This week’s BotW is Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop. I’ve had Crispin recommended to me several times recently and as I come to the end of my Inspector Alleyn marathon I’ve been looking for a new Golden Age author to binge on and I think Crispin could be it. The Case of the Gilded Fly is the first in the Gervase Fen series – but The Long Divorce has also been touted as a good one for me to start with, but I ended up reading The Moving Toyshop because it was available for 99p when I was looking! It’s taken me a few weeks to get around to it, but I’m very glad I did.
There appears to be a whole set of Crispin reissues underway, which is good news for the e-reader!
First published in 1946, The Moving Toyshop is the third book to feature Gervase Fen, an eccentric Oxford professor and amateur detective. In this book, he finds himself investigating a murder on behalf of a former schoolmate. Late one night on a trip to Oxford, Richard Cadogan stumbled across the body of a woman in a toyshop and is knocked unconscious by a blow to the head. But the next morning the toyshop is a grocers and the police don’t believe him. Gervase and Richard are soon racing around Oxford trying to work out exactly what happened.
This is so much to enjoy in this. The scene at the fairground is excellent, but so is the way it evokes the peculiarities and eccentricities of life in an Oxford college in this era. The mystery is utterly bonkers, but it rattles along so fast that you don’t really notice – or care. In some ways it reminded me a lot of The 39 Steps as much as it did of writers like Sayers and Christie. As promised in the blurb, there’s also a dash of Wodehouse here. They are quirky and something a little bit out of the ordinary run of Golden Age crime. There are a few word choices that are… infelicitous these days, but no more so than you find in many of the other books of the era.
I think I’ll be adding Crispin to my list of authors to look out for in second-hand bookshop, because I love old covers from this era, but if you want to get your hands on The Moving Toyshop now, it’s available on Kindle and Kobo as well as in a modern paperback edition from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones.
This week’s BotW is Roxane Gay’s short story collection Difficult Women. I’ve been reading this as my bedtime book for a few weeks (which is where short story collections often end up in my house!) and have really enjoyed reading.
My copy of Difficult Women
Difficult Women is a collection of stories about very different women, all of whom might be termed “difficult”. The term “difficult women” conjures images of angry or confrontational women, but that’s not necessarily who these women are. These are women who don’t fit into neat categories. They’re women who have had bad experiences. There’s abuse, violence and infidelity and a whole host of trigger warnings here, but no two women are the same. There’s poverty and privilege, there are single women, married women, violent women and women who are in fish out of water situations and there’s some sci fi too.
Some of the stories are sad. But somehow this is not a sad book. It’s thought provoking and clever and really beautifully written. There were women that liked, women I didn’t like and women who had life experiences a million miles from mine but there was always something in the story to make you feel empathy with the women, no matter how terribly they were behaving.
The last short story collection I raved about on here was American Housewife (I think) which is totally different to this, but both reminded me that when done well short story collections can be as satisfying as 500 page novels. I’ve been following Roxane Gay on Twitter for ages and have heard people raving about her but until now I’d only read odd stories in isolation or her essays. I know I’ll be going out and finding more of her writing after reading this.
You can get hold of Difficult Women from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.
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.
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!
It was actually a really tough choice picking this weeks BotW partly because I didn’t read as much last week and partly because none of what I read was an absolute stand out for me. So in the end, I’ve settled on Tonya Kappes’ Southern Fried – a cozy crime mystery that comes out today, which has its issues, but overall was the book I had the most to say about of last week’s reading!
I like the cover – simple but actually relevant to the story.
This is the second in the Kenni Lowry series – about the sheriff of small town in Kentucky who is assisted on the job by the ghost of her grandfather (no, don’t walk away, it’s not quite as nutty as it seems) who was also the town’s sheriff. Kenni loves her job, but her mother isn’t best pleased about her daughter’s vocation – and neither are some of the townspeople as the local crime rate starts to rise. In Southern Fried, Kenni is investigating the death of a man found dead in the greenhouse of his former (as it turns out) employer in the run up to a cook off that they were both taking part in. In working out what happened, Kenni gets tangled up in family feuds and local intrigue just as election season is starting to get underway. As the danger mounts, Kenni, her dog Duke and her new (and handsome) deputy Finn must work out what’s going on before the rising death toll scuttles Kenni’s chances at holding on to her dream job before the voting even starts.
There’s a lot that I liked about this – I love the southern setting, the mystery is fast-paced and twisty with a potential slow burn romance running alongside. However as a Brit, I struggle to get my head around the idea of elected sheriffs and the hyper-local police forces and at times Kenni doesn’t help with this. In the first book in the series I found her spacey and not entirely convincing on police procedure (especially for a police academy graduate) but she seems much more competent in this one, which helped me cope with the fact that she’s taking advice from a ghost! Regular readers will know that I have a strange releationship with the supernatural and parnormal in books*, but in the main this works for me. There were still a couple of points where I raised my eyebrows at Kenni’s actions – an amateur detective can get away with a lot more than a sheriff can – but the book moves quick enough that you only notice this when you stop to think!
