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: 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!

Recommendsday: No Way Home

Today’s Recommendsday book is Annette Dashofy’s latest cozy crime No Way Home, which came out yesterday and which I’m currently reading.  This is the fifth novel in her Zoe Chambers series about a paramedic and deputy coroner who gets entangled with the crimes in her neighbourhood. No Way Home sees a rash of teen drug deaths in Zoe’s home town, the death of a popular town commissioner and the disappearance of Zoe’s best friend’s son in New Mexico – which sends Zoe out of her comfort zone and across the country to try and help find him.

Cover of No Way Home

The cover definitely does the New Mexico end of the story well!

This is the second book in the series that I’ve read (I read the first a few weeks back now) and they’re well-put together murder mysteries with an interesting cast of characters and a “detective” who has a great excuse for getting involved in investigations and a job that gives her access to information.  Having skipped a couple of books there are some developments in this that I’ve missed, but nothing that means I can’t follow this book (and no spoilers so far for the plots of the other books).

Catnip wise, they’re set in small town, rural Pennsylvania with farms and horses and there’s also a slow burn romance going on too.  As yet, no crafting or bakeries! Zoe is a little foolhardy at times, but never quite into Too Stupid To Live territory so far and I’m really quite enjoying this.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t all go wrong in the final quarter.

My copy came from NetGalley and although I think it is an actual physical release, it’s super expensive over here, but it’s more reasonable on Kindle.

Happy Reading!

Relaxation Reading

Why hello dear Reader.  I now have finished my (partly self-inflicted) double dose of nightshift hell I feel like sharing some of the things that I’ve read and enjoyed during my two weeks of sleep deprivation and brain fade.  I’ve written about the effects of nights on my reading habits before and I can confirm that I’m still irrational, prone to tears and incapable of making decisions while I’m staying awake all night.  This set of nights I’ve been ever so restrained, and haven’t bought any books – which is a minor miracle as my nights the week before Christmas saw a mini ebook spree and the ones before that saw nearly a dozen books turning up the following week!

Romance

In many ways romances are perfect nightshift reading for me – you know what you’re getting.  The hero and heroine will get a Happily Ever After (or at least a Happily For Now) and if you know which tropes you like and which keywords to look out for you can pick books which should tick your boxes.  I know I don’t do well with angst and trauma when I’m on nights, so I’ve been picking out Enemies to Lovers stories like Lucy Parker’s Pretty Face (this week’s BotW) and a couple of new releases from favourite authors.  In fact I saved (waiting two weeks to read it counts as saved in my book) Eloisa James’s latest book Seven Minutes in Heaven especially for nightshifts.

Detective

I’ve already mentioned The Ballad of Sean and Wilko and I was luck enough to get an advance copy of Duncan MacMaster’s new book Hack which was fabulously entertaining – if you haven’t read A Mint Condition Corpse yet, I highly recommend it. Henery Press are one of my regular suppliers/purveyors of cozy crime and I read the first Zoe Chambers book Circle of Influence as well, which is a little darker than their usual crime, but very good – I’ll be keeping an eye out for more in the series.

Children’s Books

Fortuitously for me, an order of Girl’s Own books arrived just before I started nights.  This – combined with a couple of Middle Grade novels from NetGalley meant that I had plenty of school girl antics to read about.  Although not all of them were school girls.  I now know more than I ever thought I needed to about pedigree Cocker Spaniel care in the 1950s (Elinor M Brent Dyer’s Kennelmaid Nan) and a lot more about the trials of being a nursery teacher in a deprived area just after the war.

Hate reading

I wrote about hate reads only a few weeks ago.  My tendency to irrationality when on nights and shortness of sleep means I have a habit of losing my temper with Him Indoors at these sort of times.  So to avoid that, I channel my anger and rage in a good (you know what I mean) hate read.  I’m not naming names here* because this is a positive space but I’ve hate read (or ended up hate reading) at least one book each week of nights.

So there you have it – a bit more detail on What I Read On Nightshifts.  Hopefully it’s amused you to see how my brain regresses when I haven’t had enough sleep and may be there’s a few there that might appeal to you, I’m happy to be enabling your book purchasing decisions this weekend.

Happy reading!

*But if you follow me on Goodreads or Litsy you’ll know (or be able to work out) exactly which books I’m talking about!

