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Recommendsday: World War Two-set novels

After having such a lovely time reading Mrs Porter Calling last week, this week’s Recommendsday features some more World War Two-set books that will give you a similar feel. And I had to think long and hard about it – because so many books that sprang to mind at first were Great War books – and that’s a whole other post!

I’m going to start with Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet series, even though I’ve already written a Series I Love post about them. They start in the 1930s, so if you just want the war period you could just start at book two – The Light Years. I mean I don’t recommend it because you won’t get the full impact of it all but you could if you want to. The Emmy Lake books are first person and just follow Emmy and these have a much wider group they follow, but in terms of the mixture of warmth and tears, they are right up there.

Next up: Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn. It has more sex than Emmy Lake, but if you want the Home Front, it has that – people trying to carry on in the most dangerous and uncertain times. It has that sense of normal rules being suspended because the world might be about to end and people doing things that they wouldn’t normally have done.

It’s set in 1946, but Jojo Moyes Ship of Brides is all about the wartime brides heading over to their unknown futures with the soldiers they have married. There are no massive surprises (or at least I don’t remember any big twists, but it’s been a decade!) but you really get to know the women on the boat and care about what happens to them.

If you want mysteries set in this period, may I please nudge you again at Maisie Dobbs. There are lots of bad series set inWW2 (no I won’t name them here) but once this series actually gets to the Second World War (at Book 13 – In This Grave Hour) it is one of the best.

It’s much older and the first section is much grimmer, but I want to give an extra mention to Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice. I’ve mentioned it before but you follow Jean from her life as an English woman living in Malaysia, through her capture by the Japanese and the death march she was put on to her post war new beginning thanks to an inheritance. I like the Alice section best because it is a strong woman paying something forward, but I know that that may be unusual. It is a little of its time, but I’ve loved it for so long I find it hard to be rational about it.

Happy Wednesday!

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Recommendsday: Non Fiction round up

Rogues by Patrick Radden Keefe

Patrick Radden Keefe is best known (at the moment anyway) for his Empire of Pain, about the opioid epidemic in the US, but this brings together some of his best investigative essays for the New Yorker – covering gangsters, drug barons, terrorism and more including his essay on the late Anthony Bourdain. I sped through some of them (Bourdain, fake wine, Mark Burnett) but found others harder going but that was probably more about my interests and state of mind at the time than anything else. Worth a look if you want some narrative non fiction but not an entire book on the same subject.

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones

I listened to this on audiobook and although it’s long it’s a really well written and understandable look at the Plantagenets – their rise, influence and power. This is an era of English history that doesn’t really get taught at school (there’s often not a lot taught between the Norman conquest and the Tudors) but the Plantagenet dynasty also held extensive lands in France for long periods so even if you do know the basics of the English end of things there is plenty on that here too. I enjoyed it so much I went straight on to Jones’s book on the Wars of the Roses, which picks up where this leaves off.

The Mountbattens by Andrew Lownie

So I read this because as you may remember I read and really enjoyed reading Lownie’s Traitor King a couple of years ago – and it has the same readable writing style, but this is ultimately a less satisfying read. The characters are fascinating – and you’re probably not going to like them much for quite a lot of the time – and their relationship unconventional to say the least. But although this sets out all the controversies and the debates around Mountbatten’s public life and actions – although it drops one major revelation in *very* late – it doesn’t really come to any conclusions, which makes it ultimately more than a bit frustrating. But it is in Kindle Unlimited at the moment – so if you’re interested it’s much more affordable than books like this often are.

Happy Wednesday everyone

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Recommendsday: May Kindle Offers

Slightly later than usual because I like to keep you all guessing, but here’s this month’s Kindle offers, as lovingly researched and selected by moi.

Cover of No Life for a Lady

Lets start with stuff I’ve talked about recently and Hannah Dolby’s No Life for a Lady is 99p at the moment – or free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited, which is a total bargain. If the Coronation wasn’t enough Royal content for you this month, A Three Dog Problem from the HM The Queen Investigates series is 99p, Stacy HallsMrs England is on offer again. Much less recently, but still recommended is Jasper Fforde’s A Constant Rabbit – also 99p as is V for Victory by Lissa Evans

There’s also an all time children’s classic on offer because the film comes out shortly – Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I’ve been listening to Dan Jones on audiobook recently, and the next one I have cued up to listen to Power and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages is 99p at the moment. He’s a very good narrator if you get the audio book, but if you find it easier to do monster history books in written form, this is a bargain. Rachel Lynn Solomon has a new book out soon, but one of her older ones, The Ex Talk is 99p – I prefer Weather Girl but if you’re not a journalist, you may be able to ignore the massive ethics violation in this – I know lots of other people have loved it.

