Adventure, Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Piglettes

We’re rocketing towards the end of the month, and after a delightful week of reading last week, I’m finishing the BotW selections off with a YA novel which I picked up on my buying spree at Foyles at the start of the month.

Piglettes tells the story of Mireille, Astrid and Hakima who are voted the ugliest girls in their school by their fellow students. None of them are happy about it – but for Mireille it’s not her first time on the list – which was started by a boy she used to be friends with – so she decides to befriend her fellow Piglettes rather than sit around and be miserable. What ends up happening is an epic summer cycle trip from their town to Paris to try and go to the French President’s garden party on Bastille Day. Each of the three girls has their own reason for going, but what they don’t expect is to become the centre of media attention as the country starts to follow the three girls as they cycle towards Paris selling sausages on the way.

This is a modern twist on the adventure-without-adults sort of books (see Swallows and Amazons etc) that I really loved when I was younger (and still do to be honest). Ok, Hakima’s brother comes along with them and he’s an adult, but he never really seems like an intruding adult presence restricting the girls, he becomes more like part of the gang. The idea of cycling across France selling sausages sounds a little bit bonkers – but it’s actually perfect – the girls have a goal, they get to meet loads of people and they get to find out new things about themselves and each other. But as well as being about friendship and self discovery, this is also quite a foodie novel. The pork sausages they’re selling are made by a local butcher. Mireille’s grandparents own a restaurant and they make their vegetarian sausages there themselves – as well as their special apple sauce to go with it. At the places they stop at on the way there’s often local food – including when Mireille detours them to go through the town where her favourite cheese is made (Crottin de Chavignol if you’re interested).

Clementine Beauvais has translated this herself from the original French, and if you can get past the envy of being good enough to write novels in two languages (and it did give me a touch of the green-eyed monsters), she’s given it a whole load of humour but it also still feels distinctly French. I would love to see the original for comparison to see what the jokes and references were in the original and what if anything she’s changed for a non-French audience. It’s clever and funny and I really enjoyed it. Also it made me want to go on holiday to France and eat some regional produce. Maybe I’ll have to settle for buying some speciality cheese to keep me going until we can get over there again.

I bought my copy of Piglettes on a trip to Foyles but it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo. As I found it in store, I’m hoping that you could be similarly lucky if you look in a bookstore, even if Foyles’ website isn’t currently showing any click and collect copies…

Happy Reading!

Children's books, children's books, series, Series I love, Uncategorized

Series I Love: Swallows and Amazons

As it’s been a week of Girls Own content, lest carry it on with another classic children’s series – this time an adventure one for boys and girls.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the series, they follow a group of children going on outdoor adventures during the school holidays. There are three families – the Walkers (the Swallows), the Blacketts (the Amazons) and the Callums (the Ds) – who appear in various configurations across the series, but the opening books (which are my favourites) mostly centre on the Walkers and the Blacketts who start off as rivals but become friends. Sailing is often involved – and many of the books are set in and around the Lake District in the North West of England.

I first encountered the Swallows and the Amazons when my Year 3 teacher read the first book out loud to our class and I carried on reading most (if not all) of the rest of the series by borrowing them from my local library. What’s not to love about a group of children going off to camp on an island and sail around a lake all summer long. There’s “pirates” and actual crime and it’s just wonderful. Let’s be honest, which child didn’t wish they’d had a grown-up free holiday or two, or been allowed to roam around without supervision for days on end – I think it’s one of the reasons why Secret Island was one of my favourites of the Enid Blyton series when I was little.

I should say at this point that I am not by any means an outdoors person. We never went camping when I was a child, so when I was first reading these the idea sounded fun – I think I “camped” on the floor of my bedroom for a few weeks after reading the first book, but I was not a big walker or hiker. I also suffered from travel sickness so being on a boat of any size was always pretty awful, but I loved the books – and still continue to enjoy them whenever I get a chance for a re-read. There’s something about children with a secret code between themselves and who go on what are basically quests that just really appeals. Also you learn a lot about various countryside-y things from the mid 20th century – most of what I know about charcoal smoking and dowsing for water comes from this series – which of course means I’m hopelessly out of date, but I didn’t know that at the time.

