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!

Recommendsday: The Geek Girl series

While I was on my holly-bobs I read the last in the Geek Girl series by Holly Smale.  I think I suggested the series a couple of years ago as a YA Christmas book idea, but now the last book is out, it seemed like a good time to give the series a proper (if quick) mention.

The titular Geek Girl is Harriet Manners, nerd and fact fan who ends up getting scouted by a modelling agent after going to the Clothes Show Live with her fashion-mad best friend.  What ensues across the six books (I’ve read all bar book 5) and several novellas is a fish-out-of-water story as she tries to navigate her way through the modelling world.  And it’s a lot of fun.  I’ve really enjoyed reading about Harriet tripping (literally) her way through the fashion world and going to school at the same time.

I remember reading a few books about models back in my early teen years, but they were all about beautiful and glamorous 18 year olds with backstabbing and bitchy tendencies. This is much more fun. Harriet isn’t the most popular or the prettiest at school and she didn’t ever think about being a model. But she’s ended up doing it and is trying to be as good at it as she is at school – but with a lot of gaps in her fashion education. This does have some bitching and backstabbing, but Harriet is never the one doing it. Or at least she never starts it!

I’d say these are bottom end of YA territory – perfect for the very top end of primary school or early secondary school. Or overgrown kids like me. 

I got Geek Girl 6 via NetGalley, but I’ve bought myself a couple of the others on Kindle or in actual books before. You should be able to track them down fairly easily – I bought one of mine in Tesco.

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday: Funny, smart romances

After yesterday’s ravings about Bet Me, I thought for Recommendsday this week I give a quick shout out to other books and authors doing similar things.

A lot of the books that spring to mind are actually from a while ago – and now have spots on my keeper bookshelves – but this also means some of them aren’t available on kindle, or are only available second hand. Which is a real pain, because they’re all excellent.

I’m going to start with Sarah Mason – and in particular The PartyThe Party Season Season. Izzy and Simon have a great love/hate relationship and all the supporting characters are brilliant too. I wish there were more books by Mason, but she appears to have vanished from the bookish world. She did have a business career as well, but I’ve often wondered if she’s still out there writing under a different name* and I just haven’t spotted her yet. Luckily these are available on Kindle.

Talking of authors that I wish there were more books from, I cried in Tescos when I picked up Melissa Nathan‘s last book and read I the  in the author  ioraphy that she’d died.  She wrote smart, sexy funny romantic comedies the likes of which are hard to find. The good news is that they’re available on Kindle too – The Waitress was the first of hers that I read, but I think The Learning Curve is my favourite.

It’s not that long since I had a rave about Christina Jones, and she definitely fits into this sort of company, as do Hester Browne, Claire Sandy and Jenny Colgan. Hopefully that’s enough suggestions to keep you going for a few days, but if you have any more suggestions for me, do leave them in the comments.

Happy reading! 

*And there are a few like that out there.

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…

 

Book of the Week: Cheerfulness Breaks In

As you may have seen, I didn’t read much last week.  It was a busy, stressful week at work and my brain was fried.  And then there wasn’t a lot to chose from for BotW.  And I know I’ve done an Angela Thirkell BotW before (not that long ago) but although this has its problems, it was still my favourite of the books I read last week.

 

Cheerfulness Breaks In sees the start of the Second World War and all the changes that brings.  It starts with Rose Birkett finally getting married (after having been engaged goodness knows how many times) and is very funny as that flighty damsel wonders if she can squeeze in a trip to the cinema on the morning of her wedding.  Then she’s off abroad with her serviceman husband and everything starts to change.  Some men are conscripted and go away, some are left at home fretting about how they’ll be treated because they haven’t been conscripted.  All the jolly hockey sticks girls throw themselves into nursing and the war effort and waves of evacuees arrive.  There are some very funny and poignant sections in here.

But – and there is a but – it does feel a bit dated because of some of the scenes with the evacuees and the Mixo-Lydians.  Thirkell’s view of the upper class/lower class divide is not as simplistic as some, because there are good people among the evacuated people – and some real idiots among the posh ones, but it is quite broad strokes, and strokes that favour the country people over the urban people.  But then Thirkell was writing this at the time these things were actually happening, so I’m chalking it up as having attitudes “of its time” and giving it a slight pass.  I suspect this is the reason why this one is an ebook only re-release from Virago rather than a pretty paperback like a lot of the others have had.

