#Review: The Man of Dangerous Secrets by Margery Allingham

After years of avoiding the four queens of British crime fiction (sorry friends, I can’t bring myself to enjoy Agatha Christie), I checked this title out on NetGalley without realizing that it was actually Margery Allingham. Boy, did I ever learn my lesson about not judging authors by their read-alikes! The Man of Dangerous Secrets was an absolutely entrancing read and I so grateful that Ipso Books is re-releasing these amazing crime classics.


dangerousTitle: The Man of Dangerous Secrets

Author: Margery Allingham writing as Maxwell March

Publisher: Ipso Books

Orignial Publication Date: 1933

Publication Date: August 11, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Crime Fiction, Murder Mystery

Themes: Romance, Blackmail

Features: Excerpt from The Tiger in the Smoke


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

He was haunted by the face of a girl, a girl lovely beyond all imagining, with stark terror in her wide grey eyes.

Robin Grey is Scotland Yard’s inside man – handling matters requiring a delicacy, integrity, and secrecy outside the jurisdiction of regular government offices. He is a man of details, of observation, and of intuition.

While lurking about Waterloo station on a mission for the Foreign Office, Grey’s interest is piqued by a suspicious looking character. Tailing him, Grey catches the man shove a fellow passenger onto the train tracks. Rushing to intervene, Robin Grey never stops to think that saving the victim might ensnare him in the same sinister plot.

Heiress Jennifer Fern is cursed tragic accidents have claimed two past fiancés, and she would have lost a third had it not been for Robin Grey’s heroic actions. Terrorised by the torment that stalks her, Grey is drawn to this young woman and feels honour-bound to help her. Tempting fate, he goes undercover to solve this deadly mystery.

But if loving Miss Jennifer Fern means certain death, can Grey protect her, and his own heart, before history repeats itself.

The Man of Dangerous Secrets was originally published in 1933 as Other Man’s Danger


My Review

I absolutely loved this book. At just 264 pages, there is so much action packed in that I felt I like I was on my toes the entire time. It has all the hallmarks of 1930s crime fiction as the genre was being re-defined with the secret service man as a dashing hero, a wealthy yet helpless heiress, blackmail and high society business men, and a neat and tidy ending where those who committed crimes against their will get away (almost) Scott free.

I’m not going to lie, I originally thought that I was diving in to a piece of historical fiction and kept thinking ‘man, these details and the dialogue seems so authentic!’ Well, duh. It was originally written and set in 1933, so I had to change my mindset to the fact that I was reading a classical thriller and after that it was impossible not to get swept up. Yes, Miss Fern was rather helpless, yes the other women in this text are either victims or emotionally driven, yes it was originally written as a serial, and yes there are a lot of characters to keep track of but it all worked together so well.

I really enjoyed the tongue-and-cheek humour that was used to break moments of tension, but more than anything I really enjoyed how Allingham dropped so many clues in every chapter that I was running in circles trying to piece them all together. By the time everything started to reach it’s pinnacle I was starting to feel like and exhausted investigator myself.

Of all the many characters I was most drawn to Sir Henry Fern and Inspector Mowbray. Fern because he was by far the most relatable and emotionally raw, trying to the right or moral thing regardless of the consequences. His emotional turmoil was worn on his sleeve, and as a result he rose well above the status of dispassionate businessmen that I found so easy to assign to his colleagues. Mowbray simply because he was quirky and had the ability to razz our hero without reprimand, and yet still take a jab gracefully in return. I did not, however, really enjoy Miss Fern. Aside from being quite beautiful she doesn’t seem to have a lot going on – I mean come on, she agreed to marry a man that she didn’t love, simply because he liked her a lot, when she knew that all of her fiancé’s had been murdered. She does redeem herself some through sticking to her guns and insisting that she was crazy and confronting her nurses, but I would have liked to see that level of tenacity throughout the entire story.

Would I recommend this book? Goodness, yes! This trip down memory lane is an absolutely delightful read. With just enough romance and damsel in distress to balance out the gore and thrill, it’s sure to please as many readers today as it did during it’s debut in 1933.


