When octogenarian Olive Turner is persuaded by her son to move into a retirement home, she congratulates herself on finding the secret to an easy life: no washing up, cooking or cleaning. But Olive isn’t one for mindless bingo with her fellow residents, and before the first day is over she's already hatching a plan to escape back to her beloved beach hut and indulge in her secret passion for a very good gin & tonic.
Before long Olive’s secret is out and turning into something wonderful and new. Only a select few are invited, but word spreads quickly about the weekly meetings of The Gin Shack Club. Soon everybody on the beach wants to become a gin connoisseur and join Olive on her journey to never being forced to grow older than you feel.
I picked up this book because it is precisely a genre that I don’t think we can ever have enough of – old lady chick lit!
Give me stories of older women in charge of their own lives; finding new passions; doing whatever they want! I’ll read them all. Give me more old ladies defying their fussy children and skinny dipping at the beach.
This book also made me really, really want a beach hut even though I don’t live by the beach and even if I did, they aren’t a thing here.
Olive moves into a home where everyone cares about safety to the point of not allowing the residents to live. This is actually a huge problem for older people. If you can’t do anything other than what is super-safe, you don’t get to do anything fun.
I was intrigued by the gin combinations that are discussed here. I wish there were some recipes for the cocktails discussed. I don’t drink so I have no idea if I like gin or not but this book made me want to try some. I feel like I wouldn’t like a gin and tonic at all but the gin with violet syrup that tasted like candied violets sounded interesting. I’m not sure if the rhubarb one sounded good or not but they were fans of it in the book.
I didn’t care much for the bit of mystery in the book. I was just here for the characters and their adventures!
Helena Reynolds will do anything to escape her life in London, even if that means traveling to a remote cliffside estate on the North Devon coast and marrying a complete stranger. But Greyfriar's Abbey isn't the sort of refuge she imagined. And ex-army captain Justin Thornhill--though he may be tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome--is anything but a romantic hero.
He Needed Redemption...
Justin has spent the last two decades making his fortune, settling scores, and suffering a prolonged period of torture in an Indian prison. Now, he needs someone to smooth the way for him with the villagers. Someone to manage his household--and warm his bed on occasion. What he needs, in short, is a wife and a matrimonial advertisement seems the perfect way to acquire one.
Their marriage was meant to be a business arrangement and nothing more. A dispassionate union free from the entanglements of love and affection. But when Helena's past threatens, will Justin's burgeoning feelings for his new bride compel him to come to her rescue? Or will dark secrets of his own force him to let her go?
I have pretty strict rules about the historical romances that I will read. Generally they need to be recommended by some trusted sources on Twitter. When I pick them myself I tend to get horrible books that I DNF. That’s why I’m so excited about this book. I chose this one from the description on the book tour and I absolutely loved it!
Helena is on the run but she isn’t flighty or impetuous. Her escape from her family has been well planned. She needs to get married in order to wrest control of her inheritance from her relatives. She is unable to control it herself because she is a woman so she is in desperate need of a husband.
Justin returned from being a prisoner of war in India and in an act of pure spite, managed to seize control of the largest house from its impoverished gentleman owner. Now he is hated by the community and just wants to be left alone. His secretary and a lawyer friend though have advertised for a bride for him. He’s ignored them up to now when his friend in London sent him a woman who is obviously in trouble.
I loved that these were both sensible, no-nonsense people. There was a real threat that Helena was running from based on newspaper accounts of the time. This was a great way to get actual historical issues into the story.
This book felt comfortable from the opening pages. I was pulled directly into the story. This is the type of historical romance that I love and I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.
During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a signed copy of The Matrimonial Advertisement! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.
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Elizabeth Pennington should be the rightful heir of Bath's premier department store through her enterprising schemes and dogged hard work. Her father, Edward Pennington, believes his daughter lacks the business acumen to run his empire and is resolute a man will succeed him.
Determined to break from her father's iron-clad hold and prove she is worthy of inheriting the store, Elizabeth forms an unlikely alliance with ambitious and charismatic master glove-maker Joseph Carter. United they forge forward to bring Pennington's into a new decade, embracing woman's equality and progression whilst trying not to mix business and pleasure.
This book takes place in 1910 in Bath. I read a lot of historical fiction but I don’t see many books set in this time period. I was interested to read about a woman who is trying to take over her family business at a time when this was not an acceptable thing to do. This is also a time of great changes in retail. Ready to wear clothing is becoming more popular. Being able to touch the merchandise without a clerk helping you is a new idea.
