Adventure, Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Lots of painting and filling and cleaning in my week off work, and not as much reading as usual, but in the end it was an easy choice for this week’s BotW – Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog. Delightfully this was a recommendation from a work colleague who thought I would love it and he was totally right. I love it when that happens.

Ned Henry has time-lag. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s trying to find a hideous artefact in the ruins of Coventry cathedral. But all those jumps have scrambled his brain and he’s sent to Victorian England to recover away from the demands of Lady Schrapnell – who is rebuilding the original Coventry cathedral in the middle of Oxford. The bad news is he has one job to do in the nineteenth century before he can relax. The trouble is, the time-lag means he can’t remember what it is. There’s a boat trip, eccentric dons, drippy maidens, dopey undergrads, a cat and a fellow time traveller called Verity Kindle.

I loved this so much. It’s got so much of my catnip in here: it’s got modern people having to grapple with the Victorian era, it’s full of references to other books – of particular interest to me through thread of Peter Wimsey and Golden Age crime novels – and a mystery adventure plot as they try and hunt down the Bishop’s Bird Stump and prevent the future from being altered because of their actions.

To recap: time travel, history, humour, literary in-jokes and Peter Wimsey references galore. What more could I want?

This was my first Connie Willis book, so now the research is going on to figure out which of her other novels might be my cup of tea. If you like the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, by Jodi Taylor, you should definitely try this but I can’t think of many other books to compare this to (If you have any other suggestions for fun time travelling novels please do let me know) although I think if you like steampunky novels this might work for you, ditto books full of references to books. I need to go and read Three Men in a Boat because that’s a big influence here, and I’ve never read it. I also need to go and buy myself a copy of this because I want one for myself so I can lend it and I’m going to have to give this copy back.

You can get a copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog from all the usual sources.

Happy reading!

 

children's books, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: The Sinclair Mysteries

For #Recommendsday this week I wanted to talk about the Sinclair Mysteries – as the final book in the series is out tomorrow (October 5).  Regular readers will be well aware of my love of detective fiction and middle grade novels and Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair mysteries are a great meeting of the two.

In the first book in the series, we meet Sophie and Lily – newly employed to work in Sinclair’s department store which is the biggest thing to happen in Edwardian London since, well, a long time.  Sophie’s father has recently died and she’s having to find her own way in the world.  Lily works in the shop by day and is trying to break through onto the stage at night.  Over the course of the books they gather a gang together and solve crimes, with department store owner Mr Sinclair (think Mr Selfridge) always hovering somewhere in the background.  Starting with the theft of the titular Clockwork Sparrow and moving on to things more dastardly and complicatated.  There is a big bad here, although I can’t say too much about that without giving far to much away.  Suffice it to say that although you can read this on their own, they work best as a series, building to a wonderful climax that pulls all the threads from the previous books together and ties them into a nice neat bow.

If you grew up on a diet of Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew, then these books may well be for you.  Or for your children if you have them.  I’ve lent (given?) my copy of the first one to Eldest Niece who has been tearing her way through the Famous Five and Secret Seven.  I came to these after reading the first Wells and Wong book – and needing more middle grade mystery in my life and they filled that gap admirably.  I’m sad that the series over – but really looking forward to seeing whatever Katherine Woodfine does next.

You should be able to find these in any bookstore that has a good children’s department, as well as in supermarkets – I got my copy of the first book from Tesco (although I got books 2 and 4 from NetGalley) and I can’t remember where I bought book three.  Anyway, read them in order wherever you buy them from.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Anna and her Daughters

This week’s BotW is one I picked up as a Kindle Daily Deal a couple of weeks back: Anna and her Daughters by DE Stevenson.  You may remember me waxing lyrical about my love for Miss Buncle and her book back in a #Recommendsday about Comfort reads a while back and this was the first non-Buncle book I’ve read by DE Stevenson.

The cover of Anna and Her Daughters
I’m not sure about the cover on this, but hey, when the book is good it doesn’t matter!

The Plot:  Anna’s husband has died and the family’s finances are in a mess.  They’re going to have to sell the London house and move to somewhere smaller.  Anna decides that she wants to go back to the area of Scotland that she grew up in and starts making plans.  None of her three nearly grown up daughters are precisely keen on the idea, but only one, Jane, is prepared to make the best of it.  Anna and the girls move – Helen and Rosalie are practically kicking and screaming – and start their new lives.

The story is told through Jane’s eyes – she’s the plain but clever sister, who would have gone to Oxford if it hadn’t been for the money problems.  Helen is pretty, but selfish and used to getting her own way.  Rosalie isn’t as pretty as Helen, but isn’t clever like Jane either and tends to drift along in Helen’s shadow.  The combination of the three sisters makes for fascinating reading.  Anna is remarkably clear sighted about her daughters in some ways – she sees their faults in a way that many parents do not.  She tries to explain her attitude to Jane, who (justifiably) gets angry about the way that Helen treats people and the fact that she gets away with it.

As the book goes on we see the girls grow and change.  Jane discovers a gift for writing, Rosalie chooses security and Helen continues to be Helen, regardless of the consequences.  This book is very melodramatic in some ways but also feels like nothing much happens.  I loved it.  Especially when Miss Buncle gets a quick mention.

