Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Gone Gull

A quickie and a bit of a cheat for this week’s BotW – I’ve been busy writing the Christmas gift posts and reading the books to put in them.  I’ve written about Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series before, although it’s the first time I’ve made one Book of the Week – mostly because the point when I was glomming on the early series was before I started writing BotW posts the way that I do now.

Cover of Gone Gull by Donna Andrews

Anyway, Gone Gull is the 21st book in the series and sees Meg and her family spending the summer at her grandmother’s newly established craft centre.  Meg is teaching blacksmithing, her husband is teaching acting and helping look after the children, her grandfather is teaching ornithology and her dad is on hand two.  But it looks like someone may be trying to sabotage the centre and then one of the teachers is found dead.  Soon Meg is investigating and trying to work out who has it in for Biscuit Mountain.

One of the joys of this series is the crazy extended family and almost all the regular characters in the series are here – there’s not much of Meg’s mum or brother, but that’s fine because it’s nice to get to know Meg’s Grandmother Cordelia better.  The problem for a lot of long running murder series is that often it seems like the detecting character is the harbinger of doom (aka don’t be friends with Jessica Fletcher or you’ll end up dead) but one of my favourite things about this series is the way that Andrews manages to find different locations to take her characters so that it doesn’t feel quite so dangerous in Meg’s home town! It was also really nice to see Meg back at her anvil – her blacksmith business was prominent in the early books in the series, but had faded into the background somewhat while the twins were little.

These books fall at the humorous end of the cozy crime spectrum – they’re not laugh a minute, but as the pun-based titles suggest there’s plenty of fun in these – with eccentric characters and strange set ups.  I’m nearly up to date with the series now – I thought I was bang up to date, but the Christmas book (How the Finch stole Christmas) came out at the end of October, although I suspect it’ll take a while before I can justify buying it.

As always with posts about series, I think you’re best starting at the beginning – a Murder with Peacocks is the first one and although it’s out of print new, there are secondhand copies on Amazon and it’s under £4 on Kindle as I write this. But actually, these are stand alone – the thing you miss by not going back to the start is the building of the cast of characters and Meg’s relationship.  As well as meeting her ever expanding extended family over the course of the books, Meg doesn’t hurry into marriage – or into having children – which makes for a really fun journey for her and for the reader.  I think a reader could have fun wherever they start the series – so what ever you decide:

Happy Reading!

Some of the Heyer collection
Authors I love, non-fiction, romance, Series I love, The pile

Greatest Hits: My 500th post!

I realised earlier that my next post would be my 500th and it seemed a shame for it to go by without being marked and just be a normal Week in Books. So instead a little bonus post looking at what we’ve discovered in 500 posts…

I think, if we’re being honest we could sum most of my reading up as falling into one of three categories: romance, crime and history. To be honest, sometimes it hits all three…

Romance

Artistically arranged Heyer novels
A selection of my favourites

 

Back in the very early days I wrote about my abiding love of Georgette Heyer so it would be remiss of me not to mention her here (especially as some do hit that trifecta – Masqueraders, Talisman Ring, Unknown Ajax for example) but it’s not just about Regency romances. I already loved Trisha Ashley, but while I’ve been writing the blog I’ve become a massive fan of  Sarah Morgan and Jill Shalvis who both wrote contemporary romances, which a couple of years ago I would have told you that I don’t really read unless they’re romantic comedies. Romantic comedies have become harder to find over the years, but they’re still there if you look hard enough – like Kirsty Greenwood, my old editor at Novelicious who is funny and a little bit rude.*

Crime

Four books
The four books that feature Peter and Harriet

The only way to start this section is with Lord Peter Wimsey. I still love these stories as much as I did when I wrote that post. I still listen to the audiobooks and radio plays with Ian Carmichael monthly. They’re a sure fire way to make me relax at the end of a long day and my favourite of all the Golden Age crime. One of the greatest things about the ebook revolution is the reappearance of some more forgotten classics like Edmund Crispin and a lot of the British Library Crime classics. Another great thing about ebooks are the smaller presses – if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ll know about my love for Fahrenheit Press because I’ve gone on about it so much over the last 18+ months. And then there’s the cozy crime. My favourites are the ones with a sense of humour – like Meg Langslow and the Royal Spyness series.

History

Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham
Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham

This is actually quite a broad category – I’m using it to cover straight up nonfiction history books, like The Greedy Queen, and fiction set in the past like Deanna Raybourn and Lauren Willig’s books. A lot of my reading is set in the past in one way or another, which perhaps isn’t surprising given that I’m a history graduate. I’ve learned more about Ancient Egypt and the Victorian rush to excavate it through Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. I tend to stick to books set after 1600, but I do venture back further if something catches my eye. I have a love for the interwar period – non fiction books like Flappers and Queen Bees and novels – like one of my all-time favourites Gone With The Windsors, or mystery series (overlap!) like Daisy Dalrymple and Phryne Fisher, both of which are overdue for new novels too.

