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!

Interview: Duncan MacMaster

Longtime readers, heck even short-time readers know that I’m a big fan of what Fahrenheit Press do (Exhibit A, B, C, D, E, F and I could go on) and as a special treat today, I’ve got an interview with one of their authors, Duncan MacMaster, whose new book, Hack is out this very day.

Hack tells the story of Jake Mooney, a ghost-writer who lands the biggest job of his career, but ends up fending off attempts on his life.  My review of Hack is coming up tomorrow, but read on to find out more about the man behind the book.

First of all could you tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a Canadian, I studied film at university, I wrote comedy for a while, & I had an up and down career before finding a home with Fahrenheit Press with my first crime novel A Mint Condition Corpse.

For the uninitiated, how would you describe what you write?

I write mysteries and crime thrillers with healthy doses of dark humour and satire.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Hack, where did you get the idea for Jake, the ghost-writer who ends up with a price on his head?

My first crime novel A Mint Condition Corpse had Kirby Baxter who is a sleuth in the Sherlock Holmes/Hercule Poirot tradition and I wanted to do something different. I was thinking of an investigator who was the opposite of Kirby Baxter, in that he had no real sleuthing skills, and was more adept at collecting injuries than clues. He succeeds more through dogged determination to stay alive and hopefully get the girl.

I needed an excuse for an unskilled amateur to get involved with murder and mayhem and consciously thought a ghostwriter doing an autobiography full of scandal and secrets was a good way to do it. Subconsciously I was venting a lot of my career frustrations indirectly through Jake. I had suffered some truly ridiculous setbacks over the years and I needed to get them out, even if it involved making up fictional ones for Jake.

Rick-the-corpse was the star of a Miami Vice-esque TV show and it felt to me like there was a bit of an homage going on to that sort of TV show going on – speed boats, surgically enhanced (or altered at any rate) women, tropical islands – was that fun to write?

It was. I’m a child of the 80s, the golden age of excess, and shows like Miami Vice sort of set the standard for style and swagger. It seems so silly and strange to us now, but back then everything about those shows seemed so cool. It was also a time of indulgent drug use, pre-AIDS sexual irresponsibility, and attitudes that would be shocking to our modern politically correct sensibilities. It’s a ripe target for both a little nostalgia and satire.

Your last book was a whodunnit at a comic book convention, this is a thriller-y mutter in the tropics – what can we expect from you next? Something else completely different or a familiar face? (Please more Kirby, please more Kirby!)

I’m working on more Kirby. I just finished the first draft of the sequel to A Mint Condition Corpse called Video Killed The Radio Star. It puts Kirby, Gustav and Molly in the world of reality television. I still have a lot of work to do on it to make it worthy of public consumption. I’m also developing a more experimental project about unreliable narrators and male archetypes, as well as outlining a potential sequel to Hack called Hacked, where Jake gets involved in a Hollywood computer hacking scandal.

And finally, what have you been reading recently that you’d like to shout about?

While I’m writing I try to avoid reading fiction, because I tend to be a stylistic sponge, and I don’t want to inadvertently imitate anyone. Right now I’m reading nonfiction, specifically Something To Do With Death by Christopher Frayling. It’s an incredibly researched biography of Sergio Leone, who was the master of the “spaghetti western.” It’s full of the sort of details about backstage life that I like to file away for later use.

However, I must give a shoutout to the other writers at Fahrenheit Press, who are a wonderful band of misfits that everyone should be reading.

Come back tomorrow to find out what I thought about Hack, but if you can’t wait and need to read it now, click here.

Book of the Week: Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars

I had such a tough job picking a book for BotW this week, because I really didn’t read anything that I whole-heartedly loved.  I started reading a lot of books and then gave up on them, and I finished a few – including a real stinker.  But in the end I plumped for Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson.

Cover of Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars.

As I mention below, Im not quite sure the cover for this is quite right.

