Book of the Week, Thriller

Book of the Week: The Holdout

Mini reviews coming up tomorrow, but this week’s BotW is The Holdout by Graham Moore. Regular readers will know that I’ve been keen on books with resolutions recently and have been sticking resolutely to romance and cozy crime where I know that it will all turn out ok in the end – the couple will end up together, the murderer will be found. And yet here I am today recommending a thriller – a genre where such things are not guaranteed. But this was such a page turned I couldn’t help myself!

UK cover of The Holdout

So ten years ago, Maya was part of the jury on a murder trial that saw a young black man acquitted of killing a wealthy white teenage girl. The experience in the courtroom inspired her to become a defence lawyer herself. When a true crime documentary decides to make an episode about her case, Maya finds herself back in the middle of all the controversy again. And then one of the other jurors is found dead in Maya’s room and now she has to prove her own innocence. But what are the secrets that the others have been hiding and which lead to murder?

So this had me on the edge of my seat. It’s dark and twisty and shows some of the workings of the legal system in a way that I haven’t seen a lot (or maybe I just haven’t read the right books!). The twists and turns keep coming at a pace that don’t allow you to think too hard about the bits where it’s getting a bit outlandish! I had an inkling of some of the reveals by the halfway point, but such is the nature of the book that you can’t ever really be sure that’s where it’s going. And Moore has picked out some of the flaws of the criminal justice system very neatly too.

If we were going to beaches at the moment, this would be a prime pick for reading on a sun lounger – at any rate somewhere nice and bright to counteract all the darkness in the book (darkness of subject matter not horror or creepy stuff though).

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, so it will be easy to get hold of from WH Smith and I suspect it will be in the supermarkets as well. It’s also 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Boyfriend Material

Another week, another contemporary romance pick for BotW.  This time it’s Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material, which has been much buzzed about, to the point where it took months for my library hold to come in, but it was totally, totally worth it.

Cover of Boyfriend Material

Luc’s parents were rockstars – and back in the day they made some of their best music together. And then they made him. And it means that he’s sort of famous – even though his dad walked out of his life when he was small and his mum hasn’t made any new music in year. But now his dad is making a comeback – and that means more interest in Luc as well. After an unfortunate picture of him tripping up coming out of a club puts his job (fundraiser at a charity trying to save the dung beetle) at risk, Luc decides that the solution is to get himself a nice normal boyfriend. That’s where Oliver comes him. He’s as normal and sensible as it comes – a barrister, an ethical vegetarian and absolutely scandal averse. The only things that they have in common are the fact that they’re single, gay, and they both need a date for a big event. So they come up with a deal. They’ll be fake boyfriends until Luc’s job is safe and Oliver’s family party is over. Then they’ll never see each other again. Simple. Except this is a romance and we all know these sort of arrangements never go to plan!

I loved this so much. I’ve written a lot here about my quest to find more of the funny but romantic books that I love reading and which seemed to be everywhere in the early 2000s, but which seem to have vanished off the face of the planet these days, in favour of really angsty books where everyone has a miserable backstory or comedies where the comedy is based on humiliation or people being terrible at their jobs (and either not really caring they’re rubbish at their jobs or not realising they are) which is really not my thing. But this was just in that sweet spot. It’s witty, it’s fun, the characters are charming and good at their jobs and the secondary characters are hilarious. It’s just a joy to read. I could have read another 200 pages of Luc and Oliver trying to work out how to have a proper relationship. It really was exactly what I needed last week.

It’s had loads of buzz, been various bookclub and magazine picks and so clearly I’m not the only person who wants to read books like this, and fingers crossed it’s the start of a renaissance. If you’ve got any recommendations for books that do the same sort of thing, please drop them in the comments, because the Goodreads and Amazon suggestions aren’t helping me any! This was also my first Alexis Hall book, so I’m off to dig into the back catalogue, although having chatted to my romance reading friends, I think that the steam levels on some of the others is much higher than this – this is kissing and then pretty much closed door. I’ve already pre-ordered Hall’s next book – Rosaline Palmer Takes All the Cake, which is out in May because a romance set on a baking show is exactly what I didn’t realise that I need in front of my eyeballs!

