Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: A Presumption of Death

Before we start, another quick reminder of last week’s World Cup avoidance books – which includes Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games, which would totally have been a candidate for BotW if I hadn’t given that accolade to Clean last month.  And I did deliberate for a while about what to pick this week.  I read some really good stuff, but quite a lot of it is already earmarked for other posts and I didn’t want to give up my other plans.  But it does seem in keeping with my long-professed love of Peter Wimsey that I should pick A Presumption of Death, even if I’m a little conflicted about it and it’s a much more qualified review than a whole hearted recommendation.

A slightly battered paperback copy of A Presumption of Death

This is the second novel in the Jill Paton Walsh Wimsey continuations.  I’ve totally read them out of order, so I’ve already read the two that follow it.  This is set just after the start of the Second World War and sees Harriet ensconced at Tallboys with her children and the Parker children and Peter is away on some mysterious war work abroad.  The village is adapting to the new rules of war time – evacuees have arrived in the village, there are land girls working on the farms and people are leaving for factory jobs or the services all over the place.  When one of the land girls is found dead in the street as the village emerges from an air raid drill, Superintendent Kirk asks for Harriets help with the murder investigation.  At first, she finds it a helpful distraction from worrying about what Peter is doing abroad, but soon she’s missing his help as she digs into the possible motivations for the crime.

This feels more like a “proper” Wimsey mystery than the two that follow it, but it’s still Not Quite Right.  I’ve only read Thrones, Dominations (the first continuation) once and it was six years ago, but I’m listening to it on Audible at the moment and I think that is more Sayers than this – but that’s probably unsurprising considering that with that first one Paton Walsh was finishing an unfinished Sayers manuscript, whereas with this just has extracts from The Wimsey Papers (a series of letters, written by Sayers from various of the Wimsey characters, that were published in the Spectator during the war) in it.  In fact I think most of the best bits of the plot come from ideas and information in the Wimsey Papers and most of the bits that I don’t like are the bits that Paton Walsh has done herself.  In fact the more I think about the book to write this, the more problems I have with it.

I did like the mystery and its solution, but I did have some parts of it figured out much earlier on than Harriet did – which is unusual for me in a Wimsey book and reminded me that it wasn’t a “proper” Sayers.  It was nice to see a lot of the characters from Busman’s Honeymoon again, but perhaps because of my extreme familiarity* with the audiobook of that, there were some bits that didn’t ring true to me, although that same extreme familiarity with the Ian Carmichael Wimsey meant that I could practically hear his voice saying some of the Peter lines!  There are some nice Harriet and Peter moments in here too – but the more I analysed them, the more I realised that the best ones were rehashes of earlier interactions from the other Harriet and Peter books.  I think there were probably a few anachronisms of language in here as well – there were a few bits that didn’t seem quite right to me, although I’m not enough of an expert to tell.

I suppose what I’ve worked out in writing this is how much I wish there were more Wimsey books, and how much I want to like the Paton Walsh continuations (even as I find issues with them) because I want there to be more stories about Peter and Harriet for me to read.  I’ve kept hold of my copy of this one for now – and I suspect I’ll come back and reread it after I’ve done another reread of the Peter and Harriet books to see how it holds up when they’re fresh in my mind.  I picked up my copy from the charity shop (as you can probably tell from the photo!), but the Kindle and Kobo editions is 99p at the moment, which is a much better price than it usually is – and so if you’re a mystery fan – and you’re not the sort of reader who is going to have your love for the series proper messed up if you don’t like this – then go for it. The next book in the series – The Attenbury Emeralds – is also 99p at the moment, but be warned, I really didn’t like the direction that that took the series in, so approach with caution.  I’m off to finish listening to Thrones, Dominations and then I’ll go back to Strong Poison and start Peter and Harriet’s story all over again. Again.

Happy Reading!

*As in I listen to it at least once a month – it’s one of my regular late night listens when I’m away from home, as are the other Wimsey audiobooks and some of the BBC Radio full cast adaptations.

Book of the Week, crime

Book of the Week: Angelina’s Choice

I thought that this is going to be quite a quick BotW post this week – because there’s not a lot that I can say about my pick without giving too much away.  And that’s because Angelina’s Choice is the fifth in the Hobson and Choi series – and I have rules about giving away too much about running series because it Spoils Things For Everyone.  But actually it turns out that I have a lot to say.  Who knew.