Anna and her Daughters is available in Kindle or you’ll have to go and find a secondhand paperback copy, which by the look of Amazon maybe expensive.

Happy Reading!

crime

Bonus Post: Noirville competition

So, in exciting news, I’m going to be one of the judging panel for a short story competition for Fahrenheit Press.  I know.  Exciting times.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of what Fahrenheit Press are doing – I’ve hosted interviews with several of their authors (like Duncan MacMaster and Derek Farrell) and reviewed a hell of a lot more of their books (I started making a list, but I got embarrassed about how much of a fangirl it made me look. But there’s a tag.  You can search for it and point and laugh).  I’m in my second year of having an annual subscription to their stuff (a great gift for the crime reader in your life – as I said at Christmas!), and it’s meant I’ve read new authors, new to me authors and tried stuff that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.  So I was thrilled to be asked, if a little nervous about it all.

I love the picture. It’s way more glamorous than I’ll ever be, so I’m hoping to get reflected glamour from it!
The rest of the panel are: Jo Perry – author of the Charlie and Rose series (as reviewed here a few weeks back), and book bloggers Kate Moloney (of Bibliophile Book Club), Gordon McGhie (of Grab This Book) and Janet Emson (of From First To Last Page).  I know.  I’m super punching above my weight. I’m going to be on my best behaviour and I’ve already got a spreadsheet planned to make sure I do this right.*

Details on how to enter are here if you’re so inclined.  Closing date for entries is the end of September.  And if you’re not entering yourself, I’ll be checking back in afterwards to let you know how it all went and (hopefully) rave about the amazing talent we’ve discovered.

*I did a recruitment selection course the other week and it scared me stupid.

cozy crime, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Books About Renovations

I’ve got renovations and building work on the mind at the moment – I wonder why – and so this week’s #Recommendsday post is about books featuring renovations or building projects. Let’s start with some murder mysteries.

photo of boxes of books.
These are the boxes of books that went off to storage *after* the book cull...


First, a classic: Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie. New Zealander Gwenda and her husband have just moved into her new house, but as she starts to modernise it, all she does is uncover the house’s history.  As far as she knows, she’s never been to England before, so why does she have a creeping dread every time she uses the stairs – and why are all the things that she wants to do to the house, features that the house used to have?  It’s creepier than many of the Miss Marple books – and although it’s very good, it’s not my favourite of the Miss Marple stories, but I think that might be partly because the copy that we had at home when I was little had a cover with a pair of knitting needles stuck in someone’s head.

That would be this cover, and it still freaks me out.

The fourth book in the Aurora Teagarden series, The Julius House, has a big renovation project in it when Roe’s husband to be buys her a notorious house where a family disappeared from some years previously.  Roe is an amateur sleuth, fascinated by real life murders she can’t resist trying to figure out what happened to them.  Houses feature a a few of the books in this series: in book two, A Bone to Pick, Roe inherits a house from a friend, and in book 3, Three Bedrooms, One Corpse,  she has a go at selling real estate and keeps stumbling over corpses.

Not quite a renovation, but Karen Rose Smith’s Caprice de Luce series features a house stager who solves crime. I’ve only read one of them – but as house stagers are  something we really don’t have in the UK, I found her job fascinating, even though I had a couple of quibbles with the mystery.  I have more in the series on my Amazon watch list though, so I liked it enough to want more.

Now, on to romance…

I’ve mentioned Jill Shalvis a few times recently, but the first book in her Lucky Harbor series – Simply Irresistible – features a heroine who is trying to renovate and relauch her late mother’s guest house.  It’s a romance – and her contractor is her love interest and it’s fun and romantic and everything that you would expect from a Jill Shalvis novel.

Among Katie Fforde’s novels, there are a couple that have renovation projects – including Practically Perfect, where the heroine is an interior designer who is doing up a tiny cottage to showcase her skills and slightly tangentially one of my all time favourites of hers, Stately Pursuits – where house sitting turns into an attempt to save the house from redevelopment by getting it into a state where it can pay its own way as a historic home (and venue) open to the public.

And a couple more to finish:

I read Nick Spalding’s Bricking It a couple of years ago and laughed consistently the whole way through.  It features two siblings trying to renovate a house they’ve inherited from their grandmother, with the added complication of taking part in a reality TV show.  It’s got a cast of hilarious secondary characters and I loved the live TV scene – even though my inner broadcasting nerd (hello day job!) wasn’t sure if it would actually have been able to go down the way it did.  Writing this has made me wonder why I haven’t read more of Nick Spalding’s stuff since.

And down here and not with the cozies because I’ve mentioned this series recently already, but the sixth Meg Langslow mystery, Owls Well That Ends Well, sees Meg start the renovations to the big old Victorian house that is such a centre piece for the rest of the series.

If after all that you want more buildings in books, I wrote a #Recommendsday about books with amazing houses back at the end of May.

Send me your suggestions for more renovation books in the comments or on Twitter – I’m @WildeV.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Death around the Bend

It’s renovation chaos here: half of the contents of our house is in storage and we’re camped out in one room.  So this week’s BotW is going to be short and sweet I’m afraid.

