Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Country House-set books

For today’s recommendsday I have a selection of country house-set books of various kinds for your entertainment.

Summer Lightning by P G Wodehouse

I’m going to start with a comedic classic. Summer Lightning is the fourth of the Blandings books but I think it’s my favourite. It has all the ingredients you want: Lord Emsworth and his prize pig, Lady Constance trying to manage him, a pair of lovers and the Honorable Galahad writing his memoirs and setting the town in a stir. Oh, and the Efficient Baxter. You don’t need to have read the others in the series, and you should be able to get hold of it nice and easily.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

It’s not often that I recommend a classic is it? And now I’ve given you two in one post. If you haven’t ever read Waugh’s tale of Charles Ryder’s entanglements with the Flyte family, then you really should – even if you start off only doing it because it gets referenced (whether you know it or not) in other things! It’s not my favourite of Waugh’s – but I have returned to it a a few times now, not least because I have the audiobook which is read in wonderfully soothing tones by Jeremy Irons – who starred in the famous TV adaptation.

Death in Fancy Dress by Anthony Gilbert

The Secret Service are trying to catch a blackmailer. There’s a been an increase in the number of suicides that seemed initially unconnected, but where on investigation the dead person had all the appearance of being a blackmail victim. Tony is a young lawyer who finds himself entangles in the mystery when the unpopular Sir Ralph is young dead the night after failing to appear at a house party being held at the house of a young woman who has just tried to break of her engagement to another man so she can marry Ralph – seeming under duress. Who killed him – and who is the blackmailer? This is an interesting mystery, with a clever premise but is not always the clearest in its writing with a set of male characters who could feel a little interchangable. Or maybe that was just me! I still enjoyed it though – and when I read it it was in Kindle Unlimited too.

To be honest I’ve written about scads of books set in country houses – you could also add The Austen Playbook, the Cazalet series, several of the Roderick Alleyns – notably A Man Lay Dead and Death and the Dancing Footman – as well as a whole bunch of Georgette Heyers like The Unknown Ajax or the gothic My Cousin Kate.

Happy reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

August Quick reviews

There’s definitely not as much to write about this month – because I’ve already written about so many books that I read in August! Still I have scared up three books to tell you about today so, yay me.

Quick Curtain by Alan Melville

I talked about a bunch of theatre-set books of various types in August – and here’s another which was part of my haul from the conference book sales. Alan Melville’s murder mystery is another that sees an actor murdered on stage in front of an audience. Where it differs from the Ngaio Marsh novels with a similar premise is the satirical slant it takes on the detecting. On that front it’s closer to Nancy Spain’s Cinderella Goes to the Morgue, although this does care about solving the crime! A very nice way to spend an afternoon.

Femina by Janina Ramirez*

This is a fascinating look at the Middle Ages via the lives of writings and artifacts left behind by some of the women who lived through the period. Some of the names were people I had heard of, but I knew very little about any of them except for Margery Kempe. This is easy to read, but incredibly well researched and has plenty of pictures of the artifacts being talked about. It also has a huge bibliography at the back if you want to go and read more about any of the women. Well worth a look, even if you don’t usually do books on the Middle Ages. I mentioned this on publication day and it’s taken me a while to finish – but that’s because my brain has been fried and I only had the concentration for small bursts. Luckily it’s broken down into nice bite-sized sections!

Knit to Kill by Anne Canadeo

This is more of a lesson in doing more research than a review, because I picked this up on Kindle Unlimited thinking it was a first in series – because it says it is in the title but when I started reading it it really confused me because it didn’t read like introducing a new set of characters. So off to Goodreads I went where I discovered it was actually the first since a change of publishers – and actually the ninth book about this set of characters. Then things made more sense. Remind me to research the KU stuff the same way I do the rest of the books in future!

And in case you’ve forgotten, here’s all the other books I talked about in August: Piglettes, A Time to Dance, Thank you for Listening, Husband Material, A Twist of the Knife, the Sadler’s Wells Series, Swallows and Amazons series, London Celebrities series, Amory Ames series, books set in theatres, late summer romances and Actor Memoirs.