Cover of Angelinas Choice

And before I get to the plot – let’s just address the elephant in the room – yes that’s a blurb from me on the cover of this. It’s from my review of the second book when that was a BotW last year.  Nick Bryan asked me if he could use it on the new book and I was delighted to say yes.  And that hasn’t influenced my choice of it for this week – I bought my own copy of Angelina’s Choice and it genuinely was the thing I enjoyed the most of the books that I finished last week.  And so, to the review.

Angelina’s still on work experience at Hobson’s detective agency and having spent the whole summer helping solve other people’s mysteries, now she wants the answers to the mystery that brought her to the agency in the first place: who are her real parents.  But Hobson seems to be mostly too busy with other cases and so she’s doing a lot of the investigating herself.  But will she likes what she finds out – and will knowing actually do more harm than good.  Hobson meanwhile is investigating a trendy online taxi service and finds himself in dark waters. Again.

I love the way that Hobson and Angelina interact with each other.  She may be the teenager, but in some ways she can be the more emotionally intelligent one.  In this book we do see the limits to her maturity again – and despite the fact that she’s already investigated a couple of very serious crimes, I think it’s this book where she realises the real gravity of what she’s been doing and what she’s involved in.  And Hobson’s doing his best to keep the messy grownup things in his life away from her – and shield her from things he thinks that she might regret knowing later.

You will definitely get the most out of this if you’ve read the books that precede it.  The through lines have been building since the start, but at this point it really does feel like it’s hurtling towards something irrevocable.  There are familiar characters popping back up – and at least one of the solutions to the previous books is going to be spoilt for you if you read this one first.  Consider yourself warned.  And considering how this one ends, I really hope that the next book comes soon and we don’t have to wait two years to find out what happens next.

You should be able to get hold of this from all the usual sources, but this is one of those occasions when I want to give another big plug to Big Green Bookshop.  I wouldn’t be reading this series if it wasn’t for that shop – I came across them actually in store when I pootled up there after work one day mostly to buy one of their tote bags.  And because it’s nearly impossible for me to go into a bookshop and not buy a book (or two) I bought myself the first Vinyl Dectective book – which I’d had on my list for a while and happened across these on the shelf nearby.  And so it was a very successful trip all around.  Big Green will take orders over twitter and post books out for you and they run a fab Buy a Stranger a Book twitter thing on Wednesdays.  But if you want an ebook version, you can get them on Kindle and Kobo – but definitely start from the beginning of the series with The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf which is free on both of those platforms just to make it a total no-brainer.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, new releases, reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Old Baggage

This week’s Book of the Week is Lissa Evans’s new novel – which is appropriate because it comes out on Thursday! You may remember that one of her previous books, Crooked Heart, was a Book of the Week just under 18 months ago so I was thrilled to spot this one on NetGalley and be able to pick it up.  You don’t need to have read Crooked Heart to read this – but if you have I think it will add an extra layer to your enjoyment.

The cover of Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Old Baggage is the story of Matilda.  Before the war, she was a suffragette and her life revolved around the quest to get women the vote.  Now it’s 1928 and women are about to get parity – the vote on the same terms as men.  Mattie is pleased but she doesn’t think the battle is over.  Unfortunately no-one else seems to agree with her and she’s rather at sea trying to figure out what she should do next.  The book follows Mattie as she searches for a new mission – with her loyal friend Florrie Lee (known as The Flea) supporting her and trying to be a calming influence.  Along the way she encounters old friends who’ve faced a similar dilemma and is stung by a criticism from one of them, who is trying to recruit Mattie to help with her facist youth group, that she is just a dabbler.  And so she sets up a rival group – to try and educate young women about why they take an interest and get involved in causes that they believe in – or that Mattie thinks that they should believe in.

I really liked Mattie as a character – she’d be a nightmare to be friends with because you’d never get a word in edgeways and she would always tell you if she disagreed with you and go into details about why – but she’s fascinating to read about.  For all her talk of being sensible and levelheaded, she has some very real blindspots.  She’s definitely on the right side of history but she’s not always going about it in the right way.  And when she picks the wrong person to try and take under her wing, it puts everything that she’s worked for at risk.  On top of this, Mattie’s history with the suffragettes – her confrontations with police, her time in prison etc – often means that there are people who aren’t prepared to listen to her or take her seriously.  It almost goes without saying, but the title of this book is so clever and well chosen – Mattie has a lot of baggage from her suffragette days but a lot of people see her as an old baggage – a nuisance of an old woman, out of touch and past her prime.

