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: 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!

Book of the Week: Earthly Delights

As you may have seen from yesterday’s Week in Books, I had a bit of a strange week reading last week, having trouble settling down to books – and a few that I didn’t like.  But choosing this week’s BotW was easy – Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights.

You might recognise Kerry Greenwood’s name because she’s the author of the Phryne Fisher series of murder mysteries set in 1920s Australia, which I adore and have been turned into a TV series – which I have thoughts about. This the first in her Corinna Chapman series – which is set in present day (or at least present day when they were written a few years back) Melbourne, where Corinna is a speciality baker who runs her own bakery in one of the slightly seedier areas.  The bakery is proving a success, but suddenly she’s getting anonymous letters calling her a whore, a junkie has overdosed in the alley behind her shop, there’s a mysterious but gorgeous man showing an interest in her and her shop assistants are starving themselves to try and get a role on a TV show (any TV show).  She’s determined to get to the bottom of the letters – which are upsetting and scaring her and her friends – and ends up getting sucked in to some of the other drama as well…

Although this is the first in the series, I had already read one of the later books and enjoyed it although I was missing some backstory.  This fills some of those gaps in nicely and sets up the series as well as having an excellent mystery.  Greenwood always creates great settings and quirky characters in the Phryne books – and she does the same here.  Corinna is very different to Phryne, but she’s great fun, smart and warm-hearted, just like Miss Fisher.  Her apartment building is a brilliantly quirky invention – as are many of the people who live there.

I didn’t love this the way that I love Phryne, but in the absence of a new book about the Fabuous Miss Fisher, I’ll happily work my way through these.  I’ve been waiting for either the kindle price or the second hand price to drop on this series for ages – and these have all dropped from over £5 for the Kindle edition to just over £3, which is still on the top end of what I’m prepared to pay for ebooks, but is much more doable.  I shouldn’t really be buying books, but when has that ever stopped me before.  You can pick up your copy on Kindle or Kobo (which isn’t price-matching Amazon at time of writing sadly), in paperback from Amazon (if you’re prepared to shell out £11+ for a new copy or £8+ for a second hand one) or you can trawl the second hand shops because it’s out of stock and un-orderable at both Foyles and Waterstones.

Happy reading.

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…

Book of the Week: Manners and Mutiny

Apologies for the late arrival of this week’s BotW post – I’d somehow convinced myself that I’d already written this piece because all I seem to have done this week is think about the end of the Finishing School series.  But no, clearly I dreamt it.  Anyhow, it’ll be no surprise to anyone who’s been following my social media in the last week that the BotW is Manners and Mutiny – the last book in the Gail Carriger’s Young Adult Finishing School series.

My Kindle tells you all you need to know about last week’s reading matter!

In book four, we find Sophronia back at school on board Madame Geraldine’s floating dirigible, but with a somewhat denuded gang.  No-one’s listening to her warnings about the Picklemen and she’s still not really sure where her future lies.  When danger threatens the ship and life as she knows it, she has to put all her training to the test as we what happened to make Sophronia’s world of mechanicals turn into the society we know from the Parasol Protectorate.

And that’s about all that I can say, without giving away big old spoilers. And even that last sentence is a bit of a spoiler, but I think Carriger readers have all been waiting since Etiquette and Espionage to see what on earth happened to turn one world into the other!  Or if you’re like me and E&E was your first Gail Carriger book and the gateway to the rest, to explain the moment at the start of Soulless where you were all “Huh?  Where did the mechanical servants go?”

So, it’s no secret that I’m a big Carriger convert, having basically read everything she’s written over the past year (see 2014 Discoveries post, my BotW posts on Timeless and Prudence and E&E’s mention in my YA Roundup) – and I was worried that this wouldn’t live up to the hype that I had set up in my head.  So many questions needed answering and it seemed like a bit of a mammoth task for one book to deal with.  I went so far as to re-read all three of the previous books at the start of last week so that I had everything fresh in my mind for the last book – and I can’t say that I spotted anything that wasn’t addressed or tied up (with a bow).  And it’s still a good read.  It doesn’t feel like a tying up the loose ends book.  It feels like Ms Carriger had a plan at the start of the series, and has executed it masterfully – leaving a trail of breadcrumbs through the books for us to follow so that in this last one it all slots together and clicks into place. And as you do this, you smack your head and wonder how you missed the clues.  So clever.

