Book of the Week, children's books, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: A Spoonful of Murder

This week’s BotW is the latest Wells and Wong mystery, A Spoonful of Murder, which makes three mystery books in a row, but I don’t see a problem with that.  The only surprise here is that I managed to pace myself and take two and a half weeks to read this, rather than glomming it on the day it came out, which is what I usually do and what nearly happened.

Cover of A Spoonful of Murder

Anyway, this is the sixth instalment in the Wells and Wong series and sees Hazel sent for by her father after the death of her grandfather.  Hazel heads back home to Hong Kong, accompanied by Daisy for moral support.  And she needs the support when she gets home and discovers that more has changed than just the death of her beloved Ah Yeh.  As always with this series, the mystery is clever, the action is fast-paced and you just keep turning the pages.  The stories are getting more mature as we go through the series – not unlike the Harry Potter books did – so the murder is a little bit more gruesome, the girls see a little bit more and are in a bit more danger, but there’s nothing here that should give a middle grader nightmares.  Or at least not in the way that I scared myself with Miss Marple books when I was about 10 any way.

The big change in this book from the others, is that although we are still seeing the action through Hazel’s eyes, for once it is Daisy who is the fish-out-of-water and Hazel is on her home turf.  One of the things that I have always loved about this series is the way that it takes classic boarding school stories and adds in new layers and gives you a different viewpoint.  The reader has always been aware that Hazel is seen as an outsider and that she doesn’t always know how things work in Britain, but it’s only really in this book, where Hazel is back at home and Daisy is her guest that you really realise how different her life is at home and how much she’s had to adapt to be accepted in England.  The way that you see Daisy struggle to work out a world she doesn’t understand and to figure out where she fits in and accept (well sort of) that here she isn’t seen as important the way she is in Britain is so cleverly done.  Daisy is still Daisy, but she’s realising that there’s more to Hazel’s life than she thought and that she has hidden skills that Daisy hadn’t appreciated.  And this is all done without meanness or cruelty and seamlessly with everything that we already know about the two girls.

And there’s obviously been a huge amount of research done into this.  The picture that Robin Stevens paints of high society in interwar Hong Kong in this feels grounded in research and facts, but it wears it very lightly.  I came away wanting to know more about Hong Kong’s history and what it was like as well as wanting to read more books set there.  It worked for me on every level – it’s a great mystery, with great characters and a great setting that just happens to be aimed at 8 to 11 year olds.  Perfect.  And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you liked St Clares or Mallory Towers or (my beloved) Chalet School when you were little and like Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime authors – then you should read this.  And if you have a middle grader in your house, this makes a great chapter book to read with them.  It has maps and everything.

You should be able to get this from any bookshop with a children’s section and I’ve seen them in the supermarkets too.   For best effect, start at the beginning with Murder Most Unladylike, especially if you’re giving to a child at the younger end of the age spectrum as it’s less for them to cope with on the death and violence spectrum.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Series I love

Series I Love: Daisy Dalrymple

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.

And if you want to know more about my favourite characters in books, you can read previous installments of Series I Love on Lord Peter Wimsey, and The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

Happy Reading!

Adventure, Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith

There were a few options for this week’s BotW pick, but I have plans for some of them, but also this was my favourite book that I read last week and makes a nice companion or compliment to last week’s choice. Last week I picked A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia, which was a book set in the interwar period but written now, this week it’s The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith, which is a genuine forgotten Golden Age mystery. It was also another book from the massive unread pile on my Kindle and I’m so pleased I impulse bought it at some point in the distant past.

The cover of The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith

Patrica Wentworth’s The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith was originally published in 1923 and tells the story of a young woman who is swept into an adventure after a chance meeting when she’s down on her luck, with nowhere to stay and be t to no money. In one of those astonishing coincidences that you find in some books, it transpires that a Jane has a cousin who is practically her double and who is being held hostage by her father and a shadowy group that he is associated with. The cousin has a fiancé who is desperate to elope with her and run off to foreign climes and Jane ends up switching places with Renata and taking over her identity. What follows is a breathless espionage adventure thriller with a dash of romance and a dollop of murder.

