American imports, Book of the Week, historical, new releases, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: After the Wedding

As you may have noticed from yesterday’s post, I did a lot of reading last week – even for me.  And there were a lot of contenders for this week’s BotW, but it seemed serendipitous that Courtney Milan’s latest romance is actually out today, whereas the release dates had already passed for the other contenders.  And don’t worry, some of the other books from last week will feature in upcoming posts I have planned – there’s another cozy crime round up due as well as the traditional Holiday Reading post.  I read through my holiday so that you can benefit from it when picking your holiday reading.  Or at least that’s a happy accident of the fact that my preferred way of spending my holiday is reading!  Anyway, on to the review.

The cover of After the Wedding

After the Wedding is the second book in Courtney Milan’s Worth Saga.  I haven’t read the first, but that didn’t in any way impair my enjoyment.  Set in the late 1860s, it tells the story of Camilla and Adrian. Camilla has been moving around from family to family for years since her father was convicted of treason, but she never seems to be able to keep any of them happy enough with her to be allowed to stay.  Adrian is juggling a lot of things.  He’s trying to run the family business while trying to convince his uncle (a bishop) to recognise his family, who were disowned when his mother ran off with a black abolitionist. This sees him doing things that he would rather not be doing – like impersonating servants to obtain vital information.  When the two of them find themselves married – at gunpoint no less – they begin an awkward dance to work out what to do next.  He has definite ideas about what he wants from marriage, she can’t see how the world can make anything worse for her, but has had enough blows that she knows that she can’t rule anything else.

This is a really good historical romance – but it’s not your typical historical romance.  There is a a sadness in each of the character’s backstories that goes beyond what you normal find, and that is never going to go away or be resolved fully.  But that makes a lot of the other events of the book even sweeter.  Milan says in the afterword that this book is about hope – and I can totally get on board with that.  It’s showing two characters who face obstacles in their lives work out how they’re going to get around them – or live with them – and come to terms with themselves in the process.  The Camilla of the end of the book is not the same bowed, cowed and undermined character that she is at the start, but that’s not because everything has been magically fixed for her because she has found a man.  She’s done it for herself.   Adrian also works out what his priorities are and what he really wants but he’s also working for the best outcome for Camilla because he knows that she has even less choices than he does in many ways.  For me, the best sort of romances are the ones where the characters grow and develop and the fact that they’ve fallen in love in the process is a happy consequence, not the fix.  And that’s how it should be.   You can’t – and shouldn’t – rely on someone else to make you happy or to make your life complete.

I think this is my favourite new romance of the year so far and a timely reminder to me to go back and read more of what Courtney Milan has written.  I really, really like what she is doing with her historical romances – they’re something a bit different from what you expect and have a cast of characters who not only aren’t all dukes, but aren’t all white members of the haut ton.  And they’re stories that I want to read more of.  The conflict at the heart of this is not a misunderstanding that could have been fixed by having a conversation. And that makes for a really satisfying conclusion when you get to the happy ending.

I received my advance copy of After the Wedding from the author via her Facebook page, but as mentioned at the top, this is out today.  As I write this, I can only find it in Kindle and Kobo in the UK, but fingers crossed there’ll be some physical copies at some point.  I’m off to buy more of Courtney Milan’s back catalogue.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The House of Hopes and Dreams

In a change from recent form, it’s not a crime pick this week – but perhaps the pick won’t be a surprise to regular readers with an eye on the new release lists. I’m a long-time Trisha Ashley fan, and she has a new novel out this week and I was lucky enough to have an advance copy sent to me by the publishers. If you follow me on Litsy (I’m @Verity there) you’ll have seen me get excited about this when it arrived and it’s taken a lot of willpower to save it until close to release to read it.

