books, Classics, crime, Recommendsday, Thriller

Recommendsday: Books with Amazing Houses

So yesterday I took advantage of the last of my post-nightshift days off to go on a family jolly to Blenheim Palace.  It’s less than an hour from home, but surprisingly I’d never been before – perhaps because it’s not National Trust or English Heritage so you have to pay.  It was fabulous – and I got my day ticket converted into a year pass (which doesn’t cost any extra to do) so I can go back again and see some of the bits we didn’t have time for on Tuesday.  Any how, after a day out at a country house, it got me thinking about books which feature amazing houses.  So here’s a few for you for Recommendsday.

Blenheim Palace
OK the sky wasn’t as blue as I was hoping, but at least we didn’t get rained on…

I know it’s totally the obvious choice, but I had to start with Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.  It’s not my favourite Waugh (that’s Vile Bodies) but I know I may be in the minority on that.  I had a massive Waugh kick a couple of years ago and read a whole load of his novels back to back and for the most part they still really work.  Brideshead tells of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and their upper class and crazy world.  The house is at the centre of it all as a character in and of itself.  Well worth reading if you haven’t already.  I definitely need to watch one or other of the TV/film versions soon.  And read Vile Bodies too.

Next, if you haven’t read any Roderick Alleyn books (and why not?) the first in the series, A Man Lay Dead, is set around a weekend party at a country house where one of the guests ends up dead.  Again, it’s not my favourite of the Alleyns (that’s Artists in Crime) but it’s a really good start to the series and a really good example of a country house murder mystery.

It feels like a while since I mentioned Rebecca on here, which is strange since the Du Maurier classic is one of my mum’s favourite books and I have a lovely Virago hardback copy which sits on my downstairs keeper shelf.  It’s creepy and gothic and has one of the most famous opening lines in literature in “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again”.  If you haven’t read it, why not and if you have go and reread it.  You won’t regret it*.

Finally, if you want something funny, try PG Wodehouse’s Blandings series.  The first one is Something Fresh, where you meet Lord Emsworth, his son Freddie and his secretary The Efficient Baxter and get a taste for the sort of high jinx that ensue.  I think I like them better than the Jeeves and Wooster books, but again I think I’m in the minority there.

I could go on – I haven’t even mentioned I Capture the Castle, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre or The Secret Garden..

All recommendations for more books with amazing houses gratefully received, in the meantime

Happy reading!

*Even if, spoiler alert, you never trust a housekeeper again.

Book of the Week, mystery, reviews, Thriller

Book of the Week: A Dangerous Crossing

I read a few good books this week, but in the end I picked Rachel Rhys’s A Dangerous Crossing for my BotW, although I realise as I write this that there have been rather a lot of historical mystery picks recently, but I know this is one I’m going to be lending out to various people, so it deserves a mention here.  As you may have realised, i’ve got a big soft spot for historical mysteries, but this has a healthy dose of suspense mixed in as well so it does make for a bit of a change, honest!

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
I love the glamorous 1930s style cover for this – although the paperback one looks like its going to be different.

Set on a liner on its way to Australia in 1939, it follows Lily Shepherd who is heading down under on an assisted passage scheme to escape her past.  On board, she finds herself mingling with people who she would never have socialised with on dry land and is drawn into their intrigues and secrets. By the time the ship docks in Melbourne, two passengers are dead and Lily’s life will never be the same again.

The cast of characters in this is really cleverly constructed.  Lily is young and innocent in many ways and doesn’t always realise that her behaviour is being judged by other people.   A lot of the action focuses around Lily’s table mates at dinner – a brother and sister who are heading to Australia after he had a health scare, a young man whose father is sending him away from the risk of war.  There is the upper-class couple who keep visiting tourist class and a young Jewish girl fleeing Austria without her parents.  Lily’s massively judgmental roommate and an older companion who is supervising them on the journey pop up to point out the class divisions that Lily is crossing when she is mixing with people they see as above  – and below – her station and putting her prospects in Australia at risk.

The mystery itself is a proper slow burn – after teasing you with the arrival in Australia at the very start, you then spend a lot of the rest of the book on edge waiting for something bad to happen.  And it’s very, very effective. In the author biography it says that Rachel Rhys is the pen name of an “already sucessful suspense author”* so that’s not really a surprise.  I thought it was very page-turnery and doom laden but not so creepy as to be terrifying, which makes it pretty much my ideal sort of suspense!

