Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting

iona iverson's jacket

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

Iona Iverson, 57, is a larger than life magazine advice columnist. A former It girl who covered major social events, Iona has had an amazing life, but needs to modernize her column to keep her job. Regularly commuting to London on the train, she enjoys observing the other commuters, but never, ever talks to anyone except her French bulldog Lulu. One day there’s a (nonviolent) crisis on train car #3, and the travelers finally meet and connect. I enjoyed learning their nicknames for each other, especially teen Martha thinking of Iona as magic handbag lady. While Iona tends to steal the scenes she’s in, everyone except David and Jake gets their turn to narrate the story. Sanjay the anxious nurse, impossibly pretty Emmie, and trader Piers in his expensive suits all need Iona’s advice at some point, including Martha, who ends up getting coaching for a theatre audition from Iona and math tutoring from Piers.

Happily, the commuter train to London isn’t the only setting in this contemporary novel, letting readers glimpse homes, workplaces, Martha’s school, and the maze at Hampton Court Palace. I listened to the audiobook narrated expertly by Clare Corbett while commuting in my car; I’d love to see someone reading this on the train. While I liked the author’s first book, The Authenticity Project, I didn’t find it memorable or outstanding. This heartwarming and uplifting story about the riders on the train is one of my favorite reads so far this year. Readalikes include The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg, The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore.

Brenda

Think of Me

think of me jacket

Think of Me by Frances Liardet

A companion novel to Liardet’s 2019 debut, We Must Be Brave, this covers three different times in vicar James Acton’s life. As a young pilot in the Second World War, he meets his future wife Yvette in Alexandria, Egypt. The war separates them, and then they marry after the war and settle near Liverpool in a poor parish. A pregnancy loss early in their marriage threaten to divide them again, and James doesn’t care where Yvette finds support on her long drives in the country. Later Yvette keeps a diary before her death in the 1960s. In 1974, with son Tom a college student, James moves to a new parish in Upton, where he has a leaky roof, a study full of the last vicar’s papers, and a crisis of faith. Tom and James quarrel over Yvette’s diaries, then James starts meeting people who knew Yvette. Not as sad as We Must Be Brave, with a puppy and Tom providing comic relief, and a stern archbishop providing unexpected support, the plot keeps the reader guessing in this compelling read. The Alexandria setting is unfamiliar and has links to the author’s family. I also enjoyed the English countryside setting and the scenes of daily life of a 1970s English vicar.

Brenda

The Marlow Murder Club

marlow murder club jacket

The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood

At 77, Judith Potts is perfectly happy with her solitary life. She lives in a cluttered mansion along the Thames in Marlow, creates crossword puzzles, has a nightly scotch, walks through her neighborhood in a cape, where she thinks her age makes her invisible, and enjoys swimming nude in the Thames. While swimming one evening, she hears a gunshot in her neighbor Stefan’s garden. The police find nothing, not even the body she discovers the next morning, complete with a medallion inscribed Faith. Soon, Judith connects with two other Marlow residents, vicar’s wife Betts and dog walker Suzie, to investigate. After another murder with a different medallion, the trio look into whether the victims are linked by a fondness for rowing or a valuable modern painting sold cheaply many years ago. Their favorite suspect, smug auction house owner Elliot Howard, unfortunately has a solid alibi. The women become friends, though not sharing all their secrets with each other, or with DS Tanika Malik, heading the investigation due to budget cuts. I look forward to a return appearance with The Marlow Murder Club. Readalikes include The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton, Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, and The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman.

 

Brenda

The Littlest Library

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The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander

What Anglophile hasn’t dreamed of buying a cottage in a charming English village? Made redundant when her public library closes, Jess impulsively buys Ivy Cottage in a small Devon town, and opens a little library in a red phone booth with 10 boxes of books left to her by her beloved grandmother Mimi. Soon she’ll need a paying job, but for now she’s weeding the lush garden, making friends, and falling for handsome neighbor Aidan and his tween daughter Maisie. Charming and well-written; perfect summer reading. Readalikes includes novels by Jill Mansell, Jenny Colgan, Jojo Moyes, and Katie Fforde

Brenda

A New Look at Agatha Christie

Recent Books and Films inspired by the Queen of Crime

Mysteries

 Benedict, Marie. The Mystery of Mrs. Christiemystery of mrs. christie jacket

Buzzelli, Elizabeth Kane. And Then They Were Doomed

Cambridge, Colleen. Murder at Mallowan Hall

Christie. Agatha. The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural

De Gramont, Nina. The Christie Affair

Hannah, Sophie. The Killings at Kingfisher Hill, The Mystery of Three Quarters

Rader-Day, Lori. Death at Greenway

Wilson, Andrew. Death in a Desert Land, I Saw Him Die

Non-Fiction

Thompson, Laura. Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life

Valentine, Carla. The Science of Murder: The Forensics of Agatha Christie

TV & Films

Crooked House

Death on the Nile

Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie & Agatha Christie’s England

Murder on the Orient Express

Triple Feature: Three Tales of Murder & Mystery

Coming Soonmarple jacket

Marple: Twelve New Mysteries 9/22

Cambridge, Colleen. A Trace of Poison 10/22

2020 saw the celebration of 100 years since the publication of A Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie’s debut novel. There continue to be new editions of her mysteries, as well as books and films inspired by the author and her characters. Enjoy!

