Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham

Recommendsday: Gone with the Windsors

While reading Royal Flush last week, where one of Lady Georgie’s tasks is trying to keep the Prince of Wales away from Wallis Simpson, I couldn’t help but think of Gone with the Windsors – my favourite novel that features Wallis.  Then I realised that I’ve mentioned it in passing several times on here* but never actually reviewed.  So Recommendsday this week seemed the perfect time to remedy that.

A copy of Gone with the Windsors

“A wicked comedy about the Romance of the Century” is pretty spot on

Gone with the Windsors is the story of Wallis Simpson’s romance with Edward VIII as seen throught he eyes of her (fictional) best friend, Maybell Brumby.  Maybell is a recently widowed Southern Belle who comes to London to visit her sister (married to a Scottish Earl) to one up her social rivals back home just as one of their old school friends is making a stir by stepping out with the Prince of Wales.  Soon Maybell is hobnobbing with royalty as Wallis (with the help of Maybell’s money) sets London society ablaze.  Maybell and her family are carefully woven into the real story and as someone who’s read a fair bit about the Edward and Mrs Simpson and the 1930s in general, I didn’t spot any howlers.

A quote from Gone with the Windsors

How could you not love Maybell’s insider view of the Abdication Crisis?

The Wallis of Gone with the Windsors is a ruthless social climber, with an aim in mind, who doesn’t mind stepping on anybody to get there.  David is weak and easily led, thinking more of his own pleasure than of his responsibilities.  But Maybell is a total joy.  I mean you wouldn’t want to be friends with her, but she is a brilliant prism to watch the slow motion car crash that was the Abdication Crisis.  She is delightfully dim (witness her dealings with her sister Doopie) and part of the fun is watching her misunderstand what’s going on – or miss the undercurrents.  Her sister is firmly on the Royal Family’s side against Wallis, while Maybell is convinced she’s picked the winner, which makes for fraught times on the summer holiday in Scotland.

Maybell finds new ways to keep herself occupied during a summer at her sister’s Scottish estate.

GWTW was my first Laurie Graham book – I spotted it in the window of Waterstones and had to have it – and since reading it she’s been an autobuy for me and I’ve picked up a lot of her back catalogue.  I like her straight up novels too, but my favourite are the ones like this where she takes a historical event or person and puts her spin on it.  I mentioned the Importance of Being Kennedy in my Inauguration Reading post, and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was my first review for Novelicious, but A Humble Companion (about a companion to one of George III’s daughters) and The Night in Question (about a music hall comedienne who gets caught up in the Jack the Ripper panic) are also excellent.

My copies of Gone with the Windsors

They’re both gorgeous, but I have a soft spot for the white one – as it was the first version I had.

As you can see, I have two copies of Gone with the Windsors.  The blue one is a signed copy sent to me by the author after I cried and wailed on Twitter about losing my original (white) copy** and it being out of stock everywhere, the other one is a secondhand copy I bought because the signed edition was too nice to read.  So now the pristine blue on is on the shelf with the other Laurie Graham books and the white one lives by my bed for when I need a dose of Maybell.

A quote from Gone with the Windsors

Maybell is just so much fun. Often unintentionally.

In a fabulous twist of fate, Gone with the Windsors is coming out on Kindle later this month – I’d actually already written a sentence saying that I was said it wasn’t available Kindle so now I’m very overexcited at the prospect of having Maybell to hand whenever I need a pick me up.  So, you too can preorder Gone with the Windsors on Kindle, or pick up a secondhand hardcover or a (new or secondhand) paperback copy from Amazon.  I’m hoping the preorder link for her next novel – a sequel to Future Homemakers of America out in June – appears soon as it’s been more than a year since her last new novel came out and I’ve got withdrawal symptoms.

Gosh this has turned into a long post.  But I feel very good for having told the world about my love of Maybell Brumby and her crazy view of the world.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it – and I hope you get0 the book.

Happy reading!

*Usually when talking about another Laurie Graham book to say that GWTW is my favourite.

** I lent it out without writing my name in the front of it and never got it back. It was a salutary lesson.

On the Keeper Shelf: History Books

Another half-term bonus post.  As I was dusting my bookshelves the other day, I was looking at my collection of history books.  I’m a history graduate and have read a lot of history writing over the years.  In fact for portions of my university career I hardly read any fiction because I was so burned out on reading from doing my coursework.  These days my reading is mainly fiction, but a lot of it is historical fiction and when I do read non-fiction, a lot of it is historical biography or about history.  And although I don’t tend to reread nonfiction, there are a few books that I have kept hold of – and not because I worry that people will judge me based on my bookshelves*.  So what have I kept and why?