Many thanks to Ipso Books for providing a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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#Review: Colorless by Rita Stradling #YALit

Okay, so I know that there will be a fair few people who disagree with my review of Colorless by Rita Stradling, but I freaking loved it! It wasn’t your run of the mill easy to infer, everything presented on platter, with simple cookie-cutter characters YA book. Instead we are asked to consider issues with class, politics, modesty and public judgement, and what it means to be forgotten by society. Amazing.


colorlessTitle: Colorless

Author: Rita Stradling

Publisher: Rita Stradling Books

Publication Date: August 8, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Teens & YA

Themes: Classed Societies, Friendship, Magic, Murder Mystery

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

In Domengrad, there are rules all must live by: Fear the Gods. Worship the Magicians. Forsake the Iconoclasts.

To Annabelle Klein, the rules laid down by the Magicians are the mere ramblings of stuffy old men. As far as she’s concerned, the historic Iconoclasts, heretics who nearly destroyed the Magicians so long ago, are nothing but myth. She has much more important matters to worry about.

Heiress to a manor mortgaged down to its candlesticks and betrothed to her loathsome cousin, sixteen-year-old Annabelle doubts the gods could forsake her more.

Then Annabelle is informed of her parents’ sudden and simultaneous deaths, and all of the pigment drips out of her skin and hair, leaving her colourless. Within moments, Annabelle is invisible and forgotten by all who know her.

Living like a wraith in her own home, Annabelle discovers that to regain her color she must solve the mystery behind her parents’ murders and her strange transformation.

Meanwhile, hundreds of the Magicians’ monks, with their all-black eyes and conjoined minds, have usurped control of Annabelle’s family manor. An Iconoclast is rumored to be about—a person who they claim goes unseen, unheard, and lost to memory, yet is the greatest threat to all of Domengrad. For the first time in a hundred years, the monks plan to unleash the dire wolves of old.

Their only target: Annabelle.

 


My Review

I can’t deny that I was totally drawn in by the cover on this baby. I knew nothing about Rita Stradling, and had no prior knowledge of the book before checking out the blurb on NetGalley, and I am so glad that I took a gamble on something completely new!

Perhaps because I love historical fiction so much I immediately latched on to the plot line surrounding classed society and I really, really loved how the disconnect between characters from different classes created drama. Not only do characters like Annabelle and Dylan embody the stereotypical tropes that accompany their social standing, it quickly becomes apparent that this has everything to do with upbringing and societal structure rather than deep set personal beliefs. Even those characters that I loved to hate in the beginning I ended up loving – or for some pitying – in the end.

I think that the concept of the Gods, the Magicians, and the Iconoclasts was incredibly well executed. The only thing that I ever wanted more of were details on Domengrad itself and why Iconoclasts were feared. Ultimately though, I loved the slow delivery of world building information as it avoided the always dry info-dump that accompanies so many created worlds. I am excited to see what more is revealed about Domengrad, the Magicians, and the Gods in the coming sequels as I have no doubt that it will only get better as the story goes on.

Of all the characters, I really didn’t start liking Annabelle until the very end – she makes a much better bad-ass than she does a lady. Initially I found her contrived and infuriating, but her grit and determination did a really great job of moving the plot along. I loved how she ended up following in the footsteps of her Father and Fauve and rejecting the system that saw her merely as a cog in a breeding programme. I won’t give away her final act, but I may have shouted out a good ‘Oh no you didn’t!’ as shit went down. It was the perfect ending for this book, and the perfect jumping in point for a sequel.

I know that this book won’t be for everyone – not only is it complex and demanding, the writing style is vastly different from what is often expected in YA. Stradling hits on some big issues and some controversial issues, and will no doubt encounter criticism from one camp or another – especially when it comes to inclusion in school libraries. But guess what? I don’t care. I loved it, and I would recommend that you read it for yourself to form your own opinions!

 


Many thanks to Rita Stradling for providing a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

#BlogTour #Review: The Year of the Gun by Chris Nickson

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I’m super excited that today is my stop on Chris Nickson’s The Year of the Gun blog tour. I have to say, Lottie is one of the most compelling female WWII protagonists I have read in a good long while and I found it incredibly refreshing to read something set in post-blitz England that wasn’t London. The Year of the Gun is a must read for lovers of WWII and historical fiction, and it’s perfect too for those that enjoy police procedurals and crime fiction.


lottieTitle: The Year of the Gun: A WAPC Lottie Armstrong Mystery

Author: Chris Nickson

Publisher: Mystery Press

Publication Date: February 1, 2018

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Crime, Romance


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

1944: 20 years after WPC Lottie Armstrong was dismissed from Leeds police for insubordination, she’s back, now a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps and driving for her old boss.

