Book review: Murder & Matchmaking by Debbie Cowens

Murder & Matchmaking cover imageMurder & Matchmaking by Debbie Cowens, Paper Road Press, ISBN 9780473315696, Ebook and print.

I admit it, I’m an inveterate Pride and Prejudice fan. One of the things I like best about it is Austen’s almost absurd sense of humour, especially with her supporting characters and in Pride and Prejudice Mrs Bennet is probably the best example. She always did seem slightly unhinged to me, and New Zealand author Debbie Cowens obviously agrees.

Cowens was one half of the wife and husband writing team behind 2013’s excellent debut Mansfield with Monsters, and she brings a similarly original approach to Murder & Matchmaking. Jane Austen’s heroines meet Sherlock Holmes-style detectives when the unmarried young ladies of Hertfordshire start dying in mysterious circumstances. Miss Elizabeth Bennet suspects the deaths are not accidents, an opinion shared by famous London detective Mr Sherlock Darcy. Will they solve the mystery together? And, more importantly, will they get married?

He asserts that the loss of one young lady in the area might be viewed as an unfortunate event; that two implies carelessness on the part of the inhabitants; but for three young ladies to have died in such short succession indicates something far more sinister.

The mystery here isn’t in the “whodunit” because that’s revealed quickly, it’s in the chase, and I love how Cowens uses this to seamlessly meld romance and mystery. Cowens knows the two genres are much closer than most would admit – characters who aren’t what they seem,  building of suspense and anticipation, and the big “reveal” at the end – and she makes the most of that to write a story that is at once familiar and original.

Where the author really excels is blending the writing styles of Jane Austen and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, crafting a story that’s equal parts intriguing and hilarious. Murder & Matchmaking strikes a perfect balance between imitation and mockery and, much like Mansfield with Monsters, the reader is hard pressed to immediately spot the difference from the original. One minute they’re all nicely taking tea in the drawing room and before you know it someone’s strangled in the idyllic Regency countryside.

It’s easy to enjoy Murder & Matchmaking but much harder to classify. Is it mash-up, parody, horror, satire, homage or just good writing? I say: all of them.

Book blogging in New Zealand

Booksellers NZ have a great article by Elizabeth Heritage on their website about book blogging in New Zealand, including some comments from BookieMonster. If you’re looking for other great blogs to read or just to find out a bit about the book blogging community in NZ then it’s definitely a recommended read!

Book blogging in New Zealand | Booksellers New Zealand

Book review: Stroppy Old Women

Stroppy Old Women cover imageStroppy Old Women compiled by Paul Little and Wendyl Nissen, Paul Little Books, ISBN9780473258603, RRP $34.99

52 stroppy old women (one for every week of the year!) capture their thoughts on what’s wrong with the world and how it can be fixed. Stroppy Old Women follows on from Grumpy Old Men 1 & 2, though with an interesting name change – grumpy being deemed more offensive for women. Which is odd when you think about it, stroppy to me seems far more proactive and positive than grumpy, which is just patronising. Sorry, old dudes.

Wording quibbles aside what the reader gets in Stroppy Old Women is 52 fascinating opinion pieces from 52 fascinating women, such as Carole Beu, Judith Baragwanath and Jools Topp. And I loved every single stroppy moment, even when I didn’t agree with them. There’s a wonderful range of issues deemed worthy of stroppiness, and every voice shines with raw honesty and authenticity.

Whether it’s bad parking, customer services, colonialism, Maori sovereignty, technology or fashion, these women’s opinions are genuinely held and strongly argued. Seriously readers, how could you NOT want to peek into the brains of such amazing women as Judith Ablett-Kerr, Sue McCauley* and Shona Laing. These women have lived and worked in all walks of life and their individuality shines through.

It’s telling and more than a little sad that the one issue all the women seem to agree on is that feminism is needed as much now as it was 20, 30, 40+ years ago. Still, thank the stroppy goddesses we have all these women to speak up and hopefully we’ll continue to listen.

As a nice extra, a percentage of the proceeds of sales of Stroppy Old Women will benefit Alzheimer’s New Zealand, so readers get to do some good and enjoy a great read.

*Who has apparently written a novel about “the market economy and people’s increasing alienation from the land and the damage it does” that no one wants to publish. Dear Paul Little, would you get on to that please??

Book review: The Doll’s House by M.J. Arlidge

The Doll's House cover imageThe Doll’s House by M.J. Arlidge, Penguin, ISBN9781405919197, RRP $30

I reviewed the first two books in M.J. Arlidge’s DI Helen Grace thriller series so I was keen to get my hands on this, the third. And I’m glad I did because it’s definitely a step up from the previous title Pop Goes the Weasel and a return to the promise shown in his debut, Eeny Meeny.

The Doll’s House returns us to the complex world of Detective Inspector Helen Grace, her internal demons and the dark crimes she is charged with investigating. The Helen Grace of this instalment is flawed but determined and feels more real and better-rounded than the same character in Pop Goes the Weasel.

The book opens as a young woman wakes up in a dark, cold room that is completely unfamiliar to her. Meanwhile a body of a young woman is discovered on a remote beach and DI Grace and her team start investigating. Quickly it becomes clear that these crimes are calculated and continuing.

Arlidge also does a much better job of handling the timeline and the details around evidence in The Doll’s House, stepping away from the forensics and focusing more on police work in the traditional sense. The focus of tension is also moved, away from who is the culprit and to will we catch them in time. This is a positive move for Arlidge, who I think has proven more adept at handling timing and pacing than at plot twists.

There are several character-driven subplots at work here too, some previously introduced, but the centre of the stories is definitely DI Grace and that is a very good thing. She is an intriguing character and I’m again looking forward to seeing where Arlidge takes her.

A quick, tense read that will satisfy crime and thriller fans.

Book review: The Ghosts of Young Nick’s Head by Sue Copsey

Ghosts of Young Nicks Head cover imageThe Ghosts of Young Nick’s Head by Sue Copsey, ISBN9781494354411, Available in paperback or ebook

Young adult books are ubiquitous these days but sometimes I feel like the traditional 8 – 12 year old children’s chapter book is being ignored. So it’s a pleasure to find a fun, well-written example like The Ghosts of Young Nick’s Head, even better when it features a New Zealand location!

Friends Joe and Eddie are off on a summer holiday with family, staying in an old house near Gisborne and, of course Young Nick’s Head. A spooky encounter soon sets them off on the adventure of their young lives, discovering ghosts, history and local secrets.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Ghosts of Young Nick’s Head and would have to recommend it to all young readers. It strikes the perfect balance of spooky and realistic for the intended audience, and it’s definitely keeps the reader’s attention. The inclusion of bits of New Zealand history are seamless and will probably send young readers off to find out more.

Originally published by Pear Jam Books back in 2011, The Ghosts of Young Nick’s Head is now back in the author’s hands and available in ebook format, AND it’s also got a Booktrack. After I read this the first time I went back and read it again with the Booktrack and it was a really good experience, and one I think the targeted readership of this title would enjoy. For parents looking for a way to increase their young kids interest in reading, I would say get them on your smartphone and get them reading and listening to The Ghosts of Young Nick’s Head!