I’ve realised that I have been talking a lot about cosy crime books recently – it seems that in times of stress I really do find them comforting. I generally revert to old favourites – Margery Allingham, Catherine Aird, Dorothy L Sayers… At the moment I am mostly (but not exclusively) reading familiar authors but have been seeking out new to me titles. They have the double advantage of seeming comfortingly well known whilst still being exciting new stories.
I am not alone either. I remember early on in lockdown reading a piece by Robin Stevens about how the reading of crime fiction always increases in times of crisis. Apparently it is because it is (perhaps subconsciously) reassuring to read a book which has very human problems we know will be neatly solved by the end. I think we can all see the appeal of that!
For me, there are some stricter rules. I do not like books where it turns out the narrator – or someone whose thoughts we can follow – is the murderer. That breaks one of the rules of golden age detective fiction, although it is one Agatha Christie was happy to break – she is well know for breaking many of them! I do hate getting emotionally attached to the villain.
I also like to have a fair chance of solving the murder myself. All the detective’s clues should be available to me otherwise it just isn’t fair. I love Ngaio Marsh but Alleyn has a terrible habit of saying something along the lines of, ‘I’ll tell you on the way.’ to Inspector Fox and we never get to see that scene. It’s a bit infuriating sometimes.
I do also have an issue with books where it turns out the murder was in fact a suicide. This is a problem which is very specific to me but I just don’t enjoy those stories nearly as much.
I have however been having a lovely time indulging my taste for cosy mysteries. They are a balm I can highly recommend.
I am always on the lookout for new (to me) cosy crime books. They are just so comforting and the best kind of relaxation so when I heard about the Mystery Bookshop series by V M Burns I had to try it out. It is set in a mystery bookshop after all!
Samantha Washington has long dreamed of owning a mystery bookstore. And as she prepares for the grand opening, she’s realizing another dream–penning a cozy mystery set in England between the wars. While Samantha hires employees and stocks her shelves, her imagination also gets to work as her heroine, Lady Penelope Marsh, long-overshadowed by her beautiful sister Daphne, refuses to lose the besotted Victor Carlston to her sibling’s charms. When one of Daphne’s suitors is murdered in a maze, Penelope steps in to solve the labyrinthine puzzle and win Victor.
In the meantime, however, the unimaginable happens in real life. A shady realtor turns up dead in Samantha’s backyard, and the police suspect her–after all, she might know a thing or two about murder. Aided by her feisty grandmother and an ensemble of enthusiastic retirees, Samantha is determined to close the case before she opens her store. But will she live to conclude her own story when the killer has a revised ending in mind?
I very much enjoyed this book. It is light, easy reading which is perfect right now. The mystery kept me guessing and I especially loved reading about Nana Jo and the girls. I only hope I’m half as active and resourceful as them when I’m their age!
I hadn’t realised that half of the text would be taken up by the crime novel which Sam is writing. That did throw me a bit to start with but I actually really like the way it was woven into the main plot. There were however some aspects of the portrayal of life in 1930s England which grated and I did feel that perhaps some more research could have been done here.
Overall though, I thought it was a fun book and I will definitely be reading more in the series.
The Plot is Murder by V M Burns Publisher: Kensington Publishing ISBN: 9781496711816 RRP: £11.99
I have been a fan of Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series for years so, although I am very sad that Death Sets Sail is the last in the series, I was incredibly excited to receive a review copy from Penguin Random House.
The ninth and final novel in the number-one bestselling, award-winning Murder Most Unladylike series.
Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are in Egypt, taking a cruise along the Nile. They are hoping to see some ancient temples and a mummy or two;what they get, instead, is murder.
Also travelling on theSS Hatshepsutis a mysterious society called the Breath of Life: a group of genteel English ladies and gentlemen, who believe themselves to be reincarnations of the ancient pharaohs. Three days into the cruise their leader is found dead in her cabin, stabbed during the night.
