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First of the Grantchester Mysteries series, about a Church of England vicar who solves mysteries in collaboration with one of the local police detectives. The first book is a set of six short stories, each a standalone about an individual case, but with an overall arc running through them. I bought it because I'd seen and enjoyed a couple of episodes of the tv adaptation. This doesn't always mean I'll like a book, but in this case I'm very glad I bought it. It's an excellent period cosy mystery, written by someone who knows the minutiae of Anglican clerical life. The ebook for this one is often low price as a hook for the series, and well worth getting.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo
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Sweetly funny milf erotic romance novel - but be warned that the characters spend an awful lot of the book being interrupted before they can actually do something about their attraction. Successful romance writer Jillian divorced her no-good husband a while back for cheating on her, and hasn't had much luck in the dating game since then. So when her son comes home from unversity for vacation and brings his friend Brian with him, Jillian can't help but notice that Brian's very nicely put together. He's also her son's friend, which puts him off limits.

Brian thinks Jillian's pretty hot, even if she's old enough to be his friend's mother. In fact, she *is* his friend's mother, which puts her off limits...

While some of the situations they end up in are frankly implausible, the lead and supporting characters are well-written, and Jillian and Brian's ever more frantic efforts to first hide and then give in to their attraction are entertaining. This isn't going to be to everyone's taste; but if it appeals to your sense of humour, it's a lot of fun.

This is the first of a series, but there's closure at the end of the book. The ebook is free as a hook for the series, and I think worth downloading to try it out.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo
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13) Sarah Pinborough -- The Death House

This is my nominee for the 2015 novel Hugo.

Yes, I liked it that much. I bought this YA speculative fiction novel when I saw Gollancz tweet an opening day offer, because I'd greatly enjoyed one of Pinborough's tie-in novels and wanted to read more by her. I started reading it that day, and was bowled over. It is a stunning portrayal of life, love and growing up under the shadow of death; a bittersweet coming-of-age novel about children and teenagers who know they will never do so.

It's set in a near future very much like our present, save for one thing - there is an illness so terrible that all children are tested for the signs that they are carriers. If they test positive, they are taken to the Death House. There they will be cared for and given as normal a life as possible, right up until the time the sickness activates. It may be a few months, it may be years, but one thing is certain - they will die. And they will never be allowed to leave, or have contact with anyone other than each other and the staff assigned to care for them.

Toby has been in the House for long enough to have found ways to cope with the separation from his family and the knowledge of what awaits him, but the arrival of a new girl disrupts both the interactions between the Death House inmates, and Toby's coping mechanisms. Through his eyes we see the different ways the children deal with what their lives have become; all the emotions of a lifetime compressed into a few short years, with the teenagers like Toby finding themselves being surrogate parent figures for the younger children. There's a mystery plot as well; and the whole is a slow-burning build to a resolution where the older children decide exactly what is worth fighting for with their foreshortened lives.

Moving and beautifully written, this was one of the best things I read all year.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo
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Five murdered poker players from different eras are brought back from the dead for one last tournament. The prize is life itself.

The book opens with Wild Bill Hickok finding himself pulled from the grave, his bones clothing themselves with flesh and the flesh with clothes. The reader follows along with Bill as he tries to work out what's going on and why he feels an urge to go to Atlantic City, although the reader has an advantage over him in being able to recognise the present day and just how much time has passed. Another four men from different time periods have the same experience, although one is so recently dead that he is able to convince friends and family that he'd been kidnapped and held incommunicado for several years. As they gradually assemble, they discover that they have been revived for the greatest poker tournament in history - between the greatest players, no matter when they lived.

The result is an atmospheric blend of ghost story and mystery, with some superb world-building going into the strange casino that has revived the men. The characters are well developed, and it's a joy to watch their interaction, and their different reactions to the present day. Those reactions are driven in part by their different reasons for wanting the prize; not just a new life in a recreated body, but what they want to do with that life. A chance at love, a chance at revenge, fascination with this new world they find themselves in... Even for the four losers, their short time walking the earth again allows them to do at least a little of what was left undone.

