Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Til Death Do Us Part

There were a few options for this post this week, but in the end I’ve settled on a really good locked room mystery, because those are so satisfying when done right – and this is really done right!

Dick Markham is in love (again). The object of the crime writer’s affection is Lesley Grant, a new arrival in his village. But when she accidentally shoots and injures a fortune teller at the village fete, he is told a story about her that is very different from the one that she tells about herself. Cast into confusion, he is asked to take part in a scheme to expose her as a serial poisoner – only for the person accusing her to be found murdered in exactly the way that he was told Lesley kills her victims: in an impossible locked room set up. Then Gideon Fell arrives on the scene to try and untangle the mystery.

It’s been a while since I read a locked room mystery, and this one is so clever. It is the first Gideon Fell mystery that I have read – although I read another of John Dickson Carr’s novels earlier in the year, and gave another Fell lined up already. But I can see why this one in particular has such an impressive reputation. It’s really pacy and makes you feel completely off balance as a reader because it twists and turns around so much you’re never really sure what you think – or what you’re meant to think. And I can’t really say any more about it than that because it gives too much away – even writing the plot summary was tricky! Anyway, give it a look for yourself.

My copy of Til Death Do Us Part came via my Kindle Unlimited subscription, but it’s a British Library Crime Classic, so when it cycles out of KU it should be available on all the major ebook platforms. And of course you can buy it in paperback direct from the British Library Bookshop online.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: A Time to Dance

It’s been a couple of weeks of Girl’s Own type books, so I’ve no regrets about making another of them this week’s Book of the Week and carrying on the theme of theatres and dancing.

A Time to Dance is a standalone ballet career book about the first couple of terms of a newly established ballet school in the north of England. It follows a selection of the pupils as they study dance, help promote the school and try and work out if dancing is really what they want to do. It’s quite gentle and there’s no peril really at all – even less than usual in these books if anything, but I particular enjoyed the fact that it focussed on several of the girls and the different challenges they faced.

Most of the time in ballet books you have a school-age heroine who is convinced that she is destined to dance and that there is nothing she would rather do with her life. But this has a couple of older pupils who have left school are trying to balance learning to dance with jobs and the need for cash. And it’s got several girls who are studying even though ballet isn’t going to be their career. Of course it does have a desperate to dance or two too, but I appreciated the variety and the realism it added to the mix. This was written in the early 1960s and has a more modern feel to some of the other books – the potential distractions for the students include television adverts and modelling.

I haven’t read any Robina Beckles Willson before but this was charming. Goodreads only has this and a couple of picture books under her name, and I didn’t get a chance to look her up to see what else she might have written that hasn’t made it into Goodreads database!

I got my copy at one of the book sales at conference, but I suspect that most of you aren’t going to be interested enough in the genre to want to buy it! If you do, you’ll probably need a specialist bookseller or a lot of luck.

Happy reading!

Recommendsday

May Quick Reviews

It’s the first day of June – but it’s also a Wednesday so it’s time for some more quick reviews. This is a somewhat shorter post than usual this month (who knew that was even possible) because I’ve already talked about so many of the books that I read that weren’t rereads. But I have still managed to find some books to talk about! However I would say this is very much a post of books where I have a but in my thoughts about them!

Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley

So this was one I started when I was working on the British Library Crime Classic post and didn’t get finished in time because I got distracted by rereading Vicky Bliss! Anyway, this is another Roger Sheringham mystery (the next in the series after Murder in the Basement in fact) and is quite hard to write about without giving more spoilers than I should. Roger is attending a fancy dress house party where the theme is murderers when the horrible wife of one of the other guests is found murdered. Berkeley enjoyed playing with the genre and genre conventions – and if in Body in the Basement you spent a lot of the book trying to find out who the body is, in this he is playing with another aspect of the genre. I didn’t find it entirely satisfying and it’s not quite playing fair with the rules of the time either and that’s about all I can say – but if you read it you’ll probably be able to work out what my issues are. Aside from the spoilers issues, I’m not sure that Berkeley really liked women, but there are quite a few like that from his era so that’s not entirely unexpected.

