#BlogTour #BookReview The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable @RandomTTours

Bookseller's Secret BT Poster

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Harper Collins for my review copy.

Booksellers Secret Graphic 2About the Book

In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.

Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.

Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…

Format: Paperback (400 pages)               Publisher: Graydon House
Publication date: 11th November 2021  Genre: Historical Fiction, Dual Time

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My Review

Alternating between London in the present day and during World War 2, the book is told from the point of view of American author, Katie Cabot, in London to visit her friend Jojo, and Nancy Mitford, at the time the author of three not very successful novels.

Initially, I wasn’t sure if the dual timeline structure would work but as the book progressed I enjoyed how more and more paralells between the two women emerged. For example, both are struggling to come up with ideas for their next book, are either in or trying to move on from unsuccessful relationships and have experienced health issues.  The inclusion of the present day timeline and Katie’s curiosity about the possibility of discovering a lost manuscript by Nancy Mitford allows the author to drip-feed into the story details about Nancy’s life, her wartime activities, her eccentric childhood and, in particular, her infamous sisters.

What links the two women is Heywood Hill bookshop, where Nancy worked during the war and which Katie visits on the recommendation of her friend. A neat touch is the similarity between the women’s first impressions of the bookshop. Katie notes its ‘dusty chandeliers, the cob-webbed tinged corners and nooks’ whilst Nancy describes its ‘cluttered shelves, cob-webbed corners, and teetering stacks of books’.  (I wonder if it is purely coincidence that Katie’s most successful novel, and the only one stocked by the Heywood Hill bookshop, is called A Paris Affair and the author’s first book was entitled A Paris Apartment?)

I particularly enjoyed the sections written from Nancy’s point of view which are lively and gay, and seem very much Nancy in style. I loved her witty repartee with her friends and her waspish comments about other authors. For example, Ernest Hemingway is dismissed as ‘the biggest bore on earth’ and Evelyn Waugh, although supposedly a friend, as ‘a workaday, bloated drunk in a bowler hat’.  The banter between Nancy and her friends is mirrored in Katie’s jokey conversations with the man she meets in the bookshop and who, she discovers, shares her own interest in Nancy Mitford’s wartime experiences. You may not be completely surprised that initially Katie does not particularly take to the gentleman concerned. However, as we learned from Pride and Prejudice, first impressions can be deceptive. Talking of romance (potential or actual), I found the way the author describes Nancy’s relationship with her French Colonel especially touching.

As Katie struggles to come up with an idea for her next book (resisting everyone’s suggestion that she simply write a sequel to A Paris Affair), she is reassured that ‘Every writer struggles, even the late, great Nancy Mitford’.  As we now know, Nancy did finally overcome that struggle and write her most famous novel, The Pursuit of Love (to which she did write a sequel, Love in a Cold Climate).

I really enjoyed The Bookseller’s Secret and it has definitely made me want to read more of Nancy Mitford’s books, and to re-read The Pursuit of Love.

In three words: Absorbing, lively, engaging

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Michelle Gable Author PicAbout the Author

Michelle Gable is the New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment, I’ll See You in Paris, The Book of Summer, and The Summer I Met Jack. She attended the College of William & Mary, where she majored in accounting, and spent twenty years working in finance before becoming a full-time writer.

She grew up in San Diego and lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California with her husband and to daughters.

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#BlogTour #BookReview The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris @HarvillSecker @VintageBooks @RandomTTours

Dublin Railway Murders BT Poster

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Vintage for my digital review copy.

Dublin Graphic 1About the Book

Dublin, November 1856: George Little, the chief cashier of the Broadstone railway terminus, is found dead, lying in a pool of
blood beneath his desk.

He has been savagely beaten, his head almost severed; there is no sign of a murder weapon, and the office door is locked, apparently from the inside. Thousands of pounds in gold and silver are left untouched at the scene of the crime.

Augustus Guy, Ireland’s most experienced detective, teams up with Dublin’s leading lawyer to investigate the murder. But the mystery defies all explanation, and two celebrated sleuths sent by Scotland Yard soon return to London, baffled.

Five suspects are arrested then released, with every step of the salacious case followed by the press, clamouring for answers. But then a local woman comes forward, claiming to know the murderer….

Format: Hardcover (384 pages)             Publisher: Harvill Secker
Publication date: 11th November 2021 Genre: True Crime, Mystery

Find The Dublin Railway Murder on Goodreads

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My Review

In The Dublin Railway Murder, the author pieces together the story of an 1856 murder mystery that gripped the population of Dublin, and beyond.  The book is a meticulously researched true crime story based on contemporary accounts, original police interviews and other documents unearthed from the archives by the author.

The murder of George Little is in essence a locked-room murder mystery that could have come straight off the pages of an Agatha Christie novel, but didn’t because it actually happened. However, don’t expect a ‘whodunnit’ because a definitive outcome is not necessarily the way things happen in real life.

The book contains a massive amount of detail, not just about the course of the investigation and the trial, but also about life in Victorian Dublin. Although the social history was fascinating, at times it did threaten to dominate the unfolding story. Having said that, I did learn an awful lot about the operation of a Victorian railway, a seemingly much more complicated and bureaucratic process than simply transporting people and goods from A to B.

The book has a large cast of characters (listed at the beginning of the book) some of whom make only a brief appearance and, although forming part of the investigation, don’t contribute much to the eventual outcome.  What I did find astonishing was the initially slapdash approach to the investigation, such as not securing the crime scene and allowing members of the public and press to wander in and out. On the other hand, I was amazed at the efforts the police went to in the attempt to recover key items of evidence, including having a canal drained and searching in some extremely unsalubrious places.

My favourite parts of the book were the chapters describing the trial of the individual charged with the crime. There was a real sense of the frenzied atmosphere around the proceedings with the press and public jostling for places in the gallery, as well as the barristers for the defence and the prosecution competing with each other to uncover – or mitigate – the more damaging revelations, even to make the most amusing quip. These sections also highlighted aspects of the legal process we would find quite puzzling today, such as the absence of a witness box and the item that was used instead.

The Dublin Railway Murder has been likened to Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and in fact Whicher does make a fleeting appearance in the book. I felt I would have liked to get to know some of the main characters, such as Superintendent Augustus Guy, just a little bit more, and perhaps see things from their point of view. And, as the author acknowledges towards the end of the book, the emotional impact of the murder on the victim’s family, which would be much more of a focus in a similar situation today, was largely ignored at the time.

The Dublin Railway Murder will definitely appeal to fans of historical true crime and those who like to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of past times.

In three words: Detailed, meticulous, absorbing

Try something similarThis Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman

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Thomas Morris_Credit Charlotte Machin (cleared for jacket and publicity)About the Author

Thomas Morris is a writer and historian. His first book, The Matter of the Heart (Bodley Head, 2017), a critically-acclaimed history of cardiac surgery, won a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for non-fiction. He is also the author of The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth (Bantam, 2018). He was previously a BBC radio producer for 18 years, and his freelance journalism has appeared in publications including The Times, The Lancet and the TLS.

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