Easter Bonus: Bank Holiday Reading

I don’t know about you but I’m hoping for some nice weather this Easter weekend so that i can sit in the garden and read. [Ed: Written more in hope than expectation, the forecast is promising clouds and rain] I always find this a weird time of year for reading – it’s too warm for wintry books, where people are snowed in or hanging around in front of fires with hot choclate, but it’s not warm enough for full on summer-y stories.  So here are a few ideas for things that you could read this weekend as well as what I’m hoping to read on my days off.

As you know I’m a big fan of cozy crime, and if you pick the right series they can be perfect for this time of year – you just want to avoid anything themed around a holiday or festival that’s not Easter, or stuff with snow on the cover!  Among the recent releases I’ve enjoyed (and haven’t already talked about!) is Lea Wait’s Tightening the Threads (a dysfunctional family in Maine turns deadly when a long-lost family member is introduced).  The third Max Tudor book, A Pagan Spring, is set around Easter time when a new arrival to the village dies after a getting-to-know-you dinner party.

Also Easter-y (but not cozy crime!) is Joanne Harris’s Chocolat.  Nomadic Vianne and her daughter arrive in a French village and set up a chocolate shop.  But Lent is about to start and Vianne is not a church-goer.  I just love it – and if all you’ve seen is the film then you’re missing out big time.

Not an Easter book, but another book which might work for this time of year is Lyndsay Faye’s The Whole Art of Detection – which is a collection of her Sherlock Holmes short stories. The mysteries are clever and Sherlock and John are good value, and although I haven’t read enough Holmes to really get the absolute most out of this, it looks like lots of Holmes-superfans really have enjoyed it.

Or you could start a series.  I love Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and the first book is 99p this weekend on Kindle. Amelia is a feisty Victorian Egyptologist (or wannabe Egyptologist in the first book) who spends her winters on the banks of the Nile looking for undiscovered tombs while bodies just keep popping up.  When you meet her, her father has just died and instead of going and living with one of her brothers, as a good unmarried sister should (in their opinon) she up sticks to go travelling with her inheritance.  Stick with the series and she develops an arch-nemesis, a husband and a son – who eventually marries as well (that’s how long the series goes on for).  If you liked Veronica Speedwell, you’ll like Amelia Peabody.

As for me, I’ve snapped up Dandy Gilver and a Most Misleading Habit which is book 11 in the series and was 99p on Kindle as I was writing this, Fern Britton’s A Seaside Affair which is free on Kindle for Easter*.  I’ve also got a stack of short stories to catch up on and a couple of children’s books that I’ve been meaning to get around to.  All of which sounds a bit ambitious for a three-day (for me) weekend!

Whatever you’re doing this Easter weekend, happy reading!

*There’s a nice selection of freebies from Harper Collins this weekend – which also includes Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance which is a (1980s) classic when it comes to the rags to riches sagas.  And previous BotW Sunset in Central Park by Sarah Morgan is free on Kindle at time of writing too – well worth snapping up.

Half-Term Reading

Bonus post ahoy!  Yes, I know we’re already well into half term (my bad) but here are some reading suggestions never the less.

Firstly, there’s a new Sinclair’s Mystery out from Katherine Woodfine.  I’ve mentioned this middle-grade historical mystery series set in the Edwardian era before (in my Christmas books post), but they’ve never got a proper review for some reason.  Book Three is The Mystery of the Painted Dragon sees Sophie and Lil and the gang investigating the theft of a painting from an exhibition at Sinclair’s department store.  There are a lot of mystery books aimed at this age group – I’ve spoken at length about Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong series (for example here, here, here and here) and obviously there’s lots of Enid Blyton mysteries, but this is unusual in that the teenage characters are neither at school nor on school holidays – they’re out at work.  This makes for different challenges and opportunities as well as for an exciting air of independence for the characters.  If you’ve got an upper primary school child who’s bored this holiday, this would entertain them for an hour or two.  And if you’re a big kid like me, it’ll do the same for you too.