This book also made me muse on the role of the knowledgeable background character in cozy crimes. Kenni being the sheriff is a double-edged sword – it means that she has the right to be investigating crimes (and indeed is likely to come across them) in a way that many of the sleuths in cozies don’t, but it also rules out an important source of information and means that at times the sleuth can come across as not being very good at her job. there’s a couple of points in this where Finn the deputy seems like he knows what he’s doing more than Kenni does. But this is only book two in the series and is a big step on from book one so there is lots of potential for development and improvement as the series goes on.
My copy came from NetGalley, but you can buy Southern Fried on Kindle or in paperback from Amazon from today.
* As in sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t but I can never work out in advance what I’m going to like and what I’m going to hate!
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.
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.
This week’s BotW is another entry in the list of books that Verity really should have read sooner: Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. I have heard this book recommended so many times by so many people – not just as being a great book, but as being a great entry way into romance. And they’re all right.
Bet Me is the story of Min and Cal. Min is an actuary with a nightmare mother, and who looks at life through a veil of statistics. Cal has a reputation as a love ’em and leave ’em type and has his own parental problems. Min gets dumped by her boyfriend, 3 weeks before her sister’s wedding and then hears Cal accept a bet to try and pull her. She needs a date, but isn’t going to put up with any of Cal’s smooth-talking ways. Cal thinks she’s the most uptight, closed-off woman he’s ever met. But when they’re together sparks fly no matter how much they try and ignore it. And then there’s the matter of that bet…
This is the book version of one of those great 1990s romantic comedies, except without any double standards, etc. Min is fun and feisty and not prepared to put up with people being mean to her or acting like idiots towards her. She knows what she wants and she’s out looking for it, albeit not in the right places or the right way. Cal is realistic about what he’s prepared to offer a relationship, even if he doesn’t realise the reality of what he’s doing. The two of them together are a snarky, bantery duo that you’re rooting for from the start. There are a couple of great subplots in here to help with the drama and tension and it’s all such great fun. And to put the icing on the cake, both Min and Cal have great friends, who are on their side and in their corner no matter what, which is particularly great in Min’s case, because in so many books the heroine’s friends have ulterior motives or are just window dressing. Min’s gang are properly fleshed out, real people who are looking out for their friend. It’s just brilliant.
Yes. I should have read this sooner. Yes, I’m way behind the curve. But it doesn’t matter, because this is a great book and mor people need to read it. So I’m happy to admit that I should have listened to Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and read it the first time she mentioned it on the podcast and not wait till I’ve heard it mentioned dozens of times – not just by her but by the Book Riot girls too and by bookish friends too. I know. I say this every time. But don’t be stupid like me, go and read Bet Me now. And go and read it even if you’ve read his thinking “but I don’t read romance” because this isn’t what you’re thinking of. It’s much, much more. 10 years ago, it would have been given a cartoon cover in bubble gum pink and called chick lit. And I mean that in a good way, because I miss those days of funny, clever romances and I’m always looking for books that scratch that itch.
You can get Bet Me on Kindle or iBooks.
I had trouble picking my Book of the Week this week for various reasons, and I’m sorry that this post is a bit short. Anyway, this week’s BotW is Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley. I read this last week, and while bits of it didn’t work for me (of which more below) it’s a story that I haven’t read before (maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places!) and that needs to be represented more in fiction – particularly YA fiction.
15-year-old Aki is bi-sexual, but so far she’s only told her best friend Lori. She’s off to Mexico for the summer with her church youth group and the pair have a plan to start getting out there and living an interesting life. At the camp, Aki meets Christa and the two have a connection. But it’s not easy trying to navigate your first relationship with everyone watching you – especially if you’re trying to keep it quiet. And how do you know if it’s love anyway?
There was a lot about this that I liked. It’s a diverse (in every way) queer coming of age story that (spoiler alert) doesn’t end in deaths and disownment. But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of angst, because there is. In fact that was my main gripe with the book – that at times Aki just went too far over my whining teenager limit and there was a lot of petty drama that I could have done without. But I have a low tolerance for that sort of thing – so it may work much better for the target market of angsty teenagers than it does for me!
But although it’s not perfect, stories like this need to be told and need to be out there. And the world needs more happy YA love stories (or at least I do!)- whether they’re F/F, M/M or M/F.
My copy came from NetGalley, but Our Our Private Universe is available in paperback from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.