A Dangerous Crossing is out now in Hardback and comes out in paperback in August. You should be able to get it from all the usual places (Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones) or order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  The ebook edition is availble on Kindle and Kobo and there’s an audiobook from Audible** as well.

Happy Reading!

*It’s Tammy Cohen whose other books look far too terrifying for me – if I’d known when I picked this up, I might not have read it, which would have been a shame!

** You’ll need to be logged in for the link to work.

mystery, new releases, Thriller

Hack

So you’ve read my interview with the fabulous Duncan MacMaster, now you want to know what I thought of the book don’t you?

As mentioned yesterday, Hack tells the story of Jake Mooney, a ghost-writer who lands the biggest job of his career, writing the autobiogaphy of 80s TV star Rick Rendell.  But when he arrives on Rick’s luxury paradise to start work, people start trying to kill him.  Suddenly the most lucrative job of his career could also be his last one.  But Jake’s used to dealing with scandal and he’s not going to go down without a fight.  What is it that’s in Rick’s past that people are willing to kill to keep under wraps?

Swimming pools, typewriter keys, glamour - I love this cover.
The cover of Hack by Duncan MacMaster

This is so much fun.  Rick was the star of a (fictional) rival of Miami Vice and the book is paying homage to that like mad and it’s great.  Jake is trapped in glamorous locations with glamorous people but someone keeps trying to murder him.  As the book goes on he gets more and more battered and bruised, but some how manages to keep getting up and carrying on chasing down the bad guys.  As Duncan said in his interview with me, Jake is a rank amateur, with no sleuthing skills at all – and that makes him great fun to read as he bumbles and crashes his way around the island stumbling upon clues and trying to stay alive.

Hack is very different from Duncan MacMaster’s first book for Fahrenheit Press, A Mint Condition Corpse.  As Duncan said in the interview, in that Kirby’s a Holmesy, Poiroty type of sleuth – who can make great leaps of deduction out of nowhere and who has staff and piles of money to help him along the way.  Jake is emphatically not that.  But the two books do (perhaps unsurprisingly) share the same sense of humour and a wry look at the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of people, even if the lead characters and settings are very different.

There’s also a great cast of supporting characters – including Rick’s ex-wife who is an aging and faded star who is trying to revive her career in all the wrong ways, and Rick’s daughter who improbably seems to be falling for Jake – despite his terrible Hawaiian shirts, paunch and increasing injury count.

If you’re in need of a dose of sunshine to escape the grey of the weather at the moment, Hack will do that for you – and make you laugh and take you away from whatever’s bothering you.  I got my advance copy from Mr Fahrenheit* who took pity on me and my twitter moanings during my last batch of nightshifts and sent me this to cheer me up.  And it worked.  I was reading it in my lunch break (at 3am), I was reading it on the train home – and if I hadn’t got to the end just as I was arriving into my station, I would have stayed up to finish it.  And I really like my bed after nightshifts.  And I nearly raved about it in Book of the Week that week – but it would have been cruel to taunt you by telling you about it when you couldn’t read it.

Hack is out now – and you can get a copy if you click here.  And if you missed the interview, you should definitely check it out by clicking here.

Happy Reading!

*OK, so his name is Chris, but he is Fahrenheit Press, so in my head he’s Mr Fahrenheit à la Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

Book of the Week, crime, new releases, Thriller

Book of the Week: Sparkle Shot

I feel like I’m getting repetitive here, because this BotW is another Fahrenheit Press pick.  Seriously, my Fahrenheit subscription has been one of my best book-based purchases this year.  It was a total bargain (and I got in early so it really was a bargain!) and I’ve discovered older series I was too young for (or not in the right crowd for) first time around and new authors doing interesting things and who I’m hoping I can say that I was there at the beginning for.

