American imports, cozy crime, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Cozy Crime

It’s election day in the UK tomorrow, and I’m gearing up for an all-nighter at work.  So the natural way to prepare is to… read some nice relaxing cozy crime books that don’t feature any politics at all!  Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed recently.

covers of three cozy crime books
I’m working on making my collages neater… it might take a while

I think I’ve mentioned these before, but Donna Andrew’s Meg Langslow books are a lasting source of delight to me.  They have some of the best punny titles in the genre (all based around birds) and are witty and fun.  There was a slight mid series slump* (but hey where there are 20 books in a series that can happen) but they’re back on form now.  Start at the beginning with Murder with Peacocks – I’ve recently read numbers 17 and 18 – the brilliantly titled The Good, the Bad and the Emus and The Nightingale before Christmas.

I’ve also got a serious soft spot for Cindy Brown’s Ivy Meadows series about a wannabe actress who is a trainee Private Investigator in her spare time.  Each book is based around a different play or musical title  – the fourth book has just come out, Ivy Get Your Gun, and I enjoyed it although I think the second book in the series The Sound of Murder is still my favourite.

I read my first book in Lyn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series a few weeks ago and, although there were a few things that had me confused, I already have another one lined up on my Kindle so I must have liked it.  This follows the trend for small business-owner detectives with a Bookshop-cum-coffee-shop proprietor in a small coastal town.  I like a competent heroine and Jill is good at her day job – or at least she by the eighth book in the series Hospitality and Homicide and she at least has a credible reason for investigating the death.  There’s an interesting supporting cast and a nice relationship to watch develop too.  What more could you want?

I bought the Donna Andrews – and you can get them fairly easily (and for a sensible price) in the UK, but the other copies came to me via NetGalley, so it might be a case of adding them to your book wishlists and waiting for the price to drop, because I often find American cozies are too expensive for me soon after release, especially given how quickly I read them.

Happy Reading – and if you’re up watching the election result tomorrow night, think of me and my colleagues working probably the busiest nightshift of the year!

*SPOILER ALERT: The slump (for me at least) coincided with the period where Meg’s twins were very small.  Once they got to toddling and the books had less feeding and naps, it all sorted itself out

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.

historical, mystery, Series I love

Reccomendsday: Dandy Gilver

Another Recommendsday post, another crime novel.  This time though it’s historical crime and the Dandy Gilver series by Catriona McPherson.  I read number 11 in the series – Dandy Gilver and a Most Misleading Habit – at the weekend and was reminded how much I like this series.  The previous book in the series was a joint BotW about 18 months ago, but perhaps didn’t get as much love as it deserved so this seemed like a good time to revisit it.

I’m trying not to hold the non-matching covers against them!

Dandy is an upper class lady turned private detective in the wilds of Scotland in the 1920s.  She falls into detection when some diamonds are stolen at a ball and discovers that a) she enjoys it and b) she is really quite good at it.  Soon she’s started her own detective agency with her friend Alec and the cases start coming in.  Dandy’s husband is not keen, but is prepared to put up with it (and the money it brings in) as long as her activities are thrust in his face all the time.  I think the series starts fairly slowly, but really hits its stride by book 5 when Dandy goes under cover as a lady’s maid for a case, although I like the second one, Bury Man’s Day a lot as well.

In …Most Misleading Habit, Dandy is investigating a death at a convent in an arson attack, while Alec, her partner in detection, is looking into a break out at an asylum nearby which happened on the same night.  The two must be connected – but an old war chum of Alec’s is being blamed for it and Alec is convinced that he’s being framed.  What really happened and who is it that’s still sneaking around the convent?

Dandy is often shelved with the cozy crime books – but it’s a bit darker than that. They do have their humorous moments, but the solutions often involve issues that you don’t come across very often in this sort of book.  I’ve spoken before about the Daisy Dalrymple and Phryne Fisher series, and Dandy is definitely darker than Daisy and as dark as the darkest Phryne’s.

I’ve read all bar one of the series now – and they’re really worth your time.  You don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning – and several of the installments are very competitively priced at the moment.  I’ve just bought the missing one while writing this because it was only £1.99 on kindle – but a couple of them are only 99p and one of them – Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder is one of my favourites and gives a fairly good indication of what the series is like.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, new releases

Book of the Week: Treasure in Paradise

As you may have gathered from yesterday’s Week in Books post and Saturday’s bonus post, I was on nights last week, which means a steady diet of romance and crime novels through the week.  And so it will probably be no surprise that this week’s BotW is a crime novel and, like last week’s pick Southern Fried, it’s from Henery Press who really do do a good line in this sort of novel.

Cover of Treasure in Paradise by Kathi Daley
I think the cover has it sorted: pirates, parrots, treasure and a corpse!

Treasure in Paradise is the seventh book in Kathi Daley’s Tj Jenson series.  This installment see’s high school teacher Tj and her young half-sisters decamp to the Gull Island to help a family friend with renovations at his holiday resort after the friend is taken ill.  But when they arrive at his house, they discover a body in the attic.  The corpse turns out to be a local treasure hunter, who had grown obsessed with a local legend that there was pirate treasure hidden nearby.  Soon Tj is trying to hunt down the killer herself, after the local deputy rules the death an accident. And it turns out there are lots of secrets hidden on Gull Island as well as a developer sniffing around the resort to boot.

