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!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Anyone for Seconds

This week’s BotW is the new Laurie Graham, which managed to sneak into the world without me noticing.  At least I noticed it just after it was released, so I’m only posting this 12 days after release.  Anyway, regular readers of this blog will be aware of my long-standing love for Laurie Graham’s books. Gone with the Windsors is one of my all-time favourites – and I consider it (and her) an under-appreciated gem.  Her last book, The Early Birds was a Reccommendsday pick last year and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was one of the first books that I reviewed for Novelicious back in the day. I have most of her books as actual books and they live on my downstairs bookshelf (for easy access) and I have all the ones I don’t have physical copies of on ebook.  And a couple of them as both.  I even have two paperback copies of Gone with the Windsors.  Ahem.

Cover of Anyone for Seconds

Anyway, at the start of Anyone for Seconds, former TV chef Lizzie Partridge runs away from home in a desperate bid for sympathy and attention.  She’s fed up of her life – she’s the wrong side of sixty and ever since she lost her TV gig, after throwing chocolate mousse at the presenter of Midlands This Morning, nothing seems to have gone her way.  Her partner has left her, her mother is driving her mad, she doesn’t seem to ahve anything in common with her high-power lawyer daughter – and now her last bit of work (a magazine cookery column) has been axed as well.  Over the course of her wet week in off-season  Aberystwyth, she has a bit of an epiphany and starts to think there might be a new future in the offing.  Then her nephew’s TV producer girlfriend comes up with the idea of reuniting her with her former nemesis for a new TV show.  Is Lizzie’s life looking up?

Lizzie’s earlier adventures, leading up to the infamous mousse incident, are the subject of one of Graham’s earlier books, Perfect Meringues, which came out 21 years ago.  Those days were the tail end of the era when local TV news could make you into a big star – my local bulletin used to have its own chef, who I think did a good line in cookery demonstrations to WIs across the East of England  At any rate I’m fairly sure one (maybe two) of the recipes I copied out of my mum’s cookbook when I was first getting into cooking came from one he did for the Northampton Federation.  And pretty much every year at panto season you’ll spot a semi-familiar face on a poster who’s still managing to live off their local TV fame of yesteryear.  And this makes Lizzie and her friend Louie’s adventures terribly believable and very, very funny.

I read this book as my treat for my weekend working train journeys and it was an absolute delight.  Graham has a brilliant eye for the ridiculous and manages to skewer this sort of fading fame very well.  And Lizzie’s inner voice is pure Graham – funny, dark, sarcastic and with an observant eye on others, but not as much self-awareness as she thinks.  I could have read pages more of the exploits of Lizzie and her friends – there are definitely a few things left not as resolved as I could have wanted.  There aren’t enough books with leading ladies who are over 60, and Lizzie is definitely not a fading old lady in a twinset and pearls. She’s spunky and fun and not done with life and love yet – and anyway she hasn’t got a bank balance to sit back and retire.  And even if she had, her mother wouldn’t let her and, after all what would she do – her daughter doesn’t want Lizzie’s help as she raises her gender-neutral, sugar-free future genius son.  This was perfect book to beat my end of summer blues.

My copy of Anyone for Seconds came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo.  I have no idea how easy it will be to find in bookshops – but you should be able to order it and I definitely encourage you to check out Graham’s books.  If you want to read Perfect Meringues first, it’s on Kindle and Kobo for £3.99 which seems to be about the standard price for all of Graham’s books at the moment – except for this new one.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Series I love

Book of the Week: The Days of Anna Madrigal

Quite a short BotW post this week, for a multitude a real life reasons, so sorry about that.  Any way, this week’s pick is the final (for now at least) Tales of the City books.

Library copy of Days of Anna Madrigal
In case they’ve somehow passed you by, the nine Tales of the City Books tell the interconnected stories of the residents of a house in San Francisco, starting in the 1970s and going up until pretty much the present day. Written by Armistead Maupin, the books started off as a newspaper column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Most of the books are episodic and jump between the different characters’ points of view. 

