As I mentioned yesterday, I changed my reading plans last week and focused on books by black authors and other authors of colour. And so for the second week in a row, this week’s BotW pick is a book for young people.
Tiffany Jewell is an anti-racism educator and this book does exactly what the subtitle suggests – it is a beautifully illustrated (by Aurélia Durand) and brilliantly to the point book that will make children first think about and understand their levels of privilege and then start to look at what they can do to change the status quo and deal with systemic racism. It has activities in every chapter aimed at making readers think and examine their own lives and actions, where ever on the scale of privilege they live. It also helps you work out what you can do to make a difference – how you can use your skills and talents to be anti-racist. Written from the author’s lived experiences – whilst also reflecting the fact that racism manifests in a multitude of insidious ways – it’s absolutely centring the experiences of people who are experiencing racism. This is a great starting point to try to show children what they can do and how to feel less powerless. This would be a great tool for the classroom. It’s also a great tool for adults – to read, digest and think about what you should be doing in your own life. I’m obviously older than the target audience for the book, but I still got a lot from it.
My copy of This Book is Anti-Racist came from NetGalley, but it is on offer at the moment on Kindle for £1.99. You may be able to track down a copy via your local independent book seller, but a lot of books about racism are out of stock at the moment and I think this may be the same, as Amazon don’t have any paperback stock at the moment. Hopefully the publishers are working on getting more copies out there, so that it can be in school libraries and classrooms when we get to the new normal.
So while I was writing about nice escapist reading from the ‘rona, I realised that even though I’ve talked about it a lot, I haven’t written a Series I Love post about one of my favourites: Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant/Rivers of London series. Back in the early days of the blog, I wrote about the first book, Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot if you’re in the US) but sticking to my rule about not recommending later books in series, even though there’s a lot of five star ratings on my Goodreads for them, I haven’t revisited the series properly. Even though my bonus picture for one of the last weeks before the lockdown was me at a Ben Aaronovitch event for the new book – and I enjoyed it so much I had a ticket for another one which got cancelled because of said lockdown. Anyway, now I’ve read that latest instalment in the series, here goes:
We meet Peter Grant in the first book as a rookie police officer in the Met, about to get assigned to a dead end department until he sees a ghost. Yes that’s right, a ghost. That leads him into a hidden world of magic and encounters The Folly – or the magic department. This means the series is what I have described as Grown Up Hogwarts but in the Police. Over the course of the subsequent eight books (so far), two novellas, an audiobook exclusive and a line of graphic novels, he and the gang have investigated in Soho, in the Underground, in a brutalist estate, in Herefordshire and in Mayfair and so much more as he’s learned about the world of magic, River Gods and so much more.
I don’t want to go into too much of the plots, because really that spoils everything, but I will say that you do need to read these in order – there is an overarching story that weaves in around the cases of the week (so to speak), which builds over time to a crescendo that puts everything else into second place. Peter doesn’t know that magic exists until he sees the ghost in the first book – but once he’s involved and has met Inspector Nightingale (the last wizard in England) things are slowly revealed to him. Ben Aaronovitch used to write for Dr Who and I think it really shows in his skill at building a complete and fully formed world – even if he insists he didn’t have all the rules sorted out when he first started writing the series.
Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking that you don’t really do books like this, but please don’t be so hasty or so judgemental.* If you’ve read Harry Potter, then this is nothing more “hard” fantasy than that is really. Ditto if you’ve read Terry Pratchett – this is closer to “real life” than he is. If you read police procedurals as your main thing (and hello, lovely to see you if you do, but not sure how you got here) then this is really one step small away from reality – the jargon of the police force is there – down to the brand name of their walkie talkies. So go on, give it a go. I honestly don’t think anyone who I’ve recommended them to and who actually read one has told me they didn’t like them.
