book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from June

Stats coming up tomorrow, but like last month, I want to keep to my posting schedule of first Wednesday of the month for the mini reviews, and it just happens in July that that is the first of the month!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Cover of The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett’s first novel The Mothers, was a BotW pick here, but her second is maybe even better. The Vignes sisters are identical twins. They grew up in an African-American town in the Deep South, but ran away at 16 to start new lives together. Ten years later, one sister is back in their home town with their daughter, the other is passing as white, living a life where no one knows her racial identity. But their lives are still linked and fate will bring them together again. I got a copy of this book from NetGalley – but I enjoyed it so much I bought myself a (signed) copy of the hardback as well. It’s just brilliant. The stories are incredibly powerful and readable, the language is so wonderful – it absolutely conjures the variety of settings and times it features, and I loved the structure too – slowly revealing more and more of the stories of the women as it jumps around in time. Gorgeous.  Days (nearly weeks) later I’m still thinking about it. And if you do read it (or have already read it), the Book Riot podcast have done an episode about it, which I found really interesting too.

Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri*

Cover of Don't Touch My Hair

This is a wide ranging and compelling look at why black hair matters and why matters relating to it are so complicated. It’s about hair, but it’s also about the history of the oppression of black people across hundreds of years – from pre-colonial Africa through to the present day. I read this not long after reading A’Leila Bundle’s book about Madam C J Walker and it made for an interesting contrast – I thought that was a bit overly sympathetic at the time and I think now if I had read this first I wouldn’t have finished the other! This covers Madam CJ and puts her in her historical context as well as looking at other black entrepreneurs in the spectrum. But it’s much much broader than that. I learnt a lot. And if you’re looking for more books by black authors about black history and culture to read at the moment, this is a great choice. It’s also just come out in the US, but under a different title – Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture.

The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu*

Cover of The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney

This is a touching and readable first novel that looks at identity and belonging. Half-Nigerian Nnenna lives in Manchester, where she’s been brought up by her white mother who has never answered her questions about her father. She’s always had a close relationship with Joanie, but as she starts to explore her Igbo heritage, their relationship starts to fracture. Through the course of the novel the reader finds out what happened between Joanie and Maurice as well as watching Nnenna exploring who she is, who she wants to be and trying to work out a new sort of relationship with her mother. This would be a good read at any time, but as a white reader in this moment, there is so much here that is being talked about with the examination of systemic racism that is going on in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Made me think a lot as well as being an enjoyable read. A wonderful debut -and don’t just take my word for it, it has just been nominated for The Desmond Elliott Prize for the most outstanding novels of the last 12 months.

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

Cover of The Honey-Don't List

I’ve recommended Christina Lauren before, but just wanted to give this a quick mention too because it is a lot of fun. Carey has worked for Melissa and Rusty Tripp for a decade. She was there before their home design empire took off, and now she’s ringside for for the launch of their next TV show and latest book. Trouble is the Tripps can barely tolerate each other anymore and Carey has got to try and keep that fact a secret with only the help of Rusty’s new assistant James. James thought he was getting a job as a structural engineer, not as a PA but he can’t afford another gap in his CV so he’s stuck trying to keep the wheels on the Tripp bus with Carey. The two of them get on better than either of them every expected – but how can there possibly be any future for them as a couple? I was hoping for a bit more from the ending but hey I forgive it because it was so good and such a clever idea. Also I wonder what Chip and Jo think?!

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from June: Me and White Supremacy, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, The Boyfriend Project, This Book is Anti-Racist and The Good Thieves.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be)

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from May

Another month where I’ve been mostly at home (or in my garden) is over and so it’s time for another set of mini reviews for books that I enjoyed in last month and haven’t already told you about.

Once Upon an Eid edited by SK Ali and Aisha Saeed*

Cover of Once Upon An Eid

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories about Eid. I’m neither Muslim nor a middle-grader but I found a lot to enjoy here and learnt a few things too. One of the main things was – as the introduction says – the range of different experiences of Eid – in a wider way than just different family traditions. It is not a monolith – and in the same way that different countries have different Christmas traditions, Muslims from different places and in different parts of the faith have different ways of marking Eid – this has stories from different parts of America as well as Australia, Canada and America.  I liked this a lot and think it would be a great resource for educators as well – the Muslims in their class would see themselves represented in a way that they often don’t and the other kids would learn a lot.

