Tag Archives: crime

Reviews: The Cafe la Femme series by Livia Day

I’ve previously reviewed, with enormous pleasure, the books of Tansy Rayner Roberts: Power and Majesty and The Shattered City from her Creature Court series (Reign of Beasts is next on my to read list!). She also wrote the marvellous Love and Romanpunk for the Twelve Planets series, which my characters Gary and Lissa reviewed.

Now she’s at it again, writing crime under the name Livia Day. Her two novels and one novella in the Cafe la Femme series are all set in Hobart, and feature Tabitha Darling – maker of divine foodstuffs, wearer of fabulous frocks, and stumbler-upon of mysteries.  Tabitha comes from a fine pedigree of accidental sleuths, from Miss Marple to Veronica Mars, and Hobart gets its chance to shine as a unique locale for murder, mayhem and really good coffee.

trifle deadA Trifle Dead

In Tabitha Darling’s first outing as an accidental detective, we get to meet a great cast of supporting characters, from the policeman Leo Bishop, who insists on treating her like she’s still 16, to her old friend (or frenemy?) Xanthippe, who seems half Emma Peel, half Catwoman, and the new guy in town, Stewart McTavish, the blogger with the sexy Scottish accent and a secret.

Tabitha is practically an adopted daughter to Hobart’s police, being the daughter of a policeman and the woman who ran the police canteen. The association is not a universally happy one, and she’s determined to be her own woman. Her own woman with her own restaurant, a gift for really good salads, dressing with flair, and for getting into a ridiculous amount of trouble.

The trouble starts with an unexpected body in a net, and what appears to be an accidental death. It builds slowly, with strange practical jokes that become much more serious. At the same time, Tabitha’s personal life gets… complicated.

A Trifle Dead is a fabulous confection of a crime novel! I love books that use Australian locales well, and bring in a certain tactile freshness with the details. It paints a gorgeous picture of Hobart, sparks up the senses with lush descriptions of food and fashion, and is peopled with dashing characters. It’s funny, twisty and with a satisfying conclusion that leaves room for more.

Buy A Trifle Dead

BlackmailBlendThe Blackmail Blend

This novella continues the pizzazz and humour of the A Trifle Dead, with Tabitha, her splendidly individual array of friends, her gorgeous fashion sense, her dedication to good food, her complicated love life and her astonishing capacity to fall face first into attempted murder – this time of a famous (or possibly notorious) romance writer who is having a huge and fancy high tea at Tabitha’s cafe.

There’s a charming hilarity in the details of the wannabe writers meeting their hero and discovering why that’s such a bad idea. Romance novellist Beatrice Wild is a deeply unpleasant person, and when there’s an attempt on her life at the afternoon tea, there’s no shortage of suspects.

Once Tabitha is more or less over the shock of a murder attempt happening at her cafe (what will that do to her reputation?! Or more importantly – to her cafe’s repuation?!) she, as always, dives right into the thick of it, uncovering historical inaccuracy, blackmail, secrets, hidden identities, and a motive for murder.

It’s a rollicking fast and enormously fun read, and even in a short story there are twists, surprises, and two gorgeous men that are frustratingly difficult to choose between.

Buy The Blackmail Blend (ebook only)

DrownedVanillaDrowned Vanilla

The second full-length Cafe La Femme novel has Tabitha swearing on the one hand that she no longer intends to be a girl detective – her not-boyfriend Bishop really disapproves of that – and on the other, that she is just going help a teeeeeensy bit with this missing person business.

Of course, chaos reigns, dressed in fabulous vintage frocks. Between obsessive experimentation with ice cream flavours, working out how to not tell Bishop things he probably ought to know and fearing that she’s become a boring old Vanilla person, Tabitha stumbles into murder, imposturing, experimental film and that persistent problem that she’s going out with one man while sporadically kissing quite another.

The energy and humour continue to fizz in Drowned Vanilla, and though the situations and the fantastic characters are outside the probable, the story retains enough grounding in reality to not go flying completely off into the unknown. Hobart and its surrounding towns are a strong presence that make me want to visit that pretty little town again, and I love the fact that Tabitha’s love life, while complicated and seemingly irresolvable, remains completely in Tabitha’s control. There doesn’t have to be a neat ending every time, and it’s easy to see the appeal of both Stewart and Bishop.

The supporting characters are charming, even when you want to slap some of them, and Tabitha Darling remains a very engaging hero. The chefs out there might even want to try the ice cream recipes scattered throughout the book.

Buy Drowned Vanilla

The next book in the series, Keep Calm and Kill the Chef, is due out this year. I can’t wait!