As I said, start at the beginning with Rivers of London. These have sold a tonne of copies, so if you’re somewhere where you can get to a bookshop, then I would be surprised if they don’t have a copy in stock. And if they’re not open, then call your local and see if they have a copy they can send you. I’m sure Big Green Books will oblige if he can too. Equally your local library (and their digital collection) should carry them – mine does. They’re also on Kindle and Kobo. The audiobook versions are read by the silky-voiced Kobna Holdbrook-Smith** and I own most of those as well. The eagle-eyed may have noticed in the photo of my shelf that I’m missing one of the novellas and that’s because before that event at Foyles, I waited for them to come out in paperback. I’ve broken that duck now, so who knows what will happen – They’ve already changed the paperback style so that furthest station and Lies Sleeping don’t quite match the previous ones, so all bets are off. Will I mix it up? Will I buy another copy of False Value when it comes out in paperback so they match?
Anyway, go forth and enjoy and when London’s reopened after all this, hopefully you’l have enjoyed the series so much that you’ll be planning a walking tour of all the various locations.
*If you’re a romance reader who is fed up of people being rude about your genre of choice, then stop now and have a good hard think about what you’re saying and how much you hate it when people do that about romance. And if you need more persuading: Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches has mentioned (more than once) on her podcast how much she enjoys them.
**The observant of voice may recognise him from Paddington 2 where he plays the warder, but he’s been all over various bits of TV for years – and also won an Olivier award for playing Ike Turner in the original cast of Tina! (Which I’m still annoyed that I didn’t manage to see)
There are Mini Reviews from April coming up tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s another BotW post. And for the second week running it’s not a mystery. Logging Off is a comedy but it does have romantic elements, so don’t panic, I’m not that far outside my current trends.
Andy Bellows has got a problem – he’s feeling awful. He’s got insomnia, anxiety and neck-ache, on top of the IBS he’s had for years. When he googles his symptoms, the internet convinces him that he’s got a fatal illness, so he heads to the doctors. But what the doctor diagnoses is an unhealthy reliance on the internet and modern technology and instead of getting a death sentence, Andy is prescribed a digital detox. He’s is convinced the doctor is wrong, but his best friend convinces him to give it a go. Soon Andy is trying to navigate the world the old-fashioned way and realising how different it is without a smartphone in his hand. But when a story about his detox appears in the local paper, he becomes a hero to other people who are worried they have the same problems – and suddenly Andy has a new problem to deal with. Will Andy ever be able to figure out how to balance his life?
It might seem a bit of a strange choice to pick a book about a digital detox at a time when most of us are using technology more than ever to keep in touch with family and friends, but this made me laugh so much that I couldn’t help myself. Admittedly it took me a little bit to get into – but I’m blaming that on the poo-splosion incident near the start, which was too close to humiliation humour for me* but that’s just me. Andy’s adventures without his phone were funny and relatable, the secondary characters are great and I thought the resolution was really clever. It also reminds you not to take what you see on the internet too seriously as a model for your own life and will make you think about your own technology consumption – especially if you’re reading it on a Kindle like I was – but in a good way not in a boring preachy way that will make you feel bad about it. I mean I work in a tech heavy and tech reliant job and I was definitely thinking “well at least I don’t do that” rather than “uh oh, I have a problem” while I was reading it.
This is the second Nick Spalding book I’ve read – I read Bricking It back in December 2015 and that was a BotW as well as getting a mention in my books about renovations post. I’m not to sure why it’s taken me so long to read him again, because I really enjoyed that too. Four and a bit years ago, my main complaint with Bricking It (according to my Goodreads review) was that the resolution was a bit too sudden, and this one doesn’t have that problem. There is a definite dilemma that Andy is going through and it resolves itself in stages – and you don’t really notice that it’s doing it until you realise that it’s done. Which is neat.
Anyway, this came out at the start of April, and I hope that the fact that everyone is stuck inside on their phones hasn’t discouraged people from buying it. My copy came from NetGalley, but you can get hold of it now on Kindle (it’s in Kindle Unlimited at the moment too!) or as a paperback or audiobook exclusively from Amazon.
*It’s hard to explain, but not good with humour based on embarrassment or humiliation. It’s why I struggle with Alan Partridge and The Office. They used to be one one after the other when I was at uni and I watched with my then boyfriend in the common room because everyone was and I didn’t want to be the boring one and I really struggled. When The Office Christmas Special was on, I watched it at home only to see if Tim and Dawn got a happy ending. To this day only you can make me come over all misty-eyed.
