Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: The Three Dahlias

I had a lovely week off last week and read some good stuff, but interests of not repeating myself, today’s pick is a book I finished on Monday. Yes I know it’s cheating, but the book is really good so I’m sure you’ll let me off!

The three Dahlias of the title are three actresses who have played or are about to play the same character – a legendary heroine of golden age detective fiction. They’re spending a weekend at a fan convention organised at the stately home the author lived in. But then there is a suspicious death and they have to work together to find the killer.

I mean could this be any more up my street? Honestly it ticks so many of boxes of things that I like: A murder mystery set in a country house! A classic crime connection! A group of actresses! A convention! It almost seemed too good to be true. But it wasn’t. It was really, really good. I was 100 pages in before I even realised it. I really liked the way the narrative switched between folllowing the three different actresses and I think it did really well at making each of them seem distinct. I did have the murderer figured out (or at least narrowed down) but I couldn’t figure out why so it had me partly fooled.

I loved the golden age crime tie in – from what you can work out, Dalhia is a bit of 1930s Phryne Fisher type character – glamorous and rule breaking and with a police man in tow (but written at the time) – and like some of the Golden Age detectives, the series went on being written for many years, although wisely the books didn’t move through time at the same pace as the author! And each chapter starts with a quote from one of the books and it works really well – making you want to read a Dahlia book without really ever telling you much about their plots!

A sequel is coming later this – which is both excellent news and really interesting to see if the formula can work again! I will be keeping my eye out for it for sure.

My copy of The Three Dahlias was part of my post Christmas book buying spree, so I think it should be fairly easy to get hold of in your format of choice.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: A High-End Finish

New year (yes it’s still a new year even if we’ve hit the middle of the month), new cozy crime series for me and something different to talk about in today’s BotW. And you know I love a cozy crime series. So here we go.

A High-End Finish is the first in a series of cozy crimes featuring Shannon Hammer, a contractor specialising in Victorian homes in her town of Lighthouse Cove on the Northern California coast. In this first book, Shannon finds a dead body in the basement of a house that she’s working on – and becomes a suspect in a murder inquiry as she went on a blind date with the victim a few days earlier – and was heard threatening him after he wouldn’t take no for an answer. The town’s new police chief doesn’t seem inclined to believe that she had nothing to do with the murder, so Shannon starts investigating herself with the help of her friends, her nosy neighbours and a crime writer who has just moved to town.

This is a really nice set up for a new series but because there are a lot of characters to introduce and backstories to set up, the detecting is not quite as well developed as you would like and I thought the solution was a bit, ho hum. BUT I really liked Shannon, her friends and the town itself so I forgive it – because first books in series are often like this – either they don’t do a good enough job of setting up the side characters or the mystery isn’t as good as you want it to be. This usually settles down in book two – especially if it’s an established author starting a new series (which Kate Carlisle is). Luckily I picked up the next book in the series (in fact the whole series so far) second hand last month (as seen in Books Incoming) so it’s a good thing I liked them and I can also go straight on to book two to see if the problems get ironed out.

It is nice to have a home improvement/contractor theme for a cozy series though – as previously mentioned, I’m a bit cookery cozied out, and as I’m not usually into the supernatural sometimes it feels like there aren’t a lot of choices for me beyond that. Still hopefully these will keep me busy for a few weeks (at least).

As previously mentioned, my copy of A High-End Finish came via one of my Facebook book groups, but they’re available on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback. As they’re American Mass Market Paperbacks though, you may have trouble finding them in stores in the UK – so your best bet might be ordering from Book Depository or similar.

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Locked Room mysteries

Til Death Do Us Part was a BotW back in late September and it got me thinking about other locked room mysteries, so if you liked that, here is a selection of other similar mysteries for you to read after that. And yes, I’m being a bit cheaty because some of these have been Books of the Week – but over a year ago, so I’m claiming statue of limitations.

Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon

An amateur thief on his first job stumbles on seven bodies in a locked room while robbing an isolated house by the sea. This is a clever locked room mystery that then evolves into a mad chase. I really enjoyed it and hadn’t worked out the solution until very late on, but the ending is rather far fetched – but there’s quite a lot of that about in books from this era!

