Book of the Week: A Christmas Cracker

It will be absolutely no surprise to you regular readers that this week’s BotW is Trisha Ashley’s latest – A Christmas Cracker. You can see my previous musings on her work herehere and briefly here. I’m not usually a Christmas book in October kind of person (although I seem to have read a few of them already this year) but I’m always read to make an exception for Trisha.  Her books are totally my catnip.  Warm and humourous, with heroines on journeys and a variety of different types of heros.  Her heroines have usually made had problems in their love lives before – whether through picking Bad Men or through mistakes and misunderstandings.  I always think of them as second chance romances (as in slightly older people, and not their first love affair), but I know that the “proper” definition of that trope is the “we met when we were young but it didn’t work out, but now we’re trying again” type of story, although Trisha has written a couple of those and they’re really very good.

Why can I never get a good photo of a book with foil lettering on the cover?

The heroine of A Christmas Cracker is Tabby.  She’s ended up doing prison time for a crime she didn’t commit, her fiance has dumped her and given her cat away, one of her friends lied about her in court and her life is generally in tatters.  Then she gets a second chance from Mercy.  She’s been working in Africa for years, but has retired and come back to try and rescue the family cracker business, which is floundering.  She thinks that Tabby could be the breath of fresh air that it needs to save it from the chop.  But Mercy’s nephew Randall think’s Tabby is a con-woman and out for what she can get – he’s got his own plans for Marwood’s Christmas Crackers and he’s watching her like a hawk…

I’m hoping that you’ve read that and thought – “Gosh that sounds generally delightful and festive too” – and it really is (if you didn’t, I’m sorry – I haven’t done it justice).  Tabby is a wonderful and relatable heroine.  I was initially sceptical about a lead character who starts off the book in the clink, but I shouldn’t have doubted Trisha – it’s a masterstroke.  Trisha Ashley’s books have a long history of giving us quirky/fun older/elderly lady characters too (Great Aunt’s Hebe and Ottie in A Winter’s Tale, Mad Aunt Debo in Creature Comforts, I could go on) and Mercy is another great addition to the list – she’s a bundle of energy in light-up trainers who sees the best in everyone and will give hospitality to anyone.

Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about A Christmas Cracker – I got an e-copy via NetGalley – but I went out at the weekend to buy myself an actual copy as well.  And not just because I have all her other books in paperback (and most of them in ebook as well) and I have a thing about sets and completion, but because I wanted to read it again, in a proper book, so I can pick out my favourite scenes so I know where they are in the book so I can go back and read them again.

If you only read one Christmas book this year (or before December at any rate) make this it.  It should be everywhere – Tesco were selling it for a very special price of £2 at the weekend (so cheap that I almost wanted to go and buy it somewhere else in case it meant the author royalties would be smaller) and I’d expect it to be all over the place in the other supermarkets and bookshops.  If I’ve sold it to you as being so good that you can’t wait to go to a shop (and you wouldn’t be wrong), the Kindle and Kobo editions are £2.99 at time of writing. Prices aren’t quite as special for the paperback at the online retailers, but here are the Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles links just in case.

The Week In Books: October 19 – October 25

Four nightshifts this week, so this week’s reading tends towards the light and fluffy, romantic and cozy crime because that’s all my frazzled brain can cope with at times like that.

Read:

The Duchess’s Tattoo by Daisy Goodwin

The Sound of Murder by Cindy Brown

Smoking Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

A Christmas Cracker by Trisha Ashley

Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

Tied up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh

Started:

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Still reading:

Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver

And because of the nightshift effect, I bought a few books this week – the next Stephanie Plum (having reached the end of what I had in stock so to speak) and a few other books I’ve been after for a while that I found at a good price. Quelle surprise that my will power failed me!

Book of the Week: A Hundred Summers

A fairly easy choice for BotW this week – Beatriz Williams’ A Hundred Summers was my favourite read last week – although Alexander McCall Smith’s children’s book School Ship Tobermory is great fun too (I’ve already posted my copy to Eldest Niece because I think she’ll love it).  And it’s nice to feature a new (to me) author for BotW too.