A lovely short ghost novel for Halloween, with the emphasis on the human soul rather than on horror.


direct from Book View Cafe, with excerpts available
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1965 thriller, the first of four featuring private eye Rex Carver. Carver accepts what is presented as a straightforward job of tracing a young woman, and ends up chasing around Europe in a murky plot where he's working for at least three different masters who may or may not be on different sides, and include at least one official intelligence organisation. Definitely a product of its time, in more ways than one, but good fun and well worth a read.

LibraryThing entry
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Second of the long-running Mrs Bradley mystery series, and the first I've read. I bought a set of nine of the novels recently re-published by Vintage (Random House) because I adored the BBC adaptation starring Diana Rigg and Neil Dudgeon. Unsurprisingly, the books differ significantly from the tv series, but are equally enjoyable. And I think the tv adaptation is faithful to the tone of the novels; even if Diana Rigg is far too elegant and glamorous to be the physical Mrs Bradley of the books, she's got the personality right.

Mrs Bradley is elderly, wealthy, eccentric, and a talented and experienced psychologist who uses her skills to solve crimes. As other reviewers have noted, there's a distinct resemblance to what you'd get if you turned Miss Marple into a wealthy woman who has married and divorced three times, and divorced at least one of those husbands for being boring. The ones I've read so far are enormous fun.

The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop is fairly gruesome, in that the body of one Rupert Sethleigh is found neatly butchered and laid out as cuts of meat in the local butcher's shop. Sethleigh will not be missed by Wandle Parva, and there is a large and varied selection of people with motives to do away with him. Adding to the fun and games, many of those people have reason to protect each other, and their attempts to do so only confuse the issues. General silliness ensues as Mrs Bradley disentangles methods, motives and opportunity, frequently by deliberately poking the suspects to see what they will do.

LibraryThing entry
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Fourth and final book in the Highland Pleasures quartet of romance novels about four brothers who are Scottish Lords in Victorian Britain. This book is about Hart MacKenzie, oldest of the brothers, and head of the family since their father's death. Their father was a brutal monster, whose ill-treatment of his family has damaged all four men. Hart has done much and sacrificed much to protect himself and his brothers, and that as much as the ill treatment has had its effect on him. There are other losses besides, including losing his wife and child to death.

And before that there was Eleanor Ramsey, his first fiancee, who broke off their engagement when she discovered what it was he did to deal with his demons. Now Eleanor is back in his life, with the intention of protecting him from a potential scandal involving nude photographs taken of him long ago.

Hart still loves her, and has no intention of letting her go this time. But holding Eleanor Ramsey will take more than even Hart Mackenzie's skill at seduction.

It's a good book, and does an excellent job in rounding off the story arc of the family as a whole. But it doesn't quite make good on hints dropped in earlier books about the darker strands of Hart's personality. There were things set up which suggested that Hart had been involved in some fairly heavy BDSM, which may or may not have been consensual, but which contributed to his reputation as a man who could use his social position and wealth to get away with a great deal. As it turns out, Hart has good reason for thinking of himself as having the same capacity for viciousness and violence as his father did, but it's to do with trying to protect his family. The BDSM isn't a red herring, but it's not what we were led to believe in the earlier books. I thought it worked, in part because I eventually felt Ashley may have been making a deliberate point about society's assumptions about consensual BDSM, but I can see why other readers felt that it was bottling out. There's fannish gossip about backtracking due to publisher pressure -- if true, then I think Ashley did a good job in retconning the setup from earlier in the series.

LibraryThing entry
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Historical novel about Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry the Eighth. I abandoned it after 25 pages -- I think it's well written, and I would probably have enjoyed it a lot when I was a teenager, but it simply didn't hold my interest enough to keep reading it when I have a two year TBR mountain.

http://www.librarything.com/work/359299
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First of the Nicholas Bracewell mystery series, set in a theatrical company in Elizabethan London. Bracewell is the bookholder for Lord Westfield's Men, a responsible position in its own right even without the additional tasks taken on by Bracewell. Bracewell finds himself with an unexpected task of the worst kind when his friend and colleague, actor Will Fowler, is called in a tavern brawl. Bracewell is determined to find the killer, but has other equally urgent matters to deal with, not least of which is ensuring nothing goes wrong with the performance of a new play before the Queen herself. Jealous rivalries both within the company and with another company aren't helping matters...

