Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights

With all the holiday excitement over and my reading pretty much back to normal, we’re in the murder mystery end of my reading for this week’s BotW, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights by Ovidia Yu. I picked this up on a whim from a charity bookshop in Westminster on my lunch break from my local elections results shift back in May and I’m really glad I did.  In fact that bookshop trip provided a few books from authors that I hadn’t heard of before that really, really appealed to me.  I think it’s location meant that it had a different selection of books from a lot of the charity shops I’ve been in recently.  And I’m always after new voices and new ideas for reading material!

Cover of Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials

When her client and her sick son are found dead in his bedroom during a garden party that she is catering, Aunty Lee finds her food under suspicion. The intrepid widow starts to investigate, but when her restaurant and kitchen are shut down because of the influential connections of the victims, she redoubled her efforts. Meanwhile the police officer in charge of the investigation finds his efforts hampered by an officious and over zealous junior officer as well as political pressure to blame the food and let it go. What really killed Mabel Sung and her son Leonard, how does a dead Chinese man fit in and who is it that is so desperate to cover everything up?

I’ve been describing this to people as Crazy Rich Asians meets cozy crime. It’s got some of the elements of the super rich privileged lifestyle that you find in Kevin Kwan’s novel but also the amateur detective trying to save their business element that I love in so many small town cozy crime novels. Aunty Lee is a great character – an older widow who talks to photos of her dead husband that are on the wall in every room of her house and restaurant, she has an annoying stepson and daughter-in-law and a band of loyal friends. This is the second in the series and I still feel like I’m missing a bit of Aunty Lee’s back story, but I enjoyed this so much I didn’t care!

I hadn’t come across Ovidia Yu before – my copy of this is also clearly a US edition – but having read this I’m really keen to read more from her. This is a well-written page turner with a clever plot and a brilliant cast of characters.  I also loved the setting – Singaporean life and culture is brought to life so vividly in this – with the mix of cultures, backgrounds and languages with a lot of what felt like really good insider detail.

Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights is available on Kindle and Kobo and in paperback – although I suspect it’s going to be an order it in to the bookstore sort of book rather than a find-it-on-the-shelf one.  I’ll definitely be looking for more from Ovidia Yu – there are three other Aunty Lee books and she’s written other books that I like the look of as well, because of course what I need is more books on the to-read shelf…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Kiss Quotient

I said in the Week in Books that I had some interesting choices to make for this week’s BotW, and it turns out that my pick is a bit of a cheat: I finished it yesterday (Monday). But as it’s out in paperback on Thursday here, I thought I’d give myself a pass and let myself pick Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient.

Cover of The Kiss Quotient

Stella has a problem: her parents want her to settle down and start a family. But although she’s been very successful in her career, Stella hasn’t had much luck with dating. What she’s good at is analysing data, and the data – and a lifetime of learning to navigate the world with Asperger’s – tells her that she needs to practice dating and learn how to get good at it. So she hires Michael, a male escort, to teach her everything she needs to know. Michael is good at his job – that’s why he turned to escort work when he needed extra cash – but he’s got a firm no repeat customers rule because he’s had problems before. But there’s something about Stella and her proposal that tempts him to break all his rules. And the more time they spend together, the more complicated it all gets…

As you may have worked out, this is sort-of gendered flipped Pretty Woman, but if Richard Gere’s character had autism. And it is brilliant. Stella is a great character and I loved spending time with her and understanding how her mind worked and what made her tick. And Michael is a great hero too. He has his own baggage to deal with but kind and caring and talented. I really liked that neither of them were judging the other one either. Stella has flashes of jealousy about Michael’s romantic history, but only because she’s worried about how she measures up, she’s not concerned about his career choice. And for his part, once Michael has figured out (or been nudged in the right direction) what Stella’s deal is, all he wants to do is figure out what that means he needs to do and how he needs to adapt to make their relationship work better. There’s also a great cast of secondary characters and some fun set pieces. I could have read another 100 pages easily.

There’s been a fair bit of hype for this boom- I’ve heard about it on a bunch of the bookish podcasts that I listen to and and on bookish Twitter as well as Litsy. I requested it on NetGalley and then managed to pick it up for free on Kindle while I was waiting for NetGalley approval. And it totally lived up to the hype for me. I can’t wait to see what Helen Hoang writes next.