Book of the Week: The Semester of Our Discontent

Last week was almost entirely taken up with cozy crimes, many of them the first in series as I’m on the hunt for another one to add to my lists.  It’s proving a harder quest than I had imagined.  Quite a few of the books that I read last week had a problem (or two).  But in the end I settled on the first book in Cynthia Kuhn’s Lila McLean series – mostly on the basis that I went out and requested the second book from NetGalley after I finished it – which is out later this month – and then read that too.

Cover of The Semester of Our Discontent

I like the simplicity of the cover – it looks classy to me.

So, in the Semester of Our Discontent we met Lila, newly appointed English professor at a small but prestigious university.  But no sooner has she arrived at Stonedale than she has more to worry about than whether she’s going to get enough published to get tenure when she finds one of her colleagues dead.  Her cousin (also on the staff and up for tenure) is one of the prince suspects, so Lila starts gathering evidence alongside teaching and settling in to her new job.

Now as a Brit, I had to google tenure the first time I can across it in a book a few years back, because it wasn’t something I had come across in the UK system, but this actually explains it really quite well and it made sense to me (or at least as much sense as it can make!) without slowing down the plot or doing an info dump.  There’s a large cast of characters in this, who don’t always get a chance to become more than just names* but the people you do get to know are engaging and three dimensional.  There’s definitely set up here for running threads for the series, but it’s done much less obviously than some of the other books I read last week.

There are a couple of moments that are a bit over the top (and I can’t tell you what) but Lila’s investigations are sensible enough and she never strays over the Too Stupid to Live or the Why the Monkeys Hasn’t She Been Arrested lines – which again was a problem in some of the other books that I read this week.

The Semester of Our Discontent isn’t perfect, but it’s engaging and readable and the depiction of campus life feels like it has plenty of potential for plots that don’t neccesarily revolve around loads of bodies**.  And at time of writing its available for the bargain price of 99p on Kindle.  It’s also available, but more expensive (£2.04) on Kobo.  The second book, The Art of Vanishing, is available on the 28th – Kindle and Kobo are taking pre-orders now, and again at time of writing Kindle is the cheaper.  They’re both published by Henery Press, who were the source of a fair few of my cozies last week, and they have more links to outlets where you can buy on their websites as well as sign up to their newsletter, which sometimes has freebies.  Wink wink.

Happy reading!

*Although this is sorted out in book 2

**As demonstrated in book 2

My Big Obessions of 2016

As regular readers will know, I’m a binge reader.  I find someone or something new that I like and I gorge on it.  One of the big reasons my to-read pile never seems to shrink is because I’m forever discovering new series and then buying them up to read and ignoring the stuff waiting on the pile. We’ve already revisited last year’s obsessions, and so to mark the end of the year here are my big obsessions of 2016.

Fahrenheit Press

Lets start with the obvious.  And yes, I know. You’ve heard so much from me about Fahrenheit Press this year that you’re starting to think they’re paying me (they’re not) but I could basically have written this whole post obsessing over their books.  But I’m trying to be restrained, so I’m only giving them one entry.  There is something about the books that they publish that just works for me.  They’re not all the same but they work as a group.  I haven’t read all the books that I’ve got through my subscription yet, but everything I have has that same slightly subversive, sideways look at what it’s doing – whether it’s old series they’re republishing (like Sam Jones) or new ones (like Danny Bird).  The truly excellent thing about this particular obsession is that I bought their subscription early in the year, so it’s been excellent value and they’re an ebook publisher so it hasn’t been adding to the actual physical pile. And as I’ve already bought a 2017 subscription I suspect I may be boring you all about them again well into the year.

Girls Own fiction

I’ve always been a sucker for a boarding school story and spent much of my childhood playing made up games about being at one (despite the fact that I’m fairly sure in reality I would have hated it), but until this year my reading in the genre has centred around the authors that were still in print when I was small (so Elinor M Brent Dyer, Enid Blyton, Anne Digby).  In 2016 I’ve managed to lay my hands on some who are more forgotten – like Mabel Esther Allen, Gwendoline Courtney and the downright obscure like Phylis Matthewman – as well as filling in more gaps in my favourites (like the end of Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells series) and some modern fill in titles for my favourite series and it’s been glorious. Some of them are just great stories, some of them are so bad it’s funny and often you’re reading them giving side eye.  I wouldn’t necessarily lend them to a child now, but for me personally they’re a fabulous escape from the misery of every day life.  In Boarding School-land bad deeds are found out, no one is ever bullied, and everyone loves their school in the end (if they don’t, they’re probably A Bad Influence and may not return next term).   I’m still not really into horse books and there’s only so much Guides I can take, but I’ll try anything – up to and including books about girls who want to be kennel maids…

