Book of the Week, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: Ambush or Adore

I’m going to start this review with an apology: Ambush or Adore is a fan service piece from Gail Carriger, so really it will only work for you if you’ve already read a lot of Gail Carriger’s works. But it was also the only book I read last week that made me cry and it was the book I enjoyed the most. So sorry to the rest of you – but you have mini reviews coming up tomorrow to help ease your pain and if reading this makes you want to read some of the Carrigerverse I will provide pointers on that at the end.

Agatha Woosnoss is the greatest intelligence gatherer of her generation, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. In fact, so skilled is she that you probably wouldn’t be able to find her in the room to look at her, even if you knew she was there. Pillover Plumleigh-Teignmott is a professor of ancient languages at Oxford. He’s also probably the only person who has always seen Agatha, even if she doesn’t realise it. Ambush or Adore spans more than forty years and follows these two from school through Middle Age, so you can see what happened to them after Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Academy crashed.

If you don’t know what Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Academy was (or how it was able to crash) this book probably isn’t going to be for you. Yes it’s a slightly star crossed friends to lovers story across the decades but really this is for the fans. It starts with the flight home at the end of Reticence, skips back to the end of Manners and Mutiny and fills in the gaps of what happened to two members of the Finishing School posse across the course of the entire Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocol Series. There are guest appearances from everyone’s favourite vampire* and some of the other finishing school crew. There are references to the ones you don’t see. There are nods to the events of the series. It has pretty much everything I wanted and I loved it. As I said at the top, it made me cry with all the heartache and yearning but it’s also incredibly tender and there is such a satisfying resolution to it all.

I had my copy of Ambush and Adore preordered but you can buy direct from Gail Carriger as well as from Kindle and Kobo and the audiobook will arrive some time in the near future.. There is no physical edition at the moment, but it will be included in a hardcover omnibus of the Delightfully Deadly series that it’s a part of early next year. If you have not read any Gail Carriger before and now fancy reading about a steampunk Victorian Britain with vampires, werewolves and a society of lady intelligencers, you have two options: chronological order or publication order. I’ve written a whole post about the series, but in short chronological order puts the Young Adult Finishing School series first, publication see you start with Soulless and the Parasol Protectorate series, then go backwards to Finishing School and then forwards again to Prudence, which is set a decade or so after the end of the Parasol Protectorate. I prefer chronological because you get some delightful reveals, but that may also be because that’s the order I read them in. How can I really tell because things are only a surprise once! Whatever you try it’ll be fun.

Happy Reading!

* Lord Akeldama of course. Who else could possibly be.

Book of the Week, holiday reading, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Traitor King

So as you can see from yesterday’s post, I read a lot of stuff while we were on holiday, so I had plenty of choice, and a lot of the stuff from that list will pop up somewhere else on the blog. But for today’s pick I’m going with Traitor King – which I spotted in Waterstones in hardback the other week and really wanted, but couldn’t justify buying two hardbacks – as I was also buying a signed hardback of the new Judith Mackerell. But when I spotted the airport version (that’s the giant sized paperback, but it’s still a paperback and not a hardback so easier to read) in the WH Smiths at Luton, I was delighted to pick myself up a copy as my holiday book.

Slightly battered copy of Traitor King - its been to Spain and back as well as to the beach in the beach bag!

Andrew Lownie’s Traitor King examines the life of the former Edward VIII did in the years following his abdication. As the title suggests (I mean it doesn’t have a question mark after Traitor King, so I think it’s fair to say that) what Lownie says he did was a lot of scheming and intrigue against the interests of his former Kingdom in the interests of himself and his wife both in terms of their position and their financial gain.

A lot has been written about the events leading up to the abdication, but not so much about what happened after – or at least not in as much detail as this. Lownie starts with the day of the abdication and moves on from there – assuming that the reader will know what has happened, which obviously I did because I’ve read a lot of stuff – fiction and non-fiction about this whole sitauation. Most of what I have read has suggested that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (as they became) were as the blurb says “naïve dupes” of the Germans in the run up to and the early stages of the Second World War, but Lownie’s thesis is that they knew what they were doing and were active participants themselves. He draws together threads of stories that I’ve come across before – the closeness of Wallis to von Ribbentrop, the rather dubious Charlie Bedaux and the trip to visit Hitler among other things – and comes to the conclusion that this was part of a concerted effort by the couple to conspire against British interests to try and benefit themselves. Unfortunately for Edward – and fortunately for the UK – Edward was not that bright and his plans were spotted by the various arms of the British establishment that were keeping an eye on him (which range from his friends, to his secret service detail, to the embassy staff and more) and documented. This is the documentation that Lownie uses to make his case – and he’s got the footnotes to prove it! The book also touches on the more usual aspects of the Windsor’s married life – ie were they actually in love, was it worth it and did Wallis learn sex tricks in when posted with her first husband in China – and draws some conclusions about them that I won’t spoil here, but the main focus is on the macchinations.

