Authors I love, Book of the Week, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The House of Hopes and Dreams

In a change from recent form, it’s not a crime pick this week – but perhaps the pick won’t be a surprise to regular readers with an eye on the new release lists. I’m a long-time Trisha Ashley fan, and she has a new novel out this week and I was lucky enough to have an advance copy sent to me by the publishers. If you follow me on Litsy (I’m @Verity there) you’ll have seen me get excited about this when it arrived and it’s taken a lot of willpower to save it until close to release to read it.

Proof copy of The House of Hopes and Dreams

The House of Hope and Dreams follows Carey and Angel, who’ve been friends since art college, although life has taken them in slightly different directions. At the start of the novel TV interior designer Carey is in hospital recovering after nearly losing his leg after being knocked off his bike. He’s been dumped from his show, but when a lawyer arrives to tell him that he’s inherited a minor historic house in Lancashire it looks like he may have a new project. Angel’s life had been turned upside down after the death of her partner – who she’d been working with at his stained glass company for more than a decade. She’s lost her job and her home, but luckily her skills are exactly what her old friend is looking for and there’s space for her at Mossby. Soon Angel is setting up a workshop so she can repair Mossby’s unique windows and Carey is working on a new TV series about the renovation of the house and the secrets that it’s hiding. But how long will it take the two of them to work out that there’s more to their relationship than just friendship?

If you were to ask me about my book catnip, high on the list are old houses, competency porn (aka heroines who are really good at what they do) and friends to lovers stories, so straight away this ticks a lot of boxes for me. And this is back in a corner of Lancashire that has a lot of old friends from previous visits to TrishaWorld – Carey’s house is just up the road from Middlemoss so you get a few glimpses at old friends from novels gone by. This is a little sadder in the backstory and less funny than some of her other books, but I relaxed happily back into it and although I always had a very fair idea where everything was going, it was an enjoyable ride to get there.

If you’re very familiar with Ashley’s books (and I speak as someone who has read everything she’s published except her historical novel) then this may feel a bit like a Greatest Hits album – which I found a bit of a mixed blessing. But I think there’s a lot here for newer fans to love, especially people who’ve only started reading her in her last couple of novels and haven’t come across this part of her imaginary corner of England before. And they’ll be able to go away and discover more of it with the side characters in this, which in turn may lead them to my absolute favour of Ashley’s novels, A Winter’s Tale (another story about an old house with secrets) .

The House of Hopes and Dreams is out on Thursday – you should be able to find it in supermarkets (that’s where I picked up my first Trisha) and bookshops, or if you can’t wait here are the preorder links for Amazon and Kindle. I’ll be buying one too – because my preview copy doesn’t have the recipes in the back!

if you want to go and read some of my previous ramblings about Trisha’s world, try here, here and here.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, children's books, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: A Spoonful of Murder

This week’s BotW is the latest Wells and Wong mystery, A Spoonful of Murder, which makes three mystery books in a row, but I don’t see a problem with that.  The only surprise here is that I managed to pace myself and take two and a half weeks to read this, rather than glomming it on the day it came out, which is what I usually do and what nearly happened.

Cover of A Spoonful of Murder

Anyway, this is the sixth instalment in the Wells and Wong series and sees Hazel sent for by her father after the death of her grandfather.  Hazel heads back home to Hong Kong, accompanied by Daisy for moral support.  And she needs the support when she gets home and discovers that more has changed than just the death of her beloved Ah Yeh.  As always with this series, the mystery is clever, the action is fast-paced and you just keep turning the pages.  The stories are getting more mature as we go through the series – not unlike the Harry Potter books did – so the murder is a little bit more gruesome, the girls see a little bit more and are in a bit more danger, but there’s nothing here that should give a middle grader nightmares.  Or at least not in the way that I scared myself with Miss Marple books when I was about 10 any way.

The big change in this book from the others, is that although we are still seeing the action through Hazel’s eyes, for once it is Daisy who is the fish-out-of-water and Hazel is on her home turf.  One of the things that I have always loved about this series is the way that it takes classic boarding school stories and adds in new layers and gives you a different viewpoint.  The reader has always been aware that Hazel is seen as an outsider and that she doesn’t always know how things work in Britain, but it’s only really in this book, where Hazel is back at home and Daisy is her guest that you really realise how different her life is at home and how much she’s had to adapt to be accepted in England.  The way that you see Daisy struggle to work out a world she doesn’t understand and to figure out where she fits in and accept (well sort of) that here she isn’t seen as important the way she is in Britain is so cleverly done.  Daisy is still Daisy, but she’s realising that there’s more to Hazel’s life than she thought and that she has hidden skills that Daisy hadn’t appreciated.  And this is all done without meanness or cruelty and seamlessly with everything that we already know about the two girls.

