After a good week of reading last week I was spoilt for choice forBotW options, but in the end I went for a new to me author and series that I picked up in a secondhand shop during one of my lunchtime strolls through Washington DC.
Casey is a private eye. Or at least she would be if it wasn’t for a spell in jail that means that she can’t get a licence in her current home in North Carolina. What she actually is, is the person doing all the hard work for Bobby D, an overweight eating machine who doesn’t want to do anything that means he needs to leave the office. Casey’s current job is some security work for a local senatorial candidate. Mary Lee Masters decided she needed extra protection when she started getting threatening phone calls, so when she finds a dead body in her car it’s Casey she calls for help. Soon Casey is investigating some very seedy dealings and trying to keep the fact that she doesn’t have a licence under wraps from Detective Bill Butler.
Long-term readers may remember me tearing a streak through Janet Evanovich’s back catalogue, in particular the Stephanie Plum series, and that I’m always looking for books and series that scratch a similar itch. I think this might be one of them. Casey is a so much fun to read about. She’s smart and tough and knows what she’s good at – and she’s good at her job. Casey is no damsel in distress who needs rescuing. She’s running away from her past, but she knows she’s doing it and that she’ll have to face up to it some day. The mystery is well plotted and twisty and all the characters are well drawn. I also really liked Southern setting, which is so well described I can almost smell it. I’ll definitely be looking for the next book in the series.
Legwork first came out in 1997 – three years after Stephanie Plum, which makes it another older series which I’ve discovered years after the fact. Clearly I need to do some more research and digging to see if there are anymore unconventional female sleuth series from that era that I’m missing out on.
As I mentioned earlier, my copy was secondhand, but it’s still available in Kindle or in paperback if you want to take a look. In fact the whole series is available for free on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (which I’m not, we all know I’ve got enough access to books as it is and the to-read pile is already massive!)
Another super quick BotW post – I’m sorry. It’s been so busy. And it’s a day late because of the end of the month Stats. Sorry again. Anyway, this week’s BotW gave me some happy hours reminiscing about some of my teenage reading last week, and I thought it was worth a mention here. If you’ve been hanging around here a while, you’ll know that I’ve written a fair bit about fiction for teenage girls and middle graders in the past – from my weekend at a book conference all about them, through my enduring love of classics like Drina and the Chalet School, through new books like the Wells and Wong series, the Sinclair Mysteries and everything in between, so you can probably tell from looking at the cover that Paperback Crush would be right up my street…
Paperback Crush’s subtitle is “The Totally Radical History of 80s and 90s Teen Fiction” and author Gabrielle Moss takes a fairly deep dive into the American books of those two decades. If you read the Babysitters Club, any of the Sweet Valley iterations or the revamped Nancy Drews, there’s something here for you. I was delighted to rediscover a couple of series’ I’d forgotten about – like the boarding school series which I read a few of in the school library and was never able to find again. This also covers some of the single titles and the notable authors – like Caroline B Cooney’s Face on the Milk Carton, and it’s sequels which I remember devouring as an early teen and then watching the TV movie of!
This is an exclusively American book though, so if like me, you were a reader in the UK, some of your favourites and the series that you remember most won’t be here – there’s no Trebizon for example, which was one of the few “new” boarding school stories I remember reading. It’s also exclusively about girls fiction – so there’s no three investigators, or Hardy Boys – but it does touch on career books a little.
My copy came via NetGalley, but Paperback Crush is out at the end of the month in the US and the UK – my suspicion is that you’ll need to order it in specially, rather than happen across it in the store. Here’s the link for Amazon paperback and Kindle pre-orders if you want to get your bids in early.
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.
Luckily for me – although it didn’t seem so at the time, I didn’t manage to finish Early Riser in time for it to make last week’s WiB. I had 50 pages to go on the Sunday night and ended up finishing it on Monday morning. This made it eligible for this week’s BotW and meant that I could write this nice and early before the last minute madness descended ahead of my departure for DC. Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be in the US and starting work – but I’m writing this a week earlier with a to-do list the length of my arm. However I’m fairly confident that nothing else I finish this week will pip this to the post – and if anything does run it close I’m sure I’ll manage to write about it at some point!
Early Riser is the latest novel from Jasper Fforde and his first new book in four years – and his first new adult novel in six years. It’s a standalone novel and it’s in a different alternative universe to his other work too. I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde – I’ve read most of his books but I think that the long hiatus between books means that I’ve never had a chance to properly write about him here because I glommed on pretty much everything he has written before I started writing this. Anyway, to the plot:
Charlie Worthing is about to start his first season as a Winter Consul. Every year, the human population hibernates for four months to escape the bitterly cold weather. But some brave souls are needed to protect the sleeping – and Charlie has volunteered to be one of them. To stay awake during the winter means you need to be very committed – but also a little bit mad as Charlie soon discovers. One of his first tasks is investigating an outbreak of viral dreams – where people are having the same dream right down to the little details. And then the people who’ve had the dream start dying. And then Charlie starts having the dream – and bits of it seem to be coming true. Is it just winter narcosis – or is soething more sinister going on. Charlie sets out to find out the truth – but he’ll need to brave Villains and Nightwalkers and the seemingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk to do it.