I also really liked the Flea – for all Mattie’s talk and noble aims, it’s Florrie who is out there in the real world trying to do something to make a difference on a day to day basis.  She’s the sensible counterpoint to Mattie’s idealist and shows that you need the quiet organisers behind the scenes to get things done as well as the people on the frontline.  And Ida, one of the young women who is drawn into Mattie and Florrie’s orbit, is an interesting character in her own right and not just a plot device for showing the strengths and weaknesses of Mattie and Florrie.

It’s 100 years this year since some women in Britain got the vote and a lot has been written about the Suffrage and Suffragette movements.  There’s a stack of new books out this year – and I’ve got many of them on my to-buy list – many of them non-fiction.  But sometimes the situation calls for some fiction too and Old Baggage reminds us – in a very readable and compelling way – that the fight didn’t end in 1918 and takes a very plausible (in my view) look at what might have happened next to some of the women whose lives had revolved around trying to get the vote before the start of World War One.  Evans has used a very light hand when it comes to the flashbacks of the realities of Mattie’s life as a suffragette – I could have read pages more about it. 

I may not have read much last week in the grand scheme of things, but I think this would probably have been my BotW pick even if I’d read a dozen books.  It’s not onle massively readable – I raced through it and wished that I could have been disciplined enough to make it last longer – but it makes you think and gives you things to chew over long after you’ve finished reading it.  As I mentioned at the top, my copy was an e-galley – so it’s also going on my to-buy list because I know that my mum and my sister will really enjoy this.

Old Baggage is out in hardback on the 14th – you’ve still got time to preorder it and have it get to you on the day of release if you’re quick.  I hope it gets a good push at the bookshops – I’d expect it to be in all the good bookshops, but I’m not sure about the supermarkets.  I’m sure Big Green Bookshop will be happy to get it in for you, but it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo if you want an ebook.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, children's books, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Strangers in Fleet Street

This week’s BotW returns to my old stomping ground of Girl’s Own fiction.  However it is slightly out of my usual wheel house in that it’s not a school story, but a career book. Compared to my reading of school stories, I haven’t read many career books, but one of my favourite books that my mum passed on from her childhood was Shirley Flight, Air Hostess so a book in a series called Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter definitely appealed to me.  I found it in the Oxfam Bookshop in York (on the same trip that I picked up two Oxenhams and Dorita Fairlie Bruce) and I bought it, because after all, I am a journalist after spending my childhood pretending to be one, so what could be more perfect?!But this is definitely a recommendation for people who are afficiados of the genre – because it has some… let’s call them issues.

Hardback copy of Strangers in Fleet Street

So, Strangers in Fleet Street is apparently the 15th book in the Sally Baxter series and it sees Sally, who is a teenager working as a reporter at a national newspaper, taking charge of a group of foreign readers of the Evening Cry (her paper) who won a competition to spend two weeks in London.  She’s their guide – but she’s also hoping to get some stories from their visit.  Sally soon makes friends with most of the visitors but a series of disappearances – of money, of earrings and of a person – lead to suspicion being thrown on her little group and Sally is determined to unmask the real culprit – not just for the scoop but to save her new friend’s reputations.

This ticked pretty much all of my boxes – it’s got a mystery and a bit of adventure.  It has a fun cast of characters and it has a lead character who is doing an interesting job, in a male-dominated profession.  OK Sally may be on human interest duty in this book, but she’s definitely doing the job and she’s not the only one – there’s a more senior woman reporter too.  Looking at the information about the other titles in the series that I found here, it seems that Sally seems to get a lot of the softer stories – as opposed to crime, trials or politics, but then court rooms and council meetings are hard to make sound exciting – but a lot of it involves globe-trotting.  Even without that list, Sally mentions trips to Hong Kong and North Africa – so it does sound like an exciting and appealing life, which has got to be one of the major aims of a career novel.  My quibbles with it are all around some of the rather old-fashioned (putting it nicely) attitudes.  Sally herself is very fair but the way the young North African boy is portrayed is definitely very stereotypical and of its time.  And the resolution to the mystery involved another trope that I’m not very keen on, but I can’t say more than that because it’s a huge spoiler.  So lets say that I won’t be lending this to my 10-year-old niece.  But if you are a fan of Girl’s Own fiction and know where its weaknesses and blind spots are, this is a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours.  And I’ve already been on the second hand book sites looking for more in the series.