The Chronicles of St Mary’s series

I don’t know how this had passed me by before.  In case you’ve missed it too, The Chronicles of St Mary‘s follows Madeleine Maxwell and her colleagues at St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research – historians who have time machines and use them to go and investigate what really happened in the past.  It doesn’t often go to plan.  It’s made me laugh, it’s made me cry and it’s made me go and check up on some other periods in history that are out of my comfort zone.*  I stumbled across one of the free novellas on audible and listened to it on one of my jaunts to the Youth Hostel back in March and fell in love.  I went back to the start been working my way through the series since, but have been trying to pace myself so I don’t run out of books.  I’ve got just finished book six and I’ve got book seven waiting for me on my Kindle – but book eight isn’t out until July so I’m trying to control myself.

Sarah Morgan

I will confess to not having read any Sarah Morgan before I met her at Sarah MacLean’s London tea party in May and got a goody bag with one of her books in it.  Without that goody bag, I’m not sure I would ever have picked up one of her books, but I’ve read six novels and a prequel novella now, and have an advance copy of her next one on the stack and another few of her backlist on the kindle having picked them up on offer.  They  challenge my ideas about what I do and don’t read.  Morgan’s background is in category romance, which I haven’t really read since I glommed on a box of old-school Mills and Boons at my Granny’s house when I was about 12.  I don’t think that I would read a medical romance (which is what Morgan started out writing as she was a nurse) and I definitely don’t do secretaries and billionaires, but it turns out that I do like contemporary romances where smart, sassy women meet their perfect matches. Because I’ve enjoyed Sarah Morgan’s books I’ve ventured further into some of the other contemporary romance authors I’ve heard mentioned on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  And if the spines say Mills and Boon, at least the cover designs aren’t cringey any more!

Books with Brontes

This seems bonkers considering the fact that I’ve never read Wuthering Heights all the way through, and haven’t read Jayne Eyre since I was  about 9, but this year seems to have been the year of me reading books featuring the Brontes in some shape or form. I think I’ve read about half a dozen now.  Some have been amazing, like The Madwoman Upstairs or Jane Steele, some have been less so, none have made me want to re-read Jane Eyre (but lets face it, if Thursday Next couldn’t manage that, I don’t think anything will) or have another go at Wuthering Heights, but I’ve enjoyed them and done some more reading around the Brontes.  I think perhaps it’s because I don’t know much about them or their books that I enjoy them so much – there’s not much chance of me spotting mistakes or inconsistencies!  And on top of all this, Trisha Ashley’s next novel, which I’m lucky enough to have an advance copy of, is set in Bronte country as well!

So there you have it, my bookish obsessions of 2016. Place bets now on what might make the list in 12 months time.

*My comfort zone being Western European history post 1485, with a strong preference for post 1750.

My Big Obsessions of 2015: Revisited

As we all know, I am the bingiest of binge readers, so before I post my 2016 obsessions post, I thought it might be fun to revisit my obsessions from last year to see if I’m fickle and flighty, or true to my obsessions before you point and laugh at all the ways I’ve been derailing my efforts to shrink the to-read pile this year!  NB links to series are to Goodreads and links to individual titles are to Amazon as I’ll be here all week if I link to all the different sellers and Goodreads will give you links through to retailers via the individual book pages that way.

Janet Evanovich

So after binging on Evanovich last year, the pace has slowed somewhat in 2016.  From 30 books last year, to 6 this year.  And that’s not because I’ve gone off her – just that I’m running out of books to read.  I’m up to date in the Lizzie and Diesel and Fox and O’Hare series, I’ve read another of her backlist romances and the first book in the new series (didn’t like it sadly, but it’s the first real big failure I’ve had from her).  I’ve only read one more Stephanie Plum, although I have book 20 waiting on the pile, so I’m still a few behind in that, but that’s because I’m waiting for the prices to drop/paperbacks to appear.