Set on You by Amy Lea*

I read this in an incredibly busy week of new books so this got skipped at the time because I didn’t love it the way that I loved Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting or Book Lovers. Crystal is a successful curvy fitness influencer, Scott is her gym nemesis. But when her grandmother announces she’s getting remarried, it turns out that Scott is about to be part of the family. In the run up to the wedding the two grow closer, until the internet threatens to tear them apart. This is a romantic comedy where I liked the characters and I liked some aspects of the way their romance unfolded – but the start of the novel where they’re irritating each other didn’t work for me – and some of the resolution of it didn’t work for me either. But we know I have issues with pranks in novels (see previous reviews for some of the early Christina Laurens) but in between there was flirty, romantic fun with a main character who has more going on that just the romance, and a hero who is just about adorable once you find out what he is really like. Also I really liked the extended families. I will definitely watch out for more from Amy Lea.

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor*

I also just wanted to give a mention to Hotel Magnifique – which was not for me but I’m sure will suit other people. Jani and her sister get jobs at the magical Hotel Magnifique because Jani thinks it’s the way to a better future for them and an adventure as it moves from place to place each day. But behind the doors of the hotel, things are not what they seem and soon Jani is fighting to free herself, her sister and the other staff from the Magic. I was hoping for something similar to the Night Circus but YA and although it starts like that, it’s not how it carries on. I found the heroine quite hard to like, the magic is hard to understand and it all gets a bit brutal. The closest I can get for a description is the closest I can get is Dystopian YA Magic. And that’s still not quite right. I see some people comparing it to Caravel but it’s hard to tell without having read that. This has reminded me thatI really do need to try and read Caravel…

And that’s your lot. It’s a bank holiday here tomorrow, but you’ll get your stats as usual.

mystery, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: More British Library Crime Classics!

One of the consequences of the Great Steam Scald of Sunday was reading some more of British Library Crime Classics while I couldn’t hold a paperback. Of course as soon as I could I abandoned them in favour of Attack and Decay. But I’ve been planning this post for a while and I’ve now finished the other books I wanted to review so here we are!

Post after Post-Morton by E C R Lorac

When a member of a family of writers dies, it is initially thought to be a suicide – until her brother receives a letter from the deceased, which had got delayed in the post. He calls in Superintendent Macdonald to find out the truth behind his sister’s death. I’ve reviewed a couple of Lorax’s books here before (These Names Make Clues, Murder by Matchlight and Murder in the Mill Race as well as Crossed Skis under one of her other pen names ), and this one is right up there. It has plenty of twists and turns as Macdonald tries to prove whether it was murder or suicide.

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

Fancy a murder carried out with a bow and arrow? Read this! There’s no shortage of suspects either as several residents of the titular square are keen archers and the murdered man is very unpopular. Solving this is Superintendent Meredith (last seen on this blog in The Lake District Murder) helping out a friend while on holiday. The setting is part of the charm of this – you can really picture the houses clustered around the square and their residents and their resentments and jealousies.

Deep Waters edited by Martin Edwards

This is one of the BLCC’s themed collections – all of the stories here have a nautical theme. There are a bunch of names in this who I have read full length novels from, but by a miracle not any of the other three authors in this post! There is also a huge range of styles of mystery – the authors including Arthur Conan Doyle, Christopher St John Sprigg, Edmund Crispin, Michael Innes and more. They also tend towards the shorter end so if you don’t like one it’s over quickly!

Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr

A blazing body is seen running around in the battlement of Castle Skull near Koblenz – but who did it. The castle is a maze of passages and awash with legends and stories of magic and ghosts. There is a small pool of suspects, and two detectives competing to solve figure it all out. This is the least Verity of all of these – but I include it because although it’s not precisely my thing, it is a good creepy, chillery, thrillery mystery. Atmospheric is probably the word.

All of these were in Kindle Unlimited when I read them, so if you keep a list of books to borrow from that, otherwise the British Library shop is doing Three for Two on the paperback versions.

Enjoy

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: A House in the Country

I said on at the weekend that it’s sometimes been a struggle to finish something that’s not a reread and isn’t a later in series book that breaks a bunch of my rules do BotW posts. And this week was looking very like that, until I finished A House in the Country on Sunday evening.

A House in the Country is set in 1942, at the time of the fall of Tobruk. The titular house is a large, attractive country pile run by Cressida, a widow with an unhappy past. She is looking after it for its real owner who is away, and is supporting it by letting rooms. It’s filled with characters and types and shows the different ways that people are affected by wars. At times it’s comic, at times tragic. There is not a lot of Big Plot Action – although six bombs are dropped nearby one night they’re in the countryside and the war can feel a long way away from their every day lives – but it somehow manages to feel like everything is happening at the same time as well.

