bingeable series, mystery

Mystery series: Flavia de Luce

Another Friday, another post about a series here on the blog, another new post title. Today’s series is the Flavia de Luce historical mystery series, inspired by the fact that I was writing about young detectives yesterday – and Flavia is about as young a detective as you can get, although this series is definitely for adults. I last wrote about Flavia in 2016 so it’s been a while…

At the start of the series, it’s 1950 and eleven year old Flavia has a passion for chemistry and poisons and a running feud with her two older sisters. Their mother is dead, their father eccentric and their house is crumbling around them. When Flavia stumbles over a dying man in the first book she is more fascinated than horrified and the series goes from there.

In my Goodreads review of the first book I said that Flavia could occasionally be a little too all knowing, but as the character develops, she gets to a good balance of preternaturally clever but not too all knowing and annoying. And a lot of that is because although she is very book smart, her understanding of people is about what you would expect of someone her age, so there are things – quite a lot of things sometimes – that she just misses or doesn’t understand at all.

There are ten novels in the series, and as there hasn’t been a new one since 2019, I suspect that may be the lot – certainly the last book in the series isn’t my favourite and Flavia was not quite her usual self in it, so it may be that Alan Bradley has got fed up of her or gone as far as he wants with her. Or the delay could just be because of the pandemic. Because we all know that covid has messed up a lot of things.

These are usually fairly easy to get hold of – I picked up a lot of them from The Works, and read the last two from the library, but I see them all the time in bookshops. As you can see from the picture, there has been a redesign/rejacketing exercise done – in my picture the right hand side are the original style, the left the new. And obviously they’re on Kindle and Kobo as well as audiobooks – most of them read by Sophie Aldred, who if you’re my age you will remember from children’s TV and if you’re a bit older will remember as Ace from Doctor Who. You’re probably best reading them in order, but I didn’t and it didn’t really bother me too much – although it was a bit of a pain jumping from slightly more developed Flavia back to the less evolved version!

Happy Weekend!

book adjacent, not a book

Not a Book: Holding

I mean, it was a book first, but in this case it’s the TV adaptation I’m talking about!

So this is ITV’s four part adaptation of Graham Norton’s debut novel. I have to admit that I started but never finished the book, and I don’t know where it’s gone – but I really enjoyed the TV version of this murder mystery, which is just a little bit unexpected and out of the ordinary.

The plot is this: when a body is discovered Siri building work, local police officer PJ has his first murder to solve. The victim turns out to be a long lost local legend – who disappeared the day of his wedding. Introverted and seen as an outsider by the village, PJ discovers hidden secrets as he tries to solve the crime and this is what finally forms a connection with the community.

Everyone in this has a messy life. There are alcoholics, secret affairs, unhappy marriages, busybodies, secret eaters and more. And at times it’s really quite bleak. But for all that there was something totally watchable about it – and I put that down to Conleth Hill’s performance as PJ Collins. Even when he’s doing something he really shouldn’t, you’re still rooting for him and you’re desperate for him to solve the murder and be happy. As the episodes go on, you discover hidden depths to him and the scenes with Mrs Meany (Brenda Fricker) are brilliant. It doesn’t feel like a traditional murder mystery when you’re watching it – whether that’s because you know a lot more than PJ does or because of the way it’s been directed by Kathy Burke, I don’t know. But it felt different and fresh and touching.

As I said at the top, I haven’t read the book – and as I already have way too many books I’m not sure I’ll be going back for it, but if a copy happens into my hands, I’d be interested to see how much of the tone is carried over from the book and how much is from the adaptation.

Anyway, if you’re interested, it’s up on the ITV hub if you’re in the UK, and I think it’s somewhere on Virgin if you’re in Ireland. I have no idea about the rest of the world though – sorry!

Series I love

Series I Love: Maisie Dobbs

It’s been nearly five years since the first in the Maisie Dobbs series was my BotW and as the seventeenth in the series can out recently, it seemed like an opportune time to feature the series here.

At the start of the series it’s 1929 and Maisie is setting up a private investigation firm in London. As I said in my review at the time, the mystery in that book is slighter than you expect because the book is also doing a lot of heavy work in the set up for the series itself. Over the course of the rest of the series Maisie has carried out all sorts of different types of investigations – some murder, some not – but a lot of them using her experiences and contacts made during the Great War. Time moves by as the series goes on (yes, I know that sounds obvious but it’s not always the case!) and by book 17 we’ve reached 1942. This passage of time has enabled a huge variety of different set ups as well as meaning that historical events can be woven into what’s going on. And of course there have been developments in Maisie’s personal life.

