Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 3 – May 9

Lots of fun stuff in last week’s list. I think I’ve decided what’s going to be Book of the Week tomorrow, but it’s a close one. The weather here has been distintly mixed, which has enabled a fair amount of reading time too.

Read:

Drop the Mikes by Duncan MacMaster

April Lady by Georgette Heyer

Vera Kelly is not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Love at First by Kate Clayborn

The Clue in the Clam by Kathi Daley

To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters*

Started:

Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth MacNeal*

Frieda by Annabel Abbs

Love in the Blitz by Eileen Alexander*

Let There Be Suspects by Emilie Richards

Still reading:

Fabulosa! by Paul Baker

Bonus photo: Regulars around here will know that Elections weeks are always busy ones for me – and this week was no different, so here’s a picture of a polling station sign to represent that!

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: April 26 – May 2

The end of another month has come – so all sorts of goodies coming up here to wrap up my reading from April. I’ve also managed to get myself in gear and have no long running books on the list for once. Loads of good stuff last week though, so I have a lot I want to tell you about once I get my act in gear!

Read:

Dying for Devil’s Food by Jenn McKinlay

The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters

Runaways by Rainbow Rowell

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan**

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutano*

Jill, Lone Guide by Ethel Talbot

Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny*

Wicked Enchantment by Wanda Coleman*

Started:

Fabulosa! by Paul Baker

Vera Kelly is not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

Still reading:

N/a

Bonus photo: This week’s bonus post is a rare horticultural success for me. This is our peace lily, which my mum says is now so big it needs splitting. This is a miracle as usually plants only last for a matter of weeks in my house. I currently have four plants alive – a record – and I attribute it all to the fact that I’m home all the time so remember to water them!

A happy and large peace lily

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: April 19 – April 25

Another interesting week in reading – and I have no idea what I’m going to be picking for my Book of the Week yet. Eeep. But there are several options – I guess it’s just going to depend which of them I feel like I can write the most about. Wish me luck….

Read:

The Moor by Laurie R King

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn

He’s Not My Boyfriend by Jackie Lau

Lumberjanes Vol 17 by Shannon Watters et al

The Lying Witch in the Wardrobe by Duncan MacMaster

Die Noon by Elise Sax

Three Bedrooms, Two Baths, One Very Dead Corpse by David James

Started:

The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan**

Still reading:

Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny*

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutano*

Bonus photo: A photo from my stroll around a local nature reserve last week. I think Spring may finally have sprung and stuck!

Lagoon-y lake-y thing at a nature reserve

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Authors I love, books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: April 12 – April 18

How many times have I watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice in the last two week? Three, maybe four. Why? I don’t know, but something about it suits my mood at the moment. Debate is raging in my WhatsApp groups (at my instigation of course) about who smoulders better – Darcy or Captain von Trapp, so I’ve watched the Sound of Music again too. What can I say. I’m a creature of habit. Meanwhile, the great Amelia Peabody project hit a snag last week – when we reached the point where Audible (in the UK at least) doesn’t have the audiobooks available, so while I’m working out a solution to that we’ve gone back to the start. I look forward to hearing Him Indoors thoughts as we go through a second time – so far the headline is “Evelyn is much more annoying the second time”.

Read:

The Roommate by Rosie Danan

Christmas at Sandcastle Cottage by Christina Jones

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

What Were We Thinking by Carlos Lozada

America Dreamer by Adriana Herrera

Love is a Rogue by Leonora Bell

Started:

Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny*

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutano*

He’s Not My Boyfriend by Jackie Lau

Still reading:

The Moor by Laurie R King

Bonus photo: Our local excitement on Thursday night – as the electricity substation went up in flames.  We had a power outage for a bit on the night – but more of a problem the next day when something else got overloaded and we were without power for 6 hours. Luckily the advantage of a daytime power cut is that you can read a book in it, which is much harder work if it’s candle light!

Fire at an electricity substation

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Authors I love, historical, Series I love

Series I love: The Cazalets

It’s been a while since I wrote a series I love post – and as we’re all in the market for some binge-reading at the moment, I thought I would offer a suggestion for Easter at the same time.  I have written about Elizabeth Jane Howard’s series in roundup posts before, but it’s been a few years and now seems like the time to have a proper moment for them.

