Thursday, 21 January 2021

What's New in Books for 2021

One exciting thing about a new year is discovering which of our favourite authors have something new in the pipeline to enthrall us with. Here are just a few of the titles on my radar as we launch into another fantastic year of reading.

New Books from Popular Authors

The Last Guests by J P Pomare: This Melbourne based Kiwi and Ngaio Marsh Award winner has a new thriller which may have you rethinking your eagerness to own a holiday rental. When the decision to rent out her family vacation home takes a deadly turn, Lina finds herself racing for answers. Set on gorgeous Lake Tarawera.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah: Elsa Martinelli is a farmer in Texas during the Great Depression. When crops fail due to a terrible drought and dust threatens to destroy their livelihoods for good, many are selling up and moving west to California. A stunning portrait of the American Dream, courage and sacrifice as told through the eyes of one determined woman.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro: Klara is an Artificial Friend watching and waiting for the customer who will choose her. A look at a changing, technology driven world through the eyes of an unforgettable heroine. A new book by the author of The Remains of the Day is always something to cheer about.

Series Favourites

Fallen by Linda Castillo: Painters Mill Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is back with the case of a young woman found murdered in a local motel - someone Kate once knew as a girl back when she was part of the Amish community. Long-buried secrets turn up as the killer strikes again. This book isn't released until June, but in the meantime Linda Castillo's publishers are releasing a collection of shorter Burkholder stories called A Simple Murder.

The Night Hawk by Elly Griffiths: Back at her old Norfolk university, forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is caught up in a new murder inquiry when Bronze Age artefacts are discovered with a dead body by amateur archaeologists. More bodies, a ghostly dog that's the Harbinger of Death and we have a trademark Elly Griffiths page turner. 

The Night Gate by Peter May: Forensic scientist Enzo Macleod is back with another cold case - the murder of a famous art critic as well as a disinterred body killed 70 years before. At the heart of both deaths is da Vinci's Mona Lisa, while in the background we have Paris suddenly going into Covid lockdown. Plenty to keep Enzo busy and the reader guessing.

Causing Ripples

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins: This story takes place in Thornfield Estates - a plush, gated community in modern-day Alabama. Jane is an impoverished dog-walker who catches the eye of widower Eddie Rochester - the only problem is his late wife just won't stay buried. Sound familiar? A modern retelling of the classic Jane Eyre.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman: Four friends at a retirement village meet once a week to discuss unsolved murders. When an actual murder takes place on their doorstep, The Thursday Murder Club swing into action with a real crime to investigate. Maybe their combined talents are just what it takes to solve it. 

End of Summer by Anders de la Motte: This mystery concerns the 1983 disappearance of a small boy. Decades later we catch up with the boy's sister now a grief counsellor. When a young man joins her group and talks about the sadness he experienced after the boy's vanishing, questions arise about what happened and whether he might still be alive. A terrific new author for fans of Scandi Noir.

Posted by JAM

Monday, 18 January 2021

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

“She just wanted – had always wanted – a good book to read.”

I’m sure we can all relate to that! Put a book about a mysterious secret library in front of me and you can bet I am going to pick that book up and read it. Such a premise is irresistible to many readers I’m sure. If you love a bit of fantasy and adventure this series is for you. There are alternate worlds, dragons, fae, and a special language which librarians can use to manipulate things!

Irene is a junior librarian. Her job mainly consists of missions to alternate worlds to retrieve books, which are then stored in the Library to create links which help to keep the worlds in balance. The missions are often dangerous and there can be competition for the books they are attempting to acquire. The book dives in to a mission where Irene is in a world under cover as a boarding school cleaner. She acquires her target book and escapes the world back to the Library (after being chased by hellhounds). Irene is hoping to have some time for her own projects, but her seniors have other plans.

Irene is posted in an alternate London with a new apprentice, Kai - who’s kind of hot, btw, but Irene is much too professional to concern herself with that. She is his mentor after all! This London has Victorian kind of vibes, with added zeppelins and magic. They meet many challenges including fae interference, a giant mechanical centipede, and werewolves. They also meet Vale, London’s best detective. I’m very fond of Vale as a character, he’s a bit Sherlock-ish.