Off to the beach?  Then try Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife.  I finished this last week and it’s a big old doorstop of a book telling the story of a fictional First Lady.  It’s very clearly based on Laura Bush – in fact when I went to read Mrs Bush’s biography after reading the book I was surprised how very close it was and it made me feel a little uneasy.  But then I read books that are fictionalised versions of historical people’s lives all the time and that doesn’t make me feel squicky, so it’s a bit of a double standard.  Anyway, Alice is a great character to spend time with – although I liked the two thirds to three quarters of the book where she’s not in the White House much more than I liked that final section.

If you want something historical, I’ve just finished Beatriz Williams’ latest The Wicked City.  This is a time slip novel involving a flapper in 1920s New York and a forensic accountant in the city in the late 1990s.  If you’ve read any of Williams’ other novels there are a few familiar faces popping up too.  It’s been a while since I read my last novel and I’ve missed a couple so I’m starting to lose track of which Schulyers are which – I think that means I need to do a re-read!

And if you fancy some crime, Fahrenheit have just pubished the fourth Christy Kennedy book, The Ballad of Sean and Wilko, I haven’t read it yet, it’s waiting for me on my kindle for one of my nightshift commutes, but I’ve really enjoyed the first three, and there are 10 altogether, so if you’re in the mood for a new series to binge read, this could be for you.

None of these appeal, well then go and have a look at some of my recent Book of the Week posts – Crooked Heart, Miss Treadway or Semester of our Discontent would work, or go back further into the archives for The Rest of Us Just Live Here, The Madwoman Upstairs or even last year’s February picks.

Happy Reading!

Not Christmas Reading

Bored of Christmas? Had it up to here with left over turkey and reheated sprouts?  Overdosed on sugar and fed up of books with Christmas trees and tinsel in them?  Look no further because I have some book suggestions for you.  And no, I’m not Scrooge or the Grinch, but I’m back at work after my Christmas days off today and I find that reading about Christmas when I’m not on holiday starts to annoy me very quickly.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Nothing helps me with my post-Christmas funk than a bit of crime.  If you haven’t tried Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series yet, now might be a good time.  I haven’t been reading these in order (more fool me) and recently read The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, which is the second in the series and want to get my hands on the latest installment, Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mew’d, but suspect I’m going to have to wait for the price to come down.  If you don’t want historical crime, how about some slightly meta crime?  I’m working my way through L C Tyler’s Elsie and Ethelred series – which starts with The Herring Seller’s Apprentice.  I’ve read as far as book 4 and they’re bonkers, but sort of delightful, especially if you’ve read a lot of mysteries and can spot the tropes they’re spoofing. Baking and crafts are a massive trend in cozy crime novels at the moment and I’ve mentioned her Cupcake Bakery series before, but it bears mentioning again – as they’re set in Arizona they’re perfect if you want to escape winter and cold weather all together.  The first one is Sprinkled with Murder, but tragically you can only get her books over here in paperback so it may not arrive in time to scratch that post-Christmas itch.  So, how about some catering crime with Shawn Reilly Simmons?  The first in her Red Carpet Catering series, Murder on a Silver Platter, is 99p as I write this and they’re fluffy and sunny and see a caterer for film crews get tangled up in deaths.

If if you don’t want murder – no matter how cozy or bloodless – how about some romance?  I tend to read historical romances more than any other, so I can give you a whole host of those.  I read A Bachelor Establishment, by Jodi Taylor writing as Isabella Barclay last week – which is sort of Georgette Heyer’s Venetia with added shooting and housebreaking.  It’s short, but fun and might help you out of your Christmas hangover. Fancy something a bit more overblown?  How about the very melodramatic Kerrigan Byrne?  I read The Highlander back in August and it’s packed with kilts and angst and drama.  It’s still a bit expensive on Kindle at the moment, but former BotW The Highwayman, the first in the series is a bit cheaper and is, I think possibly even better.  Of course my go-to writers in circumstances like this are Eloisa James and Sarah MacLean. I still haven’t got MacLean’s latest, A Scot in the Dark, (gnash teeth) but I can heartily recommend any of her others if you fancy some smart, funny, sexy historical romance. And as I write this, my first ever Eloisa James, Duchess by Night, is on offer for 99p on Kindle.  It ticks a lot of my boxes – girls dressed as boys, mistaken identities, scandals, wallflowers – and it’s a great gateway drug (so to speak) into the historical romance world.  I’m sorry.  It may get expensive.