An Heiress to Remember by Maya Rodale

Cover of An Heiress to Remember

This is a historical romance that came out at the end of March and sees a newly divorced woman return to New York to try and claim the future she wants. Beatrice was married off to a British duke who wanted her for her fortune, was miserable and wants to take over the running of her family’s department store. What she doesn’t expect is that the boy she really wanted to marry is now their main competitor. The shop setting, the late 19th century time period and the group of supportive women really worked for me. I liked the feisty independent divorcee heroine and I thought that the conflict with the hero was well handled and sorted out quite nicely – although I was expecting it to be more misunderstanding related from the start than how it was eventually not-quite explained. Easy, fun romance.

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

Cover of Crossed Skis

This is a clever split narrative murder mystery – with detectives investigating a death in a fire at a boarding house in London, while a group on a skiing holiday are oblivious to the fact that one of their number may have carried out a murder. I really enjoyed this – I liked the characters and the plot and I thought the structure was very clever too. It kept me guessing for a long time. Carol Carnac is one of the  pen names of Edith Caroline Rivett – who also wrote as ECR Lorac who I’ve read a bunch of this year and has already been a BotW pick this year – and I enjoyed this just as much as the others – and particularly liked the 1950s European setting, which reminded me a bit of the later Chalet School series and their Swiss setting.

The Birds: Short Stories by Daphne Du Maurier

Hardback of The Birds on a shelf with other Virago Hardbacks

This gorgeous hardback edition had been on my tbr shelf for a while and during one of my reading slumps in May I thought that some short stories might be the solution. It probably wasn’t my best idea to read this in the middle of a pandemic as it didn’t exactly make me less anxious, but the stories were really good and I’m glad I finally picked it up. Most people will have heard of the title story because it was turned into a movie by Alfred Hitchcok, but actually I thought all the stories were pretty strong. That shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. All the stories are chilling and creepy, but as well as The Birds, I  particularly liked the final story and it’s ending. It was so clever and bamboozling I had to go back and read it again to check I hadn’t missed something – and judging by the Goodreads reviews a fair few readers have missed something. It repays careful reading. But as I said, if you’re feeling anxious at the moment, maybe wait until your baseline stress levels are a little lower!

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from May: Logging Off, Bad Blood, Slippery Creatures and First in Line; the Series I Love posts for Peter Grant, Thursday Next, the Parasolverse and Tales of the City.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books, new releases

Book of the Week: Murder to Music

Another week in lockdown done. If only we knew when it would end so we could count down instead of up. I should have been in China last week, visiting little sis, so my mood was a bit low generally. I read a lot of familiar authors to cheer myself up, and so consequently the BotW options were somewhat limited as I talked about George Bellairs last week and I have other plans for some of the other books. I do like to make life difficult for myself. However, another good murder mystery cropped up – with a plot that really appealed to me. This is another re-release of a forgotten book from the mid-twentieth century – and it’s not out until Thursday, but as that’s only two days away, I’m sure you’ll let me off.

Detective Inspector Simon Hudson was at the concert to watch his girlfriend sing in the Metropolitana Choir, but when the conductor drops dead as the performance finished, he ends up in charge of a murder inquiry. Delia has told him about the tensions among the committee members, when he drove her to the committee meetings, but which one of them was angry enough at the conductor to turn a grudge into murder?

This is a clever and twisty murder mystery originally written in the late 1950s, with a setting that really appealed to me. I’m definitely not a singer and I’m not a great musician either, but I did play clarinet at school and in concert bands through my 20s. If I could have got my schedule in order (stupid shift working) I would probably be in a band now – although the band scene in my town is very competitive because the county has a really strong schools music service, so there might not be one that would have me that I want to be in! Anyway, the musical setting really appealed to me – I’ve even played at the Festival Hall where the murder takes place – and I could certainly believe in the egos and hot tempers in the choir.

I don’t think you have to be a musician to enjoy this though – I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the resolution doesn’t require any particular knowledge of music. And committees are a fairly regular feature of murder mysteries because of their potential to be a sea of seething rivalries. The plot has plenty of twists and turns and kept me guessing pretty much right until the end as the layers were revealed. I hadn’t read anything by Margaret Newman before, but would happily read more after this if they’re all as much fun as this one.

