Book of the Week, fiction, literary fiction, reading challenges

Book of the Week: The Mothers

Tricky choice for BotW this week, but I eventually plumped for Britt Bennett’s The Mothers because it was a bit out of my normal reading comfort zone, but wore it very lightly and made me think. 


In aftermath of her mother’s death and in the twilight of her time at high school, Nadia Turner gets involved with the minister’s son. Luke is a couple of years older than she is, but is still adrift after the injury that ended his football career and cost him his college scholarship. It’s nothing serious, just a bit of fun, until Nadia gets pregnant. And what comes next changes the course of both their lives and sends ripples out through their church community that will last for years to come. 

Firstly, I loved the setting of this book. Bennett really brings to life her fictional contemporary black church community in Southern California. Part of the story is told by the elder women in the church as a kind of Greek chorus. It adds an extra perspective in between flipping between the stories of those mostly closely involved. 

It’s also full of interesting characters, even if you don’t always like them that much. Luke and Nadia and her best friend Audrey make a fascinating triangle, who have different views on life and experience the fallout in different ways. 

Now, I can’t say too much more about this or I’ll give too much away, but reading through the reviews of this on goodreads, there are some very definite opinions about the author’s stance with regard to Nadia’s decision. As far as I was concerned, I thought it was handled in a very balanced, matter of fact way and in the main the fall out was portrayed as more down to the cover up and the other issues going on rather than because of the actual decision. Is that cryptic enough?!  Anyway, nearly a week later I’m still thinking about the characters, which has to be a good thing.

This is Bennett’s first novel and was nominated for a whole bunch of prizes, which really didn’t surprise me because it’s clever, well-written and very readable.  This is also a book that fills a couple of this year’s #ReadHarder categories: Debut Novel, book where all the POV characters are people of colour and for me, book set more than 5,000 miles away. 

The hardback is out now, the paperback is coming in October. When that arrives, I think you should be able to find it in most bookshops, but possibly not in the supermarket. As always, if you can’t make it to a bookshop you could order it from a Big Green Bookshop or pick it up on Kindle or Kobo. 

Happy reading. 

Book of the Week, Children's books, detective

Book of the Week: The London Eye Mystery

This week’s BotW is Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery, which I devoured* last week.  This has been on my radar for a while – I read A Monster Calls (Dowd’s concept but written by Patrick Ness) last year before the movie came out and thought I’d like to read more of Dowd’s work and then one of my favourite middle-grade authors Robin Stevens (you’ve all seen how much I’ve written about Wells and Wong before) was announced as writing a sequel to The London Eye Mystery.  That came out last month, so of course I needed to read the first one before reading the second one.  You know me: read series in order, glom on stuff you like, read everything authors you like have ever written.

A copy of The London Eye Mystery
I love the cover of this – and The Guggenheim Mystery has a great one too

Anyway, to the plot: Ted and his big sister Kat take their cousin Salim to the London Eye when he comes to visit them.  They watch him get into the pod and then they watch the pod go around and wait for him to get off.  But he doesn’t get off when they expect him to.  Or from the next pod.  Or the next one.  He’s vanished.  But how does someone vanish from a closed pod on a giant rotating wheel?  The police start looking, but so do Ted and Kat, and it’s not long before they’re following a trail of clues across London to try and work out what happened to Salim.

This is a clever, well-written locked room mystery: all the clues are there for the reader to be able to work out what happened to Salim, if only they can spot them.  But spotting them is not as easy as you think because Ted’s his brain works differently.  Ted says he has a “syndrome” and although it’s never said what it is, it’s clearly a disorder on the autism spectrum, possibly Asperger’s.  Ted has developed his own operating system – with tips and tricks to navigate the difficulties his syndrome causes him.  And he is very adept at dealing with the challenges of social interactions and situations.  But this does still mean that the reader isn’t always getting the whole picture.  Ted notices somethings that other people don’t – but he also doesn’t see somethings that other people would and this adds to the experience for the reader.

I pretty much figured things out at the same time as Ted did – which is great as I read a lot of mysteries and this is a middle-grade mystery and I’m definitely not a middle grader.  In fact I’m old enough to have my own middle grader and not have been a teen mum.  So depressing.  Anyway, I digress.  I loved the London Eye Mystery, will probably be lending this to my niece-in-law and will definitely be bumping the sort-of-sequel The Guggenheim Mystery to the top of my to-buy list.  Although I might wait for the paperback.