And it’s a very enjoyable and interesting read. As regular readers of this blog will know, I am very interested in the history of the first half of the Twentieth Century and the abdication crisis is one of the key events of it for Britain, outside the two World Wars. I’ve read a lot on the subject and this added some new perspectives and interpretations of events that I have read a fair bit about before. It’s got an extensive set of references – whether it’s the author’s own research or references to other authors working in the field – and it’s also got a really good further reading list at the back, which has a fiction list featuring my beloved Gone with the Windsors, as well as the nonfiction stuff. Speaking of Laurie Graham’s novel, I don’t think you can read that and come away with it with a particularly high opinion of the couple, but it would seem from this that Graham understated the case when it came to their meanness and the way they treated their friends and their staff. Despite the couple’s efforts to establish their relationship as the romance of the century, public opinion at the time was mostly against them and reading about it in the history books it is hard to draw a lot of favourable conclusions about them – even before you come to the Nazi connection.

I’m very pleased with my decision to buy this, it’s about to be sent out on loan to my mum and when it returns, it will undoubtedly find it’s way on to the Keeper Shelf. If you’ve got an interest in the period, or in the history of the British Monarchy, or even on stories about awful people, this is probably one you’ll be interested in. You’ll probably do best with it if you have a working knowledge of the abdication crisis to start you off with, but it does give you the basics so it’s not essential. I’m off to try and get hold of some of the other books Lownie mentions at the end, as well as his previous book about the Mountbattens.

As mentioned at the top, this is a hardback if you’re not going to an airport anytime soon, but it’s in the bookshops (the Waterstones I found it in isn’t a massive one in the grand scheme of things, especially as they have their top floor shut at the moment for Covid safety reasons) and Foyles have lots of options for click and collect. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo as well – but because it’s a hardback, the ebook versions are fairly expensive at the moment – more than £7 as I write this.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: The Cult of We

Have I already written about one book about We Work? Yes. Is it going to stop me from writing another one? Nope. You’re welcome and also welcome to my reading life!

Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell’s The Cult of We is, as the subtitle suggests an examination of start up culture viewed through the prism of the rise (and fall) of We Work. In case you’ve missed my previous post or in fact the whole We Work saga, We Work was set up by Adam Neumann as reimagining the work space. It was subletting office space to smaller companies – like other companies had done before – but managing to make it sound like something new and revolutionary and get it classed alongside tech startups with much lower price overheads. The company started to implode when it tried to launch its IPO – which it needed to raise more money to keep the lights on – but Neumann walked away with much of his fortune intact.

I’ve already written about Reeves Wiedeman’s Billion Dollar Loser, which also covers Neumann and We Work and yet I still got new perspectives from this. This answers some of the questions Wiedeman didn’t – partly because it had more time to see what happened, but also takes a bigger look (I think) at how the financing of these sorts of companies is done and how made investors went for unicorn start ups that weren’t making profits. It could be recency bias, but my inclination is to say that this is the better choice if you’re only going to read one – you get all the mind boggling stories about the antics of Neumann (extra cleaning on private planes because of the cannabis-fueled partying on board) and his wife Rebekah (including the recipe for Cheezy sprinkle – hint, there is no cheese but there is nutritional yeast) but you also get more detail on the high finance side of things and who was investing in all of this.

Which ever book you read though, the story of We Work probably won’t make you as angry as Bad Blood or Empire of Pain – but that may be because office rental is not as easy to get worked up about as revolutionary blood testing or the opioid epidemic. Or maybe the story of Theranos really is that bonkers. But it’s still definitely worth a read if you like a Big Business explosion story and also if you don’t want to get so angry about the contents you want to throw the book/e-reader across the room!

