book round-ups, historical, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: The Happy Valley Set

For this week’s Recommendsday, a post that has been some considerable time in the making, about books set in the Happy Valley in Kenya. Now between the World Wards, this particular patch of the British Empire was somewhat notorious for being a haven for rich people living scandalous lives, with spouse swapping, drugs and murder among the real life activities that went on.  So this postis basically historical rich people problems – fiction, non-fiction and barely fictionalised.  Given the difficult state of the world at the moment, I thought that spending some time among a gang of dissolute loafers in the mid-20th century might be a bit of a change. And as most of these are fairly modern, they have an eye on the fact that colonising places is not a good idea. This is a bit of mix of fiction and non-fiction, but I think it’s a nice introduction to the subject. I’ve tried to provide a bit of a guide as to how to lay your hands on these at the moment if you are so minded, but if you want a physical copy, obviously try your local independent bookshop first to see if they can get hold of them for you – they need your money more than the conglomerates do at the moment.

Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Cover of Spear of Summer Grass

Delilah Drummond’s family want her out of Europe after one scandal too many. She finds herself exiled to her favourite step-father’s house in Kenya.  What she finds there is a crumbling estate in a community of seething rivalries and intrigue.  Ryder White, a safari guide (of sorts), quickly catches her eye as not being quite like the rest of the colony.  But when an act of violence happens, will Delilah stick to her plan to leaving as soon as possible or has she discovered someone – or somewhere – that she can’t leave behind? I’ve written about Deanna Raybourn before – you can find posts about Veronica Speedwell here and here – but this is one of her standalone novels and as far as this post goes it is firmly in the fiction camp – I don’t think there are any real people here – but is clearly inspired by in what was really going on in colonial Kenya and what the Brits out there got up to. Delilah is engaging but self destructive and you spend a lot of time while reading it hoping that she doesn’t screw this up for herself.  I could happily have read another 100 pages. This one has the bonus of being on Kindle Unlimited at the moment – or £1.49 to buy on Kindle or Kobo.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen

Cover of Love and Death Among the Cheetahs

This is the thirteenth instalment in the Royal Spyness series and sees Georgie and her new husband honeymooning in Kenya’s Happy Valley. Now while I wouldn’t recommend starting the series here (you’ll miss all the drama in Georgie’s love life if you do), it would make a gentle introduction to the Happy Valley set. I thought Rhys Bowen did a really good job of writing about life in that little set while keeping it within the bounds of what regular readers of her series expect – which is not really sex and swingers.  While the antics might have been eye opening for Georgie, they were actually fairly subtle compared to some of what actually went on. This one is not cheap at the moment as it is the latest in the series and only out in hardback and ebook. The Kindle is £9.99 or £9.49 on Kobo, but I expect that might drop a little when the paperback comes out in July.

Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Cover of The Ashford Affair

I’ve written before about how much I liked Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, but she also does a very good line in standalone novels. This is a time-slip novel with dual narratives – one in the 1920s, the other in 1999.  Lawyer Clemmie finds herself poking around in her family’s history after a relative drops hints about a family secret at her grandmother’s 99th birthday party. It’s got Great War-era British high society, a grand country house, Kenya and modern day (ish!) Manhattan. I read it a couple of years back and liked it a lot – Ihink I even got a bit teary-eyed at the conclusioN.  You’ll find some similar themes here to the previous two but with the added bonus of more Britain in it – if you think that’s a bonus. This is an astonishing £10.44 on Kindle at the moment or a slightly better but still quite pricey £7.55 on Kobo. There are third party sellers on Amazon with secondhand hardback copies at a more sensible price though.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Cover of Circling the Sun

This is Happy Valley adjacent: a fictionalised version of the real-life story of Beryl Markham, who had an unconventional upbringing in Kenya and went on to be the first woman to break into several male dominated areas – the first to get a horse trainer’s licence, the first to get a pilot’s B Licence. But for all the independence of spirit that her Kenyan upbringing gave her, she struggled with relationships – and being entangled in the upper class expat crowd in Kenya (including the Happy Valley set) did not make for a peaceful, happy or harmonious personal life.  When I read it a couple of years ago, I thought enjoyed it, liked that didn’t feel like it was judging her – but it wasn’t entirely satisfying, mostly because I felt like I was missing some key background – I think the author assumed that everyone has read (or knows about) Out of Africa (which I hadn’t at the time) so I was sometimes at sea with the complicated comings and goings of Karen Blixen and her crowd. This one is a few years old now as well so it’s £2.99 on Kindle or Kobo or Amazon have the paperback for £3.99.

