mini-review · Romantic Reads · sleuthing · stuff I read

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian (Page & Sommers #1)

44785311._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.

Cat Sebastian: Do you want a galley of my new post-WW2 m/m mystery-romance?
Me: OMG YES PLEASE

Hither, Page is a m/m romance and mystery set in the village of Wychcomb St. Mary. If you like Grantchester, and want a bit of romance, too, this first installment in Sommers & Page is as if Sidney Chambers was a hot doctor, instead of the vicar (and if you’ve seen the TV adaptation, James Norton is almost a dead-ringer for Dr. Sommers) and Geordie was a jaded spy, and they were both gay. This is a romance set in the immediate aftermath of WWII so many lives have been shattered and not put back together, if they ever will be. The resolution of the mystery was a bit too tangly but I enjoyed the characters of Sommers and Page, and so many of the side characters especially Edith and Cora and Wendy, very much.

Also – everyone wash your hands and don’t share utensils/cups, etc. because tonsillitis/strep throat in the early antibiotics era is contagious as all get out.

This is much less steamy than other Cat Sebastian romances.

Dear FTC: Many thanks to Cat Sebastian for the galley. I bought a copy, too. 🙂

Advertisements
Readathon · stuff I read

A Murder to Die For by Stevyn Colgan

35004372Summary from Goodreads:
When hordes of people descend on the picturesque village of Nasely for the annual celebration of its most famous resident, murder mystery writer Agnes Crabbe, events take a dark turn as the festival opens with a shocking death.

Each year the residents are outnumbered by crowds dressed as Crabbe’s best-known character, the lady detective Millicent Cutter. The weekend is never a mild-mannered affair as fan club rivalries bubble below the surface, but tensions reach new heights when a second Crabbe devotee is found murdered. Though the police are quick to arrive on the scene, the facts are tricky to ascertain as the witnesses, suspects and victim are all dressed as Miss Cutter. And they all want to solve that crime too . . .

I picked up A Murder to Die For after John (@johnnie_cakes) recommended it on Instagram. It is a delightful, madcap murder mystery set at a fan-con for a fictional English crime writer with a Phrynne Fisher-esque 1920s amateur detective. Colgan gleefully breaks all the “rules” of crime writing and name drops all sorts of mystery-related Easter eggs, including Midsomer Murders (and you’ll find the retired DS Shunter a bit of an analog to Tom Barnaby, my favorite dad-detective, although with less of John Nettles’s TV panache). Not a cosy, since the amateur detectives are quite useless and it’s a bit more violent than a cosy, so I can’t use it for the Read Harder task, but a good, zany whodunnit. The sum-up at the end is a bit awkward, imo.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

Reading Women · stuff I read

Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird

33894921Summary from Goodreads:
From International New York Times columnist Julia Baird comes a biography of Queen Victoria. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.

When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would begin to threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. Born into a world where woman were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty years old, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.

Drawing on sources that include revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings to life the story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning.

I picked up a galley of Victoria the Queen at BEA in 2016 and it, unfortunately, has been in a pile of to-read books ever since. But I recently found it on the library’s Libby site, so I decided to give it a read. Baird has done a remarkable job reconstructing the inner life of a woman whose family and official biographers tried to mold into the myth she had become. Victoria was remarkably contradictory in her views, believing that she had the right to tell her ministers what to do and shape foreign policy yet felt inferior to her husband and didn’t believe in women’s suffrage, etc. (which I was surprised to learn).

(The audiobook narrator was dreadfully slow – I had the speed kicked up to 2.25x by the end – and had terrible German pronunciation.)

Dear FTC: I had a galley of this book from BEA but wound up borrowing the audiobook from the library.

Apropos Shakespeare · stuff I read

The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse: 1509–1659, selected by David Norbrook and edited by Henry R. Woudhuysen

609526Summary from Goodreads:
The era between the accession of Henry VIII and the crisis of the English republic in 1659 formed one of the most fertile epochs in world literature. This anthology offers a broad selection of its poetry, and includes a wide range of works by the great poets of the age – notably Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Sepnser, John Donne, William Shakespeare and John Milton. Poems by less well-known writers also feature prominently – among them significant female poets such as Lady Mary Wroth and Katherine Philips. Compelling and exhilarating, this landmark collection illuminates a time of astonishing innovation, imagination and diversity.

Selected and with an introduction by David Norbrook, and edited by H.R. Woudhuysen.