Elizabeth by David Starkey

This was the big history blockbuster when I was doing A-levels.  And as it happens, I was studying Tudor history.  This was one of the first really readable “proper” history books I had come across (it was much easier going that GR Elton’s Henry VII which I also had to read) and it and John Guy’s Tudor England formed the basis of a lot of my essays at the time.  This is full of research, but wears it lightly – if you want a readble way of fact-checking portrayals of Elizabeth in popular culture (like say the Cate Blanchett Elizabeth films) this will do that for you.  I’ve kept reading Starkey since – particularly on Henry VIII and his wives – and have a couple of others around the house, but it’s Elizabeth that I’m sentimentally attached to.

Bright Young People by DJ Taylor

I have an enduring fascination with the inter-war period.  I love novels – particularly detective novels – written in that period and set in that period and the actual history and reality of that era fascinates me too.  I have a little collection of books about the Roaring Twenties and this is possibly my favourite.  It’s the most Britain-centric – which means I can use it to get the background on some of the people who crop up in the novels and similar.  It’s also got a very thorough bibiliography and further reading list which I always appreciate and there’s a few books on that list that I still want to read.  Also on my shelves (still) are Flappers by Judith Makerell, Anything Goes by Lucy Moore (which is more America-centric), Mad World by Paula Byrne and Queen Bees by Sian Evans.  And I’ve got the new Evelyn Waugh biography on the to-read pile too.

An Uncommon Woman: The Empress Frederick by Hannah Pakula

Now bear with me on this one because it’s slightly odd.  As a child I was a little bit obsessed with Queen Victoria.  Well, quite a lot obsessed.  You know how some children are into dinosaurs or trains?  That was me and Queen Victoria. I could recite dates, I knew the middle names of all her children, I had it marked on my height chart how tall she was so I knew when I was taller than her and when we visited the Isle of Wight, all I wanted to do was visit Osborne.  As an adult this has left me with more knowledge than I care to admit about the genealogy of the royal family, although I did win money by correctly predicting Prince George’s name – and my pick if it had been a girl was Charlotte, so you know, it has some uses.  I was also big into pretend games when I was little – but I always pretended to be Princess Victoria, the Princess Royal, not Queen Victoria.  Yeah. I know.  I was a very strange child.  Still I turned out all right really.  Anyway, there aren’t many proper biographies of Princess Victoria – who was the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II (him of World War One) and who died less than 8 months after her mother – but I picked this up secondhand at university to get my head around who she actually was – rather than the crazy ideas that 8-year-old Verity had – and although she actually had a sad and tragic life in the end, I keep it on the shelf as a reminder of the weirdly obsessed child that I was.  Also on the shelves as remnants of that childhood obsession are Julia Gelardi’s Born to Rule (about five of Queen Victoria’s Granddaughters), Princesses by Flora Fraser (about George III’s daughters) and Helen Rappaport’s Magnificent Obsession (about Victoria and Albert’s marriage).

 

 

*People are welcome to judge me on my bookshelves – if you look at the big downstairs bookshelf you’ll find Georgette Heyer, Dorothy L Sayers, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Laurie Graham, Maya Angelou, Barbara Pym and Ngaio Marsh amongst others.  I think that’s a pretty accurate picture of me.

My Big Obsessions of 2015: Revisited

As we all know, I am the bingiest of binge readers, so before I post my 2016 obsessions post, I thought it might be fun to revisit my obsessions from last year to see if I’m fickle and flighty, or true to my obsessions before you point and laugh at all the ways I’ve been derailing my efforts to shrink the to-read pile this year!  NB links to series are to Goodreads and links to individual titles are to Amazon as I’ll be here all week if I link to all the different sellers and Goodreads will give you links through to retailers via the individual book pages that way.

Janet Evanovich

So after binging on Evanovich last year, the pace has slowed somewhat in 2016.  From 30 books last year, to 6 this year.  And that’s not because I’ve gone off her – just that I’m running out of books to read.  I’m up to date in the Lizzie and Diesel and Fox and O’Hare series, I’ve read another of her backlist romances and the first book in the new series (didn’t like it sadly, but it’s the first real big failure I’ve had from her).  I’ve only read one more Stephanie Plum, although I have book 20 waiting on the pile, so I’m still a few behind in that, but that’s because I’m waiting for the prices to drop/paperbacks to appear.