The Invisible Library caught my interest enough that I went on to read book two, The Masked City, then book three, The Burning Page, which I particularly liked, then book four, The Lost Plot. I’m truly hooked on the series. It is fast paced, fantasy, mystery, and filled with a love of books. It is also feeding a bit of wanderlust with our current inability to travel. I’m really enjoying the far flung places in various alternate worlds that Irene and Kai travel to. They could be off to a high chaos Venice, or a 1920s-esque New York with prohibition in full swing, and I think there is a good level of world building. It’s just enough to set the scene and create a good feeling for the different places without labouring over every little detail and slowing the story down. I’m looking forward to seeing where they head off to in book 5, The Mortal Word. There are seven books in this series so lots of magic and mystery to sink yourself into.

Posted by Lara

Catalogue link: The Invisible Library

Monday, 11 January 2021

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths won an Edgar Award for The Stranger Diaries which introduced us to DS Harbinder Kaur. Now Harbinder’s back with a new murder to solve – that of ninety-year-old Peggy Smith who lived in sheltered care. Because of her age, the doctor writes the death off as natural causes, but Natalka, the visiting caregiver, smells a rat. Peggy was still spritely and busy, and then there’s her business card: Mrs M Smith, Murder Consultant.

Peggy isn’t much missed by her money-grubbing son Nigel who has her cremated quickly and her flat boxed up, ready to sell. She is missed by her neighbour, eighty-year-old Edwin and Benedict, the former monk who runs the Coffee Shack on the waterfront below Peggy’s flat. The three of them used to meet over coffee to talk murder mysteries and solve cryptic crosswords. We soon learn that Peggy helped several well-known crime novelists with their murder plots, particularly Dex Challinor, who lives in a fancy part of town and is a best-selling author.

The story takes us into the world of publishing, book marketing and literary festivals as Natalka, Edwin and Benedict team up to solve Peggy’s murder. They are an unlikely set of allies: Natalka is from Ukraine and talks like a spy – she thinks she’s being followed too. Elderly, gay Edwin is refined and charming while Benedict swirls a heart pattern on Natalka’s cappuccinos, which she never seems to notice.

DS Kaur promises to look into the case, and a new murder that might be linked has the police on the job, but it’s getting hard to rein in Team Natalka. The three sleuths head to a literary festival in Aberdeen to talk to some of the authors who might have used Peggy’s services. As tension mounts, and the team assemble more facts and get to know each other, the story builds to a several showdowns and nail-biting moments.

There’s a ton of humour too – I found myself laughing out loud not only at the interactions of Natalka, Edwin and Benedict but also with Harbinder’s wry mutterings and ongoing stress over her parents and how to tell them she’s gay. You can tell that Griffiths – herself a best-selling author – has had a lot of fun sending up the hype around publishing and the ever ingenious gimmicks marketing departments come up with to sell books. This series is shaping up to be as welcome as Griffith’s hugely popular Nelson and Galloway series.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Postscript Murders

Friday, 8 January 2021

Emma's Favourite Reads for 2020

From picture books to YA to adult fiction and some seriously thought-provoking non-fiction, Emma picks her reading highlights for the bumpy ride that was 2020.

Best Picture Book: This is a tough one, but I think I’m going to go with I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. It doesn’t talk down to the reader and the illustrations aren’t particularly childish either. When the dialogue doesn’t match the pictures, you get a real giggle, knowing that the characters are telling lies. This picture book has worked well one-on-one with toddlers as well as in class settings with primary students and special needs high school students. Plus I like just reading it to myself. There are two more hat stories by Klassen to enjoy as well: This Is Not My Hat and We Found A Hat

The Book That Got Me Out of My Lockdown-Can’t-Read Slump: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by she-who-must-not-be-named. A familiar favourite that I tried to read every day in lockdown but couldn’t until we hit Covid alert level 2, when I could suddenly follow a narrative again!