There are a couple of books in the series that get a bit weird – and as with a lot of books of similar era, there are some bits that haven’t aged well. I probably should have had a reread before I posted this – but I remember that I found Missee Lee very weird when I read it when I was about 10. And I don’t own all of them – I have some from when I was little and I’m picking the others up as I see nice copies at sensible prices. But I do own the first two on audio book and have listened to their fairly regularly. I treated myself to Pigeon Post (my other childhood fave) the other week and it’s next on my to listen list.

The first book has been turned into a film twice – it’s been a while since I saw the original film, but I remember it as being fairly true to the actual plot. I have seen the most recent one has had a fair few alterations to the plot – and not just the fact that they renamed the unfortunate to modern ears Titty. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself from the trailers!

Anyway, delightful outdoors fun, even if pemmican – real or fake – sounds disgusting!

Happy Friday everyone one!

mystery, new releases

Out today: The Twist of the Knife

After a theatre themed post yesterday, I’ve got another theatre-set book because this is out today! The Twist of the Knife is the latest in the other Anthony Horowitz meta-detective series. In the Atticus Pund series you have a book about murder in a book about murder. In the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, you have a fictional Anthony Horowitz getting involved in solving murders and writing a book about the process. This is the fourth book and sees Horowitz himself the main suspect in a murder after a critic is stabbed to death after giving Horowitz’s new play a terrible review. It’s really clever – it’s incredibly meta as Horowitz references the need to write the Moonflower Murders while he’s trying to slice the murder. Obviously you should start reading these at the start of the series, but if you’ve enjoyed the earlier mysteries, I think you will enjoy this one. My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s out in the shops today in hardback, Kindle and Kobo.

Enjoy!

detective, mystery, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Books set in Theatres

As you know, it was Book Conference over the weekend, so it seemed like this week’s Recommendsday should be related to Girl’s Own in some way. We had a post about mysteries set in boarding schools not that long ago, so today I’m doing books set in theatres – not all mysteries, not all Girls Own!

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

I am going to start with a Girl’s Own book though – because Noel Streatfeild wrote a lot of books with heroines who were involved in the theatre. Ballet Shoes is the most famous though, and has one of the great eccentrics of the genre too in Great Uncle Matthew – or Gum – who is a fossil collector who turns traveller after he is injured and starts collecting babies instead (don’t worry, it makes more sense in the book). When he goes missing while travelling and the money starts to run out, Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil (but mostly Pauline because she’s the oldest) use their acting and dancing skills to earn some extra money. It’s charming, it’s got great details about the backstage life of children in the theatre and all the secondary characters are wonderful too. And it’s still in print nearly 90 years after it was first published.

Cinderella Goes to the Morgue by Nancy Spain

This follows on quite nicely from Ballet Shoes, as it’s a satirical murder mystery that features exactly the sort of show that the Fossil girls star in as juveniles. In Cinderella Goes to the Morgue Spain’s regular heroines, Miriam and Natasha, are taking part in a pantomime in a fictional town in the provinces; with a local mayor who seems to be more involved in the theatre than in running the town. There are murders, but as with Nancy Spain’s other mysteries, it’s more about the absurdity than it is about solving the crime.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

When a young woman is found brutally murdered in Brighton in 1950, there is something about the crime which reminds Detective Inspector Stephens of a magic trick. He seems the help of the trick’s inventor, the magician Max Mephisto, who he also happens to have served with in a secretive unit in the war. This is the first in the series which sees Edgar and Max investigating various crimes, some with a theatrical link, some while Max is juggling a job in the theatre. They’re not precisely cozy historicals, but they’re not exactly radically gruesome either – think Agatha Christie at her darkest. I’ve read the first three in the series, but there are three more now – with another out in the autumn.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

This has featured in a Recommendsday before, but it was five years ago so it’s well outside the statute of limitations! Nora and Dora Chance are the illegitimate twin daughters of a pillar of the theatrical establishment. They’re about to turn 75 – on the same day that their father is 100. Oer the course of the novel Dora tells the story of their lives before they head to the televised party that’s being thrown for their father. It’s got a huge cast of characters that might take you a while to get your head around and add to that the fact that it’s a magical realist sort of thing too. It was turned into a play a few years ago – which was shown on TV during the Covid Times (it might have been at Christmas, but all time merged into one back then) and I can confirm that the play was as mindbending and strange as the book is.