If you’re collecting series, the Pratchett offers this month are The Truth (one of my favourites), Eric and The Science of Discworld III; the Julia Quinn is What Happens in London which is not a Bridgerton book but was my first ever of hers; the Wimseys are Five Red Herrings (which I listened to just last week) and the first one, Whose Body at 99p and Unnatural Death at £1.69 although that does look like a weird edition. Talisman Ring is the only Georgette Heyer on offer at 99p, but there are a few at £1.99 including Devil’s Cub.

And finally, here’s the books I bought whilst writing this post section: The Secret Barrister’s Nothing But the Truth which is 99p to mark it’s paperback release; TJ Klune’s Under the Whispering Door which I’ve been wiating to come down in price for ages and I think must be because of the release of In the Lives of Puppets; Africa Is Not A Country by Diplo Faloyin; Circling Back to You by Julie Tieu and The Neighbor Favor by Kristina Forest.

Happy Wednesday everyone!


Recommendsday: Rich People Problems – Fiction edition

Given that I’ve talked twice in the last week about how much I like books about Rich People Problems, I thought it was finally time for me to finish that post about that sort of novel – given that it’s more than a year since my round up of non-fiction books about the same sort of thing.

Firstly, what do I mean when I say Rich People Problems? Well it’s hard to put my finger on exactly, but I’m talking about the sort of novel where the characters are living the sort of lives that most of us can only dream of – and the problems they have are less imminent risk of death or destruction and more can’t afford a summer house in the fashionable resort any more/why is it so hard to be rich. Often you’re looking at their lives through the prism of an outsider – or a newly arrived person in the group, like you are with Sasha in Pineapple Street.

That’s also the case with Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, which is probably the book in this category that most people have heard of (or watched the film of) where Rachel Chu heads off to Singapore to go to a wedding with her boyfriend, only to discover that he’s a member of one of the richest families in the city state and part of a whole hierarchy of old money/new money rivalries that she’s got to try and navigate. It’s a trilogy and although the first one is my favourite, they’re all brilliant for reading on a sunlounger (which is one of my favourite times to read this sort of book!). It’s success spawned a whole host of other similar books of which I’ve read a few (including Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho) but you could also probably say Dial A for Aunties is adjacent to this, as the billionaire wedding that they’re catering is for a very similar sort of family to the ones Rachel meets in Singapore.

The people in it aren’t as rich as the Singapore set, but Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers is also a Rich People Problems novel, except all the rich people in it are Hipsters. This is about a group of friends who were in a band together in their youth but as their kids leave home, their lives start to unravel and long buried secrets start to come to light. If books about people who can afford to privately educate their kids despite not always having a job annoy you, then maybe don’t read this. If you do like that sort of thing (and you can tell from this post that I do!) then fill your boots with this! See also Straub’s other novel The Vacationers, which sees a family summer in Mallorca go not entirely according to plan. Where’d You Go Bernadette could probably also go on this list, although it’s sort of hard to explain why without spoiling the plot of the book – but it’s definitely not the sort of life that most of us have.

In YA, Katherine McGee’s American Royals probably fits into this genre too – the premise is that when American gained independence, they set up their own royal family, and you’re following the latest generation as they try to grapple with their inheritance. It’s much broader in characterisation than some of the other books I’ve mentioned here – and importantly – it is the first in a series and doesn’t have a resolution to any of the major strands so read at your peril/depending on your preferences on that front. Also in YA, as I said in my BotW post about it back in 2020, Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden is Rich people Problems adjacent.

And there you are – that’s your lot today. I’ve stuck to contemporary novels rather than historical stuff – I mean you could basically count any historical romance as Rich People Problems in a way. And I’ve resisted the urge to recommend Eligible again (oops) although you could probably pick a Pride and Prejudice retelling of your choice in here too, and this has reminded me of a bunch of stuff I have waiting on the shelves to be read that could fit this post – so there may yet be a part two!

Happy Reading!

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Recommendsday: April Kindle offers

It’s that time again – summon up your willpower (or not) because I’m about to round up the best kindle deals I could find on books or authors I like!

