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.

Book of the Week, fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Camomile Lawn

This week’s BotW is another case of “why on earth haven’t I read this before”.  I have no idea why I hadn’t got around to the Camomile Lawn before.  All I can think is that the TV version had Jennifer Ehle in it and that my mum may have steered me away from it in the immediate aftermath of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice because I was 11 and if the TV series is anything like the book, it really wasn’t suitable for me at the time and I may have got it in my head that the book wasn’t worth it! Who knows.  Anyway.

A copy of The Camomile Lawn and a glass of Pimms
A book, a Pimms (sorry, summer cup for the Great British Menu viewers) and a weekend on the beach

The Camomile Lawn tells the story of five cousins, who we meet at their Aunt-by-marriage’s house in Cornwall in the summer before the start of the Second World War.  We follow them through the war and meet up with them again some years later as they reassemble for a funeral. There is beautiful, mercenary Calypso, outwardly conventional Polly, Oliver, Walter and much younger Sophy, who watches what the older ones are up to and wants to join in.  And then there is Helena – married to a man injured in the last war and bored by her life, watching the kissing cousins as they set out into the future.  As the war begins, life changes for all of them – new opportunities open up for the women and danger lurks for all of them – not just the obvious ones for the boys in the forces.

Mary Wesley was in her 70s when she wrote this – and it was only her second novel.  She lived through the war that she is writing about and was a similar age to the characters when it happened.  If she hadn’t been, perhaps there would be a temptation to say that the characters were having too much fun and too much sex considering that there was a war on.  This reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, but with the sex and antics turned up.  Wesley doesn’t really bother with description – except for some of the details of the house in Cornwall – but she writes in a wonderful, understated way dropping bombshells in like they’re nothing so that you do a double take as you read it.

I’m off to read some more Mary Wesley and to try and get my hands on a DVD of the TV mini-series.  You should be able to get hold of a copy of The Camomile Lawn fairly easily.  I got mine from a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road.  The Kindle and Kobo versions were £$.99 at time of writing and the paperback version was £5.99 on Amazon albeit in a slightly older cover than I saw in Foyles.

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!

 

Book of the Week, fiction

Book of the Week: The Roanoke Girls

As you may have noticed, I read a lot of books on my holiday.  But actually this week’s BotW was an easy choice because Him Indoors read The Roanoke Girls after me and really enjoyed it too – and he doesn’t read anywhere near as many books as me and our tastes don’t always coincide.

The Roanoke Girls
My very pretty ARC of The Roanoke Girls – which has all sorts of nice touches to it

Lane Roanoke goes to live with her grandparents and her cousin Allegra after her mother’s suicide.  They live on a large estate in Kansas and are top of the town hierarchy.  But Lane only spends one summer there. 11 years later, Lane returns to the estate after Allegra goes missing.  Roanoke girls have a history – they either run away or they die.  Which has happened to Allegra and what is the dark secret that threatens the Roanoke girls?

I can’t say any more than that about the plot – because it will spoil it.  This has been billed as a provocative thriller – and I’d agree.  It’s dark and shocking and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  But I was absolutely and totally engrossed and gripped.  I couldn’t stop turning the pages, even if on occasion it was from between my fingers with horror.  The Roanokes are by turns fascinating and horrifying and it is a great book to read on the beach.  In fact, it’s a great beach book – because if you read it on the sunlounger it will help chase the darkness away.  Although rural Kansas is fairly hot and steamy, so that might not work.

I’m still thinking and digesting it a week on – but I think it might be my go to summer holiday book recommendation.  For people who can cope with the darkness…

I lucked into an advance copy, but the Roanoke Girls is out now in hardback from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones and on Kindle and Kobo.  The paperback is preorderable – but it’s not out until September, which might be too late for your holidays.

Happy Reading!

reviews

Books of the Year 2016

Now 2017 is well underway, and I’ve told you about my obsessions, the state of the (enormous) pile, and my #ReadHarder ambitions, it seemed like a good time to finally work out what my favourite books published last year were.  I know.  Everyone else did this weeks ago, but I didn’t want anything really excellent that I might have read at the end of the year to get missed out.  And yes, fractured elbow.  It’s my excuse for everything.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

“Fred!” the nurse said, though they had never met. “How are we today?” Reading the nurse’s name tag, Mr. Bennet replied with fake enthusiasm, “Bernard! We’re mourning the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. How are you?”