It's an entertaining romp, but unusually for Marston, there were a couple of elements that could be problematic for many readers. They're historically accurate, but nevertheless they need flagging up. One is the portrayal of one of the senior actors as having a taste for pretty boys, and this being tolerated as long as he leaves the company's apprentices alone - which he doesn't. Given other things he's written I don't think Marston intended this, but it does come over as equating "homosexual" with "pedarest". The other is that the book does get into the head of characters with the strong anti-Catholic prejudices one might expect in this time period.

http://www.librarything.com/work/201577
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65) PD James -- A Taste for Death [audio book]

BBC Radio 4 full cast dramatisation of the novel, presented on 2 CDs. Two men are discovered with their throats cut in the vestry of St Matthews Church. One is a local tramp, the other a former government minister. The political implications make the murder investigation a job for Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team.

It's a good adaptation played by an excellent cast, and I enjoyed listening to it. But squeezing a long book down into 2 hours 20 minutes means that a lot of material has had to be cut, and I think the adaptation does suffer for it. It's still very enjoyable, but I think might feel a bit thin to someone who wasn't already familiar with the book.

http://www.librarything.com/work/14156
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Danny Roke has made a success out of running a stud farm in Australia. He's devoted to the stud, because he's devoted to the younger siblings he's raised since their parents died, and the stud brings money and stability. What it doesn't bring is a sense that this is what he wants the rest of his life to be. When the Earl of October arrives one day and offers him enough money to keep the stud running without him, he's intrigued enough to take the job offered -- going undercover as a stablehand to investigate a suspected racehorse doping racket in English racing.

Danny knows going in that the job could be dangerous. Fatal, even. But he finds enough to convince him that there *is* a racket, and he's determined to get to the bottom of it, if only to prove to himself that he can do the job.

It's a wonderful piece of writing, with solid characterisation and a well-plotted mystery. Highly enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

http://www.librarything.com/work/42762
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First of the trilogy of BBC Radio 4 plays released in 2009 as a bridge between Series 2 and Children of Earth. I missed this on initial broadcast, and didn't get around to listening to it until my recent purchase of the CD set. This is pure quill Torchwood -- something (or as in this case someone) falls through the rift, and Torchwood has to deal with it. There's a detailed plot summary on Wikipedia. Good story with some interesting exploration of the Torchwood universe, and mostly well-acted. PC Andy gets a good role.
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78) Jacqueline Rayner -- Doctor Who: The Stone Rose

Seventh of the tie-in novels to go with New Who, and the first featuring the Tenth Doctor. Mickey finds a Roman-era statue of Rose in the British Museum, so Ten and Rose go on a trip to make sure she's around to act as the model. But the first thing that happens when they arrive is getting mixed up in a missing persons case. A wealthy man is searching for his son, who was last seen going for a appointment to put the finishing touches on a statue of him.

It's not hard for the reader to guess how the sculptor is achieving his astonishing output of exquisitely detailed statues, but that's not the point of the story. The real meat of the story is in the Doctor's quest to find the source of the sculptor's powers -- and, of course, rescue a few people along the way. There are some good plot twists, and nice handling of time travel paradoxes in this story. Raynor does a good job of bringing ancient Rome to life in this book.

One of my favourites of the new series tie-ins so far, and the second of Raynor's which I've enjoyed. I'll have to look out for more of hers.

LibraryThing entry
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70) Edward Marston -- The Amorous Nightingale

Second in the Christopher Redmayne historical mystery series, set in London just after the Great Fire of 1666. I'd previously read only the fourth in the series, so I'm going back now, and am pleased to find that this one's just as enjoyable. Young architect Christopher Redmayne is asked to do a service for the King -- to find the King's favourite mistress, the acclaimed singer/actress Harriet Gow, who has been abducted and held for an impossibly large ransom. Redmayne's friend, the Puritan constable Jonathan Bale, initially refuses to help on moral grounds, but finds that he too has a personal stake in the crime, because Harriet's maid is the orphaned daughter of friends of his. The two men have to use their separate network of social connections to hunt down leads as fast as possible, in a situation where secrecy is vital.