My copy of The Cult of We came from NetGalley, but it’s out now and should be available via all the usual sources as well as in Kindle and Kobo. It’s also available in audiobook and I would expect the hardback to be in stock in the larger bookstores – Foyles have click and collect as an option for several stores, in London and outside, which is usually a good sign.

Happy Reading.

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective, fiction, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: Death at Dukes Halt

I’m finishing the month as I started it, with another murder mystery book pick for my Book of the Week, in a slightly cheaty move because I finished it on Monday, but I’ve talked enough about Inspector Littlejohn recently already, and that was pretty much all I actually finished last week! But before I get down to my review of the new Derek Farrell, a quick reminder that tomorrow is the Mini Reviews and Thursday will be the August Stats.

Danny Bird is facing up to a scary prospect: a weekend at a country house to help Caz fulfill a promise to a dead friend. Pub manager Ali is chauffeuring them down to Dukes Halt where they find a mismatched set of weekend guests: a Hollywood actress, a right-wing MP and an Albanian gangster among them. Soon there’s a body in their midst and Danny is detecting again to try and clear himself and his friends. But he’s also trying to work out what happened at the house decades ago when he discovers an unhappy boy’s secret diary.

This is the fifth outing for Danny and the gang and it’s a good one. Farrell has taken Danny out of the Marq (the Asbo twins are left in charge of running a talent night while they’re gone and I look forward to seeing how that works out) and put him into a country house murder mystery in the grand tradition of the genre. It’s got everything you would expect from an Agatha Christie – but updated to the present day. In one of the earlier books in the series Danny is described as Poirot on poppers, which is a great line but doing Danny a slight disservice now because he is not the isolated external figure that Poirot is. He’s got friends, relationships, a perspective and that all comes into focus in this. You also see him more on his own in this that he has been in the previous series so there’s a lot more about who Danny is and what he believes in that you’re used to and that’s a really good development. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of witty banter and oneliners. The pandemic means there has been a longer break between full length books than I was hoping when I finished Death of an Angel (although Death of a Sinner did help) but I think Death at Dukes Halt has been worth the wait.

You can get Death at Dukes Halt direct from the publisher, Fahrenheit Press, who have it in various ebook formats and paperback. If you do get the paperback from them, you get the ebook with it as well which is nice – I started reading the paperback and then switched to the kindle so I could read it on the move. But you can also get it on Kindle.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: Battle Royal

Making a break from the crime picks of recent weeks, I’m going with a romance pick, because why not. I’ll get to that in a minute, but because I forgot to mention it yesterday, don’t forget to check out my rather belated summer reading post. And also coming up this week is another batch of recommendations – this time for non-fiction history books.

Cover of Battle Royal

Anyway, Battle Royal is the first book in Lucy Parker’s new Palace Insiders series. Sylvie was a contestant on a TV baking show four years ago. Her glittery, whimsical aesthetic was a fan favourite, but she got voted off the show when a bake went spectacularly awry. Since the show she’s set up her own bakery and now she’s back – as a judge. Dominic was the only judge who wasn’t impressed with Sylvie when she was on the show, even before the mishap. He’s a brilliant baker but he’s also serious and stuffy. He already thought he saw too much of Sylvie, because her bakery is opposite his, but now they’re going to be judging the show together. And then Princess Rose’s engagement is announced. Dominic’s family bakery has been baking cakes for royalty for years and they’re the bookies’ favourite to make the wedding cake, but Sylvie and her team think they’re a better fit for the unconventional princess’s big day. Suddenly Sylvie and Dominic are competing on every front…

Lucy Parker writes the best enemies to lovers romances. I mean I’m not sure what else I need to say. She comes up with wonderful scenarios where the heroine and hero have genuine reasons to not like each other but then works it all out so the bit where they get together is just the most satisfying thing ever. This one does need to come with a content warning: there’s some child neglect and a whole lot of bereavement in the backstories of our leads. I was a weepy mess at several points (and I don’t think it was because I was over tired) but because of the sad pasts and memories not because either the hero or heroine had done something unspeakably awful if you know what I mean.

