My Friday Post: Giant’s Bread by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Giant’s Bread is by Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott. It’s one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list. She wrote six novels under this pseudonym – Giant’s Bread was the first one, published in 1930. In the same year she also published The Mysterious Mr Quin and, Murder at the Vicarage – Miss Marple’s first book. 

It begins with a Prologue:

It was the opening night of London’s new National Opera House and consequentially an occasion. Royalty was there. The Press were there. The fashionable were there in large quantities. Even the musical, by hook or by crook, had managed to be there – mostly very high up in the final tier of seats under the roof.

They were there to see the performance of a new musical composition called Giant’s Bread.

And chapter one begins:

There were only three people of real importance in Vernon’s world: Nurse, God and Mr Green

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Poor Myra, She’d had a rotten deal on the whole. A fine looking creature, but he’d married her really for the sake of Abbots Puissants – and she had married him for love. That was the root of the whole trouble.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Vernon Deyre is a sensitive and brilliant musician, even a genius, tormented and driven by forces even he didn’t understand. His sheltered childhood in the home he loves has not prepared Vernon for the harsh reality of his adult years, and in order to write the great masterpiece of his life, he has to make a crucial decision with no time left to count the cost. But there is a high price to be paid for his talent, especially by his family and the two women in his lifee – the one he loves and the one who loves him.

Young Nell Vereker had always loved Vernon, loved him with a consuming passion that was alien to the proper social world in which she lived. But when Vernon sought solace in the arms of Jane Harding, a stranger and enigmatically beautiful older woman, Nell felt she could endure no greater pain. But Fate had only begun to work its dark mischief on this curious romantic triangle — for before their destinies were sealed, one would live, one would die, and one would return from the grave to be damned…

~~~

Mary was Agatha’s second name and Westmacott the name of some distant relatives. She succeeded in keeping her identity as Mary Westmacott unknown for nearly twenty years and the books, much to her pleasure, were modestly successful.

WWW Wednesday: 12 August 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

 What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

This week I’m doing this in a different order as after I finished the last book I read I haven’t been able to decide what to read next.

So this a combination of what I might read currently and in the future.

I’ve dipped into a few books these last few days:

Would you recommend any of these books?

  • Bilgewater by Jane Gardam – described on the back cover as ‘One of the funniest, most entertaining, and most unusual stories about young love.’ I loved Old Filth some years ago.
  • When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Penman – the first book in the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy. Historical fiction about Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Maude, and the long fight to win the English throne. Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour is one of my absolute favourites.
  • For the Record by David Cameron – described in the blurb: ‘The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is one of the most controversial political events of our times. For the first time, the man who called that vote talks about the decision and its origins, as well as giving a candid account of his time at the top of British politics.‘ I’m not sure he’ll really be candid!
  • A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry – the sequel to Days Without End, which I loved. This is about Winona, a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole. I watched Barry’s talk on Sunday as part of the Borders Book Festival online. From what I’ve read so far I’m not hooked yet.
  • A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville – inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, Elizabeth Macarthur, who travelled to Australia with her husband and their infant son in 1790. I love her books.

Recently Finished: 

The last book I read was His and Hers by Alice Feeney and I posted my review on Saturday.

It’s a standalone psychological thriller. I was utterly gripped by it and compelled to read it, puzzled and amazed by the cleverness of the plot. But it’s not a comfortable read, dark and twisted with some gruesomely graphic scenes that I read very quickly!

His and Hers by Alice Feeney

HQ| 28 May 2020| 384 pages| Review copy| 4*

I read Alice Feeney’s debut novel, Sometimes I Lie three years ago and loved it. His and Hers is her third book and just like her first book I was utterly gripped by it and compelled to read it, puzzled and amazed by the cleverness of the plot. It’s a standalone psychological thriller.

Blurb:

Jack: Three words to describe my wife: Beautiful. Ambitious. Unforgiving.
Anna: I only need one word to describe my husband: Liar.

When a woman is murdered in Blackdown village, newsreader Anna Andrews is reluctant to cover the case. Anna’s ex-husband, DCI Jack Harper, is suspicious of her involvement, until he becomes a suspect in his own murder investigation.

Someone is lying, and some secrets are worth killing to keep.