As ever with Marston's historical novels, this is a competent, enjoyable, midlist novel which I probably won't keep but am glad to have read. I don't know enough about the period to know how accurate his historical detail is, but the world-building is good, and the plot mechanics work well. I think the characterisations are a little deeper and thus to me better in this series than in the Railway Detective series. And as I've found with his other books, while the lead characters are male, he has good secondary female characters. I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.

LibraryThing entry
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46) Alex Epstein -- The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fay

Note: I received a review copy of this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Young adult novel about what happened to the sorceress Morgan le Fay between the point in her childhood when her father was murdered by Uther Pendragon, and her return as an adult to trouble her half-brother King Arthur. The book opens at the council of war amongst the Romano-British leaders where Uter (as it's given in the book) first sets eyes on Ygraine, wife of Gorlois. Uter wants Ygraine enough to make war on Gorlois, enough to seek the aid of the magician Merlin -- and with the death of her beloved father, the child Anna finds herself sent to exile by her mother for her own safety. An exile so complete that she must change her name and tell almost no-one who she is when she arrives in Ireland. A safe place with a distant relative proves less than safe when the tribe loses a battle with its neighbours, and Morgan spends years in slavery, learning a little magic openly from the village wisewoman who owns her, and a great deal more magic in secret. Then there is escape, and a few months of peace and study with a new Christian settlement, and then a chance of love with a chieftain's son who can appreciate the knowledge of Roman battle tactics she brings. By the time she is eighteen, Morgan has learnt a great many things, but the one thing she has not learnt is how to let go of the need for vengeance. It has, after all, kept her alive through the dark times...

I found the book a bit hard to get into at first, but once I got into the rhythm of the writing I was hooked. Epstein has taken the historical period of 500AD as the basis for his story, a time when the Roman legions had long withdrawn from Britain but many of the British still thought of themselves as Roman. He's drawn on Irish mythology and blended it with modern Wiccan practice to create a believably consistent picture of magic, in a time when both Druid priests and Christian missionaries can draw on the power of the earth, and a young exile can learn to use it to protect herself and the people she loves. The result is a solid addition to the Arthurian legend, covering an area not much touched on, and giving a plausible reason for the adult Morgan le Fay to be who she is. Here she is a strong and sympathetic character, and it's only too easy to understand why she makes the choices she does.

The book's been written in such a way that it can be enjoyed both as a free-standing novel suitable for someone not familiar with any of the mythology and literature that has accreted around Arthur, and as a fascinating new contribution to that ongoing literary conversation. An excellent YA fantasy novel that should appeal to adults as well.

ISBN 978-1-896580-6-30
trade paperback at Powell's
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon UK (available now)
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon US (for pre-order)
LibraryThing entry
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44) Gary Russell -- Torchwood: The Twilight Streets

Sixth of the Torchwood tie-in novels, set late in second season and with a lot of canon references. And my most favourite of all the canon references is the return of Idris Hopper, the Mayor's secretary from the Doctor Who episode Boom Town. :-)

There is a small block of streets in Cardiff, built by a Victorian businessman as model housing for his workforce. And never occupied for more than a few weeks at a time. Things happen to the people who try to live in Tretarri. Jack doesn't know why, because Jack can't get in. He gets a three day migraine every time he tries. But now the Council is renovating the block, with full-on gentrification and street parties to show off the results. Not just on the rate-payers' money, either -- private sponsorship is paying for the celebrations. But the block becomes more than a minor mystery for Jack's off-duty hours when it becomes apparent that Bilis Manger is behind the plans for change. And Bilis is still using visions of the future to prod the team into action.

It seems simple enough. Another round of stop Bilis Manger and save the world. But the old man's relationship with Good and Evil is rather more complex than that...

