Book of the Week, book round-ups

Book of the Week… or not

So. I said in yesterday’s post I didn’t know what I was going to write about today. And I didn’t. And I sat and stared at the list of things I read last week for a while and I still didn’t. And then I ended up writing this.

My favourite thing I read last week was probably The Game, but that’s the sixth in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series and I have a rule about books in series and you really will get the most out of that if you’re reading them in order. Also it’s not that long since I wrote about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – and I suspect the next stop on this journey is going to be a post about the series. So that rules that out. Side note: It’s one of those annoying ebooks where you can’t see a proper cover for it at the start of the book. Why do publishers do this to me?

I finished Theatre for Dreamers last week, but I hated almost everyone in it and I couldn’t work up the energy to write about them all. I originally bought it as a gift for mum and then when it arrived I read the start and realised that it wasn’t going to be for her. I was right. Good decision not to give it to her past Verity. But if you want to read about the writers’ and artists’ colony on Hydra in the early 1960s, go for it – it’s well written and it’s got Leonard Cohen in it, but it’s about as cheerful as one of his songs. Maybe by the time I have enough books for another Fictionalised Real People post, I’ll have mellowed on it a bit. At the moment I’m just annoyed at them all.

I went into A Few Right Thinking Men thinking (hoping?) it might fill the Phryne Fisher-shaped hole in my reading. And it is set in Australia, at a similar sort of time and with a hero with a monied background but more colourful and less conservative leanings, but whilst it does have a murder to solve, also gets very deep into the societal factions of conservatives and communists and to me felt like it tended more towards the thriller end of the spectrum and less towards the historical cozy one. It’s also less witty and fun than Phryne is and I’m not sure how much I liked any one in it. I might read some more, but I’ll need to be in the right mood.

The Larks of Jubilee Flats was a fun Career novel from the Girl’s Own era that I love, but it’s slight, and niche, and probably only of interest to a very small subset of people – many of whom were at the Bristol Conference with me a couple of years back. If you want to read a book doing a bit of not very subtle encouraging of young teen girls to have a bit of ambition (but only before they get married) and to Do The Right Thing, then it’s sweet but it’s also going to cost you at least £5 plus shipping for a book that took me less than an hour to read. Also, Covid scuppered the next edition of book conference both last summer and the rearranged date this year, so I have to wait another whole year before I get to go and play with the book people and spend all my money on obscure titles again.

And after that there was nothing else in the list that was nearly finished enough for me to kid myself I could get it read and count it on a technicality. So instead you get a couple of little summaries from me and a sheepish apology for having had a busy week and on top of that a sort of social life for the first time in a year. I’ll try and do better next week.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: March 2021 Mini Reviews

So we made it to the end of a year of the quarantimes. And despite the fact being back in March meant it felt like we’d never left March at all and the world had ground to a halt in 2020 and given us endless March, itwas actually quite a good month in my reading life. Here are a few books I enjoyed that I haven’t told you about yet.

Women vs Hollywood by Helen O’Hara

Hardback copy of Women vs Hollywood

Empire Magazine’s Helen O’Hara’s new book is an examination of pioneering women through Hollywood history and the ways in which they’ve been left out of the history of the silver screen. It also examines what could be done to help redress the balance and for films to tell some different stories from some different points of view. It’s impeccably researched and well argued and will left me wanting to go out and spend some money at the cinema on female-centric films. As the cinemas are still closed, I contented myself by watching Lady Bird and Emma. and a couple of Katherine Hepburn films.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

Cover of the Consequences of Fear

I’ve written about the Maisie Dobbs series here before. And this is another engrossing and twisty instalment in the series. With long running series it’s always a challenge writing a review that doesn’t give away too much of the plot – or spoil earlier books in the series. But what I can say is that now the books have reached World War Two, Jacqueline Winspear is consistently finding interesting aspects of the conflict to entangle Maisie in, and if a few liberties are taken with the timeline, they are minor and you forgive them because it’s so page-turning and engrossing. This also sees some really interesting developments in Maisie’s personal life too – so all around this is a really good read.

You’re History by Leslie Chow*

Cover of You're History

What’s not to love about a book with a cover as gorgeous as this and I did enjoy it, but that comes with a few caveats. I think I was missing some of the background on some of the songs to get the most out of it. Although the names listed in the blurb are all people you will have heard of – Kate Bush, Nikki Minaj,  Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift and TLC – in quite a lot of cases it’s actually taking quite a deep, in depth dive into their musical back catalogues. Really I think it needs to come with a playlist so you can listen to the songs that are being talked about as you read the book, because unless you’re really, really into music you may get lost here unless you’ve done some prep work. I used to work at radio stations as well as watching a fair few music documentaries both general and artist specific, so I consider myself fairly well across music, and I still had to do a fair bit of googling. I have a goal to try and read more books about music and musicians – because when I do I invariably enjoy that – and this fits in to that but it’s not my favourite of the genre.

