I really enjoyed a couple of books last week and had but of a debate with myself about what to pick. Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe is new out and very good – and other book which looks at American Football and head trauma – but it’s only a few months since I picked a novel from her. It’s also not long since I picked Anne Helen Petersen, but Scandals of Hollywood was also very good. I have picked Ovidia Yu and the aunty Lee series before, but it was a year ago, it’s been a while since I picked a mystery and this is really very good.
To catch you up on the series set up: Rosie Lee is the widow of an rich older husband. She’s getting on a bit herself now but she isn’t planning on slowing down. She fills her day cooking Perenaken food in her restaurant in a not as posh as her daughter in law would like area, and keeping up with the gossip and scandal in her community. And she also seems to find crimes and mysteries to solve. This is the fourth book in the series and she’s also started to build a friendly relationship with one of the local policemen, although she’s not above using her late husbands contacts to get her way.
In Meddling and Murder, one of her school friends has died leaving a handsome, younger Chinese husband and a sister who are setting up a nursery school in the house they have inherited. Their maid has gone missing and they ask to borrow Aunty Lee’s beloved Nina, who has some issues of her own going on that means that Aunty Lee thinks some time away might be a good idea. But as time goes on Aunty Lee grows more and more worried about what exactly happened to Beth Kwan’s maid and what Jonny Ho is really up to.
You’re pretty much guaranteed to come away from this feeling hungry – even if, like me you don’t know anything about Singaporean food! This has a lot of the features of a cozy crime – food, amateur sleuth – but a really different setting that makes it feel fresh and different. That’s true of both of the other books in the series that I’ve read so far, but this also has a slightly darker underside (which I like) subtly looking at some social issues – like the treatment of foreign domestic workers and of how unscrupulous people can try to badger/confuse/inveigle old people into giving their money away. But it’s all done so matter of factly and in passing that you do a double take – and it also doesn’t feel at all preachy or crusadey.
As previously mentioned, this isn’t the first in ther series, but I don’t think you need to read these in order necessarily, so feel free to dive in. These can sometimes be a little expensive to get hold of in the UK, but it’s on a deal on ebook at the moment. Meddling and Murder is available on Kindle and Kobo – it’s £1.49 on both at time of writing – and as a paperback – although that may be harder to find.
Hello hello hello! Fresh from a bank holiday Monday off work and a Drag Race marathon, this week’s book of the week is The Frame-Up – which has nerd culture, comic books and drag queens. Perfect.
MG (that’s short for Michael-Grace, but she won’t thank me for telling you) is a writer at a comic book company with a side line in costume designing. She’s in the queue for her morning latte when she recognises a panel from a comic in a crime scene photo in the newspaper. Soon a handsome police officer is asking for her help in untangling the clues to the crime – but his colleagues are suspicious of her. Can MG solve the mystery and win the big costume competition?
I really, really enjoyed this. MG is a fabulous main character and only occasionally strays into territory where you think she’s too stupid to live. Most of the time you understand why she tends towards the headstrong and foolhardy: she’s a woman in a male dominated environment who is trying to get equal treatment at work and not getting listened to. Matteo the cop is a great foil for her- nice enough that you’re worried he’s going to stuff up his career over MG but mysterious enough that you don’t entirely trust him. There is a big cast of characters here – mainly guys – and I would like to see MG getting some female friends at some point in the future to stop her from verging into Not Like Other Girls territory* but I’m hopeful that the seeds of something were being set up for that in this.
This isn’t too violent and there’s no psychological suspense – it’s basically a cozy crime with a twist – nerd culture instead of crafting/cooking/baking. And that was pretty much just what I needed at the moment after a run of disappointing romances (don’t ask). In fact I liked this enough that I’ve gone straight on to book two to see if it’s a concept that can sustain itself. And if it is, this could be another (murder) mystery series to add to my list.
I got this as a Kindle First Reads pick at the back end of last year and have only just got around to reading it – but it’s also available as a paperback from Amazon. Because it’s in Kindle Unlimited it may be harder to get elsewhere I’m afraid.
* I’m having trouble with an epidemic of Not Like Other Girls heroines in romances at the moment and it’s driving me mad
Following on from my own summer holiday reading post, I thought I’d drop a few more posts over the next few weeks which might provide some other suggestions for reading for your summer holidays. Today I’m looking at some cozy crime series that might make for binge reading on the sunlounger!
Campbell and Carter series by Anne Granger
Jess Campbell and Ian Carter are two British police detectives in the Gloucestershire countryside. Over the course of the books that I’ve read they’ve investigated mysterious bodies found in houses, after a house fire and a long dead cold case murder. At their best, I can read them in practically one sitting. They’re an British-style cozy crime, police procedural hybrid. I was a big fan of Anne Granger’s Mitchell and Markby series, when I read them in the dim and distant pre-blog days. I still recommend them – but they’re older and harder to find. This series however is still going – and the latest book features the return of Mitchell and Markby as an added bonus.
