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!
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!
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…
The World Cup is well underway and although I do like football, I know that there are a lot of people out there for whom two or three matches a day is far too many and will be heartily fed up of the tv schedules being disrupted for 22 men running around after a ball. And so to help out I’ve got a selection of books for you to read while you’re avoiding the football (or sat on the couch with it on in the background).
I’m going to start off with a sports romance because just because you don’t like football doesn’t mean you don’t like all sports and sometimes you need a sporty hero or heroine can really hit the spot. I read a lot of winter-sport themed romances in the run up to the Winter Olympics in the hope of writing a post about them, but there weren’t enough that I liked enough to recommend and so it’s the other type of football that I’m going for here. You may remember that I went on a Susan Elizabeth Philips kick last year and her Chicago Stars series, about an American Football franchise are a lot of fun. Depending on what your romance genre favourites are, the best fit in the series will be different, but I think mine is Natural Born Charmer which starts with a feisty artist encountering a star quarterback while she’s dressed in a beaver costume. It’s fun, sparky and flirty. And if that doesn’t sound like your sort of thing, try Match Me If You Can, which was a BotW last summer.
Fed up with laddy banter and jocks? Try reading Juno Dawson’s The Gender Games to get some facts in your arsenal about toxic masculinity and how everyone – not just transgender people – are having a number done on them by gender. You might remember that her latest novel Clean was a BotW a few weeks back, but this is nonfiction – part memoir of her own journey to realising who she is and part examination of our society today and its attitude towards gender and gender roles. I learnt a lot from it and I know I’m going to be lending it and recommending it to people who want to expand the voices and viewpoints they’re hearing – but while the World Cup is on, it’ll also provide you with some handy ammunition next time someone on twitter moans about women commentators or pundits having no place at the tournament…
Want to get completely away from sports? I can do that for you too. Perhaps some old-school crime fiction might be the thing. I read June Wright’s Murder in the Telephone Exchange a few weeks back and was absolutely swept up in the world the phone operators in late 1940s Australia. When Maggie finds one of her unpopular colleagues with her head smashed in, she finds herself drawn into the mystery – not just because she was the person who found the body, but because she’s not sure that the police are on the right track. But soon the danger is increasing and someone else turns up dead. If you like Phryne Fisher, then this might scratch that itch while you wait for a new book (and we’ve been waiting a while now) or the much promised feature film. This was a best seller in Australia when it first came out in 1948 and I can totally see why. I was astonished – and annoyed – that it hadn’t come my way sooner.
Or you could pick a new series to glom on. I’m currently working my way through Colin Watson’s Flaxborough series – which are the sort of gentle murder mystery books that these days would be called cozies. They were written from the late 1950s through to the 1970s, have been a bit forgotten and are in the process of being republished. The first one – Coffin, Scarcely Used – is only 99p on Kindle at the moment, so that’s got to be worth a punt. Or I read the first in the Inspector Richardson series a couple of weeks back. Published in the 1930s, their author, Basil Thomson, was the head of CID at New Scotland Yard for eight years, so the insight into police life may be assumed to be fairly accurate! The first one – the imaginatively named Richardson’s First Case is also 99p on Kindle at the moment – and so are the rest of the series. I have book two cued up and ready to go.
How about a non-sports romance? How does a fake relationship that might actually turn into the real thing sound? In Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Drew and Alexa meet when they’re trapped in a lift together during a power cut. He needs a date for his ex’s wedding and she agrees to do it. But when that actually turns out to be a fun weekend they wonder if they should carry on seeing each other. The only trouble is, his job is in LA and her job is in Berkley. Alexa is a feisty heroine with a great career, that she’s passionate about and Drew is a caring hero, who is also passionate about his job. AND they get to find romance without compromising who they are in themselves. I liked this so much I’ve already got Guillory’s next book preordered. This one is £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.
If you really want a change of scene, how about Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. This is the first in a YA trilogy (I think) and the film is already in development by the people who brought you Twilight and Maze Runner. Set in a west-African inspired world where magic seems to have been destroyed, it follows a teenage girl who has the chance to bring it back and the crown prince who is determined to stop her. It’s fast, furious and so, so filled with terror that I found it really hard to read. This is not my genre and I had to take a lot of breaks because it’s so filled with peril. But if you want to get swept away to another world, this lives up to all the hype. But – be warned – if you love it, you’re going to have to wait until next year for the sequel – and until 2020 for the conclusion…
And finally if you do want something football-y but not quite – you could join me as I reread Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals. I don’t think I’ve read this since it came out, so I’m planning to borrow the copy from dad so I can revisit the world of the Ankh-Morpork football. I may even treat myself to the audiobook so that I can listen to Stephen Briggs do all the voices as I trot around the park. Luckily the hardback version of this with the lovely illustrated cloth covers doesn’t seem to be out yet, because I am valiantly resisting starting buying them as we all know that once I get one, I’ll end up with the lot…
It occurred to me while I was writing last week’s BotW post that I haven’t actually written a proper post about Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series and that I should definitely remedy that. So here is the latest in my (very) occasional Series I Love series (too many serieses? Sorry. I’m bad with names and it’s too late to change that). Anyway, this is one of my favourite interwar-set murder mystery series and it’s long over due a post here on the blog.
At the start of the series, it’s 1923 and Daisy is trying find a way to make her living independent of her family. She’s an Honorable, but her only brother was killed in the Great War and her father died in the Spanish Flu outbreak, which meant the title, the family home and the family fortune went to a cousin. Daisy had been engaged during the war – but her fiancé, who was a conscientious objector, died while driving an ambulance in France. And so she finds herself in the brave new post-war world needing to make her own way in the world and with few options of how to do it. So she’s trying to make some money writing articles about the stately homes of Britain, using the connections she has because of her family and upbringing.