My copy of Murder to Music came from NetGalley, but it comes out on April 16th in Kindle. I can’t see it in any other format, unless you’re prepared to pay £50 for the only copy on Abebooks as I write this…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Case of a Demented Spiv

A short BotW post today, and another week, another crime pick… I just can’t help myself. Crime is also most of what I’ve been reading in the last week.

It’s pouring with rain when a spiv bursts into a pub to say that there is a dead man in a local factory. The body in question is that of one of the administrators at the factory and Inspector Littlejohn is called in from Scotland Yard to investigate when the local detective fails to make headway. What Littlejohn discovers in the small town is a tangle of divided loyalties and dark secrets.

I’m on a run of forgotten detective novels and this one is a good one. The town is cleverly drawn, with economical but incisive portraits of its residents. The mystery is well set out and even if the finale gets a little overblown, you sort of forgive it for the swashbuckling flare it shows. This is my second George Bellairs – I read Death Stops the Frolic at the start of March and I liked that a lot. My only quibble with that was that I wasn’t sure if the resolution of that one was a clever twist or a bit of a cheat.  This is equally clever, but with a solution that feels fairer to the reader and detective that I prefer – which is probably unsurprising given that this is the 14th in a long series featuring Littlejohn and I think that Death stops the Frolic was the only story featuring Superintendent Nankivell.

My copy came via the publisher’s mailing list, but it’s available now for free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited or to buy on Kindle. I can’t find it on Kobo – but they do have other books in the series available.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups

Mini Reviews from March

Such a weird month. As I’ve already said, so much has changed in such a short period of time. And yet March seems to have gone on forever at the same time. Long, like January was long, except it didn’t come to an end and we’re still living in the new world. And my reading has gone a bit to pot. Urgh. Also I wrote about quite a lot already. Anyway. There was enough left that I hadn’t already wittered on about that I can carry on my series of mini reviews from March, even if it’s not a #recommendsday post this time!. Voila:

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Cover of Open Book by Jessica Simpson

OK so one of my main takeaways from this was that Jessica Simpson has terrible taste in men – but this is a ride and a half. If you’re of an age with me, then there’s some serious blast from the past inside early 00s pop music here as well as some seriously ditzy and Valley Girl behaviour. I watched some Newly Weds back in the day and either she was doing a very good act or her ghost writer has done a really good job on this. There’s also a lot of God and religion along with a lot of evidence of those really awful men in her life – her dad is terrible and her boyfriend choices were also not great. I really hope her second husband is everything she thinks he is. Trigger warning though – this deals with alcoholism.

Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu

Cover of Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge

I’ve written about Ovidia Yu‘s Singaporean-set murder mystery series before, but it continues to delight me, even if I had the murderer figured out quite early on. This sees Aunty Lee hobbled by a twisted ankle and fending off attempts from her daughter-in-law to take over the restaurant at the same time as investigating the death of a British expat who had caused problems for Aunty Lee’s assistant Cherril in the past. This has got a message about the perils of internet witch hunts and social media pile-ons as well. 

Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden

Cover of Love and Othe Scandals

Not a lot of historical romance recommendations here recently, so I wanted to drop one in here. This is a brother’s disreputable friend and Society Wallflower story and it’s a lot of fun. The relationship is a nice animosity to friends to lovers with a slowish burn and there is no unnecessary drama to keep them apart by doing stupid things. I enjoyed it. It would be a good read for those seeking to avoid high angst at the moment!

So there you are – three more book reccs to help keep you going through this current moment. And of course there’s also all the other books from last month: Legendary Children, Murder by Matchlight (and Murder in the Mill-race), Love Hard, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams, Answer in the Negative and American Sweethearts.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: Murder by Matchlight

The world keeps changing – and as the uncertain times continue, I’m still all about resolutions. And as I mentioned briefly last week; along with romances, murder mysteries give you resolutions and at the moment I really need it to turn out alright in the end. Murder by Matchlight was my second E R C Lorac in about a week and I liked it as much as I liked the first – and I nearly wrote about Murder in the Mill Race last week, but I was trying to mix it up a little bit from the stream of mysteries, so today you get two reviews in one.  A quick note: I started writing this ahead of time, and we’ve now moved into a lockdown situation in the UK – where bookshops are shut and people should not be going outside unless absolutely necessary. I’m making an adjustment to how I link out to books – I’m providing ebook links where available, and telling you what the likelihood that your local indie would be able to source it if they’re still open. Please support small booksellers where you can.