Happy Wednesday!

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!

mystery, new releases

Out today: The Twist of the Knife

After a theatre themed post yesterday, I’ve got another theatre-set book because this is out today! The Twist of the Knife is the latest in the other Anthony Horowitz meta-detective series. In the Atticus Pund series you have a book about murder in a book about murder. In the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, you have a fictional Anthony Horowitz getting involved in solving murders and writing a book about the process. This is the fourth book and sees Horowitz himself the main suspect in a murder after a critic is stabbed to death after giving Horowitz’s new play a terrible review. It’s really clever – it’s incredibly meta as Horowitz references the need to write the Moonflower Murders while he’s trying to slice the murder. Obviously you should start reading these at the start of the series, but if you’ve enjoyed the earlier mysteries, I think you will enjoy this one. My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s out in the shops today in hardback, Kindle and Kobo.

Enjoy!

detective, mystery, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Books set in Theatres

As you know, it was Book Conference over the weekend, so it seemed like this week’s Recommendsday should be related to Girl’s Own in some way. We had a post about mysteries set in boarding schools not that long ago, so today I’m doing books set in theatres – not all mysteries, not all Girls Own!

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

I am going to start with a Girl’s Own book though – because Noel Streatfeild wrote a lot of books with heroines who were involved in the theatre. Ballet Shoes is the most famous though, and has one of the great eccentrics of the genre too in Great Uncle Matthew – or Gum – who is a fossil collector who turns traveller after he is injured and starts collecting babies instead (don’t worry, it makes more sense in the book). When he goes missing while travelling and the money starts to run out, Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil (but mostly Pauline because she’s the oldest) use their acting and dancing skills to earn some extra money. It’s charming, it’s got great details about the backstage life of children in the theatre and all the secondary characters are wonderful too. And it’s still in print nearly 90 years after it was first published.

Cinderella Goes to the Morgue by Nancy Spain

This follows on quite nicely from Ballet Shoes, as it’s a satirical murder mystery that features exactly the sort of show that the Fossil girls star in as juveniles. In Cinderella Goes to the Morgue Spain’s regular heroines, Miriam and Natasha, are taking part in a pantomime in a fictional town in the provinces; with a local mayor who seems to be more involved in the theatre than in running the town. There are murders, but as with Nancy Spain’s other mysteries, it’s more about the absurdity than it is about solving the crime.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

When a young woman is found brutally murdered in Brighton in 1950, there is something about the crime which reminds Detective Inspector Stephens of a magic trick. He seems the help of the trick’s inventor, the magician Max Mephisto, who he also happens to have served with in a secretive unit in the war. This is the first in the series which sees Edgar and Max investigating various crimes, some with a theatrical link, some while Max is juggling a job in the theatre. They’re not precisely cozy historicals, but they’re not exactly radically gruesome either – think Agatha Christie at her darkest. I’ve read the first three in the series, but there are three more now – with another out in the autumn.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

This has featured in a Recommendsday before, but it was five years ago so it’s well outside the statute of limitations! Nora and Dora Chance are the illegitimate twin daughters of a pillar of the theatrical establishment. They’re about to turn 75 – on the same day that their father is 100. Oer the course of the novel Dora tells the story of their lives before they head to the televised party that’s being thrown for their father. It’s got a huge cast of characters that might take you a while to get your head around and add to that the fact that it’s a magical realist sort of thing too. It was turned into a play a few years ago – which was shown on TV during the Covid Times (it might have been at Christmas, but all time merged into one back then) and I can confirm that the play was as mindbending and strange as the book is.

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

I couldn’t resist adding this in – even though I’ve written plenty about Terry Pratchett’s books before. Maskerade is Terry’s take on Phantom of the Opera, except with witches and it’s just glorious. Agnes Nitt is a Lancre girl in the big city – singing the leading parts from the back row of the chorus while a prettier soprano mouths along. But when the Ankh Morpork Opera Theatre Ghost starts killing people, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax head for the big city to try and keep her alive. Just writing that has made me want to read it again!