My copy of Boyfriend Material came from the library, but it’s available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook. It’s a paperback too, but the shops have been closed so long now I’ve lost all sense of what is going to get stocked where and so don’t know how easy it will be to get hold of if you’re trying to order from your indie, but Foyles have it available to order if that’s any indication.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

A long old reading list last week, and this is slightly cheating because I finished it on Monday, but I enjoyed it – despite it taking me a few weeks to read – and I Have Thoughts. It is also the first in the series so that’s nice too…

Cover of The Beekeeper's Apprentice

An aging Sherlock Holmes has retired to the Sussex Downs. There in his cottage, he is concentrating on his experiments and his bee hives, away from the bustle of London. One day on the downs, he meets the teenage Mary Russell, a young orphan, unhappy with the aunt that she lives with and searching for knowledge. In her, Holmes sees a mind similar to his own and essentially takes her on as his apprentice and involves her in his work. But of course danger comes calling again and a deadly foe threatens their lives and those of Mrs Hudson and Doctor Watson.

This book covers a considerable period of time – taking Mary from her mid-teens through to having nearly graduated from Oxford – and starts off as a series of small investigations and episodes before building to a bigger and more dangerous case in the second half. I quite liked Mary as a character – I’ve seen complaints that she’s a Mary Sue, but to be honest considering Sherlock’s own startling gifts, I didn’t think it was that implausible for a woman to be similarly clever and perceptive – and there’s also no point in creating a young Watson facsimile for a foil – because why would someone like that interest an ageing Holmes, who already has the original Watson?

I do have a few reservations about the huge age gap that’s going on here and where this is going* but the mystery is good and the whole thing swept me along nicely enough while I was reading it. Writing this has made me think about it a bit more closely and although I didn’t love it, love it, it’s still the book I have the most to say about from the last week.  I think you will probably like this more the less attached you are to the original series – I see a lot of people on Goodreads complaining about the treatment of Watson, most of them the same people who were complaining about Mary. I’ll admit I’m not a massive Sherlock Holmes reader, but I do like a Sherlock reinvention – as my love of Lady Sherlock shows – so this ticked some fun boxes for me.

This was originally published back in 2002 and is the first in what is now a long series. I’ve lined up the second one to see what happens next. If I change my mind about everything, I’ll try and be big enough to come back and let you know!

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice should be fairly easy to get hold of – I read it on Kindle (where it’s under £2 at time of writing), it’s also on Kobo (just over £2) and all the usual platforms and I’ve seen them in shops and library collections as well – including the discount bookshops like The Works and the charity shops when that was a thing.

Happy Reading!

* Spoiler: having got a later book in the series on the tbr shelf somehow I know they get married.

Book of the Week, Fantasy, LGTBQIA+

Book of the Week: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Along with 500+ pages of Amelia Peabody, I did read some new stuff last week – amongst it a book of Terry Pratchett essays that I had been saving because there’s only a limited amount of his writing that I haven’t already read, but also the rather charming The House in the Cerulean Sea by T J Klune.

Cover of The House in the Cerulean Sea

Linus Baker leads a quiet orderly life. He works for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth as a case worker overseeing the well-being of children in government sanctioned orphanages. He’s been doing the same job for years and never moved up the ladder – and is happy with that – so when he is summoned by Extremely Upper Management it’s already enough to send him into a panic. Then he’s sent on a highly classified mission to an orphanage on an island where six “highly dangerous” children live along with their guardian Arthur Parnassus. As Linus investigates the home on Marsyas Island and its residents, he (and his cat) get to know the children – a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, a green blob of an as yet unidentified species, a Pomeranian and (most worryingly) the Antichrist – and Arthur and start to discover some of the island’s secrets. But at the end of the end of his allotted four weeks, he will be faced with difficult choice.