Copy of Murder by Matchlight

Murder by Matchlight is set in 1945, when Bruce Mallaig witnesses a murder while walking after the blackout in Regents Park. He is sitting on a bench when he sees two men acting suspiciously on a footbridge – and then one of them is murdered. His only glimpse of the killer as a flash of a ghastly face by matchlight just before the crime. CID detective Inspector MacDonald is called in to investigate and needs to try and work out how the murderer managed to appear and disappear in silence.

It is not often in a murder mystery when there is actually a witness to the killing who sees the murderer – Agatha Christie’s The 4.50 from Paddington is one and beyond that I’m struggling. There are more where there are witnesses to the actual death – but not many who see the murderer. This is clever and atmospheric, with a really interesting cast of characters and suspects. I was reading this early last week though and the wartime setting – including air raids and it was ever so nearly tense for me – even though we were pre-lockdown at that point.  It was still the best thing I read last week – but the tension is worth bearing in mind if you’re feeling anxious at the moment.

But if you are feeling anxious, I can thoroughly recommend Murder in the Mill-Race – also by Lorac, which I read the previous week and got beaten to Book of the Week by Love Hard, in part because of my recent reliance on British Library Crime Classics. This also features MacDonald – now a chief inspector – but is set in Devon. Raymond Ferrens and his wife have moved to a picturesque hilltop village where he is taking over as the local doctor. At first it seems perfect – but as is often the case they soon find out that there are currents and tensions below the surface. Most of them an be traced  back to the influence of Sister Monica, who runs the local children’s home. Although almost no-one will say a word against her, a few months after their arrival, she’s found dead in the mill-race. MacDonald is called in to try and find out what happens – but finds a wall of silence from the close knit villagers. This has all the best bits of Murder by Matchlight – but seems less applicable to current life so may be more enjoyable for the anxious. I certainly really liked it.

It seems there are a lot of books featuring Inspector MacDonald, these two are numbers 26 and 37 in the series. There are a few of them available – but it’s a bit of a lottery – they’re across several different publishers and some have been retitled – Goodreads tells me that Murder in the Mill-Race was originally Speak Justly of the Dead. I will be looking for more. Murder by Matchlight is available on Kindle for £2.99 and also in paperback. The same applies to Murder in the Mill-Race – which is currently £2.99 on Kindle, but this one is included in Kindle Unlimited if that’s something you’re a a part of. They don’t seem to be available on Kobo. British Library Crime Classics are stocked by a lot of booksellers and this one seems to be still in print – Heffers had lots of Murder by when I bought this – so if your local indie is taking phone orders, then they may be able to help you. I’ve also just picked up Death Came Softly from the series for 99p – I’ll try and keep you posted on what I think.

Keep reading – and please stay safe.

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: Answer in the Negative

Another week, another crime pick. I know. Sue me. At least I read this in March so that makes it one crime recommendation a month which is not quite so bad. Or am I grasping at straws? It wasn’t even the only classic crime book I read last week – I also read Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon, which is another in the British Library Crime Classics series, which I have recommended a lot. This one however is from Agora books, who are also have a lot of more forgotten mid-century crime on their lists, including the Inspector Appleby series, which I have read a couple of, and some of the lesser known Margery Allinghams. Anyway, I stumbled across  this little gem last week and I’m unreasonably annoyed that none of the author’s other books seem to be available anywhere.

Answer in the Negative is a 1950s-set murder mystery, featuring a crime solving couple. It’s not the first in the series as it turns out, so I’m not quite sure how they came to be a thing, but Johnny is an ex-Commando and Sally is his wife. His family have a shop that sells books and he works there when he’s not solving mysteries. This particular mystery is a poison pen set in the National Press Archives on Fleet Street. Toby Lorn, a friend of the couple, asks them to investigate letters that are being sent to one of the archive assistants. Frank Morningside is not popular in the office, so the pool of suspects is fairly large. As well as increasingly nasty letters, there have been schoolboy-style pranks.  Johnny and Sally start investigating at the archives, posing as researchers, but just days into the investigation, things take a sinister turn.

