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.
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.
In this sequel to the delightful mystery The Windsor Knot, Queen Elizabeth takes center stage at Buckingham Palace, where the atmosphere in the autumn of 2016 is a bit darker than in the first book. The Queen has been secretly sleuthing with the aid of her assistant private secretaries for years. A few female staff members have been receiving poison pen letters, including her new assistant private secretary, Rozie Oshodi. One of them is found dead by the pool at Buckingham Palace, apparently accidentally. Brexit has passed, and the palace needs expensive renovations. The Queen discovers a painting of her former royal yacht at a Navy exhibition, and tasks Rozie with investigating how it ever left the palace. Rozie explores tunnels beneath the palace, and in the end, others get the credit for solving the mystery. I will definitely read the next book, and hope the Queen and Rozie get to spend more time together, perhaps at Sandringham or Balmoral, and enjoy the scenery even more than at Windsor Castle. Brenda
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.
This is a contemporary novel of found family, centered around a café in London. After elderly artist Julian Jessop leaves a notebook telling of his grief after the loss of his wife in Monica’s Café, Monica posts a flier in the window looking for someone to teach a weekly painting class, hoping to connect with Julian. Monica puts her own wishes to become a mother in the notebook, and somehow the notebook travels to Australia and back, connecting a newly sober traveler, a struggling new mum, and more, all making connections through the painting classes and weekly dinners. There are secrets, lies, conflicts and quite a few coincidences, but in the end this is a heartwarming, cozy novel about new friendships and a little romance. This is a compelling and enjoyable first novel. Readalikes include The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister and Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson.
While I haven’t been reading many World War II novels lately, I’m a fan of Robert Harris’s novels, including Conclave, Pompeii, Munich, and The Second Sleep, so I started reading V2, and found it a compelling read. In November 1944, Section Officer Kay Caton-Walsh is in the London flat of her boss, Air Commodore Mike Templeton, when the building is hit by a V2 rocket. Kay gets the cold shoulder from Templeton when she’s mistaken for his wife, so she’s happy to take an assignment in Belgium. In Medenham, England, Kay has been analyzing photographs, searching for clues to the launch site of Germany’s V2 rockets. In Belgium, she will calculate the trajectory of the missiles while they’re still in the air, and after they hit London. In this thrilling story about the race to stop the silent, insidious V2s, which threatened Londoners from September 1944 to March 1945, a parallel plot features German engineer Rudi Graf. Graf, who only wanted to work with Wernher von Braun to send rockets into space, helps launch the V2 missiles. How far is Graf willing to go, for Germany, or for his conscience and the future? Another well-researched novel from master storyteller Harris, this is a good readalike for The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay, Code Girls by Liza Mundy, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, and the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal.
Lady Cecily Kay, a botanist, is in London in 1703, studying Sir Barnaby Mayne’s collection of botanical illustrations. The amazing collections filling the mansion are a source of fascination for many other collectors, and Lady Cecily joins them on a tour. She is surprised to meet Meacan, a childhood friend who is doing some illustrations for the eccentric Mayne. When Sir Barnaby is found dead in his study at the end of the tour, an unlikely suspect confesses, then flees. Lady Cecily and Meacan investigate, learning more about the society of obsessive collectors. The early 18th century London setting is fascinating, and the mystery is intricately plotted. Readalikes include The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. Historical fiction readers looking for an unusual setting will also be interested in this intriguing, absorbing read. I don’t see a connection to Hart’s other historical mysteries, beginning with Jade Dragon Mountain, but I enjoyed them as well.
Princess Margaret is 19 when Vera Strathmore’s cousin Rupert introduces them. Vera, who lost her fiancé in the war, writes romance novels under a pen name and dreams of moving to New York City to write. Swept up in Princess Margaret’s social set, Vera becomes a lady-in-waiting to the temperamental princess. In Blalock’s novel, the princess enjoys dancing, drinking, smoking, flirting, and Captain Peter Townsend. Vera puts her writing dreams on hold indefinitely, and her work for the princess gets more demanding over the years. Viewers of The Crown will be familiar with the plot and setting, but Vera’s viewpoint has both clarity and empathy. A fun, escapist read, with plenty of gorgeous gowns.
Long buried treasure. An American historian specializing in jewels, Kate Kirby. Her great-grandmother, Irish immigrant Essie Murphy. An antique pendant worn by Kate’s cousin Bella. All of these, along with a handsome photographer, are linked to the true story of the Cheapside Jewels, over 500 pieces of jewelry buried in a cellar sometime before the Great London Fire of 1666, and uncovered in 1912. They include a diamond from India, an emerald from Columbia, and a cameo of Queen Elizabeth I. Kate and photographer Marcus search for the story of these jewels and find long-hidden secrets of Essie and her sister. A page-turner that’s occasionally bittersweet but ends happily in two time periods, this is a good readalike for historical novels by Beatriz Williams, Kate Morton, and Fiona Davis.
I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful mystery, a sequel to The Right Sort of Man. Widowed Gwen Bainbridge and former intelligence operative Iris Sparks run The Right Sort Marriage Bureau, where their diverse talents make them successful matchmakers in post World War II London. When Gwen’s cousin asks for help in vetting a suitor for Princess Elizabeth, the adventures begin. Wonderfully witty dialogue, appealingly complex characters, and lots of action scenes put this mystery on my list of sure bets for summer reading. A July 28 publication date is planned.