Anna Treadway is a dresser, working in a London theatre and living above a Turkish cafe in Soho in 1965.  When the actress who she works with disappears, she sets out to try and find her as the trail grows cold and the newspapers lose interest.   As she hunts for the mysterious Iolanthe Green she finds herself in new world of jazz clubs, police cells and backstreet doctors.

Whilst this wasn’t perfect, it was an interesting idea and a great cast of diverse characters. It’s got an interesting mystery that’s well thought through and several different plot strands which tie together quite nicely.  Underneath the mystery of where Iolanthe has gone there are issues of prejudice and race and people struggling to be heard and believed. From the look of the (UK) cover and some of the write ups I was expecting it to be ultimately more uplifting, but perhaps given the issues that it’s dealing with, I was being unrealistic.

This is Miranda Emmerson’s first novel and it does a great job of creating the atmosphere of 1960s London and the grimier side of life.  In fact that was what I liked best about it – the mix of people thrown together, some times living side by side without ever intersecting.  I think I would have liked more of Anna’s backstory and I wanted a bit more of what happened next at the end, but I pretty much always want more of what happened next at the end!

My copy came via NetGalley, but you can get Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones or on Kindle and Kobo.  It only came out a couple of weeks back so it’s hardcover and the ebooks are priced accordingly too I’m afraid.  The paperback is out in July, so it may drop a little then, if you want to add it to your wishlist and wait it out.

Happy Reading.

Book of the Week: Crooked Heart

Quite a tough decision on what to pick for BotW this week – there were several contenders. But in the end I’ve plumped for Lissa Evans’ Crooked Heart, which I devoured over the weekend while we were away for an extended jolly for my birthday.   This was another book which had ended up at the bottom of my to-read pile and resurfaced because of the Big Box Up and I’m so glad that it did.

Copy of Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans.

Mine had an extra cover on it – the actual cover is prettier.

 

Crooked Heart tells the story of Noel, who is evacuated to Hertfordshire in 1940.   Noel is an unusual 10 year old.  He’s been brought up by an old lady and is precocious and smart beyond his years.  He ends up with Vera – a 36 year old single mum struggling with debt, a recalcitrant and secretive son and her demanding mother.  Vera is sure there is some money to be made out of the war, but the trouble is that she’s not very good at making a plan and sticking to it.  But Noel is a different proposition.  He’s smart, he’s calm and he might be the answer to Vera’s problems.  But of course they’re not the only people making money from the war, and there are dangers other than air-raids in Noel’s new life.

I really enjoyed this.  Noel and Vera are engaging characters who make a good team.  Vera is almost a proto-Del Boy – but with Noel to help she has the chance of her deals actually going right.  In some ways Noel reminded me of  William in Goodnight Mr Tom (that’s a good thing) – Noel has had more advantages in his education and home life that William did, but he’s still a little boy who has had to grow up too fast and deal with things that children aren’t meant to deal with.  And one of the themes of Goodnight Mr Tom is finding your own family and your own place in life and there’s a lot of that here although Vee is very different to Tom.

It’s a heartwarming romp through the grey, greyer and uglier areas of life on the home front.  I could easily have read another 100 pages of Vee and Noel, but actually the ending is a brilliant touch.  I haven’t read any of Lissa Evans’ books before, but my little sister still has a copy Evans’ first novel, Spencer’s List, on her shelf which I bought for her back in the day 15 years ago, so I’m going to have to borrow that off her and read it.  Coincidentally someone posted a trailer on Facebook for the upcoming film Their Finest on the same day as I read this – and that’s based on Evans’ previous book Their Finest Hour and a Half, which I totally need to read now as well.

You can get a copy of Crooked Heart from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles or on Kindle or Kobo.  And it looks like there might be a (slightly retitled) tie-in edition of Their Finest Hour and Half coming out too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week: The Making of a Marchioness

This week’s pick comes from the bottom of the to-read pile – which is now the top because of the unfortunate fireplace situation.  I acquired a little stack of Persephone Print books from a friend a year (and the rest) ago and some how they ended up getting relegated to one of the piles behind the sofa arm.  What a mistake to make.  Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Making of a Marchioness, although not perfect, turned out to be a little gem.