So the series tells the stories of the Cazalet family from the last years before World War Two until the 1950s. A the start of the series in The Light Years, you meet the characters in 1937 as they gather at Home Place – where The Brig and Duchy live.  They have four grown-up children, sons Hugh, Edward and Rupert – who all work in the family firm – and a daughter, Rachel, who lives at home.  Their lives look perfect on the surface, but underneath they all have problems.  Hugh is still struggling after the Great War, Edward is chronically unfaithful to his wife, Rupert has a younger, demanding wife and Rachel is putting her loyalty to the family above any chance of personal happiness.  All three of the sons have children and we see their lives too, complete with rivalries, alliances and fears. As the series goes on, you see them all age and mature (and in some cases die) until by the final book of the series even the youngest of the children from the first book are adults.

The narrative moves from character to character, so they all have their own stories that add up to a bigger picture that only the reader is fully aware of.  I have been known to go through the series just reading the bits about my favourite characters. I don’t know how Elizabeth Jane Howard does it, but she juggles a huge cast of characters while making them all seem different and distinct, and by the end you have sympathy even for the people who you found the most unlikable at the start *cough* Edward *cough* Villy *cough* and have seen promising children turn into horrors.  It’s not quite a Rich People Problems book, because although they are well off upper class types (not aristocracy though) the war is a genuine real problem with genuine consequences, but it’s not far off.

I first read the original quartet while raiding my mum’s bookshelves in my teens and my sister read them not long after. I actually own then as actual books and as ebooks and they are one of the few series that we all own our own copies of. Well, at least we all own the first four books. I think I’m the only one with a copy of the fifth. All Change came out in 2013 nearly 20 years after Casting Off – which had finished the series off perfectly – to my mind at least.  Looking back at my goodreads review from the time, I found it true to the series and not contrived, but it is telling that I haven’t been back to re-read it since then. It’s quite melancholy and sad in places – more than the others are because it doesn’t have the same payoffs at the end.  It was inevitable – and well signposted in the earlier books – that the war was going to change the lives and lifestyles of the family, but All Change really leans into the reality of that and it makes me a bit sad and means you end the series on a bit less of a satisfying high than you do if you finish at Casting Off. I don’t think it spoils the whole series (which was my big fear before it came out) but I prefer to think of them all as they were at the end of Casting Off – heading out into their futures with all sorts of possibilities unexplored and ahead of them.

The weather is just starting to turn properly nice here at the moment – with flowers blooming in the garden and the sun shining – which makes it an ideal time to start reading about the last golden summers before the Second World War.  At 400 pages each, they’ll also keep you going over the long Easter weekend and beyond if you want them to.  I originally read these not long after I had read Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Hold the Dream series and was looking for something similar – telling the stories of a family over years and years.  Once I’d read the Cazalets, I was spoiled forever for the genre.  Lots of people have tried to tell stories like this, but very few have done it as well as Elizabeth Jane Howard did. The original books came out in the early 90s, so it’s very possible that some of you reading this haven’t come across her before – so if you like authors like Harriet Evans, Dinah Jeffries or have enjoyed Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan books, you should totally try these.  And if anyone has any recommendations for other series that I could read that do the same sort of thing – then drop them in the comments. Also: if you like this and haven’t read The Camomile Lawn, then you should totally read that too.

As the bookshops are closed, and these aren’t new releases, I suspect you’ll have to buy them as ebooks.  The Kindle and Kobo editions of the Light Years are £3.99 at the moment, which isn’t too bad.  After that the prices go up for books two and three and Casting Off is a bargainous 99p (Kindle/Kobo)- but whatever you do, don’t start there, it won’t work for you anywhere near as well.

Happy Reading and stay safe.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Christmas books

Book of the Week: Hither, Page

An embarrassment of riches on this week’s list, but I think this was my favourite.  Lots of stuff from it will be making appearances in other posts soon too – in fact the only thing against Hither, Page being this week’s pick is that I sort of wanted it for my Christmas reading post, which is taking longer to put together than I was expecting because I haven’t liked a lot of the stuff that I’ve been reading with an eye to including it.  But this wasn’t on the original list of potentials for the Christmas post, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Anyway, on to the book.