It was written in 1943, so at a time when no one knew which way the war was going to go and this gives it an underlying thrum of uncertainty that you don’t see in similar books set after the period. It’s like a little slice of some of my favourite things in the Cazalets – a dashing brother descends on his sister and wants advice on a love affair, young men picking the wrong women to propose to, older relatives not understanding the difficulties and shortages of war – but without the definite endings that strands of the Cazalets get. It will make you think and maybe break your heart a little bit, or a lot.

My copy was the second in my subscription picks from Persephone Books, and you can get it direct from them but you can get Persephone Books from good book shops too – like Foyles.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: The Lake District Murder

It’s nearly the end of March and I’m back to some classic crime and another British Library Crime Classic for this week’s pick.

This is the first of John Bude’s Inspector Meredith series and sees the detective investigation what appears to be the suicide of one of the co-owners of a petrol station in a deserted corner of the Lake District. The dead man was due to get married and as Meredith investigates he discovers a plan to emigrate after the marriage. And when he digs a bit deeper he discovered suspicious going’s on at the garage. What follows is a complicated plot involving all sorts of aspects of rural life that I can’t really go into with spoiling things!

This isn’t the first book in this series I’ve read and the Sussex Downs Murder was a book of the week as well when I read that five years ago. I’ve had this on my radar and been wanting to read this and waiting for this to come into my hands for a while. It’s really cleverly done, a little bit bonkers in its own way and also a lovely window onto 1930s life, which I really enjoyed. Definitely worth a couple of hours of your life if you can get hold of it. I’ve got the next book, The Cheltenham Square Murder, lined up to read already.

My copy came from the Willen Hospice bookshop, but it’s available on Kindle, Kobo and from the British Library themselves. It was in Kindle Unlimited when I started writing this post, but it’s dropped back out now and the cover has even changed. A couple of the other books in the series are in KU at the moment though, so if you want to try some John Bude, there is that option for you if you’re a subscriber.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Silver Street

I said yesterday that I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today – and here’s the answer – I finished this on Monday evening, so it’s a bit of a cheat but hey you’re used to that now!

Ann Stafford’s Silver Street follows a group of people from Armistice Day in 1918 through til 1932. Although initially unconnected, by the end their lives have all intertwined, mostly because of Alice Gedge a former ladies maid who ended the war as a supervisor of a group of clerks at a Ministry but who, when the men return becomes a “treasure” – aka a rather superior sort of daily maid to the residents of a building in Silver Street. Over the years the tenants include an elderly woman who likes to hold court for her birthday, a spinster who works as a social worker, two independent young women, a newly married couple and a single young man. And on top of that there’s Alice’s husband and her two children.

This is quite an every day story of normal people and normal lives – where there is no huge drama, I mean except your future happiness, but not death or peril if that makes sense. It’s not comic, but it’s not tragic – it’s closer to Barbara Pym than Miss Buncle but it’s another example of a novel by a women, first published in 1935 and now a bit forgotten and as such was right in my wheelhouse. And yes I know that Barbara Pam isn’t forgotten, but you know what I mean. I read it in two sittings – and it would have been finished for last week’s list if we hadn’t gone out for the day on Sunday and I didn’t have space in my bag to take it with me – even if I hadn’t borrowed it from someone and not wanted to mess it up!

My copy is on loan from a friend and this is going to be one of the harder books to get hold of I’m afraid – as it’s published by a small house and there is no ebook version. So if you want to read it, please buy it from Greyladies here. And mum, if you’re still reading and haven’t already messaged me to ask, yes, you can borrow it.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, LGTBQIA+, mystery

Book of the Week: Death Goes on Skis

Yes I finished this on Monday. So yes it’s cheating. But it is a book set in a ski resort and I spent the part of my weekend that I didn’t spend in London watching the Winter Olympics so I am going with it!