A short BotW post today, and another week, another crime pick… I just can’t help myself. Crime is also most of what I’ve been reading in the last week.
It’s pouring with rain when a spiv bursts into a pub to say that there is a dead man in a local factory. The body in question is that of one of the administrators at the factory and Inspector Littlejohn is called in from Scotland Yard to investigate when the local detective fails to make headway. What Littlejohn discovers in the small town is a tangle of divided loyalties and dark secrets.
I’m on a run of forgotten detective novels and this one is a good one. The town is cleverly drawn, with economical but incisive portraits of its residents. The mystery is well set out and even if the finale gets a little overblown, you sort of forgive it for the swashbuckling flare it shows. This is my second George Bellairs – I read Death Stops the Frolic at the start of March and I liked that a lot. My only quibble with that was that I wasn’t sure if the resolution of that one was a clever twist or a bit of a cheat. This is equally clever, but with a solution that feels fairer to the reader and detective that I prefer – which is probably unsurprising given that this is the 14th in a long series featuring Littlejohn and I think that Death stops the Frolic was the only story featuring Superintendent Nankivell.
My copy came via the publisher’s mailing list, but it’s available now for free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited or to buy on Kindle. I can’t find it on Kobo – but they do have other books in the series available.
As you can tell from yesterday’s post, a lot of reading happened on the holiday. It was glorious. Sun, sea, sand and a nice mix of stuff from the digital TBR pile and upcoming books. And this week’s pick for Book of the Week even came out yesterday so that’s some actual good timing from me for once!
Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport do not get along. They’re professional rivals and have been sniping at each other across the airwaves for years. But now the feuding TV presenters are being forced to work together on morning television – and if it doesn’t work, it could finish both of their careers. The ratings are in the toilet and they’ve got the month leading up to Christmas to turn it around. As long as they don’t kill each other first. But when mishaps start happening on set, it seems that they may have a common enemy. And then there’s the fact that the general public seem to be developing a misapprehension that these two are secretly lusting after each other. Which they’re totally not, right?
This is the fifth book in the London Celebrities series, and if you’ve read the previous installments, you’ve come across our leads before – Sabrina is the sister of Freddy, the heroine of the previous book, and we saw Sabrina’s combative professional relationship with Nick come to a head at the end of The Austen Playbook. Now while you don’t have to have read the rest of the series to enjoy this, it will completely spoil the plot of The Austen Playbook if you haven’t read that one first. Lucy Parker seems to specialise in enemies-to-lovers tropes and this is another really good one. What I particularly liked about it is that once they’ve got over their issues with each other, they move on as a team and the rest of the plot is not about people constantly trying to sow doubt in each of their minds about the other or silly misunderstandings between them that could be solved with a conversation.
As with the other books in the series, the dialogue is great – there is so much witty banter, and not just between the leads – the supporting characters get their share too. And I loved the situations that Nick and Sabrina found themselves in on the TV show – they’re exactly the sort of thing a ratings-obsessed editor might come up with and they’re funny but not in a cringey hide-behind-your-hands way. And if you have read the rest of the series, there are some nice callbacks for you. Obviously Freddy is in it, because she’s Sabrina’s sister, but there are also appearances from previous leads – and antagonists. It was a real treat – I even made myself slow down and go away and read something else to make it last longer at one point because it was that good. And don’t be put off by the fact that this is set in the run up to Christmas and it’s January, because it’s not that Christmasy – the Christmas deadline is just that, it’s not really the centre of the plot. I mean I read it on a beach in Lanzarote – and thought it was really a perfect book beach read, but equally it would lighten the winter gloom if you’re not fortunate enough to be somewhere relaxing and sunny!
My copy came from NetGalley, but Headliners is available now in Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook.
Hello hello hello! Fresh from a bank holiday Monday off work and a Drag Race marathon, this week’s book of the week is The Frame-Up – which has nerd culture, comic books and drag queens. Perfect.