Cover of Hither, Page

Hither, Page is a murder mystery and romance set in Britain in the aftermath of World War Two. James Sommers has come back from the war to work as the doctor in the village that he lived in as a child.  After he catches his cleaning lady looking through his patient records and snooping in his flat he lets her go. But soon she’s found dead after a dinner party at the Big House and James feels like the peace of his post-war sanctuary has been shattered. Leo Page works for one of the shadowier (and possibly dodgier) bits of the British secret service and is surprised to be sent to a sleepy village to investigate a charlady’s death. Soon Leo and James are crossing paths – one as as he tries to solve the crime, the other he tries to get his village back to normal – or at least that’s what he thinks he’s doing.

I think you all know me well enough to know that this plot summary ticks quite a lot of my boxes – murder mystery, mid-twentieth century, secret services connection and it’s sort of enemies forced to work together.  It’s funny and snarky and has a great cast of supporting characters who – as it’s the first of a series – we should hear more from in books to come. What is not to love.

I’m always after a new historical mystery series, and Cat Sebastian was one of my 2018 Obsessions as I worked my way through her back catalogue so this is practically a Venn diagram all on its own. My only complaints were that it wasn’t long enough and as it’s the first in the series I now have to wait impatiently for the next installment which doesn’t even have a name yet it’s so long away.  However in writing this post I realised that there is another Cat Sebastian book due out soon (in December and I’ve got it pre-ordered already, well done PastVerity) which is good, but I think we’ve just ruled that out of BotW contention if I read it straightaway, which I think we all know I will.  Hey ho (ho, ho), you can’t win them all.

My copy of Hither, Page came from the library – but it’s available on Kindle and on Kobo now.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, book round-ups, Series I love

Bonus post: Where to start with Terry Pratchett

The long-awaited Amazon/BBC Good Omens adaptation goes live on Amazon Prime today, and I’ve had a couple of conversations with people about where to start with Terry Pratchett. So I thought this was a good time to do a quick bonus post about one of my favourite authors because the answer is not simple. But first, here’s the Good Omens trailer:

 

So obviously, if you enjoy Good Omens, then read that first. There are snazzy tie in editions and a script book and all sorts to coincide with the TV event, you should even be able to pick them up in the supermarket I could have thoughts. But obviously Good Omens is co-written with Neil Gaiman and is in an alternative version of the real world. So where next? Well, that depends what you like to read the rest of the time. And this is one (rare) occasion where I wouldn’t suggest starting at the very beginning. Why? Well unless you’re already a fantasy reader (and if you are why haven’t you read him already?) then these are the furthest away from what you’re used to and they might scare you off. They’re not the most accessible and (imho) they’re not his best. The series improves as Pratchett develops the world and its many characters and leans into the satire of our real world.. Luckily there are series within the series and other ways in.

Cover of The Truth

This is a very non traditional choice, but I actually think The Truth is actually a really good place to start. It’s sort of stand alone but it’s also the first of the Industrial Revolution books and is centred on the invention of the printing press and what happened next. It’s got the later Pratchett social satire, but it also has some of the key features of other series: it’s set in Ankh Morpork, the City Watch appear, the Patrician features and there’s a sprinkling of the supernatural- vampires, werewolves and magic. And if you like it, depending on what your favourite bits are, it’ll give you a clue about where to read next.

Cover of Guards! Guards!

Now, if you like what you see of the Watch in The Truth, then try Guards! Guards! You’re jumping back in time, but it’s the first book in the Watch cycle.  If you like police or crime-y type stories usually, this might also be your best place to start.  There’s a nice new* edition at the moment with an introduction from Ben Aaronovitch – so if you like his Rivers of London series (and lord knows I do) then this is your best jumping in point.  This has a rag tag team of misfits who are the night watch and their reluctant leader Sam Vimes trying to figure out who is trying to take over the city – and stop them.  I love it.  Vimes is a wonderful creation – but then Pratchett is full of wonderful creations. Wikipedia describes him as “somewhere between an  Inspector Morse-type ‘old-school’ British policeman, and a film-noir-esque grizzled, jaded detective” and I think that’s pretty much right.  He doesn’t want to care, he definitely doesn’t want to be The Hero, and yet it just seems to keep happening.  There are eight novels about the Watch – and there’s a TV series that’s been in development since before Sir Terry died, but which seems to be inching closer to being a reality. I’ve got everything crossed that it will materialise eventually.