It rattles along at a breathless pace that doesn’t really give you a chance to notice the bonkersness until you’ve finished and stop to think. I raced through it once I actually sat down properly to read it and then went off to trawl Kindle for more books by Patricia Wentworth in my budget. A certain amount of suspension of belief is necessary – there are anarchists and secret passages and shadowy forces at work as well as the lookalike cousins – but you liked The 39 Steps, or the more adventure-y Albert Campion novels, then you need to read this.

The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith is included in Kindle Unlimited if you’re part of that scheme, or you can buy it on Kindle or as a paperback. At time of writing it’s £1.99 on Kindle, but I’m fairly sure I picked it up for free, so it might be worth adding to your watch list to see if the price drops.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia

So this week’s BotW is the latest in my quest to find more historical crime series.  As regular readers are well aware by now, if there are two things that I love, in book terms, it’s murder mysteries and the inter-war period.  Witness my previous ravings about my beloved Lord Peter (sidenote, I’ve just treated myself to the Radio play collections from Audible and it is glorious), Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher et al.  So during my Kindle store virtual rummagings I often pick up books that I think might scratch that itch.  This was one such purchase.

Part of the cover of A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia

A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia deals with the murder of one Ticky Maltravers.  And never was someone more aptly named.  Ticky is a tick of the highest order.  For although it appears that he’s really popular, underneath the surface something rather unpleasant is going on.  When Ticky drops dead after a meal to celebrate his birthday, newspaper man Freddie Pilkington-Soames finds himself involved – on two fronts.  Firstly his mother was in the taxi with Ticky when he died, and secondly Freddie is chasing the story to try and hold on to his job.

Freddie is Bertie Wooster on the outside, but much, much cleverer on the inside – a bit like Albert Campion in some ways, who is described on occasion as having a foolish face which leads people to underestimate him.  And that makes for an engaging read.  Freddie is straddling the two worlds in the book – the high society trying to hold on to their secretes and the forces of justice and the press.  And because of his job, Freddie has a legitimate reason to be involved in the case which, as I’ve mentioned before, is often a stumbling block for the crime solver in series like this.

I believe Freddie was a side character – a comic one – in Benson’s other series, but although I’ve read one book of hers, it was a while ago and the details have faded.  But based on how much I enjoyed this, I’ve clearly been missing out.  I’ve added the rest of the Freddie books to my Kindle watchlist, and the other series – the Angela Marchmont mysteries – too.  I was really impressed with how good this was – and for a while I thought it might be one of the forgotten Golden Age books that I’ve picked up on offer. I put that down to the fact that it comes across as a mix of PG Wodehouse and one of the Queens of Crime – witty but with a solid, slightly grubby murder.

My copy was on Kindle (I even paid for it)  – and it’s still only 99p at time of writing this – but it’s also available on Kobo or as a paperback, although I suspect that will be a special order job rather than one you can pick up in the bookshop.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, books, detective, historical, mystery, Series I love

Book of the Week: Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

As discussed in yesterday’s Week in Books, I was not a happy camper last week what with being stuck at home (and mostly in bed), laid low with the lurgy.  However, one bright(er) spot in the week was reading the latest Dandy Gilver novel and so it was an obvious choice for my BotW this week.

paperback copy of Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble

This is the twelfth book in the series and sees Dandy called in to help out one of her old friends, who is hoping to restore her family’s fortunes by exploiting the potential of the family pile.  The pile in question is a rundown castle, which happens to be located just down the road from a much grander stately home which is due to open for tourist tours shortly.  So Min and the Bewer’s have invited a theatre troupe to their castle to put on some Shakespeare, in the hope of attracting some of the visitors as they pass on their way to their rivals.  Why does Min need Dandy and Alec?  Well, there’s the small matter of a missing jewel, a curse and a long-vanished man that all need ironing out post haste.  And as it turns out there is also a host of secrets and lies lurking just under the surface.

This has got pretty much everything I’ve come to expect from a Dandy mystery – banter and friendly rivalry between Dandy and Alec, a huge (and somewhat complicated) cast of characters and an interesting setting and set up.  It doesn’t have a lot of Dandy and Hugh, which is a shame because they’re often a lot of fun and there’s very little Bunty in this either.  But it does have a mystery which will keep you turning the pages right to the end, even if I did figure parts of it out before the big reveal.  I’ve said before that one of the things that I like about the Dandy books is that although they appear to be a historical cozy crime series, the solutions to the mysteries are often a lot darker than you find in other similar books – and this keeps that trend going nicely.  I’m also impressed that McPherson manages to keep finding fresh settings for these books – I don’t think we’ve really repeated anything much yet through the series.