The narrative moves between two characters ‘Him’, Jack Harper and ‘Her’, Anna Andrews and there is also a third narrator, the unnamed killer. Anna lives in London, working for the BBC. She grew up in Blackdown, and is an alcoholic, who is still recovering from a recent tragedy that pushed her to drink. Jack is a Detective Chief Inspector, who has recently moved to Blackdown from London to be in charge of the Major Crime Team based in Surrey. He knows Blackdown well as he also grew up there and Anna is his ex wife.

There is so much ambiguity and misdirection that there were times when I thought the killer could just as easily be Jack, or Anna, or one of the other characters – and wondered just which one was the narrator. More murders follow after that first one. But these are not random killings – and it’s soon apparent that the victims are all connected. They had all been at to the same school and had been guests at Anna’s sixteenth birthday party.

I read it quickly, suspending my disbelief and disliking most of the main characters – they really are downright nasty – cheating, lying, manipulating and abusing others, bullying and blackmailing them. – and worse. It kept me guessing throughout, changing my mind about the culprit, or culprits, as I read on. It’s not a comfortable read, dark and twisted with some gruesomely graphic scenes, which is why I’m giving this book 4 stars instead of 5. It’s one of those books I didn’t really like, but I did enjoy working out the puzzle of who could be trusted, who to be wary of and most of all who was doing the murders.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers HQ for an ARC.

Alice Feeney’s second book, I Know Who You Are, is one of the books lost in the depths of my Kindle library – I must dig it out.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

18

which for me is Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 September, 2020.

My last Spin result was The Return of the Native, which I loved. So I am delighted this time to get another of Hardy’s books to read.

Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in the fictional county of Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.  (Goodreads)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

WWW Wednesday: 5 August 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

 What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw and it’s looking good so far. Police Sergeant William South is investigating the murder of his friend and neighbour Bob Rayner. It’s set in Dungeness on the Kent coast, a bleak landscape of gravel pits towered over by lighthouses and a nuclear power station and the story moves between the present day and South’s childhood. I have a strong feeling that I’ll be reading more of William Shaw’s books in the future.

Recently Finished: 

I finished reading The Power-House by John Buchan yesterday. I really enjoyed it. I’ll post my review shortly.

When his friend Charles Pitt-Heron vanishes mysteriously, Sir Edward Leithen is at first only mildly concerned. But a series of strange events that follow Pitt-Heron’s disappearance convinces Leithen that he is dealing with a sinister secret society. Their codename is ‘The Power-House’. The authorities are unable to act without evidence. As he gets deeper involved with the underworld, Leithen finds himself facing the enemy alone and in terrible danger. 

Reading Next:

I’m not sure at the moment. It ‘should’ be His and Hers by Alice Feeney, because it’s the book I’ve had the longest on my NetGalley shelf and it’s making me feel guilty that I haven’t read it yet.

When a woman is murdered in Blackdown village, newsreader Anna Andrews is reluctant to cover the case. Anna’s ex-husband, DCI Jack Harper, is suspicious of her involvement, until he becomes a suspect in his own murder investigation.

Someone is lying, and some secrets are worth killing to keep.

But it could be another book when the time comes!

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

A labyrinth of clues. A mystery novel hiding a deadly secret. A killer with a fiendish plot: a brilliantly intricate and original thriller from the bestselling author of Magpie Murders

Random House Cornerstone| 20 August 2020| 400 pages| Review copy| 5*

Moonflower Murders is a follow up novel to Magpie Murders. It has the same format – that of a book within the book. Although I don’t think you have to read Magpie Murders first as this stands well on its own merits, I think it would help to know the background and some of the characters if you do.

Susan Ryeland, the main character, has retired as a publisher and is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend, Andreas. Their hotel is in debt, they’re in danger of going bankrupt and she is missing her literary life in London. So, when Lawrence and Pauline Trehearn, the owners of an hotel, Branlow Hall in Suffolk visit her and ask if she would investigate the disappearance of their daughter Cecily from their hotel for a fee, she decides to go – and at the same time visit London.

Before she had disappeared Cecily had read Alan Conway’s murder mystery, Atticus Pund Takes the Case, based on a murder that happened at Brownlow Hall eight years earlier. At that time, the evidence against Stefan, the general maintenance man was overwhelming and he was convicted. Cecily was convinced that there was something in the novel that proved Stefan wasn’t responsible for the crime. Unfortunately she hadn’t told anyone what had convinced her. The Trehearnes had read the book, but they couldn’t see any connection, although there are similarities – the characters are clearly based on the people at Brownlow Hall, with the same or similar names.