DCS McMillan is now head of Criminal Investigation Department, trying to keep order with a depleted force as crime grows. But when the body of a young woman is found among the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey, things take a darker turn. The next night another young woman’s corpse is found. Both are in the service. Both have been shot by an American pistol. As World War II rages around them, can Lottie and McMillan stop a blackout killer with a taste for murder?


My Review

I loved this book, there is no question about it. It took me a few chapters to really get into it, but it wasn’t long before I found myself so engrossed that I couldn’t put it down. I loved the attention to detail, the depth of the research, and the playful relationship between Lottie and McMillan. I’m not going to lie, at first I was a little put off with how complacent and dependent I thought Lottie was – BUT (and this is a big but) once I kicked my brain back into the period that I was reading everything fell into place and I realized just how well crafted Lottie’s character was and how she pushed the boundaries as a modern, professional, respected and independent woman.

I was completely infatuated with the Leeds setting. As someone who has never had the pleasure of visiting the city, I really appreciated the minutiae of the descriptions, especially since it never felt like they weighed the plot down. I really got a sense of time and place, and most definitely felt as though I was transported back to WWII with the remnants of bombings, covered headlights and blackout curtains, and the realities of rationing and food shortages.

The serial killer plot was wonderfully done as well. I can only imagine the kind of terror that a killer on the home front would have inspired, especially since there would have been such an incredible sense of vulnerability with so many of the men away. I found myself holding my breath every time Lottie checked the missing persons list in the morning, my gut clenching as she approached crime scenes, and actually cheering out loud when she and McMillan made bold moves to confront suspects. But more than anything, I really appreciated how Lottie connected with the female victims and survivors, as it highlighted the positive impact that women on the police force had.

The only thing I can’t really talk about too much is Lottie’s relationship with Ellison because I don’t want to spoil the ending. But, I love that she had doubts, I love that she didn’t give in, and I love that so much of this story was left open for another instalment in the series. Oddly enough, I loved how much I hated Ellison at times! As most of you know by now I really enjoy reading flawed characters, and he certainly met the criteria on this one, mostly because I can completely understand the dilemma of making the moral choice and following direct orders. Ugh, infuriating man! I need to know where this goes next…

Would I recommend this book? Hands down, yes! The characters are so believable it hurts, it’s evident that everything is well researched, and the plot is one that keeps you on your toes as well. And the best part is that even though The Year of the Gun is the second book in a series, is stands entirely on it’s own. I have no doubts that I will be seeking out Modern Crimes as I would love to read more of Lottie as a young woman, as well as Nickson’s medieval murder mysteries in the Chesterfield trilogy – I sense my TBR spiralling out of control!

Thank you all for popping by my stop on the blog tour, and do check out @ShazsBookBlog tomorrow for an exciting final instalment.


Author Information 

cn021.jpgChris Nickson has written since he was a boy growing up in Leeds, starting with a three-paragraph school essay telling a tale of bomb disposal when he was 11. That brought the revelation that he enjoyed telling stories, and then more stories, teenage poetry, and music, as both a bassist and then a singer-songwriter-guitarist.

Chris spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He’s made a living as a writer since 1994. Much of his work has been music journalism, combining the twin passions of music and writing, specialising in world and roots music. His reviews and features are published in print and online, notably with fRoots, Sing Out!, emusic.com, and allmusic.com. He’s also the author of The NPR Casual Listener’s Guide to World Music.

Chris has also published 28 other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies, and has had a pair of one act plays staged in Seattle. His short fiction has appeared in several small magazines, and in the anthology Criminal Tendencies. A collection of his short Leeds fiction appeared under the title, Leeds, The Biography.

He moved back to the UK in 2005. The Broken Token was published by Creme de la Crime in 2010. The second of the Leeds novels featuring Richard Nottingham appeared in hardback in May 2011 with the third and fourth (The Constant Lovers and Come the Fear) appearing in 2012. The fifth and six in the series (At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies) arrived in 2013. The seventh novel, Free From All Danger, will appear in October 2017, Cold Cruel Winter was named one of the Best Mysteries of the Year in 2011 by Library Journal, and the audio book of The Broken Token was one of the Independent on Sunday’s Audiobooks of 2012.

Emerald City and West City Blues, two books featuring Seattle music journalist Laura Benton, are available on ebook and audiobook.

The Crooked Spire is set in Chesterfield in 1361 and can be found in paperback and ebook, as can the sequel, The Saltergate Psalter. The final volume in the trilogy, The Holywell Dead, will appear in 2017.