As I mentioned, my book came from a charity bookshop, the secondhand dealers have lots of copies of various books in this series (please don’t beat me to them) but unless this is your secret niche book love, it’s probably not going to be one for you- and if it is, you already know how to source this sort of thing, so no links this week!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, women's fiction

Book of the Week: In the Unlikely Event

A bit of women’s fiction for this week’s BotW pick – and I’ve gone with Judy Blume’s adult novel In the Unlikely Event. This had been sitting on my shelf for a while (it was one of the books that got lent to my mum during the great renovation of 2017) and it took me a while to get to it – and to read it – because my copy was hardback and we all know that I don’t take them on the commute with me.

Cover of In the Unlikely Event

In the Unlikely Event tells the story of the worst year of Mimi Ammerman’s life.  At the start of the book we meet her as she heads back to her home town of Elizabeth for the 35 anniversary of three plane crashes that hit her home town within a couple of months.  That was the year that she was 15 and as well as all the usual teenage angst, love affairs, school and family problems, Mimi and her friends had to deal with death falling from the sky towards them. The reader follows the community through the tumultuous period that changed all of their lives forever.

I read a lot of Judy Blume’s children’s books when I was in the right age bracket for them.  Between her and Paual Danziger my early views of what life was life in the US were formed.  From Scoliosis, to party line telephones, to periods and a lot in between, so much of what I knew about young women and teenage girls in America came from what I read in her books.  And, although she’s writing for an adult audience in this, I could feel echos of that coming through.  Mimi’s world isn’t that far different to Margaret’s but as well as seeing the world through her eyes, we also see it through the eyes of some of the adults around her and some of the older teenagers.  And it’s engrossing.  I particularly liked the newspaper articles written by Mimi’s uncle Henry.  They really set the scene for what’s happening and present the official point of view that Mimi doesn’t really see.

It is a book about three plane crashes happening though – but although I had to take some breaks from reading it, it wasn’t as bad as some of the other books about tragedies that I’ve read.  Definitely cope-able with.  And lots of you out there probably won’t even have to take breaks – I’m just a bit of a wuss.  I hadn’t really realised when I started reading this that the three plane crashes in Elizabeth actually happened.  Or if I had, I’d forgotten.  And I found out midway through wen I went googling because it seemed almost too implausible.  At university I did a History and Literature module, and my final essay question was “Literature has to be plausible, history only has to be true.  Discuss”.  If I was writing that essay now, this book would definitely be getting a mention.

Anyway, this was a really interesting read and I know I’ll be lending it on to other people.  I can’t remember exactly where I got my copy from – it was either the magic bookshelf at work or from one of the work booksales – but because I’ve had it for so long it’s been out in paperback for a couple of years nearly.  You should be able to get hold of it from any good sided bookshop or all the usual suspects – as well as on Kindle or Kobo.  As is traditional, I suggest buying from the Big Green Bookshop – they’ll post it out to you and have been running a really lovely “Buy a Stranger a Book” twitter campaign on Wednesdays that will gladden your heart.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, mystery, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: Judge Walden – Back in Session

Another change of direction for this week’s BotW pick.  I read a lot last week, and a lot of it was good, but Judge Walden: Back in Session seemed like a fairly obvious pick – even if it is the second in a series, and not just because it is out on Thursday.  And I know I keep saying it, but the summer reading reccs post is coming up, so more of last week’s books may yet get a mention!

Cover of Judge Walden: Back in Session

Back in Session is the second book about Charlie Walden, resident judge (that means he’s in charge) at Berdmonsey Crown Court.  His main aim in life is just to get on with his job – trying criminals – without attracting the attention of either the press or, even worse, the Civil Servants.  He calls them the Grey Smoothies and is constantly on the watch for their latest targets or cost cutting idea.  He also has to manage his three fellow judges – who all have different ideas about the law and how it should be applied and aren’t afraid of expressing them.  Charlie’s wife – a vicar – is also a regular character who offers insight and support depending on what’s going on at court. The book is broken down into a series of cases, each covering one trial but which either have some relevance to wider life at the court or which have something happening in the background at the same time.  Each case is about novella length and as you get to the end of the book all the threads that have been bubbling along build to a satisfying conclusion.