Deanna Raybourn

I’ve been very good at rationing myself with Deanna Raybourn this year.  She doesn’t turn out as many books as Janet Evanovich (who does?!) so I’m very aware that if I’m not careful I’ll find myself with a long wait to read more from her.  I’ve now read all of the Lady Julia books and novellas, but I still have a couple of  her standalone books waiting for me to read.  I loved the first Veronica Speedwell (A Curious Beginning) – and have managed to get the second one, A Perilous Undertaking, from NetGalley – it’s out in January so I’ve just started reading it in the last week as a post-Christmas treat to myself for being back at work.  Now you may remember that this time last year I did a bit of bulk Raybourn purchasing because the prices had dropped – and I’m delighted to report that at time of writing the same things seems to have happened again – and you can pick up the first Lady Julia, Silent in the Grave, for 99p and none of the others cost more than £2.99. A Spear of Summer Grass has also dropped in price – making it cheaper than when I bought it last year gnash – and most of the others are cheaper too.  Tell you what, I’ll just leave the link to her Amazon kindle title list here.

Historical Romance

So, after spending 2015 searching out new historical romance authors, this year I have tended to stick with authors I’ve already read, with a few exceptions.  I also think that although I’ve read about the same amount of romances over the year, I’ve read more contemporary romances and less historicals, partly because of all the bingeing on historicals meaning that I’ve run out of cheap backlist titles and unless I can get them through NetGalley the new releases are more expensive on Kindle than I’m prepared to pay for a book that is only going to take me a few hours to read, so I wait until they go on offer/second hand prices sort themselves out.  I also think I’ve got pickier about the tropes that I’m prepared to read.  So unless it’s an author that I know I usually like, I tend to avoid Highland romances, pirates, amnesia, accidental pregnancies, secret babies, tortured heroes and heroines and to a lesser extent reunited romances (it depends what it was that split them up first time around) in historicals – and in contemporaries too, although you don’t get a lot of pirate or highland contemporaries – and going straight for my catnip: disguises, enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, marriages of convenience, rakes, guardians/wards (a la Regency Buck, not creepy old men and young girls obviously) and fake engagements.

Cozy Crime

I said last year that I felt more cozy crime reading coming on in 2016 and I was right.  I have read *so* much cozy crime this year.  So much.  I’ve worked my way through various of Henery Press’s offerings on NetGalley, carried on with Jenn McKinlay‘s series (when prices allowed), tried various crafting-based cozies and quite a few with journalists as main characters (some successful, some less so), some with vicars, a few with police as main characters (more unusual in the genre than you’d think), wondered how many bodies need to turn up outside a cafe/bakery to make the business unviable and even dipped my toe into paranormal/ghostly cozy crimes.  I still have the rule about how much I’ll spend on them (which is pretty much the same as with historical romances) so I’ve read a lot of first in series (which tend to be cheap/free) and then added the rest to my ever-growing Amazon list to wait for the prices to drop on the sequels.  I’m still working out which sort of plots work best for me, but I reckon by the end of 2017 I should have got it sussed.

Historical Crime

As with 2015 I’m still searching for those elusive books that will scratch my Daisy Dalrymple/Phryne Fisher itch.  We haven’t had a new Phryne for 3 years now and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever get any more (the TV series is Not The Same) which fills my heart with dread, so I’ve read pretty much all of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman books this year (I read one in 2015 when I happened up it at the library) to try and cheer myself up but as they’re set in modern day Melbourne they are really quite different.  I’m pretty much up to date with Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series now thanks to a string of them popping up at The Works, and the latest Sidney Chambers appeared on the shelf of books at work too although I find that they’re a bit out of my favourite time period now they’ve hit the 1960s.  I’ve filled in pretty much all the gaps in Flavia de Luce and Dandy Gilver now so I’ve had to cast my net further.  The results have been somewhat mixed.  I like Ashley Weaver’s Amory Ames series, but the third book has only just come out, so there aren’t enough of them and Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton series has grown on me.  I’m still searching for another good 1920s or 1930s-set murder mystery series now I’ve exhausted all the obvious options.  I’ve read one of Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series and have another on the pile so it’s too early to tell if I like them, but if I do, Bowen’s Molly Murphy series might be my next stop.  Luckily, I was sent some of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion series that I hadn’t already read to read and review (on Amazon) so I’ve filled my historical crime gap with some actual genuine Golden Age crime instead.

