Recommendsday: Books with Amazing Houses

So yesterday I took advantage of the last of my post-nightshift days off to go on a family jolly to Blenheim Palace.  It’s less than an hour from home, but surprisingly I’d never been before – perhaps because it’s not National Trust or English Heritage so you have to pay.  It was fabulous – and I got my day ticket converted into a year pass (which doesn’t cost any extra to do) so I can go back again and see some of the bits we didn’t have time for on Tuesday.  Any how, after a day out at a country house, it got me thinking about books which feature amazing houses.  So here’s a few for you for Recommendsday.

Blenheim Palace

OK the sky wasn’t as blue as I was hoping, but at least we didn’t get rained on…

I know it’s totally the obvious choice, but I had to start with Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.  It’s not my favourite Waugh (that’s Vile Bodies) but I know I may be in the minority on that.  I had a massive Waugh kick a couple of years ago and read a whole load of his novels back to back and for the most part they still really work.  Brideshead tells of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and their upper class and crazy world.  The house is at the centre of it all as a character in and of itself.  Well worth reading if you haven’t already.  I definitely need to watch one or other of the TV/film versions soon.  And read Vile Bodies too.

Next, if you haven’t read any Roderick Alleyn books (and why not?) the first in the series, A Man Lay Dead, is set around a weekend party at a country house where one of the guests ends up dead.  Again, it’s not my favourite of the Alleyns (that’s Artists in Crime) but it’s a really good start to the series and a really good example of a country house murder mystery.

It feels like a while since I mentioned Rebecca on here, which is strange since the Du Maurier classic is one of my mum’s favourite books and I have a lovely Virago hardback copy which sits on my downstairs keeper shelf.  It’s creepy and gothic and has one of the most famous opening lines in literature in “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again”.  If you haven’t read it, why not and if you have go and reread it.  You won’t regret it*.

Finally, if you want something funny, try PG Wodehouse’s Blandings series.  The first one is Something Fresh, where you meet Lord Emsworth, his son Freddie and his secretary The Efficient Baxter and get a taste for the sort of high jinx that ensue.  I think I like them better than the Jeeves and Wooster books, but again I think I’m in the minority there.

I could go on – I haven’t even mentioned I Capture the Castle, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre or The Secret Garden..

All recommendations for more books with amazing houses gratefully received, in the meantime

Happy reading!

*Even if, spoiler alert, you never trust a housekeeper again.

Book of the Week: A Dangerous Crossing

I read a few good books this week, but in the end I picked Rachel Rhys’s A Dangerous Crossing for my BotW, although I realise as I write this that there have been rather a lot of historical mystery picks recently, but I know this is one I’m going to be lending out to various people, so it deserves a mention here.  As you may have realised, i’ve got a big soft spot for historical mysteries, but this has a healthy dose of suspense mixed in as well so it does make for a bit of a change, honest!

A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

I love the glamorous 1930s style cover for this – although the paperback one looks like its going to be different.

Set on a liner on its way to Australia in 1939, it follows Lily Shepherd who is heading down under on an assisted passage scheme to escape her past.  On board, she finds herself mingling with people who she would never have socialised with on dry land and is drawn into their intrigues and secrets. By the time the ship docks in Melbourne, two passengers are dead and Lily’s life will never be the same again.

The cast of characters in this is really cleverly constructed.  Lily is young and innocent in many ways and doesn’t always realise that her behaviour is being judged by other people.   A lot of the action focuses around Lily’s table mates at dinner – a brother and sister who are heading to Australia after he had a health scare, a young man whose father is sending him away from the risk of war.  There is the upper-class couple who keep visiting tourist class and a young Jewish girl fleeing Austria without her parents.  Lily’s massively judgmental roommate and an older companion who is supervising them on the journey pop up to point out the class divisions that Lily is crossing when she is mixing with people they see as above  – and below – her station and putting her prospects in Australia at risk.

The mystery itself is a proper slow burn – after teasing you with the arrival in Australia at the very start, you then spend a lot of the rest of the book on edge waiting for something bad to happen.  And it’s very, very effective. In the author biography it says that Rachel Rhys is the pen name of an “already sucessful suspense author”* so that’s not really a surprise.  I thought it was very page-turnery and doom laden but not so creepy as to be terrifying, which makes it pretty much my ideal sort of suspense!

A Dangerous Crossing is out now in Hardback and comes out in paperback in August. You should be able to get it from all the usual places (Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones) or order it from the Big Green Bookshop.  The ebook edition is availble on Kindle and Kobo and there’s an audiobook from Audible** as well.

Happy Reading!

*It’s Tammy Cohen whose other books look far too terrifying for me – if I’d known when I picked this up, I might not have read it, which would have been a shame!

** You’ll need to be logged in for the link to work.

Book of the Week: The Roanoke Girls

As you may have noticed, I read a lot of books on my holiday.  But actually this week’s BotW was an easy choice because Him Indoors read The Roanoke Girls after me and really enjoyed it too – and he doesn’t read anywhere near as many books as me and our tastes don’t always coincide.

