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!

 

 

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.

Book of the Week: The Riviera Express

Nightshifts are well underway here, so hopefully I’ll be asleep when this publishes.  I say hopefully, if day one is anything to go by I’ll have been woken up half a dozen times by  assorted phone calls, tradesmen and delivery people.   Anyway, as I said last week, I’ve been looking for a new cozy crime series. And as you know, I’m always looking for new historical crime series.  So this week’s BotW is a new historical crime novel from the cozier end of the spectrum which I’m hoping is going to be the start of series.

Cover of The Riviera Express

Cover of The Riviera Express

The Riviera Express is the first book from TP Fielden* about Judy Dimont, a newspaper reporter in a south-coast seaside town in the 1950s.  Miss D has a nose for a scoop, an editor who doesn’t always appreciate her and a rivalry with the paper’s other lady reporter.  The Riveira Express is both the name of the paper and the name of the train which brings holiday-makers to the resort of Temple Regis and one of Miss Dimont’s regular jobs is meeting the train if it’s got a celebrity on board.  But when she and her photographer arrive to meet film star Gerald Hennessey, they find him dead in his first class compartment.  Called away from the scene to a second death, Judy becomes convinced that there is a link between the two – even though the police aren’t convinced that either is the result of foul play.  Soon she’s investigating the links between the film star and the seaside town as well as between the two men and dealing with a couple of highly strung actresses who are mourning the dead star.  Will Judy find out the truth – and if she does will her editor let her publish it?

I hope that sounds like fun, because this book is a lovely romp through an English seaside town with pretensions of grandeur led by a charming character in Judy Dimont.  One of the toughest things to do in stories like this is create a leading character with an excuse to go poking about in murders and mysteries – and a reporter is an ideal one.  Judy has a perfect excuse to nose around and to get information from the police and the authorities.   It also means that she is going to keep coming across bodies in a more natural way than a private citizen would.  And it makes a change from private detectives of all shapes and sizes well.  The secondary characters are well drawn and there’s plenty of potential here for on-going plot strands without it feeling like there’s lots of set up being done.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about Miss D’s past in the next book.

Here’s the rub – The Riviera Express isn’t actually out for another 9 days yet – but you can pre-order the hardback from Amazon or Waterstones  and hope it turns up on the day or on Kindle or Kobo and it’ll download itself on the 23rd as a lovely treat.

Happy reading.

*I would love to know who TP Fielden is – this doesn’t feel like a first novel and there’s very little information that I can find on TP, but their Goodreads biography says that they are a “leading author, broadcaster and journalist” so it feels like a pen name – and I’d love to know who is behind it!

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…

 

Not Christmas Reading

Bored of Christmas? Had it up to here with left over turkey and reheated sprouts?  Overdosed on sugar and fed up of books with Christmas trees and tinsel in them?  Look no further because I have some book suggestions for you.  And no, I’m not Scrooge or the Grinch, but I’m back at work after my Christmas days off today and I find that reading about Christmas when I’m not on holiday starts to annoy me very quickly.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Nothing helps me with my post-Christmas funk than a bit of crime.  If you haven’t tried Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series yet, now might be a good time.  I haven’t been reading these in order (more fool me) and recently read The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, which is the second in the series and want to get my hands on the latest installment, Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mew’d, but suspect I’m going to have to wait for the price to come down.  If you don’t want historical crime, how about some slightly meta crime?  I’m working my way through L C Tyler’s Elsie and Ethelred series – which starts with The Herring Seller’s Apprentice.  I’ve read as far as book 4 and they’re bonkers, but sort of delightful, especially if you’ve read a lot of mysteries and can spot the tropes they’re spoofing. Baking and crafts are a massive trend in cozy crime novels at the moment and I’ve mentioned her Cupcake Bakery series before, but it bears mentioning again – as they’re set in Arizona they’re perfect if you want to escape winter and cold weather all together.  The first one is Sprinkled with Murder, but tragically you can only get her books over here in paperback so it may not arrive in time to scratch that post-Christmas itch.  So, how about some catering crime with Shawn Reilly Simmons?  The first in her Red Carpet Catering series, Murder on a Silver Platter, is 99p as I write this and they’re fluffy and sunny and see a caterer for film crews get tangled up in deaths.

