The comfort of re-reading

We are living in strange times. Many of us are finding we need new ways to work and also new ways to relax. Some of us are more isolated than ever before. Others, like me, are actually less so. I’m used to having a traveling husband, one kid away at school and the other two out at school and swim practice from 7.30am until after 6pm most days. Now we are all home and thankfully, all feeling well.

We are on week 3 of online school & college. For the first two weeks I stopped my work in favor of theirs. We established some new routines, took dog walks, implemented new exercise plans and looked at what we can do in the house to keep that feeling of moving forward in life, while we all know that for now there is nothing more important than standing still. I also washed a lot of dishes and the laundry ramped up.

For those two weeks I definitely couldn’t settle to writing and even reading was tough. On social media I saw a lot of buzz from authors, suggesting that a thin silver lining on this ghastly cloud might be people having more time to read new books. But I haven’t been feeling that way. I’ve watched the news compulsively, checked on twitter, talked to family and friends and tried to monitor the situation in both the UK and the US – becoming doubly anxious in the process.

65141F3E-0AD8-496D-94F8-9B7A7DBE87ED
The Masqueraders, Georgette Heyer

One thing that has helped though, is re-reading. Last week I picked up a copy of The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer as part of a facebook challenge to post all the many covers of all her many books. It was never my favorite Heyer by any means and yet I found myself sitting down and opening it up.  I’ve re-read many of her books umpteen times, but this was only my second time around with this story. And what unexpected fun it was.

 

That’s because I realise that I’ve no interest right now in the unexpected. I don’t need any more worry about what is going to happen. The real world is offering that in spades. What I enjoyed – and what didn’t know I needed –  was gentle humour, heroes and villians, romance, and adventure. The Masqueraders delivered. I read. I relaxed.

IMG_3459
Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey, John Dickson Carr

Of course I talked to my mum on Facetime about this. And she reminded me of my Dad, and how in his last months, when he knew that his pancreatic cancer was incurable, he re-read all his John Dickson Carr crime novels – and escaped. It seemed strange to us then. Not so now. Here’s my copy of The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey, which used to be my Dad’s. Readers of The Road to Newgate might want to take a look at this one 😉

And it doesn’t have to be a book either. This is the time for classic movies, for re-watching James Bond films in order, or Star Wars, or timelessly watchable favourites like Some Like It Hot, Singing in the Rain, The Scarlet Pimpernel or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We’ve watched a couple of remarkably similar Liam Neeson movies as a family and the predictability is honestly part of the pleasure! I’ve also been sneaking off from the family for half hour indulgences with episodes of the new BBC series of Mallory Towers. With nothing more to worry about than how mean Gwendoline will be and when Darrell will ever figure out what’s up with Sally, I’ve loved every nostalgic minute so far.

Here’s the cover from the series I first read (and re-read) in the 70’s and a photo from the new series.

I hope everyone out there is finding ways to relax and cope with the stress and uncertainty that we’ve all been thrown into by this virus. All I can tell you is that this is mine. Comfort reading. Maybe it will work for you too.

Kate

 

Audio book, anyone?

67814509_10157275102220761_1384919407255355392_n

Who reads audio books? Up until this week, not me. But with the big news that The Girl Puzzle is going to be made into an AUDIO BOOK I thought it might actually be a good idea to listen to one.

Here’s my very first pick, recommended by a friend:

cqpu-square-400

The Blurb

A twisty, compelling new audiobook about one woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death…

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, she knew she wasn’t the wife Diana had envisioned for her perfect son. Exquisitely polite, friendly, and always generous, Diana nonetheless kept Lucy at arm’s length despite her desperate attempts to win her over. And as a pillar in the community, an advocate for female refugees, and a woman happily married for decades, no one had a bad word to say about Diana…except Lucy.

That was five years ago.

Now, Diana is dead, a suicide note found near her body claiming that she longer wanted to live because of the cancer wreaking havoc inside her body.

