Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: Life, Death and Cellos

 Quite a long list of reading in yesterday’s post, but with two books by the same new-to-me author on the list, today’s Book of the Week pick may not be that much of a surprise to some of you. 

Cover of Life, Death and Cellos

Life, Death and Cellos is the first book in Isabel Rogers’ Stockwell Park Orchestra series. In this debut outing, the orchestra is having a bit of a tricky time of it. Their conductor just dropped dead mid-concert and landed on their biggest donor – who is now threatening to withdraw her financial support. But one of the cellists, Erin, has a plan to try and save the orchestra, but it involves self-obsessed and self-involved section leader Fenella and a Stradivari cello and is not without risk. Then there’s the regular conductor who seems to be working his way through the female members of the orchestra and David, the band treasurer whose nervous tick grows worse at every set back.

So, first of all it needs to be said that I am a Band person. I’ve never played in an orchestra, but I played in concert bands (and the occasional jazz band) of various types all through secondary school and after a break at uni (because all the options there were for “proper” musicians, which I am emphatically not), I picked my clarinet back up when I moved to Southend. I joined a community band there and when I first moved back to northampton I found myself another band and carried on playing for a couple of years until my shift work got too much to be able to make rehearsals reliably. So all the band-centric stuff really appealed to me – but it’s hard for me to tell how it will come across to someone who doesn’t have some sort of background in music. The actual plot itself is a comic caper – with almost farcical elements and a strong retro feel, but there’s a lot of music stuff in with that – I wanted a play list to go with it so that I could listen along as it talked about the various different elements of the pieces – but I don’t know how it would go for you if you don’t know what an arpeggio is or a little bit about key signatures! If you have ever played in band, I think you’ll recognise a lot of things in this – viola players being a punchline, the brass section being uppity etc. I certainly enjoyed it so much that I went straight on to book two, have pre-ordered book three and told all the musical people in my family that they need to read it!

You can get a copy of Life, Death and Cellos in paperback from Bookshop.org.uk or on Kindle or Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Bonus photos: I tried (although admittedly not very hard!) and failed to find a picture of me back in my Northamptonshire County Training Wind Orchestra heyday, so sadly you don’t get to see me in my long-haired, train track braces glory, but instead, here I am playing with my Northampton band in the early 2010s – as their principle clarinet (not a position that I enjoyed), front row left in the red t-shirt, at a local concert.And here I am looking much happier as a lowly third clarinet in my Essex band – in my concert dress at the Royal Festival Hall to play Bernstein and Gershwin. I’ve actually played at the Festival Hall twice – this concert in the Clore ballroom, and then in the main hall as part of the National Festival of Music for Youth back in my school days, when we were runners up in our class to our big sister/brother band the mighty Northamptonshire County Youth Concert Band.

 

Book of the Week, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Grumpy Jake

As I mentioned yesterday, it was a bit of a patchy week in reading last week, because it’s 2020 and all normal rules are suspended. You’ll hear more about Mr Wilder and Me at some in the (hopefully near) future, but today I want to talk about Melissa Blue’s novella Grumpy Jake.

Cover of Grumpy Jake

Bailey knows all about Jake the Rake. He’s been making his way through the single members of the faculty, while his son has been working his way through pre-school. Now Jayden is in Bailey’s Kindergarten class and it feels like it’s going to be a long year. And then they get stuck in a lift together and she starts to see what all her co-workers fell for. For his part Jake knows he shouldn’t fall for her, but he needs stability for his son. Bailey knows the clock is ticking – will she end up like all the others?

I mean I think you can probably answer that question now, but this novella is a lot of fun. It is a novella though and that means that perhaps there’s not as much time as you want for everything to develop and it all to play out. Most of the time here is focused on Bailey and Jake getting to know each other and it all wraps up quite quickly at the end. But it’s a lot of fun – really quite steamy – and Bailey keeps everything professional at work. It did exactly what I wanted it to do one evening last week and that’s basically the ideal for a story right? Fills the craving you have at the time.