Considering how much I loved this book, I have said remarkably little about it on here.  I recommended it in the Christmas gift post and back in the Summer Reads post, but it wasn’t a Book of the Week – because I was expecting to be reviewing it elsewhere.  And I don’t think that adequately conveys how much I adored it.  But Sittenfeld’s modern reworking of Pride and Prejudice is my favourite book of last year.

If the quote at the top makes you laugh or smile (even if it’s only inside because you’re too cool) then you need to read this book.  I’ve read a lot of Austen retellings, reworkings, sequels and the like and this manages to strike a perfect (for me) balance of retelling the story but modernising it so that it feels relevant to today.  Lizzie (nearly 40 rather than 20) and her sisters are trust fund babies in Cincinatti, but the money is running out, their father has medical problems and their mother has a shopping problem.  Darcy is a surgeon, Bingley a reality TV star (don’t let that put you off) and Lydia and Kitty are obsessed with Crossfit.  I want to read it again – but my copy is still out on loan.   The paperback isn’t out until June, but you could pre-order from Amazon or Waterstones and have a lovely treat in the summer, the Kindle and Kobo versions are £5.99 at time of writing or you could go nuts and buy the hardback from Amazon, Foyles or Waterstones – Waterstones was cheapest when I was writing – doing it on click and collect for £7.50 which is a total bargain for a hardback.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad
As I said in my BotW post last month, this book is going to win all the prizes and will be on English Literature sylabuses in years to come.  Cora’s story is incredibly tough to read – and it’s partly the contrast between the realism of the terrible things that are happening and the magical realism of making the Underground Railroad a real, actual railway with stations, and trains that makes this such an incredible read.  And the writing is beautiful.  As you all know, I don’t read a lot of “literary fiction” – and I don’t have a lot of success with books that have been nominated for awards, but I’m so glad I read it – and I’ve been singing its praises to my literary fiction-reading friends.  Still only in hardback I’m afraid, but bizarrely the paperback comes out the same day as Eligible – even though this was released six months later than the Sittenfeld.  Odd.  Anyway.  In hardback from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, on Kindle and Kobo or pre-order the paperback on Amazon or Waterstones.

The Barista’s Guide to Espionage by Dave Sinclair

The Barista's guide to Espionage
The Barista’s guide to Espionage
Yes I know.  You’re sick of my Fahrenheit obsession.  Well tough.  Their books made up nearly 20 percent of my 5 star books last year, so they were bound to figure here.  Sorry, not sorry.  Anyway, this story about Eva Destruction – James Bond and Stephanie Plum’s lovechild – was another BotW and I defy anyone not to enjoy Eva’s battle to try to stop her evil supervillain ex-boyfriend from taking over the world.  It’s an action thriller film in book form but with a smart woman doing the saving not a suave bloke in a suit (he tries, but she’s better than him).  Get it on Kindle or in paperback.

Death of a Nobody by Derek Farrell

From Eva Destruction to Poirot on Poppers, the second Danny Bird book is the second Fahrenheit book on this list.  The first book (Death of a Diva) is funny, but this book feels like a series hitting its stride.  It’s got a great, off-beat cast, zingy one-liners, lashings of sarcasm and an up-and-coming gastro pub with a rising body count and a gangster breathing down Danny’s neck.  I’m recommending this to my friends who read cozy crime who want something that’s not cupcakes, bakeries or crafting.  I can’t wait for book three. Get it on Kindle or in paperback.  You can thank me later.

Grunt by Mary Roach

Grunt by Mary Roach
Grunt by Mary Roach
And this is why I’m glad I wrote this post so very late.  This was the last book I finished in 2016 and it was one of the very best – definitely the best non-fiction book I read last year.  It was BotW last week – so there’s no need for me to say anymore about it really because it’s less than a week since I raved about it at you.  I think it’s going to be this year’s go-to pick for a non fiction book to give as a gift.  Buy it (paperback!) from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones or on Kindle.

And there’s your five. If this had been a top ten the other five would probably have been: Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts, Best of Dear Coquette, The Madwoman Upstairs, Carry On (sneaking in because the paperback came out in 2016) and You Can’t Touch My Hair.