Still not seen anything you fancy?  I like to return to my favourites at this time of year.  It’s a great time to start a big old series of books.  If you haven’t read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s series of books about the Cazalets yet, now would be a perfect time to start.  The Light Years is the first, and slightly more expensive than I’d hope at the moment, but you should be able to pick it up cheaper than that in actual book form – Book People often have the whole set (although not at the moment) and they pop up in The Works from time to time too.  Or you could try your local library.  They are classics.  Talking of classics, if you haven’t already read Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, now would be a good time.  It’s twisty and creepy and goes from sunny climes to stormy Cornwall.  And although the Kindle edition is pricier than I’d hope, you should be able to get hold of it easily in the real world – if you don’t want the gorgeous Virago Designer hardback like mine of course…

So there you have it.  I hope you’re having a good day and that you find something good to read.  I intend to cheer myself up with a trip to Foyles later to console myself for being back at work already!

Summer Reading Recommendations 2016

So you’ve read my Comfort Reading Picks post, now you want the Beach Reads don’t you?  Well, here we go…

Eligible

Curtis Sittenfeld’s retelling/reworking of Pride and Prejudice is my top pick for the beach. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of this before it came out here in May and had to restrain myself from raving about it straight away.  It’s part of the Austen Project and it’s so clever.  Sittenfeld has taken P&P and rather than translating it direct to the current day, she’s thought about what the modern equivalent of the books situations might be.  So we have Lizzy the magazine writer brought home by her dad’s health scare,  Jane the Yoga Instructor, Bingley the Reality TV star (and doctor) and Darcy the neurosurgeon.  Kitty and Lydia are crossfit obsessed Paleo fans and Mrs B is a kleptomaniac desperate to marry off her nearly 40 year old oldest daughter. I thought it was brilliant – funny and smart and spot on.  I lent it straight to my mother – I wasn’t sure if she’d buy into the changes the way I did, but she loved it too.  Perfect beach reading – it’s a hardback, but I’m hoping there’ll be airport paperback copies too if you’re buying en route.  If not: Amazon, Waterstones, FoylesKindle, Kobo.

Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins

If you’ve been watching the ITV series, you may already have read James Runcie’s books about Grantchester’s vicar.  I prefer them to the TV version and I particularly like their episodic nature – each book has several mysteries, some (most) involving deaths and some which don’t.  As you work your way through the series you see Sidney grow and mature.  He’s 32 in the first one – which is set in the 1950s, and by the fourth one we’re into the 1960s.  I haven’t read book five yet – because it’s only out in paperback, but if you’re looking for a series to read while sitting in the garden enjoying the British summer, a visit to Grantchester might be an ideal option for you.  I think it would work best if you start at the beginning of the series, but the latest paperback (Forgiveness of Sins) should be fairly easy to find in the shops at the moment. Forgiveness of Sins: Amazon, Kindle, Foyles, Waterstones, Kobo.  Shadow of Death: Amazon, Kindle, Foyles, Waterstones, Kobo.