Susan had published Conway’s books, but thought that if he had indeed discovered that an innocent man was in prison he would have gone straight to the police and not turned it into a novel. But investigating Cecily’s disappearance, she re-reads his book and examines the evidence relating to the murder of eight years ago.

Moonflower Murders combines elements of vintage-style golden age crime novels with word-play, cryptic clues and anagrams. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to work it all out. it – Anthony Horowitz’s style of writing suits me – so easy to read, I whizzed through it, no doubt missing all the intricacies and clues along the way. But it is such an enjoyable way to read – no need to puzzle about the structure, or who is who as the characters all come across as individual people. Of course it’s not a straightforward mystery and along the way I was easily distracted by the red herrings. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to work it all out.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers Cornerstone for an ARC.

WWW Wednesday: 22 July 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

 What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

The book descriptions are from Amazon.

Currently reading:

After much deliberation and starting several books from my 20 Books of Summer list I decided to read Thin Air: a Ghost Story by Michelle Paver.

Kangchenjunga. Third highest peak on earth. Greatest killer of them all.

Five Englishmen set off from Darjeeling, determined to tackle the sacred summit. But courage can only take them so far – and the mountain is not their only foe.

As mountain sickness and the horrors of extreme altitude set in, the past refuses to stay buried. And sometimes, the truth won’t set you free. . .

Recently Finished: 

I finished reading The Luminaries yesterday and am still mulling it over. I enjoyed it but I’m not sure I liked the structure, with the length of the chapters decreasing as the story progressed.

It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.

Reading Next:

At the moment I think it could be Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert. I wrote about the opening paragraph and included a quotation from page 55 in My Friday post. Ot it could be Wycliffe and How To Kill a Cat by W J Burley. But it might be a different book that takes my fancy when the time comes.

The girl was young, with auburn hair arranged on the pillow. Wycliffe could almost believe she was asleep – that is, until he saw her face. She had been strangled, and someone had brutally smashed her face – but after death, not before… She lay in a seedy hotel room down by the docks, but her luggage, her clothes and her make-up all suggested she had more class than her surroundings.

Superintendent Wycliffe was officially on holiday, but the case fascinated him. Who was the girl? Why was she lying naked in a shabby hotel room? What was she doing with a thousand pounds hidden underneath some clothing? And, above all, why had someone mutilated her after she was dead?

As Wycliffe begins to investigate, he finds there are too many suspects, too many motives – and too many lies . . .

What do you think – which one would you read next?

Six in Six: 2020

I’m pleased to see that Jo at The Book Jotter  is running this meme again this year to summarise six months of reading, sorting the books into six categories – you can choose from the ones Jo suggests or come up with your own. I think it’s a good way at looking back over the last six months’ reading.

This year I haven’t been reading as much as in previous years and up to the end of June the total was standing at 36 books. Several books could fit into the same categories, so to avoid duplication, for my last category I’ve chosen Jo’s category of ‘Six authors I read last year – but not so far this year‘ and added the books by those authors that I want to read.

Here are my six categories (with links to my reviews, except for the category of Six Authors I Read Last Year, which I’ve linked to Amazon UK):

Six Crime Fiction

  1. Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert
  2. Remain Silent by Susie Steiner
  3. The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox
  4. Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear
  5. An Air That Kills by Andrew Taylor
  6. The Guardians by John Grisham

Six Authors New to me

  1. Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu
  2. The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford
  3. Queen Lucia by E F Benson
  4. Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin
  5. Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
  6. Saving Missy by Beth Morrey

Six books from the past that drew me back there

  1. The Lady of the Ravens by Joan Hickson
  2. Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements
  3. The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey
  4. The Deep by Alma Katsu
  5. Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan
  6. The Year Without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd

Six  Books I Read on Kindle

  1. The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray
  2. Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto
  3. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  4. Looking Good Dead by Peter James
  5. The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson
  6. The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor

Six Physical Books I Read

  1. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  2. Happy Old Me by Hunter Davies
  3. A Killing Kindness by Reginald Hill
  4. The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley
  5. Yesterday’s Papers by Martin Edwards
  6. Deadheads by Reginald Hill

Six authors I read last year – but not so far this year and their books I want to read

  1. Jo Spain – With Our Blessing – the 1st Inspector Tom Reynolds mystery, because I’ve read the 4th book, but not the first three.