One of my goals this year was to read very (very) long books. One of my goals was to start, and finish, The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659. I loved the poetry we read when I took a Restoration literature class, and I love Shakespeare, so I was very interested in an overview of poetry  from this period. It’s a long haul of a book but a good overview of British Renaissance verse from the early Tudor period through just before the Restoration. I would have like better notation (there were a lot of analogies or references not explained), and for the poems in Scots or Welsh better translation side by side on the page as opposed to the endnotes, but I do appreciate that the editors didn’t modernize the spelling. It was harder to read in places but very interesting to see how spelling began to standardize over these 150 years of verse.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy from the local indie bookstore.

stuff I read

The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
The Lost for Words Bookshop is a compelling, irresistible, and heart-rending audiobook from author Stephanie Butland

Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never, ever show you.

Into her hiding place – the bookstore where she works – come a poet, a lover, and three suspicious deliveries.

Someone has found out about her mysterious past. Will Loveday survive her own heartbreaking secrets?

Praise for The Lost for Words Bookshop:

“The Lost for Words Bookshop pushes all my bookish buttons.”–Red (Books to Read)

“Quirky, clever and unputdownable.”–Katie Fforde

“Burns fiercely with love and hurt. A rare and beautiful novel.”–Linda Green, bestselling author of While My Eyes Were Closed

I missed The Lost for Words Bookshop when it published in June because I couldn’t get my hands on a galley. But now that it’s autumn, and good snuggle up and read weather, I sat down to read a novel set in an English bookshop (well, and the copy I borrowed from the store needed to be returned).

The novel is narrated by Loveday Cardew, a solitary and one might say “quirky” (because attitude and tattoos, you know) young woman who works at The Lost for Words Bookshop in York. One day she finds a lost book on the street, posts a notice in the shop window, and meets a poet. He’s nice enough, but invites Loveday to a weekly poetry reading at the pub…which Loveday would rather remove her own skin than attend, but she winds up going because the other option is to get stalked by her shitty ex-boyfriend. In between Loveday’s thoughts on working at the bookshop (which she’s done since the age of 15) and opinions on books and reading, there come three very strange book deliveries which lead Loveday back into her past.

Now, before you get really excited and think this is a wild mystery or Loveday is hiding from the mob or something, it’s not that. I won’t spoil it too much but Loveday lives much of her life reacting to a very traumatic event in her childhood. She herself was not physically harmed (so, no TW for harm to children) though it has caused her to keep everyone that might love or care for her at a distance. The confluence of the book deliveries, the poet, and the ex all combine to break open Loveday’s tough exterior.

The Lost for Words Bookshop was a solid one-sitting read for me full of the solace that books can bring when one is lonely. I enjoyed Loveday’s voice very much, particularly when she spoke directly to the reader. But for all the snarky humor, there is a dark center to this book. There are several scenes with domestic violence and one character suffers from mental illness (although I’m not sure that aspect was handled well). A trigger warning if you need to know in advance.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #2)

35564594Summary from Goodreads:
Once beloved by London’s fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

Content Warning from Author: This book includes a main character who was sexually abused in the past; abuse happens off page but is alluded to.

The squealing that happened when I found the digital galley for A Gentleman Never Keeps Score on Edelweiss….I apologize to everyone in a three-county radius.  I was that excited.  Because I have wanted to read about Sam Fox ever since I read Cat Sebastian’s description of the book on her Twitter.

Sam is an ex-prize-fighter and publican, the owner of The Bell which Sam sees as an integral part of the Free Black community in London. It’s a place to get news, get a hot meal, get a decent drink, and socialize with other members of the small London community. When Sam’s friend (and future sister-in-law and community midwife) Kate asks him to recover a nude painting she posed for as a younger woman in need of money, he agrees. With some trepidation because a Black man caught house-breaking in Regency London would not come to a good ending.

In the course of planning out his house-breaking, Sam runs into Hartley. In the alley behind Hartley’s own Brook Street house – the target of Sam’s mission. Hartley was bequeathed the house from Sir Humphrey Easterbrook (more on this below) and after a series of comical misunderstandings Sam and Hartley get down to business.  The painting.  Which, unfortunately for Sam, is likely no longer in the house because the artwork had been removed from the walls before Hartley took possession.

But this doesn’t mean Sam’s mission is at an end because Hartley would also like to recover a painting from Sir Humphrey’s collection. Hartley allowed himself to be a sort of “kept” man by Sir Humphrey when a teen because it would ensure that his brothers would be able to attend school or university, and not be destitute. And now that Hartley has inherited the house, and a little money, and has the clothes, and the curricle this means his is a gentleman – he feels like what he gave up to Sir Humphrey has been worth it, even the fact that he can’t bear to be touched.  Except that someone has spread a rumor about Hartley’s sexual orientation and now he’s an outcast in Society. If this painting is ever made public, he could lose his life.