Really enjoyed this one. It's got an interesting plot, some excellent character development, and entertaining interactions between the various characters. All the regular characters get some page space, and there's some good stuff on the Jack/Ianto, Gwen/Rhys and Tosh-Owen relationships. Also a delightful little scene in which Ianto tells Torchwood's Little Miss Sensitive (yes, he calls Gwen that) some home truths about what it's really like to be bisexual. :-> There's a lot of stuff referring back to canon, but most of it is tied into the story in such a way that it enhances the story for those who've seen the episodes without excluding those who haven't. It also includes a good in-universe explanation for why the Tardis crew didn't encounter Torchwood during the events of Boom Town (the external reason, of course, being that Torchwood the series was still a twinkle in RTD's eye at the time). The reason for the AU future's potential existence got a bit woolly in places, but the story in that timeline is really well done, if possibly over-angsty for some fans. Which is why I liked it, of course. :-)

Oh, and a word of praise for cover artist Lee Binding, who has done a lovely job in depicting some key elements of the story.

LibraryThing entry
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43) Alexander McCall Smith -- The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The first of a series about Precious Ramotswe, the Botswanan woman who sets up a detective agency. I'd read one of the later books first, which felt more like a mystery genre novel, and by comparison this one strikes me as aiming more at the literary genre, with more overt meditations on life in southern Africa. While it's written by a white man, it's written by a white Zimbabwean who's worked in Botswana, who is writing what he knows. What he's written is a loving portrait of Botswana, both the good side and the bad, framed through a woman who respects many of the old ways but thinks change can bring good.

The structure is a series of small cases interspersed with chapters looking at how Mma Ramotswe came to set up the detective agency with an inheritance from her father, and how her father came to have the money to leave to her. Some of the individual cases have serious consequences, but it's largely a gentle and subtly funny novel. It feels almost like a series of short stories within a frame story, although some of the story threads run through the length of the book. As such, it makes for easy reading, even though there's a lot of thoughtful social commentary worked into the narrative. I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.

LibraryThing entry
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42) Agatha Christie -- A Murder Is Announced

Miss Marple novel. A murder is announced at the home of Miss Blacklock, by way of an ad in the local paper announcing the time and place. It's assumed by Miss Blacklock's household that it's some sort of unpleasant joke, and by everyone else in Chipping Cleghorn that it's announcing a murder mystery party. A large contingent contrive to drop in at the time announced -- only to see a real attempted murder and suicide. But was it suicide, or was the young man who shot at Miss Blacklock simply a cat's paw for someone else who then disposed of him?

Beautifully constructed mystery, with the clues all there but skillfully disguised, in a lovely study of English village life soon after the end of the Second World War.

LibraryThing entry
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41) Ursula Vernon -- Digger [graphic novel]

And this is what ate my Good Friday in 2011, courtesy of a link at Making Light -- the webcomic "Digger". There is not a single mention of the Abrahamic religions in it. However, there's a lot of thoughtful exploration of ethics and morality, and the author's background in anthropology shows, in a good rather than bad way. I got dropped into it via link very early in the archive, where the heroine (a wombat mining engineer by the name of Digger) has just dug her way to the surface after an encounter with some toxic gas, and finds herself in a temple with a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh. A statue that is an avatar of the god, and is still talking to her even after she's had a few lungfuls of clean air and is therefore not hallucinating. I found it interesting enough to backtrack to the beginning, and got sucked in.

Originally a webcomic (which is what I read), but also available as a series of five graphic novels.

http://www.diggercomic.com/

LibraryThing entry
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40) Jacqueline Rayner - Doctor Who: Winner Takes All

Third in the New Who novel line. Now this was a definite improvement over the previous title in the series. It's a revisit of the Last Starfighter scenario, but with some nasty twists, and not just the one you find in Ender's Game. Rose and Nine drop in to the Powell Estate to visit Jackie, and find that there's a new video game being promoted by people in porcupine costumes, using scratchcards given away with any purchase at local stores, no matter how small. Mickey is one of the people who's won a console, and as he explains, the console has only one game, but it's still good value, because it's so realistic, and complex enough to be a little different every time you play. Of course the Doctor can't resist showing off and beating Mickey's score, doing so thoroughly that he becomes number one on the aliens' list of useful humans to acquire.

The plot's interesting and the characterisations for Nine and Rose are good. But where the story really shines for me is in one of the one-off characters. Robert is a young teenager, complete with young teenage boy anxieties and fantasies, and his interior monologue is wince-inducingly realistic. He's someone a lot of fans will be able to identify with.

Enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. This one I'll probably re-read.


LibraryThing entry

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