This is one of my favourite series to dip into. They’re basically very easy to read historical mystery novels. They don’t have the hint of humour that you get from Royal Spyness or Daisy Dalrymple, but they’re not gruesome-gruesome either. I think there’s bits of it that need to be read in order, but I certainly haven’t done that – at the moment I’ve read 13 of the series – but the books I haven’t read are 9, 14, 15 and the newest one and I’ve read some of the others in the wrong order too! If you don’t read them in order you will get spoilers for Maisie’s personal life, but to be honest that may not necessarily be a bad thing. If you read them you’ll understand, but anything else I say will be a spoiler!

In terms of getting hold of them, it should be fairly easy – I’ve seen them in bookshops (new and used), libraries (physical and virtual) and they’re all on kindle and Kobo too. And because of all the factors mentioned above, if you want to see if you like them, you could just start with whichever one you can get hold of easiest. As I write this the cheapest on Kindle and Kobo are books 11 and 12 weirdly.

Happy Friday!

Bonus picture: Fitzroy Square on Thursday morning – the location of Maisie’s office.

detective, new releases

Out today: New Rivers of London!

And I’ve already got my copy of Amongst Our Weapons in my grubby little hands as you can seee! I told you that I’d got a signed copy pre-ordered from Big Green Books – and they appear to have some of them left if you’re in the market. As it’s the ninth book in the series, it’d be breaking all my rules if it ends up being a Book of the Week – but I’m not ruling it out, although if previous books are anything to go by, you really need to have read at least some of the others to get the most out of. So instead, I’m going to remind you that I have a Series I Love post about them from two years ago from not long after the False Value came out.

Authors I love, historical, Series I love

Series I Love: Veronica Speedwell

Today I want to talk about Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series, because the latest book in the series came out this week, and it seemed like a really good moment to introduce newbies to the wonderful world of Veronica (and Stoker).

Our heroine, Veronica Speedwell is an orphaned, independent woman. When we meet her at the start of the series, she has just buried her aunt and is about to resume her life of travelling the world in the pursuit of butterflies. But while she is back in Britain, she is drawn into a mystery and into the orbit of the incredibly grumpy taxidermist and natural historian Stoker. The latest book, An Impossible Imposter, is the seventh in the series and so far we have discovered secrets about Veronica’s family and about Stoker’s past, romped through artists colonies, archaeological circles, women’s clubs, private clubs and gothic Cornish castles. The latest one promises an amnesiac heir and I can’t wait. Although I may have to, because I’m not meant to be buying hardcover novels at the moment, no matter how much I want to.

It’s hard to talk about them much more than that, or you give too much away – as you’ll see if you click through to the BotW reviews for A Treacherous Curse and A Dangerous Collaboration, but basically they’re fast paced Victorian-set adventure capers with a feisty heroine and a grumpy hero, if Stoker can be classed as such (he definitely wouldn’t like it). They’re also witty and have clever premises as well as good mysteries. What is not to like?

I forgot to check if Foyles had any in stock when I was in there the other weekend, but my suspcion is that if you want this in physical editions, you’re going to have to order them specially. But they are on Kindle and Kobo and do try and read them in order if you can, it will work so much better if you do. And if you’ve already read all of these, then you should really check out some of Raybourn’s other books – especially the Lady Julia series.

Enjoy!

Series I love

Series I Love: Royal Spyness

It’s been a while since I posted a Series I Love post – since Amelia Peabody in January last year to be exact – so I thought it was time for another. As I finished the latest in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series this week, and really enjoyed it but because I said I wasn’t going to write about any more Christmas books, this seemed like a good solution!

Set in the 1930s, our heroine is Lady Georgiana Rannoch, daughter of a duke and a cousin of George V, and whose family lost most of their money in the Great Crash late in the 1920s. Her father is dead and she’s trying to survive on her own, because life with her brother and sister-in-law is just too unpleasant (and cold) to contemplate. Luckily for her, Queen Mary quite likes her and keeps asking her to undertake little tasks to help out the Royal Family. Unluckily for her, this also tends to lead to her stumbling across bodies as well as the dashing but possibly disreputable Darcy O’Mara. There are 15 books in the series now and they’ve taken Georgie around various of the royal residences, the English and Scottish countryside, over the water to Ireland and the south of France and much further away to Transylvania and Africa.