Cover of Wyrd Sisters

If you like the magic-y type stuff, then go and read Wyrd Sisters.  This was actually my first Discworld book, recommended by a wise librarian when I was at the bottom end of secondary school**.  Wyrd Sisters is twisted Macbeth but with witches running the show.  It’s also the first really big appearance*** of the most beloved characters in the series – as the blurb says witches “don’t have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn’t have.”  I love Granny and her gang and they’re a great jumping off point for the series in a very different part of the Disc. And once you’ve read them, maybe come back for the wizards.

If you’re still unsure where to go next then try Mort. Mort is a young country lad who ends up apprenticed to Death himself, and it really isn’t what he expected.   Mort was the top rated Pratchett book in the BBC’s Big Read list back in 2003 – coming in at number 65, three places in front of Good Omens and one of five Pratchetts in the top 100 (with 15 in the top 200!).  Mort and Death are an excellent double act, Binky the horse is brilliant and if you like this strand then Soul Music is one of the best take offs of popular music you could hope for.  Death appears in pretty much every book in the series as well as in Good Omens – so Mort is also an excellent place to start if you read Good Omens and want more of him. It’s also the fourth book in the series and is the earliest of alternative starting points.

As well as having read the books, I also own a lot of the audiobooks – the early series are mostly done by Nigel Planer (or Tony Robinson for abridged versions) and the sound quality on audible is described as “vintage” (it’s awful for some of them – I actually returned at least one!) but Stephen Briggs takes over at book 24 and I love his narration  My most listened to are the Moist Von Lipwig books. They’re the next stage of the industrial revolution series that starts with The Truth (or Moving Pictures depending on how you’re reckoning it) and I think Going Postal is my favourite of the entire series, and not just because I was a stamp collector as a child. For me, they’re the culmination of everything that has been going on in the background through the other books with Vetinari’s vision for the city and Pratchett’s satire on modern life. I know some don’t like Raising Steam and get a bit touchy about the latter books in general, but my only really problem with it is that Adora Belle has the wrong accent in the audiobook and that’s Stephen Briggs’s fault not Sir Terry’s.

Usually I would suggest the middle grade part of the series much earlier than this. But although I love Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles are brilliant, as an adult, if you’re going to read these you need to have read the Witches’ books first so you get the full impact of The Thing That Happens in the final book in the series, The Shepherd’s Crown.  But once you have read the Witches – or if you have a middle grader – The Wee Free Men is the place to start.  One of the other middle grade books, Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, is on offer at the moment but it’s the only Discworld that I haven’t read so I can’t tell you where to fit it in at the moment – but I’ve bought it and I’m gong to fix that!

Cover of The Colour of Magic

And finally there’s Rincewind. He’s the first running character and he comes with the Luggage (I want a Luggage), but he is in at the very start in the highest fantasy the series has. Go discover him once you’re already in love with the series. It’ll work best for you if you’re not a fantasy regular.  Start with the first book – The Colour of Magic – and go from there.  This was one of the ones that Sky turned into a mini series along with Hogfather and my beloved Going Postal (which has early Clare Foy as Adora Belle!) and is actually worth a look. I liked it as a version of the first two books, and they do make them rattle along.  There are nine Rincewind novels – the longest of the strands through the series.

There’s so much more I’ve barely touched on here, but so I don’t turn into any more of a boring fangirl, I’ll leave it here, except for saying that with 80 million book sales around the world you really should give it a try.   If you’re a Pratchett fan, let me know your favourites in the comments and tell me where your recommended starting point for newbies is.  I’ve put a nice graphic in below – but that doesn’t even reckon The Truth is a starting point, so you can see how many different options and opinions there are.  I’m off to read Maurice and watch Good Omens (not at the same time).

Happy Reading!

graphic of the series

*these new editions have proved… controversial with some of the Pratchett fans – because they don’t look like Pratchetts – but that’s precisely the point.  They don’t look like fantasy because there are a lot of people who don’t read books with the sort of illustrated covers that these have previously had.  Think of it as the equivalent of the adult cover Harry Potter books.

