Authors I love, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Moonlight over Manhattan

I was going to save this book for one of the Christmas book posts, but as I didn’t like anything else I read last week enough to write more than a couple of paragraphs about them, it seemed a bit disingenous to call anything else the BotW.  So another Sarah Morgan book gets the nod.  Sorry, not sorry.

Cover of Moonlight over Manhattan
Moonlight over Manhattan is the latest book in Morgan’s From Manhattan with Love series, which started off with three romances for the ladies who run an events company and has now told the linked stories of the three siblings linked the dog walking company that the events company uses.  That sounds really weird and tangential, but it’s actually not and makes total sense if you read them in order.  Moonlight over Manhattan is a run-up-to-Christmas story (as in it’s Christmassy, but not so super Christmas-focused it feels weird reading it in October before Halloween is over and done with) about the shy twin from the Bark Rangers, Harriet, who is setting out to conquer her shyness now that her twin has found love and has moved away from New York to the Hamptons for a while (see the previous book).  Harriet is thrown out of her comfort zone when she ends up dog sitting for Emergency Room (that’s A&E for us Brits) doctor Ethan, whose life is turned into chaos when he has to look after his sister’s pet when his niece is involved in an accident across the country.  Ethan is recently divorced, blames himself and is determined not to hurt another woman.  Harriet had a difficult childhood and doesn’t want to be rejected by a man the way that her father rejected her as a child.  The stage is set.

Harriet is a great heroine and the thing that I really liked about this story is that she gets over her fears herself rather than the hero fixing everything for her.  Yes, she gets her happy ending, but se gets it because she did the hard work herself and not because love magically fixed things for her – or worse because the presence of The Man in her life made every thing better, or even worse The Man did everything for her.*  As a couple, Harriet and Ethan work really well together, bringing out each other’s strengths and supporting each other at times of weakness.  And that’s what I love to see in romances – and in real life to be honest – couples who bring out the best in each other and who become the best versions of themselves with the support of their partners.  Anyway, sappy bit over.

As always with Sarah Morgan, the medical bits are really good and feel like more than just set dressing (she used to be a nurse so she really does know what she’s talking about) and the setting is great too.  I’ve only been to New York once, but I always feel like the descriptions of the city in this series have been spot on.  And as a total bonus, there’s a lot of characters that you’ll have met before if you’re a regular Morgan fan – including a return visit to Snow Crystal.  This does feel like the end of the series this time – in that I didn’t spot anyone obviously being set up to be the next group of people in this, the way that you sort of did at the end of the first three of this – so I’ll be sad if it is, but it’s been a lovely series and this is a good way to finish.  I know it still seems a bit early to be starting on the Christmas books, but as I said earlier Christmas is very much the end point in this rather than the whole raison d’etre, so it’s a lovely book to read in the run up to the season before you get too fed up of it all!

My copy came from NetGalley, but Moonlight over Manhattan is out not and should be orderable from all the usual sources.  Morgan’s books often crop up in the supermarkets and WH Smith’s book display as well.  At time of writing Amazon have the paperback edition for £3.99 and the Kindle edition is £1.99 and the Kobo is £2.99.

Happy Reading!

*Tangent: this is my main gripe with Legally Blonde the musical as opposed to the film.  In the film, Elle is successful because she’s clever, she works hard and she turns out to be good at being a lawyer.  In the musical, Emmett does a lot more of the leg work for Elle and you always half feel like Elle is successful because he helped her (a lot) and underneath she can’t really do it on her own.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime, crime, new releases

Book of the Week: Death of a Devil

Well ladies and gentlemen a real treat for you here today. You’ve already read the interview, but I was lucky enough to been given* a copy of the new Danny Bird mystery by Derek Farrell – which is out today. You may remember that I enjoyed Dannys 1 and 2 so much that they made it into my favourite books of 2016 post so I was delighted to be asked if I could review it for release day and juggled my posting schedule accordingly!

