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, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Death of a Necromancer

So the first BotW of the new year is the last book that I finished in the old one. Which is sort of cool I think. Anyway, this is a slightly more obscure pick too so that’s fun as well.

Death of a Necromancer is a graphic novel that follows the town of Tibbin and their resident Necromancer Dr Victoria Hedgewood. At the start of the story we see Ralph resurrected after a work place incident and then we jump ahead to a town that seems to be almost more zombie than living. But what do the newly living dead lose in the transition? And is it worth is? Ralph is becoming less and less sure, but Victoria and the town seem dead set on going full steam ahead.

I loved Nick Bryan’s Hobson and Choi mystery novels a few years back and have been watching his graphic novels ever since. Death of a Necromancer is a really engaging read – the story is clever and the art is really, really attractive and (this may sound weird) I love the lettering. This was the subject of a kickstarter campaign to get published – which I backed and that’s how I got my copy (and some extra goodies) – so I don’t actually know how easy this is to get hold of. I know Nick is selling it at conventions he goes to, but beyond that, I’m not sure. But if it does come your way, it’s worth a look.

Happy Reading!

Christmas books, detective, Forgotten books, Recommendsday

Book of the Week: The White Priory Murders

As you may have noticed yesterday, last week was very much a week of Meg Langslow. But I did also finish a murder mystery with Christmas in the subtitle: which is a perfect timing as everyone* starts to finish work for the holidays.

A glamorous Hollywood actress is back in London. Marcia Tate has returned to try and get her revenge on the theatre community who snubbed her before she was a star of the silver screen. But when she’s found dead in a pavilion in the grounds of the author of the play she’s due to star in, a murder investigation starts and Sir Henry Merrivale is called in to investigate. This is a variation on a locked room mystery, where snow plays a key role. There is a large cast of suspects but it seems impossible for any of them – or anyone – to have committed the crime. And yet someone did.

Every year the British Library adds another few seasonal mysteries to their Christmas collection, and this is one of this year’s additions but despite the subtitle, the snow is the only really festive element – I think A Winter Mystery would probably be a better description. Carter Dickson is one of John Dickson Carr’s other pen names, and like his other books all the clues are there for you to figure it out if you know where to look – and he’ll give you the page numbers to prove it! Dickson’s writing style is not my favourite of that group of crime writers, but it’s a clever enough impossible puzzle that I didn’t mind too much.

I got my copy via Kindle Unlimited, which means you won’t be able to get it on Kobo at the moment, but you could also buy it in paperback from the British Library bookshop – it’s too late for posting before Christmas, but you could pop in to the shop if you’re in London, and I’m sure it’ll be on the Christmas mystery table in the larger bookshops.

Happy Reading!

*everyone else – I’m still at work until Friday night, and it’s a really busy week.

Book of the Week, children's books

Book of the Week: The Chalet School Wins the Trick

As mentioned yesterday, very much a week on my sickbed last week with a lot of rereading going on, which left an interesting array of options for today – so I’ve setttled on a sort of re-read – I’ve read the abridged version of Chalet School Wins the Trick before, but never the original version, so here we are, another week another Girls Own pick! Apologies for the slightly gloomy/shadowy picture – it’s so overcast here you would not believe

The Chalet School Wins the Trick is number 46 in the series and in many ways could be considered Peak Chalet School Tropes. But I’ll come back to that. First, lets have the plot: Just before the start of term, Miss Dene catches a group of children trying to start a campfire in the middle of the school’s best cricket pitch. She sends them along their way – but the group swear they’ll get their revenge on the school. Thus the summer term is marked by a series of pranks pulled by the quintet affecting the pupils, the staff and ex pupils.