The Tj Jensen series by Kathi Daley
Tj helps run her family resort alongside her career as a high school teacher and she just seems to keep getting involved in murder investigations. The latest one is just edging too close to my rules about meddling where people shouldn’t be, but for the most part I’ve really enjoyed them. If you fancy some small town cozy crime with a setting that’s not a cupcake bakery or a bookshop, this might be the one for you. This a series from Henery Press – who I’ve mentioned here before and whose older/longer running series I find to be consistently quite readable. I’m not such a big fan of all of the more recent ones though. I made one of these my BotW back in April 2018, and I’ve read most of the rest of the series since.
The Zoe Chambers series by Annette Dashofy
Zoe’s a paramedic and part-time assistant coroner and a serious horse rider. When we meet her in the first book, a corpse has been found in a car and she’s in a race to find out who does it as a blizzard sets in. As the series goes on, romantic entanglements form as she investigates drug deaths, a possible case of elder abuse, tries to clear a suspected wife kille and faces numerous threats to her beloved horses and the space at the ranch she rents. I’ve read four books in the (currently) seven novel series, and like the set up and the characters although sometimes the Zoe can border on the foolhardy/willfully blind. This is another Henery Press series, but I will say that they are consistently darker than most of their stablemates (see what I did with the horse joke there?!)
This post has actually been a long time in the writing because I wanted to recommend more series than just three. I read a lot of cozy crime – but not a lot of them are actually good enough for me to want to recommend – or if they’re in series, I like to have read a few of the series before I’m prepared to recommend them to people. And of course some of the other good ones have already made it on to the blog – as BotWs – like Death by Dumpling, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights, and Lowcountry Bonfire, or as series I love posts like Charles Paris. And of course you can check out previous Cozy Crime Roundups: from 2017, 2016, and 2014.
I’ve got a bunch of cozies waiting to be read – including two more in the Maggie Sefton series (I’ve read one, quite liked it, but see above for wanting to have read a fair sample before recommending a whole series), the second Noodle House mystery, the second Auntie Poldi mystery and first in series from a couple of new-to-me authors including Bree Baker and Shami Flint.
Now you may have noticed from the Week in Reading posts, but I’ve been tearing through Simon Brett’s Charles Paris murder mystery series. The first book was a BotW back in November (in the heady days of my American odyssey!) and I finished the latest one the other week – after reading all 20 in just under three months. I’ve loved reading them (and listening to some of them) and though I really ought to tell you more about it.
Our sleuth is a middle-aged, struggling actor. He’s got a fairly useless agent and drinks too much whiskey and it’s sometimes hard to work out which one of these is holding his career back more. He’s also got an estranged wife, Frances, who he still holds a bit of a torch for (although not enough to manage to stay out of other women’s beds or stay off the bottle) and a grown-up daughter Juliet who is married and has children of her own. Across the course of the series we follow Charles from job to job, where bodies and mysteries invariably turn up and he tries to work out what is going on – with varying degrees of success.
The first Paris novel was published in 1975 and the latest in 2018 and time has moved on in the series – at the start Charles is living in a bed sitter with a shared payphone in the hall, these days he’s living in a studio flat and has a smart phone (although he doesn’t do anything with it beyond texting and calling). He hasn’t aged along with the 40 years (or he’d be in his 90s!) but unless you read them all back to back (like me) you probably won’t notice! Charles is one of those characters who you really don’t want to like – he’s drunk, he’s unfaithful, he’s more than a bit disreputable at times – but somehow you really do. Sometime he’ll make you scream with rage as he messes up an opportunity or backslides in his promises, but you always hope that next time he’ll do better.
Over the course of the series Charles works in pretty much every branch of the acting profession which means that there’s plenty of variety and helps stop the series feeling same-y. Simon Brett was a radio and television producer before he became a fulltime writer in the late 70s and – particularly in those early novels – his experience of the industry shines through. Regular readers will know that I’m a journalist in my day job and worked in radio before moving behind the scenes in TV and online video and I really got a kick out of comparing how things used to be to how things are now. There’s a lot less drinking than there used to be – but I did recognise a few gripes that I still hear around the industry today.
A couple of the novels have also been adapted for radio – some back when they first came out, but more recently with Bill Nighy playing Charles – which is totally inspired casting. I think I’ve listened to all of them – and Jeremy Front, who adapts them for radio, has tweeted that a new series has been completed and will be coming up soon, which is going to be a total treat. I am waiting with bated breath.