MG (that’s short for Michael-Grace, but she won’t thank me for telling you) is a writer at a comic book company with a side line in costume designing. She’s in the queue for her morning latte when she recognises a panel from a comic in a crime scene photo in the newspaper. Soon a handsome police officer is asking for her help in untangling the clues to the crime – but his colleagues are suspicious of her. Can MG solve the mystery and win the big costume competition?
I really, really enjoyed this. MG is a fabulous main character and only occasionally strays into territory where you think she’s too stupid to live. Most of the time you understand why she tends towards the headstrong and foolhardy: she’s a woman in a male dominated environment who is trying to get equal treatment at work and not getting listened to. Matteo the cop is a great foil for her- nice enough that you’re worried he’s going to stuff up his career over MG but mysterious enough that you don’t entirely trust him. There is a big cast of characters here – mainly guys – and I would like to see MG getting some female friends at some point in the future to stop her from verging into Not Like Other Girls territory* but I’m hopeful that the seeds of something were being set up for that in this.
This isn’t too violent and there’s no psychological suspense – it’s basically a cozy crime with a twist – nerd culture instead of crafting/cooking/baking. And that was pretty much just what I needed at the moment after a run of disappointing romances (don’t ask). In fact I liked this enough that I’ve gone straight on to book two to see if it’s a concept that can sustain itself. And if it is, this could be another (murder) mystery series to add to my list.
I got this as a Kindle First Reads pick at the back end of last year and have only just got around to reading it – but it’s also available as a paperback from Amazon. Because it’s in Kindle Unlimited it may be harder to get elsewhere I’m afraid.
* I’m having trouble with an epidemic of Not Like Other Girls heroines in romances at the moment and it’s driving me mad
Following on from my own summer holiday reading post, I thought I’d drop a few more posts over the next few weeks which might provide some other suggestions for reading for your summer holidays. Today I’m looking at some cozy crime series that might make for binge reading on the sunlounger!
Campbell and Carter series by Anne Granger
Jess Campbell and Ian Carter are two British police detectives in the Gloucestershire countryside. Over the course of the books that I’ve read they’ve investigated mysterious bodies found in houses, after a house fire and a long dead cold case murder. At their best, I can read them in practically one sitting. They’re an British-style cozy crime, police procedural hybrid. I was a big fan of Anne Granger’s Mitchell and Markby series, when I read them in the dim and distant pre-blog days. I still recommend them – but they’re older and harder to find. This series however is still going – and the latest book features the return of Mitchell and Markby as an added bonus.
The Tj Jensen series by Kathi Daley
Tj helps run her family resort alongside her career as a high school teacher and she just seems to keep getting involved in murder investigations. The latest one is just edging too close to my rules about meddling where people shouldn’t be, but for the most part I’ve really enjoyed them. If you fancy some small town cozy crime with a setting that’s not a cupcake bakery or a bookshop, this might be the one for you. This a series from Henery Press – who I’ve mentioned here before and whose older/longer running series I find to be consistently quite readable. I’m not such a big fan of all of the more recent ones though. I made one of these my BotW back in April 2018, and I’ve read most of the rest of the series since.
The Zoe Chambers series by Annette Dashofy
Zoe’s a paramedic and part-time assistant coroner and a serious horse rider. When we meet her in the first book, a corpse has been found in a car and she’s in a race to find out who does it as a blizzard sets in. As the series goes on, romantic entanglements form as she investigates drug deaths, a possible case of elder abuse, tries to clear a suspected wife kille and faces numerous threats to her beloved horses and the space at the ranch she rents. I’ve read four books in the (currently) seven novel series, and like the set up and the characters although sometimes the Zoe can border on the foolhardy/willfully blind. This is another Henery Press series, but I will say that they are consistently darker than most of their stablemates (see what I did with the horse joke there?!)
This post has actually been a long time in the writing because I wanted to recommend more series than just three. I read a lot of cozy crime – but not a lot of them are actually good enough for me to want to recommend – or if they’re in series, I like to have read a few of the series before I’m prepared to recommend them to people. And of course some of the other good ones have already made it on to the blog – as BotWs – like Death by Dumpling, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights, and Lowcountry Bonfire, or as series I love posts like Charles Paris. And of course you can check out previous Cozy Crime Roundups: from 2017, 2016, and 2014.
