book round-ups, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Royal Romances

Another bonus post for you today – there’s a new series of the Crown out on Netflix this week and there’s been a rush of romances about royalty recently (gee, I wonder why) – a lot of which I seem to have read – so I thought I’d round up a few for you here – new and old.

The Princess Plan by Julia London

Cover of The Princess Plan

This came out yesterday (in the UK at least) and is a historical romance which sees a prince and a commoner team up to solve a murder mystery. Prince Sebastian of Alucia is in Britain for trade talks when his private secretary (and friend) is murdered after a ball.  Eliza Tricklebank helps write a popular gossip sheet and receives a tip off about who committed the crime.  She is probably the only person in the country who doesn’t really care about Sebastian’s rank (for Reasons).  Soon the two of them are investigating what happened – with Eliza digging in the places Sebastian can’t go, while he investigates at court. And as they work together, they develop feelings for each other – but how can a prince marry a nobody – a spinster firmly on the shelf and with a scandal in her past? You know they’ll find a way! I read a lot of historicals – but not many that involve royalty – and this is really quite fun. The mystery is twisty and although I had the culprit worked out very early on, I didn’t work out how they were going to fix the Happily Ever After.  Lots of fun and it’s the first in a series. I had an advance copy from NetGalley, but the ebook for this looks like it’s on offer here this week for release – it’s £2.99 Kindle and Kobo at the moment.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Cover of Red, White and Royal Blue

Alex Claremont-Diaz is the First Son of the United States.  Prince Henry is, well a British Prince.  They hate each other, right until they don’t (hello enemies to lovers trope again) and then there’s a whole lot of secrecy and new problems to deal with. This is a lot of fun while you’re reading it – it rattles along so fast that you don’t get a chance to analyse or dissect the backstory and set up too much. I don’t read a lot of New Adult because usually it’s too angsty and drama-filled for me, but in this most of the drama and angst is external to the couple which worked well. And by the end I wanted the ending to be true in real life. Just don’t think too hard about it all or it all falls apart! Luckily it rattles on at enough speed that you don’t have time to think about it too much – a bit like the Royal Spyness series – and try not to over think it afterwards! This one is new and expensive – Kindle and Kobo are in the £7-£8 bracket at the moment, and the physical version even more.
The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne
Cover of The Runaway Princess
An older pick now – I read this five years ago, but it actually came out in 2012.  The title is something of a spoiler, but hey, I’ll try and not give too much away. Amy is a gardner, not a social butterfly, but when a drunk European prince crashes her friend’s party, she falls for Leo the guy who helps her sort the mess out.  But Leo and Amy’s lives are very different and soon Amy’s trying to decide if he’s worth the changes and problems that life with him would bring This is a fun, easy, romantic read with likeable characters and a lovely (if a perhaps a little bit underdeveloped male lead). It’s a modern princess story – but with a leading lady that’s not as polished and perfect as Kate Middleton (remember this came out in the year of the First Royal Wedding, not the Harry and Meghan era). Amy has some skeletons in her closet – and to be honest I’m surprised they didn’t come out sooner when the press started sniffing around. I had pretty much worked out what had happened (I’m being vague because I don’t want to give it away) but the resolution to that strand of the story was more inventive than I expected. Oh and the Kindle and Kobo editions are £1.99 at the moment.  A win all around.

Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole

Cover of A Prince on Paper

And I couldn’t let this post go by without reminding you of the Reluctant Royals.  I’ve reviewed Alyssa Cole a lot in recent years and two of this series have already been Book of the Weeks – A Princess in Theory and the novella Can’t Escape Love – but if you haven’t already checked out this series, they’re well worth a look.   The last in the series, A Prince on Paper, features a Playboy prince (or so we think) and a woman trying to find out who she is after discovering that her father has betrayed her. I had a few quibbles with how it all resolved itself (it seemed to easy) but absolutely raced through this the day that it came out – which says pretty much all you need to know about it! A Princess in Theory is £1.99 at the moment on Kindle and Kobo – but they’re all under £3 – and there are three novels and two novellas. Cole’s new series, Runaway Royals, starts next year with How To Catch A Queen and I’m looking forward to it already.

So there you have it – the best of my recent royal-themed reading and some older picks too.  If you’ve got some more recommendations for me, leave them in the comments!

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!

Book of the Week, graphic novels, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Pumpkinheads

A busy week in reading last week with lots on the list. You’ll be hearing more about some of them (yes I know, I keep saying that but look – you had a Recommendsday post last week and that was worth it right?) but as it’s Halloween this week this seemed like the obvious choice.

