It’s Election Day in the US today, so it seems fitting that this week’s pick is a US-set book.
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.
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…
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.
Hello hello hello! Fresh from a bank holiday Monday off work and a Drag Race marathon, this week’s book of the week is The Frame-Up – which has nerd culture, comic books and drag queens. Perfect.
MG (that’s short for Michael-Grace, but she won’t thank me for telling you) is a writer at a comic book company with a side line in costume designing. She’s in the queue for her morning latte when she recognises a panel from a comic in a crime scene photo in the newspaper. Soon a handsome police officer is asking for her help in untangling the clues to the crime – but his colleagues are suspicious of her. Can MG solve the mystery and win the big costume competition?
I really, really enjoyed this. MG is a fabulous main character and only occasionally strays into territory where you think she’s too stupid to live. Most of the time you understand why she tends towards the headstrong and foolhardy: she’s a woman in a male dominated environment who is trying to get equal treatment at work and not getting listened to. Matteo the cop is a great foil for her- nice enough that you’re worried he’s going to stuff up his career over MG but mysterious enough that you don’t entirely trust him. There is a big cast of characters here – mainly guys – and I would like to see MG getting some female friends at some point in the future to stop her from verging into Not Like Other Girls territory* but I’m hopeful that the seeds of something were being set up for that in this.
This isn’t too violent and there’s no psychological suspense – it’s basically a cozy crime with a twist – nerd culture instead of crafting/cooking/baking. And that was pretty much just what I needed at the moment after a run of disappointing romances (don’t ask). In fact I liked this enough that I’ve gone straight on to book two to see if it’s a concept that can sustain itself. And if it is, this could be another (murder) mystery series to add to my list.
I got this as a Kindle First Reads pick at the back end of last year and have only just got around to reading it – but it’s also available as a paperback from Amazon. Because it’s in Kindle Unlimited it may be harder to get elsewhere I’m afraid.
* I’m having trouble with an epidemic of Not Like Other Girls heroines in romances at the moment and it’s driving me mad
Following on from my own summer holiday reading post, I thought I’d drop a few more posts over the next few weeks which might provide some other suggestions for reading for your summer holidays. Today I’m looking at some cozy crime series that might make for binge reading on the sunlounger!
Campbell and Carter series by Anne Granger
Jess Campbell and Ian Carter are two British police detectives in the Gloucestershire countryside. Over the course of the books that I’ve read they’ve investigated mysterious bodies found in houses, after a house fire and a long dead cold case murder. At their best, I can read them in practically one sitting. They’re an British-style cozy crime, police procedural hybrid. I was a big fan of Anne Granger’s Mitchell and Markby series, when I read them in the dim and distant pre-blog days. I still recommend them – but they’re older and harder to find. This series however is still going – and the latest book features the return of Mitchell and Markby as an added bonus.
The Tj Jensen series by Kathi Daley
Tj helps run her family resort alongside her career as a high school teacher and she just seems to keep getting involved in murder investigations. The latest one is just edging too close to my rules about meddling where people shouldn’t be, but for the most part I’ve really enjoyed them. If you fancy some small town cozy crime with a setting that’s not a cupcake bakery or a bookshop, this might be the one for you. This a series from Henery Press – who I’ve mentioned here before and whose older/longer running series I find to be consistently quite readable. I’m not such a big fan of all of the more recent ones though. I made one of these my BotW back in April 2018, and I’ve read most of the rest of the series since.
The Zoe Chambers series by Annette Dashofy
Zoe’s a paramedic and part-time assistant coroner and a serious horse rider. When we meet her in the first book, a corpse has been found in a car and she’s in a race to find out who does it as a blizzard sets in. As the series goes on, romantic entanglements form as she investigates drug deaths, a possible case of elder abuse, tries to clear a suspected wife kille and faces numerous threats to her beloved horses and the space at the ranch she rents. I’ve read four books in the (currently) seven novel series, and like the set up and the characters although sometimes the Zoe can border on the foolhardy/willfully blind. This is another Henery Press series, but I will say that they are consistently darker than most of their stablemates (see what I did with the horse joke there?!)
This post has actually been a long time in the writing because I wanted to recommend more series than just three. I read a lot of cozy crime – but not a lot of them are actually good enough for me to want to recommend – or if they’re in series, I like to have read a few of the series before I’m prepared to recommend them to people. And of course some of the other good ones have already made it on to the blog – as BotWs – like Death by Dumpling, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights, and Lowcountry Bonfire, or as series I love posts like Charles Paris. And of course you can check out previous Cozy Crime Roundups: from 2017, 2016, and 2014.
