Archive for September, 2013

If You Like….

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Missing your Downton Abbey fix? Thanks to today’s guest poster, Ashley, we have enough Downton read-a-likes to keep us all happy until Masterpiece Theatre starts back up again….

I looked back through Lauren’s “If You Like” archives and found that she posted a Downton Abbey list in January of 2013. In an effort not to reinvent the wheel, I haven’t included any of the books from Lauren’s original list in mine, but I will add my own plug for The House at Riverton. That was my first Kate Morton book, and I really enjoyed it. Moving right along, here is my list of Downton Abbey read-alikes:

1. E.M. Forster – Howards End

Set in the early 1900s, this book deals with many of the issues faced by the characters in Downton: romantic entanglements, poor investments of family fortunes, the class system, and the inheritance of a country estate. There is also a great movie adaptation starring Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Anthony Hopkins.

2. Natasha Solomons – The House at Tyneford

Solomons writes about many of the “big picture” ideas that we see in Downton Abbey. How will a new servant integrate herself into the household staff? Will anyone be left untouched by the war? How will the master of the house cope with the way the world around him is changing.

3. Amor Towles – Rules of Civility

Even though this book takes place in New York, I thought it had a similar feel to Downton Abbey. Katey Kontent and her friend Eve (who reminds me in many ways Cousin Rose) are working girls who meet a handsome young banker in a jazz bar, and their lives take an unexpected detour. In turns, the story was dramatic and funny. The dialogue is witty, and you really feel the excitement and the tension of Katey and Eve’s generation trying to redefine society’s expectations. This book also made me desperately want a martini whenever I picked it up.

4. Fay Weldon – Habits of the House

I haven’t read this one, but it keeps popping up in my GoodReads recommendations. It’s evidently the first book in Weldon’s Love and Inheritance Trilogy. Weldon was one of the writers for the TV series “Upstairs Downstairs,” a Downton forerunner. The teaser from the publisher says that this book details the financial woes of the Earl of Dilberne, who is in danger of losing his estate, and the eccentric lives of his two unmarried children and the household staff. It sounds like a winner to me, but the GoodReads community seems pretty evenly divided between “loved it” and “hated it.” Have any of you read it? Would you recommend it?

5. If you’re tired of reading things that are “almost like” Downton Abbey and you’re ready for something that is EXACTLY the same, read Downton Abbey: The Complete Scripts, Season One.

You’d think, after watching the first series so many times, that reading the scripts would be pretty dull. I actually loved it – there are set descriptions and stage directions for characters along with the dialogue. There is also commentary from Julian Fellowes throughout. I loved reading about casting or costuming choices, and getting the “inside scoop” on some of the filming. Unfortunately, you discover pretty quickly that the only thing Julian Fellowes loves to talk about more than Downton Abbey is himself. If you just skip over his notes about his family or his neighbors or why he’s sure he was right about a period detail even though the historical advisors disagreed with him, it’s a fun way to relive the first season and learn some excellent Downton trivia. The script book for season two will be available in December.

If you’ve already read all these, or if none of them look like your cup of tea, or if you are positive that five books won’t hold you until Downton’s season four premier in the US, never fear! Our fellow Lauren-fanatic Elizabeth will be devoting an entire month on her blog Strange and Random Happenstance to Downton Abbey read-alikes in February of 2014.

So many thanks to Ashley for this list! I’ve been meaning to read House at Tyneford for ages. I also have to second the plug for the movie adaptation of Howards End, which is a frequent re-watch for me.

What are your favorite Downton read-a-likes?

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, September 27th, 2013

What with one thing and another, my reading this week has been mostly limited to Moo Baa La La La and My First London Bus, although I did just start Jane O’Connor’s Almost True Confessions: Closet Sleuth Spills All, which is amusing me mightily, since it sketches a very familiar sub-section of New York life. (Although I tend to stumble across fewer dead bodies than the protagonist.)

In the meantime, I have a wish list of books on order: Pamela Morsi’s Love Overdue, Kristan Higgins’s The Perfect Match, and John Harwood’s The Asylum.

What have you been reading this week? And what’s on your wish list?

If You Like….

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

We have a special treat for If You Like today: a guest post from historical novelist Beverly Swerling.