I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book. In the beginning the writing was a bit clunky. There was a whole lot more description of what people were thinking than showing their actions on the page. I set the book aside for a while because of this. I don’t know if I would have picked it back up if it wasn’t a review book for me and if I wasn’t really interested in the premise.
I’m not sure if the writing improved as I got into the story or if I just accepted it as I went along but it didn’t bother me as much as I got deeper into the book. There are several conflicts here:
The heroine who wants to run the store versus her father who wants her to marry and live the life of a rich housewife.
The hero who wants to expand from a small family store to selling their merchandise in department stores over his father’s objections.
There was conflict between the heroine and hero’s families in the past.
Should department stores continue to cater to the wealthy or should they bring in lower price clothing for the new middle class customers? Would the wealthy continue to shop there if you let lower classes in the same stores?
It was interesting to see the ideas that were considered so progressive (and potentially alarming) that are commonplace now. The anti-woman rhetoric was as expected. Women aren’t smart enough to be in business. Suffragettes are just rabble-rousers causing the downfall of society.
This is a good book for anyone who loves historical fiction where you learn a lot about a topic.
When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.
Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.
Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together...
I read this book immediately after A Gentleman Never Keeps Score. The two fit together nicely because they share the theme of sexual abuse/exploitation of teenage boys due to poverty.
Gil is a bastard child of a rich family. When his father died, his older half-brother cut off his education and funds. In order to survive he was a prostitute. Now he runs a bookstore that sells pornography, which is illegal.
Vikram is a lawyer who takes some pro bono cases in London’s Indian community. He knew Gil at school where they bonded over being the only dark-skinned people. He has always wondered what happened to his friend when he suddenly left school but no one would answer his questions. Vikram is investigating the disappearance of an Indian teen who worked as a prostitute. The only clue is a studio photo that the boy’s parents had. There is no way he could afford to have bought it. Vikram guesses he may have been modeling for erotic photographers and was given the formal portrait as partial payment.
There is a bit of over the top serendipity in the main characters meeting. It is like, “I’m searching for this lost boy because it reminds me of my former best friend who went missing. I’ll go to this bookstore. Oh, look! There is my missing best friend. Imagine that!”
Vikram wants to renew his friendship with Gil but has a very hard time accepting the world Gil lives in. He is uncomfortable with the life his friend was forced to lead while he continued his comfortable life in school and university. Gil is cynical about Vikram’s desire to help people because in his life he hasn’t seen many people with that motivation.
This is a novella but there is a good amount of character growth in it. It was interesting to find out all about the Victorian pornography trade. I haven’t seen that as a basis for a romance before.
Every childhood lasts a lifetime. On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses to giving birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and placing him in a children’s home. Seven years later she went back but he had vanished. What happened to the child? Why did he disappear? Where did he go? Jayne Sinclair, genealogical investigator, is faced with lies, secrets and one of the most shameful episodes in recent British history. Can she find the vanished child?
This is the fourth book in this series of mysteries solved by a genealogical researcher. I hadn’t read the previous ones but I didn’t have any trouble following this book. I do think this is an interesting angle for a mystery. I love watching genealogy shows on TV and researching my own family history.
This book hits hard on one of my push button issues – the horrific treatment of unmarried women with children at the hands of Christian churches. I spent my whole time reading this book muttering to myself about how abusive the church is and how it always seems to be coming up with new ways to be awful. It was not unusual for unmarried women to be separated from their children because it was considered better for the children to be raised elsewhere away from their immoral mothers. This book looks at the practice of shipping English children to Australia to be trained as domestics and laborers. Yes, it was considered better for them to be raised as virtual slaves than to stay with their mothers. People were told they were orphans and they wanted to believe that so they dismissed the children when they talked about having mothers at home in England.
The whole book is pretty heartbreaking but it highlights some British history that isn’t well known. If you want to continue your outrage after this one, check out the movies Philomena or The Magdalene Sisters. The first one is sad but has funny moments. The second is just deeply horrifying.
Praise for Nicola May’s books
‘This book will twang your funny bone & your heartstrings’ – Milly Johnson‘A fun and flighty read’ the Sun‘A funny and fast-paced romp – thoroughly enjoyable!’ Rosa Larkin is down on her luck in London, so when she inherits a near-derelict corner shop in a quaint Devon village, her first thought is to sell it for cash and sort out her life. But nothing is straightforward about this legacy. While the identity of her benefactor remains a mystery, he - or she - has left one important legal proviso: that the shop cannot be sold, only passed on to somebody who really deserves it. Rosa makes up her mind to give it a go: to put everything she has into getting the shop up and running again in the small seaside community of Cockleberry Bay. But can she do it all on her own? And if not, who will help her succeed - and who among the following will work secretly to see her fail? There is a handsome rugby player, a sexy plumber, a charlatan reporter and a selection of meddling locals. Add in a hit and run incident and the disappearance of a valuable engraved necklace – and what you get is a journey of self-discovery and unpredictable events. With surprising and heartfelt results, Rosa, accompanied at all times by her little sausage dog Hot, will slowly unravel the shadowy secrets of the inheritance, and also bring her own, long-hidden heritage into the light.