I started reading A Hundred Summers on the train to work and was glued to the sofa when I got home!

A Hundred Summers tells the story of Lily Dane, who has returned to her family’s summer house in Rhode Island.  Also back in Seaview in summer 1938 is her childhood friend Budgie and her new husband – and Lily’s former fiancé – Nick.  As the summer unrolls, Lily falls back in with glamourous Budgie and the truth about how she and Nick betrayed Lily starts to emerge as a storm barrels towards them.

Regular readers will know that I love stories set in the early 20th century – and more specifically between the two world wars.  And I love time slip books.  And while a narrative which jumps between 1932 and 1938 isn’t quite as big a gap as some, and it features the same characters in both, it still ticks all my boxes for that too.  There’s something about the interwar period – in the UK, the US or Europe – that just really works for me and Beatriz Williams has created a fabulous and believable world with a dark secrets at its heart.

I was fascinated by Lily’s story.  She’s an interesting character – smart and independent in someways, but quite naive and unworldy in others. For a while I thought I had it all figured out – then the book surprised me again and I really do like it when that happens.  Reading as many books as I do it can become quite easy to be a bit cynical and jaded and to spot how a plot is going to unfold before it happens, and it’s always nice when your expectations are challenged.

I’ve been wanting to read Beatriz Williams’ books for a while – several US authors that I like have recommended her at various points and she’s writing a book with Lauren Willig (who I love as you know) – but it’s been hard to get hold of them over here for a reasonable price.  I think that has changed with A Hundred Summers – this got a wide release and was in the supermarkets over the summer if I recall correctly.  It certainly made it to the point where Amazon were offering it for practically half price – which usually means it’s in the supermarkets’ 2 for £7 promotions.  I’m certainly hoping that I’ll be able to get hold of more of her books now – and the samples at the back of A Hundred Summers certainly hint at that.

Get your copy from Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, Foyles and Kobo (at time of writing Amazon not only the best price for paperback by a little way, but it was included in its 3 for £10 deal in case you need any further encouragement to buy books…).  I’m off to hunt for her back catalogue and to put some pre-orders…

 

The Week In Books: October 12 – October 18

A heady mix of classic crime, 1930s glamour (and despair) and romance, with a touch of melodrama and a dash of adventure thrown in.

Read:

A Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh

The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay

It’s Got To be Perfect by Haley Hill

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

Dispossession by Simon Grennan (based on the novel by Anthony Trollope)

When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh

School Ship Tobermory by Alexander McCall Smith

Started:

Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver

Still reading:

Still n/a!

I have controlled my urge to purchase nobly this week.  I was deeply tempted to buy some books at several books (not least when I was in The Works and feeling a bit blue). But I resisted.  Still with nightshifts coming this week, this self-restraint may not last!

Book of the Week: The Highwayman

Back into proper historical romance territory with this week’s BotW.  I read a couple of good books last week – but you’ve already heard enough about my love of Janet Evanovich and Lauren Willig and Kerrigan Byrne’s The Highwayman bucked the trend of not-so-good historicals that I’ve had recently.

Farah and Dougan are best friends at the orphanage in the 1850s.  They handfast – but then A Bad Thing happens and they are parted.  Jump forward 20ish years and Farah is working as a clerk at Scotland Yard when Ruthless Villain Dorien Blackmore is brought in for questioning.  She’s promptly kidnapped so he can keep her safe from Forces Which Threaten Her. But will he capture her heart?

The Highwayman (which doesn’t actually have a lot of actual highwaying in the actual narrative, so don’t go expecting the Masqueraders in Victorian times people) hits a whole lot of my catnip including – without giving too much away – tortured hero! Smart heroine! Marriage of convenience*!  It also has a side order of some of my peeves – comedy Scottish accents, kilts, lairds, handfasting – but it is good enough and different enough that I didn’t care. It wasn’t perfect – even if you don’t have my dislike of the Highlander trope in general there were some language choices that didn’t work – but it rattled along quickly and there was so much happening that you didn’t notice too much.  I had a few things pegged fairly early on, but it Didn’t Matter.

