Tuesday, May 25, 2021


Nora is a stressed out working wife and mother who's just asking for a little help from her spouse in The Husbands.  Although her husband, Hayden, helps out occasionally and will do specific tasks if asked, the vast majority of logistical household and personal duties fall to Nora.  While this situation would be maddening enough without the extra stress, Nora is in the process of going up for partner at her law firm.  To make matters worse, she also feels like she can't say no to any requests from her firm to work extra or be on call for emergency tech help from the older male partners.

Since Nora is expecting a second child, she and Hayden have outgrown their current living situation and begin looking around for a house to buy.  Nora thinks they've found the perfect home in the housing development known as Dynasty Ranch.  She becomes a bit alarmed when it seems like buying the house doesn't just require the signing of documents, but that she and Hayden will need to be approved by the current residents.  

Nora gets along well with the other women of Dynasty Ranch, although she is dismayed to find out that an author whose work she admires, Penny, has recently lost her husband to a fire.  Hayden isn't as charmed by the house or neighborhood as Nora is, but (as usual) he is content to let her sort out all the details.  At some social gatherings where they are being vetted by the current residents, Nora is amazed at the amount of cheerful help that the husbands of the neighborhood provide. In order to see if she can't get Hayden on this bandwagon, Nora talks him into attending some couples therapy sessions with Cornelia, the resident therapist.  While these sessions are somewhat unorthodox and dredge up some information that she would rather keep hidden, Nora can soon see a definite change in Hayden's willingness to help out around the house.

As Nora is brought in to investigate the fire that caused the death of Penny's husband, she begins to sense that everything might not be as picture perfect in Dynasty Ranch as it appears at first glance.  It was very easy to see how overwhelmed Nora is and to sympathize with her situation.  While the amazing array of professional women at Dynasty Ranch seem to have come up with the perfect solution to getting a little help, their techniques might be a little drastic for some!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Husbands from the publisher in exchange for this review

Monday, May 17, 2021


Far from looking forward to their weekly bingo game for some entertainment, the four members of the Thursday Murder Club hold meetings in their retirement community (when they can squeeze in around other groups) to discuss unsolved murders.  There's Joyce, a retired nurse; Ron, who is famous as a labor activist; Ibrahim, a retired psychologist; and Elizabeth, who did all sorts of mysterious and dangerous work although we're never really given any clear information about what her job title might have been.

After one of their meetings the group sees Ian Ventham having a heated exchange with Tony Curran.  Ian is the owner and developer of the retirement village and is planning a huge expansion over some nearby farmland which will require, among other things, the relocation of a cemetery.  The current buildings are on the site of a former convent, so the cemetery is the final resting place of the many nuns who lived there.  Tony is Ian's right-hand man, doing everything from building work to some light "enforcement" duties when the situation requires it.  Just hours after that argument, Tony ends up murdered, and the members of the club can't believe their luck -- here is a murder they can investigate where they know all the players.

A female police officer, Donna De Freitas, comes out to give frequent talks on safety, so the members of the club hope she will be helpful to them in supplying information about how the investigation is coming along.  Donna isn't allowed on the "murder squad" at the police station, but that's quickly arranged with a few quick phone calls from Elizabeth.  Donna and her boss, the overweight and slightly depressed DCI Chris Hudson, try their best to investigate Tony's murder, but really, the Thursday Murder Club is miles ahead of them in terms of technique and resources.  Still, they do share any helpful information with the police, and occasionally a helpful piece of information comes their way from official sources.

Another murder occurs, in front of nearly 100 witnesses, and the body of a victim that has remained undiscovered for nearly 50 years also turns up.  The members of the club keep busy trying to sort out who the killer (killers?) might be and trying to untangle all the possible motivations.

The story is very entertaining, and because there are short chapters alternating with entries from Joyce's diary, the action moves along at a fast pace.  My only criticism is that there are an awful lot of characters to keep up with.  A list of characters would be helpful, especially since some of them have very similar names.  I also wasn't too thrilled with the ending, since several strange plot holes weren't addressed.  Still, it was a fun story and it was quite entertaining to see what information Elizabeth would unearth  next from her never-ending "sources" from her previous life.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021


Grace Bennet and her friend Viv are beyond excited to have finally escaped their small village of Drayton for the bright lights of London in August 1939.  Friends since childhood, they had always dreamed of more exciting lives than what Drayton could offer.  When Grace's mother dies, she is told to leave the house she as lived in all her life and this is a good reason to fulfil her dream of moving to the big city.  Luckily, her mother's best friend, Mrs. Weatherford, has always offered Grace a place to stay if she ever comes to London. 