**I can remember Jingo coming out (but i’m not sure if it was the paperback or hardback) and being excited about it, which dates the start of my Pratchett reading to 1997ish.

***She’s in Equal Rites too, but don’t worry.

Authors I love, Recommendsday, romance

Recomendsday: Diverse romance edition

So, it has been A Week in Romancelandia.  The shortlist for RITA Golden Heart awards came out and it was incredibly white for the umpteenth time in a row and everyone (me included) is angry about it.  And as discussion about it raged on Twitter, it turned out that a whole load of black authors have just given up entering their work (you have to enter it yourself and pay a fee to be considered) because no black author has ever won one. Never. Not one.  And only seven of 20 categories have had a winner who isn’t white in 20 years. Twenty. Years.  I’m not a romance writer (I’m a reader) and I’m not American – so I can’t do anything to actually fix the RITAs.  But I can do my bit in book recommendations, because bitching about it on Twitter doesn’t solve anything.

Cover of Mrs Martins Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

Yesterday’s book of the week was Alyssa Cole’s latest novella, Can’t Escape Love, and as mentioned there, her next novel is out in April. Also on my reading list last week was Courtney Milan’s new novella, Mrs Martin’s Incomparable Adventure, which came out yesterday, but which I got an advance copy of and is really excellent (two older ladies find love as they persecute a Terrible Nephew). But if you’ve been hanging round romance for any length of time you should already know about them because they’re giants of the genre at this point. So who else?

Well if you’re in the market for more modern royals novels after Alyssa Cole whetted your appetite, then Talia Hibbert’s The Princess Trap might be just what you are looking for.  It was a BotW here last year, and she is pro-lif-ic – with small town contemporaries and paranormal among her series and a lot of choice of tropes.  She also has terrific book covers.  Here’s her website with a list of titles and blurbs so you can find your catnip.  And if you sign up to her mailing list, you get freebies to read too.

Jasmine Guillory reading from The Proposal

Jasmine Guillory was one of the names that people were expecting to see on the RITA list – I know I was because 2018 was a massive year for her.  I really enjoyed her debut, The Wedding Date, and the second in the series, The Proposal, and saw her do a reading from the latter while I was in Washington.  The Wedding Date (fake relationship turns real) is £1.99 on Kindle/Kobo at the moment and The Proposal (a Reese Witherspoon book club pick) is £2.99 on Kindle/Kobo.  Her third book – The Wedding Party – is £1.99 to preorder** on Kindle and Kobo as I write this and is out in July.

If you want a sports romance, I’ve just finished I’ll Catch You (Kindle/Kobo) by Farah Rochon, which has a female sports agent falling head over heels for her first client – a running back with a bad boy image who may not be quite what he seems. It’s a category romance and was over far too quickly for me – I could easily have spent another hundred pages with Payton and Cedric.  It’s the second book in the series (which have had a smart-looking repacking since the edition my library holds) and the first, Huddle With Me Tonight, is £1.56 on Kindle at the moment and just slightly more on Kobo.  I haven’t read it (yet!) but one of her medical romances, Deliver Me, is free at the moment on Kindle and Kobo.

Want a historical romance?  Well Beverley Jenkins is the biggest name in the field – she is a legend of the genre and her historicals come up in every discussion about historical romances featuring non-white characters.  I have a whole load of her books on hold with my library, but if yours doesn’t carry them (the UK not being great for American romances in paperback) then Forbidden is 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment and Breathless and several others are £1.99.  She also writes contemporary romances – her Blessings series is super highly rated – Bring on the Blessings is the first one (Kindle/Kobo) but they’re a bit more expensive.

Away from Ms Bev, Vanessa Riley’s Advertisements for Love series features smart non-white characters in Britain looking for their happily ever afters.  I’ve read the first two – and loved the characters but they weren’t neccesarily my favourite tropes and were a little melodramatic for me .  But I liked them both enough that I have book three waiting on the Kindle because it looks like it is one of my tropes!  The first one is The Bittersweet Bride (£2.84 on Kindle at the moment, also on Kobo but more expensive there) which is a second-chance love story with a secret, the second is The Bashful Bride (Kindle/Kobo) which is a marriage of convenience and the third is The Butterfly Bride (Kindle/Kobo) which looks like a friends to lovers, which is usually totally my catnip.  Her website is here and has details of all her books.