The new series of Charles Paris is in the can! Starring the regular cast: Bill Nighy, @suzysalt Suzanne Burden and Jon Glover with guest appearances to be announced. Directed by the excellent @marypeate and produced by the indomitable @salavens. More to come. #Charlesparis
I really enjoyed reading these – as you can tell by the pace that I went through them – and am hoping there’ll be another one or two yet. The good news for me though is that Simon Brett has written more than a hundred books so there are several more series from him for me to try out yet. If you want to try some Charles Paris, you may need to check your local library because the early ones are out of print physically, but they are all available as ebooks or you can try secondhand. Here’s a link to the search results on Amazon to help you on your way.
Happy reading – and I’ll try and remind you all when the new radio plays are due to go out on Radio Four!
As mentioned yesterday, picking BotWs is being made harder by the fact that I currently seem to be working my way through two series at a rate of knots and it’s creating a lot of repetition in the WiB list – and could make these posts very boring. Luckily, I also read the first in a new to me (and actually fairly new) cozy mystery series last week and it was a lot of fun and showed some great potential. Job done.
Death by Dumpling is the first in the Noodle Shop Mystery series – and was also Vivien Chien’s debut novel. Our wannabe detective is Lana Lee, 27 years old and back working at her family’s noodle house after walking out on her job and a brutal break-up. But when the property manager of the plaza where the restaurant is is found dead, she and her family’s business are in the firing line. Because Mr Feng died of an allergic reaction – to shellfish in dumplings from the Ho-Lee Noodle House. But Lana knows everyone there knew about his allergy – so how did this happen? Soon she’s investigating what happened while fending off dinner invites from the new guy at the plaza and hoping to get to know the detective investigating the case better…
I enjoyed this a lot and raced through it in practically one sitting – I moved from the sofa to bed 100 pages from the end but that was the extent of the movement! The characters are fun and it’s really nice to see a different type of setting for a cozy. Lana is a nice lead character – she’s got a nice balance of quirks and insecurities to self-confidence and skills. The setting is good and the side characters are engaging too. As the book is mostly setting up Lana and the series, you don’t get a lot of the other characters, but I’m hoping that changes as the series continues. There were a few elements felt a little clunky at times, but as this is a debut as well as the start of the series, I didn’t mind too much because I think this series has a lot of potential. I’m fed up with cupcake bakers and crafters – I’m so ready for an Asian-American detective working in the family noodle house and this delivers most of the time.
I picked my copy of Death by Dumpling up on a Barnes and Noble trip during my American Odyssey and brought it home with me. I have no regrets about bringing it back across the Atlantic – because it meant I read a load of library books before I came home – although I do wish that I’d brought the second book in the series as well because they were cheaper to buy in the US than they are here! But you can get hold of Death by Dumpling on Kindle and Kobo (the Kindle price is much better than the Kobo one atow) and in paperback from Amazon – but I suspect it’s actually a special order US-Import type deal there, so I’m not sure what your luck is going to be in proper bookshops in the UK.
After glomming on Jill Shalvis, Susan Elizabeth Philips and Kristen Higgins in 2017, I’ve continued to expand my contemporary romance horizons in 2018. I’ve read even more Shalvis, Morgan and Crusie and added Alyssa Cole, Jasmine Guillory and Talia Hibbert to the list. There no-go tropes are still there – billionaires, biker gangs, secret babies – but there’s plenty that I do like and they make a great way to relax and get away from the stresses of the newsroom after a long day of breaking news.
As you’ll see from the 2018 obsessions post tomorrow, I’ve read a whole stack of new crime series this year. The new Hobson and Choi was a Book of the Week and it’s a bit of a spoiler for my Books of the Year post to tell you how much I liked the new Vinyl Detective book. I’ve also continued to work my way through the Royal Spyness series – which I love, despite the title and the fact that I have to not think too hard about the premise – but some of the other series that I discovered last year have faded a little this year as they’ve got longer and deeper. I’m not naming names though.
I’ve probably read more non-fiction books this year than any year before. And yes, a lot of that was preparing for my Washington posting, but I’d already read a fair bit of non-fiction by that point. There was more Mary Roach but also more celebrity memoirs than previously. I’m continuing to try and expand my world-view and the perspectives that I get on the world through my non-fiction reading and it’s been a lot of fun. However, I haven’t read a lot of straight up history this year, so I’m hoping to change that a little bit in 2019.
I said in this post last year, that my obsessions tend to be quite consistent – and that I was hoping for something new and random in 2018. I think I’m still working on similar themes to previous years, but the breadth and variety of my non-fiction reading is helping me from becoming boring in my old age!
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.
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 keepwritingabouther, 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!