But I have to say that this is not the place to start your Carriger experience.  Do yourself a favour and start with the first book in the series.  Or if you’re not technically a Young Adult, start with Soulless and read them first and then come to Finishing School and see how clever it all is.  I’m so sad Finishing School is over, but it was a deeply satisfying series and never felt like it was going on too long.  If I hadn’t just finished listening to Soulless on audiobook, I’d be going straight on to read that again. As it is I’m halfway through the recording of Changeless, so I’m still in Carriger-land.  And I can’t wait for Imprudence.

Get your copy of Manners and Mutiny (if you’ve already read the others) in paperback or on Kindle.  Or start with Etiquette and Espionage – paperback or Kindle.  The complete-ist in me really wants to buy myself the paperback copies of all of them so that I can put them on the shelf next to the others, but as I’ve already bought two Carriger audio-books and the e-books of Soulless and Changeless this week (so I can read whenever I want…) I’m valiantly resisting for now.  Lets see how long that resolution lasts…

Book of the Week: Mary Ann in Autumn

This week’s BotW is Armistead Maupin’s eighth book in the Tales of the City series – Mary Ann in Autumn.  I discovered the series last year as book nine came out and have loved every installment so far.

  In Mary Ann in Autumn our favourite characters have reached middle age with new challenges and old ones.  Mary Ann has never been my favourite character in the series, but in this she comes across as the most human and real that I’ve seen her.  It does make me sad that Mrs Madrigal is much older and frailer in this book, but that’s life and that’s aging.  And it means we get more of Jake.

I think it’s a real testament that Maupin has been able to keep the series feeling fresh and real and relevant 30 years after it started.  Not all authors would have been happy to keep bringing their characters up to date – and still less of them would have been able to do it and make it beliveable and true.  The “final” book in the series is just out in paperback and I need to get my hands on a copy asap.  Although with the current state of the to read pile I may try to hang fire on that for a week or two.

You should be able to get Mary Ann in Autumn from all the usual sources, but do yourself a favour and start from the beginning of the series. Even The Boy likes them!

Book of the Week: A Lady Never Surrenders

I had trouble picking a BotW again this week – my top rated books of last week were Janet Evanovichs (and I can’t do another of hers for BotW or you’ll all think I’m insane) and a Nora Roberts that I’ve reviewed for Novelicious (I’ll post a link to the review when it goes up).  So, instead I’ve gone for the fifth in Sabrina Jeffries’s Hellions of Halstead Hall series –  because I’ve really enjoyed reading about the Hellions, and wanted to share it with you.

So, these are historical romances about the Sharpe siblings, whose parents died in scandalous circumstances when they were very young and who have issues tied up with that.  At the start of book 1, their domineering grandmother – who holds the purse strings – tells them she’ll disinherit them if they don’t all find themselves spouses with the year.  Over the course of the books we see them all find their happiness – and they investigate what really happened to their parents all those years before.

I suggest that you read the books in order – not because you’ll spoil who the other siblings end up with but because you’ll ruin the mystery plot if you don’t – and I don’t think it would be the easiest to follow that part of the book if you haven’t got the full backstory.

My favourites in the series were the first two books and I didn’t love book four, but as a whole the Hellions’ stories ticked a lot of boxes for me and gave me 10 (ish) hours happy reading – hence the BotW post on book five.  There is a sixth book in the series – featuring a secondary character from the previous five – which bridges the gap between this series and Jeffries next one – The Duke’s Men (which I’ve already read one of, out of order ), which I’m going to try and get my hands on soon.

So there you go.  An unusual BotW from me – and a reminder that I need to slow down on the Janet Evanovich’s to keep my reading material balanced….  You should be able to find Sabrina Jeffries’ Hellions series where ever you usually pick up your US romance novels – I read mine on Scribd, but you can also get them on Kindle and in paperback.  The first one is The Truth About Lord Stoneville – and I suggest you start there.