Brenda

London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency

London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency: A Memoir by Kate MacDougall

Kate has a dull entry level job at Sotheby’s auction house in London, appropriate for her university degree, but not very fulfilling. It isn’t going well, and Kate impulsively starts a dog-walking business. Her mother is upset, but partner Finlay, though not a dog lover, is supportive. In 2006, dog walking hasn’t yet caught on in London as it has in American cities, so Kate starts small. She quickly learns that the hardest part of the job is working with the dogs’ owners. Gradually Kate needs to hire other dog walkers, and meets rival Agnes. Each chapter is focused on a particular dog, their owners, and the neighborhood where they live. Even readers who prefer cats may enjoy this charming memoir, a coming-of-age tale with lots of heart and humor. The quirky personalities of the dogs are lovingly described, as Kate shares her successes and failures in business, and life. Muddy, messy, and joyful, this is an uplifting read.

Brenda

Jane and the Year Without a Summer

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron

Readers of historical English mysteries are invited to visit Cheltenham Spa in the summer of 1816, where Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra arrive to spend a fortnight so that Jane can drink the local mineral waters and relax. The summer is very cool and rainy after the volcanic explosion in Indonesia the year before. The sisters find the mineral waters unpalatable, and some of the fellow boarders at their rooming house are not relaxing company, including the invalid Rose Williams and the Garthwaites, who do not care to share the communal sitting room. Jane’s friend and admirer Raphael West (first introduced in the delightful mystery Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas) is in town and escorts the sisters to a costume ball where a fire breaks out and a body is found. Jane turns sleuth to solve the murder and tries to decide how to deal gently with her gentleman admirer. Delightful dialogue, appealing main characters, and an excellent sense of place make for enjoyable reading, even if Jane is not in the best of health. Readalikes include Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders, and Death Comes to the Village by Catherine Lloyd.

Brenda

A Place Like Home

A Place Like Home: Stories by Rosamunde Pilcher

A local bookseller always has a copy of Pilcher’s Winter Solstice on her display of favorite winter reads, even though it was published in 2000. The enduring appeal of the late author of The Shell Seekers and September is shown in this new collection of short stories that are delightful for cozy winter reading, perhaps with tea and a scone or hot cocoa and a cookie. If you’re in the mood for a heartwarming read, but too busy to read a long novel, enjoy a story or two at a sitting, each with a pen and ink illustration. These stories are set at life’s turning points; a holiday, a move, a visit home, the beginning or ending of a romance. They have a strong sense of place, resilient women, attractive men, and often a seaside setting, with a dog, horse, or young child to add appeal. This title is also available from Media on Demand/Libby as an eBook and a downloadable audiobook. Readalike authors include Maeve Binchy, Josie Silver, and Jenny Colgan.

Brenda

The Man Who Died Twice

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

This is the clever and entertaining sequel to the Thursday Murder Club, a mystery series inspired by the upscale English retirement village where Brenda, the author’s mother, lives. A group of four retirees led by retired MI5 agent Elizabeth, gather weekly to discuss unsolved mystery cases, with occasional input from DCI Chris Hudson, Constable Donna De Freitas, and fixer Bogdan Jankowski. The first book is to be a Steven Spielberg film, and I am picturing Penelope Wilton to play Joyce, a retired nurse who narrates her adventures with Elizabeth, Ibrahim, and Ron to her diary. Elizabeth gets a plea for help from a dead man. It’s really from her ex-husband Douglas, who’s in a safe house with new MI5 agent Poppy after some diamonds connected to the Mafia go missing. Douglas may have stolen the diamonds, and he’s definitely in trouble. Ibrahim is injured when his phone is stolen, and the friends plot revenge on his young assailant. If you enjoy crime novels, very dark humor, and excellent writing, you’re in for a treat. Lesley Manville does excellent work narrating the audiobook. Here’s a longer list of readalikes, as I’d like to read more books like Osman’s myself: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helen Tursten, Before She Was Helen by Caroline Cooney, The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, Celine by Peter Heller, and The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths. 

Brenda

Murder at Mallowan Hall

Murder at Mallowan Hall by Colleen Cambridge

Phyllida Bright, who was a nurse’s aide in the Great War, is the housekeeper for mystery writer Agatha Christie and her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, at their country house in Devon in 1930. When an univited guest is found dead the next morning by Mrs. Bright and another death soon follows, the housekeeper, a fan of the fictional Hercule Poirot, investigates. Phyllida occasionally brings Agatha a cup of tea and an update on the investigation; readers will be happy to know the writer seems much happier than in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict. While there are rather a lot of staff and guests to easily tell apart, the setting is well-drawn and appealing, and I look forward to the planned sequels. Readalikes include A Devious Death by Alyssa Maxwell and Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott.

Brenda