Proof copy of The House of Hopes and Dreams

The House of Hope and Dreams follows Carey and Angel, who’ve been friends since art college, although life has taken them in slightly different directions. At the start of the novel TV interior designer Carey is in hospital recovering after nearly losing his leg after being knocked off his bike. He’s been dumped from his show, but when a lawyer arrives to tell him that he’s inherited a minor historic house in Lancashire it looks like he may have a new project. Angel’s life had been turned upside down after the death of her partner – who she’d been working with at his stained glass company for more than a decade. She’s lost her job and her home, but luckily her skills are exactly what her old friend is looking for and there’s space for her at Mossby. Soon Angel is setting up a workshop so she can repair Mossby’s unique windows and Carey is working on a new TV series about the renovation of the house and the secrets that it’s hiding. But how long will it take the two of them to work out that there’s more to their relationship than just friendship?

If you were to ask me about my book catnip, high on the list are old houses, competency porn (aka heroines who are really good at what they do) and friends to lovers stories, so straight away this ticks a lot of boxes for me. And this is back in a corner of Lancashire that has a lot of old friends from previous visits to TrishaWorld – Carey’s house is just up the road from Middlemoss so you get a few glimpses at old friends from novels gone by. This is a little sadder in the backstory and less funny than some of her other books, but I relaxed happily back into it and although I always had a very fair idea where everything was going, it was an enjoyable ride to get there.

If you’re very familiar with Ashley’s books (and I speak as someone who has read everything she’s published except her historical novel) then this may feel a bit like a Greatest Hits album – which I found a bit of a mixed blessing. But I think there’s a lot here for newer fans to love, especially people who’ve only started reading her in her last couple of novels and haven’t come across this part of her imaginary corner of England before. And they’ll be able to go away and discover more of it with the side characters in this, which in turn may lead them to my absolute favour of Ashley’s novels, A Winter’s Tale (another story about an old house with secrets) .

The House of Hopes and Dreams is out on Thursday – you should be able to find it in supermarkets (that’s where I picked up my first Trisha) and bookshops, or if you can’t wait here are the preorder links for Amazon and Kindle. I’ll be buying one too – because my preview copy doesn’t have the recipes in the back!

if you want to go and read some of my previous ramblings about Trisha’s world, try here, here and here.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, books, detective, historical, mystery, Series I love

Book of the Week: Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

As discussed in yesterday’s Week in Books, I was not a happy camper last week what with being stuck at home (and mostly in bed), laid low with the lurgy.  However, one bright(er) spot in the week was reading the latest Dandy Gilver novel and so it was an obvious choice for my BotW this week.

paperback copy of Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

This is the twelfth book in the series and sees Dandy called in to help out one of her old friends, who is hoping to restore her family’s fortunes by exploiting the potential of the family pile.  The pile in question is a rundown castle, which happens to be located just down the road from a much grander stately home which is due to open for tourist tours shortly.  So Min and the Bewer’s have invited a theatre troupe to their castle to put on some Shakespeare, in the hope of attracting some of the visitors as they pass on their way to their rivals.  Why does Min need Dandy and Alec?  Well, there’s the small matter of a missing jewel, a curse and a long-vanished man that all need ironing out post haste.  And as it turns out there is also a host of secrets and lies lurking just under the surface.

This has got pretty much everything I’ve come to expect from a Dandy mystery – banter and friendly rivalry between Dandy and Alec, a huge (and somewhat complicated) cast of characters and an interesting setting and set up.  It doesn’t have a lot of Dandy and Hugh, which is a shame because they’re often a lot of fun and there’s very little Bunty in this either.  But it does have a mystery which will keep you turning the pages right to the end, even if I did figure parts of it out before the big reveal.  I’ve said before that one of the things that I like about the Dandy books is that although they appear to be a historical cozy crime series, the solutions to the mysteries are often a lot darker than you find in other similar books – and this keeps that trend going nicely.  I’m also impressed that McPherson manages to keep finding fresh settings for these books – I don’t think we’ve really repeated anything much yet through the series.

If you haven’t read any of the previous books, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – although this one doesn’t have a lot of explanation of the backstory to Dandy and her business with Alec.  I know I usually advise that you start at the beginning of a series, but this one did a fair bit of evolving over the first few books and which I don’t think really got going properly and hit its stride until about book five.  If you want to know more – check out my Recommendsday post about Dandy from last year.