That’s exactly what she’s doing in the first book, Death at Wentwater Court. It’s her first assignment for Town and Country magazine, going to a country house party so that she can write an article about the history of the house. But things are not all sunshine and roses at the house and she stumbles over a corpse. Armed with her camera and her shorthand skills, Daisy’s soon working alongside the police as they investigate what happened, although Daisy’s friendship with the family means she’s really hoping that it won’t turn out that one of them is the culprit. It sets up Daisy and her regular gang and introduces Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher and his team from Scotland Yard. It also has an ending that not everyone will be able to get on board with (although I didn’t really have a problem with it) – but I can’t really explain what the problem is without giving a big old spoiler.
I think my favourite book of the series may be book four – Murder on the Flying Scotsman. Daisy is off to Scotland on a writing assignment when a murder is committed on the train. To complicate things, Alec’s young daughter is also on board after running away from home and her grandmother. The murder suspects are the family of one of Daisy’s old schoolmates, and when Alec is called in to investigate the attraction between him and Daisy comes to a head. The mystery is good – and if you’ve read the rest of the series, the start of a resolution to Alec and Daisy is delicious to read about.
Daisy makes for an interesting heroine and makes a nice counter point to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher who is at a similar level in society, but with different resources and a different view of the world. Daisy is was brought up to be a good wife to the right sort of nobleman, but realises that the war and her newly reduced circumstances probably mean that her chance of that sort of life has passed her by. Daisy doesn’t get on with her mother, doesn’t want to be dependent on the charity of a distant cousin and has come up with an ingenious way of exploiting her skills and experience to try and gain her independence. Yes, people seem willing to tell her their secrets on very little acquaintance, but people tell my mum things she doesn’t need/want to know all the time, so I can totally buy into the idea of someone having a sympathetic face!
As the series goes on, Daisy’s life goes down a more traditional route – she gets married and has children, but she’s still trying to maintain her own interests and just can’t stop getting tangled up with murders. So far (twenty-two books in, with a twenty-third out later in the year after a three year gap) Dunn has also managed to keep Daisy moving around and avoid too much repetition of set ups and avoid Daisy falling victim to the Jessica Fletcher effect. The books are a great hybrid of the modern cozy crime novel and a Golden Age murder mystery, which make for a really relaxing way to pass time. Writing this post has made me want to go back and read the series all over again. In fact I may well do!
If this has inspired you to go and try some Daisy, the first four books are available as an omnibus edition on Kindle – which is how I started out on the series, although I got it for considerably less than the £6.99 it costs at time of writing, so it might be worth adding it to your watch list if you’re on a budget. They’re also available as paperbacks as you can tell from the pictures – the first few are often available in the crime sections of the larger bookstores, I also picked up mine from a charity shop, which had almost the whole set – requiring a considerable amount of willpower from me to resist going wild.
We’re a few days in to 2018 now, so it’s well past time to tell you about my Big Obsessions of 2017. I’ve found it really hard to find new obsessions this year – because so much of what I’ve read has been a continuation of things that I’ve been reading previously. I think that’s partly because I discovered a lot of new authors last year and have continued to glom on them, but also because I’ve been trying to work my way through the to-read pile backlog rather than buying lots of new books.
But if 2017 was anything, it was the year of contemporary romance. After getting into Sarah Morgan in 2016, I tried a lot of other contemporary romance authors this year. Some of them weren’t my thing, but quite a few were. I’ve been on quite a few binges on new authors this year and I suspect it may continue. I finally read Jennifer Crusie‘s Bet Me, which I’d heard people raving about over and over in Romancelandia. I read nearly a dozen of Jill Shalvis‘s novels and discovered that I really quite like small town romances, eight of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s and got quite into sports romances even when they’re about American football and three Kristen Higgins books and thought about taking a trip to a winery. I’ve started requesting a few more contemporary romances from NetGalley to see if there are any other tropes that I like. So far I’ve worked out that I’m not a big fan of biker gangs and I really don’t like billionaires, but I’m hopeful that I’ll find some more that I do like at some point in 2018.
I’m still reading other genres though, especially crime and I’ve worked my way through a few series this year. I’ve added Nick Bryan‘s Hobson and Choi series to my autobuy list, because I really need more snarky teen and cynical older bloke detective novels in my life. I’m practically counting the days until the next Vinyl Detective novel from Andrew Cartmel, after reading the first two. I’ve tried out some more of Henery Press’s cozy mysteries and found a couple of series there to dig into: the Tj Jenson series by Kathi Daley, Susan M Boyer‘s Lowcountry series and Julie Mulhern‘s 70s-set Country Club Murders. Also in series set in the past, I read all three of the TE Kinsey Lady Hardcastle mysteries and the Christmas novella too and three more Royal Spyness books.
I have expanded my non-fiction reading this year – I’ve been concentrating on finding stories and voices from different perspectives than my own and I’ve really enjoyed it. Actually that’s one of my themes in general this year in fiction as well. It’s been a bit of a challenge at times, some times finding the books, but sometimes because I’ve got such a big selection of books to chose from that it means that I can ignore books on the shelf for ages in favour of things that are more familiar. But I’m going to keep challenging myself in 2018.
So there you have it. It remains to be seen whether my consistency – as witnessed by revisiting my 2016 obsessions – will continue now the latest batch of renovation work is done and the book pile unpacked, but I hope I do add something random and new to my reading in 2018 or I might worry that I’m getting boring in my old age!