I bought the first book in this series after reading the first case in it (which is free on Kindle) and both the books really, really worked for me.  The characters are interesting, the setting is fun and different and it’s all knitted together so well.  The author is a former resident judge himself and so presumably knows exactly what he’s talking about. As a journalist in my “proper” job,  I’ve done my share of court reporting over the years, and all the court scenes in this really worked for me – except with all the boring stuff taken out!  Because it’s broken down into cases, I think it would make a great book to read on the train or on a plane – it’s easy to pick up and put down without losing the sense of what’s going on.

Back in Session does build on the framework from the first book – so I definitely suggest reading Walden of Berdmonsey first – but if you don’t, I don’t think it would be the end of the world.  My copy of the new book came from NetGalley, but I bought book one on a Kindle deal, so it might be worth adding that to your watchlist as the price may drop when book two comes out.  If you want to get hold of a copy for your very own, Back in Session is available to pre-order in Kindle, Kobo or in paperback from Amazon, your friendly local bookshop or Big Green Books.  The first book is also in all the same places (Kindle/Kobo/Amazon paperback/Big Green Bookshop) or if you want a free taster, you can try Walden’s First Case, but I could only find that on Kindle.  I’m hoping we haven’t heard the last of the Judges of Berdmonsey Crown Court.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, holiday reading, reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

Hello and welcome to another BotW post – this week we’re in saga territory with Sophie Green’s The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, which came out at the start of last month, but which I only got time to sit down properly to 10 days ago.  It was nearly BotW last week, but I didn’t finish it until Monday morning after my weekend at work and so I got to save it!  And after last week’s pick celebrated female friendship for middle grade readers, this does the same for grown ups.

The cover of The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club (such a long title, but I forgive it) is set in Australia’s Northern Territory in the late 1970s and early 1980s and follows Sybil, Kate, Sallyanne, Della and Rita.  Sybil came to Fairvale station 25 years ago, but she remembers how strange it felt compared to her life as a nurse in Sydney, so when her son brings his new wife Kate from Britain she comes up with the book club as an idea to adjust and make friends.  Sallyanne is stuck with a difficult husband who’s turned to drink while she brings up their three small children.  Della is a transplant from Texas at the next station over – she left her father’s ranch to find some freedom and her own place in the world.  Rita has been friends with Sybil since they were young nurses together and is now working for the Flying Doctors service in Alice Springs.  Across the course of the book all four women face trials and difficulties and find support and friendship from the rest of the group as well as finding someone to talk about books with.

I absolutely loved this book, which seemed to me like almost a what-happened-next to the outback life that I had read about in Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice.  I read that back in my teenage years  – it’s one of my mum’s favourite books and although it’s all good, my favourite part of it is the third part, that deals with Jean’s life in Willstown.  And Fairvale Ladies Book Club shows you another wild and inhospitable part of Australia that is almost inconceivable to me in its remoteness and challenges.  I  loved reading about Fairvale and the town of Katherine and wanted to be friends with all the women.  I’ve read quite a few of the books that the women read for the club – but this has reminded me that I still have Thorn Birds sitting on my kindle waiting to be read and has also given me some ideas for more reading about the Australian outback and a way of life that seems almost impossible to believe in.

I really enjoyed reading this and it brought a tear to my eye more than once. I think it would make an excellent beach read if you’re getting to the time of year where you’re thinking of holiday books – and as it’s over 400 pages long it would last a while as long as you don’t read as fast as I do!  It would also make a great book club pick – there are plenty of things to talk about here.

My copy came from NetGalley, but you should be able to get a copy from all good bookshops – like Foyles, Book Depository and Big Green Bookshop.  The Kindle and Kobo editions are already a bargain at £1.99 (at time of writing) but it cropped up as a Kindle Daily Deal about two weeks ago, so that may come around again if you’re not in a hurry and have a system for keeping track of these things.

And if you’ve got any recommendations for books set in the remote bits of Australia – or other remote parts of the world – let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!