The Kiss Quotient is already available on Kindle and I’m hoping that you’ll be able to get The Kiss Quotient all over the place once the paperback is on sale.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime

Book of the Week: Angelina’s Choice

I thought that this is going to be quite a quick BotW post this week – because there’s not a lot that I can say about my pick without giving too much away.  And that’s because Angelina’s Choice is the fifth in the Hobson and Choi series – and I have rules about giving away too much about running series because it Spoils Things For Everyone.  But actually it turns out that I have a lot to say.  Who knew.

Cover of Angelinas Choice

And before I get to the plot – let’s just address the elephant in the room – yes that’s a blurb from me on the cover of this. It’s from my review of the second book when that was a BotW last year.  Nick Bryan asked me if he could use it on the new book and I was delighted to say yes.  And that hasn’t influenced my choice of it for this week – I bought my own copy of Angelina’s Choice and it genuinely was the thing I enjoyed the most of the books that I finished last week.  And so, to the review.

Angelina’s still on work experience at Hobson’s detective agency and having spent the whole summer helping solve other people’s mysteries, now she wants the answers to the mystery that brought her to the agency in the first place: who are her real parents.  But Hobson seems to be mostly too busy with other cases and so she’s doing a lot of the investigating herself.  But will she likes what she finds out – and will knowing actually do more harm than good.  Hobson meanwhile is investigating a trendy online taxi service and finds himself in dark waters. Again.

I love the way that Hobson and Angelina interact with each other.  She may be the teenager, but in some ways she can be the more emotionally intelligent one.  In this book we do see the limits to her maturity again – and despite the fact that she’s already investigated a couple of very serious crimes, I think it’s this book where she realises the real gravity of what she’s been doing and what she’s involved in.  And Hobson’s doing his best to keep the messy grownup things in his life away from her – and shield her from things he thinks that she might regret knowing later.

You will definitely get the most out of this if you’ve read the books that precede it.  The through lines have been building since the start, but at this point it really does feel like it’s hurtling towards something irrevocable.  There are familiar characters popping back up – and at least one of the solutions to the previous books is going to be spoilt for you if you read this one first.  Consider yourself warned.  And considering how this one ends, I really hope that the next book comes soon and we don’t have to wait two years to find out what happens next.

You should be able to get hold of this from all the usual sources, but this is one of those occasions when I want to give another big plug to Big Green Bookshop.  I wouldn’t be reading this series if it wasn’t for that shop – I came across them actually in store when I pootled up there after work one day mostly to buy one of their tote bags.  And because it’s nearly impossible for me to go into a bookshop and not buy a book (or two) I bought myself the first Vinyl Dectective book – which I’d had on my list for a while and happened across these on the shelf nearby.  And so it was a very successful trip all around.  Big Green will take orders over twitter and post books out for you and they run a fab Buy a Stranger a Book twitter thing on Wednesdays.  But if you want an ebook version, you can get them on Kindle and Kobo – but definitely start from the beginning of the series with The Girl Who Tweeted Wolf which is free on both of those platforms just to make it a total no-brainer.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, holiday reading

Summer Holiday Reads 2018

It’s that time of year again – where I pick out some books that I think would make great holiday reads.  And because I’ve already been on holiday, some of these are actually books I read on my holidays* so I can vouch for their sunlounger-worthiness!

The Lido by Libby Page

This is the story of Kate, an anxious 26-year-old cub reporter at a local paper in Brixton, and Rosemary, an 86-year-old widow fighting to save the local Lido that she’s been swimming at practically all her life.  When Kate finds a leaflet about the plight of the Lido she’s soon not only reporting on the story, but leading the fight to save the swimming pool.  The Lido got a lot of buzz ahead of it’s release as one of the feel-good books of the summer.  Now as this had me in tears by the pool multiple times, I suggest that you don’t read it on a plane because Altitude Associated Lachrimosity Syndrome** will only make that worse.  I was charmed by the setting, loved watching Kate’s journey and wanted to find a friend like Rosemary.  If you like books by people like Lucy Dillon and Anna McPartlin, this could be the holiday book for you.