Death Goes on Skis is one of a series featuring Miriam Birdseye, written in the years following the Second World War. Miriam is a revue artist and has a champagne lifestyle and a coterie of hangers on. This is the first in the series that I have come across (and isn’t it gorgeous!) but Good reads tells me it is the fourth in the series. It sees Miriam on holiday in a ski resort popular with Brits. Her fellow travelers include a ballerina and her night club owner husband, a playboy, his wife and their children and their governess and a wealthy couple whose family make their money from perfume. Most of these people are awful, but when they start dying in mysterious circumstances, Miriam and her friends investigate. But, crucially, they’re investigating because they are bored and not because they have a burning passion for justice or to see the criminal behind bars.

And that is the difference to other Murder mysteries of the era that I have written about – this is a farce and a (black) comedy and doesn’t quite follow the genres connections that you might expect. Think Evelyn Waugh does murder mysteries. And it works very well. You’re not going to like any of the suspects, and the children are truly awful, but it’s really quite entertaining. It also comes neatly broken up into nice small chunks, which makes it perfect for bedtime reading – which is mostly what I’ve been doing with it, although I did read some of it on the sofa on Monday night because I wanted to finish it!

If the name Nancy Spain sounds familiar, well that may be because she’s one of the women featured in Her Brilliant Career, but in brief she was a great niece of Mrs Beaton (of household management game) she went to Roedean and then became a journalist after being asked to write about women’s sport. She served in the WRNS in the war and afterwards started writing detective fiction. This got her a newspaper column and also turned her into a personality who appeared regularly on TV and radio. Her partner was editor of She Magazine, Joan Werner Laurie and they lived openly together in what sounds like a somewhat complicated household with the rally driver Sheila Van Damme. They were friends with Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich and she was the inspiration for a song. Spain and Laurie died in a plane crash at Aintree in 1964 – they had been travelling there to cover the grand national.

I bought my copy of Death Goes on Skis as a birthday present for myself, and I’ve already ordered another one of them, as Virago have helpfully reissued several of them now, all with delightful covers in this style. They’re also on Kindle and Kobo and in a matching audiobook to this from all the usual vendors.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: November 2021 Mini Reviews

November was a really good month for books I want to talk about, but things were made easier on the picking front by the need to save the festive stuff for my Christmas reading post. So this round up is dominated by crime (and with a slight locked room, closed group twist) because that’s most of what else I was reading last month!

Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville 

Cover of Weekend at Thrackley

This isn’t a murder mystery exactly but it is another British library Crime Classic, and another featuring a closed group. Jim Henderson is invited to a weekend party at the house of a man he’s never met, but who claims to have been a friend of his father. On arrival he finds a strange assortment of guests – including one of his friends – a sinister Butler, and an attractive daughter of the house. Cue attempted robbery, a missing guest and much danger. It’s fast paced and you’re never quite sure what it’s going to do next. It’s in Kindle Unlimited too.

IQ by Joe 

Cover of IQ

Isiah is a high school dropout who solves crimes. He charges what is clients can afford- whether it’s home cooked food or a lot, lot more. It is a modern take on Sherlock Holmes in some ways – but in tough LA neighbourhood. This first book in the series shows you him in action solving the mystery of who is trying to kill a big name rapper but also shows you his backstory and how he came to be doing what he is doing. I read most of this across the course of 24 hours because it’s really, really readable. Very readable indeed.

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris*

Cover of The Dublin Railway Murder

This is a meticulously researched investigation into a real life locked room mystery in Dublin in 1856. It is undoubtedly very well researched, but oh boy is the author going to make sure we know about it. The start of the book, setting out the crime is actually quite pacey but it feels like it all gets a bit bogged down in the minutiae of the investigation. There are also so many people to keep track of and that doesn’t help. I think I was expecting a bit more of a conclusion at the end, but maybe that’s me being over optimistic about what can be achieved in a book about a 150 plus year old Murder.  I picked it up because I enjoyed The Haunting of Alma Fielding, and was hoping for something similar – so a solid read, but not as good as say The Five.

