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

Battle Royal

Battle Royal by Lucy Parker

Four years after judge Dominic De Vere voted Sylvie Fairchild off Operation Cake when her unicorn cake exploded and showered him with edible glitter, the pair are rival business owners in Notting Hill, London. Sylvie has opened Sugar Fair, a bakery straight out of a fairy tale, across the street from the traditional De Vere’s, where delicious cakes are beautifully decorated, mostly in white or perhaps ivory. Sylvie is asked to fill in as a judge on Operation Cake, where she gets to know the stern and prickly judge as a fellow business owner, and they gradually become friends. When Princess Rose announces her engagement to John Marchmont, the pair are finalists to bake the royal wedding cake, and end up doing research on the royal family together, with witty banter, tender moments and irresistible chemistry. I thoroughly enjoyed Dominic and Sylvie’s story, and the audiobook narration of Billie Fulford-Brown. A second Palace Insiders is planned, featuring Dominic’s younger sister.

Brenda

Yours Cheerfully

Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce

Fans of Dear Mrs. Bird will cheer Emmy Lake’s return as a young advice columnist in wartime London. A chance meeting on a train with Anne and her two young children lead to Emmy visiting the munitions factory where Anne works for an article on women war workers. While the article is upbeat, Emmy and her friend Bunty learn more about the struggles the women face, especially finding child care when they work long, varied shifts. Emmy has infrequent dates with Charles, now stationed in England, and thoroughly enjoys her work at Woman’s Friend magazine, now managed by supportive editor Guy. Emmy and Bunty do get into a bit of trouble when they agree to be in two different places on a very important day, but it makes for very entertaining reading. Such a wonderful story, very well told. More Emmy and Bunty, please! Sure to please Anglophiles and readers of historical fiction.

Brenda

The Thursday Murder Club

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club meets in the jigsaw room at the luxurious Coopers Chase Retirement Village in Kent, on England’s southeast coast. Widowed Joyce is the newest member of The Thursday Murder Club, taking the place of Penny, a retired police officer who’s in a nearby nursing home. Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Ron, and Joyce discuss Penny’s cold case files, then find themselves with two murders nearby, probably connected to plans to develop a nearby hilltop and relocate a convent cemetery. Elizabeth has a secret background, with connections almost everywhere. Ron was an organizer whose son is slightly famous, while Ibrahim is a psychiatrist. Agreeable Joyce worked as a nurse, and together they work to get information from PC Donna De Freitas and DCI Chris Hudson. There are poignant scenes as well as lighter ones in this witty, dryly funny character-based mystery that is hard to put down. The Thursday Murder Club is the first novel by Osman, a quiz show host on British television; a sequel, The Man Who Died Twice, will be published soon. Film rights have been bought, and a third book is planned for this deservedly popular debut.

Brenda

The Rose Code

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

This immersive, compelling read features an unlikely trio of friends who work at Bletchley Park during World War II, secretly trying to break the codes used by the Germans and Italians. Debutante Osla Kendall, who reads German fluently, is dating Prince Philip of Greece. On the train from London she meets ambitious Mab, a typist whose height gets her work on the machines at Bletchley Park and who is anxious to evacuate her little sister Lucy from London’s East End. Shy Beth, whose demanding mother rents Mab and Osla a room, finds her skill at crossword puzzles leads to work as a codebreaker. The strain of the work and the demand for complete secrecy affect the women’s relationships, although outlets such as their Mad Hatter book group help somewhat. In 1947 the women are no longer friends, yet Mab and Osla meet for tea in York in response to a desperate plea from Beth, who is trying to discover who framed her as a traitor. This crisis is set during the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the royal wedding of Osla’s Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth. I loved the focus on the women’s war work and found this book, with its intensifying pace, hard to put down. Only the 624 page count will keep this book from being the top pick of many book groups. Readalikes include Code Girls by Liza Mundy, The Gown by Jennifer Robson, The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay, and The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott.

Brenda

The Last Garden in England

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

Readers of historical fiction who like a strong sense of place and enjoy multi-period novels will enjoy this appealing novel. In 1907, Venetia Smith designs a variety of garden rooms for Highbury House in rural Warwickshire. A rose fancier provides romantic interest here. In 2021, Emma Lovett is searching for plans, drawings, and letters to help her and her crew restore Venetia’s neglected gardens.

In 1944, widow Diana Symonds and land girl and amateur artist Beth Pedley try to prevent the gardens being plowed under for crops during World War II. Most of the house is a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers run by Diana’s sister-in-law, which causes some conflicts. Cook Stella Adderton and her young nephew Bobby are also featured here. The stories all connect in the end, making for a satisfying read, though the characters struggle with loss in two of the time periods. I should mention that some of the names are confusing; in one chapter we meet Captain Hastings, then he’s referred to as Graeme further on; I would have liked a list of characters.

Readalikes include The Lake House by Kate Morton, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert, and historical novels by Jennifer Robson, Beatriz Williams, and Rhys Bowen. Readers may also want to browse the gardening section; I found some beautiful books by Jackie Bennett: The Writer’s Garden and Shakespeare’s Gardens.

Brenda