So the most unlikely pair begins to work together to find these paintings. They also begin very, very cautiously to work toward each other and find middle ground as a gay, cross-class, bi-racial couple in Regency London. Along the way they create a family of non-Society “outcasts,” from Kate and Nick (and other members of the Black community) to Hartley’s valet/man-of-work Alf, a young gay man, and Sadie, a young unwed mother abandoned by her “respectable” family due to her pregnancy who becomes Hartley’s cook. Hartley’s brothers Ben and Will also pop up (although I was slightly disappointed that Ben did not bring his “sea captain” and the kids).

I love this book. Sam Fox is the sweetest man ever invented, I swear. He’s such a cinnamon roll. Hartley is a wonderfully multi-layered character with the way he uses his privilege to mask his hurt and protect Sam. The way Sam and Hartley actually talk through their issues and misunderstandings is just A+.  Also, there is a scene late in the book that just filled my heart to bursting. (Incidentally, there is also a scene that is so hot that you will need to fan yourself. Holy cannoli. This book gets steamy, y’all, and it’s so well-written.)

Small trigger warning, as the author herself stated in the description, Hartley was abused/coerced as a young man, alluded to in the previous book, It Takes Two to Tumble, and clarified here, but Sebastian does not go into details on the page. Just FYI if you need to know ahead of time.

Now, I am intrigued at all the places Cat Sebastian is going these days.  Her next book, due in the fall, is A Duke in Disguise, about a guy who doesn’t want to be a duke (I think?) and a bookseller who just wants to get on with her publishing business.  And then we get a book the third Sedgwick brother, Will, who is apparently involved with Sir Humphrey’s son Martin and that was a twist I was not expecting (nor was Hartley, who then gave us a hilarious aside wondering about the probability of all the Sedgwick males being gay).

Dear FTC: I read this thing like yesterday once the galley was downloaded on my iPad and I’ve had this pre-ordered on my Nook since that was possible.

mini-review · stuff I read

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (Peter Grant #1/Rivers of London #1)

16033550Summary from Goodreads:
Probationary constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

I finally clawed my way back to the top of the library hold list to finish Midnight Riot!

I really enjoyed the story of brand-new constable Peter Grant as he comes to learn about magic and the paranormal when he gets apprenticed to the decidedly weirdest Detective Superintendent in the entire London constabulary. It was quite an intricate plot, with all the details and bits of magic and history, but it didn’t feel bogged down by details. The narrator of the audiobook, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, really nailed Peter’s voice and the myriad London/non-London accents called for in the book. A+ to the publisher who did NOT Americanize the language (which sadly happens more often than not and annoys me greatly). I think Aaronovitch was a little heavy on the “Peter is hard up for a lay” part of Peter’s psyche; it got boring/old/tired/dude, get over yourself after a while. This book scratched all my “need a new Thursday Next” itches, so I am definitely going to read more.

Note: I do not like the new US audiobook cover (above) considering that Peter doesn’t carry a handgun as a London constable. I much preferred the map drawing.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this via the library’s Overdrive system.

mini-review · stuff I read

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

35820405Set amidst the breathtaking beauty of Oxford, this sparkling debut novel tells the unforgettable story about a determined young woman eager to make her mark in the world and the handsome man who introduces her to an incredible love that will irrevocably alter her future—perfect for fans of JoJo Moyes and Nicholas Sparks.

American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day.

When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret.

Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for.

When I finished My Oxford Year I had to sit with it for a little bit. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. (It was certainly better than my last go-round with an “Americans at Oxbridge institutions” novel, The Madwoman Upstairs).

This is…good. I almost quit reading after the first few chapters because I really didn’t get the whole get a Rhodes –> get told no one cares what you do at Oxford because you’re a Rhodie –> here’s a political job. And then there’s the wrinkle that, for someone so obsessed with getting to Oxford, Ella seems really clueless about how Oxford actually operates (i.e. where to buy books, where to buy gowns, how the housing works, etc). But I stuck with it because Ella’s neighbor Charlie is a hoot and the chemistry between Ella and Jamie was good. Their relationship becomes really interesting. Whelan also gets in an extraordinary amount of wonderful literary criticism about love and poetry (particularly Tennyson) and the expectations of women in the political sphere. There is a lot going on in this book.

But I will tell you that this is “romantic” in the way that Me Before You and many of Nicholas Sparks’s book are “romantic” (although this is far less maudlin, in my opinion). Whelan digs very deeply into the push-and-pull of loving someone with a serious and possibly terminal illness, the adjustments that both partners have to make, and the changes that you have to accept for the relationship to exist for the time that is given to you. This is a very much “Happy For Now” book.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.