Deanna Raybourn

I’ve been very good at rationing myself with Deanna Raybourn this year.  She doesn’t turn out as many books as Janet Evanovich (who does?!) so I’m very aware that if I’m not careful I’ll find myself with a long wait to read more from her.  I’ve now read all of the Lady Julia books and novellas, but I still have a couple of  her standalone books waiting for me to read.  I loved the first Veronica Speedwell (A Curious Beginning) – and have managed to get the second one, A Perilous Undertaking, from NetGalley – it’s out in January so I’ve just started reading it in the last week as a post-Christmas treat to myself for being back at work.  Now you may remember that this time last year I did a bit of bulk Raybourn purchasing because the prices had dropped – and I’m delighted to report that at time of writing the same things seems to have happened again – and you can pick up the first Lady Julia, Silent in the Grave, for 99p and none of the others cost more than £2.99. A Spear of Summer Grass has also dropped in price – making it cheaper than when I bought it last year gnash – and most of the others are cheaper too.  Tell you what, I’ll just leave the link to her Amazon kindle title list here.

Historical Romance

So, after spending 2015 searching out new historical romance authors, this year I have tended to stick with authors I’ve already read, with a few exceptions.  I also think that although I’ve read about the same amount of romances over the year, I’ve read more contemporary romances and less historicals, partly because of all the bingeing on historicals meaning that I’ve run out of cheap backlist titles and unless I can get them through NetGalley the new releases are more expensive on Kindle than I’m prepared to pay for a book that is only going to take me a few hours to read, so I wait until they go on offer/second hand prices sort themselves out.  I also think I’ve got pickier about the tropes that I’m prepared to read.  So unless it’s an author that I know I usually like, I tend to avoid Highland romances, pirates, amnesia, accidental pregnancies, secret babies, tortured heroes and heroines and to a lesser extent reunited romances (it depends what it was that split them up first time around) in historicals – and in contemporaries too, although you don’t get a lot of pirate or highland contemporaries – and going straight for my catnip: disguises, enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, marriages of convenience, rakes, guardians/wards (a la Regency Buck, not creepy old men and young girls obviously) and fake engagements.

Cozy Crime

I said last year that I felt more cozy crime reading coming on in 2016 and I was right.  I have read *so* much cozy crime this year.  So much.  I’ve worked my way through various of Henery Press’s offerings on NetGalley, carried on with Jenn McKinlay‘s series (when prices allowed), tried various crafting-based cozies and quite a few with journalists as main characters (some successful, some less so), some with vicars, a few with police as main characters (more unusual in the genre than you’d think), wondered how many bodies need to turn up outside a cafe/bakery to make the business unviable and even dipped my toe into paranormal/ghostly cozy crimes.  I still have the rule about how much I’ll spend on them (which is pretty much the same as with historical romances) so I’ve read a lot of first in series (which tend to be cheap/free) and then added the rest to my ever-growing Amazon list to wait for the prices to drop on the sequels.  I’m still working out which sort of plots work best for me, but I reckon by the end of 2017 I should have got it sussed.

Historical Crime

As with 2015 I’m still searching for those elusive books that will scratch my Daisy Dalrymple/Phryne Fisher itch.  We haven’t had a new Phryne for 3 years now and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever get any more (the TV series is Not The Same) which fills my heart with dread, so I’ve read pretty much all of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman books this year (I read one in 2015 when I happened up it at the library) to try and cheer myself up but as they’re set in modern day Melbourne they are really quite different.  I’m pretty much up to date with Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series now thanks to a string of them popping up at The Works, and the latest Sidney Chambers appeared on the shelf of books at work too although I find that they’re a bit out of my favourite time period now they’ve hit the 1960s.  I’ve filled in pretty much all the gaps in Flavia de Luce and Dandy Gilver now so I’ve had to cast my net further.  The results have been somewhat mixed.  I like Ashley Weaver’s Amory Ames series, but the third book has only just come out, so there aren’t enough of them and Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton series has grown on me.  I’m still searching for another good 1920s or 1930s-set murder mystery series now I’ve exhausted all the obvious options.  I’ve read one of Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series and have another on the pile so it’s too early to tell if I like them, but if I do, Bowen’s Molly Murphy series might be my next stop.  Luckily, I was sent some of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion series that I hadn’t already read to read and review (on Amazon) so I’ve filled my historical crime gap with some actual genuine Golden Age crime instead.

So there you have it – a look back at last year’s obsessions and an insight into what happens after you’ve binged on an author and can’t get your fix.  Any suggestions for historical romance, cozy crime or historical crime books or series that I might like are gratefully received.

Coming tomorrow: My 2016 obsessions…