UK Edition of Pumpkinheads

Written by Rainbow Rowell and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads tells the story of one night in the life of Deja and Josiah.  They are seasonal friends.- they’ve worked at the same stall at the same pumpkin patch together, every autumn, all through high school – but never see each other between Halloween and next September 1. But their last year. And more specifically their last night. Josiah wants to be melancholy, but Deja wants him to seize the moment and let go of his quest to be the employee of the month and enjoy their final shift together. To that end she’s traded their shifts at the succotash stall for something closer to where Josiah’s long-term crush works, in the hope that she can persuade him to finally ask her out. But what actually happens ends up being a mad chase around the patch to finally see all the sights and taste all the snacks.

I’m not a horror reader, so Halloween themed reading is always a challenge for me.  But if you’re like me and need some low stakes, low peril Halloween reading, this may be exactly what is required. This is funny and sweet and not at all scary, but it is very, very Halloween-y. We don’t really have pumpkin patches over here – or if we do it’s a very recent arrival – so it’s not something that I’m familiar with, but that didn’t matter because the art did all the work for you.  I loved the visual style of this – the colour palette is gorgeously autumnal and the characters are all really expressive.  There’s so much detail here too – I loved the runaway goat and the troublesome teens.  Read this curled up on your sofa with a seasonal beverage whilst hiding from trick or treaters.

My copy of Pumpkinheads came from my local comic store – your local should be able to get hold of it too. Otherwise it’s available from all the usual sources.  I’ve also written about some of Rainbow Rowell’s books before – here are my reviews of Carry On and Fangirl. I also finished Wayward Son – which is the sequel to Carry On – last week.  It’s really good, but you need to have read Carry On to get the most out of it.  And there’s a third book coming too.  Exciting times.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, new releases

Book of the Week: Top Marks for Murder

Another old friend for this week’s BotW: the eighth in Robin Stevens’s middle grade Murder Most Unladylike series. It was between this and the new Tessa Dare for this week’s pick and although the Dare is a lot of fun, I have a lot of thoughts about this book, this series and the importance of Hazel and Daisy.

Cover of Top Marks for Murder

We rejoin the detective society as they return to Deepdean after their extended break visiting Hazel’s family in Hong Kong and then their appearance in a play in London. And they’re back at school just in time for the anniversary weekend, which proves to be a rather more dangerous time for the girls than you would hope, after one of the gang sees what she thinks is a murder from their dormitory window.

The girls are back on the trail and are happy to be distracted from the things that have changed at school while they’ve been away. But this isn’t the first time that there’s been a murder at Deepdean, and Daisy and Hazel are older now and are seeing more of the consequences of what’s going on as well. After all how many parents want to leave their children at a school where murders happen. So the girls may not need to just solve the case, they might need to save the school as well.

What I’ve always loved about this series is the way that it takes familiar tropes from the school stories that I loved when I was little and update them so that they will work for kids today. I’ve spoken before about revisiting old favourites and realising they’re now problematic (to say the least in some cases). I’m lucky with the Chalet School – LH Johnson recently wrote a lovely piece about the Chalet School Peace League and Elinor M Brent Dyer quietly advocating peace and cooperation – but I’ve bought and read a couple of Shirley Flight books over the last few weeks and although they’re mostly fun adventures, there are some horrible attitudes towards non-Brits and especially non-Westerners. One of them is downright racist to a point where I now wouldn’t want to lend any of them out to a modern child of the age I was when I read the first book in the series. But if you want to give the next generation the sort of warm feels you had from Girls Own books but without the nasty undercurrents, this series will do that for you.

And that’s not to say that these are populated by perfect exemplars of modern day life sticking out like sore thumbs in the olden days. They’re not like that. You see the nastier side of 1930s boarding school life because because you’re looking at it from Hazel’s point of view and nothing she can do will change the way some people look at her just because she’s Chinese. Daisy definitely isn’t perfect – she doesn’t handle the fact that while she’s been gone a fascinating new girl has taken her place very well at all. And she’s still dealing with the fallout for her family after the events at her house in book 2. This is full of realistic characters learning real life lessons as well as solving a tricky mystery. As a grown up, I really appreciate and enjoy what Robin Stevens is doing – but it does works for its actual target market too, as my niece as well as several of the ten year olds my sister taught last year (who lent her copies of books in the series) prove. And when my niece is a bit older, I’ll lend her the Golden Age mystery stories these are influenced by and she can read the grown up versions of some of these plots (this one is very Sayers inspired). But with a few caveats about old fashioned attitudes.