So if you were playing Elinor Brent Dyer Bingo, this would get you a full house. We have: Joey saves the day, Mary Lou Butts in, Joan Baker being “not the right type”, sick parents/relatives at the San where the children don’t know, very weird medical treatments (a scalded arm into a vat of flour), lots of unaccompanied Child Wandering, a fete, a death of (another) parent, women’s careers being thrown over because of housework and the all time great – a massive continuity fluff within the same book. I think the only thing its missing is Joey singing someone out of an illness/coma!

As with so many reviews of Girls Own stuff that I write, this is not a book that you can easily get hold of – and nor do I recommend you to, unless you’re already interested in the oevre. It was one of the rarer books – it is from 1961, so fairly late in the series and so it had less time to be reprinted than the earlier ones. And it is full of references to escapades in previous books, which might get tiresome if you haven’t read them. If you’ve never read a Chalet School book, you should probably start with Chalet School in Exile – which is probably EBD’s best book – grappling with how to deal with a British school in Austria as the Nazis swept through Europe and what women and girls could do about it. It’s not your normal school story. Other than that, you could always start at the beginning.

Book of the Week, crime, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Green for Danger

Another week, another British Library Crime Classic pick – and I would apologise except that this is really really good and a new to me author so I’m not really sorry.

Green for Danger is set in World War Two, at a military hospital in Kent. At the start of the novel, a postman delivers seven acceptance letters to people who want to work at the hospital. A year later, he returns to the hospital as a patient, and dies on the operating table during what should have been a routine operation. At first it is thought to be an accident, but Inspector Cockrill is sent to double check. When he is stranded at the hospital during an air raid, events start to unfold that prove that Joseph Higgins’ death was no accident.

This is a really clever and atmospheric novel – enough to make you afraid of ever having an operation again, for all that it’s set in the middle of World War Two and technology has obviously changed and moved on since then. I didn’t guess who did it – but I probably could have done if I had tried hard enough because the clues were there if you thought about it hard enough. As I said at the top, this is the first Christianna Brand novel that I’ve read – having spotted this on the BLCC table at Waterstones in Piccadilly a couple of months ago and waited to see if it would rotate into Kindle Unlimited – which it has. And if they are all as good as this, I’ve got a treat coming, even if this is her most famous mystery. And I chose my words wisely there – because she’s also the creator of Nurse Matilda – which was adapted for screen by Emma Thompson and turned into Namny McPhee, which is one of my favourite kids films of the last twenty years. And not just because it has Colin Firth in it!

Anyway, the paperback of Green for Danger is fairly easily found: in the British Library shop, and I’ve seen it in several more bookshops since that first time in Piccadilly. And as I said it’s in KU at the moment, which means it’s off Kobo for a while, but should be back there at some point.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Last Hero

A bit of a different direction for this week’s pick. In fact I had plenty of options to chose from, so as there aren’t a lot of Terry Pratchett things I haven’t already read and even less of them in the Discworld, I’ve taken a rare opportunity.

This is a graphic novel about Cohen the Barbarian’s final quest – and the efforts of the wizards of Ankh Morpork to stop him before it leads to the end of the world. Cohen first appeared in The Light Fantastic and is leader of the Silver Hoarde – a band of elderly barbarian heroes. At the start of the Last Hero, Cohen and his friends are fed up of the infirmities that come with their advancing age so decide to climb to the top of the highest mountain on the Discworld and meet the gods that live there. Of course this isn’t all they want to do when they get there and therein lies the problem.

This isn’t long, but it is a lot of fun – partly because story features so many the side-ish regular characters that it’s always a delight to see again. It’s hard to say too much without giving the plot away, but obviously there is Vetinari, and also some of the key figures from the Unseen University, including Rincewind. And of course it is beautifully illustrated. I do love Paul Kidby’s Discworld art – I mean I have a print of his Errol the Dragon artwork on my wall at home – and there are some lovely extra touches here as well as the illustrations that tell the story. Basically it’s a lovely way to spend some time.

I bought my copy in paperback form, because that’s how I like to read stuff with illustrations, but it is available on Kindle and Kobo, although your experience with that may depend on what sort of reader you have to read it on.