  2. Jane Harper – The Dry – the 1st Aaron Falk novel. I’ve already read the 2nd, Force of Nature.
  3. Lisa Jewell – Invisible Girl – her new novel to be published 6 August.
  4. S G Maclean – The House of Lamentations – the final Damian Seeker novel – I’ve read the first four.
  5. Lucinda Riley – The Storm SisterThe Seven Sisters Book 2. I’ve read the first one.
  6. Claire Douglas – Just Like the Other Girls – her new thriller to be published 6 August.

How is your reading going this year? Do let me know if you take part in Six in Six too.

The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley

Mystery of Princess Louise

Vintage Books | 2014 | 416 pages | Paperback | library book | 4.5*

This is another catching up post. I finished reading The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley during lockdown on 21 April, but didn’t feel like reviewing it that time. It’s a library book and as the library is still closed it has been renewed automatically for me.

Princess Louise was Victoria’s sixth child – her fourth daughter, born on 18th March 1848. It was an agonising and terrifying birth in a year of revolution and rebellion, a time when royal families throughout Europe were being deposed and in Britain the working classes were agitating for higher pay, better working conditions and more legal rights.

There is so much detail about her life in this book, packed with intrigues, scandals and secrets.

Blurb:

What was so dangerous about Queen Victoria’s artistic tempestuous sixth child, Princess Louise?

When Lucinda Hawksley started to investigate, often thwarted by inexplicable secrecy, she discovered a fascinating woman, modern before her time, whose story has been shielded from public view for years.

Louise was a sculptor and painter, friend to the Pre-Raphaelites and a keen member of the Aesthetic movement. The most feisty of the Victorian princesses, she kicked against her mother’s controlling nature and remained fiercely loyal to her brothers – especially the sickly Leopold and the much-maligned Bertie. She sought out other unconventional women, including Josephine Butler and George Eliot, and campaigned for education and health reform and for the rights of women. She battled with her indomitable mother for permission to practice the ‘masculine’ art of sculpture and go to art college – and in doing so became the first British princess to attend a public school.

The rumours of Louise’s colourful love life persist even today, with hints of love affairs dating as far back as her teenage years, and notable scandals included entanglements with her sculpting tutor Joseph Edgar Boehm and possibly even her sister Princess Beatrice’s handsome husband, Liko. True to rebellious form, she refused all royal suitors and became the first member of the royal family to marry a commoner since the sixteenth century.

My thoughts:

I knew nothing about Princess Louise. She had a difficult childhood, disliked and bullied by her mother and she often rebelled against the restrictions of life as a princess. She had an unhappy marriage to John Campbell, the Marquess of Lorne, later the 9th Duke of Argyll, a homosexual, and went with him to Canada in 1882 when he was appointed as Governor-General. Her relationship with Canada became a love-hate one, but began and ended with Canadian adoration.

The scandals arose about whether she had had an illegitimate child and her long term love affair with the sculptor Joseph Boehm. The mystery is still unresolved as Louise’s files in the Royal Archives are closed and her husband’s family archives are inaccessible.

Lucinda Hawksley writes:

I discovered that it was not only information about Princess Louise that had been hidden away, but information about a vast number of people who had played a role in her life, including royal servants and her art tutors. A great many items about these people that one would expect to be in other collections have been absorbed into the Royal Collection. … Over the decades, there has been some very careful sanitising of Princess Louise’s reputation and a whitewashing of her life, her achievements and her personality. (page 3)

I was amazed at her achievements, not only her artistic ability in both painting and sculpture, but also her charitable activities, raising money for hospitals, schools and other causes, such as the Gentlewomen’s Employment Association. She supported general suffrage and equal rights for both genders. She was fascinated by the social reformer Josephine Butler, who campaigned for the abolition of slavery, fed the homeless and worked with prostitutes and single mothers. Louise wanted to help Josephine in her campaign to reform the Contagious Diseases Act but Victoria and most of the rest of her family were outraged and she was forced not to take part. Louise was unconventional, generous and charming to people she liked.