You can get Grumpy Jake on Kindle – where it’s only 77p at the moment – and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Someone to Romance

As I said in yesterday’s post, most of last week’s books were nice soothing reading to help my frazzled brain after a lot of work on US election coverage. And a fair few of them were old favourite authors or the latest in long-running series. So today you get a romance pick!

Cover of Someone to Romance

Jessica Westcott has decided that this season she’s going to get married. After years of ignoring the marriage mart because of the way they treated her best friend Abigail, she’s decided that she can’t be left behind any more. She might be older than some of the other debutants, but she’s the sister of a duke, so there will be options. Gabriel Thorne has just returned to England from Boston in order to reluctantly claim his inheritance. When he sees Jessica he decides that she might be his ideal wife. And when she learns more about him, she is intrigued and drawn to him. But will he manage to claim his birthright and will Jessica be at his side if she does?

This is the seventh in Balogh’s Westcott series, but you don’t have to have read the others for this to make sense – as with most romance series they’re a linked set of standalone stories rather than an ongoing plot with the same characters. I’ve read two of the others – the first and the fifth. This one is not quite a marriage of convenience, not quite a lost heir, but it’s also really quite low angst for all of that. Mary Balogh has been writing reliably good romances for decades and on the drama scale they clock in closer to the Georgette Heyer end of the drama scale than the Big Confrontation, Major Twist into a Sudden Ending one. And ditto on the steaminess scale – more Georgette than Sarah MacLean. It’s a lovely, romantic and calming read that did exactly what I wanted it to last week. And if you’re feeling stressed about the world – and goodness knows 2020 has dealt a lot of stress – than this would be a perfect read for you.

My copy of Someone to Romance came from the library, but it should be fairly easy to get your hands on – there are Kindle and Kobo editions as well as a paperback release in the UK. All the physical bookshops are shut at the moment, but bookshop.org.uk has stock of it. If this were normal times I’d say that these often crop up in The Works a year or so after release so you should be able to find them in supermarkets or Waterstones on release. But these aren’t normal times so who knows.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Boiled Over

It’s Election Day in the US today, so it seems fitting that this week’s pick is a US-set book.

Cover of Boiled Over

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.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Merit Badge Murder

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…

Cover of Merit Badge Murder by Leslie Langtry

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.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Manhunting

Back with a romance book this week – a contemporary romance at the time it was written, but given that that was the early 90s, not quite contemporary now! I’ve written about Jennifer Crusie’s books a few times before and as I read two of them last week it feels like they’re turning into a regular comfort read for me. And I needed some comfort reading. Anyway, to the book.

Kate Svenson is a successful businesswoman, but she’s unlucky in love. She’s been engaged a few times – but found out just in time that the men were only after her (father’s) money. But she’s fed up of being alone and wants someone to spend her life with. So she comes up with a plan: a two week holiday at a Kentucky resort. The Cabins is full of eligible bachelors – surely one of them must be the guy for her? But everytime she goes on a date, something happens to the guy. Jake Templeton’s brother owns the resort and he works there. He’d sworn off women even before he picked one of Kate’s rejects out of the swimming pool. He’s not interested in her, and she’s not interested in him – so why are they spending more time together than Kate is with anyone else?

This is a fun, frothy romantic comedy. You know exactly where it’s going to end up, but there are enough complications to keep it interesting, and the various situations that Kate finds herself in with the prospective boyfriends are a hoot. Obviously life – and technology – have changed a bit since 1993 when it was written, but I don’t think there’s anything here that’s dated in a bad way – which isn’t always the case! It’s just the sort of book I love reading – the stakes are fairly low, it’s funny but the humour isn’t nasty or based on humiliation and you come away with a nice warm feeling inside.

The bad news is that this doesn’t seem to be available on Kindle or Kobo at the moment, but Amazon have a bunch of paperback copies for a couple of quid.

Happy Reading

Book of the Week, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: The Haunting of Alma Fielding

Lots of non-fiction reading last week. You’ll hear more about the Kate Andersen Brower anon (or you can find my previous writing about her here), but in the meantime, this week’s BotW is new release (well on October 1) non-fiction that feels really appropriate for the run up to Halloween!

