book round-ups, Christmas books

Christmas-themed reading 2018

I’ll admit I haven’t managed to read as many Christmas-set books this year as I usually do.  This is mostly because the period in November when I usually start doing my Christmas-reading coincided with my last few weeks in Washington and my mad dash to read all the books that I’d got hold of there that I hadn’t been able to get hold of in the UK.  But I’ve still got some Christmas recommendations for you.

Campion at Christmas by Margery Allingham

Cover of Campion at Christmas

I realised when I was writing item that I haven’t really talked my about Albert Campion love nearly enough here.  If you’re looking at Golden Age Detective series, Albert is probably number five after Miss Marple, PoirotLord Peter Wimsey and Roderick Alleyn.  I started reading them when I lived in Essex – because Margery Allingham was from the county and the library system there had a huge stock of her books.  This is four short stories with a Christmas theme – two of which feature Albert at various points in his life.  It’s not a massively long read – but it’s new this Christmas and only £1.99 on Amazon or free if you have Kindle Unlimited (my copy came from NetGalley).

Lark! The Herald Angels Sing by Donna Andrew

Cover of Lark! The Herald Angels Sing

I feel like I’ve writen a lot about the Meg Langslow series this year (there’s been a BotW post as well as mentions in other roundup posts) but Donna Andrew consistently writes excellent festive installments to this series.  At the start of this Christmas’s book, Meg discovers a mystery baby has been abandoned in the manger midway through a rehearsal for the town nativity play.  The note left with the baby implies that Meg’s brother Rob is the father and when she attempts to track down the baby’s mother, it soon becomes apparent that this may be part of a bigger mystery.  And as well as all this, it seems like there may be a war brewing between Meg’s beloved Caerphilly county and their arch-nemeses in neighbouring Clay County.  What is so clever about this, is that although this is the 24th book in the series, Andrew has managed to keep mixing up her settings and mysteries enough that it doesn’t seem like Meg is a murder magnet.   And this is no exception to that.  It’s not cheap though – it’s brand new – and just under a tenner on Kindle, which is a lot I’ll admit and even more on Kobo.  But the good news is that the most of previous years’ Christmas Langslows are cheaper – at £3.85 on Kindle at time of writing.

Christmas with the Sheriff by Victoria James

Cover of Christmas with the Sheriff

Moving away from crime to romance – this is a novella featuring a bereaved heroine who returns to her home town for Christmas several years after the death of her husband and son and finds the man who helped her through her loss is still there waiting for her.  Chase is the town Sheriff and he’s had a thing for Julia ever since he first met her, but his best friend got there first.  He’s hoping that she might now be ready for a second chance at love.  I was worried this was going to be a bit too miserable, but it wasn’t – and I liked Julia and Chase’s developing relationship.  And Chase’s little girl is cute.  Free on Kindle and Kobo at the moment for everyone

Chasing Christmas Eve by Jill Shalvis

Cover of Chasing Christmas Eve

And it wouldn’t be a Christmas book list without one by Jill Shalvis.  This is last year’s one from her – in her Heartbreaker Bay series.  It follows tech genius Spence and Colbie who is a best selling author under her writing pseudonym.  Spence doesn’t think that he can have a long term relationship with anything except his work – he’s failed at it before.  Colbie is running away from the pressure of fame, of her publishing career and of her emotionally dependent family.  In the run up to Christmas in San Francisco the two of them stumble towards a discovery.  It’s flirty, it’s fun and Colbie and Spence are perfect for each other.  And it’s 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment – which makes it a bargain

What else am I reading this Christmas?  I’ve got another Jill Shalvis on the pile – this year’s Heartbreaker Bay Christmas novel, Hot Winter Nights, as well as Sarah Morgan’s The Christmas Sisters and I’m fairly sure there’s going to be at least one Christmas book I’ve forgotten about sitting on the bookshelf or the kindle.

Let me know what you’re reading this December in the comments!

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!

American imports, Book of the Week, mystery, Young Adult

Book of the Week: A Study in Charlotte

And I just can’t help myself.  For the second time in three weeks, my BotW is a Sherlock Holmes-related novel: Brittany Cavalaro’s A Study in Charlotte.  But this time it’s Modern Sherlock descendants at a New England Boarding School so it is Completely Different from Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women. Even if the titles would lead you to think otherwise.  Honestly.  It really is.  Let me prove it to you…

Jamie Watson has won a rugby scholarship to a prep school in Connecticut.  He isn’t happy about it – not only doesn’t he want to leave London, he doesn’t really like rugby and the last thing he wants is to be closer to his dad and his step-family.  The only bright spot in this whole situation is that Charlotte Holmes also attends the school.  The Holmeses and the Watsons have been intertwined for generations – every since Sherlock solved mysteries and Watson wrote them down.  But Charlotte seems like more trouble than Jamie can (or should) handle:  she arrived at the school in mysterious circumstances, she runs a poker game at weekends and is rumoured to have a drug problem.  But the thing is, the two of them seem drawn to each other nonetheless.  Then a student is killed.  And not just any student – one who Watson had a very public fight with after he hassled Charlotte. And Holmes and Watson are being framed for the crime.  Charlotte may be the only person who can solve the case – but by investigating it may put them in the wrong place at the wrong time and make things even worse for them.