If you’re a history nerd like me, you have to not think to hard about where in Queen Victoria’s family tree exactly Georgie’s family are meant to fit in, but equally if you’re a history nerd all the details about the royals in the 1930s are really quite delightful and more accurate than a lot of similar books are (I’m naming no names, but there are some terrible attempts out there). Georgie is a very fun narrator – she’s very inventive and determined not to end up dependent on her brother and end up as free labour for her sister-in-law, the awful Fig. At the start of the series she starts a housecleaning business – trading on the snobbery of people who want to be associated with a distant royal, whilst hiding the fact that she doesn’t actually have a staff and is doing the cleaning herself. But she’s also grown up quite sheltered from the real world, which means that the reader can often see stuff coming that she can’t – like when she tries to hire herself out as a dinner and theatre companion, when her housecleaning business starts struggling.

Georgie is also surrounded by an entertaining group of supporting characters. As well as the handsome Darcy, there is her accident prone and not very good maid Queenie (who she can’t bring herself to get rid of) and her daring Bright Young Thing friend Belinda. There’s also her maternal grandfather a former policeman who is uncomfortable around all of Georgiana’s posh friends and royal relations. Then there’s his daughter – Georgie’s mother Claire – who after managing to marry into the peerage with Georgie’s father, is now working her way through a string of rich husbands and gentleman friends. The books are working their way through the 1930s and Claire is set up as a bit of a rival to Wallis Simpson and you get some delightful sparring between the two of them whenever they come into contact with each other.

The latest book in the series, God Rest Ye Royal, Gentleman is set at Christmas 1935, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next as we move into the somewhat frantic events of 1936 and the Mrs Simpson situation comes to a head. As regular readers will know, I do love a book set around the abdication crisis (Hello Gone with the Windsors) so I’m hoping Rhys Bowen has got some fun ideas for how to get Georgie involved in it all.

I started reading the series slightly out of order – as I picked up a few of the early ones from the Works (see my BotW post about A Royal Pain for details) but I’ve been up to date for a while now and reading them as they come out. I would say you can read out of order – if you want – up until about book 11, after that, you sort of want to be going in order a little bit. Or at least you do to get the maximum fun out of it all.

If you like historical mystery series like Phryne Fisher or Daisy Dalrymple then these are worth giving a try. Bowen also writes the Molly Murphy series, which I’ve not read – yet – because I’ve never managed to get hold of the early ones in the series at a price I’m happy with. I’m sure it will happen at some point though. If you read the Boyfriend Club series or some of the early Sweet Dreams books when you were a teenager, Rhys Bowen is also Janet Quin Harkin, so you may find that you like the writing style, even if you don’t usually read historical mysteries.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Basket Case

As we hurtle towards the end of the year, this week’s book of the Week is the first in a cozy crime series that I picked up as part of my fifty states challenge for the year. Technically I finished it on Monday, but a lot of the other stuff I read last week was from series I’ve written about before – or didn’t like enough to write about.

Leslee Nix – Nixy to her friends – goes to Lilyvale to check in on her aunt. One of the local detectives has been calling her after a series of kitchen explosions at Aunt Sherry’s house and he wants Leslee to go and find out what’s going on before officials have to take more notice. Aunt Sherry shares her house with five friends – who call themselves the Silver Six. When Sherry arrives in town, she finds them in the midst of hosting a craft fair, with products that they’ve all made. But when a property developer who has been trying to bully Aunt Sherry into selling her house turns up dead, Nixy finds herself investigating to try and clear her aunt’s name.

This has a lot of the cozy crime tropes – small town, a police detective who is interested in the heroine, a quirky group of friends and a hobby/pastime – in this case crafting of various kinds for the aunts. The mystery is quite a good one – the victim is a horrible person so there are plenty of suspects and Nixy being new in town makes her snooping easier and explains why everyone has to tell her all about themselves. It is doing a fair bit of set up introducing the characters as the first in the series, but it’s actually relatively late in the book that it starts dealing with Nixy needing to stay in town – rather than returning to her job at an art gallery in Houston. And even writing that I think you’re probably going to have an idea how that’s going to work! There are a few bits that are a little bit mad, and there are two characters who confusingly had the same first name which threw me when the second one turned up late on, but all in all a fun way to spend a few hours and I’ll pick up the next one so that I can see what happens next.