It soon becomes clear to Daisy and Hazel that the victim’s timid daughter is being framed – and they begin to investigate their most difficult case yet.
But there is danger all around, andonly one of the Detective Society will make it home alive…
I have been waiting for this book for so long that I was afraid I might have built it up too much in my mind and I would be disappointed. I needn’t have worried though – this is a great book which definitely lives up to the rest of the series.
Of course, I am well above the target age for these books but even so I found the plot had a lot of unexpected twists and I only guessed the murderer a few pages before they were revealed. That’s the best kind of mystery – it’s satisfying to be able to work it out but only if it’s right at the last minute! I also loved the fact that the book is set in Egypt and I especially enjoyed the Agatha Christie references.
The characters have grown a lot over the course of the series and I will be sad to see them go. Hazel in particular has developed so much and I found myself cheering for her several times in this one. Robin Stevens has just announced a new series which will begin in 2022 and will focus on Hazel’s little sister May – I will be very much looking forward to that. In the meantime if you haven’t read Murder Most Unladylike yet I would highly recommend giving it a go.
Recently I have been re-reading Northanger Abbey with a lovely group of Jane Austen enthusiasts – most of whom are far more knowledgeable than I am. I have so enjoyed our discussions and I have learnt a lot from them.
The first time I read Northanger I didn’t get it at all. I had heard that it was very funny and I couldn’t understand why. Then I learnt about gothic novels and read it again. It turns out that it is indeed hilarious and I have loved it ever since.
The plot has a great deal to do with that (of course) but I also love how heavily books feature in the story. As a bookish teenager I very much identified with Catherine – I too have spent much time living more in my fictional worlds than in the real one.
I have also very much appreciated the books I have discovered within its pages. Like many people, I was pushed to read The Mysteries of Udolpho by Catherine Morland and, although the sentences are long and have far too many commas, I enjoyed it. An even better discovery was Fanny Burney who I read partly because she is mentioned in Northanger and partly because I knew Jane Austen herself enjoyed reading her. For me she was far superior to Mrs Radcliffe.
From there I went on to discover several other 18th century authors including Maria Edgeworth who I loved. I have not yet embarked on any of Samuel Richardson’s novels but I have no doubt that I will at some point.
For now though I have returned to the gothic and am about to start Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. This one isn’t mentioned in Northanger Abbey but I’m sure that Catherine and Isabella would have adored it.
I am taking a few days annual leave this week. I have only been back at work for five weeks but it has been exhausting and I was more than ready for the break.
Of course, there are still things I need to get done this week but I was hopeful that I could spend a good chunk of the time reading. So far I have done pretty well and have read two of the Albert Campion series by Margaret Allingham – Traitor’s Purse and Coroner’s Pidgen. I have read both before so knew I would enjoy them and I have been revelling in them.
I would have moved onto the next one but it is new to me and I need to wait until I actually have a copy. Instead, I have been drawn to another cosy mystery – The Plot is Murder by V M Burns. I don’t know a huge amount about this one but it was recommended to me and it is set in a mystery bookshop. How can I not like it?
Last weekend should have seen the AGM of the Jane Austen Society UK at Chawton House. This year is the 80th birthday of the society and so it would have been quite a special occasion. Of course, for obvious reasons, this couldn’t happen.
Instead, Chawton House hosted an online event which included a tour of the house and a talk about the history of the society which was very interesting. 1940 seems like an odd time to be creating such a society and I can understand why people thought there were more important things going in in the world. It is however an excellent example of keeping calm and carrying on.
The highlight of the day for me though was the selection of birthday wishes from Jane Austen societies around the world. It was very moving and even humbling to see how much people love Jane Austen and her world.
Last week I received a surprise parcel from Macmillan. I had a suspicion as to what it might be but was completely wrong as it turned out to be a beautiful copy of Matthew Oates’ His Imperial Majesty. My first flick through showed me that it has some gorgeous illustrations but I was somewhat sceptical about the review on the front cover from Patrick Barkham – ‘Monumental, transcendent, hilarious.’ This is a natural history of the Purple Emperor butterfly and it is packed full of fascinating information. How could it possibly also be hilarious?