And let’s finish with some other theatre-y books that I’ve written about before – Acting Up and the other books in Adele Buck’s series are all theatre-set romances. And you could probably count Circus of Wonders and The Night Circus under this heading (if you squint a bit!). There’s also a whole string of Inspector Alleyn books that are set in the theatre – including the final one, The Light Thickens, but also earlier in the series Vintage Murder, Enter a Murderer and Opening Night and several others that feature actors or actresses but aren’t actually doing the killing in a theatre- including one of my favourites Final Curtain. For kids there’s also a theatre set entry in the Wells and Wong mystery series – Death in the Spotlight which has plenty of nods to the Alleyns if you’ve read them. And of course there’s the previously mentioned Girl’s Own ballet series – Sadlers Wells and Drina.

Happy Wednesday!

historical, mystery, series

Historical mysteries: Amory Ames

Back with a historical mystery series this first Friday in August, and we’re in my sweet spot for mysteries again: between the wars!

Amory Ames is a wealthy young woman, who when we meet her in 1932 is somewhat regretting her marriage, five years earlier, to a handsome playboy called Milo. When her former fiancé asks for her help, she joins him in a trip to a hotel where someone soon turns up dead. And of course when her ex-fiancé is arrested for the murder, Amory starts to investigate. And then her husband arrives. You get the idea.

It’s a little bit of a spoiler to say that Amory and Milo’s relationship survives the first book, but their somewhat dysfunctional relationship is one of the threads running through the first couple of books. I actually found myself liking the series more as they went along – there is a lot of setting up and characters to introduce in book one which makes it a little busy! But if you like Royal Spyness, then you should try these – Amory is not royal but there’s definitely some similarities between Georgie and Darcy and Amory and Milo.

There are seven books in the series – which I think might be all we’re going to get, as there hasn’t been a new one since 2020, and Ashley Weaver has started a new series. But as the first two are in Kindle Unlimited at the moment, it’s not a bad time to check the series out.

Have a good Friday everyone!

bingeable series, detective, mystery

Mystery series: The Affair of… Mysteries

This week I’m going for a trilogy of country house-set mysteries that I’ve been revisiting in audiobook format about a decade or more after I first read them.

First published in the late 1970s, James Anderson is trying to recreate that Agatha Christie, Golden Age crime novel feeling, but with a bit of a knowing twist. In the first book for example, you’ve got a diamond theft, stolen antique guns, a diplomatic incident, unexpected guests and a body in the lake. And as the books go on you have a host who is very aware that every time he throws a house party bad things seem to happen and that’s a delight too!

The second book has a film star and his movie mogul producer, and the third a family funeral that turns murderous. All of them have the local detective Chief Inspector Wilkins presiding over the investigation, telling you all the time that he knows how they do it in books, but it’s not like that in real life! What’s not to love?

These should be fairly easy to get hold of – my original copies were the 2009-ish era Alison and Busby ones, with 1930s inspired covers in red and green and yellow, which you used to see fairly regularly at the library and in the charity shops. As you can see from the picture on the post, there’s another reissue since then (I think this year) with blues and lilacs for the covers. I haven’t seen these in the shops yet, but I will be looking in the crime section for them next time I make it into a bookshop!

Happy Friday everyone!

bingeable series, Series I love

Series revisit: Phryne Fisher

Oh I know. I’ve already written about one Phryne book this week and I did one of my very first Series I Love posts on the series, but today I thought I’d mention some of my other favourites now I’ve been back through them again. I mean obviously start at the beginning for preference – and Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates is also called Cocaine Blues depending on where in the world you are. I have that one on audiobook too and Stephanie Daniel did a great job of the audiobooks (with a few tiny exceptions, mostly around singing!) and it really does set everything up. But with that proviso out of the way, my particular favourite of the rest of the series are coming up!