Award nominated, historical, literary fiction, Prize winners, reviews

Book of the Week: The Underground Railroad

I am not a reader of Award-Winning Books.  See my posts here and here for proof of this — and I don’t think the situation has improved much in the last two years.  But some times you hear so much buzz and chatter about a book that you have to check it out.  Particularly when you luck into a copy of said book.  And Colson Whitehead’s the Underground Railroad was one of those books.  I’d heard everybody on the Bookriot podcasts that I listen to talking about how excited they were for something new from Whitehead – and then about how brilliant it was.  It kept popping up in lists of hotly anticipated books.  It was an Oprah Bookclub pick.  It was on President Obama’s summer reading list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I apologise for my lousy photography, but I really like the cover – with the train tracks snaking around.

The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, a slave on a brutal cotton plantation in Georgia.  Life is more terrible than you can imagine, especially for Cora who is an outcast among her fellow Africans.  When Caesar, a recent arrival at the plantation suggests that they escape together, they take a terrifying risk to try and get to the Underground Railroad.  But it doesn’t go according to plan, and Cora’s journey is fraught with dangers as there are hunters after them, dogging their every move.  In Whitehead’s world the railroad is real – actual trains in tunnels under the southern states with a network of drivers and conductors ferrying runaways to safety.

This is such a powerful book.  It’s beautifully written, but oh so difficult to read – I’ve had to take it in bite-sized chunks so that I can digest it properly – but it’s worth it.  It makes you confront harsh and terrible truths about what people have done to each other and are capable of doing to each other.  But it’s also compelling and personal and page turning and clever.  Whatever I say here, I won’t be able to do it justice.  I still haven’t finished digesting it and I’m going to be thinking about it for some time to come.  It’s going to win all the awards – and it deserves to. It’s already won the National Book Award in the US and is Amazon.com editor’s Number 1 Book of the Year.  In years to come it’s going to be on English Literature syllabuses.  Well, well, well worth your time.

I would expect this to be somewhere prominent on a table or on a front facing shelf in bookshops.  It’s in hardback at the moment – and you can get it from Amazon (out of stock at time of writing, which says a lot), Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.  It might make it into the supermarkets, but I’d be surprised.  The paperback is out in June.  I’m off to read some more of Whitehead’s work.

Happy reading.

new releases, reviews

Autumn Preview: Update!

A quite while back now (September, yikes) I had a little look ahead to some of the books that I was excited about this autumn.  And now I’ve read a few of my picks, I thought it was time to give you an update in the form of a bonus post…

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (6 October)

I was worried about hating this, but this is neither good Semple or bad Semple – it’s somewhere in between. But the good news here, is that I’ve worked out what I like about Maria Semple’s writing and what I don’t.  I don’t like being inside the head of her female leads – they’re self-centred, middle-aged quirky-to-the-point-of-irritation and they drive me crazy.  But viewed through the eyes of someone else (more normal) they can be funny and touching.  And that’s why I liked …Bernadette – because she’s not there for most of the time and it’s Bee who’s trying to work out what’s going on.   This didn’t make me tear my hair out like This One is Mine did, but it did make me vaguely annoyed.  So lesson for the future:  if Semple’s next book is written from the perspective of  a woman with children then I won’t bother reading it.

The Wangs vs The World by Jade Chang (3 November)

Well I liked this, but I didn’t love it.  May be I was reading it too soon after Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, or maybe the fractured elbow was impeding my sense of humour.  I think my problem is that there wasn’t a family member that I loved – and I wanted to fall in love with one (or more of them).  Each of them has a frustration (or two) about them which stopped me from embracing this as fully as some of the people I’ve heard recommending it have.  It’s a good road trip book and it was funny in places, but it wasn’t hilarious.  And I really wanted it to be.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch (3 November)

I loved this so much. So much.  There’s magic, and the super-rich and posh school kids and all sorts of new complications.  If you like the other books in the series, I suspect you’ll like this – but the overarching story is not finished yet and there is a frustration that comes with that, along with a delight that there should/will be more from Peter and the Folly.  I read it too quickly – once I started reading it that is – and now I suspect I may have a long wait until the next installment appears.  I’ll have to console myself with the graphic novels in the interim.

I still haven’t read Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson (22 September) or How to Party with an Infant by Kuai Hart Hemmings (8 September) because I haven’t managed to get copies of them yet, but I live in hope that one or both of them may appear in my Christmas stocking…