Murder of a Martinet by E C R Lorac 

Cover of Murder of a Martinet

I know I’ve already written about another Lorac book this month, but this one is also really good. A horrible matriarch is murdered in the house where all her family live. If it wasn’t for the indisposition of the old family doctor, it might have gone down as natural causes, but as soon as it doesn’t Inspector MacDonald is called in. He has to try and figure out what on Earth happened in a house seething with tensions and rivalries. I liked it a lot. And apologies for the picture quality on this – it’s the best I could do with the cover it had on Kindle Unlimited…

The Ex Hex by Erin Stirling 

Cover of The Ex Hex

I’m just throwing in one romance quickly to finish! When Rhys Penhallow returns to a Graves Glen to recharge the town’s ley lines, he thinks the worst that can happen will be running into the woman whose heart he broke (unwillingly) nine years earlier. But it turns out Vivienne nursed her broken heart with tears… and a curse. Now the two of them will have to work together to fix the problems they’ve caused with the town’s magical energy. This is much less dramatic than I was expecting but was a nice sweet second chance-y romance with witches. I’m too late for Halloween but it’s still worth a look.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in November were Educated, The Love Hypothesis, Murder in the Basement, These Names Make Clues and All The Feels. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October. Come back tomorrow for the monthly stats!

Happy Reading!

 

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: October 2021 Mini Reviews

Here we go again – another selection of books I have read and want to talk about or recommend. This month it is a particularly varied selection – with literature in translation, history, historical crime and short stories and essays about relationships. Something for everyone really.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold and Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe*

There always seems to be a busy Japanese novel around and Before the Coffee Gets Cold was The One a couple of years back. The follow up came out last year and of course I’m super behind with things as always and then read them both back to back. You need to read them in order though as they tell a series of stories about a cafe where you can travel back in time, if you are sat in the right seat and only for the duration of time a cup of coffee is warm for. Across the two novels you meet a range of people who wish to make the journey, but also learn about the people who work at the cafe. I had to stop reading it on the train because it made me cry, but they were both absolutely wonderful. I recommend.

Stealing the Crown by T P Fielden

T P Fielden is the author of the Miss Dimont mysteries, that I’ve written about here before, but the author is also a biographer and royal commentator and this uses his knowledge about the royals during the Second World War as part of a murder mystery that sees a painter who has ended up with a job at Buckingham Palace investigating the death of another staff member. It’s a pacey and enjoyable read and in one of those serendipitous moments you some times find, mentioned Camp Siegfried in it, just a couple of weeks after I’d been to see a play set at the camp – which was for American-German Nazis (or at least nazi sympathisers). There’s a second book in the series which I will keep an eye out for.

 

Index, History of the by Dennis Duncan*

 So, this sort of does what it says on the tin: it’s a history of the humble index. They’re in every reference book, but if you’re my age or younger, you’ve had the safety net of the computer search since you were old enough to be starting on serious research. But before Google and before the computer library catalogue, the index was the key to research and learning. Dennis Duncan’s book examines how the index came into being, how it has evolved through history and how it’s use has evolved too. I’m not sure I’d ever given much thought to how indexes started, or even what people did about an index before the printing press, but now I know all the answers! And it’s fascinating to see that the same sort of arguments that are made about computer search diminishing people’s knowledge were made about the index when it first appeared – if you don’t have to read the whole book, how can you possibly be getting the full benefit of the book? This would make a great gift for the book worm or history fan in your life this Christmas as well.

The One series from Amazon

 I read the kindle versions of this collection rather than the audio versions, but I really quite enjoyed the range of stories within The One. From Jacqueline Woodson writing about how she found her partner, through a dog with more than one family, how a young widow deals with bereavement to a friendship that moves in cycles of closeness and separation, the stories take on the different paths people can take to find The One in their lives. They’re bite sized but often thought provoking and were perfect for those moments when I wanted to read something but didn’t have the time or concentration to commit to a full length book. And they are free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited. What is not to like.

This is Your Time by Ruby Bridges

This was one of my impulse purchases on during my weekend in London in the middle of the month. I studied the desegregation of US schools as part of my history GCSE and it sort of boggles my mind that 14 year old me didn’t twig that the students involved were my parents age. It is that recently that a little girl needed an escort from the national guard to attend a school – and that her father lost his job because of the fact that his daughter was desegregating the city’s schools. This is aimed at middle grade students and sees Ruby Bridges explaining what she did and what the response was and how she sees that fitting in to civil rights protests in America today. This would make a valuable resource for primary school libraries and educators.

And in case you missed any of them, the Book of the Week posts in October were Ambush or Adore, Body on the Beach, The Man Who Died Twice and All The Feels. And here are the rest of the year’s mini reviews: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August and September.

Happy Reading!