The Bolter by Frances Osbourne

Paperback copy of the Bolter

The only proper non-fiction book on this list and this is on the bibliography at the end of the aforementioned Love and Death Among the Cheetahs because the titular Bolter – Idina Sackville – plays a role in the novel. This was my first introduction to the Happy Valley set back in my pre-Goodreads days, soon after it came out, and is still on my shelves (as the photo proves!).  The author is the subject’s great-granddaughter and makes use of family papers to tell Idina’s story.  Perhaps for that reason its not quite as salacious as you might expect, especially given that its subject was the inspiration for The Bolter in Nancy Mitford’s novels.  The Temptress by Paul Spicer looks at the Valley’s other Femme Fatale – Alice de Janze – I liked it but I didn’t think it was as successful as the Bolter, and felt more interested in the murder of the Earl of Errol at times than it was in Alice herself. This one is £4.99 on Kindle and Kobo, but I’ve seen second-hand copies in the charity shops around here fairly regularly if you can wait until they reopen.

Miscellaneous bits and bobs

The classic book in this area is obviously Isak Dinesen/Karen Blitzen’s Out of Africa. I’ve read it and I can see why it was such a big deal – and if you read all of these and are super keen on the subject, it’s definitely worth reading, but its not necessarily the easiest going and I preferred some of the others.

In the course of writing this and looking for other options I read Kat Gordon’s An Unsuitable Woman, which fell into the good in principle but not as good in the execution. This one features a young boy who goes out to Kenya with his family and gets caught up in a group of people inspired by the Happy Valley set. It’s got a readable style, but I wasn’t quite sure where it was going for most of the book – and couldn’t understand why the Scandalous Set took a 14-year-old boy into their gang to start with. And it had a really sudden plot development near the end that didn’t have enough time to properly play out. But if you’ve read all the rest of these and want some more – it’s an option!

Happy Reading!


		
new releases, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: American Sweethearts

March Stats coming tomorrow, delayed by a day because I wanted to do a quick #Recommendsday post today.  American Sweethearts came out on Monday and I really enjoyed it when I read it a few weeks ago and I didn’t want to be a big old tease and tell you about a book that you couldn’t buy!

Juan Pablo Campos and Priscilla Gutierrez have been on and off (mostly off) since he decided that he didn’t want to be a police officer after all – right after Priscilla had signed up. These days, he’s a physical therapist for the New York Yankees, and she’s a detective – working a tough beat looking after kids in trouble. But she’s not sure it’s her dream job any more. So the last thing she needs is a private jet ride with to a wedding in the Dominican Republic with the one person who knows her better than anyone else. By the end of the wedding trip, they’ve come to the conclusion that it might be worth trying again – but can they work through the issues that have kept them apart for so long to find their happily ever after?

This is the fourth book in Adriana Herrara’s Dreamers series, but is the first of hers I’ve read.  I suspect if you’ve read the other three you’ve seen these two bickering in the background – because this also has plenty of sightings of the previous couples. This is also steeeeeaaaaamy. Like if you were allowed out – and don’t go out, stay home and save lives – but if this were normal times I’d be warning you not to read it on public transport because it might make you blush. And it’s really very good. It’s not so much a second chance romance as an umpteenth chance romance as these two try and figure out if they can put their fractious history behind them and finally make it work. It’s incredibly sex positive, and really natural about that. It also deals with what to do when it turns out that your dream career maybe isn’t the right thing for you any more (or maybe at all) and what you do next when it’s all tied up in your self  identity and your family’s dreams for you. And that’s something that’s more unusual in a romance – we have lots of people finding their dream jobs, or achieving their dreams (and finding romance at the same time) but not so many re-evaluations and people finding new dreams.

So American Sweethearts is out now – my copy came from NetGalley but you can get it on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday, reviews

Recommendsday: Mini reviews from January

I feel like I covered a lot of ground in January already, but there were a couple more books I wanted to talk about quickly before I forgot.

 

Copy of Maigret and the Killer on a bookshelf

First lets start with another one of my airport purchases from the holiday: Maigret and the Killer was another of my airport purchases.  I keep meaning to read more of Georges Simenon’s classic French detective – especially after the recent TV adaptations with Rowan Atkinson and this was an interesting change.  It’s clever and intriguing and more psychological thriller than typical procedural murder mystery.