It’s not a book to read quickly, as despite the lack of records, it is very detailed. There is an index and a bibliography, as well as several photographs. In this post I have simply skimmed the surface of all the stories about her, many of them simply amazing. I came away with the impression that she was ahead of her times. She was a forceful personality:

She was renowned by the public for her good looks, her unusual artistic dress sense and her sense of humour. Most importantly, Louise was also known for her compassion and her many ‘good works’. … She was regularly described as ‘captivating’, ‘charming’ and ‘clever’. people felt able to approach her, members of the public wrote letters to her, or begged for her help with charitable of political causes. … she spoke openly and controversially about subjects that other people shrank from and she was not above criticising the monarch. (page 11)

Louise died in 1939 at her home in Kensington Palace. Her last rebellious action was to leave instructions for her cremation – it was a very divisive issue, many were firmly against the idea. Her wishes were respected and a private cremation was carried out and the urn containing her ashes was transported to the Albert Memorial Chapel in Windsor, where her funeral was held. The next day they were interred in the Royal Burial Ground behind the family mausoleum at Frogmore in the Windsor Home Park. She had no legitimate children and the boy that it was claimed she had given up for adoption died in 1907. So it seems unlikely that the truth will ever be known unless the records are released.

Bookshelf Travelling: 11 July 2020

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness hosts Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times. Judith hasn’t posted on her blog since June 23 and I’m hoping that she’s OK and that, rather than anything else, it’s an internet problem, as where she lives high winds cause branches and trees to topple on power lines.

One of my favourite genres is historical fiction, including historical crime fiction. I don’t arrange my books by genre, so these books are shelved with the rest of my fiction in author order. For this week’s post I’ve picked out just four novels, none of which I’ve read yet.

From the bottom up:

River of Darkness by Rennie Airth is a book recommended by fellow book blogger Ann at Café Society. It’s the first novel in his John Madden trilogy, published in 1999. It was shortlisted for four crime fiction awards and won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France. My copy is a hardback, in good condition, that I got from Barter Books in Alnwick.

It is 1921 and a terrible discovery has been made at a manor house in Surrey – the bloodied bodies of Colonel Fletcher, his wife and two of their staff. The police seem ready to put the murders down to robbery with violence, but DI Madden from Scotland Yard sees things slightly differently.

Next up is The Winding Road by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, a big hardback of 662 pages, that I bought in a library sale. There are 35 books in the Morland Dynasty series and I haven’t read any of them. This is the 34th book in the series, so I am hoping it will read well as a standalone. It’s set in the 1920s, the Jazz Age is in full swing in New York, the General Strike is underway in London, the shadows are gathering over Europe and the Wall Street Crash brings the decade to an end.

The Heiress of Linn Hagh by Karen Charlton is another book I got from Barter Books. This is set in 1809 in Northumberland and it’s a spin-off novel from Catching the Eagle, which features Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods. A beautiful young heiress disappears from her locked bedchamber at Linn Hagh. The local constables are baffled and the townsfolk cry ‘witchcraft’.

The heiress’s uncle summons help from Detective Lavender and his assistant, Constable Woods, who face one of their most challenging cases: The servants and local gypsies aren’t talking; Helen’s siblings are uncooperative; and the sullen local farmers are about to take the law into their own hands. Lavender and Woods find themselves trapped in the middle of a simmering feud as they uncover a world of family secrets, intrigue and deception in their search for the missing heiress.

And finally on top of the pile is The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel, a Canadian author I found through reading her blog, Lilian’s Journal. I found this paperback copy in a secondhand bookshop – The Old Melrose Tea Rooms and Bookshop, tucked away down a little lane between the Eildon Hills and the River Tweed, about two miles from Melrose in the Scottish Borders. The bookshop is upstairs in the barn.

The River Midnight is about the fictional village of Blaska, a small Jewish community in Poland at the turn of the 20th century, when Poland was under Russian occupation. It is told from the perspective of a group of women, including Misha, the midwife, Hannah-Leah, the butcher’s wife, and Faygela, who dreams of the bright lights of Warsaw.
Myth meets history and characters come to life through the stories of the women’s lives and prayers, their secrets, and the intimate details of everyday life.

I love the cover of this book – different from the cover available on Amazon.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read any of these books, or are tempted by any of them.