You should be able to find a selection of the Dandy books in any large-ish bookshop and my library always has a couple in as well.  The hardback edition of this is available now, but my copy came from Bookbridgr ahead of the paperback release on February 8th, so if you’re an ebook reader it might be worth hanging fire on buying it until after that as the price often drops when the paperback comes out and the Kindle and Kobo versions were an eye-watering £13.99 at time of writing.

Happy reading!

Adventure, Authors I love, Book of the Week, historical, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: A Treacherous Curse

So it was my birthday last week and I treated myself to a few books, one of which was Deanna Raybourn’s latest book A Treacherous Curse. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Ms Raybourn’s work – from Lady Julia, through her standalone books to this latest series so this BotW pick will be no surprise to you.

Cover of A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series and sees Veronica and Stoker investing an Egyptian-themed mystery. Stoker’s former expedition partner has disappeared along with a valuable artefact and Stoker is one of the prime suspects. Veronica is determined to clear his name and the two of them are drawn into a web of intrigue that includes an ill-fated excavation in the Valley of the Kings, an Egyptian god appearing on the streets of London and a disgruntled teenage girl.

Now as you know, I try not to give spoilers in my reviews and that means it’s quite hard to say anything more than that about this without giving away major plot points from the first two books in the series.  But this has interesting developments on the various ongoing plot points that are enough to leave you impatient for book four – which must be a year away given that this one has only just come out and is obviously a major disadvantage of reading a book as soon as it comes out!

There’s unresolved sexual tension galore, wise cracks, peril and moths. I also really like the Eypgtian connection in this – it tapped into some of the things that I love about the Amelia Peabody books.  And if you like Elizabeth Peters’s series and you’re not already reading Veronica’s adventures, then you should be.  But maybe start from the first book (A Curious Beginning) or you’ll get some serious plot spoilers from this.

I haven’t seen these in the supermarkets, but they are usually in the bigger bookshops and I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would be able to order a copy in for you. I bought my copy on Kindle but it’s available on Kobo too although the Kobo version was slightly more expensive at the time I wrote this.  There’s also a really good (and completely spoiler free) interview with Deanna Raybourn on this week’s Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast if you want to know more about the book (and the series) before you take the plunge.

Happy Reading!

Christmas books

New Christmas books 2017

It’s nearly Christmas, so here are some Festive books that are new for your delectation as you settle on the sofa ahead of the big day.  I’m working on Christmas Day this year, so raise a glass to me if you’re at home  – as I’ll be raising a glass to all the people who are working and doing much more vital and lifesaving things than just sitting in a newsroom.

Holiday Wishes by Jill Shalvis

This is the Christmas novella in the Heartbreaker Bay series.  I enjoyed it – but I think I would have benefited from having read more than just one other book in the series.  This is a Christmas-set story that isn’t too massively into the Festive details as well – which I always enjoy.

How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews

The things I do for this blog.  Because I read this for this post, I’m now up to date in the Meg Langslow series, which means I’m going to have to wait for the next ones like everyone else.  This sees Michael putting on A Christmas Carol with a full cast – including the twins.  the trouble is that the leading man is somewhat difficult and it’s all they can do to get him to turn up to the theatre on time.  This is as fun and Christmassy as you could wish for.  I think it would work stand alone, but if you’ve read some Meg already so much the better.

A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon

I got this through NetGalley, and although my proof only had one of the three stories I’m still going to recommend it, because although the story was a little melancholy, it was very good and very readable.  If like me you haven’t read a lot of Maigret, now is an ideal time to start – especially as he’s back on TV this Christmas with Maigret in Montmatre.  Plus what’s not to like about 1950s Paris.

Christmas at the Grange by TE Kinsey

I’ve written about the Lady Hardcastle series before, but there’s a Kindle Short out for Christmas and it’s a lot of fun.  I can’t say why without giving too much away, but Emily and Florence are invited to spend Christmas with their neighbours and a mystery ensues.