If you’ve read and Jasper Fforde before you’ll know that his thing is creating bonkers parallel universes to our own and then just dropping you straight into them and leaving you to work out what’s going on. In the Thursday Next series is a world where the Crimean War never ended, where literature is venerated and where – if you have the right skills – you can actually get inside a book and wander around the story. In Early Riser he does the same thing. After a lovely diagram of a Dormitorium opposite the title page, you find yourself on a train with a dead woman who is playing the bouzouki. And it only gets weirder. This was probably the slowest starting of Fforde’s books for me – but that might be because I started reading it as an egalley (from NetGalley) which had all the footnotes out of sync with the pages – and boy do you need the footnotes at the start to help you get your head around the new world that you’ve found yourself in. But after I’d bought myself an actual copy of the book* everything got a lot easier and started to make more sense.
And it is a rollicking good adventure. There are lots of twists and turns and I really didn’t see many/any of them coming. Charlie is an engaging accidental hero and you sympathise with him as he bumbles his way through his first winter, running into complications and obstacles at every turn. I really like the worlds that Jasper Fforde creates – I don’t know where his ideas come from but they’re so clever and subversive. If you had pitched this to me before I’d read any of his stuff I would have chalked it up as not for me. But I trust him having read and loved the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime series and so was prepared to take the leap into this with him. I’m so glad I did – and I hope lots of other people are reading it too.
In the author’s note at the end of the book, he thanks readers’ patience for sticking with him in the long gap and says he hopes it won’t be such a big gap to the next book. I may hate waiting, but I’ll gladly wait if we get books like this at the end of it. I just hope that the next one is the eighth Thursday Next book…
Early Riser is out now in hardback and on Kindle and Kobo if you’re in the UK. I’ve seen copies in all the proper bookshops – Foyles Charing Cross have several display piles of it – so you should be able to lay your hands on it fairly easily. It’s due for release in the US on February 12th 2019 – and should be available to preorder at your bookseller of choice – there are some handy links on Jasper Fforde’s website to help you whether you’re in the UK or in the US.
*I went to Foyles during a lunchbreak one of my weekend working days in August. I was meant to be just having a look around, but they’d had a signing with Jasper Fforde a week or two earlier and they had one signed copy left – among piles of unsigned ones on various displays. I took it as a sign that I should buy it for myself.
Bonus Picture: My Dormitorium postcard that came with my hardcover!
A short and sweet BotW post this week. I didn’t finish as much as I wanted last week – and some of what I finished was never going to be a contender for a slot here. But the Cornish Coast Murder perked me up at the end of the week and snuck in under the wire.
The Cornish Coast Murder sees an armchair murder mystery novel enthusiast with an actual real life crime on his doorstep. Reverend Dodd and his friend Dr Pendrill meet up once a week to talk detective fiction and open their latest delivery from the library. But one night during their chat, a panicked phone call comes through from a neighbour, Ruth Tregarthen saying that her uncle has been shot. There are no obvious clues and the police seem baffled so Reverend Dodd starts to help investigate the crime using his knowledge of crime fiction to help him.
This is the first in the Inspector Bigswell series – and the second John Bude* that I’ve read. This is a nice fun read – but it’s not as complex or ingenious as some of the authors that Reverend Dodd reads with his friend. I had a fair idea where it was going – and although I wasn’t entirely right it meant that I wasn’t as entirely gripped as I am with some similar books. But this was Bude’s fist book so perhaps that’s not surprising that it’s not perfect – and certainly the other Bude I’ve read (the Sussex Downs Murder)* was more complex – although the solution to that is rather cliched now. Anyway – it’s an enjoyable read and a if you’ve got an interest in Golden Age crime novels it’s well worth a look.
My copy of the Cornish Coast Murder was the rather pretty British Library Crime Classics edition – so you may well be able to find it in your local bookshop. I’ve certainly seen them in various Waterstones. The Kindle edition is free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited or it’s £2.99 to buy.
*Editors note: I realised after I posted this that Sussex Downs was also a BotW – back in June last year. I am nothing if not predictable!
This week’s BotW is the new Laurie Graham, which managed to sneak into the world without me noticing. At least I noticed it just after it was released, so I’m only posting this 12 days after release. Anyway, regular readers of this blog will be aware of my long-standing love for Laurie Graham’s books. Gone with the Windsors is one of my all-time favourites – and I consider it (and her) an under-appreciated gem. Her last book, The Early Birds was a Reccommendsday pick last year and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was one of the first books that I reviewed for Novelicious back in the day. I have most of her books as actual books and they live on my downstairs bookshelf (for easy access) and I have all the ones I don’t have physical copies of on ebook. And a couple of them as both. I even have two paperback copies of Gone with the Windsors. Ahem.