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

I couldn’t resist adding this in – even though I’ve written plenty about Terry Pratchett’s books before. Maskerade is Terry’s take on Phantom of the Opera, except with witches and it’s just glorious. Agnes Nitt is a Lancre girl in the big city – singing the leading parts from the back row of the chorus while a prettier soprano mouths along. But when the Ankh Morpork Opera Theatre Ghost starts killing people, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax head for the big city to try and keep her alive. Just writing that has made me want to read it again!

And let’s finish with some other theatre-y books that I’ve written about before – Acting Up and the other books in Adele Buck’s series are all theatre-set romances. And you could probably count Circus of Wonders and The Night Circus under this heading (if you squint a bit!). There’s also a whole string of Inspector Alleyn books that are set in the theatre – including the final one, The Light Thickens, but also earlier in the series Vintage Murder, Enter a Murderer and Opening Night and several others that feature actors or actresses but aren’t actually doing the killing in a theatre- including one of my favourites Final Curtain. For kids there’s also a theatre set entry in the Wells and Wong mystery series – Death in the Spotlight which has plenty of nods to the Alleyns if you’ve read them. And of course there’s the previously mentioned Girl’s Own ballet series – Sadlers Wells and Drina.

Happy Wednesday!

American imports, binge reads, Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, reviews, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Thank You for Listening

Taking a break from the Girls Own and book conference related content for this week’s book of the week. This is another recent release – the same day as Husband Material in fact – and one that I had heard a lot of buzz about and discovered was on offer while I was writing the August offers Recommendsday post.

Thank you for Listening is a romantic comedy about a former actress who became an audiobook narrator after an accident halter her on screen career. When Sewanee is sent to an audiobook convention by her boss she has a whirlwind night in Vegas with a mystery man. But when she returns to California, she finds an offer to narrate a beloved romance novelist’s final book. The trouble is, she doesn’t do romance novels any more, but money could pay for her beloved grandmother’s nursing home care so she resurrects her old pseudonym and starts recording the book with one of the genres hottest and most secretive male narrators, Brock McKnight. There’s a steady back and forth of chatter between them, but as secrets are revealed, can Sewanee get the happily ever after that she doesn’t believe in?

Julia Whelan is a renowned audiobook narrator so this is is filled with insider titbits from her experience as well as being a love letter to the romance genre. They even joke about how many tropes they’re ticking off more than once. And it’s a delight. Swan is an intriguing leading character, with a complicated family and some issues to deal with. And the shadowy and mysterious Brock has great banter. And, well, it’s very well put together – with a swoony ending and a nod and a wink to fans of the genre. What more could you want.

If I could have read this in one sitting I would have – but unfortunately I had to go to work, so instead I decided not to go to the theatre one of my London nights and instead read this on the sofa at the hostel, and then in my bunk when it got too noisy. No greater testament really.

My copy of Thank You For Listening came from Kindle for the bargain price of £1.99. It’s also on Kobo for the same price and available in paperback from Thursday – although how easily it will be to actually find I don’t know – Waterstones (Foyles’ owners) are having some distribution issues. I will try and remember to check Foyles’ romance section a few weeks after release…

Happy reading!

historical, mystery, series

Historical mysteries: Amory Ames

Back with a historical mystery series this first Friday in August, and we’re in my sweet spot for mysteries again: between the wars!