 

And all this hadn’t even touched on my love of boarding school stories – new and old – or ballet books, and classic children’s books in general.  Or the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett. Or Gail Carriger’s supernatural world. Or Charlaine Harris’s. Or the Janet Evanovich obsession. And just writing this has made me realise how many great books I’ve read and written about for this blog.

One  of the aims of Verity Reads Books was to try to reduce my to-read pile  I don’t think we can really count that as a success as the pile took up three boxes when it went into storage. But I do think I think more before buying books and NetGalley means I get advance copies of things now, which don’t take up actual space, but obviously mean I have less time to read Books from the pile. But really, there’s no such thing as too many books! Plus I really like writing about what I’ve been reading and chatting to people about what I’ve been reading on various social media platforms, so that’s been a total bonus.

Thanks for reading my ramblings, and here’s to whatever I discover in the next 500 posts!

Happy Reading.

* Kirsty’s Big Sexy Love is 99p on Kindle at the moment and you should totally buy it!

children's books, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: The Sinclair Mysteries

For #Recommendsday this week I wanted to talk about the Sinclair Mysteries – as the final book in the series is out tomorrow (October 5).  Regular readers will be well aware of my love of detective fiction and middle grade novels and Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair mysteries are a great meeting of the two.

In the first book in the series, we meet Sophie and Lily – newly employed to work in Sinclair’s department store which is the biggest thing to happen in Edwardian London since, well, a long time.  Sophie’s father has recently died and she’s having to find her own way in the world.  Lily works in the shop by day and is trying to break through onto the stage at night.  Over the course of the books they gather a gang together and solve crimes, with department store owner Mr Sinclair (think Mr Selfridge) always hovering somewhere in the background.  Starting with the theft of the titular Clockwork Sparrow and moving on to things more dastardly and complicatated.  There is a big bad here, although I can’t say too much about that without giving far to much away.  Suffice it to say that although you can read this on their own, they work best as a series, building to a wonderful climax that pulls all the threads from the previous books together and ties them into a nice neat bow.

If you grew up on a diet of Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew, then these books may well be for you.  Or for your children if you have them.  I’ve lent (given?) my copy of the first one to Eldest Niece who has been tearing her way through the Famous Five and Secret Seven.  I came to these after reading the first Wells and Wong book – and needing more middle grade mystery in my life and they filled that gap admirably.  I’m sad that the series over – but really looking forward to seeing whatever Katherine Woodfine does next.

You should be able to find these in any bookstore that has a good children’s department, as well as in supermarkets – I got my copy of the first book from Tesco (although I got books 2 and 4 from NetGalley) and I can’t remember where I bought book three.  Anyway, read them in order wherever you buy them from.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, detective, fiction, mystery

Book of the Week: Written in Dead Wax

We had a lovely time on holiday last week and I read a lot of books.  A lot. And the pick of the bunch was Andrew Cartmel’s first Vinyl Dectective novel, Written in Dead Wax.  I’d had my eye on this for a while but finally managed to pick myself up a copy at Big Green Bookshop a few weeks back now.

Copy of Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel.
My copy on the beach in Croatia last week. Lovely setting, made better with a good book!

The Vinyl Detective hunts down rare records.  In fact he makes his living by selling the records that he finds while out and about in London.  Then one day a mysterious woman shows up and asks him to find the unfindable – a priceless, impossibly rare jazz album.  And so he sets off on an oddessy around the record shops, car boot sales and charity shops hunting for the elusive record.  But soon it seems he has competition.   Ruthless competition.  He’s not a detective, but when people start turning up dead, he start trying to work out what’s going on.

This has a blurb on the front from Ben Aaronovitch – and Andrew Cartmel also co-writes the Rivers of London graphic novels so I thought that it might be right up my street and I was right.  It was so much fun.  There’s no magic here (apart from the magic of vinyl) but it definitely has some points of comparison with Rivers of London – there’s a similar sense of humour and wry way of looking at the world and it has the geekery that I love too – that makes you feel like you’re a member of a special club of people in the know – even if all you know about LPs is what you learned on your parent’s old record player* and what you’ve read in the book.  The mystery is clever and twisty, there’s plenty of action and it’s really hard to figure out where it is going next.

