Book of the Week: A Dangerous Crossing

I read a few good books this week, but in the end I picked Rachel Rhys’s A Dangerous Crossing for my BotW, although I realise as I write this that there have been rather a lot of historical mystery picks recently, but I know this is one I’m going to be lending out to various people, so it deserves a mention here.  As you may have realised, i’ve got a big soft spot for historical mysteries, but this has a healthy dose of suspense mixed in as well so it does make for a bit of a change, honest!

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

I love the glamorous 1930s style cover for this – although the paperback one looks like its going to be different.

Set on a liner on its way to Australia in 1939, it follows Lily Shepherd who is heading down under on an assisted passage scheme to escape her past.  On board, she finds herself mingling with people who she would never have socialised with on dry land and is drawn into their intrigues and secrets. By the time the ship docks in Melbourne, two passengers are dead and Lily’s life will never be the same again.

The cast of characters in this is really cleverly constructed.  Lily is young and innocent in many ways and doesn’t always realise that her behaviour is being judged by other people.   A lot of the action focuses around Lily’s table mates at dinner – a brother and sister who are heading to Australia after he had a health scare, a young man whose father is sending him away from the risk of war.  There is the upper-class couple who keep visiting tourist class and a young Jewish girl fleeing Austria without her parents.  Lily’s massively judgmental roommate and an older companion who is supervising them on the journey pop up to point out the class divisions that Lily is crossing when she is mixing with people they see as above  – and below – her station and putting her prospects in Australia at risk.

The mystery itself is a proper slow burn – after teasing you with the arrival in Australia at the very start, you then spend a lot of the rest of the book on edge waiting for something bad to happen.  And it’s very, very effective. In the author biography it says that Rachel Rhys is the pen name of an “already sucessful suspense author”* so that’s not really a surprise.  I thought it was very page-turnery and doom laden but not so creepy as to be terrifying, which makes it pretty much my ideal sort of suspense!

A Dangerous Crossing is out now in Hardback and comes out in paperback in August. You should be able to get it from all the usual places (Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones) or order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  The ebook edition is availble on Kindle and Kobo and there’s an audiobook from Audible** as well.

Happy Reading!

*It’s Tammy Cohen whose other books look far too terrifying for me – if I’d known when I picked this up, I might not have read it, which would have been a shame!

** You’ll need to be logged in for the link to work.

Book of the Week: The Stars Are Fire

This week’s BotW is Anita Shreve’s new novel, The Stars Are Fire, which came out last week and which I finished at the weekend.  Shreve has been on my list of authors that I really ought to have read, and this piqued my interest when I saw it on NetGalley so it seemed like an opportunity to rectify that omission.  And it turned out to be a good decision.

Cover of The Stars Are Fire

I think this cover is pretty – but I’m not sure it really represents Grace.

The Stars Are Fire is set in Maine in 1947 where Grace Holland is struggling with her marriage.  Her husband Gene is distant and won’t talk about the war, her mother-in-law hates her, she has two small children and a third on the way.  When a massive fire breaks out after a long summer drought, Gene goes to join the volunteer firefighters to try and prevent it from reaching the town.  Grace is left alone to try and defend their house and protect their children.  When the flames arrive, she watches her home burn to the ground and is forced into the sea to shelter from the waves.  When the morning comes, her home is gone and her husband is missing and she’s forced to try and build a new reality.

I was a little sceptical about this book when I started reading it, and while I still have a few reservations, the book was engrossing and kept me turning the pages eager to know what happened next.  My main issue with the book was with Gene, who doesn’t feel like a fully rounded character.  You’re not meant to like him, but I struggled to get a sense of who he was and why Grace had been interested in dating him in the first place.  For me the most enjoyable part of the book was the middle section, but I always knew that it wasn’t going to last.  The final section of the novel felt a little rushed and underdeveloped.  I was a little worried about how it was all going to be resolved (or if it was going to be resolved) but at the end I was happy.