Amory Ames is a wealthy young woman, who when we meet her in 1932 is somewhat regretting her marriage, five years earlier, to a handsome playboy called Milo. When her former fiancé asks for her help, she joins him in a trip to a hotel where someone soon turns up dead. And of course when her ex-fiancé is arrested for the murder, Amory starts to investigate. And then her husband arrives. You get the idea.

It’s a little bit of a spoiler to say that Amory and Milo’s relationship survives the first book, but their somewhat dysfunctional relationship is one of the threads running through the first couple of books. I actually found myself liking the series more as they went along – there is a lot of setting up and characters to introduce in book one which makes it a little busy! But if you like Royal Spyness, then you should try these – Amory is not royal but there’s definitely some similarities between Georgie and Darcy and Amory and Milo.

There are seven books in the series – which I think might be all we’re going to get, as there hasn’t been a new one since 2020, and Ashley Weaver has started a new series. But as the first two are in Kindle Unlimited at the moment, it’s not a bad time to check the series out.

Have a good Friday everyone!

bingeable series, detective, mystery

Mystery series: The Affair of… Mysteries

This week I’m going for a trilogy of country house-set mysteries that I’ve been revisiting in audiobook format about a decade or more after I first read them.

First published in the late 1970s, James Anderson is trying to recreate that Agatha Christie, Golden Age crime novel feeling, but with a bit of a knowing twist. In the first book for example, you’ve got a diamond theft, stolen antique guns, a diplomatic incident, unexpected guests and a body in the lake. And as the books go on you have a host who is very aware that every time he throws a house party bad things seem to happen and that’s a delight too!

The second book has a film star and his movie mogul producer, and the third a family funeral that turns murderous. All of them have the local detective Chief Inspector Wilkins presiding over the investigation, telling you all the time that he knows how they do it in books, but it’s not like that in real life! What’s not to love?

These should be fairly easy to get hold of – my original copies were the 2009-ish era Alison and Busby ones, with 1930s inspired covers in red and green and yellow, which you used to see fairly regularly at the library and in the charity shops. As you can see from the picture on the post, there’s another reissue since then (I think this year) with blues and lilacs for the covers. I haven’t seen these in the shops yet, but I will be looking in the crime section for them next time I make it into a bookshop!

Happy Friday everyone!

Authors I love, bingeable series, Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: Murder and Mendelssohn

So a slightly cheaty pick this week, as it’s not a book I haven’t read before, but as I finished the Phryne reread last week, I’m going to let myself break the rules!

Murder and Mendelssohn is the twentieth book in Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series and has a lot of the key threads in the series running through it. Inspector Jack Robinson asks Phryne for help investigating the murder of an unpopular conductor. Jack thinks the killer may come from among the choir he has been rehearsing so Phryne decides to infiltrate the choir and find out. But at the same time, one of her old friends from World War One is in town and needs her help keeping a mathematical genius alive.

My favourite Phrynes are the ones with a large cast of suspects, a love interest and a historical connection – and this has all of that. The full Fisher menage is here – with the exception of Lin Chung, and it has has Greenwood’s take on Sherlock Holmes in Rupert Sheffield, former codebreaker and current irritant to all around him except John Wilson.

I wouldn’t suggest you start the series here, because you’ll miss all the fun of getting to this point, but if you do make this your first taste of Miss Fisher, then it will give you a pretty good flavour of what everything is all about. One last thing – a warning: if you’ve watched the TV show, don’t expect this to be the same. I’ve enjoyed the series, but it’s a teatime drama and they have adapted the series to fit that – which means they’ve done a few things to Phryne’s love life, added some running plot strands that don’t exist in the book and reduced the size of the Fisher household somewhat. So treat them as separate entities if you can.

You can get Murder and Mendelssohn in all the usual ebook formats – Kindle, Kobo and the rest – and that’s probably the easiest way to get hold of them.

Happy reading!

bingeable series, historical, mystery

Mystery series: Grantchester Chronicles

Hot off the heels of the vicar mystery recommendsday post, here is another historical mystery series featuring a vicar, written by someone with a clerical connection. James Runcie’s father was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time when Richard Coles’ novel is set!