If I had a problem with it, it was that the female characters weren’t always as three dimensional as they could be – but that was kind of in keeping with the Vinyl Detective’s record-centric world view: he’d be able to tell you (in depth) all the details about a rare record that he once saw, but he wouldn’t remember what you were wearing if you made him turn his back and describe your outfit to you! I tried to make myself read it slowly – and that worked for about 150 pages, and then I just needed to know what happened next and how it would all work out.  Luckily it’s taken me so long to get around to reading this that book 2 is already out and so I can get another fix soon.

If you like PC Grant’s adventures, read this.  And if you like this, then I think you might also like The Barista’s Guide to Espionage – which is really quite different but keeps coming into my mind when  I was writing this review and trying to come up with if you like this then read thats.  You should be able to get hold of Written in Dead Wax from any good bookshop – I’m planning a trip back to the Big Green Bookshop at the weekend to get hold of book 2 – or it’s also on Audible (you might need to be a member for this link to work), Kindle and Kobo.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  I’ve already lent my copy to my dad…

Happy Reading!

*I spent parts of my childhood dancing around the dining room to a small selection of my parents’ records.  A bit of ballet, the Beatles, some Carpenters, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Orlando and Dawn, the records I created routines too aren’t as cool as the ones the Vinyl Detective is looking for – but I still have my first LP (the Postman Pat soundtrack) even though I don’t have a record player plumbed in to play it on.

mystery, new releases, Thriller

Hack

So you’ve read my interview with the fabulous Duncan MacMaster, now you want to know what I thought of the book don’t you?

As mentioned yesterday, Hack tells the story of Jake Mooney, a ghost-writer who lands the biggest job of his career, writing the autobiogaphy of 80s TV star Rick Rendell.  But when he arrives on Rick’s luxury paradise to start work, people start trying to kill him.  Suddenly the most lucrative job of his career could also be his last one.  But Jake’s used to dealing with scandal and he’s not going to go down without a fight.  What is it that’s in Rick’s past that people are willing to kill to keep under wraps?

Swimming pools, typewriter keys, glamour - I love this cover.
The cover of Hack by Duncan MacMaster

This is so much fun.  Rick was the star of a (fictional) rival of Miami Vice and the book is paying homage to that like mad and it’s great.  Jake is trapped in glamorous locations with glamorous people but someone keeps trying to murder him.  As the book goes on he gets more and more battered and bruised, but some how manages to keep getting up and carrying on chasing down the bad guys.  As Duncan said in his interview with me, Jake is a rank amateur, with no sleuthing skills at all – and that makes him great fun to read as he bumbles and crashes his way around the island stumbling upon clues and trying to stay alive.

Hack is very different from Duncan MacMaster’s first book for Fahrenheit Press, A Mint Condition Corpse.  As Duncan said in the interview, in that Kirby’s a Holmesy, Poiroty type of sleuth – who can make great leaps of deduction out of nowhere and who has staff and piles of money to help him along the way.  Jake is emphatically not that.  But the two books do (perhaps unsurprisingly) share the same sense of humour and a wry look at the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of people, even if the lead characters and settings are very different.

There’s also a great cast of supporting characters – including Rick’s ex-wife who is an aging and faded star who is trying to revive her career in all the wrong ways, and Rick’s daughter who improbably seems to be falling for Jake – despite his terrible Hawaiian shirts, paunch and increasing injury count.

If you’re in need of a dose of sunshine to escape the grey of the weather at the moment, Hack will do that for you – and make you laugh and take you away from whatever’s bothering you.  I got my advance copy from Mr Fahrenheit* who took pity on me and my twitter moanings during my last batch of nightshifts and sent me this to cheer me up.  And it worked.  I was reading it in my lunch break (at 3am), I was reading it on the train home – and if I hadn’t got to the end just as I was arriving into my station, I would have stayed up to finish it.  And I really like my bed after nightshifts.  And I nearly raved about it in Book of the Week that week – but it would have been cruel to taunt you by telling you about it when you couldn’t read it.

Hack is out now – and you can get a copy if you click here.  And if you missed the interview, you should definitely check it out by clicking here.

Happy Reading!

*OK, so his name is Chris, but he is Fahrenheit Press, so in my head he’s Mr Fahrenheit à la Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

Book of the Week, books, historical, Thriller

Book of the Week: Beneath a Silent Moon

Difficult choice in the BotW stakes this week, but both options had a historical feel to them.  It was between the second of Tracy Grant’s Charles and Mélanie Fraser books and the first in Jodi Taylor’s time travelling adventure books.  And as you might be able to tell from the title, it was the Grant that won – in part because I really liked the first book in the series but I happened to read it in the same week as The Glittering Art of Falling Apart and it lost out in the BotW stakes that week.  So this – perhaps more than ever – comes with a warning about reading the series in order.  On that subject, more later.  First, the plot:

Charles and Mélanie Fraser are not your average society couple.  The Napoleonic Wars are over, but danger still lurks in the streets of London.  There’s something rotten in the Ton and the source of the answers may well be closer to them than they could possibly realise.  Assassination, espionage, and secrets in Charles’ family all add up to a fast paced, twisty and complex spy adventure.