The Roanoke Girls

My very pretty ARC of The Roanoke Girls – which has all sorts of nice touches to it

Lane Roanoke goes to live with her grandparents and her cousin Allegra after her mother’s suicide.  They live on a large estate in Kansas and are top of the town hierarchy.  But Lane only spends one summer there. 11 years later, Lane returns to the estate after Allegra goes missing.  Roanoke girls have a history – they either run away or they die.  Which has happened to Allegra and what is the dark secret that threatens the Roanoke girls?

I can’t say any more than that about the plot – because it will spoil it.  This has been billed as a provocative thriller – and I’d agree.  It’s dark and shocking and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  But I was absolutely and totally engrossed and gripped.  I couldn’t stop turning the pages, even if on occasion it was from between my fingers with horror.  The Roanokes are by turns fascinating and horrifying and it is a great book to read on the beach.  In fact, it’s a great beach book – because if you read it on the sunlounger it will help chase the darkness away.  Although rural Kansas is fairly hot and steamy, so that might not work.

I’m still thinking and digesting it a week on – but I think it might be my go to summer holiday book recommendation.  For people who can cope with the darkness…

I lucked into an advance copy, but the Roanoke Girls is out now in hardback from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones and on Kindle and Kobo.  The paperback is preorderable – but it’s not out until September, which might be too late for your holidays.

Happy Reading!

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.

Book of the Week: Sparkle Shot

I feel like I’m getting repetitive here, because this BotW is another Fahrenheit Press pick.  Seriously, my Fahrenheit subscription has been one of my best book-based purchases this year.  It was a total bargain (and I got in early so it really was a bargain!) and I’ve discovered older series I was too young for (or not in the right crowd for) first time around and new authors doing interesting things and who I’m hoping I can say that I was there at the beginning for.

And Sparkle Shot falls in the latter camp.  It’s Lina Chern’s first book and it’s short but it packs a lot in.  The subtitle is “A wannabe cowboy, a handsome cop and the search for a perfect breakfast cocktail” but that doesn’t really do it justice.  It is a perfect fit for the Fahrenheit family – Mara fits in somewhere between Sam Jones from Black Rubber Dress and Eva Destruction from Barista’s Guide to Espionage, in that she’s sassy, smart and runs with an interesting crowd which sees her getting tangled up with things she’d rather not be.  In this case, her roommate, a stripper who dances under the name of Karma misses a breakfast date with her and then phones in a panic – she’s witnessed a murder and needs Mara to help stop her being the next victim.

Sparkle Shot races along at 100 miles an hour, with boys with guns, girls with guns, wannabe mafia dons, cops and peril.  It’s probably technically novella length at 95 pages, but doesn’t suffer from any of my common complaints about novellas.  There’s not a hint of underdeveloped story or things feeling too rushed.  There’s plenty of plot, there’s backstory, character development and proper tension and proper danger – not just the sort of thing that is a misunderstanding or could be fixed with a simple conversation.  It does feel like it could stand a sequel or two – hopefully longer than this because it was over too fast – but even if it’s not more from Mara and her friends, I’m still looking forward to seeing what Lina Chern writes next.

You can buy Sparkle Shot on Kindle or in paperback from Amazon, or you could treat yourself to some Bad Santa Bucks from Fahrenheit themselves and buy a few of their books – the discount gets bigger the more bucks you buy – and given that I’ve already mentioned two Fahrenheit books that have been BotWs and I’ve also recommended Death of a Nobody and Murder Quadrille (this is why I think I’m getting repetitive with my love of Fahrenheit, but honestly, so many good books) that’s five there – even if you only buy the first Sam Jones book and not the series…  And if you’re still not sure, both Sparkle Shot and Barista’s Guide to Espionage would be good books to read if you’ve read Stephanie Plum or any of the other Janet Evanovich thriller series and are looking for where to go next.  And on that encouragement to buy books I’ll go away before I buy more myself.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week: The Barista’s Guide to Espionage

You may have noticed that a week on the beach means that I’ve read a lot of books and whilst I have been bingeing a little on Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s series (and Margery Allingham to a lesser extent) my favourite book last week was Dave Sinclair’s The Barista’s Guide to Espionage.

I’ve said elsewhere that this book is what would happen if Stephanie Plum had James Bond’s baby – and according to the publisher that was what the author was going for, so big success there.

And to be honest, what more could you want.  Eva Destruction’s mistake – and this isn’t a spoiler because it’s in the blurb on Goodreads – is that her ex-boyfriend is a billionaire super villain who is trying to take over the world. So far Harry’s masterplan appears to be working – but there’s a dashing spy trying to thwart his plan – and if he can get Eva into bed at the same time as bringing Harry down so much the better.  This all unfolds slightly out of order, just to keep you in even more suspense as Eva tries to work out which side is the right side to be one – after all Harry did buy her a castle of her very own…

Cover of The Baristas Guide to Espionage

How can you not love a book with a cover like this?!