This is exactly my sort of YA.  There’s drama and peril and some angst here, but it’s not end-of-the-world or dystopian or bleak.  There’s school stuff and a mystery, but the issues are slightly more adult (drug addiction, sexual assault, stalkers) than you get in middle grade school stories and mysteries.  Jamie and Charlotte are incredibly engaging characters – and once again I had fun watching and seeing how Cavallaro had woven in the Sherlock-lore into her modern day characters.

I’ve actually had this on my reading wishlist for a while – Goodreads tells me I shelved this in November 2016 – but it’s not available in Kindle in the UK and it hadn’t come my way at the library or in the bookshops.  Or at least not at a point when I remembered to look for it anyway.  Luckily I found it in the library near my flat in the US and it was part of my marathon library book binge last week.  There are two more books in the series that have already come out and a fourth installment due in 2019.  I’m going to be be making proper efforts to get hold of them.  I might add the next one to my Christmas list…

You can get a copy of A Study in Charlotte in hardback or paperback from Amazon, but I’ve had trouble finding it for sale on any other UK-based vendors.  Which is a real shame because it is really very good.  But if you’re heading to the US anytime soon, put it on your to-buy list!

Happy Reading!

Fantasy, fiction

Book of the Week: A Conjuring of Light

Another week, another BotW post. This time I’ve gone for VE Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light, which is the final book in a trilogy, so it does break my rule about trying not to feature books that don’t stand-alone, but it also means that if you were to start the books now, you’re guaranteed a resolution. So swings and roundabouts really.

Anyway, this is the third (and final?!) book in this magical series in a universe where there are three different Londons in three parallel worlds that only a select few can travel between. In the first few books we see a lot of Grey London, where there is no magic (basically Regency Britain as we know it) and White London, where there is nothing but violence and magic. But this final book concentrates on the battle for Red London where magical and non-magical people exist side by side.

Red London is also where Kell is from, the traveler between worlds who we’ve been following since the start. Over the course of the books, Kell’s life has only got more complicated, but that also means he’s got more friends as well as more enemies. Friends like Delilah, the former thief who he teamed up with in the first book and her motley crew too. Everything that he and Delilah have learned over the course of their adventure comes to a climax in this.

And yes, I know that sounds like I’m avoiding talking about the actual plot. And that’s because I am, because saying much more will give away the plots of the other two books. And you really need to read this series in order or you’ll be lost. It’s been a couple of years since I read it and I felt a bit at sea at times and I know what happened and what the rules are. But there’s magic and pirates and peril and a big battle or two. And although it doesn’t quite reach Battle of Hogwarts levels of carnage and loss, it’s fair to say that not everyone comes out of it alive.

If you’ve read The Night Circus and The Children of Blood and Bone and thought that what you really need to read is a hybrid of the two, then try this. It wasn’t always 100% my cup of tea (I need less angst at the moment) but it’s pacey and well written and clever and really quite good.

My copy came from my library, but you should be able to lay your hands on this fairly easily on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback from all the usual sources, including actual bookshops.  I do suggest you start at the start of the trilogy though or you’ll be totally lost. There’s also a graphic novel prequel series that’s just started but I think you need to have read the books for that. I’ll check it out and let you know…

Happy Reading.

book round-ups

Halloween recommendations 2018

It’s nearly Halloween and since I’m in the US where it is such a massive thing that it’s blowing my mind, I thought a round up of some spooky/halloween-themed reading might be in order.  I was aiming for it to be recent Halloween-y reading – but you know how these things go – you get a stack of likely books together, you read them – and then you don’t like some of them enough to recommend them.  And I’m always honest.  Which is why I’m telling you up front that there’s no horror here – because I’m too scared to read horror.  My brain is good enough at coming up with things to scare me without ready scary books.  Thrillers are about as much as I can deal with.  And some times I can’t even deal with that.  So expect my usual mix of mystery, romance and fantasy with a dash of classic thriller thrown in.