If you haven’t read any of the previous books, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – although this one doesn’t have a lot of explanation of the backstory to Dandy and her business with Alec.  I know I usually advise that you start at the beginning of a series, but this one did a fair bit of evolving over the first few books and which I don’t think really got going properly and hit its stride until about book five.  If you want to know more – check out my Recommendsday post about Dandy from last year.

You should be able to find a selection of the Dandy books in any large-ish bookshop and my library always has a couple in as well.  The hardback edition of this is available now, but my copy came from Bookbridgr ahead of the paperback release on February 8th, so if you’re an ebook reader it might be worth hanging fire on buying it until after that as the price often drops when the paperback comes out and the Kindle and Kobo versions were an eye-watering £13.99 at time of writing.

Happy reading!

book round-ups, mystery, romance, women's fiction

Veritys in fiction

Today is my birthday, so it seemed like a perfect time to talk about Veritys in fiction. I’ve always really liked my name, but it seems to give some people problems. Back in my reporting days, people used to mishear it all the time – I’d get messages to Sarah T, or Dorothy or a variety of V-names – and you should see the mess Starbucks make of it. There aren’t many of us, but here are five notable ones from my reading back catalogue.

Verity-Ann Carey – The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent Dyer

I think Verity-Ann was the first time I encountered my name in a book – and I didn’t really count it at the time because of the Ann! Verity-Ann is one of what I think of as the second generation of Chalet girls: she joins the school during the Second World War year’s in Armiford and becomes Mary-Lou’s sister-by-marriage. Verity-Ann is always described as silvery and fairy-like and has a beautiful singing voice. Even when I was a child I had nothing in common with her: my sister has banned me from singing in public and I’m a tall brunette. Never mind. The school stories are great though – even if Verity-Ann was never one of Brent Dyer’s pet characters and had very little to do except be dreamy and sing solos in school plays.

Verity Hunt – Nemesis by Agatha Christie

I saw this on television before I read the book and it creeped me out no end. I was eleven at the time and hadn’t met another Verity and one of the first ones I encountered was the murder victim in a Miss Marple! But once I got past the fact that the dead girl had the same name as me, it’s a cracker of a story – darker in the novel than the Joan Hickson TV version (don’t get me started on the Marple version – which had added nuns!). It’s not my favourite Miss Marple, but it’s right up there.

Verity Kindle – To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

A new discovery last year, Verity Kindle is the female lead in Willis’s time-travel romp. She’s also much more my style: for a start she’s a historian and a Cat fan. Well, sort of. To Say Nothing of the Dog was one of my favourite books of last year: a screwball comedy full of literary in jokes, Peter Wimsey references and all the worst bits of Victoriana. I’d been lent it by a friend and really didn’t want to give him his book back. Which reminds me, I must buy myself a copy so I can reread it and then lend it out….

Verity Browne in the Lord Edward Corinth series by David Roberts

Like me, Verity Browne is a journalist, however that’s pretty much where the similarities end. This Verity is abrasive and has communist sympathies – which don’t help her in the 1930s. I read this whole series nearly four years ago in my ongoing quest for good historical mystery series. This is very much Wimsey crossed with spies and Verity can be quite hard to like. But if you like mismatched detecting duos, they’re worth a look.

Verity Love – True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop books by Annie Darling

Verity Love is a bookseller at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop in Annie Darling’s first book, but in the sequel she gets her own happily ever after. This Verity is a huge Jane Austen fan who has invented herself a boyfriend to stop her friends’ attempts at matchmaking and to give herself an excuse not to do things she doesn’t want to. Of course this plan goes awry and she finds herself with a real pretend boyfriend. Lots and lots of fun and I had a lot of sympathy with this Verity! Also I can’t wait for book three in this series to come out next month.

So there you have it: five fictional Veritys to celebrate my birthday. I think there’s one for most reading tastes here, if you only read one, make it Verity Kindle. She’s smart, plucky, loyal and fun – a set of character traits most people would be happy with I think. And if you can think of any more Veritys I ought to read about, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, book round-ups, The pile

My Big Obsessions of 2017

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!