I’ve got a bunch of cozies waiting to be read – including two more in the Maggie Sefton series (I’ve read one, quite liked it, but see above for wanting to have read a fair sample before recommending a whole series), the second Noodle House mystery, the second Auntie Poldi mystery and first in series from a couple of new-to-me authors including Bree Baker and Shami Flint.
As mentioned yesterday, picking BotWs is being made harder by the fact that I currently seem to be working my way through two series at a rate of knots and it’s creating a lot of repetition in the WiB list – and could make these posts very boring. Luckily, I also read the first in a new to me (and actually fairly new) cozy mystery series last week and it was a lot of fun and showed some great potential. Job done.
Death by Dumpling is the first in the Noodle Shop Mystery series – and was also Vivien Chien’s debut novel. Our wannabe detective is Lana Lee, 27 years old and back working at her family’s noodle house after walking out on her job and a brutal break-up. But when the property manager of the plaza where the restaurant is is found dead, she and her family’s business are in the firing line. Because Mr Feng died of an allergic reaction – to shellfish in dumplings from the Ho-Lee Noodle House. But Lana knows everyone there knew about his allergy – so how did this happen? Soon she’s investigating what happened while fending off dinner invites from the new guy at the plaza and hoping to get to know the detective investigating the case better…
I enjoyed this a lot and raced through it in practically one sitting – I moved from the sofa to bed 100 pages from the end but that was the extent of the movement! The characters are fun and it’s really nice to see a different type of setting for a cozy. Lana is a nice lead character – she’s got a nice balance of quirks and insecurities to self-confidence and skills. The setting is good and the side characters are engaging too. As the book is mostly setting up Lana and the series, you don’t get a lot of the other characters, but I’m hoping that changes as the series continues. There were a few elements felt a little clunky at times, but as this is a debut as well as the start of the series, I didn’t mind too much because I think this series has a lot of potential. I’m fed up with cupcake bakers and crafters – I’m so ready for an Asian-American detective working in the family noodle house and this delivers most of the time.
I picked my copy of Death by Dumpling up on a Barnes and Noble trip during my American Odyssey and brought it home with me. I have no regrets about bringing it back across the Atlantic – because it meant I read a load of library books before I came home – although I do wish that I’d brought the second book in the series as well because they were cheaper to buy in the US than they are here! But you can get hold of Death by Dumpling on Kindle and Kobo (the Kindle price is much better than the Kobo one atow) and in paperback from Amazon – but I suspect it’s actually a special order US-Import type deal there, so I’m not sure what your luck is going to be in proper bookshops in the UK.
I treated myself to this the day before my flight, and what greater treat to read for part of my flight (I slept and watched two documentary films* too) than the first Daisy Dalrymple book in quite a while. Long term reader may remember my long time love of Daisy – which has spawned my (mostly unsuccessful) quest for more similar sort of mysteries.
We rejoin Daisy and her family as they prepare for a visit from the long lost relatives she discovered in a previous book (Heirs of the Body). As part of the visit they make a trip to the Crystal Palace, where they stumble upon a body. Of course Daisy can’t help but get involved in the investigation. Over the course of the investigation there’s nightclubs, showgirls and Russian emigrés. Meanwhile in the background there’s a chance of a promotion for Alec. Can Daisy solve the crime? And is Alec ready for a new job?
It’s always nice to be back in Daisy’s world and this is particularly fun because there’s a lot of familiar faces showing up here from earlier books, some of whom we haven’t seen for a really long time. It’s not my favourite book in the series, but that was mostly because I wanted a bit more from the actual mystery. But as far as historical cozy crime series go, it’s hard to beat Daisy.
You should be able to get this in ebook from all the usual places like Kindle and Kobo, but I suspect the physical book will be harder to find in bookshops unless you order it in. Do yourself a favour though, if you’re new to Daisy and go back at start at the beginning and Death at Wentwater Court. It’s the sort of series where it’s worth it.
It’s that time of the year when I look back at what I read the previous year and look at whether my habits have changed at all. And as previously mentioned, this post is slightly later than it should have been because we’re already into 2018. Sorry about that.
