In brief: Three Times a Countess; Queen High; Nina Simone’s Gum – review

An eye-opening biography of Raine Spencer; an exciting counterfactual novel set in postwar Britain; and Warren Ellis’s witty account of devotion

Three Times a Countess

Tina Gaudoin
Constable, £25, pp326

Raine Spencer is best remembered today as the stepmother of Diana, Princess of Wales, but, as Gaudoin reveals in her enthralling and revelatory biography, the countess also led a tempestuous existence. Gaudoin elegantly depicts the esoteric life of an aristocrat, nicknamed ‘“Acid Raine” by her unimpressed stepdaughter, whose stormy relationships with her husbands and family were only equalled by an extravagant attitude towards fun that saw her remark, while on the verge of matrimony, “what you give out, you get back like a boomerang”.

Queen High

CJ Carey
Quercus, £16.99, pp415

Carey’s new thriller, the sequel to last year’s excellent Widowland, has acquired unexpected resonance by being published shortly after the Queen’s death, but it remains exciting and provocative dystopian fiction. In an alternative postwar Britain living under a Nazi “protectorate”, Hitler has been assassinated by the book’s protagonist, Rose Ransom, and the country has plunged into paranoia and reprisals. As rumours swirl that the usurped Princess Elizabeth will return to Britain, Rose finds herself alongside an unlikely ally, none other than Queen Wallis Simpson.

Nina Simone’s Gum

Warren Ellis
Faber, £10.99, pp224 (paperback)

In 1999, the musician Warren Ellis retrieved a piece of Nina Simone’s chewing gum from her piano after she performed at a concert. More than two decades later, this simple act has inspired a wise and witty memoir – although Ellis eschews such a description – about how such an apparently mundane object is transformed into a near-holy relic, as it comes to affect the lives of those who come into contact with it. Ellis is a hugely talented musician, and this superb book reveals that he is an equally fine writer.

• To order Three Times a Countess, Queen High or Nina Simone’s Gum go to Delivery charges may apply


Alexander Larman

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
In brief: The Good Sharps; The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle; Fey's War – review
A beguiling biography of a prominent 18th-century family; the tale of two strait-laced brothers on the European grand tour; and a mother’s struggle with the Nazis

Alexander Larman

09, Aug, 2020 @11:00 PM

Article image
In brief: 42: The Wildly Improbable Ideas of Douglas Adams; Alchemy; Mercury Pictures Presents – review
A fascinating glimpse into the mind of the humorist and sci-fi writer; a rip-roaring historical thriller; and a subversive novel set in golden-age Hollywood

Alexander Larman

06, Aug, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
In brief: The Wolf Den; In Love With Hell; Brixton Hill – reviews
A historical novel set in the Roman sex industry, a dark study of alcoholic writers and a thriller with a social conscience

Alexander Larman

16, May, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
In Brief: On Chapel Sands; Nobody Will Tell You This But Me – reviews
A gripping memoir by Laura Cumming along with a touching tribute to a Brooklynite grandmother

Hephzibah Anderson

12, Apr, 2020 @10:00 AM

Article image
In brief: Tomorrow Perhaps the Future; Queen K; Heiress, Rebel, Vigilante, Bomber – review
A fascinating study of the women who chronicled the Spanish civil war; a superb skewering of the idle rich; and the story of the debutante turned IRA activist

Alexander Larman

19, Feb, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
In brief: Troy; Home Stretch; Three Hours – reviews
Stephen Fry gives fresh life to classical myth, Graham Norton engrosses with his new novel and Rosamund Lupton compels with a school-shooting thriller

Hannah Beckerman

11, Oct, 2020 @12:00 PM

Article image
Hidden gems of 2016: great reads you may have missed
From AJ Lees’s extraordinary memoir Mentored By a Madman to Fiona Melrose’s Midwinter and Julie Myerson’s chiller The Stopped Heart, our critics recommend the reads that slipped under the radar

Hannah Beckerman, Alex Clark, Rachel Cooke, Viv Groskop, Kate Kellaway, Robert McCrum, Stephanie Merritt, Alice O'Keeffe, Alex Preston, Anthony Quinn, Anita Sethi

18, Dec, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
In brief: The Greatest: The Times and Life of Beryl Burton; Homeland; Beautiful Place – review
A tribute to a trailblazing cyclist, a journey into the European psyche and a compelling debut novel

Ben East

17, Nov, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
In Brief: Rabbits for Food; Nazi Wives; Wakenhyrst – review
A writer’s spell in a psychiatric hospital and the women at the top in Hitler’s Germany

Hannah Beckerman

10, Nov, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
In brief: Here Comes Trouble, The Wicked Cometh, Heal Me – review
Simon Wroe’s comic tale of a country in fake news meltdown, a murder mystery in Georgian London by Laura Carlin, and Julia Buckley’s revealing search for a cure

Alexander Larman

28, Jan, 2018 @12:00 PM