But the autopsy finds no cancer.

It does find traces of poison, and evidence of suffocation.

Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad she’s gone?

Fractured relationships and deep family secrets grow more compelling with every chapter in this twisty, captivating new audiobook from Sally Hepworth.

I LOVED IT! Loved the book, loved the whole listening experience. It made me enthusiastic to do laundry! And walk my dogs (although I like that anyway) and do the washing up (a major occupation right now as we are having our kitchen redesigned and have no sink or dishwasher).

It’s definitely a different experience from reading but I found it perfect for keeping my mind busy when my hands were doing something. The only downside was when I sat down I didn’t feel like just listening but I wanted to know what would happen so I probably got more jobs done than I usually do… maybe that’s not a downside at all. There were certainly moments when if I’d had the book I would have sat down and read the whole thing and felt frustrated. And in some ways the experience was longer than I wanted it to be (I can read much faster than I can listen)… but it also meant I could have more than one book on the go. Right now I’m reading this for research:

plantation mistress

 

And I’m also reading this for pleasure:

the testaments

And I’m so thrilled with this audio experience that I’ve started this, which I have in hard copy but think I’m going to really enjoy listening to for the next week or so (it’s 18hrs long!)

the witches

 

Have you tried audio books? What did you think?

 

Book recommendation: The Suspects by Katharine Johnson

After all these last busy days talking about Nellie Bly, it’s a pleasure to take a break and celebrate someone else’s publication day! Fellow Crooked Cat author Katharine Johnson’s The Suspects is out today. Katy’s books are perfect for curling up with: engrossing crime stories with great characters with lots of secrets. Who doesn’t love a book with a secret! Here’s  my review…

thesuspects“The Suspects is a gripping page turner, full of strong characters with dark pasts and secrets – all revealed at just the right moments – by talented thriller writer, Katharine Johnson. Five graduates in late 1980’s Bristol buy a house together, despite knowing little of each other outside of their new workplace. Tied together financially, they have no idea how they will be tested when they discover the body of a man in their basement after a drunken New Year’s Eve party. The Suspects works so well because the strength of its characters and the secrets they’re hiding. Their actions and reactions are believable. As the police close in on the truth, the tension experienced by narrator Emma, and the rising panic and mistrust felt within the group, is palpable. This is a book to be read in one or two great gulps. Addictive reading.”

Here’s the official book blurb…

Shallow Grave meets The Secret History in this quirky psychological thriller.
When you’re bound together by secrets and lies who do you trust?
Bristol, 1988.
Five young graduates on the threshold of their careers buy a house together in order to get a foot on the property ladder before prices spiral out of their reach. But it soon becomes the house share from hell.
After their New Year’s Eve party, they discover a body – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. As each of them has a good reason from their past not to trust the police, they come up with a solution – one which forces them into a life of secrets and lies.
But can they trust each other?

I loved both Shallow Grave and The Secret History and wanted to see where Katy would take this. Both that movie and the book were very much in my mind when I started reading but almost at once I forgot about them and became immersed in this totally original story. Congratulations, Katy! It’s another great book.

For more about Katharine Johnson’s novels, click on the book cover above or find her on Goodreads, Bookbub and Amazon.

History wishes – a non-fiction advent calendar for 2018

Parmesan Chese

So tomorrow is the 1st of December and Christmas is officially open for business in our house. Child 3 has been trying to change that, embarking on a list for Santa designed on Canva (I kid you not) some weeks ago, but we have held resolute. On the side, however, I have been building up quite a list of books I’d love to get my hands on this year. All non-fiction and chosen for wildly different reasons, but all lined up and ready to share.

I’ll be posting one book a day. I’m excited to share my #historywishes and if you have read them already or are interested in any of the books I’m featuring, I’d love to hear from you.

Happy December!