This is a wonderful story about what family is and finding your place in the world. It’s beautifully written and incredibly descriptive – I could absolutely see the island and its residents in my head and was rooting for them all all the way. It reminded me (in a weird but good way) of Studio Ghibli movies and the magical alternative reality worlds that they create. Its enough to make me wish that Hayao Miyazaki would make another film after the one he’s currently out of retirement to make! I’m struggling to think of books to compare it to, because it’s a bit different – I’m not alone though because the Goodreads “readers also enjoyed” list seems to be struggling too and the the genre list o has it down as both Adult and Young Adult as well as romance, fantasy, LGTB and (weirdly) audiobook. It’s turning up a few romances like the Honey Don’t List and Girl Gone Viral, which are not similar at all, but do suggest that I’m not the only contemporary romance reader who has enjoyed this one.

Anyway, if you’re in need of some escapist reading at the moment (and again, who isn’t really), this would be a lovely choice. It’ll make you think, but it has a resolution and I think you’ll be happy with it when you get there.

My copy of the House in the Cerulean Sea came from the library, but it’s available in Kindle, Kobo and audiobook as well as paperback – although that might be slightly harder to get hold of.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, crime, detective

Book of the Week: Sick as a Parrot

A big of week in reading last week, with some Christmas stuff you’ll hear about anon. Or at least I hope you will. Anyway, back to some old school crime this week for my BotW pick.

Copy of Sick as a Parrot on the Crime bookshelf

Sick as a Parrot is the fifth book in Liz Evans’s series featuring somewhat unconventional private investigator and ex-cop Grace Smith. Grace’s latest client is Hannah Conti, a young woman who has recently discovers that she is adopted and that her natural mother was convicted of murder. Hannah wants Grace to clear her mother’s name. And so Grace is drawn into the very messy murder of a school teacher two decades ago that no one wants re-examining. Meanwhile Grace is also pet-sitting a neurotic parrot and despite all her best efforts she also has an incredibly unreconstructed former colleague sleeping in her spare room.

This is the second book in this series that I’ve read (the other one being Who Killed Marilyn Monroe, the first in the series) and they’re both on the edge of gritty with an enjoyable side of black humour. They were written in the mid 2000s and that gives them an enjoyably low tech and low fi edge. Grace is a fun heroine – enjoyably flawed and smart in someways – but not in others. There are some common threads in this book from the first one too which have clearly been developing nicely in the interim which I’d like to go back for. And there’s an interesting romantic thread in this that means I really want to read the sixth and final book in the series.

So this is where it gets tricky. This is an older book which I picked it up secondhand, I think at a National Trust book stall. So you’ll have to hunt for it. But you never know, you might find one of the other books in the series while you’re at it. Some of the series have been republished on Kindle with new titles – you can find the box set of the first three here and some of them are even in Kindle Unlimited, if that’s a thing you have. Who Killed Marilyn Monroe is available on Kobo, but it’s the only one I could find there sadly.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Fantasy

Book of the Week: Guilty Pleasures

As I mentioned yesterday I read a bunch of books last week for my missing states for my Read Across America challenge and today’s Book of the Week was one of them.

Cover of Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures is the first in Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series. In a world where vampires have been legalised, Anita is an animator in St Louis, where she raises the dead and she helps kill members of the undead who have gone too far. Then the head of the city’s vampires asks her to solve a series of killings and she’s unable to say no. Soon she’s drawn into a new part of the world of the supernatural.

So, as previously mentioned, I have a mixed record with supernatural stories. I love the first 3 series of Buffy, like the next two and then lose patience with everything except Once More With Feeling and Tabula Rasa after the end of season five*. I raced through the Sookie Stackhouse series (and as I was reading it around the time the final book came out, I didn’t have years to get attached to one particular outcome and so was a rare person who wasn’t angry at the ending) but have struggled to find supernatural series I like outside of Charlaine Harris and Darynda Jones. I think my issues are usually when the series are too dark and angsty and too close to horror. But I do come through with every now and again and try. Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires was too horror for me. Alice James’s Grave Secrets had a good set up but didn’t do it for me in the execution. But this one was just about in the sweet spot. It was nearly a bit too violent, and didn’t quite have enough relationships/romance but I raced through it and enjoyed it. It doesn’t waste time with any explanations though – it really just does dump you into the world and leave you to work it out. Which is a choice, and obviously massive info dumps are bad, but when I stopped to think about it I wasn’t always quite sure how everything worked. But while I was reading, I didn’t mind!