This is a well put together mystery, which a good and varied cast of characters. I really like office-set mysteries – Murder Must Advertise is one of my favourite of the Peter Wimsey series. You get to find out what working life was like in the period and I like that there’s a cast of characters to draw from a bit like a country house mystery. But unlike country house mysteries the cast tends to be a bit more varied – less toffs with a grudge, more people from across the social spectrum. This is no exception – you’ve got office boys, young women on the lookout for a husband, stuffy spinsters, ex-soldiers and more. It makes for an intriguing mystery and although I developed suspicions about the culprit it has plenty of twists to keep you guessing. My only real problem with it was that it felt like it was set in the interwar period – whereas actually it was set in the 1950s. If it wasn’t for mentions of bombsites and the fact that Johnny was a Commando (who were only created in World War II) it could have been in an office two doors down from Pym’s Publicity.

This edition Answer is in the Negative came out towards the end of February, and I read it via Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available to buy on Kindle. I can’t seen any other editions (except for super-pricey secondhand/collectible ones) and I can’t find it on Kobo either sadly. But if you’re a Kindle reader – especially one with unlimited – it’s worth it. I’m hoping that the recent release date means that more of the series will appear at some point too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Colour of Murder

Another week, another crime pick, and another British Library Crime pick, so what if it’s been less than a month since I last picked one – I couldn’t help myself because this was so clever and so readable.

The Colour of Murder is told in two parts. The first, Before, is a psychiatric report on John Wilkins. Told in his own words, it sets out his life, his unhappiness in his marriage and his job, his mysterious blackouts when he drinks, and his flirtation with a local woman. The second part, After, is the story of Wilkins’ trial for murder. It’s really unusual for a murder mystery in that for half of the book you don’t know who the victim is and you also don’t see any detection at all. And that is beauty of it – it lets you draw your own conclusions – or perhaps more accurately make your own assumptions – all the while adding more details and information.

It’s quite hard to talk about this book because it would be easy to say too much, but I don’t think it’s giving away a lot to say that John is a massively unlikeable man. He’s unhappy in almost every part of his life, but you don’t really feel much sympathy for his because he’s so awful even in his own words. His wife isn’t much more likeable according to him, but she has all the disadvantages of being viewed through his self-obsessed eyes – as well as suffering from the lack of opportunity and independence that a stay at home wife had in the 1950s. 

I absolutely raced through this, it’s not long but it’s also a massive page-turner. The writing is so clever that I kept changing my mind about what was happening. I read it via Kindle Unlimited but it’s also available to buy from all the usual sources.

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!

Book of the Week, detective, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: A Case of Murder in Mayfair

Just a short BotW this week, because as I said yesterday it’s been A Week. And I don’t see this one being any less busy. Anyway, this second Freddy Pilkington-Soames mystery was what I needed on the late nights trains last week.

Cover of A Case of Murder in Mayfair

I read the first in this series back in February last year . And I said then in my review on Goodreads that the premise was basically a slightly less stupid Bertie Wooster accidentally solves crimes and I stand by that assessment. Freddy is a somewhat hapless reporter for a London newspaper, where he got the job because of his mum’s connections. In the first book he’s trying to solve the murder because he stumbled upon the corpse and is keen not to be the prime suspect. In this he’s off duty at a party with a friend when the actress-hostess falls to her death from the balcony of her hotel room. But was it an accident or was she pushed? And then there’s the small matter of a rival reporter snooping around while investigating the cocaine trade in London.

This mixes elements from not just PG Wodehouse, but also a bit of Death Bredon from Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise and a touch of nosy Nigel Bathgate from Inspector Alleyn. And it all works out rather nicely. There are not a lot of surprises here and it’s not doing anything groundbreaking or original but you’ll enjoy it while you’re reading it – just like you do with a contemporary-set cozy crime novel. I could nitpick but that would be mean and this series (or what I’ve read of it) is not mean.

You can get A Case of Murder in Mayfair on Kindle – where it’s currently 99p – and Kobo or in paperback where it’s not 99p! Or you can start at the beginning of the series and read A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia – which is free on Kindle as I write this.

Happy Reading!