And there’s obviously been a huge amount of research done into this.  The picture that Robin Stevens paints of high society in interwar Hong Kong in this feels grounded in research and facts, but it wears it very lightly.  I came away wanting to know more about Hong Kong’s history and what it was like as well as wanting to read more books set there.  It worked for me on every level – it’s a great mystery, with great characters and a great setting that just happens to be aimed at 8 to 11 year olds.  Perfect.  And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you liked St Clares or Mallory Towers or (my beloved) Chalet School when you were little and like Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime authors – then you should read this.  And if you have a middle grader in your house, this makes a great chapter book to read with them.  It has maps and everything.

You should be able to get this from any bookshop with a children’s section and I’ve seen them in the supermarkets too.   For best effect, start at the beginning with Murder Most Unladylike, especially if you’re giving to a child at the younger end of the age spectrum as it’s less for them to cope with on the death and violence spectrum.

Happy Reading!

Adventure, Authors I love, Book of the Week, historical, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: A Treacherous Curse

So it was my birthday last week and I treated myself to a few books, one of which was Deanna Raybourn’s latest book A Treacherous Curse. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Ms Raybourn’s work – from Lady Julia, through her standalone books to this latest series so this BotW pick will be no surprise to you.

Cover of A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series and sees Veronica and Stoker investing an Egyptian-themed mystery. Stoker’s former expedition partner has disappeared along with a valuable artefact and Stoker is one of the prime suspects. Veronica is determined to clear his name and the two of them are drawn into a web of intrigue that includes an ill-fated excavation in the Valley of the Kings, an Egyptian god appearing on the streets of London and a disgruntled teenage girl.

Now as you know, I try not to give spoilers in my reviews and that means it’s quite hard to say anything more than that about this without giving away major plot points from the first two books in the series.  But this has interesting developments on the various ongoing plot points that are enough to leave you impatient for book four – which must be a year away given that this one has only just come out and is obviously a major disadvantage of reading a book as soon as it comes out!

There’s unresolved sexual tension galore, wise cracks, peril and moths. I also really like the Eypgtian connection in this – it tapped into some of the things that I love about the Amelia Peabody books.  And if you like Elizabeth Peters’s series and you’re not already reading Veronica’s adventures, then you should be.  But maybe start from the first book (A Curious Beginning) or you’ll get some serious plot spoilers from this.

I haven’t seen these in the supermarkets, but they are usually in the bigger bookshops and I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would be able to order a copy in for you. I bought my copy on Kindle but it’s available on Kobo too although the Kobo version was slightly more expensive at the time I wrote this.  There’s also a really good (and completely spoiler free) interview with Deanna Raybourn on this week’s Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast if you want to know more about the book (and the series) before you take the plunge.

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.

non-fiction, Recommendsday, reviews

Recommendsday: Reel History

Need a book that comes in bitesized chunks?  Try Reel History: The World According to the Movie by Alex von Tunzelmann, which is based on her long-running Reel History column in the Guardian.  The basic idea is to compare the movie versions of history with the actual historical fact and the results are frequently hilarious.  Movies are graded on entertainment and on history, because it’s perfectly possible for a film to be both entertaining and historically accurate, although it’s rare.  That’s not to say that she expects films to be slaves to historical accuracy because she’s well aware that what is good history doesn’t always make good watching, but it’s a lovely way of finding out where the truth is behind the films and makes a great jumping off point if you want to disappear down an internet (or library) rabbit hole or two when you find out the truth.

Cover of Reel History by Alex von Tunzelmann
I do love a nice bright cover – and this one is so much fun

Von Tunzelmann has a wicked sense of humour on her, without resorting to cheap shots very often. In fact there’s so much good stuff to giggle about in this that what started out as me reading bits out loud to Him Indoors turned into me reading the whole book out loud to him!  This meant that the book took a lot longer to read than if I’d just been reading it myself, but made for a lovely shared experience as we chuckled together as the movies moved in time from prehistory until the nearly present.  He’d seen a lot more of the movies mentioned than I have, but I still enjoyed the book even the films that I haven’t watched.

I don’t think we can expect many/any more columns – as von Tunzelmann has turned her hand to script writing (she wrote the recent film Churchill) and, as she told Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast, she doesn’t think it’s quite cricket to be on writing films and criticising them.  I’m sad that there won’t be a sequel to this, because I enjoyed it a lot, but I’m off to enjoy the back catalogue on the Guardian website.  I’m also off to take a look at her book Indian Summer, which is about the liberation of India in 1947, which is a subject I know woefully little about and would like to remedy with the 70th anniversary coming upon us next month.

Reel History is available in paperback from all the usual sources and was a bargain £3.49 on Kindle  at time of writing and is also available on Kobo.

Happy Reading!