A recap of the story so far: Danny’s trying to turn a geezer pub in a dodgy bit of south London into a gay bar. He’s helped by a motley crew of friends and workers and hindered by that same crew, and also the fact that the Marq is owned by a local mobster who demands his cut. Setbacks so far include: a diva dropping dead just before she was due to perform in the bar and a wake with a larger body count than it should have had.

Cover of Death of a Devil

We rejoin Danny as he tries to juggle a seance featuring a heath inspector and the (optimistically named) First Annual Fancy Dress Halloween Party at the Marq. And then a body turns up. Again.  But this time it’s in the cellar, so that makes a change. Soon Danny and the gang are trying to solve a 20-year-old murder with gangland connections.  Meanwhile Lady Caz has got some issues with her family that need sorting out and Danny’s a bit worried that the catering freezer in the kitchen is about to give up the ghost, which isn’t great when you serve food and have Environmental Health on the premises.

So, probably most important thing in a story like this is the mystery and whether it holds up.  And this does:  there are plenty of suspects and with a link to one of the staff at the pub and the body being found on the premises, there are genuine reasons for Danny to be involved in trying to figure out whodunnit.  Next you need an engaging hero and Danny definitely is that.  He’s funny and loyal, and as a reader you’d like to go on a night out with him and persuade him to be your friend**.  Danny’s also tougher than he looks and will do anything he can for his friends and to keep his pub in business – in that order (I think).  And almost every good detective needs a sidekick and Lady Caz is a great one: she is posher and drunker than ever in this installment and the subplot with her family is excellent too.  There’s plenty of witty repartee and a lot of pop culture references.  I’m not sure there’s a oneliner that beats the “Poirot on poppers” from book two, but to be fair,  that was a work of genius.

There’s also a nod to the detective fiction author’s problem of how to create corpses for their hero, when two passers by mention that bodies just keep turning up at the Marq, but in this case because this body is 20 years old, it helps avoid the Jessica Fletcher effect.***  I’m hoping that the increased involvement of Chopper the mobster in this book and the widening of some of the character’s backstories/families will help avoid this happening to Danny as the series goes on, because I’m not sure how many more bodies can turn up at the Marq before Danny’s business drops off so much that he goes out of business!

As regular readers will know, I read a lot of cozy crime novels, which is a particularly American genre, and I’d describe this as cozy adjacent – there aren’t any cupcakes or crafters here, but there is a (murder) mystery story that gets solved without too much blood and gore or psychological thrillery-ness.  This isn’t as noir as many of the Fahrenheit books, but it does have the sly and subversive world view that you find from the Fahrenheit gang.  It’s fun and funny and won’t leave you terrified to go out of an evening.

Death of a Devil is out today: here’s the magic link.

Happy Reading!

*Translation: Begged and screamed until I got one early even though I have a Fahrenheit Press subscription so would get on on/near release day.

**Well as long as you don’t have to see any bodies or get arrested.

***So many bodies start turning up around Jessica that you start to wonder if she is the problem/an Angel of Doom/killing them herself.  There are many theories.

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Fantasy, romance

Book of the Week: The Sumage Solution

This week’s Book of the Week was an easy choice – I devoured the Sumage Solution as soon as it was published last week, and read it as quickly as I could within the restrictions of having to work and go to bed to get enough sleep to work.  I don’t read a lot of male/male romances, but because I love all of Gail Carriger‘s other work I had this on pre-order and was prepared to give it a go.

Cover of the Sumage Solution
The cover is a distinct shift from Carriger’s other books – but it works.

This is the first in a new contemporary paranormal series, which Carriger is self-publishing under the name G L Carriger because they are (very) different to her Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocol series.  And she’s not wrong.  This book made me blush reading it, and I’ve read a lot of romance over the years.  This is a modern day version of the same world as we know from the other books – although it has evolved somewhat – but with a lot of explicit sexy times here.  A lot.  So be warned.  If you don’t want to read about  what a werewolf and his bad boy mage get up to, then just give this book a miss and go and read the Parasol Protectorate or the Custard Protocol series or if you don’t want any sexy times at all, the Finishing School series.