If if you don’t want murder – no matter how cozy or bloodless – how about some romance?  I tend to read historical romances more than any other, so I can give you a whole host of those.  I read A Bachelor Establishment, by Jodi Taylor writing as Isabella Barclay last week – which is sort of Georgette Heyer’s Venetia with added shooting and housebreaking.  It’s short, but fun and might help you out of your Christmas hangover. Fancy something a bit more overblown?  How about the very melodramatic Kerrigan Byrne?  I read The Highlander back in August and it’s packed with kilts and angst and drama.  It’s still a bit expensive on Kindle at the moment, but former BotW The Highwayman, the first in the series is a bit cheaper and is, I think possibly even better.  Of course my go-to writers in circumstances like this are Eloisa James and Sarah MacLean. I still haven’t got MacLean’s latest, A Scot in the Dark, (gnash teeth) but I can heartily recommend any of her others if you fancy some smart, funny, sexy historical romance. And as I write this, my first ever Eloisa James, Duchess by Night, is on offer for 99p on Kindle.  It ticks a lot of my boxes – girls dressed as boys, mistaken identities, scandals, wallflowers – and it’s a great gateway drug (so to speak) into the historical romance world.  I’m sorry.  It may get expensive.

Still not seen anything you fancy?  I like to return to my favourites at this time of year.  It’s a great time to start a big old series of books.  If you haven’t read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s series of books about the Cazalets yet, now would be a perfect time to start.  The Light Years is the first, and slightly more expensive than I’d hope at the moment, but you should be able to pick it up cheaper than that in actual book form – Book People often have the whole set (although not at the moment) and they pop up in The Works from time to time too.  Or you could try your local library.  They are classics.  Talking of classics, if you haven’t already read Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, now would be a good time.  It’s twisty and creepy and goes from sunny climes to stormy Cornwall.  And although the Kindle edition is pricier than I’d hope, you should be able to get hold of it easily in the real world – if you don’t want the gorgeous Virago Designer hardback like mine of course…

So there you have it.  I hope you’re having a good day and that you find something good to read.  I intend to cheer myself up with a trip to Foyles later to console myself for being back at work already!

Book of the Week: Mistletoe and Murder

I know, you all looked at my list of books I read last week and just knew that this was going to be my pick for BotW didn’t you?  So sue me.  Today feels momentous and a little terrifying with what is going on in the world, and what better way to take your mind off what may or may not be about to occur than a charming children’s novel about school girls solving mysteries.

Mistletoe and Murder

A Christmas book in early November? Bite me.

Long standing readers will be familiar with my love of Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong series (see here, here, here and here) and Mistletoe and Murder (which incidentally shares its name with a Daisy Dalrymple mystery which is also very good) is the fifth installment in the series and sees the girls spending their Christmas holidays at Cambridge visiting Daisy’s brother.  But of course the girls can’t help but run into an investigation – this time in competition with their rivals at the Junior Pinkertons.  But soon suspicious accidents have turned deadly and the girls are in a race against time to figure out who did it and why.

I’ve said before that these books are the perfect blend of Agatha Christie and St Clares stories and I stand by that – they’re brilliant and inventive and I wish they’d been around when I was the “right” age.  I practically gobbled this up in one sitting, which was a mistake  because I’d already read the Halloween short story and now I have to wait months and months and months for the next one.  This would make the perfect Christmas book for the young reader in your family – or the big kid if you’re like me.  It’s the perfect escape from the trials and tribulations of the grown-up world.


But if you’re not into middle grade fiction (more fool you) and still want some escapism, I can also heartily recommend Gail Carriger’s latest novella – Romancing the Inventor – in which we see one of the most beloved side characters in her steampunk world, Madame Lefounx, finally get over the pesky Angelique and find love again.  It probably works best if you’ve read the Parasol Protectorate series, will work even better if you’ve also read the Finishing School series.  I loved it – it’s a great, fun love story with some guest appearances from old favourites.  What more could you want?

Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong books should be available where ever children’s books are sold (if they’re not, ask them why), but here are links to Mistletoe and Murder on Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, Foyles and Kobo.

Romancing the Inventor is one of Gail Carriger’s self published works – so it’s not quite as available in the shops, but you can get it on Kindle and on Kobo or special order it in paperback from AmazonWaterstones and Foyles.

Happy reading!