The cover of Death around the Bend

Death around the Bend is the third in the Lady Hardcastle cozy crime murder mystery series by T E Kinsey.  I read the first one a few weeks back and picked up the third on a Kindle deal, and read it on the commute last week.  The set up for the series is that Lady Emily Hardcastle is a widow with a somewhat more exciting past than is usual in the Edwardian era.  She and her trusty maid Florence have moved to the English countryside for a bit of peace and quiet and relaxation but don’t seem to be getting much of it.

In book three, Emily and Florence have been invited to a friend’s estate for a weekend of racing – but it’s car racing, not horses.  Lord Ribblethorpe has gone mad for motor cars and has set up his own racing team, complete with a track in the grounds of his estate.  When a driver is killed during a race, the police think it’s an accident but Emily and Florence aren’t convinced and can’t help but try and solve the crime.  With Emily asking questions above stairs, Florence is sleuthing below stairs.  Then another body is found.

This is fun and fast moving (and not just because of the cars).  I like the dynamic between Emily and Florence – and particularly that the story is told by Florence.  I picked up the first one as part of my ongoing quest to find other series that scratch my Phryne Fisher and Daisy Dalrymple itch and it does this quite nicely – although it’s set earlier than either of those two series.  Unfortunately there are only three books in the series (at the moment at least) so I only have one left to read, but hey ho, you can’t win them all.

All three Lady Hardcastle mysteries are on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (I’m not) but the two I’ve read have come around on discount deals at various points too (that’s how I got them!). You can find them all here.

Happy reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime, crime, new releases

Book of the Week: Death of a Devil

Well ladies and gentlemen a real treat for you here today. You’ve already read the interview, but I was lucky enough to been given* a copy of the new Danny Bird mystery by Derek Farrell – which is out today. You may remember that I enjoyed Dannys 1 and 2 so much that they made it into my favourite books of 2016 post so I was delighted to be asked if I could review it for release day and juggled my posting schedule accordingly!

A recap of the story so far: Danny’s trying to turn a geezer pub in a dodgy bit of south London into a gay bar. He’s helped by a motley crew of friends and workers and hindered by that same crew, and also the fact that the Marq is owned by a local mobster who demands his cut. Setbacks so far include: a diva dropping dead just before she was due to perform in the bar and a wake with a larger body count than it should have had.

Cover of Death of a Devil

We rejoin Danny as he tries to juggle a seance featuring a heath inspector and the (optimistically named) First Annual Fancy Dress Halloween Party at the Marq. And then a body turns up. Again.  But this time it’s in the cellar, so that makes a change. Soon Danny and the gang are trying to solve a 20-year-old murder with gangland connections.  Meanwhile Lady Caz has got some issues with her family that need sorting out and Danny’s a bit worried that the catering freezer in the kitchen is about to give up the ghost, which isn’t great when you serve food and have Environmental Health on the premises.

So, probably most important thing in a story like this is the mystery and whether it holds up.  And this does:  there are plenty of suspects and with a link to one of the staff at the pub and the body being found on the premises, there are genuine reasons for Danny to be involved in trying to figure out whodunnit.  Next you need an engaging hero and Danny definitely is that.  He’s funny and loyal, and as a reader you’d like to go on a night out with him and persuade him to be your friend**.  Danny’s also tougher than he looks and will do anything he can for his friends and to keep his pub in business – in that order (I think).  And almost every good detective needs a sidekick and Lady Caz is a great one: she is posher and drunker than ever in this installment and the subplot with her family is excellent too.  There’s plenty of witty repartee and a lot of pop culture references.  I’m not sure there’s a oneliner that beats the “Poirot on poppers” from book two, but to be fair,  that was a work of genius.

There’s also a nod to the detective fiction author’s problem of how to create corpses for their hero, when two passers by mention that bodies just keep turning up at the Marq, but in this case because this body is 20 years old, it helps avoid the Jessica Fletcher effect.***  I’m hoping that the increased involvement of Chopper the mobster in this book and the widening of some of the character’s backstories/families will help avoid this happening to Danny as the series goes on, because I’m not sure how many more bodies can turn up at the Marq before Danny’s business drops off so much that he goes out of business!

As regular readers will know, I read a lot of cozy crime novels, which is a particularly American genre, and I’d describe this as cozy adjacent – there aren’t any cupcakes or crafters here, but there is a (murder) mystery story that gets solved without too much blood and gore or psychological thrillery-ness.  This isn’t as noir as many of the Fahrenheit books, but it does have the sly and subversive world view that you find from the Fahrenheit gang.  It’s fun and funny and won’t leave you terrified to go out of an evening.

Death of a Devil is out today: here’s the magic link.

Happy Reading!

*Translation: Begged and screamed until I got one early even though I have a Fahrenheit Press subscription so would get on on/near release day.

**Well as long as you don’t have to see any bodies or get arrested.

***So many bodies start turning up around Jessica that you start to wonder if she is the problem/an Angel of Doom/killing them herself.  There are many theories.