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson

Yes, this has been a BotW before but it’s nearly three years ago so I’m going to mention it again now, because I did read it in basically one sitting, and the setting in the Palace of Westminster makes it something a bit different even if it is quite traditional in other ways – amateur detective, friendly police officer, handy tame reporter etc. And Wilkinson knew what she was talking about when it came to the Parliamentary estate – she was an MP from the 1920s until her death in 1947 and served in Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Ok so it’s a locked compartment in train carriage, but it still counts and this is the granddaddy of the genre in many ways. I’ve read it, listened to the audiobook and watched the Albert Finney film so many times now I don’t think I’m even capable of writing about it rationally, but it’s a classic of the genre for a reason, and if you haven’t read it you should.

And that’s your lot for today – Happy Wednesday everyone.

Book of the Week, detective, Fantasy, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Fire in the Thatch

I read two British Library Crime Classics last week, and it was a tough choice between the two – both of which are within the statute of limitations according to my own rules, but I’m going with Fire in the Thatch, because I read it quickest and I do like Lorac’s style – it’s so easy to read.

It’s towards the end of the Second World War, and a service man who has been invalided out of the forces takes a tenancy on a thatched cottage in rural Devon. Vaughan sets about putting the cottage and land in order, seemingly ready to make his life there. His landlord is a local farmer, whose son has been taken prisoner and has invited his daughter in law and baby grandson to come and live with them. But June is bored of the country and its company, and invites her friends to stay nearby, disturbing the peace of the rural idyll. And then Vaughan’s cottage burns down and one of his friends refuses to believe that it’s an accident. Inspector Macdonald is sent down from London to investigate whether there was a motive for murder.

Setting aside that I really liked the victim and wanted him not to be dead (it’s so much easier in a murder mystery when the victim is awful isn’t it?) this is a clever and twisty mystery, where I had figured out the who of the solution but not quite the why. Some of the motivation is a little of its time – sorry can’t explain more than that because of spoilers – but it’s not really any wilder than some of the stuff that goes on in some of the Girls Own stuff I read so I was prepared to go with it.

MacDonald is Lorac’s regular detective and his is calm and methodical and although you don’t always see much of his personality or personal life, he still manages to be engaging to the reader. This is one of a long series, not all of which are available on Kindle, but I’ve already written about several others – including Post After Post Mortem, These Names Make Clues and Murder By Matchlight.

Fire in the Thatch is £2.99 on Kindle at the moment in the BLCC edition, but there is another version for 99p, if you can live with the fact that the author’s name is spelt wrong on the cover. This is also the only version that I can find on Kobo. But the BLCCs do slowly rotate through Kindle Unlimited, so it may comethrough at some point. Several of the other Lorac’s are in KU at the moment though if you want to read them instead.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: When Stars Collide

We’ve made it to November – the year is nearly over. And I’ve got all the usual goodies this week for the end of the month – quick reviews tomorrow, stats later in the week and book of the week today when I’m back in my happy place of romance.

When Stars Collide is the latest in the Chicago Stars series – about players at a (fictional) NFL team in the Windy City. I’ve mentioned these before – as many of them are variants on my favourite enemies to lovers trope and this is no exception. And there’s no actual football in this really as all the action takes off in the off season.

Our football player is Thad, the team’s back up quarterback, who has had been sent out on a publicity tour for a luxury watch brand who sponsor the team. Unfortunately, there is someone else on the tour too: Olivia, an internationally renowned opera singer. He thinks she’s a diva, she thinks he’s an uncultured jock and has a grudge against him. But of course over the course of the tour things change. Because this is a romance!

This has got a bit of a suspense plot line to it – maybe more minor peril than actual romantic suspense but it adds a little extra something to the romance plot, although I would say don’t expect it to follow the Rules of mystery stories if that makes sense and isn’t too much of a spoiler. I really liked that Thad was never rude about opera – in fact he likes Olivia’s singing right from first hearing it – and that both of their careers are taken equally seriously. I’m fed up with romances where one or other of the partnership abandons all their long held career dreams because: love. This is definitely not that. What it is is a well put together romance with an interesting hero and heroine with just enough obstacles in their way for the reader to understand why it takes them a whole book to get together.

When Stars Collide is currently £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo. I suspect you probably won’t be able to get hold of it in a shop without ordering it it as it’s order only on Foyles website and has a two week lead time. But it should be orderable from your local if you want it.

Happy reading!

Adventure, Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Piglettes

We’re rocketing towards the end of the month, and after a delightful week of reading last week, I’m finishing the BotW selections off with a YA novel which I picked up on my buying spree at Foyles at the start of the month.