True to my no-spoilers policy, there’s not a lot about the plot of this that I can tell you, except that we rejoin the redoubtable Anna Madrigal, now in her 90s and some of her former tenants as she prepares for a road trip that will see her revisit her past and try to resolve some unfinished business. If you haven’t read the other books in the series, please don’t start here, go back to the start and read Tales of the City and follow them through. It’s taken me three years to do the whole series, and it’s been so worth it.

This isn’t my favourite of the nine, perhaps because I knew it was the last one and I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters, but it’s still a wonderful trip with old friends, who you feel like you know inside out because you know them so well. A bittersweet end to the journey.

My copy of The Days of Anna Madrigal came from the library, but you should be able to find it in all good bookshops. 

Happy Reading!

cozy crime, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Books About Renovations

I’ve got renovations and building work on the mind at the moment – I wonder why – and so this week’s #Recommendsday post is about books featuring renovations or building projects. Let’s start with some murder mysteries.

photo of boxes of books.
These are the boxes of books that went off to storage *after* the book cull...


First, a classic: Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie. New Zealander Gwenda and her husband have just moved into her new house, but as she starts to modernise it, all she does is uncover the house’s history.  As far as she knows, she’s never been to England before, so why does she have a creeping dread every time she uses the stairs – and why are all the things that she wants to do to the house, features that the house used to have?  It’s creepier than many of the Miss Marple books – and although it’s very good, it’s not my favourite of the Miss Marple stories, but I think that might be partly because the copy that we had at home when I was little had a cover with a pair of knitting needles stuck in someone’s head.

That would be this cover, and it still freaks me out.

The fourth book in the Aurora Teagarden series, The Julius House, has a big renovation project in it when Roe’s husband to be buys her a notorious house where a family disappeared from some years previously.  Roe is an amateur sleuth, fascinated by real life murders she can’t resist trying to figure out what happened to them.  Houses feature a a few of the books in this series: in book two, A Bone to Pick, Roe inherits a house from a friend, and in book 3, Three Bedrooms, One Corpse,  she has a go at selling real estate and keeps stumbling over corpses.

Not quite a renovation, but Karen Rose Smith’s Caprice de Luce series features a house stager who solves crime. I’ve only read one of them – but as house stagers are  something we really don’t have in the UK, I found her job fascinating, even though I had a couple of quibbles with the mystery.  I have more in the series on my Amazon watch list though, so I liked it enough to want more.

Now, on to romance…

I’ve mentioned Jill Shalvis a few times recently, but the first book in her Lucky Harbor series – Simply Irresistible – features a heroine who is trying to renovate and relauch her late mother’s guest house.  It’s a romance – and her contractor is her love interest and it’s fun and romantic and everything that you would expect from a Jill Shalvis novel.

Among Katie Fforde’s novels, there are a couple that have renovation projects – including Practically Perfect, where the heroine is an interior designer who is doing up a tiny cottage to showcase her skills and slightly tangentially one of my all time favourites of hers, Stately Pursuits – where house sitting turns into an attempt to save the house from redevelopment by getting it into a state where it can pay its own way as a historic home (and venue) open to the public.

And a couple more to finish:

I read Nick Spalding’s Bricking It a couple of years ago and laughed consistently the whole way through.  It features two siblings trying to renovate a house they’ve inherited from their grandmother, with the added complication of taking part in a reality TV show.  It’s got a cast of hilarious secondary characters and I loved the live TV scene – even though my inner broadcasting nerd (hello day job!) wasn’t sure if it would actually have been able to go down the way it did.  Writing this has made me wonder why I haven’t read more of Nick Spalding’s stuff since.

And down here and not with the cozies because I’ve mentioned this series recently already, but the sixth Meg Langslow mystery, Owls Well That Ends Well, sees Meg start the renovations to the big old Victorian house that is such a centre piece for the rest of the series.