Beverly is the author of a trio of books set in my own beloved New York (City of Dreams, City of Glory, and City of Promise, chronicling New York from New Amsterdam through the Gilded Age), her London-set new release, Bristol House, and the recently re-issued Mollie Pride. One of the wonderful things about Beverly’s books is that she tackles times and places one doesn’t ordinarily see much of on the shelves.

So, without any further ado, Beverly Swerling:


In modern publishing few things are more fraught than deciding what kind of a book a book is… Truly. Genre—what the industry calls BISAC codes—is a make-or-break decision. The only thing that is maybe more laden with angst in the months before publication is the title.

We got started down this particular yellow-brick-road back in ye olde 1970s when the chain bookstores began to exercise growing power. Their business model did not allow for knowledgeable salespeople who could talk to customers about books the salespeople had actually read. That’s what the trade calls hand-selling, and it was not a crazy idea back when bookstores looked to serve particular segments of the reading public, not stock everything in print.

The chains, however, spent money on real estate rather than staff. They created super stores in malls, and hired entry-level employees to stock their miles of shelves. What the people unpacking the boxes needed was a simple way to know where a book belonged. They were instructed to go by what genre was written on the spine. That requirement changed the nature of publishing. We all became enslaved to the overriding importance of assigned categories, one of which was—and still is—historical fiction.

Except that some books are really hard to categorize. And many, a great many, fit into so many “categories” it’s impossible to know which is the most important.

Pretend you and I are strolling the bookstore aisles. I want to suggest something wonderful for you to read. Do you like historical fiction, I might ask.

“No, never! All those kings and queens…”

“Well,” I might say, “did you like Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller? You nod. “Okay, you’ll probably love Lauren Willig’s The Ashford Affair.”

These stories have in common that they center around a woman, who is confronting her present (and finding it wanting, else there would be no story) and discovering that the roots of her dilemma are lodged in some event in the past. One that involved a family member.

Picoult’s hallmark is to examine a fraught moral issue from a multiplicity of sides. In The Storyteller, she focuses on the Holocaust. At least half that book takes place in Poland during WWII. And even the contemporary section is driven by discussions of Nazis.

In Willig’s The Ashford Affair the historical section is set around WWI in England and Africa. And again, the events of those times impact everything in the contemporary parts of the book, which occurs mostly in New York.

So are these novels historical fiction? Depends on whom you ask, but I can tell you for sure that the skills required to make a bygone era come to vivid life on the page are evident in abundance in both books.

I am particularly aware of all this because just now I’m bringing out a series of e-book Encore Editions of some of my own earlier novels. The first is Mollie Pride, with Juffie Kane soon to follow. For me both are as much historical fiction as say my City of Dreams, which takes place in 17th and 18th century New York. Both Mollie and Juffie are women thrown into challenging and dramatic situations in the exceptionally turbulent early 20th century. Both must dig deep to triumph (and incidentally find true love—and don’t get me started on why pretty much every novel is one way or another about precisely that).

We meet Mollie in 1926 when she’s a little kid in her family’s vaudeville act. She gets into early radio, and the great challenge of her life will be reporting from London during WWII at the height of the blitz, while her marriage falls apart, and terror and treason stalk her every word. Juffie Kane is set mostly in the years immediately after that war. Juffie—it’s short for Jennifer—is born on Boston Common in 1927, while her parents are marching in a protest. She’s gorgeous and talented and she becomes a famous Broadway actress. What no one knows is that the mob—la cosa nostra, which was at the height of its US power in those years—points a gun at her head from backstage.

Not a king or a queen in sight, but in my view, historical fiction every one.

Thanks so much for that thought-provoking post, Beverly!

Now that you’ve got me thinking about it, so many of my favorite books fall into that amorphous zone of “is it historical fiction or isn’t it?” (or, as I like to refer to my own books, genre stew), like Anya Seton’s Green Darkness (Tudor and 1960s). There have been a whole spate of wonderful recent releases that also fall into that category, such as Susanna Kearsley’s The Firebird, Beatriz Williams’s Overseas (present day and WW I), and Stephanie Lehmann’s Astor Place Vintage (New York turn of the century and now). They do tend to be hard to slot into a convenient category, although I’ve heard that there’s now an official term for them: time slip.