Lets start with the fact that very recent BotW and one of my favourites of the year, Funny You Should Ask is 99p. I wrote about the London Highwaymen pair of novels in the autumn and The Queer Principles of Kit Webb and The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes are both £1.99 again. Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners is 99p – it’s a fake relationship enemies to lovers sort of story that I really enjoyed back in 2019 and obviously I’ve recommended several more of Christina Lauren’s books since then. Side note, they also seem to be getting reissues of their novels with new covers, so watch out for that if you’re the sort of person that remembers if you’ve read something based on the cover.

I mentioned Before the Coffee Gets Cold and its sequel in a Quick Reviews post back in 2021 – there are now four in the series about a cafe in Japan where you can travel back in time for the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, but the first is 99p at the moment. Dear Mrs Bird is 99p at the moment – its sequel Yours Cheerfully was another 2021 BotW and the third in the series is out next month and I have a copy so will try and report back. Brit Bennet’s The Vanishing Half is 99p at the moment – it was one of my favourite books of 2020, and my mum has recently borrowed it off me and really enjoyed it as well. And In the Name of the Rose is 99p – I mentioned it in passing in my post about Mysteries with Vicars, but it’s a medieval murder mystery set among a community of monks with a famous document collection.

Just one non-fiction to mention – Paperback Crush is £1.62 – this history of teen fictions in the 80s and 90s was a BotW back in 2018, if you read through any of the era it’s worth a look. In books I have but haven’t read yet, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is 99p at the moment

And then in the series that people might be collecting of the Wimsey‘s Whose Body and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club are 99p, while Unnatural Death is (the very weird price of) £1.28. The World of Blandings – which is the first two novels and some short stories – is 99p. Only one 99p Georgette Heyer this month and it’s April Lady which I really like, but there are a lot that are £1.99 – including some of my favourites like Devil’s Cub and Lady of Quality. Moving Pictures is this month’s cheap Discworld book and I’ve bought it while writing this because it’s been years since I read it and I want to see if my thoughts on it have changed (it wasn’t one of my favourites originally).

Happy reading everyone!

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Recommendsday: March Quick Reviews

And this months quick reviews are all books that came out in the last month or so, which is a record for me I think, and conincidentally several are books that I flagged to you on release day that I’m now reporting back on, which is also a record for me. Savour it for it may never happen again!

Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen by K J Charles*

Well this is really good. Smugglers! Marshes! Beetles! Recovering legal clerks! A big noisy family! Awful family! Genuine peril! If you ever read The Unknown Ajax and thought “well this is good but I want more of the smuggling, less rich people problems and lots of walking on the very atmospheric marsh” then this might be the very thing – as long as you don’t want closed door of course, because maybe don’t read this on public transport. Gareth and Joss have plenty of issues to work through but they both grow and come into their own as they find a way though everything. Lovely.

No Life for a Lady by Hannah Dolby*

Cover of No Life for a Lady

From one extreme to the other in some ways – in the KJ Charles there is a lot of… bedroom action whereas in Hannah Dolby’s debut our heroine is delightfully clueless about sex and the like as she tries to figure out what happened to her mother who disappeared a decade earlier. This is charming as well as witty and I’m hoping that it’s going to turn out to be the first in a series. Hopefully enough people will buy it to make that happen because we have Savvy lady sleuths but not so many of the slightly bewildered by the the range of human behaviour ones and I would like more!

What Happens in the Ballroom by Sabrina Jeffries*

Like the Hellions of Halstead Hall series, this has a mix of high society and earning money. In this case the series is based on a trio of women who have started a party planning business to avoid being governesses. I’ll leave you to decide how realistic you think that is, but I’m happy to go with it, because I like my heroines independent and finding ways to have some choices and control over their lives. Anyway, this is the second book in the series and our heroine is Eliza, a military widow who is building herself a future after the death of her husband. Our hero is her husband’s best friend, who asks for her company’s help to help another young widow find a new husband. Eliza is puzzled about why Nathaniel is taking such an interest in the young woman and her child, but goes along with it. She is burned from the way her marriage unfolded (as well as her parents marriage) and he has secrets that he’s hiding. Can they find a happily ever after? Of course they can. This is a fun and easy read – I guessed a few of the secrets that were going on, but not all, and I enjoyed watching Eliza and Nat grope their way towards a happily ever after. Steamy, but in line with what you would expect from Jeffries. I think.

And that is your lot – what a great month of reading March was. Really and truly I read some really, really good new stuff as well as revisiting some favourite authors and series.

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Recommendsday: Women’s History month

Okay, this is an American thing, but there was also International Women’s Day this month. And yes, I know, I know. It’s nearly the end of March so this is super late but I’m sneaking this in under the wire because I can. And I’m going to work my way back in history, because for some reason that seems like the most logical thing to do!

Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

This is really really good. A fascinating insight into the “normal” women behind the development of the Atomic Bomb. It’s the story of a pop up city built around a project so secret that you weren’t told what you were doing, and didn’t ask what other people were doing either. A few of the chemists put two and two together, but they were a handful out of tens of thousands. Really worth reading.

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

There are a lot of books about Jane Austen, but this is a well researched look at Jane Austen’s home life, framing it in the wider world of expectations for women in Georgian England, the restrictions on their lives and how they subverted that. When Lucy Worsley is at her best, her books are very readable and accessible. At other times, she is very dense and scholarly and it’s hard work. This is much more the latter than the former, or at least it was for me. I had thought that the readability was an experience thing, because her first book was very scholarly, but the next one – Courtiers – was incredibly easy and yet informative. I still have her Agatha Christie biograohy on my shelf – I wonder which Worlsey we will get there!

She Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth by Helen Castor

And finally, lets go back to the Middle Ages, for a group biography of four women who ruled England (or tried to) between the Twelfth and the Fifteenth Century. If you’ve never come across Matilda, the daughter of Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror, then you have a treat instore – especially as the period she was trying to claim the crown in is known as The Anarchy. The other women are Eleanor of Aquitaine (wife of two kings, and ruler of Aquitaine in her own right), Isabella of France (daughter of a French King and married to an English one) and Margaret of Anjou (who ruled on behalf of her mad husband and key figure in the Wars of the Roses). It’s really, really interesting – and looks at some parts of history that don’t really get taught in schools in the UK.

This time last year I did a post about Interesting Women – do go and check that out for some more reviews, including Hidden Figures, but I also wanted to flag The Radium Girls which was in a Recommendsday post a couple of years back, and Janina Ramirez’s Femina which was in a Recommendsday last year

Happy Reading!


Recommendsday: Novels about the Movies

It was the Oscars at the weekend, so what better opportunity to mention some books with movie stars or the movie industry in them

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Everyone is talking about Daisy Jones and the Six at the moment because the adaptation is out* but Jenkins Reid’s first book in what she’s called the Mick Riva universe is about an elderly movie star who wants an up and coming journalism to write her life story. I have vivid memories of starting to read this on my phone in the immigration queue at Dulles airport, but I actually didn’t finish it until months later. Daisy is the book that really broke through – probably because Reese Witherspoon optioned it – but I think Evelyn is just as good – it was a Book of the Week when I did finish it. And if you know your old Hollywood, there is a lot of fun to be had in figuring out what inspired which bits of Evelyn’s story.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

It’s sort of a stretch to include this because it is before Louise became famous, but I’ve gone with it because I enjoyed it when I read it a decade ago and it’s a bit different. If Evelyn Hugo is a reimagining of Hollywood history creating a new legendary star, The Chaperone falls into the real people-adjacent category. I’ve written whole posts about novelised real people, and this is sort of that, except that our real person isn’t the main character. It’s 1922 and Cora Carlisle is in charge of taking the teenaged Louise Brooks from Kansas to New York to study dance. Louise isn’t at all happy about having a woman old enough to be her mother chaperoning her on the trip and Cora has her own reasons for making the journey too. Set over about five weeks, this has prohibition New York, Louise Brooks before she was a film star and the rapid changes that were happening in society in the 1920s. I didn’t realise until I was writing this that it had been turned into a film – but it did come out in 2020 and we all know that there was a lot going on then and you couldn’t go to the cinemas so maybe that’s not a surprise, but I’ll have to look it up on the streaming services!

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Neely, Anne and Jennifer become best friends as young women in New York and across the course of the book climb to the top of the entertainment industry. But their lives are intertwined with the pills they take – the dolls of the title – and they cause more problems than they solve. This is a twentieth century classic – if you haven’t read it, you really should. My copy is a very pretty Virago Hardback, but as you can see the latest edition marks the book’s fiftieth anniversary, although we’re now closer to the sixtieth!

Of course there are loads of other books I could have included – I included Anthony Marra’s Mercury Pictures Presents in a Quick Reviews post a few months back, so it’s a bit soon to write another review of it, but that is set in the world of the studio system during and after the Second World War. Fear in the Sunlight in Nicola Upson’s Josephine Tey series is set around the production of a very real Hitchcock film in Portmeirion in 1936. Carrie Fisher used her own experiences in Hollywood to write Postcards from the Edge about a Hollywood star with a drug problem, and Angela Carter’s Wise Children also includes the twins’ experiences in the movie business

And as is traditional with these things, I have a bunch of stuff that would fit this still sitting on the to-read pile, like Blonde by Joyce Carole Oates (which Ana de Armas was nominated for in this years Oscars losing out to Michelle Yeoh), Their Finest Hour and a Half is about the only Lissa Evans novel (for adults) that I haven’t read – although I have seen the movie that it was turned into, which is just called Their Finest, and Laura Kalpakian’s The Great Pretenders, about the granddaughter of a movie mogul who strikes out on her own in the business, which I impulse bought in Foyles last summer.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

*and don’t this won’t be the last time I mention Daisy I’m sure!

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Recommendsday: February Quick Reviews

Another month is over so we have a fresh batch of quick reviews for your delectation, and for once it’s all non-fiction – which I didn’t really realise until I had finished writing the post, but I guess sort of gives it an extra theme. Go past Verity.

Going with the Boys by Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell’s group biography (which is called The Correspondents in some countries) took me ages to read mostly because I own it I hardcover (as you can see) and as you all know I don’t tote those around with me. But it’s also because the subject matter required me to be in the right frame of mind. The six extraordinary women of the subtitle are war reporters struggling for the right to cover conflicts in the first half of the 20th century. It’s fascinating and infuriating and sobering. Very much worth a read.

I Want to Die But I Want to Eat Tteokbokki by Baek Se-hee

This is the English translation of a very successful South Korean memoir about the author’s therapy for depression. I read it in an afternoon but it gave me a lot to think about – not least that I didn’t think her therapist was very good, if the exchanges you see on the page are accurate! Anyway, there are some thoughts here about living with anxiety and self doubt and how it affects your perception of others and yourself.

Movie Star by Jessica Simpson

Just throwing an Amazon short story in here – because I read Jessica Simpson’s autobiography three years ago and if you’re interested in getting a taste of what her book is like, this will do that for you. My review of Open Book said that it’s very American and “There’s also a lot of god and a lot of evidence that Simpson has had some really awful men in her life – her dad is terrible and her boyfriend choices were also not great.” This has some of the terrible taste in men but a lot less of the god than the full length book does. I enjoyed it – and have enjoyed playing the guessing game as to who the movie star in question is! This is free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited too.

And that’s your lot. It’s a short month so the rest of this list is a bit shorter than usual. The books of the week were The Pot Thief who studied Pythagoras, The Soulmate Equation, Nora Goes of Script and Death of an Author. And there were recommendsday posts on novels with food and Swoony Romances.

Happy March everyone!

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Recommendsday: Novels with food

So it was Pancake Day yesterday – aka Shrove Tuesday – and it’s Ash Wednesday today so it seemed like a good time to recommend some novels where food is a strong theme.

This post actually grew out of an idea to write a Recommendsday for books set in Lent, but I could only really come up with Joanne Harris’s Chocolat. If you’ve never read the book, it starts at the end of Carnival – just before the start of Lent – when Vianne and her daughter arrive in a small French town and open a chocolate shop, to the horror of the local priest, because Lent is the season for self denial. And it all goes from there. I’ve read it several times – and have the sequels too – and it would be a great read for this time of year. But that’s when I got stuck for books about Lent, so I picked up the food theme of the chocolate shop and ran with that instead!

Next up is an author I don’t think I have mentioned here before – Anthony Capella. And I think that’s probably because he hasn’t written anything under that name* for about a decade. But there are five really good mainly historical novels with food at the heart of them – one about ice cream, one about coffee and several set in Italy. If you’ve never come across him before, you should take a look – they’re all available in ebook, which is probably the easiest way to get hold of them.

If you want some slightly more recent fiction, there is Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I really liked the start of this, but then our heroine starts making some stupid decisions and lost me. But it was one of those “book of the summer” type picks in the US a few years back – so it’s one of those literary fiction type picks that work for other people better than they work for me if that makes sense.

Now obviously there are a lot of cozy crime novels with food. So many of them and they often/usually have actual recipes in them too even if the quantities are all in American measurements (so imprecise when it comes to baking, how does anything ever rise?). I’ve written about the Cupcake Bakery and the Maine Clambake mysteries, but there’s also Joanne Fluke’s long running Hannah Swenson series about a baker who keeps stumbling across murders and Wendy Tyson’s Greenhouse Mysteries feature a farm that has a farm-to-table restaurant and comes with recipes. I’ve been trying out a couple of new to me cozy series over the last few weeks, so watch this space for more suggestions there too.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

*He’s currently writing thrillers under a different name.