Best Non-Fiction: a tie between Clementine Ford’s Fight Like a Girl and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. Both gave me a deeper understanding of the issues (sexism and racism, respectively), and both got me suitably riled up to have some important conversations with people I love, but would usually avoid these topics with. Ford’s Australian voice and Eddo-Lodge’s UK perspective were both a refreshing departure from the US narratives that tend to overshadow these conversations.

Best YA: Puddin' by Julie Murphy. A sequel to Dumplin’, which was made into an awesome Netflix movie. It’s great. So great. Just read it. Friendship, growing up, inclusiveness, girl power – it’s just so great. Just awesome characters – some of whom struggle with accepting who they are, and some who live with full confidence, unafraid to broadcast their quirks. 

Overall Best Book I Read This Year: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. Really. As long as she can distract herself with work or alcohol, she’s utterly okay. I love Eleanor’s way of thinking. It’s relatable, ridiculous, hilarious, and terrifying by turns. Spoiler alert: she’s not actually fine. This book made me laugh out loud and cry heaving sobs.

Posted by Emma

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Miss Moneypenny's Holiday Mystery Reading

This is the time of year when I start putting together the books I want to read over the summer. Catching up with detectives both professional and amateur is a perfect way to spend the summer. 

A Better Man by Louise Penny. This, a most excellent French Canadian mystery series, is centred around the fictional village of Three Pines and the most likeable Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. There are continuing storylines as well as births, deaths and marriages so if this is a new series for you start with Still Life

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith. I was initially reluctant to read this detective series written by the Harry Potter author J K Rowling. But don’t be like me and let this successful children’s author put you off as this is a great mystery series. The British protagonist, private detective, Cormoran Strike has an uneasy truce with life. Along with crimes to solve, Cormoran has romantic ups and downs and more personal issues that you can shake a stick at. Start with book number one: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner. This is the second in the British police detective series featuring Det. Sgt. Manon Bradshaw. In the first book in the series Missing, Presumed, socially awkward Manon is called into a missing person case. Edith comes from an affluent background but with her boyfriend Will they led a self sufficient lifestyle (well apart from the money Daddy gives her). When she goes missing the worst is feared. Needs to be read in order. 

A Willing Murder by Jude Deveraux. Romantic novelist Deveraux has branched into the world of crime with this the first in the Medlar Mystery Series. The main characters are bored and successful romance novelist Sara Medlar, her niece Kate and house guest Jack. Looks promising. 

Hunting Game by Helene Tursten. I was introduced to Tursten with her collection of detective short stories: An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good. Hunting Game is set in Sweden with Detective Inspector Embla Nyström on holiday moose hunting when a body turns up. Billed as slow burning and atmospheric; here's hoping it lives up to its reviews.

Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison. Now for something different - a cosy mystery set in a quaint village in the English county of Devon. Kat is about to launch into her new career in the antique business when her mother recklessly purchases a dilapidated carriage house. Kat finds herself drawn into the affairs of the local stately mansion. Cute, quirky and fun – a perfect choice for a relaxing read over the summer.

Posted by Miss Moneypenny

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Three Very Different Recommended Reads

Along with quite a few books that have featured on this blog - it's great to see so much shared enjoyment - here are three stand-out books I've discovered that I can heartily recommend:

Skunk and Badger
by Amy Timberlake and with pictures by Jon Klassen
This whimsical children's chapter book (think Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh) is highly recommended for all ages. The first book in a new series, it follows Badger, a workaholic rock scientist who has lived alone in his aunt's house for three years doing important rock work. He lives a simple, ordered life until one day there is a skunk with a red suitcase tied up with twine knocking at his door. If Badger had read the letters from Aunt Lula, he would have known that Skunk was going to move in with him. Skunk, outgoing, friendly, helpful (maybe too helpful?) a good cook (but a messy cook) like Badger, has quirky interests. With humour and wonderfully rich illustrations, this delightful book expounds the values of compromise, understanding the viewpoints of others, as well as love and kindness.

