Book of the Week: The Moving Toyshop

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.

Cover of The Moving Toyshop

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.

Happy reading!

 

 

Reccomendsday: Dandy Gilver

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week: Difficult Women

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.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

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.

Happy Reading!

Easter Bonus: Bank Holiday Reading

I don’t know about you but I’m hoping for some nice weather this Easter weekend so that i can sit in the garden and read. [Ed: Written more in hope than expectation, the forecast is promising clouds and rain] I always find this a weird time of year for reading – it’s too warm for wintry books, where people are snowed in or hanging around in front of fires with hot choclate, but it’s not warm enough for full on summer-y stories.  So here are a few ideas for things that you could read this weekend as well as what I’m hoping to read on my days off.

As you know I’m a big fan of cozy crime, and if you pick the right series they can be perfect for this time of year – you just want to avoid anything themed around a holiday or festival that’s not Easter, or stuff with snow on the cover!  Among the recent releases I’ve enjoyed (and haven’t already talked about!) is Lea Wait’s Tightening the Threads (a dysfunctional family in Maine turns deadly when a long-lost family member is introduced).  The third Max Tudor book, A Pagan Spring, is set around Easter time when a new arrival to the village dies after a getting-to-know-you dinner party.

Also Easter-y (but not cozy crime!) is Joanne Harris’s Chocolat.  Nomadic Vianne and her daughter arrive in a French village and set up a chocolate shop.  But Lent is about to start and Vianne is not a church-goer.  I just love it – and if all you’ve seen is the film then you’re missing out big time.

Not an Easter book, but another book which might work for this time of year is Lyndsay Faye’s The Whole Art of Detection – which is a collection of her Sherlock Holmes short stories. The mysteries are clever and Sherlock and John are good value, and although I haven’t read enough Holmes to really get the absolute most out of this, it looks like lots of Holmes-superfans really have enjoyed it.

Or you could start a series.  I love Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and the first book is 99p this weekend on Kindle. Amelia is a feisty Victorian Egyptologist (or wannabe Egyptologist in the first book) who spends her winters on the banks of the Nile looking for undiscovered tombs while bodies just keep popping up.  When you meet her, her father has just died and instead of going and living with one of her brothers, as a good unmarried sister should (in their opinon) she up sticks to go travelling with her inheritance.  Stick with the series and she develops an arch-nemesis, a husband and a son – who eventually marries as well (that’s how long the series goes on for).  If you liked Veronica Speedwell, you’ll like Amelia Peabody.

As for me, I’ve snapped up Dandy Gilver and a Most Misleading Habit which is book 11 in the series and was 99p on Kindle as I was writing this, Fern Britton’s A Seaside Affair which is free on Kindle for Easter*.  I’ve also got a stack of short stories to catch up on and a couple of children’s books that I’ve been meaning to get around to.  All of which sounds a bit ambitious for a three-day (for me) weekend!

Whatever you’re doing this Easter weekend, happy reading!

*There’s a nice selection of freebies from Harper Collins this weekend – which also includes Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance which is a (1980s) classic when it comes to the rags to riches sagas.  And previous BotW Sunset in Central Park by Sarah Morgan is free on Kindle at time of writing too – well worth snapping up.

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!

Bonus Post: Escapist reading

A bonus post from me, for you to enjoy this weekend as I recover from my nights.  I’m looking for escapist reading this week after a busy news week, so here are some suggestions for you as I try to read myself back into day time living.

Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera by Jennifer Bohnet

I read this on holiday – it’s a sweet romance set in the French Riviera.  Rosie’s opening her dream cafe, but a Michelin starred chef is opening up a fancy hotel nearby.  She’d be mad, only she didn’t find him so attractive.  There’s also two friends – one recently widowed with a daughter and the other newly single – and you follow them all across the course of the first spring and summer season in business.  Perfect for a spring weekend, but t may make you want to move abroad though.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Immerse yourself in the world of Singpore’s super rich.  Rachel Chu has agreed to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend’s family.  But what she doesn’t know is that Nick is one of the island’s most eligible bachelors and that she doesn’t measure up to his family’s expectations for a potential wife.  There’s outrageous wealth, spoilt IT girls and culture clashes galore – not just Rachel’s ABC (American-born Chinese) background, but also the old money versus new money of Singapore’s old family’s and China’s new superrich.  It’s bonkers, it’s addictive and it’s perfect to escape from your normal life.