Kate xx

Blog tour: The Secret Life of Mrs London by Rebecca Rosenberg

New & Final Tour Banner for Rebeccas blog tour

As a historical fiction fan, I was super happy to get the chance to read The Secret Life of Mrs London, by Rebecca Rosenberg. Here’s the scoop:

The Secret Life of Mrs. LondonSan Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

My Review

In the last few years I have read a fair few novels based around the wife/mistress/sister of a famous historical figure. Here are just some I could mention:

 

 

It’s a great idea – a way to explore a famous life through the eyes of the person closest to them, and to look at the pleasures – and sometimes perils – of living with and loving someone who is highly driven and creative. So how would this one stack up? Well, for me, The Secret Life of Mrs London can take a place on the shelf next to any of these. It has all the same hallmarks of great writing, engaging characters, relationship drama and a vibrant evocation of a different time and place.

Mrs London, Charmain, is a complex character. She loves Jack London but feels her own writing is lost in the tide of his success, his reliance on her as his secretary and his ambitions to build a California mansion, Wolf House. Jack also maintains separate sleeping quarters, leaving Charmain sexually frustrated and open to temptation. This comes in the form of handsome Harry Houdini, another fascinating character, who brings with him into Charmain’s life, his child-like wife, Bess.

The Secret Life of Mrs London is a warm, engaging portrait of a woman struggling to find herself. Like the best of these ‘wife’ stories, although my initial attraction for picking them up is find out more about the famous name, as a reader, I stay for the wife’s story. Charmain struggles to put herself first. She has to remind herself that this is her life, even as she fears being “nothing without Jack.” How she succeeds and/or fails had me totally gripped. Highly recommended.

About the Author:

Rebecca_Rosenberg__novelist_1California native Rebecca Rosenberg lives on a lavender farm with her family in Sonoma, the Valley of the Moon, where she and her husband founded the largest lavender product company in America, Sonoma Lavender. A long-time student of Jack London’s work and an avid fan of his daring wife, Charmian, Rosenberg is a graduate of the Stanford Writing Certificate Program. THE SECRET LIFE OF MRS. LONDON is her first novel, following her non-fiction, LAVENDER FIELDS OF AMERICA.

Rebecca Rosenberg’s next historical novel is GOLD DIGGER the story of BABY DOE TABOR.

Website

Facebook

Buy the Book:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon AU

 

Review of White Houses by Amy Bloom

Here is a link to my latest review for the excellent book site, Bookbrowse.

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 2.43.45 PM White Houses by Amy Bloom was a really interesting read, not least because I had very little (no) foreknowledge about Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickock. In fact while I was reading it I kept stopping people (people I know, not strangers, honest!) and asking people if they knew. The response was a bit hazy.

As a love story this is a terrific read and the writing is of the highest quality. I thought it was a bit lacking in terms of plot but it has definitely piqued my interest in Eleanor Roosevelt and I found myself (shock) doing a bit of shopping as result.

IMG_9370

Alice Roosevelt Longworth only gets a teeny mention in Amy Bloom’s book – fair enough, it’s not her focus – but the rivalry between Alice and Eleanor (they were first cousins and born only eight months apart) sounds fascinating. I can’t wait to read Hissing Cousins and then dig into Princess Alice which I spotted at our school book fair and snaffled up at once.

For a little more background on the Roosevelts, check out my Beyond the Book article for Bookbrowse here.

Or better still, read White Houses and see what you think.

Books and terrorism

A post a little off my normal historical reading and writing beat…

First, a little background. Between 1991 and 1998 and again between 2004 and 2008, Chris and I lived in south Manchester – in Heaton Moor, Sale and Bramhall to be be precise. Maddie (now 12) was born at Stepping Hill in Stockport. And with friends and family still living there we were so saddened by the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert – at a venue we have loved going to, and one that on that night was full of kids around Maddie’s age.