It seems like I’m going with the unpopular opinion based on the reviews I’ve read from other people. From the description I expected a light-hearted, funny read typical of the chick lit genre. This book is not that. It is surprisingly dark especially considering how it is being marketed.
The main character is self-destructive. She drinks excessively and can’t keep a job. Her main human contact is a series of one night sexual encounters. She uses sex to help make up for the fact that she can’t always pay for the rent on her flat. The only thing she loves at all is her dog, Hot. Getting an inheritance is a way for her to get out of her current life and start fresh.
Usually in this type of book the small town the heroine goes to is full of lovely characters. Here that isn’t the case. In short order she is scammed, sexually assaulted, and her secret is outed against her express wishes. Then she is threatened to provide someone with an alibi for a hit and run.
She eventually finds some nicer people but they have secrets too. Then people keep breaking into her house, she ends up with a pregnant teenager living with her, she gets scammed a few more times, she finds out about a decades old affair, and her dog gets hurt (but he’s ok). This isn’t a bad book but I didn’t read it anything like the laugh a minute romp I’m seeing other people review it as. I read it more as a cautionary tale about trying to keep secrets and the need to have someone who you can confide in. Rosa is very damaged emotionally and trying to move past that in her own way isn’t easy. Trying to open up and let other people in when you have learned over and over not to trust is hard. When those people then repeatedly violate your tentative trust, what do you do?
I read an ARC so hopefully things have been cleaned up but there was an error in my copy. She was reading letters about a person who was only referred to by an initial. But when she thought about the person she thought of them by their full first name. She had no way of knowing that.
The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen's teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household. Victoria & Abdul examines how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire, and his influence over the queen at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen, a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.
The central mystery in this story is Who Was Abdul Karim? Was he a selfless aide and friend to Queen Victoria or was he an enterprising, self-promoting, dangerous con man like the people around her believed? I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.
There is no question that he was a devoted servant of the Queen. He gave her Urdu lessons every day for years. He helped her answer her correspondence. He did influence her to be very concerned about Muslims in India. He also liked the trappings that came along with high status in the Royal Household. He insisted on not being treated as just one of the nameless servants. He would storm out of public events if he felt he was being slighted. He would get newspapers to write articles about him. He did suggest to the Queen that she give him and his family more and more honors.
This book did a wonderful job of getting into the mind of Queen Victoria through her writings. You understand where she was coming from. She loved Karim and his family. She was hurt by her family’s and staff’s hatred of him.
I don’t think the book did as good of a job figuring out what was going on in Karim’s mind. There are letters from him but he still felt like an enigma at the end of the book. He was in a hard position. There were several Indian servants but he was the only one in the closest inner circle to the Queen. The Royal Family and the household were both incredibly racist and classist. They hated him not only for being Indian but for not being an upper-class Indian. How dare he assume he was their equal?
Put in that situation I can’t fault him for looking out for himself and his family. The Queen was elderly and he knew that he would be dealt with harshly after her death. He had to provide for his family while he could. Did he push too hard? Maybe. It doesn’t excuse how he was treated though.
This is an infuriating read. The racism is so overt. Many letters from high British officials are included that just drip with disdain.
My only complaint about this book is that it is perhaps too detailed. There are so many letters cited that they started to all run together. But, I’d rather get too much information than not enough.
The narrator did a great job with all the voices required in this book – male, female, English, Indian, and Scottish.
There is a movie version of this book out now. I’m interested to see what angle they take on this story. Is it going to be a feel-good “Queen Victoria had a friend!” or is going to dive into the hatred from the people around her? I’ll do a compare and contrast post after I get to see the movie.
About Shrabani Basu
Shrabani Basu graduated in History from St Stephen’s College, Delhi and completed her Masters from Delhi University. In 1983, she began her career as a trainee journalist in the bustling offices of The Times of India in Bombay.
Since 1987, Basu has been the London correspondent of Ananda Bazar Patrika group –writing for “Sunday, Ananda Bazar Patrika, “and “The Telegraph.”
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation’s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed.
Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognize any more.
Bill Bryson is really grumpy in this book. I’m a big Bryson fan. I think I’ve read everything he’s written. He’s never veered far from curmudgeonly but he’s downright peevish in this book. He’s telling people to fuck off repeatedly. Fair warning if that kind of thing bothers you.