So there you have it – a look back at last year’s obsessions and an insight into what happens after you’ve binged on an author and can’t get your fix.  Any suggestions for historical romance, cozy crime or historical crime books or series that I might like are gratefully received.

Coming tomorrow: My 2016 obsessions…

 

Book of the Week: The Underground Railroad

I am not a reader of Award-Winning Books.  See my posts here and here for proof of this — and I don’t think the situation has improved much in the last two years.  But some times you hear so much buzz and chatter about a book that you have to check it out.  Particularly when you luck into a copy of said book.  And Colson Whitehead’s the Underground Railroad was one of those books.  I’d heard everybody on the Bookriot podcasts that I listen to talking about how excited they were for something new from Whitehead – and then about how brilliant it was.  It kept popping up in lists of hotly anticipated books.  It was an Oprah Bookclub pick.  It was on President Obama’s summer reading list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I apologise for my lousy photography, but I really like the cover – with the train tracks snaking around.

The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, a slave on a brutal cotton plantation in Georgia.  Life is more terrible than you can imagine, especially for Cora who is an outcast among her fellow Africans.  When Caesar, a recent arrival at the plantation suggests that they escape together, they take a terrifying risk to try and get to the Underground Railroad.  But it doesn’t go according to plan, and Cora’s journey is fraught with dangers as there are hunters after them, dogging their every move.  In Whitehead’s world the railroad is real – actual trains in tunnels under the southern states with a network of drivers and conductors ferrying runaways to safety.

This is such a powerful book.  It’s beautifully written, but oh so difficult to read – I’ve had to take it in bite-sized chunks so that I can digest it properly – but it’s worth it.  It makes you confront harsh and terrible truths about what people have done to each other and are capable of doing to each other.  But it’s also compelling and personal and page turning and clever.  Whatever I say here, I won’t be able to do it justice.  I still haven’t finished digesting it and I’m going to be thinking about it for some time to come.  It’s going to win all the awards – and it deserves to. It’s already won the National Book Award in the US and is Amazon.com editor’s Number 1 Book of the Year.  In years to come it’s going to be on English Literature syllabuses.  Well, well, well worth your time.

I would expect this to be somewhere prominent on a table or on a front facing shelf in bookshops.  It’s in hardback at the moment – and you can get it from Amazon (out of stock at time of writing, which says a lot), Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.  It might make it into the supermarkets, but I’d be surprised.  The paperback is out in June.  I’m off to read some more of Whitehead’s work.

Happy reading.

Book of the Week: A Royal Pain

Where did that week go?  Blimey. This week’s BotW is A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen – slightly by default, as I’m working on a post about cosy crime series and don’t want to repeat, and can’t tell you about Corinna Chapman again (oh the perils of binge-reading series).  Anyhow. A Royal Pain is book 2 in the Her Royal Spyness series.  The series name makes me cringe, but I picked this (and another in the series) in The Works the other week in the hope that it would help scratch my Daisy Dalrymple/Phryne Fisher itch as I wait for new books in either of those series.  And in the most part it did.

A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

Due to nights, this week’s photo comes courtesy of my Instagram train books photos…

The Royal Spyness of the title is Lady Georgie, 34th in line to the throne and flat broke. She’s trying to make her own way in London with a secret job as a maid-in-disguise when the Queen lands her with the job of babysitting a Bavarian princess and accidentally-on-purpose putting introducing said princess to the Queen’s playboy son.  Along the way they discover two bodies, and Georgie discovers that Princess Hanni drinks like a fish, has a vocabulary strongly influenced by American gangster films and keeps getting herself tangled up with the Communist party…

This isn’t ground breaking or perfect, but it is good fun and rattles along at enough of a pace that you don’t notice its flaws too much. I had the culprit figured out fairly relatively early on, but that’s not too much of a problem for me as long as I’m enjoying the story (which I was).  I did feel like I was missing a few bits of backstory coming into the series in book two – and i suspect they are bits of backstory that couldn’t be explained without giving away too much about the previous book.  A Royal Pain never hits the heights that the best of the Phryne Fisher and Daisy Dalrymple books do, but it avoids most of the pitfalls that some other books in this sub-genre suffer from which can induce book-flinging levels of rage in me and put me straight into hate-reading mode.