As I am away from my bookshelves, here’s a picture of a Halloween display in Texas last weekend.

The One with the sweet tooth

I read The Candy Corn Murder right after it came out three years ago and it sees a local reporter covering a Halloween Festival.  But when her husband becomes the prime suspect in a murder, she steps in to investigate.  This is the 22nd(!) in Leslie Meier’s Lucy Stone series – and there are other Halloween-themed installments among the other 24 (!!) books in the series if you like Lucy’s world and want to spend more time there.  I’ve read one, maybe two others and have my eye on a couple from the library to see how there series has evolved.

The one that’s a creepy classic

I’m slowly working my way through Daphne DuMaurier’s works – and there are several of hers that would be good for giving you chills on a dark night.  The obvious one is Rebecca, but Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel are also properly atmospheric and creepy.  Those two also have recent tv or film versions should you want to be a person who likes to watch the movie of the book and complain compare. I also have a massive softspot (if you can call it that for something so creepy) for the Charles Dance and Emily Fox TV version of Rebecca from the late 1990s.

The One with a creepy doll

Barbara Early’s new book, Death of a Russian Doll is mostly about the murder of the local police chief’s wife, but it’s also got a matroshyka doll that’s moving on its own to up the creep factor.  Your amateur sleuth is Liz, the owner of the vintage toy shop next door to the murder scene and the sort-of ex-girlfriend of the police chief (he didn’t tell her about his estranged wife) who’s retired cop father is called in to investigate the crime.  This came out this month and is the third book in the series, but it’s the first of them that I’ve read and I liked it enough that I’ll be keeping an eye out for more by this author.

The One with the Embarassing First Date

This is slightly tangentially Halloween-y because Carter and Evie, the hero and heroine of Christina Lauren’s Dating You, Hating You meet at a Halloween party being held by mutal friends.  From that awkward beginning, a promising relationship starts until their companies merge and the two of them find themselves in competiton for the same job.  I really liked Evie, but I had a few issues with Carter and I felt their prank war was just a little bit unprofessional.  However the dialogue is sparky and the chemistry is there so I’m still mentioning it here because I know that I can be a bit of a curmudgeon sometimes and I know a lot of people who really loved it and didn’t have the same issues!

The One with that’s spoofing a Vampire Craze

I couldn’t help but include this.  Lauren Willig’s the Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla sees Sally Fitzhugh investigating whether the Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire after a rumour takes hold in London in 1806.  He’s not of course, but he doesn’t mind the reputation that he’s got, that is until a woman is found with the blood drained from her throat and it looks like he’s going to get the blame.  This is the eleventh in the Pink Carnation series, which I would say to read in order to get the full force of the present-day story line (which runs through the whole series) but the nineteen century one is really the star here, so I think you could make an exception for Halloween.  And it’s got a stoat.  What more could you want?

The One with the Actual Vampires

If you haven’t read Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series (aka True Blood), Halloween might be a good chance to start.  And now the series has been finished for a while if you like them you can glom your way through all thirteen of Sookie Stackhouse’s adventures.  Just remember not to get too invested in any one outcome for Sookie in particular – because there was a lot of upset when the last book came out about which of her beaux she ended up with. I won’t give anything away, but I think the clues were sort of there about what was going to happen – or at least I didn’t think the ending ruined the whole series for me (which a lot of people did!).  And if you like that world, there’s plenty of other Charlaine Harris novels, most of which are set in (what turns out to be) the same world of vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures.

The One with the Haunted House.

You all know how much I love Meg Langslow because I keep writing about her, but Lord of the Wings, the 19th book in Donna Andrews’ long running series, is a Halloween one and I really liked it.  There’s a massive Halloween festival going on in Caerphilly when first the Haunted House burns down and then a body is discovered in the wreckage.  The usual Langslowian mayhem ensues – including Meg’s Grandad running a special exhibit at his Zoo – and then there’s the Goblin Patrol.  Probably best appreciated if you’ve read some of the others in the series, but this is still worth a look.

If you’ve got any Halloween recommendations for me – and remember that I don’t do horror because I’m a scaredy cat – then put them in the comments!

Happy Reading

Adventure, American imports, Book of the Week, Thriller

Book of the Week: Skin Tight

Not a lot of reading done last week – I started the week in New York and ended it on a plane back to Washington from Dallas and there wasn’t a lot of reading time other than the travelling. But luckily, I had an easy choice for my BotW pick thanks to my new local library and Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight.