This is so, so, so much fun.  I mean, Eva blazes through this book, living up to her name with the trail of wreckage in her wake.  And Harry the Billionaire is really well done – he has enough moments of being really human that you can see why Eva struggles to side against him at time – he’s not like a Bond villain were you know the only reason he’s attracted his female hangers-on is because he’s rich*.  This unravels like an action  movie – with set pieces scattered across the world and bluffs and double bluffs galore.  I can’t wait for the sequel – and hopefully the movie.

This was another book which came to me via my Fahrenheit Press subscription – which has already given me previous BotW’s Murder Quadrille, Black Rubber Dress and Death of a Nobody as well as a bunch of other excellent books which have been in the running.  Fahrenheit Press are starting to bring out physical copies of their books, but as yet, the only place you can get this is on Kindle but it’s definitely worth £2.95 of your hard-earned money.

Happy reading!

 

*Except May Day.  I think she likes Zorin because he’s mad and lets her be violent (and he’s rich, and younger than most Bond villains).

Pick Me Up Books

It’s a funny old time at the moment isn’t it?  There’s so much news about – and lots of it is depressing for various reasons, that working in news for my day (and this week night) job* is getting a bit tough.  I’ve retreated into the world of Happy Endings.  Dystopian fiction is firmly off the menu, as is anything that might end on death, destruction or a down note.  This means I’ve been revisiting some old favourites again as well as reading loads of romance and cozy crime.  You’ll get some posts soon on the best of the new stuff – but I thought I’d also share some of my favourite old friends and Not New books.

Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell books from Virago

Aren’t they gorgeous? And there are more coming later in the year too.

Witty interwar comedies, mostly of manners, set in Barsetshire.  They’re a bit Mapp and Lucia (but with more sympathetic characters) and they remind me of the Diary of a Provincial Lady as well.  If you like the world of Golden Age crime, but don’t want the murders, then come take a look for a bit of wry social satire.  Virago are re-releasing them at the moment – and they’re gorgeous – but you should also be able to get them from a good second hand shop too.  You may remember I had Northbridge Rectory as a BotW a few weeks back, but as well as that one, if you liked Provincial Lady… start at the beginning of the series with High Rising, but if you loved boarding school stories, start with Summer Half and if you liked Downton, start with Pomfret Towers.

Charlaine Harris

 

Charlaine Harris books

The Charlaine Harris shelf, several series, mostly matching but with a few size issues!

Sookie Stackhouse, Harper Connelly, Lily Bard, Aurora Teagarden (a new book coming soon!) or Midnight, Texas, it doesn’t matter.  Yes they all have a body count, and you might lose a character you like from time to time.  But as escapist reading they’re pretty much all you could want.  Soapy melodrama with vampires (sometimes), small towns and kick-ass women (although Rue can be a bit wet at times).  Perfect for binge reading to take your mind off the real world.  After all there aren’t any vampires, werewolves or witches in the real world.

The Cazalet Chronicles

I had four matching copies. Then the fifth book arrived. And I got the hardback.

Retreat into the world of Home Place, the Brig and the Duchy, their children and grandchildren.  You meet them in 1937 and you can follow them through the Second World War and beyond across five books – until the grandchildren are grown up with families of their own.  There are so many characters and so many different stories that you can read 400 pages without out noticing.  Everyone has a favourite or two – mine are Rupert (from the children) and Polly and Clary (from the grandchildren).  I think my mum’s copies are so well thumbed that they fall open to my favourite sections about each of them – especially in Casting Off.  Glom on them on the beach if you’re on holiday, as I resist the temptation to rebuy a new matching set – you can get all 5 books for £6.99 from the Book People as I write this.

Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody

My kindle go-to at times like these is Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody serieses.  I tried to pick one, but I couldn’t.  I mentioned both in passing in my Nightshift books post back in this blog’s early days and Amelia got a shout out in my Summer Reading post two years ago, but I was shocked I hadn’t given either a post of their own.  Amelia is a female Egyptologist in the late nineteenth century.  Vicky is an art historian in sort-of fairly recent times.  Both end up in thrilling adventures.  Amelia picks up a crew of regular side-kicks along the way including, but not limited to a husband, a son, a faithful site foreman and an arch-nemesis and Vicky just keeps running into this gentleman thief-con artist type.  Both remind me in some ways of a female Indiana Jones, but funnier.

And on top of all that, there’s Georgette Heyer, Janet Evanovich, Peter Wimsey and a few of my recent BotW picks that would serve the same purpose and cheer you up too – check out Little Shop of Lonely Hearts, The Rogue Not Taken, Sunset in Central Park and Fangirl.  Also, if in doubt, read Georgette Heyer – start with Venetia or Regency Buck. Coming soon: Summer Holiday reading recommendations…

*In case you missed it I’m a journalist in real life.