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

Another young wannabe journalist is at the heart of Dear Mrs Bird, but 70 years earlier in the middle of World War II.  Emmeline Lake is desperate to be a Lady War Correspondent, so when she sees a job advert at one of the big newspaper publishers she spots her chance.  But instead of working at a newspaper, she finds herself at a women’s magazine where her job is to sort through the letters sent to the agony aunt.  But Mrs Bird has very definite ideas about the sort of letters that she’s going to answer – and anything involving Unpleasantness is definitely out.  When Emmy starts answering some of the letters secretly it all spirals out of control very quickly.  This only came out a couple of weeks ago too – but bookish twitter was alive with chatter about it just before Christmas.  I saved it to read on my holiday and was really glad that I did.  There was one twist in the plot that I could see coming a mile off – and I suspect anyone who has read more than a couple of books set in WW2 will see it too – but I still loved spending time with Emmy and her best friend Birdie and all their friends and neighbours doing their bit for the war effort in 1940s London.  There are sad moments in it, but it’s got a cheeky point of view that means that when the realities of war break through it really hits home. If you like Laurie Graham, Angela Thirkell or the Diary of a Provincial Lady, try this on your sunlounger.

Making Up by Lucy Parker

This summer’s contemporary romance pick is Lucy Parker’s third novel in her London Celebrities series.  Trix is thrust into the spotlight when he has to take over the leading role in the show that she’s performing in after the star is knocked out injured.  But her confidence is shattered because of the mind games her ex-boyfriend played on her.  Leo is a make-up artist who’s taken a job on the show after a professional setback (not his fault) dented his reputation.  The two of them have been sniping at each other since secondary school, and neither of them really wants to be working with the other.  If you like your romances with a large helping of witty banter and snark this is the book for you.  I found myself posting quotes from this on Litsy – and I hardly ever use the quote function.  My favourite (I think) was:

Quote image that says "Somewhere, even the sith Empereor was looking at this guy's management style and thinking "bit harsh"."

although

Quote image that says "I think we're debauching the hedgie," she muttered.

runs it a close second. You’ll get the most out of this if you’ve read the other two books in the series – particularly the second book, Pretty Face, because a lot of the background to Trix’s issues was laid there. All three of the books in this series are enemies to lovers books set in and around the theatreworld of London’s West End and they’re all packed with wise-cracking heroines and dry, sardonic heroes.  I love them – and I just wish Parker had written more of them already!

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean

My historical romance pick is coming out until June 19th – and I’m totally using that release date as the reason why it’s taken me so long to get this post out and not the fact that I had a big list of books that I wanted to read for potential inclusion that I still haven’t got to the bottom of. Ahem.  Anyway, Wicked and the Wallflower is the first book in MacLean’s new Bareknuckle Bastards series and tells the story of Felicity and Devil.  She’s an aging (for the time!) wallflower whose family is desperate to see her married off, he’s the bastard son of a duke out for revenge.  When he offers to help her land a duke, she doesn’t know that his plan doesn’t really have a happy ending for her.  But as they get to know each other sparks fly and he may have to chose between revenge and love.  I know that sounds like a pretty conventional plot for a romance novel, but what you don’t get from that is the spirit and independence of the heroine and the underworldly but businessey world that Devil has built for himself.  I really enjoyed it – and I’m looking forward to seeing Devil’s siblings get their turn at romance in the sequels.

And there you are.  I wanted to optimistically call this Summer Holiday Reads 2018 Part 1, but we all know how terrible I am about timely posting and I do like to deliver on my promises, so I’ve been restrained.  I hope there’s something here for you – all of the books here definitely gave me happy hours of reading – so I hope you have a lovely time on a sunlounger with a book at some point this summer.

Happy Reading!

* Yes that’s how long I’ve been working on this post. I know. I’m sorry.

** Hello to Jason Isaacs

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

Book of the Week: Old Baggage

This week’s Book of the Week is Lissa Evans’s new novel – which is appropriate because it comes out on Thursday! You may remember that one of her previous books, Crooked Heart, was a Book of the Week just under 18 months ago so I was thrilled to spot this one on NetGalley and be able to pick it up.  You don’t need to have read Crooked Heart to read this – but if you have I think it will add an extra layer to your enjoyment.