If after all that you want more buildings in books, I wrote a #Recommendsday about books with amazing houses back at the end of May.

Send me your suggestions for more renovation books in the comments or on Twitter – I’m @WildeV.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, Classics, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Northbridge Rectory

A tricky choice for BotW this week – I loved the Ben Aaronovitch that I read last week, but it is the 5th in the series (not including comics) and you really should read them in order.  And I already wrote about the first book Rivers of London in a previous BotW post 11 months ago and I recommended it in one of the Christmas Gift guides.  So it felt a little overkill (so just go buy the first one).  But the latest Angela Thirkell release from Virago was a lot of fun – even if it wasn’t my favourite of hers – but that bar is pretty high!

Northbridge Rectory is the tenth of Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels – they started in the 1930s and by this point we’ve reached the war years.  There are officers billeted at the Rectory, where Mrs Villars is struggling to adapt to life as a Rector’s wife rather than a Headmistress’s wife.  There are some transferable skills though…  Northbridge’s unmarried ladies, widowed ladies and officious ladies are all out in force – taking control of the war effort and trying to assert their authority over each other as best they can.

Thirkell excels in creating believable grotesques – her books fill a similar hole for me as the Mapp and Lucia ones, except that in a Barsetshire novel they are the side dish not the main course.  In this one we get a truly terrible officer’s wife – who has not idea how horrible she is, an old maid who likes to suffer and who has been cultivating a spineless writer who has his own issues,  a vicar who is trying to escape the attentions of his elderly lady parishoners and an officer who doesn’t realise that he’s talking himself into a transfer.

A trip to Barsetshire is always fun and there are some familiar faces here too.  I still think that Summer Half is my favourite – closely followed by High Rising and Pomfret Towers.  I’m thrilled that Virago are reissuing them – even if I’m a little bit annoyed that some of them are e-book only because I wanted a matching set in paperback.  Get your copy from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones or if you don’t want the paperbacks you can get the Kindle edition.  I’m off to make puppy dog eyes at Before Lunch and try to resist breaking the book-buying embargo.

Book of the Week, books, crime, detective, fiction, reviews, Thriller

Book of the Week: The Murder Quadrille

This week’s BotW is Fidelis Morgan’s The Murder Quadrille – which is another Fahrenheit Press crime novel (that subscription I purchased is turning out to be a good move so far).  Honorable mention goes to The Little Shop of Happily Ever After by Jenny Colgan – but that got a mini-review in my Half Term Reads post, so it’s not entirely left out!

This is really hard to summarise without giving the plot away, but I’m going to try.  The Murder Quadrille opens at a dinner party being given by a businessman to impress his bank manager.  His (really quite annoyed) wife is doing the food.  Also invited is their lawyer and his trophy girlfriend and an American crime writer.  Talk around the table turns to the dead body that’s turned up on the Common, but is that a good idea?

I liked this so much.  It’s dark and funny and clever and you never quite know what’s happening.  The narrative moves around from dinner guest to dinner guest – often jumping at just the point when you think you’ve worked out what’s happened, only to reveal another twist that you didn’t see coming.  Brilliant.

This is so difficult to categorise – it’s not a detective story, but if you like cozy crime it’s not really very bloody or graphic – although it is blooming creepy – and really quite thrilling.  I can’t really think of anything that’s really similar, although in the initial stages Suzette A Hill’s Francis Oughterard series came to mind – but it got much more complicated than that very quickly!

Get your copy of The Murder Quadrille from Amazon Kindle or investigate the possibility of a Fahrenheit Books Subscription here.  I’ve had three books through the subscription (which I bought for myself, on the recommendation of a friend) and read two of them so far and really enjoyed both.  The price has gone up since I purchased – but so has the number of books they’re publishing this year, so it’s still a saving.