The Making of a Marchioness is a story of two parts.  Both are about Emily Fox-Seaton, a well-born lady in her early 30s (so on the shelf for the era – this was published in 1901) who has very little money and who supports herself by running errands for people better off than herself.  In part one, she gets invited to visit a country house to help out and during the course of her stay her fortunes change.  The second part chronicles how she adapts to her change in fortunes.

Now, in order to explain my feelings about this book, I’m going to have to give some spoilers. Sorry. So, if you don’t want to be spoilt (so to speak) then don’t read below the photograph that’s coming up.  But if you like a Cinderella story, but one that’s populated by really quite unromantic people who aren’t all beautiful or clever, than this might well be the book for you.  The latest Persephone edition, although not quite as pretty as mine is £9.00 on Amazon and Foyles as I write this or in the edition that I own for £14 from Waterstones, but the total bargain is the ebook because both Kindle and Kobo have a free versions.

Photo montage of The Making of a Marchioness

I do love these Persophones – plain unassuming grey cover and then a beautiful design inside.

And now the spoilers.  I did warn you.

I really, really, liked the first part of the book – with Emily winning the Marquess by being herself and realising what she was doing.  Emily is an immensely likeable character who is cheerful and uncomplaining and just generally indispensible.  Part two, where we see her adapting to life as a Marchioness is really very Gothic and melodramatic and I didn’t like it as much – perhaps because it was so different from the first part of the book.  Emily’s obliviousness to the machinations of the unsuitable heir and his wife (and her maid) started to annoy me a little after a while and I just wanted her to buck up and write that letter to her husband (away in India on government business) or confide in Lady Maria who would have sorted it all out.  The two parts were originally published as separate books, and I can’t work out if I would have liked the second part more or less if I’d read the first part in isolation and then come across its sequel.

What is true of both parts is that they are very well written and without the overblown romantic transports of many similar novels.  And the way it portrays marriage is also very different from other novels of the time.  Emily is not on the prowl for a husband in part one, she’s content to try and live her life without a man (even if she is worried about old age and poor health) but when she does get married, her husband is not a romantic hero – in fact he’s really not sure why he settled on Emily at some points – and their relationship is very stiff and Victorian (and Edwardian).  There are some slightly dated attitudes in here – but I’ve read much (much) worse and it’s on the nicer end of the attitudes and problems of its time.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading an adult novel by an author that I only knew for her famous children’s stories like The Secret Garden – and I’m really looking forward to reading more of the Persephones on my to-read pile.

Happy Reading.

Give Me a Book for Christmas 2016

Yes, it’s that time of year again, where I tell you what’s been sitting in my Amazon Shopping basket for months as I try to justify buying more books in the guise of offering recommendations for people who like what I like but actually offer last minute hints to my loved ones who read the blog and anyone else who wants to buy me something.  In writing this I went back over last year’s version of this post and was cheered over how many of my 2015 wishes I’ve got and have read – and there are a couple more on my Kindle too that I bought myself!

Non Fiction

The non fiction section of this list always seems to be bigger than the fiction one – I think because non-fiction books are often more expensive or come out in hardback first so I’m less likely to buy them myself and it takes longer for them to drop down in price secondhand.

A new addition to the list is Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Mock, Hate and Fear by Sady Doyle, which Sarah MacLean recommended in her Christmas mailing list.  It’s a look at troubled women in the public eye through history – from Mary Wollstonecraft through Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse – examining what makes a “trainwreck” and why we’re so fascinated by them.  I’ve had my eye on The End of the Perfect 10 by Dvora Meyers since the Olympics in the summer, but haven’t been able to justify shelling out for it when I have so much waiting on the to-read shelf.  And then there’s Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me which I’ve just heard so much about but haven’t got around to reading yet.