I had to take this picture on a rainy day when not a butterflywas in sight so I made do with a brooch.
It turns out that it can. I am still only partway through (my Mum who doesn’t normally like reading non-fiction was so taken with this book that she borrowed it to read herself) but there are definitely some very funny moments. I particularly enjoyed the account of a meeting with a walker when the author was lying flat on his back looking for butterflies in the trees above him with binoculars.
I love butterflies. Hacking out on the ponies I often see many of them flitting about the hedgerows and although I can identify very few of them they are wonderful to watch. I even have a sketchbook from when I was eight or nine to which I gave the misleading title of Mostly Butterflies. On looking through it I find that there is precisely one butterfly – apparently a Monarch. A more accurate title would have been Mostly Horses but I was obviously very keen on butterflies at the time – even if it was a short time.
Thank you to Macmillan for the free review copy. I am looking forward to reading the rest of it when I get it back!
A conversation at work about Jane Austen adaptations (I still need to see the new Emma!) led me to re-watch Lost in Austen over the weekend. I haven’t seen it since it first came out but was very happy to find that I still thought it was excellent.
I love that Amanda is so involved in the world of Pride and Prejudice that the people and manners in her real life seem brash and even vulgar by comparison. I too have wished that I could escape to Jane Austen’s world.
It got me thinking though – if I really could change places with someone in a book, who would it be? Of course, Elizabeth Bennet is a good choice and I can definitely see myself in the world of Pride and Prejudice. Betsy Ray would be another – I would so love to spend time in Deep Valley, go to some skating parties and experience Sunday night lunch at the Ray’s house. Perhaps the ultimate though is Anne Shirley. I have wanted to go to Avonlea ever since I first read the book and, of course, Gilbert would be there too.
The only flaw in the plan is that I would have to actually swap places with these characters when what I really want to do is spend time with them. I want to explore Avonlea with Anne and I definitely would love to talk to all three of them – plus so many others. Switching places isn’t the answer. I need a new plan!
I have been reading Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide with a lovely group of people on Instagram and have been thoroughly enjoying it.
I haven’t read any Christie for a while and it has been years since I read this one. So much so that I genuinely had no idea whodunnit – which makes a nice change for me when I’m re-reading a book. This was a good one too – a long list of suspects who all seemed pretty plausible. Early on I did single out the love interests and write them off as suspects but then I remembered that Christie is not Ngaio Marsh or Georgette Heyer. Anyone could have done it – including either or even both of the love interests – so they went back on the list.
In the end, I only guessed a few pages before the reveal which is always satisfying. I like to be able to work out the solution before the detective but it’s not so great when you work out the murderer right at the beginning of the book!
It was a lot of fun reading this with the others. There are always so many things which come up in the chats that I just don’t notice for myself when I’m reading and it is lovely to share my ideas with other people. We might not be able to have in person book clubs at the moment but this is just as good (especially as my book club would never read a lot of the books I would like to choose!).
With the re-opening of shops this week, I have been called back in to work. I spent a long time thinking about the perfect book to take with me – it needed to be nice and cosy but not too gripping because I wanted to be able to leave it at work when I went home.
In the end I decided on Pat of Silver Bush. L M Montgomery is always the best comfort read for me and, although I remember thinking that Pat was very similar in character to me, I haven’t read it for quite some time. I hoped that would mean I would be drawn into the story and it would be a distraction if things got too stressful at work.
In fact, I have hardly read at all over the past few days. We are working shorter days which means we get less time for lunch and I only get through a few pages. Then when I get home I am completely drained and just want to collapse on the sofa in front of the television (I have been binge watching Miranda and it is just as wonderful as I remember).
Hopefully though I will settle back into work fairly quickly and I’ll soon be reading more again. I am very much looking forward to my day off and the extra hours of reading time that will bring!