This exactly suited my mood last week.  It’s fast-paced and easy to read with a cast of engaging characters.  Tj is her siblings’ guardian after their mother died in an accident and there is an extended family which works really well to provide interest and subplots beyond the main mystery.  I’d read one book in this series before – the first one – and jumping back in at book seven wasn’t a problem – the characters have moved on in their lives since the first book but no so much that I couldn’t follow.  And the holiday (vacation) location works really nicely as well – Tj is away from home, but not out of her comfort zone because she’s visited the island before and because her family owns a resort as well.

I’ll be looking out for more books in the series – new ones and the ones that I’ve missed.  You can get Treasure in Paradise in paperback or Kindle from Amazon, or you can go back and start from the beginning with Pumpkins in Paradise.  At time of writing the cheapest in the series is Bikinis in Paradise – which I may have just treated myself to for 99p!

Happy reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Earthly Delights

As you may have seen from yesterday’s Week in Books, I had a bit of a strange week reading last week, having trouble settling down to books – and a few that I didn’t like.  But choosing this week’s BotW was easy – Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights.

You might recognise Kerry Greenwood’s name because she’s the author of the Phryne Fisher series of murder mysteries set in 1920s Australia, which I adore and have been turned into a TV series – which I have thoughts about. This the first in her Corinna Chapman series – which is set in present day (or at least present day when they were written a few years back) Melbourne, where Corinna is a speciality baker who runs her own bakery in one of the slightly seedier areas.  The bakery is proving a success, but suddenly she’s getting anonymous letters calling her a whore, a junkie has overdosed in the alley behind her shop, there’s a mysterious but gorgeous man showing an interest in her and her shop assistants are starving themselves to try and get a role on a TV show (any TV show).  She’s determined to get to the bottom of the letters – which are upsetting and scaring her and her friends – and ends up getting sucked in to some of the other drama as well…

Although this is the first in the series, I had already read one of the later books and enjoyed it although I was missing some backstory.  This fills some of those gaps in nicely and sets up the series as well as having an excellent mystery.  Greenwood always creates great settings and quirky characters in the Phryne books – and she does the same here.  Corinna is very different to Phryne, but she’s great fun, smart and warm-hearted, just like Miss Fisher.  Her apartment building is a brilliantly quirky invention – as are many of the people who live there.

I didn’t love this the way that I love Phryne, but in the absence of a new book about the Fabuous Miss Fisher, I’ll happily work my way through these.  I’ve been waiting for either the kindle price or the second hand price to drop on this series for ages – and these have all dropped from over £5 for the Kindle edition to just over £3, which is still on the top end of what I’m prepared to pay for ebooks, but is much more doable.  I shouldn’t really be buying books, but when has that ever stopped me before.  You can pick up your copy on Kindle or Kobo (which isn’t price-matching Amazon at time of writing sadly), in paperback from Amazon (if you’re prepared to shell out £11+ for a new copy or £8+ for a second hand one) or you can trawl the second hand shops because it’s out of stock and un-orderable at both Foyles and Waterstones.

Happy reading.

Authors I love, Series I love

Series I love: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

As promised, here is my love letter to the wonderousness that is Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series.  As a History and French Grad, who wrote my dissertation on the effect of the French Revolution on the nobility of the Touraine* I have a real affinity (if not always affection – see the footnote) for this period of history.  Add into that the fact that I love time-slip novels (you know, books with two connected narratives in two different periods), romances, thrillers and humour, and there’s pretty much everything that I like in these novels that you can managed to combine in the same book.

Pink Cnarnation books
My Pink Carnation book collection (there are more on the kindle) in Book Central

To set the scene: American Eloise Kelly is history grad student working towards her PhD.  At the start of the first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, she has arrived in England to research her dissertation – which is on British spies.  She knows all about the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian, but soon stumbles on a document that everyone has missed – one which contains the identity of the Pink Carnation – the most elusive and influential British spy of them all.  The books follow Eloise’s research as she uncovers nests of spies – on both sides – starting in 1803 and going all the way through til 1807.  The stories take in not just France and England, but Ireland, India and Portugal.  There are governesses, spy schools, double agents, triple agents, free agents, soldiers, privateers, ladies seminaries, exploding Christmas puddings, root vegetables, amateur theatricals, not so amateur theatricals, illegitimate children, drug smuggling, jewel theft, good poetry,very bad poetry and much, much more.

And then there’s romance, all types of romance: friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, employer/employee, (slightly) later in life romance, the list continues.  In fact I think the only one that is missing is accidentally/secretly pregnant – and that’s my least favourite trope, I’m good with that.  Although Eloise is always the modern day strand, the focus of the nineteenth century story changes each book – with the Pink Carnation hovering in the background until you reach the final book.  So if you don’t like one heroine, the one in the next book will be someone different (although you’ll probably have met her before).

Pink Carnation book covers
My distinctly non-matching collection (hardback, US & UK paperbacks) is hard to photograph neatly!