A series set in Leeds in the 1890s features Detective Inspector Tom Harper. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies, Skin Like Silver, The Iron Water, and On Copper Street. The Tin God is scheduled for publication in May 2017.

Dark Briggate Blues is a 1950s noir, with enquiry agent Dan Markham and also taking place in Leeds, as does The New Eastgate Swing, the second volume to feature Markham.

Lottie Armstrong, one of the first policewomen in Leeds, was the heroine of Modern Crimes, set in 1924. She reappears 20 years later in The Year of the Gun.

Chris is also the author of Solid Air – The Life of John Martyn. This appeared as an ebook and print on demand in June 2011, along with John’s posthumous album and a tribute CD that features many major names.

Authors Links:

Web site: https://chrisnickson.co.uk/

Twitter: @ChrisNickson2

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/12044.Chris_Nickson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chrisnicksonwriter/


Many thanks to Chris Nickson for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review, and to Abby Fairbrother-Slater @annebonnybooks for arranging this fabulous Blog Tour!

#Review: This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki

Hello my lovelies! I’m so sorry for not posting as much as I normally do. As some of you know, I am part of a team setting up a new school at which I am the librarian. After a series of setbacks (think contractor delays, backordered materials, and so on) we are finally in our building and I have made my way about 80% of the way through our roughly 32, 000 books (text books, teaching resources, and library collection all combined). Needless to say, I haven’t had as much time as I would like for my own personal activities lately!

As I haven’t been able to read as much as I normally do with our extended work schedule, I decided to revisit one of my favourite graphic novels This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki. This isn’t your run of the mill high-action YA graphic novel, but rather it’s slow and thoughtful contemplation on family dynamics and the coming of age, and as a result it tends to have mixed reviews. For this reason alone I have decided against assigning a starred rating in my review, as it is the type of book that everyone will experience so very, very differently. Personally though, I think it’s an absolutely wonderful read, especially for those older teens who are experiencing the pains of once-close friends growing apart.


summerTitle: This One Summer

Author: Jillian Tamaki

Illustrator: Mariko Tamaki

Publisher: FirstSecond

Expected Publication Date: May 6, 2014

Genre: Graphic Novel, YA Fiction, Fiction

Themes: Relationships, Friendship, Coming of Age, Family

Features: N/A


My Rating: – / 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

In This One Summer two stellar creators redefine the teen graphic novel. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the team behind Skim, have collaborated on this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age — a story of renewal and revelation.

 


My Review

Okay, so this book won’t be for everyone. I’ve known that from the minute I first cracked the cover. It deals with some tough topics including teen pregnancy, the way girls in particular treat each other, the long lasting effects that miscarriages can have on families, and the ways in which friendships can grow apart as youth mature at different ages. There is no sugar coating, everything is exposed, and I have come across more than a few people that found this baby uncomfortable to read.

Rose is the kind of protagonist that you love to hate. She is actually horrible, and as much as this book is about her, it isn’t about her at all. Her mother is going through a tough time, her father doesn’t know how to support her, and rose being and angsty teen doesn’t do anything to make the situation any better. Throw in there some first crushes, the desire to see your body go through puberty and acquire some assets, and the societal pressures that girls might feel when they are transitioning from child to desirable and you get Rose. The perfect little monster.

I loved Windy too, the way that she holds onto her innocence and her childhood just that little bit longer than her friend. Of all the characters, I related with her the most because I was that girl, the one who still dig beach holes, practiced bad dancing in the living room, and was more interested in playing games and infatuated by the wonders of the world than I ever cared about boys. It was really beautiful to see the differences between the girls, and the families as whole, as it really highlighted the different ways in which people and communities address adversity. Ultimately though, the story is about Rose’s mother, Alice. I won’t say too much because I don’t want to give everything away, but my heart genuinely broke as all the puzzle pieces fell into place. I wanted nothing more than to reach through the pages and hug her.