I think this year I’ve grown more slightly more consistent – if I was writing an obsessions post this year from scratch, several of last year’s obsessions would still be on it. One of those would definitely be Fahrenheit Press.I had their subscription again this year and it’s given me another swath of great books to read. My Dad is currently working his way through the Christy Kennedy series (and thinks they should be made into a TV series) and I can’t wait to see what they dish up this year. I do hope the subscription is going again this year…
Another of my 2016 obsessions which has endured is Girls Own fiction. I’ve widened the pool of authors that I read again this year – adding some more classic authors like Elsie J Oxenham to my reading and to my little collection upstairs and some more obscure ones too. Some were good, some were… not, but I had a wonderful time reading them.
My pace of working through The Chronicles of St Mary’s series has slowed somewhat this year – not because I’ve gone off them, but because I’m catching up to the end of the series – and as we all know I’m a terrible binge reader with no will control who would one click through to the next book without thinking and I’m meant to be regulating my book purchases. I’ve read a lot of the short stories and extras this year but no more of the actual novels. Writing this has reminded me that I’ve got one waiting to be read on the kindle so you may well see that popping up on a Week in Books post soon!
Well this is one obsession that has well and truly endured this year – I’ve read another eleven of Sarah Morgan’s books this year – ranging from her new releases, through recent series and right back as far as some of her medical romances. And she’s been the gateway into me reading a lot more contemporary romances this year than I would have expected. Of that, more in my 2017 obsessions post – which will be coming soon.
And this final obsession is the one that hasn’t really endured. I don’t think I’ve read a single Book with Brontes in it this year, unless we count Trisha Ashley’s The Little Tea Shop of Lost and Found which is set in Bronte country. Publishing goes in phases and fads and clearly one of last year’s phases which hit my reading pile was the Brontes. As I’m not a particular fan of the Bronte’s I haven’t been looking out of anything else about them this year, and so I’m not surprised that it’s died off somewhat as an obsession.
So there you had it: Verity is still reading lots of crime and noir, Sarah Morgan and has a lingering fondness for time travelling historians. Tune in to my next post to find out what I was obsessed with in 2017!
A quickie and a bit of a cheat for this week’s BotW – I’ve been busy writing the Christmas gift posts and reading the books to put in them. I’ve written about Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series before, although it’s the first time I’ve made one Book of the Week – mostly because the point when I was glomming on the early series was before I started writing BotW posts the way that I do now.
Anyway, Gone Gull is the 21st book in the series and sees Meg and her family spending the summer at her grandmother’s newly established craft centre. Meg is teaching blacksmithing, her husband is teaching acting and helping look after the children, her grandfather is teaching ornithology and her dad is on hand two. But it looks like someone may be trying to sabotage the centre and then one of the teachers is found dead. Soon Meg is investigating and trying to work out who has it in for Biscuit Mountain.
One of the joys of this series is the crazy extended family and almost all the regular characters in the series are here – there’s not much of Meg’s mum or brother, but that’s fine because it’s nice to get to know Meg’s Grandmother Cordelia better. The problem for a lot of long running murder series is that often it seems like the detecting character is the harbinger of doom (aka don’t be friends with Jessica Fletcher or you’ll end up dead) but one of my favourite things about this series is the way that Andrews manages to find different locations to take her characters so that it doesn’t feel quite so dangerous in Meg’s home town! It was also really nice to see Meg back at her anvil – her blacksmith business was prominent in the early books in the series, but had faded into the background somewhat while the twins were little.
These books fall at the humorous end of the cozy crime spectrum – they’re not laugh a minute, but as the pun-based titles suggest there’s plenty of fun in these – with eccentric characters and strange set ups. I’m nearly up to date with the series now – I thought I was bang up to date, but the Christmas book (How the Finch stole Christmas) came out at the end of October, although I suspect it’ll take a while before I can justify buying it.
As always with posts about series, I think you’re best starting at the beginning – a Murder with Peacocks is the first one and although it’s out of print new, there are secondhand copies on Amazon and it’s under £4 on Kindle as I write this. But actually, these are stand alone – the thing you miss by not going back to the start is the building of the cast of characters and Meg’s relationship. As well as meeting her ever expanding extended family over the course of the books, Meg doesn’t hurry into marriage – or into having children – which makes for a really fun journey for her and for the reader. I think a reader could have fun wherever they start the series – so what ever you decide:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.