As I mentioned at the start, I have another in this series sitting on the to-read pile which I’ll happily read when I get a chance, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more in the series.  You can pick up a copy of A Royal Pain from Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, FoylesKobo or The Works – which has the best price I’ve spotted and the very tempting 6 for £10 offer…

Book of the Week: Jane Steele

This week’s BotW is Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele, which is billed as a gothic retelling of Jane Eyre, but is a bit more loosely related to Bronte’s book than that might suggest. I heard a lot of buzz about this before it’s release – Deanna Raybourn wrote about it in her newsletter and some of the book podcasts I listen to talked about it too, so when I spotted it on NetGalley I was already intrigued enough to request it.

Jane Steele’s favourite book is – and her life has some parallels with Charlotte Bronte’s heroine – she’s orphaned, she’s sent to boarding school, she becomes a governess and is attracted to her employer.  But there’s a key difference – Ms Steele has a bit of a murderous streak.  This Jane has a few more trials in her life than Bronte’s – but she’s not going to take them lying down.

Despite her killings, Jane is an attractive and appealing heroine with reasons (mostly) for acting as she does.  I was concerned before I read this and early on in the book that I wouldn’t be able to get past the fact that she was killing people, but it really wasn’t an issue.  Jane’s actions are (mostly) quite understandable – and not without consequences for her.  She’s fairly self-aware – although the reader suspects she’s not as well informed about some things as she thinks she is – and chafes at the restrictions and limitations places on her by Victorian society.  She’s smarter than most of the men around her during the first half of the book and it’s interesting and entertaining watching her work out how she can extricate herself from the situations she is forced into.

Considering I read Jane Eyre for the one and only time when I was about 9 and – whisper it quietly – have never read Wuthering Heights*, I seem to have read a lot (proportionally) with Bronte re-tellings or influenced books (and I have The Madwoman Upstairs sitting on the to-read pile so it’s not over yet!).  And while I didn’t love this the way I love Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair** it is really good fun.  I liked the portion of the book before Jane arrives back at Thornfield the best – possibly because it’s quite hard to keep up the fast-paced, wise-cracking action when you introduce a love interest and try to work out a resolution where the problem of your heroine being a murderess isn’t an issue!

Not quite as brilliant as you expect from the first 50 pages, but nonetheless pretty darn good, Jane Steele is out in the UK in what I suspect from the price is the giant airport sized paperback and in the US in hardback.  A cheaper (smaller?) paperback edition is due in the UK in November Get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, Kindle or Kobo.

* I do know what happens though.

** But Thursday Next is a very high bar and has a lot more going on than just Jane Eyre.

Book of the Week: The Hourglass Factory

So, a difficult choice for BotW this week – I finished the latest Laurie Graham last week and really enjoyed it – but I also read Lucy Ribchester’s Hourglass Factory and enjoyed that too.  So in the end, I’ve picked The Hourglass Factory for BotW and decided to do an Authors I Love post on Laurie G instead, which’ll be coming up in a few weeks. So more for you to read. Bonus.

The Hourglass Factory

Some of my best photos are taken on the train. No idea why.

In The Hourglass Factory, tom-boy reporter Frankie George is trying to make waves in Fleet Street, but all she’s getting are the women’s interest stories an the gossip columns.  When she gets assigned to write a profile of trapeze-artist-turned-suffragette Ebony Diamond she gets short shrift.  But then Ebony disappears and Frankie finds herself drawn into a world of corsets, circuses, tricks and suffragettes.  Where has Ebony gone?  What is going on with the suffragettes? And will anyone listen to Frankie if she finds out?

This has been sitting on my shelf for aaaaaages (what’s new) and I kept meaning to read it.  Then I saw it recommended by another blogger (Agi’s onmybookshelf) as one of her books of the year of 2015 – alongside several other books that I had read and liked and it gave me the push that I needed.

I really enjoyed this.  I haven’t studied the women’s suffrage movement in Britain in much depth – apart from as part of my history GCSE – so I knew the basics, but I don’t think you’d have too much trouble if you knew even less.  Lucy Ribchester paints a vivid picture of 1912.  Post-Edwardian London springs to life – all dark corners, imminent peril, seedy clubs, variety acts, cuthroats, suffragettes and jails.  Some passages were tough going – early 20th century jails were not nice places to get stuck in – but it was totally worth it.  This is quite a long read (500 pages) but it is pacy, exciting and thrilling – you don’t notice the pages going by.  So good.  And another cautionary tale about letting books sit on the shelf.

Get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones or Foyles, from Audible, or on Kindleebook or Kobo.  You’re welcome.  And thank you Agi for giving me the kick to read it.