While I am normally a fan of graphic novels in colour, I really loved how This One Summer was in grayscale. Not only did it leave more room for the imagination to fill in the fine details, for me it really highlighted the fact that there are so many things in life that occupy the grey space beyond black and white. I love too that the majority of the action is implied – this book demands a lot of it’s readers in terms of engagement and as such I wouldn’t recommend it as a first or even early read for those unfamiliar with graphic novels. Many of the frames and transitions are deliberately ambiguous, and there are a significant number of aspect-to-aspect transitions that are not as common in western graphic novels which may confuse some readers or come across as ‘slow reading’. The result however, is a finely crafted mood that envelopes the entire reading experience and truly enhances everything the characters experienced over the summer.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! But it does come with a few words of caution. Even though this is a YA graphic novel, there are some readers who just might not be ready for it yet. And for older readers too, it simply may not appeal to their aesthetic or desire for fast-paced graphic novels. Regardless, This One Summer takes on some big issues that aren’t talked about enough, and it is exactly the type of book that fight to keep in libraries no matter how many challenges it might face!

#ARC #Review: The Lido Girls by Allie Burns

So, I kept stumbling across amazing ARC reviews for The Lido Girls by Allie Burns and I eventually caved in and requested the book on Net Galley. Well, cue the 5 minutes after it’s been downloaded to my kindle when I say to myself ‘oh, I’ll just read the first chapter to get a feel for it’ and then BAM! Suddenly it’s 1:00 AM and my kindle is running out of battery at 90% read…


Lido GirlsTitle: The Lido Girls

Author: Allie Burns

Publisher: HQ Digital

Expected Publication Date: October 2, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: Independence, Self Discovery, Romance

Features: Recommended Reading, Book Club Reading Guide


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Escape to the inter-war years in this emotional story where opportunity can be found at the pool-side in your local lido… 

Change is in the air…

London, 1930s:

Natalie Flacker is tempted by the glamour of the new keep fit movement, but when she is dismissed from her prestigious job in PE she loses the life she so carefully built. Echoes of the war’s destruction still reverberate through her life, and now she is homeless, jobless and without prospects.

But connections made on a summer holiday, with her best friend Delphi, create opportunities. When Natalie is offered a summer job at a lido at the seaside, she jumps at the chance. But is she up to the challenge of taking on a group of unfit women in need of her help?

Set against the backdrop of the beginnings of the pioneering keep fit movement; this is a feel-good reminder of just what’s possible when you find the courage to follow your heart.

Spend a very British summer with The Lido Girls!

 


My Review

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked this baby up, but I really wasn’t expecting to get so wrapped up in this book and so quickly. It had everything that I look for in women’s fiction – strong female characters that buck-up against societal expectations, a fantastically whimsical historical setting, amazing fashion, and a healthy dose of drama. Now add in the Women’s League of Health & Beauty and this fitness nut was absolutely hooked. It was amazing!

It’s clear that every inch of detail is well researched from the costumes to the language and phrasing, and from the diving to the roles and restrictions on women in the inter-war years. I really appreciated the inclusion of sources and recommended reading, not just because my librarian self loves seeing sources cited, but because it always lends a sense of realness and historical grounding. I know that not everyone reads the notes and extras included in the back of a book, but I really appreciate when these types of things are included for those that wish to know more about certain historical periods, events, and persons as they are always a fantastic jumping-in point for further exploration.

Now, on to the characters. I love Natalie and Delphi, and think that they make a fantastic pair when it comes to carrying a story. Their understanding of one another, as well as their unwavering loyalty in spite of circumstances, is something that I found really touching. I love that neither is perfect, that they make mistakes, and that at times they are their own worst enemies. And better yet? I love that they both get their happy ending without having to be ‘rescued’ by a man! I call for more women’s lit like this! Don’t get me wrong, a steamy little romance and the finding of true love is certainly an enjoyable staple in a great many books, but I prefer when happiness is found within the self and not through attachment to another.

I really enjoyed the gritty exploration of the issues during this time. It’s clear that it wasn’t easy for anyone between the wars. Money was tight, the landscape of working society shifted dramatically as women were needed to fill positions while the men were away (and many loved this taste of new-found freedom) and then were made redundant once again when they return, those men that did return from the war carried inexplicable damage, and then add in the recession, the loss of families and loved ones, and another looming war and you pretty much have the perfect storm. All of this was packed into The Lido Girls, and yet it never managed to feel overwhelming.

Would I recommend this book? Oh hell yes! I could keep going on about it for ages it’s so amazing! I’m sitting here hoping that the beautifully open ending has left it open to a sequel, and one that would be set in Canada to boot! And let’s not forget to mention that little ‘times are changing’ blurb on the front cover, hello, still relevant! I love, love, loved this book – so don’t let the summer read recommendation limit the season in which you pick this baby up.

 


Many thanks to Allie Burns and HQ Digital for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.