I’ve got a bunch of cozies waiting to be read – including two more in the Maggie Sefton series (I’ve read one, quite liked it, but see above for wanting to have read a fair sample before recommending a whole series), the second Noodle House mystery, the second Auntie Poldi mystery and first in series from a couple of new-to-me authors including Bree Baker and Shami Flint.
Yes, I know. This post is a day late. And yes, I’m sure you’re not surprised by today’s pick. I mean I’ve got formwithDeannaRaybourn, even if this is technically a violation of my first in series rule. Sorry about the lateness – the bank holiday threw me off schedule and I remembered I’d forgotten to set this live in bed last night. Oopsy daisy. Anyway, I got here in the end. Normal service will be resumed next week, I promise.
A Dangerous Collaboration is the fourth book in the Veronica Speedwell series. Veronica is a Victorian adventuress with a passion for butterflies and a penchant for solving crimes. She has a on again/off again professional partnership with natural scientist and taxidermist Stoker, the black sheep of a noble family. The start of this book sees Veronica take to the seas briefly to get away from Stoker after developments (that I’m not going to spoil) at the end of book three. On her return to Britain, Stoker’s older brother Tiberius asks her to pose as his fiancée and accompany him to a house party at a castle on an island off the south coast, dangling the prospect of a rare butterfly to add to her collection as inducement. But on arrival on the island, it turns out their host, Lord Malcolm Romilly has assembled a group of people with connections to his missing wife, who disappeared on her wedding day. Can Veronica figure out what’s going on? What is Tiberius hoping for from his trip with Veronica? What is Stoker playing at? Can I survive another book with these two if it has the same level of unresolved sexual tension as the last one?
I’ve been looking forward to this since I finished the third book in the series last year and this pretty much lived up to what I was hoping. It does have a bit of a slow start, but it’s a great set up for the later stages of the book. I don’t want to say too much more or I’ll ruin it for everyone else, but there’s definite significant progress here moving along some of the ongoing plot strands. And so. much. sexual. tension. Hooo boy.
I said in my post about book three last year that this is a great series if you’re an Amelia Peabody fan, but I’d add to that now Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series if you want another Victorian lady being smart and resourceful in a slightly different way. My dad has a kindle attached to my account and I know that he’s read and enjoyed this series too – because he’s asked me if there are any more of them in the past!
My copy of A Dangerous Collaboration came from the library – it came out in March, so I only had to wait two months for it on hold – but it’s also available from all the usual places like Book Depository and Amazon, but is a hardback release from the US at the moment so the Kindle and Kobo are priced accordingly (the Kindle £5 cheaper than the Kobo at time of writing but still nearly £10) and I can’t currently see a paperback release date in the UK. But if you haven’t tried any of Deanna Raybourn’s books yet, the first in her other historical series – featuring Lady Julia Grey – is only 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment and that is definitely well worth it because it has one of my favourite opening lines in a book:
To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.
And if that doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will.
This week’s pick is a book that I brought back from my American Adventure with me and have been saving for a time of need. And last week was my time of need for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: a book hangover after finishing the Blessings series, a super stressy week at work, not enough sleep and general life stress that I’m not going to talk about because talking about it makes me anxious. So it seemed like the time to crack out the emergency MacLean.
Day of the Duchess is the last book in the Scandal and Scoundrel series, which was inspired by modern celebrity scandals and translated them back to the nineteenth century. Seraphina is the most scandalous of the sisters that we’ve been following – she left her husband Malcolm and fled abroad but now she’s back and she wants a divorce. The book flashes backwards and forwards between Sera and Mal before their relationship imploded and now when Sera is very clear that she wants her freedom and her future back no matter what the consequences and Mal is equally determined that he wants her back and that they should and can fix things.