Cover of Applied Electromagnetism

Over in romances – Applied Electromagnetism by Suzannah Nix. This is a forced proximity contemporary, where the heroine gets sent on a business trip with the office hottie.  She thinks he’s overconfident and rude and he can’t stand her either. But as the trip goes from bad to worse when a storm rolls in, things start to change. I had a few quibbles with the way this was set up to start with, but the longer the book went on the less it bothered me! And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve led what this was trying to do. This is part of a series of standalone romances with heroines working in STEM and we definitely need more of those. I’m going to be looking out for more of them.

Cover of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

There’s one kids book that I wanted to give a mention – Caitlin Doughty’s Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? I’ve read her first book for adults, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, about her work as a mortician and in a crematorium which was matter of fact and fascinating, and I have her second book, about death rituals in different cultures, on my wishlist.  This one may be aimed at kids, but it’s still fun and informative for adults too. Probably not one for the recently bereaved, but I enjoyed it, although I think if I’d read it at the “right” age, it might have scared me a little bit – but then I was very afraid of death as a child! Very good and suitably gross, which we all know most kids love!

Cover of Naturally Tan

And finally a memoir – Tan France’s Naturally Tan. I’m not a big viewer of Queer Eye, but this is an interesting memoir of growing up gay and south Asian in northern England and then finding career success and happiness in his personal life too. I didn’t love the writing style always – but I think it would work really well as an audiobook because of the chatty style. Lots of exclamation marks! Lots of talking directly to the reader! And if you’re a big fan of the program, obviously it’s probably a must read and even better it’s 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment!

Voila, four more books that I liked in January and all in keeping with the general themes of my reading – romance, mystery, kids and nonfiction!

Happy Reading!

Children's books, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: The Vanderbeeker series

Another week, another Recommendsday post to start off the new year.  Long term readers will know that I love middle grade stories – I’ve written before about my love of the Wells and Wong series as well as older books that I read when I was the “right” age. I discovered Karina Yan Glaser’s series at the end of last year – but ran into Christmas posts before I could write about it.

Cover of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

So the Vanderbeekers live in part of a brownstone in Brooklyn. There’s five children and it’s maybe not quite big enough but they’ve always lived there, their dad is the building superintendent and the building is like part of the family. All three books in the series so far are basically a modern take on the classic “children go on a quest” trope. In the first book their landlord is trying to evict them and they have to try and stop it. In the second, they’re trying to start a secret garden and in the third they’re trying to save their mother’s business after accidentally putting it at risk.

Cover of The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

I really, really loved these books. The characters are great, the relationships between the family are just wonderful and they’re quirky and fun without being annoying. There’s all the classic characters in the gang – the dreamy one, the adventurous one, the problem solver – but they’re also people you recognise and would like to be friends with. There are inventions, there are pets, there’s special food – just like in the Enid Blyton stories you remember but the plots deal with issues like gentrification and the gig economy – which are very twenty-first century but also, when you think about it probably the modern successors of the Enid Blyton quest stories of old.

They’re also more diverse. The family is biracial, the neighbourhood is multicultural and so you can give it to children when you want them to get all the feels you got from your childhood favourite adventures but without everyone being white and a bit posh or the risks of language that can be out of date at best and racist at worse.

I’ve already bought the first one for the nieces (as a Christmas book) – that’s how much I liked them. My copies came from the library, but they’re available in Kindle and Kobo editions as well as in paperback and hardback from all the usual sources – although they’re probably a special order job (Foyles have two of the three available to order at the moment)

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week

Recommendsday: Tuesday Mooney

As mentioned in yesterday’s BotW post, I had trouble choosing a book this week and so as a bonus, you get a Recommendsday post about my second choice. Yes it was that sort of a week and I’m that sort of person – when I find good books, I want to tell you about it!  It’s also slightly confusing, because this has a different title depending on which part of the English-speaking world that you’re in – hence the fact that the title of the post is just Tuesday Mooney!  If you’re looking for it on Goodreads, you’ll find it as Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts – which is what I listed it as on the Week in Books post and that’s what it’s called in the US, but in the UK Katie Racculia’s third novel is called Tuesday Mooney Wears Black.  Now I’m not sure that either title really gives you a sense of what the book is really about, but I think the artwork on the US version is more indicative so that’s what I’ve gone with for the first picture.