You should be able to get hold of the London Eye Mystery from all good bookshops.  My favourite is The Big Green Bookshop who will order it for you and post it out to you because they’re nice like that.  Or you could get it on Kindle or Kobo.  And I’m sure this won’t be the last time that I mention the Guggenheim Mystery here…

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

*I started it the week before, but only really got a good run at it at the weekend and basically read it in one big gulp.

Book of the Week, Series I love

Book of the Week: Rush Jobs

This week’s Book of the Week is more of  a series recommendation.  I read two Hobson and Choi books last week practically one after the other and  I was going to save my ravings for a Recommendsday post, but I didn’t anything I liked better last week, so it seemed churlish not to pick one of them for my BotW, so I chose Rush Jobs.

The Cover of Rush Jobs
I love the tube line theme to the covers for this.

The set up: John Hobson is a private detective with a Past.  Angelina Choi is his work experience intern.  In the first book, she starts her two week placement by tweeting that they’re going to solve a high profile murder case.  #HobsonvsWolf goes viral and soon Hobson has to try to solve a case he’s not being paid for and possibly face off against a giant wolf.  In Rush Jobs, we rejoin the duo at the start of Angelina’s second and final week of her work experience. And after all the online buzz from the last case, they’re in demand.  This leads to a lot of smaller crimes to solve (or not) along with some running story lines from the first book.  I can’t really say too much more about the plot because it gives away too much* but it’s a lot of fun.

I raced through this – and then immediately bought book three.  It’s dark and seedy but very funny which takes the edge off the grim bits.  Hobson is an intriguingly flawed character – we’ve found out a few bits about what he has going on in his past and it’s not pretty.  Choi is young and idealistic and although she has reasons of her own for taking an internship at a detective agency, she’s still quite innocent and some of the goings on in Hobson’s world are a bit of a shock to her.

I’ve mentioned cozy crime adjacent novels before – and this is another of them. Theses aren’t psychological thrillers, or gore-fests, or chillers and they have some things in common with classic detective stories of the Golden Age. But if you need your detectives to always do the “right” thing, the legal thing, to have no darkness in their pasts then maybe don’t read these. But if you like stories where things can’t be tied up neatly in a bow at the end and handed over to the police to unwrap and where your detective inhabits a slightly shaky middle ground between the law and the criminals then try this series.

I picked up the first book as an actual book from The Big Green Bookshop, but have read the other two on Kindle. I have book four lined up for my train journeys home from work this week. But do start at the beginning. It’ll make more sense that way.

Happy Reading!

*NB this is why I usually talk about first books in mystery series because you have more to say without ruining running storylines for people who haven’t already read the series!

 

Book of the Week, graphic novels

Book of the Week: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Chaos continues. I mean honestly. I have words for my own incompetence in setting my Week in Books as ready to publish without adding my Sunday reading. I’m surprised I’m allowed out alone. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed your Bank Holiday Monday if you had one. Anyway, on to another (quite brief) BotW.

The digital cover of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 1
The world needs more Squirrel power…

Doreen Green is off to college. Her first task is to keep her secret identity as Squirrel Girl under wraps.  But that’s easier said than done when you have a tail, your squirrel sidekick has followed you to campus and the world is under threat from all manner of bad guys.

I loved Doreen. She’s feisty, smart and a little bit nutty and she’s going to save the world. I don’t read a lot of super hero comics, but I picked this up as my Super Hero Comic with a Female Lead for the Read Harder Challenge.  I’d heard a lot about it and it totally lived up to the hype. Doreen is the hero (or heroine) we need: she’s Unbeatable because she’s got a solution to everything and it’s often not to beat her enemy to a bloody pulp, but something smart and clever.  Considering that I’d had a stressful week, this really hit the spot for me.

I love stories with strong, smart women at their centre and this ticks all those boxes. My only problem with this – as it is with all graphic novels – is that I read them too fast, and they’re expensive.  But they’re also art, and labour intensive and so I give them a bit of a pass, especially as I really enjoy going into my local comic book store. I think I’ll be passing my copy on to my older niece (she’s 9) because I think she’d love this too.

You can get Unbeatable Squirrel Girl from all the usual places that sell comics, and at time of writing, the Kindle version for a very bargainous £3. I’m not a reader of comics on tablet, but Volume 2 was also super competitively priced, so I’ve got bought it and I’m going to give it a go. I’ll keep you posted. But visit a comic book store.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Death around the Bend

It’s renovation chaos here: half of the contents of our house is in storage and we’re camped out in one room.  So this week’s BotW is going to be short and sweet I’m afraid.