Cover of the Haunting of Alma Fielding

Nandor Fodor is a Jewish-Hungarian refugee in 1930s London. He’s also a ghost hunter and he starts to investigate the case of Alma Fielding, a surburban housewife who says she’s being plagued by a poltergeist. As he starts to investigate as part of his work for the International Institute of Physical Research, the phenomena intensify and he discovers Alma’s complicated and traumatic past. And all this is happening against the backdrop of the rise of Fascim in Europe as well as the obsession/renaissance in spiritualism that happened in the post Great War period.

Now although reads like the plot of a novel, this is actually non-fiction. It’s sometimes hard to believe this while you read it though as Alma continues to manifest material affects after she’s been strip searched and put into a special costume provided by the Institute. But it is and its fascinating. Fodor is rational although he wants to believe, but as he develops doubts about Alma, he handles it in a much more sensitive way than I was expecting. I’ve almost said to much here, but it’s really hard to talk about non-fiction like it’s a novel, when so much of whether it works is about the research and the story and whether it feels satisfying. On that front, I wanted a little bit more closure about Alma and her haunting, but I appreciate that in a work of non-ficiton, you can only work with what the sources tell you.

The juxtaposition of Alma’s story and the wider context of the late 1930s also works really well. If you’ve read Dorothy L Sayers’ Strong Poison* you’ll have encountered the wave of spiritualists of the era – and seen some of their trickery exposed (to the reader at least) by Miss Climpson, but this really sets what Fodor was doing and the organisations that he worked for into the wider context. I was fascinated. If you’re looking for something to read for Halloween, and don’t want fiction, this is really worth a look.

Unlike most of the rest of the world (it seems) I haven’t read the Suspicions of Mr Whicher, but reading this has definitely made me more likely to. My copy of The Haunting of Alma Fielding came from NetGalley in return for an honest review, but it is out now in hardback and should be easily available in bookstores as well as on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

*I love it when I get to mention Lord Peter Wimsey, and Strong Poison is one of my favourites, if I haven’t worn you down yet, go and read it.

Book of the Week, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Money

A lot of non-fiction reading last week all in all, so it’s probably not a surprise that this week’s pick is from the nonfiction list. Just a reminder that the mini-reviews are coming tomorrow – where among the picks is another non-fiction book from last week.

Cover of Money by Jacob Goldstein

So Jacob Goldstein’s Money is exactly what the subtitle says it is – The True Story of a Made-up Thing. It’s a an engaging and easy to understand history of money that goes right from when people stopped bartering and started developing money through to the present day with all the complications that the internet and computers have brought.

Goldstein is one of the hosts of NPR’s Planet Money podcast and has a really conversational style as well as having a knack for explaining complicated ideas in easy to understand language. In this he’s done possibly the best job I’ve found so far of explaining things like bitcoin, blockchain and what exactly happened with the 2008 crash. I mean I came away feeling like I finally understood them at any rate. Be warned though, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find the idea that there will be another big crash or breakdown in the way that we use money just a little bit terrifying and may lead to some googling to work out how safe the money in your bank is. It definitely made me think a lot about electronic banking and the cashless economy. Anyway, If you’re not a person who thinks of themselves as business or money minded, this would be a great primer/introduction for you, or if you’re starting to think about your Christmas present list, this would make a good choice for someone who likes authors like Mary Roach or Bill Bryson.

My copy of Money came from NetGalley, but it’s out now (came out in the UK last week in fact) on Kindle and Kobo and as a hardback. As usual I have no idea whether it’ll be in bookshops, but they should be able to order it for you if they don’t have it in stock. Give them a call/drop in in a safe and responsible way.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: The Duke Who Didn’t

After a few weeks of crime or somewhat mystery-y picks, I’m back with some romance for this week’s Book of the Week – and the new novel by Courtney Milan, which is also the first in a new series from her.