That all sounds a little negative, but they’re fairly small quibbles when set against the beautiful writing and how engaging and intriguing Grace is as a character.  She’s strong and reslient and seizes opportunities out of the ruins left by the fire.  I hadn’t heard of the Great Fire of 1947 before I read this book and Shreve paints a vivid picture of the heat and drought leading up to it as well as the terror of the actual events.  The stifling atmosphere before the fire is mirrored in the way that Grace feels in her marriage – although she doesn’t realise how trapped she feels at the time.  Although the fire brings her personal loses, it is also the making of Grace and the woman we leave at the end of the book feels very different to the one we met at the start, which makes for a satisfying read.

The Stars Are Fire is out now in hardback (sorry) and ebook.    As previously mentioned, my copy came from NetGalley but you can get hold of it from on Kindle or Kobo and from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or you could order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  I suspect it’s the sort of book that will be out on the tables in bookshops and at the airport, although I don’t suggest that you read it on the beach or somewhere hot as it may leave you paranoid about wildfires!  I read it on the train and it made several journeys to and from work fly by.

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday: Kindle May Madness Sale

Happy Wednesday everyone – you’re halfway to the weekend.  My week this week involves a lot of preparations for the local elections here tomorrow – I’m working on the results output at work on Friday.  I’ve already recommended political books recently and I haven’t added a lot to that list recently, so I won’t repeat myself today.  Instead I thought I’d mention Amazon’s May Madness Kindle sale – I’ve picked up a few bargains there this week (shhh, don’t tell Him Indoors), although sadly they’re not all being price matched over at Kobo.  Lots of the books are 99p – which is my sort of ebook pricing!


Among my purchases was Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime which I’ve heard lots of good things about.  I’m not the biggest fan of his version of the Daily Show (I still miss Jon Stewart) but I’m fascinated by his childhood in apartheid era South Africa and I like his sense of humour when he’s doing his stand up stuff.

I also grabbed the trio of Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor books (numbers 7 through 9 if you’re interested) because I’ve really enjoyed the books of hers that I’ve read but they’re hardly ever at a price I can justify – so 99p for three is a really good deal.  And to top it all off – this is being price matched on Kobo!  While I’m on the subject of romance, I also bought Christina Lauren’s Wicked Sexy Liar because I keep hearing this series mentioned on the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcast and this is the first time I’ve seen one of them at a price I’m prepared to pay!  This one is 99p on Kobo as well. If you’re into your old school romances (I can’t cope with the rapey-ness but I know others love them) there’s a Julie Garwood in the sale too – Honor’s Splendour (Kobo).

Also on offer is Cesca Major’s second novel The Last Night.  I know Cesca through my Novelicious reviewing – and I have a copy of this in one of the to-read boxes waiting to be read (I know, the boxes are still with me, the building work still isn’t finished) but I’ve heard nothing but good things about this – it’s a Heat pick this week.

Also in the sale is The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin – I reviewed it when it first came out and really enjoyed it.  It tells the story of a love triangle (of sorts) between dashing Captain Bay Middleton, Empress Sisi of Austria and Bay’s fiancée Charlotte.  I’ve read a few books about Sisi since (and visited a few of her palaces in Vienna – which is well worth it), but I think this is still my favourite.  If you need further encouragement, Goodwin also created the recent TV series about Queen Victoria (you know, the one with Rufus Sewell) and wrote My Last Duchess, which I adored.  This is also being price matched over on Kobo.

Not 99p, but still very reasonable at £1.99 is Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies – which is the book which inspired the TV series Harlots.  I’m interested in watching the TV show – but I like to have read the book first if I can (which is why I’m reading Cold Comfort Farm at the moment!) so this seemed like an ideal moment to pick up the book – especially as the TV series is on ITV Encore at the moment which I don’t currently get so I’m going to have to wait for the DVD which gives me a fighting chance of actually getting to the book before I get my hand on the show!

Right.  I’m going to stop now – because the more I write for this post, the more I spend, and I think we all know how my books bought total is going to look at the end of the week!  Anyway, I hope there’s something on the list for you and if you spot any more you think I might like, leave me a note in the comments – after all we all know my willpower is poor!

Happy reading!

Book of the Week: Maisie Dobbs

We’re back in my (constant) hunt for new historical crime series for this week’s BotW.  I finally got my hand on the first Maisie Dobbs book during a trip to the charity bookshop and immediately read it.  And it’s really good, so I went on and read book 10 in the series – which was in the library book pile and was far too big a jump in the series to do, but that doesn’t change how much I enjoyed the first one.