So, that disclaimer out of the way, if you’re still interested, this is the story of Biff, who has just moved to San Francisco with his brother and his brother’s new werewolf pack, and Max, a failed mage who works at the magical equivalent of the DMV.  They meet when the pack paperwork comes in front of Max and soon they’re trying to prove the idea that werewolves and mages must hate each other wrong.  Along the way they’ve got to deal with an enchanted house and the vexed question of whether the pack will get permission to stay in San Francisco.

This is full of snarky humour and the witty banter that I’ve come to expect from a Carriger novel.  As well as making me blush, it made me smile and laugh.   I had so much fun watching Biff and Max work their way towards their happily ever after.  The world building is great – a lot has moved on from the nineteenth century, but there’s enough nods back to the history of the paranormal in the Carriger-verse that a regular reader doesn’t feel at sea or confused.  The rest of the pack is great fun as well and I’m hoping that this will sell enough copies that Ms Carriger will write some more installments for the other members.

If you want to get a bit of a sense of what’s going on here, try the novella that started it all (and has now turned into a prequel) Marine Biology which is 99p on Kindle and Kobo at time of writing ( and so must be worth a punt surely?).  It’s the story of Biff’s older brother Alex and his merman boyfriend.  If it turns out that’s not for you (and it’s not as explicit as Sumage Solution) then you’re not going to like the series proper.  But if you do like it or you’re already an avid reader of M/M romance (and I know there are plenty of you out there), then Sumage Solution is available in Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback from Amazon.

If you’ve got any suggestions for some more M/M romance for me to try, please do put them in the comments, because nothing makes me happier than making my to-read pile bigger!

Happy Reading.

fiction, literary fiction, Recommendsday, women's fiction

Recommendsday: Standard Deviation

Another day, another great holiday read to recommend, this time it’s Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny which filled some very happy hours on the plane and the beach last week and which I’m sure I’m going to be recommending to a lot of people this summer.

The cover of Standard Deviation
I love the origami figures but I’m still not quite sure the cover of this really does it justice.

Graham Cavanaugh is on his second marriage.  Wife #2, Audra, is one of Those Women – you know the sort – who know every one, who makes friends effortlessly and opens her arms (and home) to any waif or stray of her acquaintance (no matter how tenuous the connection) who needs help. They have one child, origami-obsessed Matthew, who has Asperger’s and sees the world slightly differently and finds a lot of it a bit challenging.  When Wife #1, Elspeth, re-appears in Graham’s life, the contrasts become apparent.  Because of course Audra wants them to be friends with Elspeth and so their lives get tangled up together all over again.

This is a fun, witty and touching look at the choices that we make and how our lives can change. Just reading about life with Audra makes you tired, but despite that and despite her nosiness and lack of boundaries you still warm to her.  I don’t think I’d want to be friends with her in real life, but then the same applies to Graham and to Elspeth too.  They all have their monstrous moments, but it makes for fascinating reading.  It has some heart-warming moments too – mostly dealing with Graham’s hopes for Matthew as he grows up and Audra’s efforts to try and give him a normal life.

This is Katherine Heiny’s first novel, but it doesn’t feel like a debut.  It feels like the work of an author who is already well in their stride, with confidence in the characters that they have created and the stories that they are spinning.  But perhaps that is unsurprising given Heiny’s background in short stories.  She’s been published in the New Yorker and had a collection of short stories – Single, Carefree, Mellow – published a few years back*.  This article from the Guardian says that she’s written more than 20 Young Adult novels under various pseudonyms, but frustratingly doesn’t give me any titles (and nor does good reads) which doesn’t help me with my need to glom on everything that she’s written.  Luckily I have a New Yorker subscription so I can go back and read the full version of How to Give the Wrong Impression from back in 1992.