Now, I’m going to be very careful how I phrase this section because: spoilers, but in the last book we learned an important piece of information about one of the main characters. A piece of information that both is and isn’t a big deal. Inside the last book it was treated exactly right by the character who learned it and in this book nothing has changed about that piece of information but it is absolutely not an issue or a Big Deal. And that is exactly as it should be. If you’ve read Death in the Spotlight you’ll know exactly what I’m talking abut and if you haven’t, then I’m sorry for that impenetrable paragraph, but go and read it and you’ll understand.

I had First Class Murder pre-ordered (and had to remember to change the delivery address to the new house!) but you should be able to get hold of it easily from any shop with a children’s section. It’s also available online – from places like Book Depository – as well as on Kindle and Kobo.  And you can read some of my previous posts about the series here and here.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: The Great Successor

So I did manage to do some reading last week in between packing boxes, moving boxes and unpacking boxes, and in between all the comfort reading to try and calm me down, I finished this fascinating non-fiction read.  But as it’s still all go here, please forgive me if this post is a little shorter than usual!

Cover of The Great Successor

Anna Fifield is currently the Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post, but her previous beat was the Koreas and Japan.  She’s also worked for the Financial Times in Seoul.  The Great Successor is her look at Kim Jong Un – his childhood, his rise to power and what he’s done since he became ruler of North Korea.  She’s knowledgable and her sources are people with real experience of the regime.  But it’s also incredibly readable – if a little bit terrifying.

Along with pretty much every journalist on the planet, I’ve done a lot of watching of North Korea – particularly since Donald Trump came to power.  And this is the best insight I’ve yet found into what might be going through the mind of Kim Jong Un – who is pretty much the same age as me and who might have the power to change the world as we know it if he so chooses.   Try not to panic.  This is definitely worth trying to get your hands on if you’re interested in international affairs – and if you’ve read some of the books looking at the inside of the Trump White House, this would make an interesting addition to your to-read pile.  Equally, this isn’t the first book about the Korean Peninsular that I’ve read – and it would make a great trio with The Birth of South Korean Cool and A Kim Jong Un Production.

British cover of The Greaet Successor

My copy of The Great Successor came from the Library, but I think it should be available fairly easily – it’s certainly out in Kindle and Kobo and the hardback is out now and available from Book Depository – all though you’ll note the difference in subtitles between the US and British editions!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: Evvie Drake Starts Over

Such an easy choice for this week.  I had to be dragged away from this one and it totally lifted me out of what had been a bit of a reading slump as I rationalised the to-read shelf and discovered that there was a fair number of books on it that I didn’t like when I started reading them.

Cover of Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake has the car packed. She’s leaving her husband. But just as she’s about to about to go when the phone rings: Tim has been in a car accident, she needs to get to the hospital, fast.  We rejoin Evvie nearly a year later – when everyone in town thinks it’s grief that’s keeping her at home and she hasn’t done anything to correct them.  To help out a friend – and to help pay the bills, she lets the apartment at the back of her house to Dean Tenney, former Major League Baseball pitcher and now a byword for blowing it after a major case of the yips saw him lose his aim.  The two of them make a deal – she won’t ask about his baseball career and he won’t ask about her late husband.  But as the months go by the two of them grow closer and a friendship looks like it could develop into something more.  But those demons are going to need addressing before they can really move forward.

This is just what I hoped it would be.  It’s warm and has a great slow burn romance and two people trying to figure out whether they are right for each other – and whether they’re actually ok themselves.  Evvie (rhymes with Chevy) is a wonderful heroine – smart and funny but also a little bit broken and trying to figure out who she really is and if she can get her life back on track.  And Dean is such an appealing hero – he’s lost the ability to do the thing that defined who he was and has to figure out who he is if he’s not a baseball player.  The supporting characters are wonderfully drawn too and Evvie’s complicated relationship with the town feels very realistic.  I had a few minor quibbles here and there – but nothing that took me out of the story or disturbed my warm and cozy feeling at the way that it was all unfolding.

I had been a little worried that this wouldn’t live up to my expectations for it: I had been looking forward to reading this ever since I heard about it.  Linda Holmes is the presenter of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast from NPR and mentioned more than a year ago (as part of their things that are making them happy this week section) that she had written a novel and that it was going to be published.  On top of that, it’s got great reviews, been picked for a big TV book club in the US and the UK version has blurbs from Rainbow Rowell, Helen Hoang and Taylor Jenkins Reid.  How could it ever live up to all that?  But it did, it really did.  I’m often moaning about not being able to find the sort of romantic novels that I like, the sort of thing that I used to be able to buy really easily 10 years ago – with smart heroines and humour and where people fix themselves and get romance as a bonus – and this did everything that I wanted it to do.  When I got to the end and read the list of thank yous from the author, it was a list of people who I listen to on podcasts or read on my favourite websites and I realised that I should have had more faith and been less worried.