I still have a few Christmas books waiting to be read – including Heidi Swain’s Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair and Christmas on the Little Cornish Isles by Philippa Ashley.  If you’re a Chronicles of St Mary’s fan, there’s a new novella out on Christmas Day (and there’s a string of previous Christmas short stories too).  If you’re not a St Mary’s fan, the first book is 99p on Kindle just don’t expect it to be Christmasy!

Also worth considering this Christmas, even if it’s not a Christmas book is Hester Browne’s The Little Lady Agency – which is only 99p on Kindle at time of writing.  I’m on the record as having some issues with the last book in this triology, but if all you read is the first one, you can’t go wrong.

It’s all been a bit hectic here for various real life reasons and even this list is shorter than I was hoping it would be, but I think this is my lot for Christmas reading recommendations.  But never fear, Week in Books continues as usual and if you’re all really good, there might be a bonus post or two between now and New Year too.  But no promises.

Happy Christmas everyone and Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Moonlight over Manhattan

I was going to save this book for one of the Christmas book posts, but as I didn’t like anything else I read last week enough to write more than a couple of paragraphs about them, it seemed a bit disingenous to call anything else the BotW.  So another Sarah Morgan book gets the nod.  Sorry, not sorry.

Cover of Moonlight over Manhattan
Moonlight over Manhattan is the latest book in Morgan’s From Manhattan with Love series, which started off with three romances for the ladies who run an events company and has now told the linked stories of the three siblings linked the dog walking company that the events company uses.  That sounds really weird and tangential, but it’s actually not and makes total sense if you read them in order.  Moonlight over Manhattan is a run-up-to-Christmas story (as in it’s Christmassy, but not so super Christmas-focused it feels weird reading it in October before Halloween is over and done with) about the shy twin from the Bark Rangers, Harriet, who is setting out to conquer her shyness now that her twin has found love and has moved away from New York to the Hamptons for a while (see the previous book).  Harriet is thrown out of her comfort zone when she ends up dog sitting for Emergency Room (that’s A&E for us Brits) doctor Ethan, whose life is turned into chaos when he has to look after his sister’s pet when his niece is involved in an accident across the country.  Ethan is recently divorced, blames himself and is determined not to hurt another woman.  Harriet had a difficult childhood and doesn’t want to be rejected by a man the way that her father rejected her as a child.  The stage is set.

Harriet is a great heroine and the thing that I really liked about this story is that she gets over her fears herself rather than the hero fixing everything for her.  Yes, she gets her happy ending, but se gets it because she did the hard work herself and not because love magically fixed things for her – or worse because the presence of The Man in her life made every thing better, or even worse The Man did everything for her.*  As a couple, Harriet and Ethan work really well together, bringing out each other’s strengths and supporting each other at times of weakness.  And that’s what I love to see in romances – and in real life to be honest – couples who bring out the best in each other and who become the best versions of themselves with the support of their partners.  Anyway, sappy bit over.

As always with Sarah Morgan, the medical bits are really good and feel like more than just set dressing (she used to be a nurse so she really does know what she’s talking about) and the setting is great too.  I’ve only been to New York once, but I always feel like the descriptions of the city in this series have been spot on.  And as a total bonus, there’s a lot of characters that you’ll have met before if you’re a regular Morgan fan – including a return visit to Snow Crystal.  This does feel like the end of the series this time – in that I didn’t spot anyone obviously being set up to be the next group of people in this, the way that you sort of did at the end of the first three of this – so I’ll be sad if it is, but it’s been a lovely series and this is a good way to finish.  I know it still seems a bit early to be starting on the Christmas books, but as I said earlier Christmas is very much the end point in this rather than the whole raison d’etre, so it’s a lovely book to read in the run up to the season before you get too fed up of it all!

My copy came from NetGalley, but Moonlight over Manhattan is out not and should be orderable from all the usual sources.  Morgan’s books often crop up in the supermarkets and WH Smith’s book display as well.  At time of writing Amazon have the paperback edition for £3.99 and the Kindle edition is £1.99 and the Kobo is £2.99.