Fahrenheit Press

Ok, so this is a second crime recommendation – and a much broader one.  Go have a look at Fahrenheit Press’s catalogue.  There will definitely be something that you’ll like.  I’ve already picked Black Rubber Dress, Murder Quadrille and Death of a Nobody as Books of the Week, and I could have added others to that list.  I have their subscription – and I have several books waiting for me to read on my Kindle – including more Sam Jones which I’m saving for a holiday binge.  There’s thrillers, more cozies, historical and pretty much every other type of crime there, all with a slightly different perspective.  I defy you not to find a beach read there – and more are being added at a rate of knots.  They’ve only just started bringing out actual physical books – so the best way to find them is to search for Fahrenheit Press on Amazon – or check out their website.

The Highlander

This is about as close to an Old School Historical Romance novel as you get in new books these days – and does all the best bits of those late 80s and early 90s books, but without the rape and rapey bits I find so problematic.  This is not subtle.  It’s big, it’s melodramatic, it’s very Scottish.  I recommended The Highwayman last year – and this isn’t quite as good as that, but it is very good.  It has governesses and secret identities – which I like – but also an asylum (which I didn’t like and might be triggering for some) and a subplot with a brother which I didn’t like.  I know that sounds a bit less than enthusiastic from me – but it’s not – I kept turning the pages and I was engrossed.  Worth a look if you like your romances Gothic with brooding damaged Scottish heroes.  Amazon and Kindle are probably your best bet for this, as although Waterstones lists the two earlier titles in this series, it doesn’t have this one there yet.

So there you go.  My Summer reading suggestions.  Slightly later than planned (sorry) but hopefully still in time for the summer.  And if you’re still at a loss – I’ve stuck to books I haven’t recommended before, so don’t forget The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, Sunset in Central Park, The Tumbling Turner Sisters and Jane Steele which would all be great to read on the beach.

Book of the Week: The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts

Such an easy decision for BotW this week – I absolutely loved Annie Darling’s Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts.  It is so much fun, and ticked so many of my book buttons.

Posy Morland loves her job at Bookends – a crumbling bookshop tucked away in a Bloomsbury mews.  But when the shop’s owner, Lavinia, dies and leaves the shop to Posy her life is turned upside down.  Posy’s got  lots of plans to turn the ailing bookshop around, but she’s also got to contend with Lavinia’s autocratic grandson Sebastian – nicknamed The Rudest Man in London by one of the papers, and seemingly searching for the national title.  With her friends and co-workers to help her, can Posy turn the shop around as well as dealing with Sebastian’s machinations?   And why is she having lurid fantasies?

Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts proof copy.

  Isn’t my proof copy gorgeous? I do love a good cover – and the proper cover looks lovely too.

The back of my proof copy says it’s for fans of Georgette Heyer (waves) and Jenny Colgan (waves) and for people who’ve dreamed of opening their own bookshops (falls over waving so hard) and I would totally agree.  Posy is a great heroine – she’s likeable, a little bit damaged and totally relatable.  It was great fun reading about her figuring out what to do with the bookshop and trying to stand up to Sebastian.  It’s also crammed full of gems for the romance reader – whether it’s obvious ones (like name checks for historical romance authors) or more subtle ones (not telling, find them yourself).

This whistles along at a tremendous pace, with twists and turns and heaving bosoms in empire line gowns (you’ll understand if you read it).  I was cross it was over so quickly – because I could have spent another 200 pages with Posy and her band of misfits at the  bookshop and as there’s an ad at the end for a sequel, my wish may yet come true.  The back of my advance copy also has the author’s top five novels in it which include Heyer’s Regency Buck – which I adore – Pride and Prejudice (ditto) and a Courtney Milan.  What’s not to love.  And on top of that it has a bookshop list which includes not one but TWO name checks for my beloved Chalet School so basically I think Annie Darling and I would really get on.

I got sent an advanced copy by a publicist who I chat to on Twitter – who had spotted that I love Georgette Heyer.  It’s not out in paperback yet (August 25th) – but it is out in Kindle (£2.99 at time of writing!) and you can pre-order the paperback on Amazon and Waterstones and Foyles will email you when they get it in stock.  I suspect as it’s published by Harper it may make it to the supermarkets too.  I would’ve saved my ravings for closer to the time, but as the Kindle is out and I think that this would make a great beach read I thought I’d alert you all now. Go forth and read it!