I treated myself to this on release day last week and it did exactly what I wanted it too. It made me laugh, it made me cry and it gave me a big sweeping romantic arc where the hero and heroine work out that they’re perfect for each other without any Stupid Misunderstandings or conflict that could have been solved with a simple conversation. They are competing against each other but they’re not sabotaging each other or bad mouthing each other or anything like that. It was just wonderful. Pretty much my only regret is that now I’ve read it I have to wait a year for the next one. And based on the bits of the next couple that you see in this, that’s going to be a corker soon.

This is the first in the series, so nothing to worry about there, but if you like this and you haven’t read any Lucy Parker before, do go back and read the London Celebrities series – if you like this sort of trope and these sort of characters then you’re in for a treat.

My copy of Battle Royal was from the Kindle store, but it’s also available on Kobo. Amazon are also listing a paperback, but I can’t see it on the Foyles or Waterstones websites, which would fit with my previous experience that you’re probably going to have to import a copy if you want a physical one. But the ebooks are reasonably priced, so don’t let that deter you!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Honestly I nearly started this with “another week, another crime pick” but then I got such bad deja vu that I realised I did that last week. But it’s still true. For the third week in a row, I’m picking a murder mystery book for my BotW. But as I said yesterday, I’m in a distinctly murder mystery mood so I don’t know how surprising this news is!

Sally and Johnny Heldar have helped solved mysteries before, so when the woman that Johnny’s cousin Tim wants to marry finds herself caught up in a murder case, it’s only natural that Tim turns to them for help. Prue’s employer has been murdered and as a result she’s called off their engagement. Tim is desperate for Sally and Johnny to clear Prue’s name and win her back for him; but the more they investigate, the more complicated the mystery gets, with infidelity and blackmail and wartime treachery to contend with.

I read a previous Heldar mystery, Answer in the Negative, last year and really enjoyed it. I like Sally and Johnny as characters in both books – they have a nice relationship where they both get to do investigating. This is a previously unpublished entry in the series that the author’s nephew discovered in a stash of manuscripts. It’s not known when exactly this was written, but I would guess around the time that it was set – which is the early 1950s. The introduction says it went unpublished because tastes changed, which makes me sad because it’s too good to have only come to light now.

I’ve read a lot of mysteries with roots in the First World War and a lot set in the Wars but not a lot in set in the fifties with links to the Second World War. So this is a nice change. It’s also interestingly twisty, but follows the rules that the clues are there if you know where to look. On the basis of this, I’m hoping that more of the unpublished Heldar books find their way into the light soon.

I got an advance copy of this, but it’s actually out on Thursday in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light

The reading list yesterday was a little shorter than usual, and with some relistens and old favourites on it but the pick for today was actually easy because as I mentioned the new Helen Ellis essay collection arrived last week – and of course I read it!

Copy of Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light on a bookshelf

Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light is a series of essays examining friendship between adult women and what it’s like to be a woman pushing 50. There’s stories of Middle Aged sex, a trip to a psychic and what happens when one of your friends has a bad mammogram. And there are so many characters: bridge ladies, cat lady plastic surgeons and platinum frequent fliers. It’s the first book in a while I’ve found myself reading bits of out loud to Him Indoors – and the first time in even longer that he didn’t tell me to shut up! Sample response: “is this real? Do her friends know she’s writing this?” (Answer: yes, and yes). It’s witty and wise and I want Helen Ellis to be my friend too.

I first discovered Helen Ellis through a proof copy on the Magic Bookshelf at work. The Magic Bookshelf is now a thing of the past, but when it existed it was a library trolley full of books that lived near the entertainment and arts teams. It had a label on it telling you that you could take them – as opposed to all the other bookshelves up there which has labels telling you absolutely not to take the books. It’s where I was introduced to Curtis Sittenfeld (via Eligible), Brit Bennet (The Mothers) and Lissa Evans (Crooked Heart) – all of whom are now on my preorder list because of the books I read from the shelf. I miss the shelf – because I wonder what I’m missing out on because I don’t stumble across new (to me) books there any more. But still, I already have more books waiting to be read than some people own to start with so I really can’t complain. Anyway, every now and again I recommend an essay collection. Yes, it’s often one from Helen Ellis, but if you like Nora Ephron, or fiction like Katherine Heiny, this is the essay equivalent. You’re welcome.