With the end of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, I’ve been on the hunt for something to fill the Nineteenth Century set spy novel shape in my reading life.  And although Grant’s series actually started before Willig’s, I’ve discovered them the other way around.  I can’t remember how I first came across them – but it’ll probably have been an if-you-like-this-try-that from either Amazon or Goodreads (and probably based on purchasing Pink Carnations or Deanna Raybourn) and for that I am grateful!

These aren’t timeslip novels, but they do jump backwards and forwards in Charles and Mélanie’s lives – sometimes within the book, but definitely within the series –  this was the second book to be published,  but is set before the first.  And on top of that, the chronological order list on Goodreads gives it as book seven!*  But given the events of book one – about which I don’t want to say too much – I suspect reading them in order may have the most impact and will give it the most layers and nuance.

Charles and Mélanie have a complex relationship – founded in necessity, complicated by love and built on secrets.  Charles’ family is just as bad.  Possibly worse.  Add that to a murder and conspiracy and all in all it makes for a gripping page-turner of a book, with more secret compartments than James Bond’s suitcase and some incredibly devious twists and turns.  It’s not for the faint-hearted/weak of stomach in places, but it’s worth a bit of queasiness for a historical mystery this good.

I’ve already bought the next one (which is only available on Kindle) and may have put an order in for an actual copy of Book 4.  Now prices are variable on these – I’m not sure they’re all published over here (the UK), so the later titles are imports and more expensive.  But for the most part the Kindle prices are more reasonable.  The first book is Secrets of a Lady (originally Daughter of the Game) and is under £3.50 on Kindle at time of writing but nearly £10 in paperback from Amazon (although they do have second-hand copies for less).  Beneath a Silent Moon is under £3 on Kindle and only available second-hand via Amazon.  It gets even more complicated later on, but as I said, do start at the beginning…

*And to complicate things further, mid series the lead characters’ names change to Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch.  Not that I’ve got there yet, but my head is already aching!

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

Book of the Week: Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection

Oh I do love a good children’s detective yarn – and I had two to pick from when I was selecting my BotW this week.  I went with Julia Lee’s latest – because it’s out on Thursday and doesn’t feature any murder – so I think I can give it to my 7-year-old niece who has the right reading age, but who can’t cope with too much peril!

Nancy Parker's Diary of Detection
Perfect reading for the train to work ahead of a nightshift!

Nancy Parker is 14 and has just left school.  She gets her first job – as a housemaid to the  rather glamorous Mrs Bryce. It’s not her dream job (who dreams of cleaning at 14!), but its more exciting than she expects as soon the whole household is living in a rented house at the seaside.  There are parties, talk of movie-making, a reputed air-ace but also a cook who seems to be hiding a secret, a string of burglaries and chores – lots of chores.  Nancy teams up with two other children from the neighbourhood to try and work out what is going on.

The book made up of a combination of extracts from Nancy’s journal (given to her as a leaving gift by her school teacher) and a third person narrative – which covers what the other children are up to.  It’s fun, engaging and fast-paced.  As someone who loved all of Enid Blyton’s mystery series (but particularly the Five Findouters) this really worked for me and filled that gap.  And unlike those Blyton stories, this books shows the range of experiences in the 1920s – Nancy would only have appeared in one of those as the maid providing the picnics for the other children.  And there’s also nice nods to the other realities of the 1920s like shortages of men for women to marry and women having to give up their jobs to returning soldiers.

As an adult, I figured out what Mrs Bryce was up to quite early on – but that’s because I’ve read a lot of the grown-up versions of this sort of story, but I think for a young reader it would be a fun, thrilling and non-threatening mystery.  I love Robin Steven’s Wells and Wong series and also enjoyed the second book in Katherine Woodfine’s Clockwork Sparrowbook last week (the other BotW contender) but they are definitely a level up from this in the scares and peril – which isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that you need to be  bit more mature to be able to cope with them.  I’m desperate to give my niece Murder Most Unladylike – but murder is quite a big deal for a 7-year old – at 10 I was terrified by some of the Miss Marples*.   But Nancy Parker’s adventure feels like a new equivalent of a Secret Seven or a Famous Five – which is A Very Good Thing.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance proof – but you can get your copy from Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones or Foyles.  I don’t know if it’ll be in the supermarkets – but it feels like it might as the Katherine Woodfine was.  Happy Reading!