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!

Hack

So you’ve read my interview with the fabulous Duncan MacMaster, now you want to know what I thought of the book don’t you?

As mentioned yesterday, Hack tells the story of Jake Mooney, a ghost-writer who lands the biggest job of his career, writing the autobiogaphy of 80s TV star Rick Rendell.  But when he arrives on Rick’s luxury paradise to start work, people start trying to kill him.  Suddenly the most lucrative job of his career could also be his last one.  But Jake’s used to dealing with scandal and he’s not going to go down without a fight.  What is it that’s in Rick’s past that people are willing to kill to keep under wraps?

Swimming pools, typewriter keys, glamour - I love this cover.

The cover of Hack by Duncan MacMaster


This is so much fun.  Rick was the star of a (fictional) rival of Miami Vice and the book is paying homage to that like mad and it’s great.  Jake is trapped in glamorous locations with glamorous people but someone keeps trying to murder him.  As the book goes on he gets more and more battered and bruised, but some how manages to keep getting up and carrying on chasing down the bad guys.  As Duncan said in his interview with me, Jake is a rank amateur, with no sleuthing skills at all – and that makes him great fun to read as he bumbles and crashes his way around the island stumbling upon clues and trying to stay alive.

Hack is very different from Duncan MacMaster’s first book for Fahrenheit Press, A Mint Condition Corpse.  As Duncan said in the interview, in that Kirby’s a Holmesy, Poiroty type of sleuth – who can make great leaps of deduction out of nowhere and who has staff and piles of money to help him along the way.  Jake is emphatically not that.  But the two books do (perhaps unsurprisingly) share the same sense of humour and a wry look at the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of people, even if the lead characters and settings are very different.

There’s also a great cast of supporting characters – including Rick’s ex-wife who is an aging and faded star who is trying to revive her career in all the wrong ways, and Rick’s daughter who improbably seems to be falling for Jake – despite his terrible Hawaiian shirts, paunch and increasing injury count.

If you’re in need of a dose of sunshine to escape the grey of the weather at the moment, Hack will do that for you – and make you laugh and take you away from whatever’s bothering you.  I got my advance copy from Mr Fahrenheit* who took pity on me and my twitter moanings during my last batch of nightshifts and sent me this to cheer me up.  And it worked.  I was reading it in my lunch break (at 3am), I was reading it on the train home – and if I hadn’t got to the end just as I was arriving into my station, I would have stayed up to finish it.  And I really like my bed after nightshifts.  And I nearly raved about it in Book of the Week that week – but it would have been cruel to taunt you by telling you about it when you couldn’t read it.

Hack is out now – and you can get a copy if you click here.  And if you missed the interview, you should definitely check it out by clicking here.

Happy Reading!

*OK, so his name is Chris, but he is Fahrenheit Press, so in my head he’s Mr Fahrenheit à la Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

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.

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 Ballad of Sean and Wilko

I’m on my second week of nights, so I’m hoping that when this publishes, I’ll be asleep. Or if not asleep, just waking up well rested and raring to go. Fat chance Fingers crossed.  Anyway, this week’s BotW returns to a familiar face to regular readers – yup, it’s another Fahrenheit Press book.  In fact I had to go back through the archives to make sure I hadn’t already talked about Christy Kennedy,  aside from the brief mention in last week’s Half-Term Reading* because The Ballad of Sean and Wilko is the fourth in the 10-book series.

Cover of The Ballad of Sean and Wilko

The covers are all quite dark and brooding – and Camden

In the Ballad of Sean and Wilko we rejoin Christy Kennedy as he investigates the murder of the frontman of a 70s band who is found dead in his locked dressing room mid-show.  Kennedy has to pick his way through a tangle of complicated relationships – professional and personal – to try and figure out what happened.  Then another body turns up, in another locked room.

Christy Kennedy is a Northern Irish detective with a fondness for the Beatles and a soft spot for a local journalist called ann rea (no capital letters – like kd lang). He has a methodical approach to solving mysteries and you know as much as he knows (most of the time).  There’s a collection of supporting characters who are interesting in their own right and who never feel like fillers.  And late 1990s Camden is a character in itself, painted with love and affection

Paul Charles started writing the Christy Kennedy series nearly 20 years ago and they have aged well.  The music may be on CD or vinyl and there may not be many mobile phones, or much talk of the internet but because it was written at the time it all feels perfectly natural.  Charles has worked in the music industry and boy does it show.  I’ve learned so much about the mechanics of the industry from these books – particularly this one – but it’s all worn very lightly so you only realise later how many facts are packed in there.

Anyway, to summarise: good murder, great setting, excellent detective.  What more could you want.  The Ballad of Sean and Wilko is available on Kindle for the bargain price of £1.99.  I got my copy as part of my Fahrenheit Book Club subscription which I have banged on about enough already.

Now I’m off back to bed.  I can only hope this post makes sense.  My brain is not a very coherant place right now.

Happy reading.

*Which I’m obviously now regretting because it’s making me sound repetitive and I hate that.  But I did like it best out of last week’s books so sod it, and let it be a lesson to me to plan better in future.

Half-Term Reading

Bonus post ahoy!  Yes, I know we’re already well into half term (my bad) but here are some reading suggestions never the less.

Firstly, there’s a new Sinclair’s Mystery out from Katherine Woodfine.  I’ve mentioned this middle-grade historical mystery series set in the Edwardian era before (in my Christmas books post), but they’ve never got a proper review for some reason.  Book Three is The Mystery of the Painted Dragon sees Sophie and Lil and the gang investigating the theft of a painting from an exhibition at Sinclair’s department store.  There are a lot of mystery books aimed at this age group – I’ve spoken at length about Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong series (for example here, here, here and here) and obviously there’s lots of Enid Blyton mysteries, but this is unusual in that the teenage characters are neither at school nor on school holidays – they’re out at work.  This makes for different challenges and opportunities as well as for an exciting air of independence for the characters.  If you’ve got an upper primary school child who’s bored this holiday, this would entertain them for an hour or two.  And if you’re a big kid like me, it’ll do the same for you too.

Off to the beach?  Then try Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife.  I finished this last week and it’s a big old doorstop of a book telling the story of a fictional First Lady.  It’s very clearly based on Laura Bush – in fact when I went to read Mrs Bush’s biography after reading the book I was surprised how very close it was and it made me feel a little uneasy.  But then I read books that are fictionalised versions of historical people’s lives all the time and that doesn’t make me feel squicky, so it’s a bit of a double standard.  Anyway, Alice is a great character to spend time with – although I liked the two thirds to three quarters of the book where she’s not in the White House much more than I liked that final section.

If you want something historical, I’ve just finished Beatriz Williams’ latest The Wicked City.  This is a time slip novel involving a flapper in 1920s New York and a forensic accountant in the city in the late 1990s.  If you’ve read any of Williams’ other novels there are a few familiar faces popping up too.  It’s been a while since I read my last novel and I’ve missed a couple so I’m starting to lose track of which Schulyers are which – I think that means I need to do a re-read!

And if you fancy some crime, Fahrenheit have just pubished the fourth Christy Kennedy book, The Ballad of Sean and Wilko, I haven’t read it yet, it’s waiting for me on my kindle for one of my nightshift commutes, but I’ve really enjoyed the first three, and there are 10 altogether, so if you’re in the mood for a new series to binge read, this could be for you.

None of these appeal, well then go and have a look at some of my recent Book of the Week posts – Crooked Heart, Miss Treadway or Semester of our Discontent would work, or go back further into the archives for The Rest of Us Just Live Here, The Madwoman Upstairs or even last year’s February picks.

Happy Reading!

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.