The cover of The Duke who Didn't

Chloe Fong is super organised. She lives by her lists, and hopes that one day she’ll have the perfect day and get everything done. And beyond the daily list, she has a big plan too and it’s helping her father launch his new business. Jeremy Wentworth has been visiting Chloe’s village since his early teens, but stopped a couple of years back after Chloe told him that for anything to happen between them he would have to get serious. It’s taken him some time, but he’s realised that he just can’t be serious – or at least not the sort of serious his family wants him to be. But he’s convinced he’s the right man for Chloe and he’s back to convince her – if she can just get past the fact that he’s never told her his real name, that he’s a duke and owns the whole village…

This is a historical small town romance, set across the course of a couple of days in 1899 that happen to be the busiest in the village’s entire year – and possibly of Chloe’s life. There is a big competition called the Wedgeford Trials and Chloe and her father are using the influx of visitors this year to launch their family’s new sauce. Prepare to feel really, really, hungry – because the food in this sounds delicious. And it’s also taking a subtly clever look at colonialism through food – which is interesting and very real: I was watching Nadyia’s latest TV show this very week and she was making a recipe with Tamarind paste in it and said that if you don’t have Tamarind paste, it’s in Brown Sauce – so just use that. If you’ve read the book, you’ll get even more from that story. I promise. So go read the book.

Courtney Milan is also doing a lot of fun things with tropes here too, because the plot summary (even in my version) sounds like the story is going to be really angsty, and it’s not. It’s a perfect read if you’re feeling stressed and uncertain about the world and want to escape into another reality – there are stakes, but it’s not going to stress you out; there are conflicts, but it’s not life or death. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything going on. There’s plenty of plot, and character development – and also the set up for the Wedgford Trials of the series name – which are delightfully incomprehensible in the way that many British traditions are – even for Brits like me. Eg – in normal times, my village has an egg rolling race in the run up to Easter (I want to say on Palm Sunday but I can’t remember for sure), where you use a newspaper to hit a hardboiled egg along the road. Why did it start? I don’t know. Is there areligious meaning behind it? Probably, but I’ve forgotten. Is it fun – yes. Bingo.

My copy of The Duke Who Didn’t came from the author in return for an honest review, but it’s out now and available on Kindle and Kobo – and apparently in paperback, albeit with a very long leadtime.

Happy Reading!

 

Book of the Week, historical, historical

Book of the Week: Her Last Flight

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, it was somewhat of a strange week last week for me, reading wise. Still don’t quite know why, but I do know that I really, really enjoyed Beatriz Wiliams’ latest book at the start of the week, so it made for a really easy pick for Book of the Week. Which is good, because decision making is not my strongest suit at the moment.

Cover of Her Last Flight

It’s 1947 and former war correspondent Janey Everett is researching a planned biography of a forgotten aviation pioneer. Sam Mallory was a Great War fighter pilot who went on to take part in flying races and barnstorming displays before going missing while flying planes in the Spanish Civil War. Her quest for the truth takes her to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, to talk to Irene Lindquist, owner of an island hopping airline, who she thinks might actually be Irene Foster, Sam’s former student whose mysterious disappearance during a round the world flight in 1937 remains an unsolved mystery. At first Irene won’t engage with Janey, but when she finds out that Janey has found the wreck of Mallory’s airplane in a Spanish desert, she starts to reconsider. And that’s as much as I’m going to tell you about the plot.

It’s an incredibly readable story with two fascinating women at the heart of it. Structurally, it is split between Janey’s first person account and extracts from a book about Irene – so a time-slip novel with a bit of a twist. It works really, really well. I have a slightly patchy history with Beatriz William’s books – but when she works for me, it really works and this might be my favourite so far. It’s a complete page turner – it’s tense and emotional at times and it’s got plenty of twists (only one of which I predicted). I would say this is a perfect beach read, but it feels like beaches are back to being a long way off again, even if the weather has been lovely for the last week.

I’ve read a few books around aviatrixes – fiction and non fiction – if you read this and like it try Deanna Raybourn’s City of Jasmine for another fictional aviatrix or for a fictionalised account of a real aviatrix, try Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun about Beryl Markham. If you just want time-slip novels in general – try Lauren Willig or Chanel Cleeton. My copy of Her Last Flight came from the library, but it’s just come out in paperback. I still haven’t been in to a bookshop so I can’t speak for how easy it will be to get hold of, but as ever, give your local indie a call and I’m sure they’ll be able to order it in if they don’t have it in stock. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook.

Happy Reading!