As I said at the top, I’ve had a run of not great historical romances recently and this was a breath of fresh air – the Victorian setting made a change (and meant that we didn’t get too far into my least favourite bits about Scottish heros/stories) and Farah is a smart sensible woman who lives up to the billing.  Yes its quite dark.  Yes the hero is a Bad Boy who has done stuff that Can’t Be Fixed, but it is not at all miserable. As you can probably tell from all the Capital Letters its a bit melodramatic – in a good way.  I really enjoyed The Highwayman and will be looking out for the next in the Victorian Rebels series.

Get your copy from Amazon or on Kindle but don’t expect to find it in the supermarket – its not that sort of romance!

*It’s in the blurb on Goodreads I’m allowed to mention it

The Week In Books: October 5 – October 11

A more steady, but still productive week. There were somethings that I really liked, and some that I didn’t – and there were a couple of research howlers too.  Hey ho, it happens.

Read:

The Last Chance Christmas Ball by Mary-Jo Putney et al

Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig

Unmasking of a Lady by Sophie Dash

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

Good Earl Gone Bad by Manda Collins

The Love Match by M C Beaton

Started:

A Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh

Still reading:

Still n/a!

I didn’t buy anything!  My first week back at my normal job and I resisted the urge to purchase books – even though I really wanted to buy the last in the Pink Carnation series to have it ready.  The pile it is decreasing!

Book of the Week: Appleby Farm

I read a lot of books while we were on holiday, but this week’s book of the week is Cathy Bramley’s Appleby Farm which I started before we went away and finished after we got back*. That said, while I was on holiday I read parts two and three of Bramley’s latest serialisation and really liked them too, so it seemed like a really obvious choice.


So, Appleby Farm (which came out as a e-book partwork earlier this year before the paperback release) tells the story of Freya, who starts the book working in a cafe near the Ivy Lane allotments that featured in Bramley’s book from earlier this year.  But soon she gets an SOS call from her auntie, and heads up to the Lake District farm where she grew up after her uncle has a heart attack.  Soon she’s torn between the boyfriend down south and the farm that she loves.

I really liked Freya.  She’s a really well put together character, who has flaws and issues but is really, really likeable.  And as the granddaughter of a farmer (on both sides) and with three farms in the extended family (and another couple of cousins working in agriculture/agribusiness as well) the farm setting really worked for me.  I loved reading about Freya’s plans for the farm as she tries to help her auntie and uncle.  I wouldn’t say I’m a farming connoisseur, but I know the basics, and I didn’t spot any glaring errors in the farming facts, which was great.

I also didn’t notice the joins between the parts in this as much as I did when when I read Ivy Lane.  Appleby Farm, although it’s still divided into sections, seemed to flow better, with less building to cliff hangers which were rapidly/immediately resolved at the start of the next part.  It definitely feels more like a novel, than a part-work that’s been stitched together.

I’ve mentioned (many times) before that I’m not a great candidate for serialisations.  I don’t like cliffhangers – one year I waited til the start of the new season of Greys Anatomy before watching the end of the previous one so I wouldn’t be left in suspense – and when I find a series I like I like to be able to read on and read more (25 Janet Evanovich books in five months anyone?), but I really do like Cathy Bramley’s work.  As I mentioned further up, I read two parts of Wickham Hall during the holiday, and whilst I want to know what’s happening next (and have the book on preorder) I finished each part with a smile on my face having enjoyed seeing what had happened rather than angry that I’ve been left hanging.

Roll on Part four of Wickham Hall – and I really need to get my hands on Conditional Love too.

Appleby Farm was all over the supermarkets when it came out in August – and I’m hoping it’ll still be there and in the bookshops, but if you can’t wait – here’s the Kindle, Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones and as an extra special bonus, here’s Wickham Hall: Part One and Ivy Lane (both for kindle).

* I have a rule about not taking books that I’ve already started away on holiday with me.