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!

mystery, series

Crime Series: Nanette Hayes

Am I starting a new series strand? Maybe. I nearly called this retro crime series, but I didn’t want to limit myself too much. Anyway, I have a couple of crime series in mind for this – stuff that is a little older, but not Golden Age old. And these have got a gorgeous reissue recently – which is what first brought them to my attention.

Nanette Hayes is a saxophone-playing street busker, whose mum thinks she has a proper job. At the start of the first book, her boyfriend breaks up with her and a fellow busker she invites to sleep on her couch ends up murdered in her kitchen. The dead man was an undercover cop – and Nanette ends up doing some investigating of her own to try and make sure she doesn’t end up being blamed. In the second book she’s in Paris, trying to track down her missing aunt and in the third and final novel she finds herself investigating the murder of a woman who made a voodoo doll that Nanette is given by a friend.

This are just incredibly stylish and evocative. Nanette is strutting her way through a jazz infused world where seedy peril is always lurking on the periphery. There’s just something about her that makes you want to read about her, even when she’s being foolhardy or stupid. The books are relatively short, but they pack a lot in. The mysteries are good but Nanette is the star.

I picked the first of these up a couple of months back after seeing them looking gorgeous in Foyles – and I went back for the other two because I enjoyed it so much. Nanette’s New York (and Paris) are so cool that I’m annoyed that there aren’t more of them to read. But the three there are are worth it – and you could probably read them all back to back in one weekend if you wanted, which is a treat in itself

You might need to order these in, but as I said the Big Foyles had all three of these in stock so you might get lucky. I have no clue what the original UK release was like – but I don’t recall having seen these in a second hand book store. Doesn’t mean they don’t turn up though.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, reviews

Book of the Week: Carrie Soto is Back

I know, I know. I’ve already mentioned this a few times, and it was on the reading list for a while, so why is this book of the week now I’ve finally finished it? Well firstly, take a look at it: it’s a hardback. And that should explain why it’s taken me a while to read – I don’t take books in my work rucksack these days because I have a laptop in there but I especially don’t take hardbacks around because they get so battered and also hardbacks are just harder to read than paperbacks are – speaking as an integrate eat-and-read person, you cannot read a hardback while you eat your lunch!

Carrie Soto was the best tennis player in the world. When she retired at the end of the 1980s, she had the all time grand slam record. But just six years later, that record is about to be broken- so she decides to make a comeback to take back her crown and prove that she’s the best of all time. But being the best tennis player in the world is much harder when you’re in your late 30s and harder still when it feels like no one wants you to succeed.

Carrie is not a sweet and fluffy tennis player: the media nicknamed her The Battleaxe basically because she did things that in a man would have been celebrated, but women aren’t meant to do. Like saying you’re going to crush your opponents. And admitting that you were targeting an opponent’s injury. And her singular focus means that she’s not always easy to like as she creates a world where it’s her against everyone else – but you’re shown her history and her family so you get why she is the way she is and you’re hoping that someone will come along and break through her protective shell.

Carrie popped up as a secondary character in Malibu Rising and it’s amazing how much you end up rooting for her in this, given what she was up to in that. Taylor Jenkins Reid has said that is the final book in this particular universe and this is another story about a woman who is unapologetic about her ambition and wants to live life in her own way and on her terms. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the themes across the four books – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones and the Six, Malibu Rising and this – and that’s sort of where I’ve come down: they all look at women challenging the status quo in some way, but they’re all very different stories and told in different ways. Like the first two books, there is a lot here where you can pick which real life tennis players have provided some inspiration for various people and the world feels so real by the end of it you can’t quite believe that none of it is real. Excellent, engrossing reading – perfect for a sun lounger, if only you don’t buy the hardback version!

You should be able to get this basically anywhere. Seriously. I think it’s been front and centre in every book shop I have recently featured. And of course it’s in all the ebook formats too.

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!