There’s a few memoirs that I’m interested on – I keep hearing good things about Tara Clancy’s The Clancy’s of Queens about her childhood growing up in different parts of New York.  Then there’s Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime about growing up in South Africa when his parents’ marriage (between a white Swiss man and a black Xhosa woman) was illegal.  Noah is almost exactly my age and it’s crazy to me that this was still happening in my lifetime, to my contemporaries.

In history terms, I’d like First Women by Kate Anderson Brower about modern First Ladies of the US,  I want to read Barbara Leaming’s Kick Kennedy because I already have Paula Byrne’s novel Kick waiting on the shelf and I wouldn’t mind Rosemary by Kate Larson (although I fear it may make me sad and angry) because most of my knowledge about the other Kennedys comes from Laurie Graham’s novel The Importance of Being Kennedy and Robert Dalek’s biography John F Kennedy: An Unfinished Life.

I’m not one for science books in the main – although I’d also like to read several of the Mary Roach books I recommended yesterday – but I’d really like Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are which is an exploration of female sexuality and sex, but I’m not sure there’s anyone I know well enough that I can ask them to buy it for me!  Perhaps I’ll treat myself to it in the New Year!

Fiction

The fiction section this year breaks down into authors I want to try or books I keep hearing about and series/authors I collect.  I’ll start with the former, because if you’ve been here a while the latter may seem a bit familiar to you…

Last year I was asking for the last of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation books – this year i’m asking for her first collaboration with Beatriz Williams (who I also really like) and Karen White, The Forgotten Room, which is a timeslip novel covering three generations of a family in New York.  And incidentally I still haven’t managed to read Willig’s other novel from last year That Summer, where a woman inherits a house and discovers a painting and a mystery.

I’m always wanting non-Christmassy books to read in January – particularly because that’s when my birthday is and I’m sick of tinsel and mistletoe by New Year’s Day – which conincidentally is when Sherlock is back on TV, so Brittany Holmes A Study in Charlotte (female Holmes descendant at a US boarding school) or Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women (historical romance with female Sherlock) which I’ve been coveting for ages might well suit my mood early in 2017.

On the collection front, Virago reissued three more Angela Thirkells recently that I have not yet read or added to my collection (I wasn’t allowed to buy myself when Foyles were doing 20% off online, apparently 1 book as a present and 1 book for me was not an acceptable purchase ratio…) Miss Bunting, The Headmistress and Marling Hall.  There’s also a few more of Virago’s Designer Hardbacks that I’d quite like to add to the shelf – notably the two Daphne Du Maurier short story collections – Don’t Look Now and Other Stories and The Birds and Other Stories and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on the Train.

And in more boring every day reading so to speak, I really want to read the new Aurora Teagarden Mystery by Charlaine Harris, All the Little Liars, partly because I like the series but also because the idea of an author coming back to a series after nearly 15 years fascinates me. I still don’t have the latest Julia Quinn (Because of Miss Bridgerton) or Sarah MacLean (A Scot in the Dark) so I’m falling behind in my historical romance reading as well as the rest of the backlog.

Bookish Stuff

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve already bought myself another year of Fahrenheit Press books and a couple more years of Literary Review, and I have Vanity Fair as well.  I did investigate a membership of the London Library, but I don’t know anyone who would spend nearly £500 on a library membership for me – especially with the massive backlog I have at the moment (and I can get a *lot* of books for £500 – that’s probably more than I’ve spend on books for myself this year anyway!).

I do fancy a new Kindle e-reader though – my first generation Kindle Touch has given me faithful service for more than 4 years, but it’s now struggling a little bit (it keeps stalling, possibly because of the amount of stuff on it) and the paint is scratching off it.  It’d also be nice to have two so that Him Indoors could use one on the beach on holiday (he ended up using mine for a fair bit of our last one).  My pick (I think) is the Voyage – because I want the backlight but I’m also getting lazy in my old age and liked the page turning squeezing thing when I tried it at the airport.