And Sparkle Shot falls in the latter camp.  It’s Lina Chern’s first book and it’s short but it packs a lot in.  The subtitle is “A wannabe cowboy, a handsome cop and the search for a perfect breakfast cocktail” but that doesn’t really do it justice.  It is a perfect fit for the Fahrenheit family – Mara fits in somewhere between Sam Jones from Black Rubber Dress and Eva Destruction from Barista’s Guide to Espionage, in that she’s sassy, smart and runs with an interesting crowd which sees her getting tangled up with things she’d rather not be.  In this case, her roommate, a stripper who dances under the name of Karma misses a breakfast date with her and then phones in a panic – she’s witnessed a murder and needs Mara to help stop her being the next victim.

Sparkle Shot races along at 100 miles an hour, with boys with guns, girls with guns, wannabe mafia dons, cops and peril.  It’s probably technically novella length at 95 pages, but doesn’t suffer from any of my common complaints about novellas.  There’s not a hint of underdeveloped story or things feeling too rushed.  There’s plenty of plot, there’s backstory, character development and proper tension and proper danger – not just the sort of thing that is a misunderstanding or could be fixed with a simple conversation.  It does feel like it could stand a sequel or two – hopefully longer than this because it was over too fast – but even if it’s not more from Mara and her friends, I’m still looking forward to seeing what Lina Chern writes next.

You can buy Sparkle Shot on Kindle or in paperback from Amazon, or you could treat yourself to some Bad Santa Bucks from Fahrenheit themselves and buy a few of their books – the discount gets bigger the more bucks you buy – and given that I’ve already mentioned two Fahrenheit books that have been BotWs and I’ve also recommended Death of a Nobody and Murder Quadrille (this is why I think I’m getting repetitive with my love of Fahrenheit, but honestly, so many good books) that’s five there – even if you only buy the first Sam Jones book and not the series…  And if you’re still not sure, both Sparkle Shot and Barista’s Guide to Espionage would be good books to read if you’ve read Stephanie Plum or any of the other Janet Evanovich thriller series and are looking for where to go next.  And on that encouragement to buy books I’ll go away before I buy more myself.

Happy Reading!

Adventure, Book of the Week, reviews, Thriller

Book of the Week: The Barista’s Guide to Espionage

You may have noticed that a week on the beach means that I’ve read a lot of books and whilst I have been bingeing a little on Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s series (and Margery Allingham to a lesser extent) my favourite book last week was Dave Sinclair’s The Barista’s Guide to Espionage.

I’ve said elsewhere that this book is what would happen if Stephanie Plum had James Bond’s baby – and according to the publisher that was what the author was going for, so big success there.

And to be honest, what more could you want.  Eva Destruction’s mistake – and this isn’t a spoiler because it’s in the blurb on Goodreads – is that her ex-boyfriend is a billionaire super villain who is trying to take over the world. So far Harry’s masterplan appears to be working – but there’s a dashing spy trying to thwart his plan – and if he can get Eva into bed at the same time as bringing Harry down so much the better.  This all unfolds slightly out of order, just to keep you in even more suspense as Eva tries to work out which side is the right side to be one – after all Harry did buy her a castle of her very own…

Cover of The Baristas Guide to Espionage
How can you not love a book with a cover like this?!

This is so, so, so much fun.  I mean, Eva blazes through this book, living up to her name with the trail of wreckage in her wake.  And Harry the Billionaire is really well done – he has enough moments of being really human that you can see why Eva struggles to side against him at time – he’s not like a Bond villain were you know the only reason he’s attracted his female hangers-on is because he’s rich*.  This unravels like an action  movie – with set pieces scattered across the world and bluffs and double bluffs galore.  I can’t wait for the sequel – and hopefully the movie.

This was another book which came to me via my Fahrenheit Press subscription – which has already given me previous BotW’s Murder Quadrille, Black Rubber Dress and Death of a Nobody as well as a bunch of other excellent books which have been in the running.  Fahrenheit Press are starting to bring out physical copies of their books, but as yet, the only place you can get this is on Kindle but it’s definitely worth £2.95 of your hard-earned money.

Happy reading!

 

*Except May Day.  I think she likes Zorin because he’s mad and lets her be violent (and he’s rich, and younger than most Bond villains).

