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!

 

Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: Death at the Seaside

So as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we went on a little break last week – although I’ve still been going in to work twice a week, Him Indoors has been working from home since April and has barely been further than a couple of miles from the house and he was going stir crazy and just wanted to go and see some different walls other than our own. So after I ruled out anywhere abroad (I can’t cope with the stress of the changing travel regulations), he found us a lovely log cabin to stay in in woods in Yorkshire and we pootled off up there for three nights. And this week’s BotW was purchased on our trip to Whitby – and is set in the town – so feels like a really good choice.

It’s 1920-something and as nothing ever happens in August, private investigator Kate Shackleton is taking a holiday. She’s planned a two week break in Whitby to visit a school friend and her daughter. But before she goes to see Alma, Kate takes a walk through the town and finds herself outside the jewellery shop where she and her late husband (who was killed in the War) bought her engagement ring. Determined to make a fresh memory she goes inside – and stumbles on a body. And as if that wasn’t enough to be dealing with, her friend’s daughter – Felicity hasn’t come home. Soon Kate is hard at work investigating once more.

This is the eighth book in Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton series, but you really don’t have to have read the rest of the series to enjoy this. I’ve read four of the series so far – way out of order – and it’s not like some of the other 1920s set series (like Daisy Dalrymple or Maisie Dobbs) where there are big personal life developments that you need to read in order – or at least there aren’t in the ones that I’ve read! Kate is smart and competent and sensible – which are all things I really like in my detectives. This has a clever mystery with plenty of twists and an interesting cast of supporting characters. And I know this only applies to me, I got a real thrill about reading a book set in Whitby right after visiting the town. Brody does a really good job of describing what the town was like in the 1920s, and putting Kate in places that people who are familiar with the town will recognise. And in case you were worried: Dracula is not involved in the mystery!

I bought my copy of Death at the Seaside from The Whitby Bookshop, but you should be able to get hold of them fairly easily in a reasonably sized bookshop with a mystery section. They’re also available on Kindle and Kobo and as audiobooks. The series is still going on – the eleventh book is out in October – and as I bought a couple of other books in the series at the same time as this one you can probably expect to see more of these on the weekly reading lists!

Happy Reading!

 

Book of the Week, detective, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: The Thursday Murder Club

Well, well, well. As you might have noticed I managed to bring the ongoing list down a bit last week. I’m quite pleased with myself, but my book of the week is one of the many that came out last Thursday. I wasn’t intending on this being the featured review this week – it’s not exactly low profile, but it was the book that I liked the most last week and thought that I would have the most to say about. Also I had a very wafty weekend and spent more time watching Formula One and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader: Making the Team than I did reading, so some of the other stuff I had planned for the week didn’t get read…

Cover of The Thursday Murder Club

First, before I get to the plot, I have been excited about this book since it was announced more than a year ago. If you’re in the UK, you’ll know Richard Osman as the one with all the answers on Pointless or the host of House of Games. He’s got a lovely way about him on Twitter, he always comes across very well any time you hear him talking and the plot synopsis sounded great. In fact it all sounded so good that I was worried it couldn’t live up to my expectations – especially as a debut novel. I mean murder mysteries aren’t exactly easy to pull off.  The fact that I’m writing about this here, indicates that I have good news for you! Anyway, to the plot.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron all live at frankly rather nice sounding retirement village in Kent. Every Thursday they take over the Jigsaw room meet up to discuss unsolved murders (under the guise of a society for fans of Japanese opera to keep away the nosy). Then the owner of the retirement village is found dead, just after a consultation meeting about an expansion. Now they have a live case to solve – they’ve got the skills to do it, but will they manage it before it’s too late?

Now reading that plot synposis you’ll think that you’ve read stories like this before. And yes this does have some similarities with cozy crime series featuring an older protagonist. But it’s not really a cozy crime. The mystery is twistier and more complicated. I can’t say much about the solution, because that would be spoiling things and you know that I don’t do that, but it doesn’t quite fit the cozy format. And as well as the mystery, there are proper side plots. It’s all told as a mix of narrative and Joyce’s diary – which really works as she is the newest member of the club and gets to do a lot of the exposition – but all four members of the Club are properly realised characters with backstories that you hear about, hopes, worries and fears. And the two police officers are great too. It’s also got a strain of melancholy to it – they are old people and they’re not done with life, but they do worry that this might be the “last time” that they do something and worry about the things they have lost (and in some cases develop strategies to try and combat this). Oh and it’s funny. Dryly funny and witty not pratfalls and stupidity funny. Wry observances and witty asides type funny. It’s great. I would happily have spend another 100 pages with the gang.  If there’s another one, you can sign me up to read it now.