I bought my copy in paperback from Amazon, but as it’s a US mass market paperback, I suspect that’ll probably be the only place you can get a physical copy. But it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: The Body on the Beach

Despite all the books I really ought to be finishing, I started a new series last week and it was fun so that made my choice today easier – because the other option was V for Vengeance and not only have I written about Kinsey Milhone before, I’m nearing the end of the series and I feel a series I love post on that in my future!

Carole Sedden is sensible. She makes sensible decisions about what to do with her sensible retirement from her sensible house in the desirable but slightly insular village of Fethering on the south coast. She doesn’t want to get drawn into the petty rivalries of her neighbours or draw too much attention to herself. Her new neighbour Jude is clearly not a sensible person. She wears clothes that waft and encourages visits to the pub and day drinking. Carole isn’t going to encourage her. Except that Carole found a body on the beach while she took her dog on it’s morning walk, the police can’t find the body and don’t believe her and a woman has turned up at her house and waved a gun at her. She’s not quite sure why she told Jude about it, but soon the two of them are investigating the (potential) murder and Carole is doing some very un-sensible things indeed!

So I was recommended this as a “if you like Richard Osman try this” series* and I would say that that’s not a bad call. They predate the Thursday Murder Club series by about twenty years and the protagonists are not quite as old, but this is a fun and clever mystery with two interesting central characters and a cast of eccentric secondary characters. I love Simon Brett’s Charles Paris series, and they have a similar sense of humour in the writing style, although Carole is nothing like the probably alcoholic, grass is always greener, not as successful as he would like Charles. But if you like Charles, definitely try these.

The Body on the Beach is in Kindle Unlimited at the moment and also available on Kobo. If you want a paperback, you’ll probably have to dig around a bit or go second hand (or both!

Happy Reading!

*yes I am aware of the irony of reading this start to finish whilst not having finished the new Richard Osman, but there are a lot of these in the series and I’ll have to wait another year for the next Osman.

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 of the Week, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

A long old reading list last week, and this is slightly cheating because I finished it on Monday, but I enjoyed it – despite it taking me a few weeks to read – and I Have Thoughts. It is also the first in the series so that’s nice too…

Cover of The Beekeeper's Apprentice

An aging Sherlock Holmes has retired to the Sussex Downs. There in his cottage, he is concentrating on his experiments and his bee hives, away from the bustle of London. One day on the downs, he meets the teenage Mary Russell, a young orphan, unhappy with the aunt that she lives with and searching for knowledge. In her, Holmes sees a mind similar to his own and essentially takes her on as his apprentice and involves her in his work. But of course danger comes calling again and a deadly foe threatens their lives and those of Mrs Hudson and Doctor Watson.

This book covers a considerable period of time – taking Mary from her mid-teens through to having nearly graduated from Oxford – and starts off as a series of small investigations and episodes before building to a bigger and more dangerous case in the second half. I quite liked Mary as a character – I’ve seen complaints that she’s a Mary Sue, but to be honest considering Sherlock’s own startling gifts, I didn’t think it was that implausible for a woman to be similarly clever and perceptive – and there’s also no point in creating a young Watson facsimile for a foil – because why would someone like that interest an ageing Holmes, who already has the original Watson?

I do have a few reservations about the huge age gap that’s going on here and where this is going* but the mystery is good and the whole thing swept me along nicely enough while I was reading it. Writing this has made me think about it a bit more closely and although I didn’t love it, love it, it’s still the book I have the most to say about from the last week.  I think you will probably like this more the less attached you are to the original series – I see a lot of people on Goodreads complaining about the treatment of Watson, most of them the same people who were complaining about Mary. I’ll admit I’m not a massive Sherlock Holmes reader, but I do like a Sherlock reinvention – as my love of Lady Sherlock shows – so this ticked some fun boxes for me.

This was originally published back in 2002 and is the first in what is now a long series. I’ve lined up the second one to see what happens next. If I change my mind about everything, I’ll try and be big enough to come back and let you know!

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice should be fairly easy to get hold of – I read it on Kindle (where it’s under £2 at time of writing), it’s also on Kobo (just over £2) and all the usual platforms and I’ve seen them in shops and library collections as well – including the discount bookshops like The Works and the charity shops when that was a thing.

Happy Reading!

* Spoiler: having got a later book in the series on the tbr shelf somehow I know they get married.