Perhaps we need a time slip category in the bookstore?

What are your favorite “is it historical fiction or isn’t it?” books?

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Mine is a very short round-up this week. I fell under the thrall of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books (isn’t that an Anne-like way to put it?). Right now, I’m finishing up Anne of Ingleside.

Revelation of the week: Miss Cornelia is definitely one of the antecedents of Miss Gwen. They are, as Anne would put it, kindred spirits. I also love that Miss Cornelia, like Miss Gwen, goes on being referred to as Miss Cornelia even after she’s married Marshall Elliot. Miss Cornelia she is and Miss Cornelia she stays. (Continuing to utter her signature phrase, “Just like a man!”)

What have you been reading this week?

ASHFORD in German!

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

The German edition of The Ashford Affair, aka Ashford Park, comes out this Friday, September 20th!

Ashford Germany

(This is one of my very favorite covers.)

Here’s the blurb in German:

Ashford Park, England, 1906. Nach dem Tod ihrer Eltern wächst die kleine Adeline Gillecote-Ashford auf dem Landsitz von Onkel und Tante auf. Schnell wird ihre hübsche und durchtriebene Cousine Bea Addies beste Freundin. Obwohl sie unterschiedlicher nicht sein könnten, gehen die beiden durch dick und dünn.
Doch dann kommt der Erste Weltkrieg, und er verändert nicht nur das Land, sondern auch die Menschen. Frederick, den Addie heimlich verehrt, seit sie denken kann, kehrt zynisch und kalt zurück. Mit seiner Clique feiert er, als ob es kein Morgen gäbe, und in einer betrunkenen Nacht lässt er sich sogar mit Bea ein, die inzwischen in einer langweiligen, aber vorteilhaften Ehe steckt. Addie ist am Boden zerstört.
Jahre später besucht sie Bea und Frederick in Kenia, wo sie inzwischen leben. Die Zuneigung zwischen Addie und Frederick flammt wieder auf.

Other foreign editions include Italian, Catalan, Spanish, and Polish.

If You Like….

Monday, September 16th, 2013

I am thrilled to announce the first of a series of guest “If You Like” posts! Our first guest star is Christine, who has provided us with a list of “Books read based on Internet/TV/media peer pressure”.

Without further ado, here’s Christine’s list of “Everyone else is reading this so you HAVE to!”

1. Twilight series – Stephenie Meyer – teenage girl falls in love with vampire

Full disclosure: I liked the first one. It appealed to the teenager in me who wants to be swept away by love. So I kept reading. And regretted it. Badly. The second one bored me to tears and reinforced Bella’s extreme level of stupidity (jumping off a cliff to hear his voice? Really?), but I thought, “everyone loves this series, I should keep reading.” The third one annoyed me. To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember why. Perhaps I’m trying to block out the memory of it all, but it annoyed me. I thought, “maybe it gets better, because the first one really wasn’t bad.” Then the fourth one just made me angry because it was so ridiculous, even ridiculous for a book about vampires and werewolves. Poorly written, absurd plot lines, irritating characters. Bella, be your own woman! Seriously! You are a horrifically bad role model! In the end, wanted the time back that I spent reading this awful series.

2. A Discovery of Witches– Deborah Harkness – witch doesn’t want to be a witch but finds herself dragged into it anyway

A lot of the books I read come from recommendations people post on Weekly Reading Round-Up. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Witches and vampires aren’t really my thing (see above), but I thought I’d give this one a try. I got it from the library… and it sat on the floor until the due date, so I returned it. But then more people were talking about it on WRR, so I took it out again. This time, I got around to opening the book (just a few days before it was due back at the library) and LOVED it. Yes, there are witches and vampires and daemons, but the plot and writing are so amazing. It’s a story about characters who happen to be of other species that’s in a way, albeit very oddly, realistic. They’re very much like us humans, just with special powers. Every time I recommend this book to someone, they give me a strange look, but I insist they try it. No one has come back and said it was awful.