The Grantchester of the series title is the village just outside Cambridge where Sidney Chambers is vicar. The books start in 1953 and move through towards the changes of the 1960s. Sidney is a bachelor in his early thirties and Grantchester is his first parish of his own. His best friend in the village is the detective Geordie Keating and the two of them solve mysteries together. The books usually feature a series of smaller mysteries alongside Sidney’s attempts to balance his calling and his previous life. There is also a romantic thread to the series – there are several women who Sidney is interested in at various points, although of course their relationships have to follow the rules because: vicar in the 1950s. In fact the fact that he is ordained is one of the major obstacles to his romantic life. The other major characters in the series are his housekeeper and then a few years in, his curate.

The books have been made into a TV series, which is now onto its third or fourth vicar of Grantchester, still solving crimes with Geordie after they ran out of the plot from the books with Sidney…

cozy crime, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Mysteries with Vicars!

This would have been a couple of weeks ago – if it wasn’t for the pesky end of the month, because it was inspired by the first book I’m going to talk about and then spun me off into a series I love post for a series I’d forgotten all about! You wouldn’t think that a vicar solving mysteries would be a thing, and then you remember Father Brown and realise that you’re being a bit stupid! Vicars or vicar’s spouses are in a perfect position to try and solve murders – they have an excuse for being nosy and getting involved in the aftermath of a sudden death.

Murder before Evensong by the Reverend Richard Coles

Former Communard turned Vicar and Strictly contestant, Reverend Richard Coles’ debut crime novel is features a body in a church in the aftermath of a proposal to install a toilet in the church. It’s not entirely clear at the start when the story is set, which made for a bit of confusion for me when references popped up to Tenko and To the Manor Born and was finally cleared up (for me at least) as being 1988 because of a reference to Celine Dion winning Eurovision! It’s an enjoyable read with a lot of fun village characters and a good mystery. I think it would appeal to people who enjoyed Richard Osman’s novels – but if you’ve ever been involved in church life or a PCC then this will have an extra level of enjoyment for you too.

The Max Tudor series by G M Maliet

I’ve mentioned the Max Tudor series here before, but it has been a while. Max is a former MI5 agent who has become a vicar and across the seven book series solves murders in his parish and then in the surrounding area, helping out the local police. There’s a running romantic plot strand and a cast of regular characters in the village too. I’ve read all seven, mostly in a paperback editions via the library or The Works, so I’m not sure how easy they are to find in bookshops at the moment – but they’re easy to get hold of on kindle.

The Ministry is Murder series by Emilie Richards

Now these are likely to be the hardest to get hold of in the UK – because they’re older, not on kindle and as far as I can tell only come in US mass market paperback format, but I like them a lot so I’m including them. oh and they’re a bit of a cheat because Aggie Sloan Wilcox is the vicar’s wife, but hey, all the action in the ones I’ve read revolves around the church and it’s congregation. Aggie’s husband made church is in a small town in Ohio and she gets involved in solving her first murder because he’s a suspect. Aggie – real name Agate – has an eccentric mother amongst the supporting cast as well as the parishioners. I’ve read three of the five – and the series has provided my Ohio book in the 50 States challenge the last few years!

Francis Oughterard by Suzette A Hill

Now these are tricky to write about without spoilers. So what I’m going to say echos the blurb – Francis is a vicar in the 1950s and all he wants is a quiet life. But somehow he keeps getting entangled in murders. These are more suspense than mystery, but they are laugh out loud funny and more than a touch surreal. There are five books featuring Francis – which I’ve read – and two featuring his niece – which I haven’t. My library used to hold copies of most of these – but I actually read them on kindle, which seems like the only place to get the final two books.

In other books, there’s also Umberto Eco’s In the Name of the Rose, which as I said in the June Book Deals post, I first read as part of my history degree and features a monk solving some gruesome crimes. And obviously the other famous crime solving monk is Cadfael, but I haven’t read any of them – yes, yes I’ll get to it at some point.