Happy Singles Day by Ann Marie Walker

Cover of Happy Singles Day

This is a sweet, fluffy holiday (by which I mean vacation not Christmas!) romance set on an island off North Carolina, with a widowed hero with a B&B he can’t face running since the death of his wife and the professional organiser who visits for an out of season holiday. Lucas is focussed on raising his daughter and ignoring the bills that are coming due – so his sister relists the B7B without telling him – until Paige is booked and on the way. When Paige arrives, she finds that her accomodation doesn’t quite match the online brochure and decides to return home. But bad weather means the ferry isn’t running and she’s stuck on the island… Nothing revelatory or surprising, but a nice fun weekend read featuring a grumpy hero, a sunny heroine, a bit of forced proximity, a cute kid and some puppies.

Flake by Matthew Dooley

Hardback copy of Flake

So this is a really genuinely charming graphic novel about an ice cream seller and his van and the rivalries and challenges he faces. Low key but remarkably emotional. It had been sat on my shelf for a few months – my friendly local comic book shop had managed to get me a copy just before her last lockdown started again and I had been saving it for a treat. And I was right that it was a treat because it was really, really good.

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in March were Wild Rain, Act Your Age, Eve Brown, Mrs Tim of the Regiment and Heroes are my Weakness. And here are the links to the mini reviews from January and February.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Christmas books

Book of the Week: Hither, Page

An embarrassment of riches on this week’s list, but I think this was my favourite.  Lots of stuff from it will be making appearances in other posts soon too – in fact the only thing against Hither, Page being this week’s pick is that I sort of wanted it for my Christmas reading post, which is taking longer to put together than I was expecting because I haven’t liked a lot of the stuff that I’ve been reading with an eye to including it.  But this wasn’t on the original list of potentials for the Christmas post, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Anyway, on to the book.

Cover of Hither, Page

Hither, Page is a murder mystery and romance set in Britain in the aftermath of World War Two. James Sommers has come back from the war to work as the doctor in the village that he lived in as a child.  After he catches his cleaning lady looking through his patient records and snooping in his flat he lets her go. But soon she’s found dead after a dinner party at the Big House and James feels like the peace of his post-war sanctuary has been shattered. Leo Page works for one of the shadowier (and possibly dodgier) bits of the British secret service and is surprised to be sent to a sleepy village to investigate a charlady’s death. Soon Leo and James are crossing paths – one as as he tries to solve the crime, the other he tries to get his village back to normal – or at least that’s what he thinks he’s doing.

I think you all know me well enough to know that this plot summary ticks quite a lot of my boxes – murder mystery, mid-twentieth century, secret services connection and it’s sort of enemies forced to work together.  It’s funny and snarky and has a great cast of supporting characters who – as it’s the first of a series – we should hear more from in books to come. What is not to love.

I’m always after a new historical mystery series, and Cat Sebastian was one of my 2018 Obsessions as I worked my way through her back catalogue so this is practically a Venn diagram all on its own. My only complaints were that it wasn’t long enough and as it’s the first in the series I now have to wait impatiently for the next installment which doesn’t even have a name yet it’s so long away.  However in writing this post I realised that there is another Cat Sebastian book due out soon (in December and I’ve got it pre-ordered already, well done PastVerity) which is good, but I think we’ve just ruled that out of BotW contention if I read it straightaway, which I think we all know I will.  Hey ho (ho, ho), you can’t win them all.

My copy of Hither, Page came from the library – but it’s available on Kindle and on Kobo now.

Happy Reading!

Blog tours, new releases

Blog Tour: Died and Gone to Devon

Happy Friday everyone, and welcome to a special bonus post to mark the mid point in November.  I’m one of the stops on the blog tour for TP Fielden’s Died and Gone to Devon – which came out yesterday – and which I read the other week.

This is the fourth book in the Miss Dimount Investigates series, featuring an intrepid lady reporter in the seaside town of Temple Regis in the late 1950s.  In Died and Gone to Devon, a by-election is looming – but when one of the candidates winds up dead, Judy is soon investigating.  Add into the mix a new and suspiciously ambitious journalist and a visit from her mother, and Judy has soon got a lot on her plate.