3. Gone Girl– Gillian Flynn – wife goes missing, husband suspected, did he do it?

This was one I put the library hold list and forgot about until I got the email saying it was ready for me. Huge accolades, lots of buzz… but I’m not sure how I feel about it. The story itself is captivating, a definite page turner. The author is brilliant, but I was really bothered by the level of crazy going on in the plot. It was really disturbing so I honestly can’t say whether or not I loved the book or hated it (or maybe love to hate it?).

4. 11/22/63– Stephen King – time-traveling English teacher tries to stop Kennedy assassination

I don’t like to buy books based on best seller lists. I find that I really don’t like a lot of those books (and even Snooki has made those lists). I’m also not a huge fan of the Oprah Book Club – I’ve hated every book I read that was Oprah recommended, but that’s a whole other story. I needed to tell my friend what I wanted for my birthday, so I combed through the Amazon best seller list and found 11/22/63. I was a little wary because I usually don’t like the King creepy gore books, but the summary and reviews seemed to indicate there was none of that, so I took the leap and she got it for me. Loved it. It’s a big book – something like 900 pages, but such a fast read, engrossing story, and you really want the main character to succeed (not just at the Kennedy thing, but in life generally) because he’s so sympathetic. I honestly did not want this book to stop. One of the best I’ve ever read. And no typical King creepiness.

What have you read because the Internet said you HAD to?

So many thanks to Christine for this list! I have to admit, I also read #1 and #2 for that exact same reason, and, yes, #3 is on my To Read List. For me, I would add:

— Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, which I picked up due to all the buzz and loved;

— Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Breathing Room, because my little sister and others expressed loud disbelief that I had never read an SEP before– and launched me into an SEP reading binge;

— Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which I started, wasn’t quite able to get into, and mean to take another crack at.

What are your peer pressure reads?

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, September 13th, 2013

At last! I finally added some new books to my list.

First, I finished up my re-read marathon with Dorothy Sayers’s Whose Body?, which is a very ingenious mystery, but probably my least favorite of the Lord Peter oeuvre.

And then I finally made it to the bookstore. I was looking for Pamela Morsi’s Love Overdue, but they didn’t have it, so instead I bought:

— the second of Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James mysteries, All Shall Be Well (think Lynley and Havers, if Lynley were less aristocratic and Havers more attractive)

— and Susan Wiggs’s The You I Never Knew (women’s fiction/romance), in which a woman returns to the Montana town she left as a pregnant teenager in order to donate a kidney to her aging movie star father. I’ve been on a Longmire kick recently, so I’m particularly enjoying the Montana setting. (Okay, Longmire is set in Wyoming… but there’s a similar vibe.)

What have you been reading this week?

Give Away!

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

The Pink books and The Ashford Affair are being featured today over at the Book Give Away and Author Spotlight on Graphics by Sharlene’s Facebook page!

For a chance to win three books, check out the various books being featured and share which one you’d most want to read in the Comments section of her Give Away post, here. The winner will be chosen on Friday.

Teaser Tuesday: the Duke of Belliston

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Since posting about Pink XI, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, many of you have asked me why the Duke of Belliston sounds so familiar.

You’re not imagining things. Although we haven’t met the Duke of Belliston, we have heard about him before, way, way back in Pink II, The Masque of the Black Tulip (because you never know when some minor mention in the Pink books is going to pop back up!).

Lord Vaughn’s home is situated on the square named after the Belliston family, of which Belliston House is by far the largest house in the square (which you know just annoys Lord Vaughn no end). All we know about our duke, as of Black Tulip, is that he’s reclusive and never comes to London. Miles assumes it’s because the Duke is a sporting type who spends all of his time in the country.

Miles gets it all wrong.

(If it had been Henrietta’s internal monologue in Black Tulip, she would have been better informed. Because our Henrietta doesn’t like to let anything slip past her.)

We’re about to find out why the Duke of Belliston is so reclusive. And it has nothing to do with country pursuits….

Calling All Contributors!

Monday, September 9th, 2013

I thought it might be rather fun to mix it up a bit here on the site and spread our reading net a little bit wider.

(Okay, I’ll stop with the mixed metaphors now.)

Do you have an idea for an If You Like post? Is there a list of books you’d like to share? I’m putting out a call for guest If You Like posts, so if you have an idea, and would like to host If You Like here on the page one Monday, just email me and let me know!