If you like Nora Ephron movies and books, this may be the beach read for you.  In writing this I’ve seen lots of comparisons to Anne Tyler (who I’ve never read but always meant to) so I’ll be recommending this to my mum who’s had a bit of a Tyler thing recently.  My copy of Standard Deviation came via NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback (sorry) and you should be able to get hold of a copy from all the usual places and it’s also available on Audible (the link may only work if you’re signed in) Kindle and Kobo.

Happy reading!

*which is now on my wishlist unsurprisingly!

 

cozy crime, detective, new releases

Recommendsday: Sidney Chambers

I finished reading the sixth Sidney Chambers book last night and it broke me. Absolutely broke me.  In a youth hostel dorm.  Crying in a corner with a pile of used tissues*.  I’ve mentioned this series in passing before (like last summer’s reading suggestions) but never done a proper post about them.  James Runcie has said that this is the last book in the series, and while there is (apparently) a prequel on the way, now seems like a good time to talk about Grantchester’s crime solving vicar.

Cover of Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love
I love the original covers for this series – they’re just so pickupable.

The first thing to say is that you may well be familiar with the TV series based on the books  – Grantchester.  The books cover a much longer period of time than the show has and has diverged from the plots of the books somewhat.  I loved the first series, but trailed off in the second series as it moved further and further away from the books and I have the third sitting on the TiVo box waiting to be watched.  Personally, although James Norton has a strong appeal to me, I prefer the books.
Here are the basics in case you’ve missed out on Sidney altogether:  at the start of the series, he’s a 32-year-old bachelor in charge of the parish of Grantchester, just outside Cambridge, who gets tangled up in a mysterious death.  Sidney becomes friends with the detective investigating and soon Geordie is calling him in on other cases.  And this is the pattern for the books, which are based around a series of shorter mysteries (not all of which are murders) rather than one big one – which works really well for the series.  There’s a cast of supporting characters that evolves as the series goes on – initially his housekeeper Mrs Maguire, but also including curates, friends and love interests.

Author James Runcie is the son of former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie and the books are packed with details about ecclesiastical and vicarage life in the period which really lifts the series beyond your normal historical cozy crime novel.  I love Sidney as a character – his difficulties in concentrating on being a vicar and not getting involved in crimes and the difficulties and challenges of life as a vicar.  I’ve really enjoyed the series – and although I want more, the final story of the sixth book is probably the most beautifully written and resonant that there has been in the whole series, so it’s a good note to go out on if this is it.

cover of Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death
The TV tie-in cover for the first book with the lovely James Norton.

I’d suggest you start the series at the beginning – you should be able to find them in all good bookshops – or you could order from the Big Green Bookshop and support an indie bookshop.  The Kindle edition of the first book was £1.89 at time of writing and 31.99 on Kobo.

Happy reading!

*NB the fact that I have a cold may have contributed to the snot bomb this book caused.

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Stars Are Fire

This week’s BotW is Anita Shreve’s new novel, The Stars Are Fire, which came out last week and which I finished at the weekend.  Shreve has been on my list of authors that I really ought to have read, and this piqued my interest when I saw it on NetGalley so it seemed like an opportunity to rectify that omission.  And it turned out to be a good decision.

Cover of The Stars Are Fire
I think this cover is pretty – but I’m not sure it really represents Grace.

The Stars Are Fire is set in Maine in 1947 where Grace Holland is struggling with her marriage.  Her husband Gene is distant and won’t talk about the war, her mother-in-law hates her, she has two small children and a third on the way.  When a massive fire breaks out after a long summer drought, Gene goes to join the volunteer firefighters to try and prevent it from reaching the town.  Grace is left alone to try and defend their house and protect their children.  When the flames arrive, she watches her home burn to the ground and is forced into the sea to shelter from the waves.  When the morning comes, her home is gone and her husband is missing and she’s forced to try and build a new reality.

I was a little sceptical about this book when I started reading it, and while I still have a few reservations, the book was engrossing and kept me turning the pages eager to know what happened next.  My main issue with the book was with Gene, who doesn’t feel like a fully rounded character.  You’re not meant to like him, but I struggled to get a sense of who he was and why Grace had been interested in dating him in the first place.  For me the most enjoyable part of the book was the middle section, but I always knew that it wasn’t going to last.  The final section of the novel felt a little rushed and underdeveloped.  I was a little worried about how it was all going to be resolved (or if it was going to be resolved) but at the end I was happy.