Regular readers will know that I love a murder mystery set in the past, and I love an unconventional detective.  Judy is an older lady – not as old as Miss Marple certainly, but definitely not in the first flush of youth – and I really like the fact that she’s got her head screwed on and doesn’t sail off into danger without a thought.  She’s smart, she’s had to fight to get to wear she is and she’s not going to cede her position easily.  And I also like the late 1950s setting – Temple Regis is a sleepy, old-fashioned backwater but you can see the cusp of the swinging sixties on the horizon and the conflicts that are starting as times change.  I had some of the mystery figured out early on, but not all by any means and I enjoyed watching everything unfold, although to be fair reading it in the week that a General Election was called might not have been my best plan – as it all got a bit election overload at times!

I read the first book in the series back in 2017, and enjoyed it but thought that there was a lot of set up for the series going on and a few too many unexplained hints about Judy’s past. But this definitely felt like a book in a series that has hit its stride – the characters are established, there aren’t any info dumps about people and there are a few little nuggets about previous cases that would work as callbacks if you’ve read them, or tempt you into reading them if like me you haven’t.

My copy of Died and Gone to Devon came via the publisher, but it is available now as a paperback and on Kindle, Kobo and Audible.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: A Study in Scarlet Women

It’s nearly the end of my American Adventure, so my reading at the moment, as I mentioned yesterday, is mostly books I’ve borrowed from the library here.  I’m prioritising the pile too – because when I was borrowing books I was targetting books that I find it harder/more expensive to get hold of in the UK, so I’ll be gutted if I have to take some of them back unread.  And it also means that for the first time in a few weeks, I had lots of books to choose from for BotW this week, but it was a fairly easy choice – I raced through Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women on Saturday night – and it’s the first in a series.  Ideal.

Cover of A Study in Scarlet Women

So, A Study in Scarlet Women kicks off the Lady Sherlock series – which as you might guess is a gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes retelling.  Charlotte Holmes has never really felt happy with the life expected of a woman in upper class London in the late Victorian era.  And when her father reneges on a deal he made with her about her future, she takes matters into her own hands.  Unfortunately, that means making herself an outcast – and life as an outcast is harder than she thought.  And then there’s a series of deaths that are casting suspicion over the family she has left behind.  Soon Charlotte is investigating – under the assumed name of Sherlock Holmes – with the help of a few new friends, and one very old friend who has loved her forever.

I read this in almost one sitting** and it is so good.  Charlotte is a brilliant heroine.  The analytical mind that serves Sherlock so well creates as whole load of problems for a woman – who isn’t expected to speak up, or demand a life that doesn’t revolve around marriage.  Her deductions are clever, the mystery is great – and she’s much more sympathetic than Proper Sherlock is – she’s motivated by helping her family and her friends in a lot of what she does, not just the mystery solving.  Just a note though I’ve seen this categorized as a romance – which I think isn’t quite right.  I first head about it on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast and Sherry Thomas does also write romances, but for me this is definitely Historical Mystery with a side order of unresolved romance and sexual tension.  Don’t go expecting a resolution/Happy Ever After here.

Side note, I was listening to that edition of Smart Bitches after a night shift on the way back to where I was staying, and the combination of lack of sleep, going to a different station to where I was used to heading to from Waterloo station and being engrossed in this saw me in autopilot mode and getting on the wrong train and ending up in Richmond and not in Barnes.  I have a vivid memory of sitting on the platform at Richmond, freezing cold, watching it get light, waiting for a train back the other way and listening to Sherry Thomas talking about learning English as a second language through the medium of 70s and 80s historical romance novels!

Anyway, back to the book, if you like series like Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell or Lady Julia Grey, Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily – or even some of the interwar-set detective series like Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher, Dandy Gilver or Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness – then definitely give this a try, even if you’re not usually into Sherlock retellings.  And if you are a Sherlock fan, then definitely take a look at this.

My copy came from the library*, but you should be able to get your hands on this fairly easy.  It’s available in Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback from all the usual suspects.  You might need to order it in though.  I already have the second book on loan from the library, and I’ve ordered the third to take home with me even though I have limited space in my luggage home.

Happy Reading

*Although I’ve since found it on my Kindle where I picked it up on offer for £1.49 last summer and then it got lost in the shuffle of books.  Insert comment about the state of my tbr pile here.

**I moved from the sofa to bed about halfway through, but ended up staying up late to finish it.

 

book round-ups

Halloween recommendations 2018

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.

As I am away from my bookshelves, here’s a picture of a Halloween display in Texas last weekend.

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 keep writing about her, 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!

Happy Reading