Rebekah Witherspoon writes contemporary erotic romances.  I read her novella So Sweet (Kindle/Kobo) back in 2016 after she gave copies away as part of a sponsorship deal with the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcase, but struggled at the time to get any more of her stories in the UK at a price that was under my kindle price cap.  Sugar Daddy stories aren’t usually my thing, and I’m not a big erotic romance reader, but I enjoyed it a lot – it was more romantic than I was expecting, but so steamy that I blushed too hard to read it in public.  I’m waiting for holds to come in at the library – but have FIT (Kindle/Kobo) waiting for me on my Kindle because it’s £1.99 at the moment.  I just need to find somewhere to blush in peace!  Her website is here.

Asian authors have at least won some prizes at the RITAs – but they’re still way below the representation they should have.  Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient was another book I – and a lot of others – were expecting to see on the list – but she was among the authors who didn’t even enter.

The Kiss Quotient was one of my favourite books of last year – her next book, The Bride Test is out at the start of May, was on my list of most anticipated books of 2019 – and is £1.89 to preorder on Kindle at the moment (Kobo don’t have it listed yet).  From the blurb, The Bride Test is a modern day relationship of convenience with culture clash between a Vietnamese American man and a Vietnamese woman.  He’s got autism and is convinced he doesn’t do feelings, she’s fallen head over heels for him and wants him to love her back – and she’s got a time limit to make it happen.  What is not to love.  I can’t wait.

Suleikha Snyder is an Indian-American and writes small town and Bollywood romances.  I read Tikka Chance on Me in January – and it’s a funny sexy biker gang romance novella.  I’m not usually a biker gang romance girl – but this was *kisses fingers*.  It’s 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.  And the first in her Bollywood Confidential series, Spice and Smoke, is free (Kindle/Kobo)at the moment and is now waiting on my to-read pile.  You’re welcome.

Cover of A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

In not a quite romance books, Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock historical mystery series is awesome – here’s my BotW review of A Study in Scarlet Women – I have book three waiting on the pile, and she’s just finished writing book four.  Thomas also writes romance and YA fantasy – although I haven’t ready any of those from here yet – and English is her second language.

In other Not Romance books – I’ve got an advance copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton (I’m in the blog tour for it!), which is a historical mystery about a Jamaican maid accused of murdering her employer and his wife in 1826.  I’ve already started reading it and it is shaping up to be good so far.  A debut novel – and Sara Collins was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish prize while she was writing it.

Hardback copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton and promotional mini-newspaper

So there you have it.  Go forth and read romance and read diversely.  And I want more recommendations please.  I’m very aware that my list may not be straying too far from the mainstream and people recommended by the authors that I follow on Twitter.  You all know how many books I read a year – and you know I love discovering new authors so give me names.  Just writing this post has had me buying more books – because Ms Bev’s prices are lower than I’ve ever seen them in the UK at the moment.  I’m currently reading An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole (the first in her Loyal League Civil War series) and have several Ms Bevs waiting to be read next.

Happy Reading!

*I didn’t realise that so many book awards had an entry fee.  I don’t know how I thought the shortlists were come up with – I guess I naively thought it was going to be the best new books by eligible people/members of the organisation…

**Have I mentioned before that pre-orders are super useful to authors?  They let publishers know how much interest there is in a book – particularly important for own voices authors who often get told that people don’t want to read books like theirs. My only gripe with pre-ordering on Kindle is that the Amazon pre-order price guarantee doesn’t apply.  I think Kobo do do a price guarantee on pre-orders, but I can’t be dealing with another ebook platform – I’m already confused enough with two (apple books, Kindle) and the chances of me buying the same book multiple times are High.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: Death of an Angel

It’s Danny Bird time again!  The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted my copy of Death of an Angel on the Week in Books post and suspected what today’s pick might be.  Danny’s previous outings have featured on this blog before, and I was lucky enough to do an interview with Derek Farrell before the release of book three.  I’ve been looking forward to reading this since the end of book three, and tried to subtly badger Derek to hurry up and write quicker when I met him in person (for the first and I hope not last time!) at the Polari Salon in London last summer where he was giving a reading.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy (the first advance copy?) of Death of an Angel, which is out on the 28th and it was a total no-brainer for it to be this week’s Book of the Week.Cover of Death of an Angel