That all sounds a little negative, but they’re fairly small quibbles when set against the beautiful writing and how engaging and intriguing Grace is as a character.  She’s strong and reslient and seizes opportunities out of the ruins left by the fire.  I hadn’t heard of the Great Fire of 1947 before I read this book and Shreve paints a vivid picture of the heat and drought leading up to it as well as the terror of the actual events.  The stifling atmosphere before the fire is mirrored in the way that Grace feels in her marriage – although she doesn’t realise how trapped she feels at the time.  Although the fire brings her personal loses, it is also the making of Grace and the woman we leave at the end of the book feels very different to the one we met at the start, which makes for a satisfying read.

The Stars Are Fire is out now in hardback (sorry) and ebook.    As previously mentioned, my copy came from NetGalley but you can get hold of it from on Kindle or Kobo and from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or you could order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  I suspect it’s the sort of book that will be out on the tables in bookshops and at the airport, although I don’t suggest that you read it on the beach or somewhere hot as it may leave you paranoid about wildfires!  I read it on the train and it made several journeys to and from work fly by.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: Southern Fried

It was actually a really tough choice picking this weeks BotW partly because I didn’t read as much last week and partly because none of what I read was an absolute stand out for me.  So in the end, I’ve settled on Tonya Kappes’ Southern Fried – a cozy crime mystery that comes out today, which has its issues, but overall was the book I had the most to say about of last week’s reading!

The cover of Southern Fried
I like the cover – simple but actually relevant to the story.

This is the second in the Kenni Lowry series – about the sheriff of small town in Kentucky who is assisted on the job by the ghost of her grandfather (no, don’t walk away, it’s not quite as nutty as it seems) who was also the town’s sheriff.  Kenni loves her job, but her mother isn’t best pleased about her daughter’s vocation – and neither are some of the townspeople as the local crime rate starts to rise.  In Southern Fried, Kenni is investigating the death of a man found dead in the greenhouse of his former (as it turns out) employer in the run up to a cook off that they were both taking part in.   In working out what happened, Kenni gets tangled up in family feuds and local intrigue just as election season is starting to get underway.  As the danger mounts, Kenni, her dog Duke and her new (and handsome) deputy Finn must work out what’s going on before the rising death toll scuttles Kenni’s chances at holding on to her dream job before the voting even starts.

There’s a lot that I liked about this – I love the southern setting, the mystery is fast-paced and twisty with a potential slow burn romance running alongside.  However as a Brit, I struggle to get my head around the idea of elected sheriffs and the hyper-local police forces and at times Kenni doesn’t help with this.  In the first book in the series I found her spacey and not entirely convincing on police procedure (especially for a police academy graduate) but she seems much more competent in this one, which helped me cope with the fact that she’s taking advice from a ghost!  Regular readers will know that I have a strange releationship with the supernatural and parnormal in books*, but in the main this works for me.  There were still a couple of points where I raised my eyebrows at Kenni’s actions – an amateur detective can get away with a lot more than a sheriff can – but the book moves quick enough that you only notice this when you stop to think!

This book also made me muse on the role of the knowledgeable background character in cozy crimes.  Kenni being the sheriff is a double-edged sword – it means that she has the right to be investigating crimes (and indeed is likely to come across them) in a way that many of the sleuths in cozies don’t, but it also rules out an important source of information and means that at times the sleuth can come across as not being very good at her job.  there’s a couple of points in this where Finn the deputy seems like he knows what he’s doing more than Kenni does.  But this is only book two in the series and is a big step on from book one so there is lots of potential for development and improvement as the series goes on.

My copy came from NetGalley, but you can buy Southern Fried on Kindle or in paperback from Amazon from today.

Happy Reading.

* As in sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t but I can never work out in advance what I’m going to like and what I’m going to hate!