The cover of Death around the Bend

Death around the Bend is the third in the Lady Hardcastle cozy crime murder mystery series by T E Kinsey.  I read the first one a few weeks back and picked up the third on a Kindle deal, and read it on the commute last week.  The set up for the series is that Lady Emily Hardcastle is a widow with a somewhat more exciting past than is usual in the Edwardian era.  She and her trusty maid Florence have moved to the English countryside for a bit of peace and quiet and relaxation but don’t seem to be getting much of it.

In book three, Emily and Florence have been invited to a friend’s estate for a weekend of racing – but it’s car racing, not horses.  Lord Ribblethorpe has gone mad for motor cars and has set up his own racing team, complete with a track in the grounds of his estate.  When a driver is killed during a race, the police think it’s an accident but Emily and Florence aren’t convinced and can’t help but try and solve the crime.  With Emily asking questions above stairs, Florence is sleuthing below stairs.  Then another body is found.

This is fun and fast moving (and not just because of the cars).  I like the dynamic between Emily and Florence – and particularly that the story is told by Florence.  I picked up the first one as part of my ongoing quest to find other series that scratch my Phryne Fisher and Daisy Dalrymple itch and it does this quite nicely – although it’s set earlier than either of those two series.  Unfortunately there are only three books in the series (at the moment at least) so I only have one left to read, but hey ho, you can’t win them all.

All three Lady Hardcastle mysteries are on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (I’m not) but the two I’ve read have come around on discount deals at various points too (that’s how I got them!). You can find them all here.

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.

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Match Me If You Can

If you looked at what I read last week (and the week before) you’ll have noticed that I’ve been on a massive Susan Elizabeth Phillips kick and so it’ll be no surprise to you that this week’s BotW is one of them.  It took a quite a while to pick out which one was my favourite, but in the end I plumped for Match Me If You Can.

Cover of Match Me If You Can
This cover is a little bit retro, but don’t let that put you off.
Annabelle is a matchmaker.  Or at least she wants to be a matchmaker.  She’s taken over her grandmother’s old business and rebranded it to move it away from OAPs towards over achievers.  Now all she needs is a suitably overachieving client to find a match for to make her name.  Heath Champion has worked his way up to turn himself into a sports agent known as the Python.  Annabelle has decided that finding him a wife is going to be the client that makes her name.  It doesn’t matter that he’s already got a contract with Chicago’s top matchmaker, Annabelle is sure that she can do better…

All of the Susan Elizabeth Phillips books that I read last week were from her Chicago Stars series, which centres around a (fictional) American football franchise.  I don’t read a lot of sports romances, partly because they’re mostly about American sports and secondly because they often feature unreconstructed Alpha heros, which are not always my thing.   The difference with these is that all the women are strong, capable, professionally competent and not sitting around waiting to be rescued by the big old man.  In this, Annabelle is struggling to get her business off the ground at the start – but not because she’s incompetant, she’s just trying to break into the market.  She’s got a plan and she’s executing it.  She’s also got an awful family of overachievers trying to persuade her to do their bidding rather than what she wants to do – but she’s sticking to her guns.

In fact, the only bit of the book that didn’t work for me, was late on and revolved around her family – and a lack of resolution of the issues/recognition of how she felt from the hero – but that was a minor blip in a sparky, fun romance which rattles along.  This also has some appearances from previous couples in the series, which is always nice if you enjoyed reading about their romances and sets up the next book in the series (which I had actually read first!).  With a Phillips book, there’s always a secondary romance going on as well – and this one was a bit different to the usual.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to like it at first, but by the end, I was totally won over.

I’ve read four Chicago Stars books in less than a week – which suited me perfectly: satisfying romances, interesting characters that are linked but definitely not the same plots with different names, a bit of humour and not too much angst.  Or at least not unrelenting angst.  The angstiest of the four was Dream a Little Dream – and even that won me over, despite my dislike of traumatised widows and small children.*

Several of the Chicago Stars books are on offer on Kindle at the moment – including the latest in the series First Star I See Tonight for £1.99, which is much nuts and far more fun than you’d expect for a book which includes Middle Eastern Princesses in its blurb!  Match Me If You can is a reasonable £2.49 on Kindle or under £3 if you want a second hand copy of the book from Amazon or you could try Natural Born Charmer – which started me off on this kick last week – for the same prices.  Any of these is well worth a look if you want to dip your toe into this sort of book.

*I often find them to be aiming for winsome, but actually irritating plot moppets.