The cover of Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Old Baggage is the story of Matilda.  Before the war, she was a suffragette and her life revolved around the quest to get women the vote.  Now it’s 1928 and women are about to get parity – the vote on the same terms as men.  Mattie is pleased but she doesn’t think the battle is over.  Unfortunately no-one else seems to agree with her and she’s rather at sea trying to figure out what she should do next.  The book follows Mattie as she searches for a new mission – with her loyal friend Florrie Lee (known as The Flea) supporting her and trying to be a calming influence.  Along the way she encounters old friends who’ve faced a similar dilemma and is stung by a criticism from one of them, who is trying to recruit Mattie to help with her facist youth group, that she is just a dabbler.  And so she sets up a rival group – to try and educate young women about why they take an interest and get involved in causes that they believe in – or that Mattie thinks that they should believe in.

I really liked Mattie as a character – she’d be a nightmare to be friends with because you’d never get a word in edgeways and she would always tell you if she disagreed with you and go into details about why – but she’s fascinating to read about.  For all her talk of being sensible and levelheaded, she has some very real blindspots.  She’s definitely on the right side of history but she’s not always going about it in the right way.  And when she picks the wrong person to try and take under her wing, it puts everything that she’s worked for at risk.  On top of this, Mattie’s history with the suffragettes – her confrontations with police, her time in prison etc – often means that there are people who aren’t prepared to listen to her or take her seriously.  It almost goes without saying, but the title of this book is so clever and well chosen – Mattie has a lot of baggage from her suffragette days but a lot of people see her as an old baggage – a nuisance of an old woman, out of touch and past her prime.

I also really liked the Flea – for all Mattie’s talk and noble aims, it’s Florrie who is out there in the real world trying to do something to make a difference on a day to day basis.  She’s the sensible counterpoint to Mattie’s idealist and shows that you need the quiet organisers behind the scenes to get things done as well as the people on the frontline.  And Ida, one of the young women who is drawn into Mattie and Florrie’s orbit, is an interesting character in her own right and not just a plot device for showing the strengths and weaknesses of Mattie and Florrie.

It’s 100 years this year since some women in Britain got the vote and a lot has been written about the Suffrage and Suffragette movements.  There’s a stack of new books out this year – and I’ve got many of them on my to-buy list – many of them non-fiction.  But sometimes the situation calls for some fiction too and Old Baggage reminds us – in a very readable and compelling way – that the fight didn’t end in 1918 and takes a very plausible (in my view) look at what might have happened next to some of the women whose lives had revolved around trying to get the vote before the start of World War One.  Evans has used a very light hand when it comes to the flashbacks of the realities of Mattie’s life as a suffragette – I could have read pages more about it. 

I may not have read much last week in the grand scheme of things, but I think this would probably have been my BotW pick even if I’d read a dozen books.  It’s not onle massively readable – I raced through it and wished that I could have been disciplined enough to make it last longer – but it makes you think and gives you things to chew over long after you’ve finished reading it.  As I mentioned at the top, my copy was an e-galley – so it’s also going on my to-buy list because I know that my mum and my sister will really enjoy this.

Old Baggage is out in hardback on the 14th – you’ve still got time to preorder it and have it get to you on the day of release if you’re quick.  I hope it gets a good push at the bookshops – I’d expect it to be in all the good bookshops, but I’m not sure about the supermarkets.  I’m sure Big Green Bookshop will be happy to get it in for you, but it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo if you want an ebook.

Happy Reading!

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

Book of the Week: Strangers in Fleet Street

This week’s BotW returns to my old stomping ground of Girl’s Own fiction.  However it is slightly out of my usual wheel house in that it’s not a school story, but a career book. Compared to my reading of school stories, I haven’t read many career books, but one of my favourite books that my mum passed on from her childhood was Shirley Flight, Air Hostess so a book in a series called Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter definitely appealed to me.  I found it in the Oxfam Bookshop in York (on the same trip that I picked up two Oxenhams and Dorita Fairlie Bruce) and I bought it, because after all, I am a journalist after spending my childhood pretending to be one, so what could be more perfect?!But this is definitely a recommendation for people who are afficiados of the genre – because it has some… let’s call them issues.

Hardback copy of Strangers in Fleet Street

So, Strangers in Fleet Street is apparently the 15th book in the Sally Baxter series and it sees Sally, who is a teenager working as a reporter at a national newspaper, taking charge of a group of foreign readers of the Evening Cry (her paper) who won a competition to spend two weeks in London.  She’s their guide – but she’s also hoping to get some stories from their visit.  Sally soon makes friends with most of the visitors but a series of disappearances – of money, of earrings and of a person – lead to suspicion being thrown on her little group and Sally is determined to unmask the real culprit – not just for the scoop but to save her new friend’s reputations.