The Last Hours by Minette Walters
Usually known for her psychological novels, Minette Walters can also write compelling and captivating historical fiction. The Last Hours is set in England in 1348 as the Black Death is starting to spread across the land. While her brutal husband is away negotiating a husband for their spoilt 14-year-old daughter, Lady Anne hears news of the plague. Educated by nuns and therefore with knowledge of good hygiene and the practice of isolation to keep sickness away, she brings their 200 serfs inside the moat of their manor house and lifts up the drawbridge. With the support of the elder serfs, Gyles and Thaddeus, this strong and memorable heroine takes charge at this frightening time, having already been quietly running the demesne efficiently and compassionately behind her nasty husband's back. How will they survive with food running low and with attacks from raiding parties? This character driven novel drew me in and with a few secrets to reveal and some unresolved business, I am looking forward to returning to Develish in the sequel, The Turn of Midnight.

Miss Benson's Beetle
 by Rachel Joyce
This heart-warming story of unexpected female friendship, resilience and second chances as well as the lasting effects of war, had me cheering for Margery Benson, a single domestic science teacher who had lost her brothers and father in WWI. Advertising for an assistant to travel with her to the New Caledonian jungle to find an undiscovered species of golden beetle, she finds she has engaged the very unusual Enid Pretty. But, unbeknown to them, they are also being followed by Mr Mundic, a traumatised ex-prisoner of war. Another novel with plenty of surprises, great atmosphere and contrasts from austere, post-war Britain to the sun, heat and dangers of New Caledonia, written by a talented author.

Posted by VT

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Nigel's Top Ten by Stephen King

I’ve been on a Stephen King binge this year – my ultimate goal is to read all of his works within in next couple of years (I’m about halfway there). Here are the books that make my top ten by King so far:

Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower Series, Book 4)  
We gain insight into the main character’s (Roland's) background. He tells his group of Ka-tet about an adventure he embarked upon in his youth with his fellow gunslingers.

The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower Series, Book 7)
The final book in Mr King’s beloved Dark Tower series – Will Roland and his Ka-tet make it to the fabled Dark Tower? Plenty of twists, turns and action for this group to encounter. “All things serve the Beam.”

The Shining 
When Jack Torrance and his family take an opportunity for work at the Overlook Hotel they never in their wildest dreams think they’ll encounter what they do. A place of dark, alluring evil comes to life; gifted son Danny the key to it all. A brilliant, scary and terrifying read - definitely one of Stephen King’s finest efforts. “Redrum... redrum.” 

Skeleton Crew & Night Shift 
Two books of short stories – I guarantee you there are stories in here that will keep you up at night and make you look under the bed/in the closet - what was that noise?
Each brings a brilliant collection of varied short stories, Mr King knows how to turn everyday life into something utterly terrifying –  must reads for horror fans.

The Outsider  
When local school teacher and baseball coach Terry Maitland is accused of a horrific murder, a crazy chain of events begin. Despite overwhelming evidence against him, Terry appears to have a watertight alibi. A deadly game of cat-and mouse (with a supernatural twist) ensues over three states in America.

The Talisman (written with Peter Straub)
Twelve-year-old Jack Sawyer must embark on a quest to save his dying Mum. Thrust into a parallel universe of twinners, friends, foes and strange creatures, Jack must find the all powerful Talisman – not only to save his Mum but to save the balance of the universe too. 

Black House (written with Peter Straub)
Twenty years after the events of the Talisman, “retired” homicide detective Jack Sawyer is brought into solve a series of bizarre murders in Wisconsin. The killer pays homage to an infamous serial killer from the past with a similar modus operandi. “The Fisherman” kidnaps a child. Jack - with the help of the local authorities and local “heavies” - must stop “The Fisherman” before another victim is found. All things lead to the forbidding and sinister Black House…

The Tommyknockers  
When a strange object buried in the forest is found, a dig begins for the locals of Haven, Maine. Things in the town start to get strange, new powers are obtained - life will never be the same for the locals or anyone else entering the town…

Scott Carey is rapidly losing weight no matter how much he eats, but it’s not showing in his appearance. This coupled with a nasty neighbour gives Scott a challenge he wants to accept. The annual foot race presents Scott with an opportunity to make good on his challenges. 

Posted by Nigel