And it is really good – an estranged couple, a battle of wills, a fiery relationship with amazing chemistry and the ultimate question: is love and chemistry enough? What happens when you are head over heels for someone – and they are for you – but there is a fundamental problem in your relationship and a conflict that isn’t just a misunderstanding. How do you work past that? This is much more melancholic and reflective than a lot of historical romance – if I hadn’t known it was a romance (and that it was written by an author who I trust and who knows the genre rules!) I would have been worried that there wasn’t going to be an Happily Ever After. But there is and I had strong feelings about what needed to happen to get there too. But the end I was a satisfied customer although it sort of broke me and put me back together again along the way, which was not quite what I was expecting.
As I said at the top, this has been on the shelf for a while and there has been another Sarah MacLean since this which has started a new series which has some set up going on here, but in a subtle way. On reflection I think that I probably should have reread the rest of the series first because it’s nearly 18 months since I read A Scot in the Dark and I forgotten a little bit where everything fitted in and what we already knew. But that’s not to say that it would be a problem to start reading Sarah MacLean here – because it totally isn’t. It’s more that if you’re a nerd like me it’s nice to remind yourself who everyone else is and how we got here. Although to be fair, I could also just have gone back and checked the archives here to start with!
As I mentioned at the top, my copy of Day of the Duchess came from the US – specifically the Clarendon Market Common Barnes and Noble – and I’d expect this to be easy to find in any US bookstore with a reasonable romance section – because Sarah MacLean is a Big Name. If you’re not in the US, you can get the UK version (with a cover that does it no justice) from Kindle or Kobo. Amazon are also carrying the paperback, but I suspect if you want to get it from a real shop it’ll be a special order. All I need to do now is figure out how I’m going to get an American edition of the next Bareknuckle Bastards book when that comes out in the summer. I’m open to offers y’all.
A Friday bonus post for you today because I am on the blog tour for The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, which came out on Tuesday in the UK. I actually mentioned this book last week in my post about diverse authors, although that was focusing on romance and this is a mystery thriller Gothic page turner, definitely not a romance. It’s also a debut and I have many things to say about it.
Let’s start with the plot. This is the story of a young Jamaican woman named (by her owners) Frances Langton. When we meet her she is in a cell in Newgate prison, awaiting trial for the murder of her employer and his wife. Over the course of the novel we go back over her life, starting at the plantation in Jamaica where she was born a slave and then the journey that led her to the trial which may see her hanged.
Frannie is an incredible character. She is smart she is determined and she wants to believe that she can better herself and better her situation in life, despite all the advice from her friends and all the evidence that the world is trying to stop her from doing anything, being anyone and achieving anything. The story she tells is fractured and oblique at times – there’s a lot of reading between the lines to do and there are lots of twists and turns and information withheld from the reader until very late on – which is more powerful than unravelling it all at once. I had some of the revelations figured out quite early on, which didn’t make it anyway shocking when it was finally revealed – if anything it made it worse, because I was hoping I was wrong! I was unsure about how the central mystery, that is who killed Marguerite and Mr Benham, was going to be resolved, but I think that’s the point – the book is keeping you on a knife edge.
You will know by now I read a lot of historical fiction, and it’s easy to forget when you read them what the reality of life was like for most people, and even worse that most of the money, if not all of the money, that was supporting the lives of wealthy people was supported by the slave trade or by sugar plantations which themselves were run by slaves. This is the book to read to remind yourself of that and to counteract. It’s dark and disturbing and unflinching at the violence that was inflicted upon slaves by their masters, but it’s also a big old page turner.
Along with my hardback, I got sent some bits and bobs about the book, among them some notes from Sara Collins, who says that this book is in part a response to reading Jane Eyre as a child in the Caribbean and wanting to write a story with a Jamaican former slave in a similarly ambiguous, complicated Gothic love story. As she puts it “like Jane Eyre, if Jane had been given as a gift to ‘the finest mind in all of England’ and then accused of cuckolding and murdering him.” If you need further convincing, it’s also compared to Sarah Waters, Alias Grace and the Wide Sargasso Sea.
I enjoyed it a lot – and will be looking forward to seeing what Sara Collins does next. My copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton was sent to me by the publisher, but you can get hold of one of your very own now – in Kindle, Kobo and hardback which is rather well priced at Amazon at time of writing, but I’m expecting it to be in all the bookshops fairly prominently, and I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would be happy to order it for you too in their new online-only incarnation.