Book of the Week, books, historical, Thriller

Book of the Week: Beneath a Silent Moon

Difficult choice in the BotW stakes this week, but both options had a historical feel to them.  It was between the second of Tracy Grant’s Charles and Mélanie Fraser books and the first in Jodi Taylor’s time travelling adventure books.  And as you might be able to tell from the title, it was the Grant that won – in part because I really liked the first book in the series but I happened to read it in the same week as The Glittering Art of Falling Apart and it lost out in the BotW stakes that week.  So this – perhaps more than ever – comes with a warning about reading the series in order.  On that subject, more later.  First, the plot:

Charles and Mélanie Fraser are not your average society couple.  The Napoleonic Wars are over, but danger still lurks in the streets of London.  There’s something rotten in the Ton and the source of the answers may well be closer to them than they could possibly realise.  Assassination, espionage, and secrets in Charles’ family all add up to a fast paced, twisty and complex spy adventure.

With the end of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, I’ve been on the hunt for something to fill the Nineteenth Century set spy novel shape in my reading life.  And although Grant’s series actually started before Willig’s, I’ve discovered them the other way around.  I can’t remember how I first came across them – but it’ll probably have been an if-you-like-this-try-that from either Amazon or Goodreads (and probably based on purchasing Pink Carnations or Deanna Raybourn) and for that I am grateful!

These aren’t timeslip novels, but they do jump backwards and forwards in Charles and Mélanie’s lives – sometimes within the book, but definitely within the series –  this was the second book to be published,  but is set before the first.  And on top of that, the chronological order list on Goodreads gives it as book seven!*  But given the events of book one – about which I don’t want to say too much – I suspect reading them in order may have the most impact and will give it the most layers and nuance.

Charles and Mélanie have a complex relationship – founded in necessity, complicated by love and built on secrets.  Charles’ family is just as bad.  Possibly worse.  Add that to a murder and conspiracy and all in all it makes for a gripping page-turner of a book, with more secret compartments than James Bond’s suitcase and some incredibly devious twists and turns.  It’s not for the faint-hearted/weak of stomach in places, but it’s worth a bit of queasiness for a historical mystery this good.

I’ve already bought the next one (which is only available on Kindle) and may have put an order in for an actual copy of Book 4.  Now prices are variable on these – I’m not sure they’re all published over here (the UK), so the later titles are imports and more expensive.  But for the most part the Kindle prices are more reasonable.  The first book is Secrets of a Lady (originally Daughter of the Game) and is under £3.50 on Kindle at time of writing but nearly £10 in paperback from Amazon (although they do have second-hand copies for less).  Beneath a Silent Moon is under £3 on Kindle and only available second-hand via Amazon.  It gets even more complicated later on, but as I said, do start at the beginning…

*And to complicate things further, mid series the lead characters’ names change to Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch.  Not that I’ve got there yet, but my head is already aching!

Book of the Week, books, crime, detective, fiction, reviews, Thriller

Book of the Week: The Murder Quadrille

This week’s BotW is Fidelis Morgan’s The Murder Quadrille – which is another Fahrenheit Press crime novel (that subscription I purchased is turning out to be a good move so far).  Honorable mention goes to The Little Shop of Happily Ever After by Jenny Colgan – but that got a mini-review in my Half Term Reads post, so it’s not entirely left out!

This is really hard to summarise without giving the plot away, but I’m going to try.  The Murder Quadrille opens at a dinner party being given by a businessman to impress his bank manager.  His (really quite annoyed) wife is doing the food.  Also invited is their lawyer and his trophy girlfriend and an American crime writer.  Talk around the table turns to the dead body that’s turned up on the Common, but is that a good idea?

I liked this so much.  It’s dark and funny and clever and you never quite know what’s happening.  The narrative moves around from dinner guest to dinner guest – often jumping at just the point when you think you’ve worked out what’s happened, only to reveal another twist that you didn’t see coming.  Brilliant.

This is so difficult to categorise – it’s not a detective story, but if you like cozy crime it’s not really very bloody or graphic – although it is blooming creepy – and really quite thrilling.  I can’t really think of anything that’s really similar, although in the initial stages Suzette A Hill’s Francis Oughterard series came to mind – but it got much more complicated than that very quickly!

Get your copy of The Murder Quadrille from Amazon Kindle or investigate the possibility of a Fahrenheit Books Subscription here.  I’ve had three books through the subscription (which I bought for myself, on the recommendation of a friend) and read two of them so far and really enjoyed both.  The price has gone up since I purchased – but so has the number of books they’re publishing this year, so it’s still a saving.