Anyway, at the start of Anyone for Seconds, former TV chef Lizzie Partridge runs away from home in a desperate bid for sympathy and attention. She’s fed up of her life – she’s the wrong side of sixty and ever since she lost her TV gig, after throwing chocolate mousse at the presenter of Midlands This Morning, nothing seems to have gone her way. Her partner has left her, her mother is driving her mad, she doesn’t seem to ahve anything in common with her high-power lawyer daughter – and now her last bit of work (a magazine cookery column) has been axed as well. Over the course of her wet week in off-season Aberystwyth, she has a bit of an epiphany and starts to think there might be a new future in the offing. Then her nephew’s TV producer girlfriend comes up with the idea of reuniting her with her former nemesis for a new TV show. Is Lizzie’s life looking up?
Lizzie’s earlier adventures, leading up to the infamous mousse incident, are the subject of one of Graham’s earlier books, Perfect Meringues, which came out 21 years ago. Those days were the tail end of the era when local TV news could make you into a big star – my local bulletin used to have its own chef, who I think did a good line in cookery demonstrations to WIs across the East of England At any rate I’m fairly sure one (maybe two) of the recipes I copied out of my mum’s cookbook when I was first getting into cooking came from one he did for the Northampton Federation. And pretty much every year at panto season you’ll spot a semi-familiar face on a poster who’s still managing to live off their local TV fame of yesteryear. And this makes Lizzie and her friend Louie’s adventures terribly believable and very, very funny.
I read this book as my treat for my weekend working train journeys and it was an absolute delight. Graham has a brilliant eye for the ridiculous and manages to skewer this sort of fading fame very well. And Lizzie’s inner voice is pure Graham – funny, dark, sarcastic and with an observant eye on others, but not as much self-awareness as she thinks. I could have read pages more of the exploits of Lizzie and her friends – there are definitely a few things left not as resolved as I could have wanted. There aren’t enough books with leading ladies who are over 60, and Lizzie is definitely not a fading old lady in a twinset and pearls. She’s spunky and fun and not done with life and love yet – and anyway she hasn’t got a bank balance to sit back and retire. And even if she had, her mother wouldn’t let her and, after all what would she do – her daughter doesn’t want Lizzie’s help as she raises her gender-neutral, sugar-free future genius son. This was perfect book to beat my end of summer blues.
My copy of Anyone for Seconds came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo. I have no idea how easy it will be to find in bookshops – but you should be able to order it and I definitely encourage you to check out Graham’s books. If you want to read Perfect Meringues first, it’s on Kindle and Kobo for £3.99 which seems to be about the standard price for all of Graham’s books at the moment – except for this new one.
This week’s BotW is the new Poirot continuation by Sophie Hannah – which happened to come out last week too so for once my review is actually timely! Regular readers will know that I love Golden Age mystery novels (witness last week’s reading list which included the complete short stories of my beloved Peter Wimsey and a Patricia Wentworth novel) and also that I have a mixed record with continuations of beloved series, so the fact that this is popping up here today is Good News.
As he returns home from lunch one day Hercule Poirot is accosted by an irate woman who threatens him with a lawsuit because she has received a letter from him accusing her of murder. Poirot has written no such letter but is unable to convince her. Soon after a young man appears who has received a similar letter. The next day two more strangers proclaim their innocence to him after receiving letters. So who is writing the letters in Poirot’s name – and why are they so determined to accuse people of the murder of Barnabas Pandy?This has got an intriguing premise and a solution that I didn’t see coming. I read this across the course of 24 hours and was annoyed that it was over so fast. This is the third Poirot novel from Hannah and I have read the first (The Monogram Murders) but not the second (The Closed Casket) and reading my review of the first one back, I had some concerns about whether it felt enough like a Poirot story – and this one pretty much did to me. I think making the narrator not Poirot is a very good decision – as is not falling back on Poirot clichés like “leetle grey cells”. And as the narrator is a Hannah invention rather than Captain Hastings that also means that there’s freedom to analyse Poirot’s quirks and processes in a different way rather than trying to continue in someone else’s voice.
And maybe that’s why this works for me more than most of the Wimsey continuations do. I’m yet to read an Albert Campion continuation so I’ll see how one of those falls between these two continuations to work out whether that is what makes continuations work better for me. And after this I’ll definitely be looking out for The Closed Casket to read when I get a chance.
My copy of The Mystery of Three Quarters came via NetGalley, but you should be able to find it in hardback in all good bookshops and on Amazon as well as in Kindle and on Kobo. The paperback isn’t out until next year – although I suspect this will have an airport paperback edition if you’re yet to go on your holidays.