Piglettes tells the story of Mireille, Astrid and Hakima who are voted the ugliest girls in their school by their fellow students. None of them are happy about it – but for Mireille it’s not her first time on the list – which was started by a boy she used to be friends with – so she decides to befriend her fellow Piglettes rather than sit around and be miserable. What ends up happening is an epic summer cycle trip from their town to Paris to try and go to the French President’s garden party on Bastille Day. Each of the three girls has their own reason for going, but what they don’t expect is to become the centre of media attention as the country starts to follow the three girls as they cycle towards Paris selling sausages on the way.

This is a modern twist on the adventure-without-adults sort of books (see Swallows and Amazons etc) that I really loved when I was younger (and still do to be honest). Ok, Hakima’s brother comes along with them and he’s an adult, but he never really seems like an intruding adult presence restricting the girls, he becomes more like part of the gang. The idea of cycling across France selling sausages sounds a little bit bonkers – but it’s actually perfect – the girls have a goal, they get to meet loads of people and they get to find out new things about themselves and each other. But as well as being about friendship and self discovery, this is also quite a foodie novel. The pork sausages they’re selling are made by a local butcher. Mireille’s grandparents own a restaurant and they make their vegetarian sausages there themselves – as well as their special apple sauce to go with it. At the places they stop at on the way there’s often local food – including when Mireille detours them to go through the town where her favourite cheese is made (Crottin de Chavignol if you’re interested).

Clementine Beauvais has translated this herself from the original French, and if you can get past the envy of being good enough to write novels in two languages (and it did give me a touch of the green-eyed monsters), she’s given it a whole load of humour but it also still feels distinctly French. I would love to see the original for comparison to see what the jokes and references were in the original and what if anything she’s changed for a non-French audience. It’s clever and funny and I really enjoyed it. Also it made me want to go on holiday to France and eat some regional produce. Maybe I’ll have to settle for buying some speciality cheese to keep me going until we can get over there again.

I bought my copy of Piglettes on a trip to Foyles but it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo. As I found it in store, I’m hoping that you could be similarly lucky if you look in a bookstore, even if Foyles’ website isn’t currently showing any click and collect copies…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: A Time to Dance

It’s been a couple of weeks of Girl’s Own type books, so I’ve no regrets about making another of them this week’s Book of the Week and carrying on the theme of theatres and dancing.

A Time to Dance is a standalone ballet career book about the first couple of terms of a newly established ballet school in the north of England. It follows a selection of the pupils as they study dance, help promote the school and try and work out if dancing is really what they want to do. It’s quite gentle and there’s no peril really at all – even less than usual in these books if anything, but I particular enjoyed the fact that it focussed on several of the girls and the different challenges they faced.

Most of the time in ballet books you have a school-age heroine who is convinced that she is destined to dance and that there is nothing she would rather do with her life. But this has a couple of older pupils who have left school are trying to balance learning to dance with jobs and the need for cash. And it’s got several girls who are studying even though ballet isn’t going to be their career. Of course it does have a desperate to dance or two too, but I appreciated the variety and the realism it added to the mix. This was written in the early 1960s and has a more modern feel to some of the other books – the potential distractions for the students include television adverts and modelling.

I haven’t read any Robina Beckles Willson before but this was charming. Goodreads only has this and a couple of picture books under her name, and I didn’t get a chance to look her up to see what else she might have written that hasn’t made it into Goodreads database!

I got my copy at one of the book sales at conference, but I suspect that most of you aren’t going to be interested enough in the genre to want to buy it! If you do, you’ll probably need a specialist bookseller or a lot of luck.

Happy reading!

American imports, binge reads, Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, reviews, romance, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Thank You for Listening

Taking a break from the Girls Own and book conference related content for this week’s book of the week. This is another recent release – the same day as Husband Material in fact – and one that I had heard a lot of buzz about and discovered was on offer while I was writing the August offers Recommendsday post.

Thank you for Listening is a romantic comedy about a former actress who became an audiobook narrator after an accident halter her on screen career. When Sewanee is sent to an audiobook convention by her boss she has a whirlwind night in Vegas with a mystery man. But when she returns to California, she finds an offer to narrate a beloved romance novelist’s final book. The trouble is, she doesn’t do romance novels any more, but money could pay for her beloved grandmother’s nursing home care so she resurrects her old pseudonym and starts recording the book with one of the genres hottest and most secretive male narrators, Brock McKnight. There’s a steady back and forth of chatter between them, but as secrets are revealed, can Sewanee get the happily ever after that she doesn’t believe in?