Here is a confession: I preordered this from Amazon, in hardback and it’s the American edition. That’s how much I love Helen Ellis. I regret nothing because it is wonderful. But that does mean it’s a little expensive and might be harder to get hold of over here for now at least. It’s available in Kindle and Kobo – at the pricier end of the e-book scale, and Foyles say they can get hold of it in a week, but I wouldn’t expect to find it in a store – not yet anyway.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: The Guncle

As I said yesterday, there were two books in contention for this, and to be honest the only reason I dithered about this is because the cover fits in better with the covers of the other books in the Summer Reading post than the others do. But I have more to say about this than a round up post will allow, even if there is a slight hiccup about how easy The Guncle is to get hold of in the UK at the moment.

When Patrick is asked to look after his brother’s kids for the summer he thinks it’s a terrible idea. He likes spending time with then when they visit him in Palm Springs, he likes being Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP!) but he’s not cut out for being in charge of them full time for weeks on end. But the kids have just lost their mum and their dad has problems of his own he needs to deal with, so he says he’ll do it – mostly because his sister thinks he can’t do it. But it turns out that a summer with them might be exactly what he needs as well as what they need. He’s been drifting since the end of the TV show he starred in and this might be the kick he needs.

This is Steven Rowley’s third book and I absolutely loved it. Patrick is funny and a bit broken and infuriating and endearing. Maisie and Grant just about hit the sweet spot for children in books – funny but not sickly or too good to be true. The relationship that the three of them build is a wonderful blend of exasperated and snarky and loving. This is a book about dealing with grief but it’s also campy and funny. The cover really captures the feel of it all. I haven’t read any of Rowley’s other books – and although Lily and the octopus has great reviews it sounds a bit too much like it’s going to break me for me to want to read it at the moment – but although this did give me the sniffles, the death is already over by the start of the book and there’s enough funny bits to keep it from being a four alarm snot bomb.

My copy of The Guncle came from the library, but it seems like it’s a tricky one to get hold of in the UK – Amazon only have a hardback copy that is priced like it’s a real import or a library edition (which ditto on the price), and Foyles and Kobo aren’t listing it at all. They do have Steven Rowley’s other books though, which is perhaps a sign that it’ll come along at some point later this year – as both Lily and the Octopus and The Editor have Kindle editions.

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!

new releases, Thriller

Book of the Week: Dial A for Aunties

As I said yesterday, lots of reading done last week to finish of April. Mini-Reviews coming up tomorrow, but today’s Book of the Week is quite hard to define by genre, but it’s one of the most fun books I’ve read so far this year. And bonus: it was new last week so I’m on time with my review again!

Cover of Dial A for Aunties

Meddelin Chan has always thought that her family are a pain. Her mum and her three aunts are always messing in her life, and not just because they all work together in the family wedding business. But when Meddelin accidentally kills her blind date, the aunts swing into action to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately it’s also the night before their biggest job yet: a swanky billionaire’s wedding at an island resort. An already tricky situations – trying to find a way to get rid of the body and make the wedding perfect – gets even worse when it turns out that Meddelin’s The One That Got Away is on the island too. Can the Chan’s pull it all off: disposing of a corpse, the perfect wedding and getting Meddy’s ex back into her life?

This is just the funniest and also weirdest book I have read in ages. It’s a farcical comedy thriller caper with a romantic subplot and yes that’s a lot of genres but it’s just wonderful. Meddelin is a charming character – she’s trying to figure out how to live her own life and achieve her dreams but without disappointing her family. But when the date goes wrong it turns out that her family have got her back no matter what. The aunts and their bickering is hilarious. But they’re all also very good at their day jobs – which is why the body disposal is so much fun. And yes, as a premise it’s a bit dark, but just go with it and the dark humour all gets balanced out by the fun and frothy wedding antics. And I loved the details about Meddy’s Chinese and Indonesian heritage.

I hope this is absolutely massive – I hope like my future is full of people asking for recommendations for books like this – even though there isn’t really anything like it that I can think off. Think Steph Plum crossed with Aunty Lee, with a dash of Crazy Rich Asians and you’re sort of getting there. the afterword says it’s already been optioned by Netflix and I can’t wait to watch what they do with it.

My copy of Dial A for Aunties came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in Kindle and Kobo as well as paperback. I still haven’t made it into a bookshop, so I don’t know whether they’ll have it in stock, but Foyles are showing copies available to order with a short delivery time, so I’m hopeful it’ll make it to the tables in the end.

Happy Reading!