I’ve loved this series.  I borrowed the first book from the library, and, as is traditional, it sat in the library book bag for some time.  Then I read it and liked it, then the next and the next.  As the series has gone on, I’ve loved them more and more.  The early books got solid threes on Goodreads then it moved to fours, then fives.**

I don’t actually own the whole series at the current moment – the earlier books were published in the UK and I picked them up at the library or on Kindle.  Then they stopped and I started picking up the US editions because it was cheaper than the kindle editions (and we all know I love proper books).  So now I’ve read all of them, I want to go back and read again from the beginning and see if I can spot any clues more in the earlier books to what happens in the later ones – and I know they’re there, because I’ve read interviews with Lauren Willig where she says her subconcious puts bits in that she only realises later are key to later events!  But as I don’t own hard copies of them all (as you can see from the pictures) I can’t at the moment, so I suspect there’s some purchasing in my future!

Pink Carnation books in a pile
I tried to make a funky pile. It was harder than I expected. I’m not cut out for photography.

You can start your Pink Carnation journey with the first book on Kindle, Kobo or ePub, from Amazon or Waterstones or it may even still be in your local library. Foyles don’t have the first book – but they do have some of the later ones as well as Ms Willig’s standalone books. Go! Enjoy!  If you start this weekend you could be in Portugal in a few weeks…

* Using primary sources, spending weeks of the sunniest part of my year in France holed up in the departmental archive in Tours because I hadn’t got my act together to do the research earlier, and then discovering when I got home that really I could do with yet more information, not that I really knew where I would have found it or what to do with it if I had it. I still see my 2:1 as something of a miracle!

** It’s at times like these that I think I must either have been a really harsh grader back in the day, or I’ve got soft in my old age, or I’m reading more really good books.  In 2012, when I read the first Pink Carnation book I only gave out 7 five star ratings out of 205 books read (3 percent).  In 2015 43 from 368 – or 10 percent.  This bears investigation.  I smell a future post…

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Fantasy

Book of the Week: Manners and Mutiny

Apologies for the late arrival of this week’s BotW post – I’d somehow convinced myself that I’d already written this piece because all I seem to have done this week is think about the end of the Finishing School series.  But no, clearly I dreamt it.  Anyhow, it’ll be no surprise to anyone who’s been following my social media in the last week that the BotW is Manners and Mutiny – the last book in the Gail Carriger’s Young Adult Finishing School series.

My Kindle tells you all you need to know about last week’s reading matter!

In book four, we find Sophronia back at school on board Madame Geraldine’s floating dirigible, but with a somewhat denuded gang.  No-one’s listening to her warnings about the Picklemen and she’s still not really sure where her future lies.  When danger threatens the ship and life as she knows it, she has to put all her training to the test as we what happened to make Sophronia’s world of mechanicals turn into the society we know from the Parasol Protectorate.

And that’s about all that I can say, without giving away big old spoilers. And even that last sentence is a bit of a spoiler, but I think Carriger readers have all been waiting since Etiquette and Espionage to see what on earth happened to turn one world into the other!  Or if you’re like me and E&E was your first Gail Carriger book and the gateway to the rest, to explain the moment at the start of Soulless where you were all “Huh?  Where did the mechanical servants go?”

So, it’s no secret that I’m a big Carriger convert, having basically read everything she’s written over the past year (see 2014 Discoveries post, my BotW posts on Timeless and Prudence and E&E’s mention in my YA Roundup) – and I was worried that this wouldn’t live up to the hype that I had set up in my head.  So many questions needed answering and it seemed like a bit of a mammoth task for one book to deal with.  I went so far as to re-read all three of the previous books at the start of last week so that I had everything fresh in my mind for the last book – and I can’t say that I spotted anything that wasn’t addressed or tied up (with a bow).  And it’s still a good read.  It doesn’t feel like a tying up the loose ends book.  It feels like Ms Carriger had a plan at the start of the series, and has executed it masterfully – leaving a trail of breadcrumbs through the books for us to follow so that in this last one it all slots together and clicks into place. And as you do this, you smack your head and wonder how you missed the clues.  So clever.

But I have to say that this is not the place to start your Carriger experience.  Do yourself a favour and start with the first book in the series.  Or if you’re not technically a Young Adult, start with Soulless and read them first and then come to Finishing School and see how clever it all is.  I’m so sad Finishing School is over, but it was a deeply satisfying series and never felt like it was going on too long.  If I hadn’t just finished listening to Soulless on audiobook, I’d be going straight on to read that again. As it is I’m halfway through the recording of Changeless, so I’m still in Carriger-land.  And I can’t wait for Imprudence.

Get your copy of Manners and Mutiny (if you’ve already read the others) in paperback or on Kindle.  Or start with Etiquette and Espionage – paperback or Kindle.  The complete-ist in me really wants to buy myself the paperback copies of all of them so that I can put them on the shelf next to the others, but as I’ve already bought two Carriger audio-books and the e-books of Soulless and Changeless this week (so I can read whenever I want…) I’m valiantly resisting for now.  Lets see how long that resolution lasts…