Happy Reading!

*Tangent: this is my main gripe with Legally Blonde the musical as opposed to the film.  In the film, Elle is successful because she’s clever, she works hard and she turns out to be good at being a lawyer.  In the musical, Emmett does a lot more of the leg work for Elle and you always half feel like Elle is successful because he helped her (a lot) and underneath she can’t really do it on her own.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime, crime, new releases

Book of the Week: Death of a Devil

Well ladies and gentlemen a real treat for you here today. You’ve already read the interview, but I was lucky enough to been given* a copy of the new Danny Bird mystery by Derek Farrell – which is out today. You may remember that I enjoyed Dannys 1 and 2 so much that they made it into my favourite books of 2016 post so I was delighted to be asked if I could review it for release day and juggled my posting schedule accordingly!

A recap of the story so far: Danny’s trying to turn a geezer pub in a dodgy bit of south London into a gay bar. He’s helped by a motley crew of friends and workers and hindered by that same crew, and also the fact that the Marq is owned by a local mobster who demands his cut. Setbacks so far include: a diva dropping dead just before she was due to perform in the bar and a wake with a larger body count than it should have had.

Cover of Death of a Devil

We rejoin Danny as he tries to juggle a seance featuring a heath inspector and the (optimistically named) First Annual Fancy Dress Halloween Party at the Marq. And then a body turns up. Again.  But this time it’s in the cellar, so that makes a change. Soon Danny and the gang are trying to solve a 20-year-old murder with gangland connections.  Meanwhile Lady Caz has got some issues with her family that need sorting out and Danny’s a bit worried that the catering freezer in the kitchen is about to give up the ghost, which isn’t great when you serve food and have Environmental Health on the premises.

So, probably most important thing in a story like this is the mystery and whether it holds up.  And this does:  there are plenty of suspects and with a link to one of the staff at the pub and the body being found on the premises, there are genuine reasons for Danny to be involved in trying to figure out whodunnit.  Next you need an engaging hero and Danny definitely is that.  He’s funny and loyal, and as a reader you’d like to go on a night out with him and persuade him to be your friend**.  Danny’s also tougher than he looks and will do anything he can for his friends and to keep his pub in business – in that order (I think).  And almost every good detective needs a sidekick and Lady Caz is a great one: she is posher and drunker than ever in this installment and the subplot with her family is excellent too.  There’s plenty of witty repartee and a lot of pop culture references.  I’m not sure there’s a oneliner that beats the “Poirot on poppers” from book two, but to be fair,  that was a work of genius.

There’s also a nod to the detective fiction author’s problem of how to create corpses for their hero, when two passers by mention that bodies just keep turning up at the Marq, but in this case because this body is 20 years old, it helps avoid the Jessica Fletcher effect.***  I’m hoping that the increased involvement of Chopper the mobster in this book and the widening of some of the character’s backstories/families will help avoid this happening to Danny as the series goes on, because I’m not sure how many more bodies can turn up at the Marq before Danny’s business drops off so much that he goes out of business!

As regular readers will know, I read a lot of cozy crime novels, which is a particularly American genre, and I’d describe this as cozy adjacent – there aren’t any cupcakes or crafters here, but there is a (murder) mystery story that gets solved without too much blood and gore or psychological thrillery-ness.  This isn’t as noir as many of the Fahrenheit books, but it does have the sly and subversive world view that you find from the Fahrenheit gang.  It’s fun and funny and won’t leave you terrified to go out of an evening.

Death of a Devil is out today: here’s the magic link.

Happy Reading!

*Translation: Begged and screamed until I got one early even though I have a Fahrenheit Press subscription so would get on on/near release day.

**Well as long as you don’t have to see any bodies or get arrested.

***So many bodies start turning up around Jessica that you start to wonder if she is the problem/an Angel of Doom/killing them herself.  There are many theories.