Easter Reading Suggestions

Easter is upon us again – early this year – and so I thought I’d throw some suggestions out there for books for reading over the bank holiday weekend, or the Easter holidays if you’re lucky enough to have them.

The Night That Changed Everything by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice

Copy of The Night that Changed Everything

I love the cover of this book – can’t explain why, but it just speaks to me

Rebecca and Ben are perfect for each other – blissfully happy, they’re made for each other.  But when a secret from the past is accidentally revealed, their love story is rewritten.  Can they recover?  Is it possible to forgive and forget? This came out yesterday (Thursday), but I was lucky to have an advance copy which I finished on the train home from work just after midnight on Thursday morning.  I really, really, enjoyed Rebecca and Ben’s story – which, as you can probably tell from my synopsis, is not your traditional romantic comedy.  It nearly had me crying on the train – which doesn’t happen very often (in part because I try not to read books that will make me cry on the train!) and I had trouble putting it down.  I didn’t even notice I’d arrived at Euston on the way to work on Wednesday I was so engrossed – if it wasn’t the end of the line I would have missed my stop!  On top of everything else going for it, I had no idea where it was going.  I suspect this is going to be on a lot of beach reading lists this year – get there ahead of the game and read it now.  I’m hoping this will be in the supermarkets and all over the place – but here are the traditional links: Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, Foyles, Kobo.

Death of a Diva by Derek Farrell

Danny Bird has lost his job, his boyfriend and his home.  So of course the logical solution to this is to take over a dive of a pub owned  by a gangster and try and transform it into a fabulous nightspot.  But then his big act for the opening night turns up dead in the dressing room surrounded by a cloud of powder that’s definitely not talc and he’s the prime suspect in a murder inquiry.  This is funny and clever – I was laughing out loud as I tried to figure out who was responsible.  Danny is a fabulous character – and is surrounded by a great supporting cast.  There’s lots of potential here – this is another winner from Fahrenheit Press – who you may have noticed have been providing a lot of my favourite crime reads recently.  Get your copy on Kindle and badger Fahrenheit on Twitter to get it on other platforms.  I got my copy free when it was on promotion a couple of weekends ago (it came out before the Fahrenheit subscription) – this weekend their free book for Easter is Fidelis Morgan’s Unnatural Fire – which is high on my to-read pile – as I loved The Murder Quadrille as you may remember.

The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan

Harriet and her granddaughter Grace are governesses at the same house, nearly 50 years apart.  Grace has been raised on stories of Fenix House – but once she’s arrived it’s clear that her grandmother may be a less than reliable narrator.  I reviewed this for Novelicious (check out my full review here) and basically this is the book that is going to fill the Victorian-time-slip-upstairs-downstairs gap in your life.  Secrets, lies, families, relationships -they’re all there in this twisty and intriguing book – which had me poleaxed at the end. If you liked Letters to the Lost, or the Mysterious Affair at Castaway House, or any of Lauren Willig’s stand-alone novels like The Ashford Affair then this is for you.

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

Hazel and Daisy are back on the detection trail after Deepdean’s new head girl is found dead during a fireworks display.  I haven’t finished the latest Wells and Wong mystery yet (it’s another that came out on Thursday – I started it as soon as my pre-order dropped on to my kindle) but if it’s half as good as the other three it’ll be a delight.  One for the 8 to 12 year old in your house – and your inner child as well.

What am I going to be reading this Easter weekend? Well, I’m hoping to finish Hazel and Daisy’s adventures on my Good Friday commutes, then I think I might try to fill the Night Circus-shaped void in my life with Ben Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes or my urge for more time-slip books with the rest of Beatriz Williams’ latest or Lucinda Riley’s The Seven Sisters.   Any other recommendations gratefully received in the comments – although I’m meant to be on a book-buying ban!