One well-loved library copy of Skin Tight

After a Mick Stranahan stabs his unexpected guest (who came armed) using a taxidermied fish, he starts to try to figure out who it is who wants him dead. Unfortunately the intruder died so quickly he couldn’t answer any questions. And there are plenty of suspects. As an investigator at the State Attorney’s Office there were plenty of people who had a grudge against him even before he nailed a crooked judge and got fired. But then the list just keeps growing and soon it becomes clear that if Stranahan wants to enjoy his retirement, he’s going to have to figure out what’s going on before he ends up dead.

If that sounds a bit mad, that’s because it is. It’s a dark and satirical screwball comedy where every character has at least one serious character flaw, but very few of them realise it. I’ve spoken a lot about my search for more books to scratch my Steph Plum-esque itch and this definitely did that. Stranahan is much less likeable than Steph and a lot further from the straight and narrow than she is, but this is the same sort of madcap adventure you get with her.

My only real problem with Skin Tight is that it was published nearly 30 years ago and that’s making it hard to get more books by Hiaasen, although not impossible as my to-read pile will already show. It does mean though that the bad news is that Skin Tight isn’t available on Kindle or Kobo at the moment – and it may well be out of print in the US as well as the UK.  It is available on audiobook from Kobo, but if you want an actual book you’re going to have to buy it secondhand (Amazon and Abebooks have plenty of copies at various price points) or do what I did and get it from your library.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, crime, detective, Verity Goes to Washington

Book of the Week: Legwork

After a good week of reading last week I was spoilt for choice forBotW options, but in the end I went for a new to me author and series that I picked up in a secondhand shop during one of my lunchtime strolls through Washington DC.

Paperback copy of Legwork

Casey is a private eye. Or at least she would be if it wasn’t for a spell in jail that means that she can’t get a licence in her current home in North Carolina. What she actually is, is the person doing all the hard work for Bobby D, an overweight eating machine who doesn’t want to do anything that means he needs to leave the office. Casey’s current job is some security work for a local senatorial candidate. Mary Lee Masters decided she needed extra protection when she started getting threatening phone calls, so when she finds a dead body in her car it’s Casey she calls for help. Soon Casey is investigating some very seedy dealings and trying to keep the fact that she doesn’t have a licence under wraps from Detective Bill Butler.

Long-term readers may remember me tearing a streak through Janet Evanovich’s back catalogue, in particular the Stephanie Plum series, and that I’m always looking for books and series that scratch a similar itch. I think this might be one of them. Casey is a so much fun to read about. She’s smart and tough and knows what she’s good at – and she’s good at her job. Casey is no damsel in distress who needs rescuing. She’s running away from her past, but she knows she’s doing it and that she’ll have to face up to it some day. The mystery is well plotted and twisty and all the characters are well drawn. I also really liked Southern setting, which is so well described I can almost smell it. I’ll definitely be looking for the next book in the series.

Legwork first came out in 1997 – three years after Stephanie Plum, which makes it another older series which I’ve discovered years after the fact. Clearly I need to do some more research and digging to see if there are anymore unconventional female sleuth series from that era that I’m missing out on.

As I mentioned earlier, my copy was secondhand, but it’s still available in Kindle or in paperback if you want to take a look. In fact the whole series is available for free on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (which I’m not, we all know I’ve got enough access to books as it is and the to-read pile is already massive!)

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime, historical

Book of the Week: The Corpse at the Crystal Palace

I treated myself to this the day before my flight, and what greater treat to read for part of my flight (I slept and watched two documentary films* too) than the first Daisy Dalrymple book in quite a while. Long term reader may remember my long time love of Daisy – which has spawned my (mostly unsuccessful) quest for more similar sort of mysteries.

Cover of the Corpse at the Crystal Palace

We rejoin Daisy and her family as they prepare for a visit from the long lost relatives she discovered in a previous book (Heirs of the Body). As part of the visit they make a trip to the Crystal Palace, where they stumble upon a body. Of course Daisy can’t help but get involved in the investigation. Over the course of the investigation there’s nightclubs, showgirls and Russian emigrés. Meanwhile in the background there’s a chance of a promotion for Alec. Can Daisy solve the crime? And is Alec ready for a new job?

It’s always nice to be back in Daisy’s world and this is particularly fun because there’s a lot of familiar faces showing up here from earlier books, some of whom we haven’t seen for a really long time. It’s not my favourite book in the series, but that was mostly because I wanted a bit more from the actual mystery. But as far as historical cozy crime series go, it’s hard to beat Daisy.

You should be able to get this in ebook from all the usual places like Kindle and Kobo, but I suspect the physical book will be harder to find in bookshops unless you order it in. Do yourself a favour though, if you’re new to Daisy and go back at start at the beginning and Death at Wentwater Court. It’s the sort of series where it’s worth it.

Happy reading!