US cover of Tuesday Mooney

Tuesday Mooney is a research wizard. She works at a hospital, digging into the lives of the rich to try and find the information to get them to donate money. But she has a secret. When she was a teenager, her best friend disappeared and she’s never really got over it.  She’s a loner, who never really lets anyone in to her life – even her best from Dex (short for Poindexter). But she loves puzzles and secrets and when an eccentric millionaire drops dead at a fundraiser she’s working at, she’s drawn in to the Edgar Allen Poe-inspired contest he’s from beyond the grave to give away some of his fortune.  She’s also drawn into the secrets and rivalries of two of Boston’s richest families and her life may never be the same again.

UK cover of Tuesday Mooney

This is a gothic adventure caper with a prickly heroine and a set of secondary characters that just win you over. It’s also quite hard to describe without giving away spoilers and it doesn’t really sit in any one genre particularly easily. It’s a mystery, it’s an adventure, it’s a thriller. It’s got ghosts in one of its titles, but it isn’t really a paranormal or fantasy novel. It is clever and incredibly readable and I just loved it. I’ve never read Kate Racculia before, but I’ve just bought one of her earlier books because I liked this so much.

My copy of Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts/Wears Black came from the library, but it’s available on Kindle and Kobo for £2.99 as I write this.  The paperback isn’t out in the UK until February, but you can preorder on Amazon, or buy it in hardback (on a different listing on Amazon) in the American edition.

Happy Reading!

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!

cozy crime, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Cozy Crime

Following on from my own summer holiday reading post, I thought I’d drop a few more posts over the next few weeks which might provide some other suggestions for reading for your summer holidays.  Today I’m looking at some cozy crime series that might make for binge reading on the sunlounger!

Campbell and Carter series by Anne Granger

Cover of Mud, Muck and Dead Things

Jess Campbell and Ian Carter are two British police detectives in the Gloucestershire countryside.  Over the course of the books that I’ve read they’ve investigated mysterious bodies found in houses, after a house fire and a long dead cold case murder.   At their best, I can read them in practically one sitting.  They’re an British-style cozy crime, police procedural hybrid.  I was a big fan of Anne Granger’s Mitchell and Markby series, when I read them in the dim and distant pre-blog days.  I still recommend them – but they’re older and harder to find.  This series however is still going – and the latest book features the return of Mitchell and Markby as an added bonus.

The Tj Jensen series by Kathi Daley

Cover of Pumpkins in Paradise

Tj helps run her family resort alongside her career as a high school teacher and she just seems to keep getting involved in murder investigations.  The latest one is just edging too close to my rules about meddling where people shouldn’t be, but for the most part I’ve really enjoyed them.  If you fancy some small town cozy crime with a setting that’s not a cupcake bakery or a bookshop, this might be the one for you.  This a series from Henery Press – who I’ve mentioned here before and whose older/longer running series I find to be consistently quite readable.  I’m not such a big fan of all of the more recent ones though. I made one of these my BotW back in April 2018, and I’ve read most of the rest of the series since.

The Zoe Chambers series by Annette Dashofy

Cover of Circle of Influence

Zoe’s a paramedic and part-time assistant coroner and a serious horse rider.  When we meet her in the first book, a corpse has been found in a car and she’s in a race to find out who does it as a blizzard sets in.  As the series goes on, romantic entanglements form as she investigates drug deaths, a possible case of elder abuse, tries to clear a suspected wife kille and faces numerous threats to her beloved horses and the space at the ranch she rents.  I’ve read four books in the (currently) seven novel series, and like the set up and the characters although sometimes the Zoe can border on the foolhardy/willfully blind.  This is another Henery Press series, but I will say that they are consistently darker than most of their stablemates (see what I did with the horse joke there?!)

This post has actually been a long time in the writing because I wanted to recommend more series than just three.  I read a lot of cozy crime – but not a lot of them are actually good enough for me to want to recommend – or if they’re in series, I like to have read a few of the series before I’m prepared to recommend them to people.  And of course some of the other good ones have already made it on to the blog – as BotWs – like Death by DumplingAunty Lee’s Deadly Delights, and Lowcountry Bonfire, or as series I love posts like Charles Paris. And of course you can check out previous Cozy Crime Roundups: from 2017, 2016, and 2014.

I’ve got a bunch of cozies waiting to be read – including two more in the Maggie Sefton series (I’ve read one, quite liked it, but see above for wanting to have read a fair sample before recommending a whole series), the second Noodle House mystery, the second Auntie Poldi mystery and first in series from a couple of new-to-me authors including Bree Baker and Shami Flint.

No specific links to books to purchase today – but you should be able to get hold of all (or most) of these by ordering from your local independent bookseller or Foyles or Waterstones or similar as well as on Kindle or Kobo.

Happy Reading!