For all that I’m only reading it now, this is actually 16 years old (just a couple of years younger than the True Blood series) and is still going, with the 28th book in the series due out in early 2021. This seemed like it was definitely setting up a love interest, so I shall probably read at least one or two more to see where it goes, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to commit to another mega long series at the moment.

My copy of Guilty Pleasures came from the library, but you can get hold of it in Kindle and on Kobo, as well as in paperback – bookshop.org.uk seem to have stock, but I don’t know if you’ll find it in stores.

Happy Reading!

*we’ve recently done a rewatch so I can confirm the accuracy of this.

Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: Life, Death and Cellos

 Quite a long list of reading in yesterday’s post, but with two books by the same new-to-me author on the list, today’s Book of the Week pick may not be that much of a surprise to some of you. 

Cover of Life, Death and Cellos

Life, Death and Cellos is the first book in Isabel Rogers’ Stockwell Park Orchestra series. In this debut outing, the orchestra is having a bit of a tricky time of it. Their conductor just dropped dead mid-concert and landed on their biggest donor – who is now threatening to withdraw her financial support. But one of the cellists, Erin, has a plan to try and save the orchestra, but it involves self-obsessed and self-involved section leader Fenella and a Stradivari cello and is not without risk. Then there’s the regular conductor who seems to be working his way through the female members of the orchestra and David, the band treasurer whose nervous tick grows worse at every set back.

So, first of all it needs to be said that I am a Band person. I’ve never played in an orchestra, but I played in concert bands (and the occasional jazz band) of various types all through secondary school and after a break at uni (because all the options there were for “proper” musicians, which I am emphatically not), I picked my clarinet back up when I moved to Southend. I joined a community band there and when I first moved back to northampton I found myself another band and carried on playing for a couple of years until my shift work got too much to be able to make rehearsals reliably. So all the band-centric stuff really appealed to me – but it’s hard for me to tell how it will come across to someone who doesn’t have some sort of background in music. The actual plot itself is a comic caper – with almost farcical elements and a strong retro feel, but there’s a lot of music stuff in with that – I wanted a play list to go with it so that I could listen along as it talked about the various different elements of the pieces – but I don’t know how it would go for you if you don’t know what an arpeggio is or a little bit about key signatures! If you have ever played in band, I think you’ll recognise a lot of things in this – viola players being a punchline, the brass section being uppity etc. I certainly enjoyed it so much that I went straight on to book two, have pre-ordered book three and told all the musical people in my family that they need to read it!

You can get a copy of Life, Death and Cellos in paperback from Bookshop.org.uk or on Kindle or Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Bonus photos: I tried (although admittedly not very hard!) and failed to find a picture of me back in my Northamptonshire County Training Wind Orchestra heyday, so sadly you don’t get to see me in my long-haired, train track braces glory, but instead, here I am playing with my Northampton band in the early 2010s – as their principle clarinet (not a position that I enjoyed), front row left in the red t-shirt, at a local concert.And here I am looking much happier as a lowly third clarinet in my Essex band – in my concert dress at the Royal Festival Hall to play Bernstein and Gershwin. I’ve actually played at the Festival Hall twice – this concert in the Clore ballroom, and then in the main hall as part of the National Festival of Music for Youth back in my school days, when we were runners up in our class to our big sister/brother band the mighty Northamptonshire County Youth Concert Band.

 

Book of the Week, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Grumpy Jake

As I mentioned yesterday, it was a bit of a patchy week in reading last week, because it’s 2020 and all normal rules are suspended. You’ll hear more about Mr Wilder and Me at some in the (hopefully near) future, but today I want to talk about Melissa Blue’s novella Grumpy Jake.

Cover of Grumpy Jake

Bailey knows all about Jake the Rake. He’s been making his way through the single members of the faculty, while his son has been working his way through pre-school. Now Jayden is in Bailey’s Kindergarten class and it feels like it’s going to be a long year. And then they get stuck in a lift together and she starts to see what all her co-workers fell for. For his part Jake knows he shouldn’t fall for her, but he needs stability for his son. Bailey knows the clock is ticking – will she end up like all the others?