To start this journey he drew a line on a map connecting the farthest points he could find on a map of the United Kingdom.
He started his trip from Bognor Regis in the south and meandered his way north in the general direction of this line. This made me spend some quality time with Google maps. I thought I had in my head a general idea of where he was going. Then suddenly he was in Wales. I didn’t know which one of us was not understanding geography. I did find that I didn’t have a very good grasp on English geography – although I was spot on about Wales. I would have sworn the Lake District was northeast of London along with Stratford-upon- Avon and the Cotswolds. Turns out none of these things are true.
He alternates taking lovely walks with complaining about British customer service and the tendency of British people to litter. He does have a strange nostalgia for museums full of taxidermy which I personally hate. He can’t stand shops selling pieces of wood with pithy sayings on them. He seems to get a bit tipsy more than is probably healthy or wise.
There was more in this book about his life outside of writing than there has been in other books. He talks about doing speeches to politicians and filming TV shows.
I was disappointed that he didn’t narrate the audiobook. That’s one of the joys of listening to his books on audio. The narrator did a good job but it took me several hours to get over the fact that he wasn’t Bill Bryson and to stop hearing a phantom version of Bill Bryson’s voice in my head reading along with the narrator.
Bottom line – Listen to this one if you are a fan but don’t let this be a first or third Bryson book.
The main reason that the husband didn’t want to go to England with me is because he declared that there was no food in England. That surprised me because I haven’t heard of their famine, the poor souls. He likes to pick vacation destinations based on the local cuisine. When I travel with him, meals are a huge part of the days.
On the other hand, my mother doesn’t eat. Actually she has breakfast and then around 3 PM she has a meal and declares herself done for the day.
I think that we ate very well in England. We were staying in apartments through airBnB so we had a kitchen in London. We were across the street from a small grocery store so we picked up some fruit and oatmeal for breakfasts.
Ping Pong is at St. Katherine’s Dock near the Tower of London and easy walking distance from our apartment. It is a dim sum restaurant. I love Chinese food but can’t eat it much because of the husband’s sesame allergies. We had a lovely meal with vegetable sticky rice and spring rolls being among a whole lot of vegetarian options to choose from. I celebrated the fact that I was openly eating Chinese food without worrying about brushing my teeth and lips and washing my hands and clothes before talking to the husband.
My mother fell in love with Pret a Manger for lunch. They have soups, sandwiches, and salads made up in coolers and you go grab what you want. She would have eaten there every meal. She was also fascinated with the people watching there. Most people grab and go but we’d fight for one of the limited tables and she’d be amazed every time with how many people were going in and out.
All About The Pies
When I posted about going to Bath, I got a comment recommending The Raven as a great place to eat. I looked at the menu online and got very excited. When we got to bath we tried to go for dinner but it was so crowded that we couldn’t get in. It is a small place. We came back for lunch the next day right as they opened. That was a good choice because it got crowded soon after.
We were here for the pies.
Look at that! If you aren’t vegetarian you may not notice what I saw right away. Not only is there a choice of vegetarian pies but ALL THE GRAVIES ARE VEGETARIAN! Yes, I will cross an ocean for you. Being a vegetarian means asking for no gravy on everything in restaurants. I bring my own gravy to Thanksgiving. Here is a restaurant serving 3 — count ’em THREE — vegetarian gravies as the only options.
I had the Heidi Pie with sage and onion and my mother had the fungi chicken also with sage and onion. This place also inspired me to make a cabernet gravy I found on pinterest at home. Vegetarian gravies are awesome.
I emailed this picture to the husband with the caption. “I’m eating amazing food with small sprinkles of death on top!”
This restaurant is across the road from Hampton Court. There is an outside eating area right on the Thames. There were people rowing boats and a swan hung out near us.
There were many vegetarian choices but I went with the Veg Pie. Field Mushrooms, Wilted Spinach and Hazelnuts, PanFried In White Truffle Oil, Topped With A Layer Of Béchamel Sauce Encased In Short Crust Pastry. My mother had fish and chips because she said she would have felt wrong not trying it.
So, eating in England went much better than my husband thought. I got my scandalized, tee-totaling mother into a few pubs. A few times we were too tired to care and grabbed prepared food from the grocery store for dinner.
We never did quite get the hang of restaurant etiquette. We could never figure out how to pay. We’re American. We expect to have the check dropped off after the food to pay at our leisure. Here we never saw a server after the food came so we had to flag people down and beg to pay. There is probably some British procedure for this that we were flagrantly flouting and adding the image of crass Americans. Sorry.