It’s available on Kindle or Kobo or you can pick up a secondhand paperback copy – but it’s not the best of Thirkell so don’t start here – go with Summer Half for some of the characters from this or Northbridge Rectory (actually the book after this in the series) or start at the beginning with High Rising.

Pick Me Up Books

It’s a funny old time at the moment isn’t it?  There’s so much news about – and lots of it is depressing for various reasons, that working in news for my day (and this week night) job* is getting a bit tough.  I’ve retreated into the world of Happy Endings.  Dystopian fiction is firmly off the menu, as is anything that might end on death, destruction or a down note.  This means I’ve been revisiting some old favourites again as well as reading loads of romance and cozy crime.  You’ll get some posts soon on the best of the new stuff – but I thought I’d also share some of my favourite old friends and Not New books.

Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell books from Virago

Aren’t they gorgeous? And there are more coming later in the year too.

Witty interwar comedies, mostly of manners, set in Barsetshire.  They’re a bit Mapp and Lucia (but with more sympathetic characters) and they remind me of the Diary of a Provincial Lady as well.  If you like the world of Golden Age crime, but don’t want the murders, then come take a look for a bit of wry social satire.  Virago are re-releasing them at the moment – and they’re gorgeous – but you should also be able to get them from a good second hand shop too.  You may remember I had Northbridge Rectory as a BotW a few weeks back, but as well as that one, if you liked Provincial Lady… start at the beginning of the series with High Rising, but if you loved boarding school stories, start with Summer Half and if you liked Downton, start with Pomfret Towers.

Charlaine Harris

 

Charlaine Harris books

The Charlaine Harris shelf, several series, mostly matching but with a few size issues!

Sookie Stackhouse, Harper Connelly, Lily Bard, Aurora Teagarden (a new book coming soon!) or Midnight, Texas, it doesn’t matter.  Yes they all have a body count, and you might lose a character you like from time to time.  But as escapist reading they’re pretty much all you could want.  Soapy melodrama with vampires (sometimes), small towns and kick-ass women (although Rue can be a bit wet at times).  Perfect for binge reading to take your mind off the real world.  After all there aren’t any vampires, werewolves or witches in the real world.

The Cazalet Chronicles

I had four matching copies. Then the fifth book arrived. And I got the hardback.

Retreat into the world of Home Place, the Brig and the Duchy, their children and grandchildren.  You meet them in 1937 and you can follow them through the Second World War and beyond across five books – until the grandchildren are grown up with families of their own.  There are so many characters and so many different stories that you can read 400 pages without out noticing.  Everyone has a favourite or two – mine are Rupert (from the children) and Polly and Clary (from the grandchildren).  I think my mum’s copies are so well thumbed that they fall open to my favourite sections about each of them – especially in Casting Off.  Glom on them on the beach if you’re on holiday, as I resist the temptation to rebuy a new matching set – you can get all 5 books for £6.99 from the Book People as I write this.

Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody

My kindle go-to at times like these is Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody serieses.  I tried to pick one, but I couldn’t.  I mentioned both in passing in my Nightshift books post back in this blog’s early days and Amelia got a shout out in my Summer Reading post two years ago, but I was shocked I hadn’t given either a post of their own.  Amelia is a female Egyptologist in the late nineteenth century.  Vicky is an art historian in sort-of fairly recent times.  Both end up in thrilling adventures.  Amelia picks up a crew of regular side-kicks along the way including, but not limited to a husband, a son, a faithful site foreman and an arch-nemesis and Vicky just keeps running into this gentleman thief-con artist type.  Both remind me in some ways of a female Indiana Jones, but funnier.

And on top of all that, there’s Georgette Heyer, Janet Evanovich, Peter Wimsey and a few of my recent BotW picks that would serve the same purpose and cheer you up too – check out Little Shop of Lonely Hearts, The Rogue Not Taken, Sunset in Central Park and Fangirl.  Also, if in doubt, read Georgette Heyer – start with Venetia or Regency Buck. Coming soon: Summer Holiday reading recommendations…

*In case you missed it I’m a journalist in real life.

 

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…