The Accidental Detective by Michael R N Jones

I read this modern Sherlock Holmes retelling on holiday.  Victor Locke is a beer-drinking genius, who’s banned from owning laptops or smart phones after getting caught hacking into something he shouldn’t have done.  Dr Jonathan Doyle is his court-appointed psychologist and the two of them race around Middlesbrough (of all places) solving crimes and outwitting shadowy government figures.  This is from my perennial favourites Fahrenheit press, so if you’ve read some of my other recommendations from them you’ll have an idea about the sort of tone we’re looking at.  Funny and escapist, read it with a drink in your hand like Victor would!

And if these three aren’t enough, try recent BotW’s Bet Me or the Roanoke Girls or one of my smart, funny romance recommendations as well.

Happy Reading!

Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham

Recommendsday: Gone with the Windsors

While reading Royal Flush last week, where one of Lady Georgie’s tasks is trying to keep the Prince of Wales away from Wallis Simpson, I couldn’t help but think of Gone with the Windsors – my favourite novel that features Wallis.  Then I realised that I’ve mentioned it in passing several times on here* but never actually reviewed.  So Recommendsday this week seemed the perfect time to remedy that.

A copy of Gone with the Windsors

“A wicked comedy about the Romance of the Century” is pretty spot on

Gone with the Windsors is the story of Wallis Simpson’s romance with Edward VIII as seen throught he eyes of her (fictional) best friend, Maybell Brumby.  Maybell is a recently widowed Southern Belle who comes to London to visit her sister (married to a Scottish Earl) to one up her social rivals back home just as one of their old school friends is making a stir by stepping out with the Prince of Wales.  Soon Maybell is hobnobbing with royalty as Wallis (with the help of Maybell’s money) sets London society ablaze.  Maybell and her family are carefully woven into the real story and as someone who’s read a fair bit about the Edward and Mrs Simpson and the 1930s in general, I didn’t spot any howlers.

A quote from Gone with the Windsors

How could you not love Maybell’s insider view of the Abdication Crisis?

The Wallis of Gone with the Windsors is a ruthless social climber, with an aim in mind, who doesn’t mind stepping on anybody to get there.  David is weak and easily led, thinking more of his own pleasure than of his responsibilities.  But Maybell is a total joy.  I mean you wouldn’t want to be friends with her, but she is a brilliant prism to watch the slow motion car crash that was the Abdication Crisis.  She is delightfully dim (witness her dealings with her sister Doopie) and part of the fun is watching her misunderstand what’s going on – or miss the undercurrents.  Her sister is firmly on the Royal Family’s side against Wallis, while Maybell is convinced she’s picked the winner, which makes for fraught times on the summer holiday in Scotland.

Maybell finds new ways to keep herself occupied during a summer at her sister’s Scottish estate.

GWTW was my first Laurie Graham book – I spotted it in the window of Waterstones and had to have it – and since reading it she’s been an autobuy for me and I’ve picked up a lot of her back catalogue.  I like her straight up novels too, but my favourite are the ones like this where she takes a historical event or person and puts her spin on it.  I mentioned the Importance of Being Kennedy in my Inauguration Reading post, and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was my first review for Novelicious, but A Humble Companion (about a companion to one of George III’s daughters) and The Night in Question (about a music hall comedienne who gets caught up in the Jack the Ripper panic) are also excellent.

My copies of Gone with the Windsors

They’re both gorgeous, but I have a soft spot for the white one – as it was the first version I had.

As you can see, I have two copies of Gone with the Windsors.  The blue one is a signed copy sent to me by the author after I cried and wailed on Twitter about losing my original (white) copy** and it being out of stock everywhere, the other one is a secondhand copy I bought because the signed edition was too nice to read.  So now the pristine blue on is on the shelf with the other Laurie Graham books and the white one lives by my bed for when I need a dose of Maybell.

A quote from Gone with the Windsors

Maybell is just so much fun. Often unintentionally.

In a fabulous twist of fate, Gone with the Windsors is coming out on Kindle later this month – I’d actually already written a sentence saying that I was said it wasn’t available Kindle so now I’m very overexcited at the prospect of having Maybell to hand whenever I need a pick me up.  So, you too can preorder Gone with the Windsors on Kindle, or pick up a secondhand hardcover or a (new or secondhand) paperback copy from Amazon.  I’m hoping the preorder link for her next novel – a sequel to Future Homemakers of America out in June – appears soon as it’s been more than a year since her last new novel came out and I’ve got withdrawal symptoms.

Gosh this has turned into a long post.  But I feel very good for having told the world about my love of Maybell Brumby and her crazy view of the world.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it – and I hope you get0 the book.

Happy reading!

*Usually when talking about another Laurie Graham book to say that GWTW is my favourite.

** I lent it out without writing my name in the front of it and never got it back. It was a salutary lesson.