to the mini reviews from January and February.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Christmas books

Book of the Week: Hither, Page

An embarrassment of riches on this week’s list, but I think this was my favourite.  Lots of stuff from it will be making appearances in other posts soon too – in fact the only thing against Hither, Page being this week’s pick is that I sort of wanted it for my Christmas reading post, which is taking longer to put together than I was expecting because I haven’t liked a lot of the stuff that I’ve been reading with an eye to including it.  But this wasn’t on the original list of potentials for the Christmas post, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Anyway, on to the book.

Cover of Hither, Page

Hither, Page is a murder mystery and romance set in Britain in the aftermath of World War Two. James Sommers has come back from the war to work as the doctor in the village that he lived in as a child.  After he catches his cleaning lady looking through his patient records and snooping in his flat he lets her go. But soon she’s found dead after a dinner party at the Big House and James feels like the peace of his post-war sanctuary has been shattered. Leo Page works for one of the shadowier (and possibly dodgier) bits of the British secret service and is surprised to be sent to a sleepy village to investigate a charlady’s death. Soon Leo and James are crossing paths – one as as he tries to solve the crime, the other he tries to get his village back to normal – or at least that’s what he thinks he’s doing.

I think you all know me well enough to know that this plot summary ticks quite a lot of my boxes – murder mystery, mid-twentieth century, secret services connection and it’s sort of enemies forced to work together.  It’s funny and snarky and has a great cast of supporting characters who – as it’s the first of a series – we should hear more from in books to come. What is not to love.

I’m always after a new historical mystery series, and Cat Sebastian was one of my 2018 Obsessions as I worked my way through her back catalogue so this is practically a Venn diagram all on its own. My only complaints were that it wasn’t long enough and as it’s the first in the series I now have to wait impatiently for the next installment which doesn’t even have a name yet it’s so long away.  However in writing this post I realised that there is another Cat Sebastian book due out soon (in December and I’ve got it pre-ordered already, well done PastVerity) which is good, but I think we’ve just ruled that out of BotW contention if I read it straightaway, which I think we all know I will.  Hey ho (ho, ho), you can’t win them all.

My copy of Hither, Page came from the library – but it’s available on Kindle and on Kobo now.

Happy Reading!

Blog tours, new releases

Blog Tour: Died and Gone to Devon

Happy Friday everyone, and welcome to a special bonus post to mark the mid point in November.  I’m one of the stops on the blog tour for TP Fielden’s Died and Gone to Devon – which came out yesterday – and which I read the other week.

This is the fourth book in the Miss Dimount Investigates series, featuring an intrepid lady reporter in the seaside town of Temple Regis in the late 1950s.  In Died and Gone to Devon, a by-election is looming – but when one of the candidates winds up dead, Judy is soon investigating.  Add into the mix a new and suspiciously ambitious journalist and a visit from her mother, and Judy has soon got a lot on her plate.

Regular readers will know that I love a murder mystery set in the past, and I love an unconventional detective.  Judy is an older lady – not as old as Miss Marple certainly, but definitely not in the first flush of youth – and I really like the fact that she’s got her head screwed on and doesn’t sail off into danger without a thought.  She’s smart, she’s had to fight to get to wear she is and she’s not going to cede her position easily.  And I also like the late 1950s setting – Temple Regis is a sleepy, old-fashioned backwater but you can see the cusp of the swinging sixties on the horizon and the conflicts that are starting as times change.  I had some of the mystery figured out early on, but not all by any means and I enjoyed watching everything unfold, although to be fair reading it in the week that a General Election was called might not have been my best plan – as it all got a bit election overload at times!

I read the first book in the series back in 2017, and enjoyed it but thought that there was a lot of set up for the series going on and a few too many unexplained hints about Judy’s past. But this definitely felt like a book in a series that has hit its stride – the characters are established, there aren’t any info dumps about people and there are a few little nuggets about previous cases that would work as callbacks if you’ve read them, or tempt you into reading them if like me you haven’t.

My copy of Died and Gone to Devon came via the publisher, but it is available now as a paperback and on Kindle, Kobo and Audible.

Happy Reading!