So there you are, more books than you can shake a stick at that I want for Christmas, despite the piles I already have.  It’s like an addiction except that I learn things and it’s not illegal.

Easter Reading Suggestions

Easter is upon us again – early this year – and so I thought I’d throw some suggestions out there for books for reading over the bank holiday weekend, or the Easter holidays if you’re lucky enough to have them.

The Night That Changed Everything by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice

Copy of The Night that Changed Everything

I love the cover of this book – can’t explain why, but it just speaks to me

Rebecca and Ben are perfect for each other – blissfully happy, they’re made for each other.  But when a secret from the past is accidentally revealed, their love story is rewritten.  Can they recover?  Is it possible to forgive and forget? This came out yesterday (Thursday), but I was lucky to have an advance copy which I finished on the train home from work just after midnight on Thursday morning.  I really, really, enjoyed Rebecca and Ben’s story – which, as you can probably tell from my synopsis, is not your traditional romantic comedy.  It nearly had me crying on the train – which doesn’t happen very often (in part because I try not to read books that will make me cry on the train!) and I had trouble putting it down.  I didn’t even notice I’d arrived at Euston on the way to work on Wednesday I was so engrossed – if it wasn’t the end of the line I would have missed my stop!  On top of everything else going for it, I had no idea where it was going.  I suspect this is going to be on a lot of beach reading lists this year – get there ahead of the game and read it now.  I’m hoping this will be in the supermarkets and all over the place – but here are the traditional links: Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, Foyles, Kobo.

Death of a Diva by Derek Farrell

Danny Bird has lost his job, his boyfriend and his home.  So of course the logical solution to this is to take over a dive of a pub owned  by a gangster and try and transform it into a fabulous nightspot.  But then his big act for the opening night turns up dead in the dressing room surrounded by a cloud of powder that’s definitely not talc and he’s the prime suspect in a murder inquiry.  This is funny and clever – I was laughing out loud as I tried to figure out who was responsible.  Danny is a fabulous character – and is surrounded by a great supporting cast.  There’s lots of potential here – this is another winner from Fahrenheit Press – who you may have noticed have been providing a lot of my favourite crime reads recently.  Get your copy on Kindle and badger Fahrenheit on Twitter to get it on other platforms.  I got my copy free when it was on promotion a couple of weekends ago (it came out before the Fahrenheit subscription) – this weekend their free book for Easter is Fidelis Morgan’s Unnatural Fire – which is high on my to-read pile – as I loved The Murder Quadrille as you may remember.

The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan

Harriet and her granddaughter Grace are governesses at the same house, nearly 50 years apart.  Grace has been raised on stories of Fenix House – but once she’s arrived it’s clear that her grandmother may be a less than reliable narrator.  I reviewed this for Novelicious (check out my full review here) and basically this is the book that is going to fill the Victorian-time-slip-upstairs-downstairs gap in your life.  Secrets, lies, families, relationships -they’re all there in this twisty and intriguing book – which had me poleaxed at the end. If you liked Letters to the Lost, or the Mysterious Affair at Castaway House, or any of Lauren Willig’s stand-alone novels like The Ashford Affair then this is for you.

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

Hazel and Daisy are back on the detection trail after Deepdean’s new head girl is found dead during a fireworks display.  I haven’t finished the latest Wells and Wong mystery yet (it’s another that came out on Thursday – I started it as soon as my pre-order dropped on to my kindle) but if it’s half as good as the other three it’ll be a delight.  One for the 8 to 12 year old in your house – and your inner child as well.

What am I going to be reading this Easter weekend? Well, I’m hoping to finish Hazel and Daisy’s adventures on my Good Friday commutes, then I think I might try to fill the Night Circus-shaped void in my life with Ben Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes or my urge for more time-slip books with the rest of Beatriz Williams’ latest or Lucinda Riley’s The Seven Sisters.   Any other recommendations gratefully received in the comments – although I’m meant to be on a book-buying ban!