It’s not the act of terror that I want to focus on however, but the response to it. As far as I can tell from the other side of the Atlantic, the people of Manchester’s response has been wonderful: not just ‘keeping calm and carrying on’, but actively choosing to be optimistic and openhearted, instead of frightened, angry and afraid. This has made a great impression on me, particularly because I’ve just read and reviewed an amazing novel on this very topic.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 12.28.26 PM

A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi tells the story of Rez, an American teen whose parents were immigrants from Iran. It is wonderfully written and very hard to read – especially if you have teenage kids like we do. My full review for Bookbrowse is here:

Review of A Good Country

And here is the link to the Beyond the Book article that goes with it about terrorism in the US:

Where do terrorists in the US come from?

Without giving the game the away, A Good Country starts with a likeable sixteen year old, Rez, who seems to have a bright future. His family have a very comfortable life in California and Rez’s grades are great. But this is the world of the Boston Bombing. And it is the impact that that event, and another fictional terrorist atrocity in a local shopping mall, and how they play into Rez’s isolation and rejection of his future in America, that really stand out for me. In the wake of these events, Rez sees white, middle-class Americans – neighbours and school friends – turn away from him, or glare at him with suspicion because of his Iranian heritage. He is pushed away by the world he has grown up believing he was part of, and he reaches out instead for a sense of belonging and brotherhood with other sons and daughters of immigrants. Through this, Raj falls prey to extremist ideology, the dark side of the internet and promises of a false future.

A Good Country is one of those books that you read with a sense of watching a train wreck that you can do nothing to stop. But although there were many reasons for Rez’s choices, I did feel that the way he was treated after the terrorist acts could have and should have been different. I hope that for young men of immigrant families in Manchester, it will be.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 12.32.54 PM
i love manchester

 

New book reviews

With a new edition of the Historical Novel Review out, I can share the three books I reviewed this quarter, plus the feature I wrote for the print magazine. Here they are:

My reviews are available from the Historical Novel Society, but in brief…

Sword of Destiny by Justin Hill. This is a must-read for all the fans of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Shulien is back with some new friends to fight beside. I was so impressed by how Justin Hill made those crazy fight scenes work on the page. For the interview in the latest print edition of the Historical Novel Review, it was really interesting to hear how turning a screenplay into a novel (rather than the other way round) worked for him.

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. Loved this story which is set in Philadelphia – so local history for me! – and starts on the night that Lincoln was assassinated. Both the story and the writing put me in mind of Toni Morrison and I was sorry not to be able to go the Free Library and hear McKinney-Whetstone talk about the book, as I did last year go and hear and see Morrison. This one is definitely on the literary end of the historical fiction spectrum – I so enjoyed the way the point of view shifted in this story – but there are also great characters and it’s a dramatic and engrossing story.

Three-Martini Lunch by Susanne Rindell. For me this would be the perfect thinking woman’s beach read. It evokes a great sense of time and place, reads easily and is full of incident, but also doesn’t shy away from showing that actions have consequences and that the world can be a dark place. There is a great plagarism storyline, lots of love and loss and I particularly liked the bitchy office politics that Eden has to contend with. Susanne Rindell is definitely someone whose books I would look out for. I also really enjoyed her earlier novel, The Other Typist.

The Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel. I came to this book (and its precursor, The Moon in the Palace) with no knowledge of 6th Century China and the history of the Empress Consort Wu. What a treat reading these two has been! I can hardly think of any other historical fiction where so much historical detail has been so seamlessly woven into a page-turning story. I’d definitely recommend reading these novels in order. Prepare to escape to another time and place and root for Mei as she battles to make a life at the Imperial court.

High Dive by Jonathon Lee

Although it doesn’t qualify as a historical novel (thankfully – since I can remember 1984 pretty well!), this excellent novel evokes the recent past. Well worth reading. Here’s my review of High Dive for Bookbrowse.com

https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/reviews/index.cfm/book_number/3367/high-dive

I think this link will work for a while and then after that you need to join BookBrowse to read it and all the other review and beyond the book articles on there.