My copy of The Thursday Murder Club came from NetGalley, but you should be able to get this everywhere. I’ve been out to London today and walked up Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road and could see it in the front section in the Big Foyles and it was in the Window at the Waterstones. It’s that sort of release – probably in the supermarkets too, and definitely in the airport bookshops, if you’re lucky enough to be going somewhere. When I went looking for links, Amazon was out of stock of actual copies – which means it’s an even smarter choice to order if from your local indie. And of course it’s out in Kindle, Kobo and Ebook.

Happy Reading!

 

Book of the Week, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth

Weird week in reading really. Tried a new series, finished another series, read some self-help/empowerment, continued my binge of Inspector Littlejohn. Didn’t finish a few other things I should have done, and didn’t like the new Kevin Kwan enough to write about it here. So. This is not quite a new release – but nearly. It came out in July, but of course I have only just got to it because: reading slump, indecision, too much choice etc.

Cover of the Miseducation of Evie Epworth

It’s 1962, and sixteen-year-old Evie is standing on the edge of adulthood, but the fastest milk bottle delivery girl in East Yorkshire doesn’t know what to do with her life.  She’s dreaming of the bright lights of London, but she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and her two Adam Faith posters (brooding Adam and sophisticated Adam) don’t have any answers for her. But before she can go anywhere, she has a few problems demanding her attention: her widowed father has fallen prey to a much younger woman, who Evie is fairly sure is a gold digger – and it’s putting the family farm under threat. In her quest to save the family, she makes friends with one of her neighbours and starts to discover life beyond rural England.

This took me a bit longer to get into than I was expecting, but once I was in, I was in. There was some early talk of magic and spells that threw me because it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it sorted itself out quite fast. I liked Evie’s voice and I really enjoyed discovering her world. It’s written as her diary, which means there’s a lot of fun as a reader in spotting the stuff that she’s missing because of her age and (relative) innocence. All the side characters are well drawn, and often hilarious, and I really enjoyed watching Evie’s future come together and seeing how everything worked out. It’s not perfect, but it’s lots of fun and laugh out loud funny at times. I’ll be looking to see what Matson Taylor writes next.

My copy of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth came from NetGalley, but it is a bargain 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment. It’s also out in audiobook and hardback and as it has got some quite impressive names on the blurbs and it’s a Radio 2 book club book so I’m hoping it’ll be easy to find in stores. And the cover is great so you should be able to spot it fairly easily if it is there.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, historical, new releases

Book of the Week: V for Victory

So as mentioned yesterday, a bit of a strange week of reading last week, but today’s BotW pick was a real joy. And for the second week in a row, it’s a book that’s actually coming out in the next few days. So I am both timely and slightly ahead of the game. Make a note, it doesn’t happen often – and two weeks in a row is a real rarity!

Cover of V for Victory

It’s 1944 and in their house on Hampstead Heath, Vee Sedge and her fifteen year old “ward” Noel are just about scraping by with a house full of lodgers selected for what they can teach Noel more than their ability to pay. When Vee witnesses a road accident and is called to court disaster beckons – as Vee is not actually the person she is pretending to be. As the household tries not to get its hopes up too far that the end of the war is in sight, Noel and Vee move towards a new future.

This is the third (and final?) book about this group of characters and ties together the story of Noel and Vee as we saw them in Crooked Heart, with Mattie from Old Baggage. I’ve written several different sentences to explain that fact and have settled on that slightly vague one as being the way not to give too much away about the other two. Now you could read this standalone, but you’ll get so much more from this if you’ve read the other two. And why wouldn’t you want to read the other two – Crooked Heart is Goodnight Mr Tom but if Mr Tom was the female equivalent of Private Walker and Old Baggage is about a feisty but ageing former suffragette looking for a new cause to fight for. Both were books of the week here, that’s how much Iiked them – and liked this to be coming back for a third mention!

V for Victory is funny and warm and moving and made me cry at the end. I mean what more could you want from a book? It also does really well at capturing the shades of grey of wartime – and of people in general. It’s just wonderful and a perfect read for a grey and miserable day. And we’ve had a few of those in the last week. I mean I’m writing this on the train to work, wearing welly boots and with a mac because it’s raining like it’s November in mid-August!

My copy of V for Victory came from NetGalley , but I’ll be buying a paperback once that comes out so I have the set. It’s out on Thursday in hardback (here’s a Foyles link), Kindle and Kobo. I still haven’t been into a bookshop in person, but I think that the last one was fairly easy to get hold of in bookstores, so I hope this will be too.

Happy Reading!