Grace and Viv are welcomed excitedly by Mrs. Weatherford and her son Colin.  Although Colin is a few years younger than the girls, Grace has known him since childhood.  He works at Harrods in the "Pet Kingdom" department (which seems, sadly to have become extinct in more recent times).  Colin helps Viv to get a job at Harrods, and Grace is told Mrs. Weatherford has arranged a job for her at Primrose Hill Books, owned by her friend Mr. Evans.  Grace, having never had much spare time, isn't a reader, but with no other prospects, she agrees to the job until she can find something better.

The store turns out to be very dusty and disorganized, so Grace immediately sets out to do what she can to make the shop more appealing to customers.  Having worked in her uncle's small store for most of her life, she knows a thing or two about enticing people into the store and persuading them to buy.  Mr. Evans doesn't put up much resistance to this new plan, and soon the store is very popular.  Unfortunately, just as Grace is settling in to her new life, World War II breaks out.  

Having survived the first war, Mrs. Weatherford is calm in the face of air raid sirens.  Colin has constructed a bomb shelter in the back yard, so everyone in their small house has a place to go when needed.  Mrs. W is terrified that gentle Colin will be drafted, and soon enough, this happens.  Not long afterward, Viv also decides to volunteer and moves away for training.  Grace has also met a very interesting and handsome customer, George Anderson, but he is also called away to serve.  Left somewhat alone, Grace volunteers to be a local Air Raid Warden.  After her days working at the bookshop, Grace spends her nights patrolling the neighborhood, assisting people to shelters, putting out small fires, and helping to look for survivors after bombings.

As the title suggests, soon Mr. Evans's bookshop is one of the few that hasn't suffered extreme bomb damage, and therefore becomes something of a refuge for booklovers.  Grace helps to spread her newfound love of literature to others by reading aloud in bomb shelters and the bookstore, drawing even more crowds.

The book does a very good job of showcasing the lives of regular people during WWII. Dealing with rationing, awaiting the next air raid siren, and emerging to find dead bodies and destroyed buildings was a daily part of the lives of Londoners for many years.  The fact that the bookshop was a central place for people to gather and find some distraction from the events taking place around them makes the story very enjoyable.  Perhaps things were very different in those days, but I did find it a bit of a stretch that apparently very, very few people were familiar with the works of Dickens, Austen, Eliot, etc. but it was heartening that once exposed to those classics, everyone embraced them enthusiastically! 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Last Bookshop in London from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Monday, May 3, 2021


Christopher "Kit" Marlowe is known both for his plays and for his untimely death at the age of only 29, purportedly after a disagreement over a bill at a tavern.  In A Tip for the Hangman, Allison Epstein looks at the tumultuous events that were happening during Marlowe's life, and offers up a different motivation for his death.

Kit was a student at Cambridge University when the story opens in October 1585.  The son of a poor and frequently drunken shoemaker in Canterbury, Marlowe was given a scholarship to study at the university, a fact which made both him and his professors feel he is unworthy to be in such exalted surroundings.  It comes as something of a shock when Sir Frances Walsingham, the Royal Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, comes to Cambridge to recruit Kit to be a spy.  Catholic sympathizers are plotting to overthrow the queen and install their own favorite, Mary Queen of Scots, on the throne.  Walsingham wants Kit to pose as a servant and gather as much information as possible about any potential threats to the crown.  

After this assignment, Kit moves to London and becomes a celebrated playwright until, due to his previous work and his talent at breaking coded messages, he's called upon for another mission 5 years later.  Unfortunately, his champion and protector, Walsingham, is not exactly the picture of health . . .

To make matters worse, Kit is romantically involved with Tom, a fellow student from Cambridge, who isn't too happy about Kit's spying activities.  Kit also has a never ending series of conflicts with various family members who aren't at all impressed by his fame as London's leading playwright.  Kit gets involved in some double-dealings which also put him in danger from both sides of the political divide.

I enjoyed the time period and all of the details of the story that put the reader back in Elizabethan times.  All of the political wheeling and dealing and double-crossing is somehow very familiar to a modern reader! I didn't always enjoy Kit's spying activities, which seemed to involve everyone taking him at his word, even when he'd been involved in some pretty suspicious activities that would have likely caused some questions among those he was spying on.  Still, it is good to have Kit Marlowe brought to life in this adventurous book.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of A Tip for the Hangman from NetGalley in exchange for this review

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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