book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: October 2021 Mini Reviews

Here we go again – another selection of books I have read and want to talk about or recommend. This month it is a particularly varied selection – with literature in translation, history, historical crime and short stories and essays about relationships. Something for everyone really.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold and Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe*

There always seems to be a busy Japanese novel around and Before the Coffee Gets Cold was The One a couple of years back. The follow up came out last year and of course I’m super behind with things as always and then read them both back to back. You need to read them in order though as they tell a series of stories about a cafe where you can travel back in time, if you are sat in the right seat and only for the duration of time a cup of coffee is warm for. Across the two novels you meet a range of people who wish to make the journey, but also learn about the people who work at the cafe. I had to stop reading it on the train because it made me cry, but they were both absolutely wonderful. I recommend.

Stealing the Crown by T P Fielden

T P Fielden is the author of the Miss Dimont mysteries, that I’ve written about here before, but the author is also a biographer and royal commentator and this uses his knowledge about the royals during the Second World War as part of a murder mystery that sees a painter who has ended up with a job at Buckingham Palace investigating the death of another staff member. It’s a pacey and enjoyable read and in one of those serendipitous moments you some times find, mentioned Camp Siegfried in it, just a couple of weeks after I’d been to see a play set at the camp – which was for American-German Nazis (or at least nazi sympathisers). There’s a second book in the series which I will keep an eye out for.

 

Index, History of the by Dennis Duncan*

 So, this sort of does what it says on the tin: it’s a history of the humble index. They’re in every reference book, but if you’re my age or younger, you’ve had the safety net of the computer search since you were old enough to be starting on serious research. But before Google and before the computer library catalogue, the index was the key to research and learning. Dennis Duncan’s book examines how the index came into being, how it has evolved through history and how it’s use has evolved too. I’m not sure I’d ever given much thought to how indexes started, or even what people did about an index before the printing press, but now I know all the answers! And it’s fascinating to see that the same sort of arguments that are made about computer search diminishing people’s knowledge were made about the index when it first appeared – if you don’t have to read the whole book, how can you possibly be getting the full benefit of the book? This would make a great gift for the book worm or history fan in your life this Christmas as well.

The One series from Amazon

 I read the kindle versions of this collection rather than the audio versions, but I really quite enjoyed the range of stories within The One. From Jacqueline Woodson writing about how she found her partner, through a dog with more than one family, how a young widow deals with bereavement to a friendship that moves in cycles of closeness and separation, the stories take on the different paths people can take to find The One in their lives. They’re bite sized but often thought provoking and were perfect for those moments when I wanted to read something but didn’t have the time or concentration to commit to a full length book. And they are free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited. What is not to like.

This is Your Time by Ruby Bridges

This was one of my impulse purchases on during my weekend in London in the middle of the month. I studied the desegregation of US schools as part of my history GCSE and it sort of boggles my mind that 14 year old me didn’t twig that the students involved were my parents age. It is that recently that a little girl needed an escort from the national guard to attend a school – and that her father lost his job because of the fact that his daughter was desegregating the city’s schools. This is aimed at middle grade students and sees Ruby Bridges explaining what she did and what the response was and how she sees that fitting in to civil rights protests in America today. This would make a valuable resource for primary school libraries and educators.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in October were Ambush or Adore, Body on the Beach, The Man Who Died Twice and All The Feels. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August and September.

Happy Reading!

 

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: September 2021 Mini Reviews

Another month has come and gone, and so I’m back with some more mini reviews. And as promised yesterday, you don’t need to have already read 9 novels to get the most out of them. You’re welcome!

Misfits by Michaela Coel*

Cover of Misfits

First up is this book version of a speech that Coel made to an audience of creatives and media people at the Edinburgh TV festival a few years back. It looks at her experiences in the industry and what that tells you about how marginalised people are treated by the tv machine. I think Coel is amazing and I love what she’s doing in her writing and I could hear her voice reading this throughout. Whether it will work as well if you’re not as familiar with her, I don’t know. An uncomfortable read for the creative industry and for people from more dominant cultural backgrounds.

A Line to Kill by Antony Horowitz*

Cover of A Line to Kill

This is the third in the really quite meta Hawthorn series and sees the fictional version of Antony Horowitz on the island of Alderney for a literary festival with Nathanial Hawthorn, the detective he’s writing a series of books about. While they’re there a murder takes place and they find themselves involved in the investigation. The island setting means it has a clear set of suspects and on top of that, there are plenty of them because the victim is not a particularly likeable character. The solution is quite satisfying and I continue to enjoy the weirdness of the conceit of this series. Horowitz has two meta series on the go at the moment – and I don’t think I like them as much as I like the book-within-a-book Atticus Pünd series, this is still a really readable murder mystery with a strong sense of place

A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody

I’ve been working my way through this series when I can pick them up a a sensible price which means that I’ve read them slightly out of order, but it hasn’t impaired my enjoyment. In case you haven’t come across them before, Kate Shackleton lost her husband in the Great War and after the war was over started a business of a private investigator. Her father is an senior police officer so she has some connections and also a regular group of helpers. This book is skipping back in the series compared to where I’ve been and this fills in some gaps I had wondered about. Kate is on holiday with her goddaughter in a house whose former owner was convinced that the wrong person was convicted (and hanged) for a murder she witnessed. Kate feels called to investigate but also finds herself exploring a community that she could potentially be about to a part of and who really don’t want her investigating their secrets.

Peril in Paris by Katherine Woodfine

Cover of Peril in Paris

I really enjoyed the Sinclair Mystery series and this is the first book in the follow up series. Sophie and Lil have set up their Private Investigation agency and are also doing a little government work on the side. This is definitely more of an espionage story than a mystery and sees our heroines gallivanting in Paris and beyond in a story that has plucky royal children, dastardly deeds and aeroplanes. Oh and for the older people like me, there are some lovely nods to Girls Own stories of years gone by, including a shout out to the Chalet Schools own Belsornia.

Murder Most Fowl by Donna Andrews

Cover of Murder Most Fowl

And lastly this month, I wanted to give a shout out to the latest Meg Langslow mystery. I’ve written about how much I love this series before, but I’m so impressed that Donna Andrews manages to keep coming up with more scenarios for Meg and the gang. This time it’s troupe of actors rehearsing Macbeth, complete with historical reenactors camping nearby and the ongoing inter-departmental feud at the college. The mystery is good and it’s funny too. Roll on this year’s Christmas book!

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in September were Traitor King, The Cult of We, Death in High Eldersham and The Chelsea Girls. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June and July.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: August 2021 Mini Reviews

I can’t believe the summer is nearly over. And August’s weather has been ridiculous so it feels like the summer was that one sweltering week in July. Anyway, there was a bunch of bonus posts last month (all the links are at the end as usual), so I’ve already talked about a lot of books over the last few weeks, but that’s just not enough so here are the mini reviews for August.

How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford*

Cover of How to Make the World Add Up

I love a good non-fiction read as you all know, but I mostly tend towards the narrative non-fiction, so this is a bit of a change for me as Tim Harford’s latest book sets out how to examine the numbers and statistics that we encounter in the world. The aim is to equip you with the skills you need to be able to work out what they actually mean and how important they are. I was really keen to read this because I’m not really a numbers person  – I got the grades that I needed to at GCSE and then promptly dropped maths (and sciences) in favour of history, languages and literature – so I thought this would be really helpful – and it was. It sets out what to look for and how to interrogate the information that you’re given so that you can draw your own conclusions about it. A really useful book.

The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton*

Cover of The Two Hundred Ghost
This is a bit of a cheat as I have already written about Henrietta Hamilton this month – in the BotW post about The Man Who Wasn’t There, but when I went back through my Netgalley lists I found that I had this waiting for me – and it’s the first one in the series and the origin story.  This is a murder mystery set in the world of Antiquarian booksellers, which also features to really rather gently set up the relationship between Johnny and Sally which you see in the later books. So gently in fact that if you didn’t know it was coming (it is on the cover though) you might be a bit surprised when it actually happens towards the end. Anyway, the plot: Heldar’s shop at 200 Charing Cross Road is reputed to be haunted – and one morning after the “ghost” is spotted, the really rather nasty Mr Butcher is found dead in his office. There are plenty of suspects among the employees, so Sally – who works in the shop – starts to do her own investigation to try and make sure the police don’t arrest the wrong person. She’s helped by Johnny, one of the family who owns the story who also wants to see it all tied up as soon as possible. I loved the eccentric characters that this has – and the mystery is good too. Definitely worth a look.

The Illegal by Gordon Corera

Cover of The Illegal

This is a Kindle single, so it’s short, but don’t let that put you off.  The Illegal looks at the practice of embedding spies in countries during the Cold War through the case of Canadian businessman Gordon Lonsdale – actually a Russian called Konan Molody – who arrived in London in the mid-1950s. If you’ve read any John Le Carré or watched any spy films, this will be of interest to you. It looks at how he was chosen, how his cover was established, what he got up to and how he was caught. It’s under 100 pages, but it’s packed with information and will probably leave you wanting to watch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy again.

Hang the Moon by Alexandria Bellefleur

Cover of Hang the Moon

So this was one of the potentials for the Summer reading post, but I already had plenty of romances there, so it’s here instead. This should also come with a note that it’s the second in a series and I haven’t read the first so I absolutely didn’t get the most out of this in terms of the references to the couple from the first book.  Anyway, this is a sweet romantic comedy featuring a heroine who arrives to surprise her best friend with a visit only to discover that her friend is out of town. So instead of hanging out with her bestie, Annie ends up hanging out with Brandon, her friend’s brother. Brandon has had a crush on Annie for years and is a proper romantic who has developed a dating app. Annie has given up on dating. You can see where this is going. I didn’t love it, love it, but it was a pleasant way to while away an afternoon in the garden.

And in case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in August were nearly a full set of mysteries: Black Plumes, The Man Who Wasn’t There, A Third Class Murder and Death at Dukes Halt with just Battle Royal breaking the detective monopoly. The bonus posts were summer reading and history books. And finally in the link-fest here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June and July.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, books, historical, Thriller

Book of the Week: Beneath a Silent Moon

Difficult choice in the BotW stakes this week, but both options had a historical feel to them.  It was between the second of Tracy Grant’s Charles and Mélanie Fraser books and the first in Jodi Taylor’s time travelling adventure books.  And as you might be able to tell from the title, it was the Grant that won – in part because I really liked the first book in the series but I happened to read it in the same week as The Glittering Art of Falling Apart and it lost out in the BotW stakes that week.  So this – perhaps more than ever – comes with a warning about reading the series in order.  On that subject, more later.  First, the plot:

Charles and Mélanie Fraser are not your average society couple.  The Napoleonic Wars are over, but danger still lurks in the streets of London.  There’s something rotten in the Ton and the source of the answers may well be closer to them than they could possibly realise.  Assassination, espionage, and secrets in Charles’ family all add up to a fast paced, twisty and complex spy adventure.

With the end of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, I’ve been on the hunt for something to fill the Nineteenth Century set spy novel shape in my reading life.  And although Grant’s series actually started before Willig’s, I’ve discovered them the other way around.  I can’t remember how I first came across them – but it’ll probably have been an if-you-like-this-try-that from either Amazon or Goodreads (and probably based on purchasing Pink Carnations or Deanna Raybourn) and for that I am grateful!

These aren’t timeslip novels, but they do jump backwards and forwards in Charles and Mélanie’s lives – sometimes within the book, but definitely within the series –  this was the second book to be published,  but is set before the first.  And on top of that, the chronological order list on Goodreads gives it as book seven!*  But given the events of book one – about which I don’t want to say too much – I suspect reading them in order may have the most impact and will give it the most layers and nuance.

Charles and Mélanie have a complex relationship – founded in necessity, complicated by love and built on secrets.  Charles’ family is just as bad.  Possibly worse.  Add that to a murder and conspiracy and all in all it makes for a gripping page-turner of a book, with more secret compartments than James Bond’s suitcase and some incredibly devious twists and turns.  It’s not for the faint-hearted/weak of stomach in places, but it’s worth a bit of queasiness for a historical mystery this good.

I’ve already bought the next one (which is only available on Kindle) and may have put an order in for an actual copy of Book 4.  Now prices are variable on these – I’m not sure they’re all published over here (the UK), so the later titles are imports and more expensive.  But for the most part the Kindle prices are more reasonable.  The first book is Secrets of a Lady (originally Daughter of the Game) and is under £3.50 on Kindle at time of writing but nearly £10 in paperback from Amazon (although they do have second-hand copies for less).  Beneath a Silent Moon is under £3 on Kindle and only available second-hand via Amazon.  It gets even more complicated later on, but as I said, do start at the beginning…

*And to complicate things further, mid series the lead characters’ names change to Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch.  Not that I’ve got there yet, but my head is already aching!