I mean I think you can probably answer that question now, but this novella is a lot of fun. It is a novella though and that means that perhaps there’s not as much time as you want for everything to develop and it all to play out. Most of the time here is focused on Bailey and Jake getting to know each other and it all wraps up quite quickly at the end. But it’s a lot of fun – really quite steamy – and Bailey keeps everything professional at work. It did exactly what I wanted it to do one evening last week and that’s basically the ideal for a story right? Fills the craving you have at the time.

You can get Grumpy Jake on Kindle – where it’s only 77p at the moment – and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Boiled Over

It’s Election Day in the US today, so it seems fitting that this week’s pick is a US-set book.

Cover of Boiled Over

Boiled Over is the second in the Maine Clambake series, but you don’t need to have read the first book to follow what’s going on (and if you did, I wouldn’t be recommending it because I have Rules!). In book one, Julia Snowden took a sabbatical from her job in New York for the summer to try and save the family business in Maine. Now the immediate danger seems to have passed, but the season isn’t over so she’s still in Busman’s Harbor for the Founder’s weekend celebrations. But things take a turn for the worse when a body is found in the fire under her family’s seafood cooker. The victim owns the local RV park and was on the committee planning the event with Julia. And when one of her employees becomes the prime suspect, Julia starts digging around to try to solve the crime and save her family’s business – again.

This is a fun cozy crime, with plenty of suspects, a great setting and enough going on in the heroine’s personal life that there’s more than just the murder happening. I enjoyed the mystery in the first book but was frustrated with Julia’s love life. This does better on that front so that makes it pretty much a winner all around. There are nine books in the series and I have the next one already so I’m looking forward to seeing where it all goes next.

You can get a copy of Boiled Over on Kindle or Kobo. It’s also available in paperback (and with a discount on the sticker price!) from the newly launched UK bookshop.org site – which has already raised more than £20,000 for independent bookshops in the UK in just 24 hours.  With lockdown 2 about to start in the UK and non-essential shops closing for a month, there has never been a more important time to support your local bookshop.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Merit Badge Murder

As I said yesterday, last week was a much better week all around. And as today is a week to go before Election day in the United States, I’m conceding defeat – I’ve read as many electiob books as I’m going to and it’s soon going to be too late, so there is a Recommendsday post coming up tomorrow. Meanwhile, as far as today’s post goes, I started a couple of new mystery series last week, and as I read two from the Merry Wrath series, I thought I ought to pick it for my Book of the Week this week, as I clearly like them and we all know I have rules (albeit flexible ones) about book series, reading orders and spoilers as the affect recommendations…

Cover of Merit Badge Murder by Leslie Langtry

Former CIA agent Merry Wrath is used to being undercover, but after her identity was unmasked and she was forced into (very) early retirement, she has to reinvent herself as a normal person with a fresh identity in a small town in Iowa. And while she is figuring out what she wants to do next, she’s helping run a Girl Scout group. But when dead enemy agents start turning up on her doorstep (literally), she has to try and figure out who is trying to frame her, all while preserving her cover. Add into the mix her ex-handler who the CIA send to help her, and her new neighbour across the street who happens to be the investigating police officer and suddenly Merry’s new life is getting really, really complicated.

I love a cozy mystery and I love a Steph Plum-style comedy thriller and this is pretty much in the Venn diagram of those. Merry is a fun heroine – massively clueless about normal life and how to be a regular person and you’re rooting for her as she hides behind her Dora explorer sheets-cum-curtains to see what is going on in her neighbourhood. The Girl Scout troop is a really nice touch – adding an extra level of complications to everything – and there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot. I raced through it and then went straight on to the net one – which is always a sign that I’ve enjoyed myself. It’s quite a long running series – so there are plenty more for me to read, just as soon as I get the rest of the TBR-pile down a bit!

You can buy Merit Badge Murder on Kindle and Kobo. Physical copies are listed on Amazon, but it looks like it’s an Amazon inhouse publisher, so you won’t be able to get hold of it in stores.

Happy Reading!