In case you haven’t read about Danny before, he’s the landlord of the possibly the most unlikely gay pub in (south) London. The Marq is owned by a gangster and has a seriously chequered past – including at this point, several bodies turning up at inconvenient times. His best friend is the champagne swilling, possibly alcoholic, definitely going to tell you exactly what she thinks Lady Caz and he’s got a slightly tricky relationship going on with a policeman. He’s also got a developing reputation for solving mysteries.

We rejoin the gang at the start of Death of an Angel, when Danny’s name is found written on the hand of a woman who has fallen from a tower block. To make matters worse, the pub’s phone number is in her contacts list, so of course the police haul him in for questioning. Trouble is, Danny has no idea who she is. The police seem strangely reluctant to believe this and soon Danny is investigating what led to Cathy Byrne’s fall from the ninth floor. At the same time, Danny is doing a touch of investigating for his solicitor and there are major ructions going on in his family – as his siblings are convinced something is wrong in their parents’ relationship.  And don’t even get started on the boyfriend front.

Death of an Angel takes us away from the Marq – for once this death isn’t threatening Danny’s livelihood (only his freedom!) and so there’s less of Ali the bar manageress and the Asbo twins, but don’t worry – there’s a limit to how many bodies can turn up at a business and it remain solvent (no matter what the cupcake bakeries over in the cozy crime genre would have you believe) and it’s great to see Danny stretch his wings in his south London home neighbourhood. This is a great mystery – fast-paced and with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. And the fabulous banter is still there – I mean what’s not to love about a hero who refers to himself as “Sherlock Homo”? Or has lines this:

You know how, when people say someone’s ageless they usually mean ‘eternally youthful’ and not ‘looks so old it seems impossible that he could still be living without the age of Necromancy’?

But there’s also a serious side to this. There are some proper social issues here: Danny’s investigation touches on gentrification, house prices, dodgy developers, dubious councillors lining their own pockets and high-end flats sitting empty because they’ve been bought as an investment by the rich, while people from the area are being forced out by a lack of affordable housing and high rents. That all makes the book sound serious and worthy – and it’s totally not. This is the best of Danny – mysteries with a conscience, that will entertain you but also make you think without clubbing you over the head with A Message.

It’s taken a long time for this fourth instalment to arrive, I really hope we don’t have to wait as long for another. Death of an Angel is published by Fahrenheit Press (remember them?!) and should be available from their website and from Amazon from the 28th. That’s a week on Thursday. I’ll try and remind you…

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, detective, mystery, Series I love

Series I love: Roderick Alleyn

Now I’ve written about Albert Campion as well as Peter Wimsey, it would be remiss of me not to write about Ngaio Marsh’s brilliant creation, not least because I spend as much time re-reading or re-listening to the Roderick Alleyn mysteries and watching the BBC TV versions while I iron as I do revisiting Wimsey or watching Miss Marple.  And as I have now finished reading the series, having treated myself to the last omnibus in the January sales, this is an even better time to write about them!

Shelf of Ngaio Marsh omnibuses
Omnibus two is on loan to my dad. I think. I hope.

In some ways, Roderick Alleyn is another of the gentlemen detectives so popular in Golden Age detective fiction – he’s a well-educated younger son of a baronet, born in the 1890s and who served in the First World War – but with one major difference: Alleyn is actually a police officer.  At the start of the series, in A Man Lay Dead he’s a Detective Chief Inspector, by the end he is a Chief Superintendent.  A Man Lay Dead was published in 1934, the final novel came out in 1982 and the setting of the series moves with the time period – although Alleyn’s age… doesn’t really.  At the start of the series Alleyn is single, but later marries artist Agatha Troy, who he first met during the course of the case in the sixth book.  Troy, and later their son Ricky, pop up in several more cases, but by no means all of them -his regular companions are Inspector Fox and xxx Bailey.