British cover of Evvie Drake Starts Over

My copy of Evvie Drake Starts Over came from the library – and I got there before a huuuuuuge queue developed behind me – I only had to wait a couple of weeks after release for my hold to come in.  But its available now in Kindle, Kobo and hardback (with a paperback coming out in March 2020).  It would make a perfect read on your sunlounger this summer.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective

So as I said in yesterday’s Week in Books, I was on holiday last week and spent a good proportion of my time in the very sunny south of France working my way down my to-read pile.  There was a lot of good stuff and you’ll be hearing more about some of the books on the list later, but I really wanted to highlight The Adventures of Maud West Lady Detective as my BotW because it was such tremendous fun, it dovetails so well with my favourite things to read and it came out last week – so I’m timely (for once).

Cover of The Adventures of Maud West

You’ve probably never heard of her, but Maud West ran a detective agency in London for more than thirty years, starting in 1905. No, seriously. This isn’t fiction, this is biography.  In her first book, Susannah Stapleton tries to separate the truth from invention about a real-life lady detective, who was working in London while the golden age of Crime fiction was happening.  And it’s very hard to work out what the truth is.  Maud was a mistress of self promotion, but some of her stories read exactly like the detective stories of the era.  Stapleton takes you through her research and her quest to find out the truth about Maud’s life and her cases.

This has got a Jill Paton Walsh quote attached to the blurb:

If you are susceptible to Miss Marple and Harriet Vane you must read The Adventures of Maud West. You will never know the difference between fact and fiction again.

Which is obviously my catnip.  If you’ve been around here a while, you’ve already pretty much figured out that this is a sweet spot in a Venn diagram of my reading interests – detective fiction and books (fiction and non-fiction) about the first half of the twentieth century and may I please point you in the direction of my posts about Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion, Roderick Alleyn, TV detectives, Phryne Fisher, Daisy Dalrymple, Maisie Dobbs, Dandy Gilver, A Dangerous Crossing,  for the first half of that Venn Diagramme and Old Baggage, Gone with the Windsors, Blitzed, Angela Thirkell, Queen Lucia, my History book keeper shelf non fiction round up, my 500th post for the second. And that list is by no means exhasutive.  I didn’t even start on the children’s books.

Anyway, this totally lives up to that quote – Maud’s life is fascinating, Stapleton is an engaging writer – and you get to see behind the scenes of the process – of how she tracked down the traces Maud has left behind in the historical record.  And that latter bit is almost as fascinating to me as the actual story. As a history grad who did her dissertation research in an undigitised archive in the middle of France it was awesome to see Stapleton using the full power of digital archives to find a life that could otherwise have been lost to history.  It was almost enough to make me miss historical research.  Although as I’m still getting dissertation anxiety dreams more than a decade on, it was quite a fleeting feeling!

I raced through this – starting it on the plane out on Sunday and finished it off in the Riviera sun.  I even rationed my self to read it slower to make it last.  That’s how good it was.  There’s all sorts of period details in here too – I know I’ll be walking down New Oxford Street looking for the spot where her offices used to be. And if that’s not enough to convince you – the research in this book is so fresh, that Maud has only had a Wikipedia page since Sunday – three days after the book was published.  I look forward to seeing what Stapleton does next – and I can only hope that this book does really well and persuades publishers that we need more books like this.  And historians and writers out there – please go and write them.  And if you’ve got any suggestions for books like this that I should read, put them in the comments please.  Pretty please.

I got my copy from NetGalley, but The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective is out now in hardback and should be available in bookstores near you.  I went to look for it in Waterstones in Milton Keynes yesterday* – and one branch had *just* sold their copy and the other was sold out too which is lovely because it means its selling, but means I still haven’t see it in the wild and couldn’t have a closer gander at the pictures.  It’s also on Kindle and Kobo. I’m off to be annoyed that I’m on a late shift tomorrow so can’t go and hear Susanna Stapleton speak at the Kibworth book festival which is only 25 miles from where I live and thus totally doable if only I wasn’t working.** Anyway, I’m off to listen to her interview on Woman’s Hour instead.

Happy reading!

*And no, I didn’t manage to leave Waterstones without buying something – I took home a shiny signed copy of Rukmini Iyer’s new cookbook, the Quick Roasting Tin.

**Irritatingly Ben Aaronovitch is there tonight (as this publishes, not as I write) and I won’t be able to get home from work in time to get to that either. Gah.  I’m not having much luck with author readings at the moment. These are not the first two that have been in my area that I haven’t managed to get to in the last month or two