This ticked pretty much all of my boxes – it’s got a mystery and a bit of adventure.  It has a fun cast of characters and it has a lead character who is doing an interesting job, in a male-dominated profession.  OK Sally may be on human interest duty in this book, but she’s definitely doing the job and she’s not the only one – there’s a more senior woman reporter too.  Looking at the information about the other titles in the series that I found here, it seems that Sally seems to get a lot of the softer stories – as opposed to crime, trials or politics, but then court rooms and council meetings are hard to make sound exciting – but a lot of it involves globe-trotting.  Even without that list, Sally mentions trips to Hong Kong and North Africa – so it does sound like an exciting and appealing life, which has got to be one of the major aims of a career novel.  My quibbles with it are all around some of the rather old-fashioned (putting it nicely) attitudes.  Sally herself is very fair but the way the young North African boy is portrayed is definitely very stereotypical and of its time.  And the resolution to the mystery involved another trope that I’m not very keen on, but I can’t say more than that because it’s a huge spoiler.  So lets say that I won’t be lending this to my 10-year-old niece.  But if you are a fan of Girl’s Own fiction and know where its weaknesses and blind spots are, this is a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours.  And I’ve already been on the second hand book sites looking for more in the series.

As I mentioned, my book came from a charity bookshop, the secondhand dealers have lots of copies of various books in this series (please don’t beat me to them) but unless this is your secret niche book love, it’s probably not going to be one for you- and if it is, you already know how to source this sort of thing, so no links this week!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, women's fiction

Book of the Week: In the Unlikely Event

A bit of women’s fiction for this week’s BotW pick – and I’ve gone with Judy Blume’s adult novel In the Unlikely Event. This had been sitting on my shelf for a while (it was one of the books that got lent to my mum during the great renovation of 2017) and it took me a while to get to it – and to read it – because my copy was hardback and we all know that I don’t take them on the commute with me.

Cover of In the Unlikely Event

In the Unlikely Event tells the story of the worst year of Mimi Ammerman’s life.  At the start of the book we meet her as she heads back to her home town of Elizabeth for the 35 anniversary of three plane crashes that hit her home town within a couple of months.  That was the year that she was 15 and as well as all the usual teenage angst, love affairs, school and family problems, Mimi and her friends had to deal with death falling from the sky towards them. The reader follows the community through the tumultuous period that changed all of their lives forever.

I read a lot of Judy Blume’s children’s books when I was in the right age bracket for them.  Between her and Paual Danziger my early views of what life was life in the US were formed.  From Scoliosis, to party line telephones, to periods and a lot in between, so much of what I knew about young women and teenage girls in America came from what I read in her books.  And, although she’s writing for an adult audience in this, I could feel echos of that coming through.  Mimi’s world isn’t that far different to Margaret’s but as well as seeing the world through her eyes, we also see it through the eyes of some of the adults around her and some of the older teenagers.  And it’s engrossing.  I particularly liked the newspaper articles written by Mimi’s uncle Henry.  They really set the scene for what’s happening and present the official point of view that Mimi doesn’t really see.

It is a book about three plane crashes happening though – but although I had to take some breaks from reading it, it wasn’t as bad as some of the other books about tragedies that I’ve read.  Definitely cope-able with.  And lots of you out there probably won’t even have to take breaks – I’m just a bit of a wuss.  I hadn’t really realised when I started reading this that the three plane crashes in Elizabeth actually happened.  Or if I had, I’d forgotten.  And I found out midway through wen I went googling because it seemed almost too implausible.  At university I did a History and Literature module, and my final essay question was “Literature has to be plausible, history only has to be true.  Discuss”.  If I was writing that essay now, this book would definitely be getting a mention.

Anyway, this was a really interesting read and I know I’ll be lending it on to other people.  I can’t remember exactly where I got my copy from – it was either the magic bookshelf at work or from one of the work booksales – but because I’ve had it for so long it’s been out in paperback for a couple of years nearly.  You should be able to get hold of it from any good sided bookshop or all the usual suspects – as well as on Kindle or Kobo.  As is traditional, I suggest buying from the Big Green Bookshop – they’ll post it out to you and have been running a really lovely “Buy a Stranger a Book” twitter campaign on Wednesdays that will gladden your heart.

Happy Reading!