Most of the books are set in and around London and the south of England, but there are several novels set in Marsh’s native New Zealand.  Marsh was passionate about the theatre and the arts and several of the novels are feature actors as well as the Unicorn Theatre in London and artists and artistic circles.  This means there’s a really nice variety of settings, and combined with the fact that Alleyn is a police detective, helps avoid the series seeming repetitive of like bodies are following Roderick around.  Alleyn is also a more peripheral figure in some of the novels than many of the other Golden Age detectives are.  In A Man Lay Dead, most of the story is mostly told from the perspective of Nigel Bathgate, friend of Alleyn and a guest at the party where a man has been really killed during a game of Murder, A Surfeit of Lampreys is seen through the eyes of Roberta Grey, visiting a family of penniless and eccentric aristocrats when their uncle is killed in a lift and there are more.

As I mentioned at the start, I’ve read all the books now, but I’ve watched the early 90s TV adaptation so many times that I’ve had to go back and do some actual re-reading of the novels as the TV versions are colouring my memories of the novels slightly.  There are eight TV Alleyns – and there are a few differences from the book.  The most obvious is probably that Troy is in almost all of them, with the relationship between the two their relationship builds over the course of the series.  The second is the condensing and moving of the timeline – while the series starts before the Second World War and continues in the post-war period, the TV series specifically sets the first case in 1948 and moves on from there.

There are also fairly major alterations to the plots – some have less victims than their book equivalent, others have characters removed and replaced, others have extra subplots added in and others taken out. The other obvious difference for the viewer is that two different actors play Alleyn – Simon Williams in Artists in Crime, the pilot episode and the story where Alleyn meets Troy, and Patrick Malahide in all the others.  Williams’ Alleyn is also a slightly different character – he’s said to have had a difficult war and is seen having some emotional difficulty with the resonpsibilty of the job – generally more Wimsey-ish than when Malahide plays him in the subsequent episodes.  I have reminder set on my TiVo box to record The Alleyn Mysteries and generally have two or three saved at a time for watching while ironing.  My favourites are – bizarrely – the aforementioned pilot and Dead Water  In fact if you fancy it, Alibi are showing two Alleyn’s this weekend and another two the week after.  They all have the added bonus that if you’ve watched any other murder mysteries (or costume dramas to be honest) of the same sort of vintage, you can spot the same people popping up all over the place – particularly the Joan Hickson Miss Marples: Emily Pride in Dead Water is played by Margaret Tyzack who plays Clotilde Bradbury Scott in Nemesis; in Artists in Crime, Rory’s mother Lady Alleyn is played by Ursula Howells who is Miss Blacklock in A Murder Is Announced.  They are not the only ones, but they’re probably the most obvious*.  There’s also cross over with Campion and Poirot as well as the BBC TV Narnia adaptations…

Audible screengrab showing Ngaio Marsh novels

Several of the Alleyn mysteries are on fairly heavy rotation in my audiobook library.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I am Very Bad With Silence and often listen to audiobooks to go to sleep to while I’m away from home.  And the audiobook fan is particularly lucky with this series – there’s abridged and unabridged versions of many of the novels with a variety of different narrators.  Benedict Cumberbatch has done shortened versions of three of them – Artists in Crime, Scales of Justice and Death in a White Tie – but I also like Anton Lesser (who is particularly good at accents).  And if you want something even shorter there are also a few radio plays available on Audible.  My favourites on audiobook are probably the Cumberbatch Scales of Justice and then Lesser’s  Opening Night and James Saxon’s unabridged Final Curtain.

If you fancy trying some Inspector Alleyn, you should be able to get hold of them fairly easily – they are available as ebooks, or as the three novel omnibuses that I have and they’re often in secondhand bookshops (although not usually charity shops, the most recent editions are a bit too old).  I started at the beginning and worked my way through (over the course of just under five years) but I don’t think you need to read them in order to enjoy them.  There is also an unfinished Alleyn, recently finished by Stella Duffy, which is out in paperback next month and which I have on my to read pile to get to sooner rather than later now that I’ve finished the series proper.  If you’re an Alleyn fan, let me know which your favourites are in the comments – and if you’ve read the “new” one let me know what you thought!

Happy Reading!

*Keen Marple readers/viewers will spot what those two characters have in common, which is why they sprung to mind!

Cover of Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy