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!