Murder on the Ballerat Train is a creepy mystery – when an entire carriage of people is knocked out how can it be anything else? – and you also first meet Jane and Ruth who form a key part of the Fisher household going forward. I love a good theatre-set book (see posts passim ad nauseum) and Ruddy Gore is one of these and a good mystery too. I’m not a operetta person really, but every time I read it I think that I must really get a ticket to see a good production of something Gilbert and Sullivan! Plus it has the bonus of being the first appearance of Lin Chung.

Away with the Fairies is another favourite – as I love the women’s magazine and its staff. It has a similar added appeal to me as Pym’s Publicity in Murder Must Advertise (which is on offer this month!) – seeing how things used to be done (or at least how Kerry Greenwood has managed to find out they were done!) as well as solving a mystery. And I like the Phryne out and about books too. I mentioned Death by Water a few weeks ago, but there are several other Phryne on holiday stories – like Dead Man’s Chest which has added early movie making to boot.

And finally the next book in the series looks like it is going to be another house party book – and if it’s anything like Murder in the Dark it will be a lot of fun. That has some Bright Young Yhings having a final hurrah to see in the new year and features threats and kidnapping rather than actual murder, which does make for a nice change.

Murder in Williamstown is due out in the autumn – all the rest are available now and if anyone knows why my kindle doesn’t group Murder by Mendelssohn in the series with all the others, let me know! (I have Death in Daylesford in a different format so that’s also not there).

Happy Friday everyone.

Authors I love, bingeable series, Book of the Week, detective, mystery

Book of the Week: Murder and Mendelssohn

So a slightly cheaty pick this week, as it’s not a book I haven’t read before, but as I finished the Phryne reread last week, I’m going to let myself break the rules!

Murder and Mendelssohn is the twentieth book in Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series and has a lot of the key threads in the series running through it. Inspector Jack Robinson asks Phryne for help investigating the murder of an unpopular conductor. Jack thinks the killer may come from among the choir he has been rehearsing so Phryne decides to infiltrate the choir and find out. But at the same time, one of her old friends from World War One is in town and needs her help keeping a mathematical genius alive.

My favourite Phrynes are the ones with a large cast of suspects, a love interest and a historical connection – and this has all of that. The full Fisher menage is here – with the exception of Lin Chung, and it has has Greenwood’s take on Sherlock Holmes in Rupert Sheffield, former codebreaker and current irritant to all around him except John Wilson.

I wouldn’t suggest you start the series here, because you’ll miss all the fun of getting to this point, but if you do make this your first taste of Miss Fisher, then it will give you a pretty good flavour of what everything is all about. One last thing – a warning: if you’ve watched the TV show, don’t expect this to be the same. I’ve enjoyed the series, but it’s a teatime drama and they have adapted the series to fit that – which means they’ve done a few things to Phryne’s love life, added some running plot strands that don’t exist in the book and reduced the size of the Fisher household somewhat. So treat them as separate entities if you can.

You can get Murder and Mendelssohn in all the usual ebook formats – Kindle, Kobo and the rest – and that’s probably the easiest way to get hold of them.

Happy reading!

bingeable series, historical, mystery

Mystery series: Grantchester Chronicles

Hot off the heels of the vicar mystery recommendsday post, here is another historical mystery series featuring a vicar, written by someone with a clerical connection. James Runcie’s father was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time when Richard Coles’ novel is set!

The Grantchester of the series title is the village just outside Cambridge where Sidney Chambers is vicar. The books start in 1953 and move through towards the changes of the 1960s. Sidney is a bachelor in his early thirties and Grantchester is his first parish of his own. His best friend in the village is the detective Geordie Keating and the two of them solve mysteries together. The books usually feature a series of smaller mysteries alongside Sidney’s attempts to balance his calling and his previous life. There is also a romantic thread to the series – there are several women who Sidney is interested in at various points, although of course their relationships have to follow the rules because: vicar in the 1950s. In fact the fact that he is ordained is one of the major obstacles to his romantic life. The other major characters in the series are his housekeeper and then a few years in, his curate.

The books have been made into a TV series, which is now onto its third or fourth vicar of Grantchester, still solving crimes with Geordie after they ran out of the plot from the books with Sidney…