Julia Whelan is a renowned audiobook narrator so this is is filled with insider titbits from her experience as well as being a love letter to the romance genre. They even joke about how many tropes they’re ticking off more than once. And it’s a delight. Swan is an intriguing leading character, with a complicated family and some issues to deal with. And the shadowy and mysterious Brock has great banter. And, well, it’s very well put together – with a swoony ending and a nod and a wink to fans of the genre. What more could you want.

If I could have read this in one sitting I would have – but unfortunately I had to go to work, so instead I decided not to go to the theatre one of my London nights and instead read this on the sofa at the hostel, and then in my bunk when it got too noisy. No greater testament really.

My copy of Thank You For Listening came from Kindle for the bargain price of £1.99. It’s also on Kobo for the same price and available in paperback from Thursday – although how easily it will be to actually find I don’t know – Waterstones (Foyles’ owners) are having some distribution issues. I will try and remember to check Foyles’ romance section a few weeks after release…

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: The Incredible Crime

As mentioned yesterday, not a lot of options this week for Book of the Week, but luckily I read a really interesting British Library Crime Classics book so all’s serene, even if slightly later in the day than recently!

Prudence Pinsent is the unmarried daughter of the Master of a (fictional) Cambridge college. On her way to visit her cousin in Suffolk, she meets an old friend who is investigating a drug smuggling gang and has connected it with both Prudence’s cousin’s estate and the colleges of Cambridge itself. Prudence is sure her cousin can’t be involved, so she decides she must investigate and find out who is.

I’ve written (at length!) about my love of Gaudy Night which is also set in a fictional college (at Oxford though, not Cambridge) and so the premise of this appealed to me a lot. And it’s funny and entertaining – and the mystery is good as well. Suffolk makes such an atmospheric setting for mysteries – like Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham – with eerie flats, fogs, water ways etc and then you have college life and academic personalities.

Lois Austen-Leigh is a relative of Jane Austen (several greats niece) and it is very tempting to say that the witty style must be a family trait. I haven’t read anything of hers before – as well as telling me about her famous relative, the forward said they have been very very rare until the British Library Crime Classics got hold of this, so I hope they publish some of the others too.

My copy came as part of my Kindle Unlimited subscription, which means it’s only available as an ebook on Kindle at the moment, but you can buy the paperback direct from the British Library shop should you so wish.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, historical, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Ask a Historian

I offer you a non fiction book this week – and after a few weeks where I’ve been recommending new (or newish) releases, here’s one that’s not quite as new a release because it came out in October…

Anyway, Greg Jenner’s latest book does exactly what it says on the tin – it answers fifty questions from history that are the sort of thing that most people actually want to know – as opposed to the sort of history people thing they ought to know. So you can find out how women dealt with their periods in the past – but also how historical periods got their names, where history starts and pre-history ends and why people are so obsessed with the Tudors (see also the question about how many nipples Anne Boleyn had) and then more horrible histories type stuff like how much horse manure was created each day in London or what the Flintstones got right. And because it’s fifty questions it makes for great bite sized reading – I read a couple of questions a night before bed.

As I’ve mentioned before, Greg and I overlapped at the same university and we did student radio at the same time although in different departments (I was news and he was speech) so we didn’t really hang out together although we were in the Langwith bar at the same time a few times after the weekly meeting. I really like the niche he’s carved himself as a public historian – he is incredibly knowledgable but wears it very lightly and his writing style is fun and accessible. And he’s the sort of history writer who wants to appear like he knows it all right off the top of his head – he’s not afraid to show his working and tell you which historians or other experts he spoke to in the main text and not hidden in the footnotes. And if there’s something you’re particularly interested in, there’s always a further reading list at the back – complete with notes about which are the more academic books as opposed to the more lay person friendly ones. As well as working for the grownups, I think this is also the sort of book that would appeal to a kid who read horrible histories and is now looking for something else fun and historical. It’s got a few swear words in it, but I think that teens and tweens will love that (and parents: they’ve heard all the words already at school, that ship has sailed)

My copy (complete with signed book plate) came from Big Green Books, but it should be fairly easy to get hold of from any reasonably sized book shop as well as on Kindle and Kobo. And if you read it and like it, then try Greg’s other books Dead Famous (definitely more for the adults) and A Millions Years in a Day. And as a bonus Greg reads his own audiobooks, which is always delightful – if you listen to his podcast You’re Dead to Me you know what he sounds like and it would be weird for it not to be him narrating!

Happy Reading!