Copy of Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

My copy of Maisie Dobbs, complete with lovely blue-y cover

We meet Maisie as she is setting up her own private investigation firm in London in 1929.  Her first client asks her to investigate whether his wife is having an affair.  But the investigation forces Maisie to revisit her experiences of the Great War and she finds it hard to keep her professional and her private life separate as she works to resolve the case.

I really, really enjoy books set in the interwar years.  My beloved Peter Wimseys are all in this period, as is Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher and Dandy Gilver. The very best of them show how the Great War was still having ramifications years after – whether it’s Peter’s shellshock, or Alec using his military tie to get people to open up to him.  Like Phryne, Maisie spent time at the front (although Phryne was driving ambulances while Maisie was a nurse) and it’s deeply affected her outlook on life and her understanding and compassion for the others who were there.

The mystery in this is centred in the Great War, allowing Maisie’s background and education to be explored and it works really well.  In fact a lot of this book is setting up Maisie’s background and her personal history rather than resolving the case (or cases) that she’s investigating.  But that was part of the enjoyment for me.  Maisie’s got a complicated and fascinating backstory and I think understanding that is going to be key to understanding the other books in the series.  Certainly when I read book 10 I would have been lost or at sea without the background I had got from book 1, so it’s one of those occasions where I’m very grateful to have restrained myself and started at the beginning.

Well worth a look if you like any of the other series that I’ve mentioned – I know I’ll be looking out for more Maisie Dobbs mysteries.

You can get a copy of Maisie Dobbs on Kindle or Kobo or in paperback from all the usual places like The Big Green Bookshop – and probably at your local library as well.

Happy reading!

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.

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.

Book of the Week: The Riviera Express

Nightshifts are well underway here, so hopefully I’ll be asleep when this publishes.  I say hopefully, if day one is anything to go by I’ll have been woken up half a dozen times by  assorted phone calls, tradesmen and delivery people.   Anyway, as I said last week, I’ve been looking for a new cozy crime series. And as you know, I’m always looking for new historical crime series.  So this week’s BotW is a new historical crime novel from the cozier end of the spectrum which I’m hoping is going to be the start of series.

Cover of The Riviera Express

Cover of The Riviera Express

The Riviera Express is the first book from TP Fielden* about Judy Dimont, a newspaper reporter in a south-coast seaside town in the 1950s.  Miss D has a nose for a scoop, an editor who doesn’t always appreciate her and a rivalry with the paper’s other lady reporter.  The Riveira Express is both the name of the paper and the name of the train which brings holiday-makers to the resort of Temple Regis and one of Miss Dimont’s regular jobs is meeting the train if it’s got a celebrity on board.  But when she and her photographer arrive to meet film star Gerald Hennessey, they find him dead in his first class compartment.  Called away from the scene to a second death, Judy becomes convinced that there is a link between the two – even though the police aren’t convinced that either is the result of foul play.  Soon she’s investigating the links between the film star and the seaside town as well as between the two men and dealing with a couple of highly strung actresses who are mourning the dead star.  Will Judy find out the truth – and if she does will her editor let her publish it?

I hope that sounds like fun, because this book is a lovely romp through an English seaside town with pretensions of grandeur led by a charming character in Judy Dimont.  One of the toughest things to do in stories like this is create a leading character with an excuse to go poking about in murders and mysteries – and a reporter is an ideal one.  Judy has a perfect excuse to nose around and to get information from the police and the authorities.   It also means that she is going to keep coming across bodies in a more natural way than a private citizen would.  And it makes a change from private detectives of all shapes and sizes well.  The secondary characters are well drawn and there’s plenty of potential here for on-going plot strands without it feeling like there’s lots of set up being done.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about Miss D’s past in the next book.

Here’s the rub – The Riviera Express isn’t actually out for another 9 days yet – but you can pre-order the hardback from Amazon or Waterstones  and hope it turns up on the day or on Kindle or Kobo and it’ll download itself on the 23rd as a lovely treat.

Happy reading.

*I would love to know who TP Fielden is – this doesn’t feel like a first novel and there’s very little information that I can find on TP, but their Goodreads biography says that they are a “leading author, broadcaster and journalist” so it feels like a pen name – and I’d love to know who is behind it!