2015: A Reading Restrospective

Screenshot 2016-01-06 09.50.56I really like Goodreads. I love keeping track of the books I’ve read (and reread) just for my own interest.

My stats this year say this is the most books I’ve read in  a year since starting to keep track – 63! Looks impressive, and I’m pleased to see it’s a good mix of classic and contemporary work, reading in crime, romance, horror, fantasy, humour and graphic novels.

Twenty-nine of the books were written or edited by women. Of the books by blokes, most were either by PG Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle or the comic book team of Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, the guys behind Unshelved, a comic set in a public library. (I read 10 of their collected editions, having backed the digital publication of same in a Kickstarter.) And not to be too wedded to binary genders, I’ve added a lot of new writers to my lists this year, particularly in the anthologies I’ve read.

Highlights of the reading year

blackbirdsI seem to either have good luck in the books I choose to read, or I’m very easy to please, as I thoroughly enjoyed most of my reading this year.

I have my favourites of course, the cream on top of the creme de la creme: Treasure Island, which I read for the first time ever, and PG Wodehouse’s hilarious and extremely unreliable memoir, Bring on the Girls, co-written with Guy Bolton. A Pride of Poppies, an anthology of queer love stories set in WWI, was beautiful and touching and sometimes funny and sometimes so sad and all of it was amazing.

In non-fiction, I loved Ruth Goodman’s How To Be a Victorian for its insights, as I’ve been writing a book set in the era. I also finally got around to Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments, a book about the Milgram obedience experiments by Gina Perry, which I picked up years ago at Clunes Book Week. It uncovers the circumstances behind the experiments, how they led to stricter ethical guidelines for psychology studies and how they don’t really teach us anything that we’re told they teach us.

In crime, Livia Day’s The Blackmail Blend is a terrific short story and I must read the novels in the series, and Emma Viskic promises to be a great new Australian crimewriting talent with Resurrection Bay and her deaf protagonist, Caleb. I also loved Alison Goodman’s A New Kind of Death, an SF/crime hybrid, and I aim to read more of her work too.

I also finally read a Chuck Wendig novel, Blackbirds, and found it as profane and funny as I find his excellent blog, Terrible Minds. I’m looking forward to more of his work (I have three on the Kindle for 2016!)

The Day/Night They Met

nightAnd two of my very favourite books of the year? Companion pieces by the same author, Wendy C Fries. In Sherlock Holmes and John Watson – The Day They Met, Fries gives 50 new ways for the famous friends to have met for the first time, across eras from the Victorian to the modern day.

Writing as Atlin Merrick, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: The Night They Met the same author gives us 19 ways those two men met and fell in love. It’s the first Holmes/Watson romance to  come out of Improbable Press, and it’s a marvellous start for a publisher that aims to celebrate queer readings of the Holmes-and-Watson legend.

How else was my reading year broken up?

Twelfth Planet Press

cherryAmong the books by Australian women, I read the final three collections in the Twelve Planets series, Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love, The Female Factory by Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett and Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin – all three showcasing remarkable talent in specfic and horror. Twelfth Planet Press always produces amazing books, and if you’ve missed this twelve-book series I recommend you hunt it down or get the books in digital format (including my own Showtime, number 5 in the series.)

The Classics

Adventures_of_sherlock_holmesAs part of my research for writing The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, a Holmes/Watson romance due out this year with Improbable Press, I reread the entire Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle, which is an education in going back to the source material.

The same could be said of my first-time reading of Treasure Island, which I’d only seen in screen versions before, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which I haven’t read since I was a kid. I also read a lot of PG Wodehouse, who is always a great comfort in times of stress, and finally a Jane Austen that wasn’t Pride and PrejudicePersuasion. (I began this year with Mansfield Park, which I didn’t particularly enjoy – I want to slap everyone in it. Do other people have this reaction?)

Forensics and True Crime

nutshellIn further pursuit of research for my Holmes/Watson novel, I also spent a lot of the year reading up about the history of forensics and other related non-fiction books, primarily The Nutshell Studies, The Science of Sherlock Holmes, the three volumes of The Century of the Detective by Jurgen Thorwald (The Marks of Cain about fingerprinting, Dead Men Tell Tales about forensic science and Proof of Poison about toxicology), now out of print – I was lucky enough to pick up two of them at Clunes and found the third on eBay.

I ended with A Very British Murder, by Lucy Worsley and based on her TV show about how murder became such a national obsession for the Brits.

Romance

poppiesI thought I’d read more romance this year, but perhaps it’s just that I have read a lot of books where romance is part of a crime plot or some other fusion. Besides Persuasion and the aforementioned The Night They Met, I also enjoyed the unconventional princess-in-the-tower story, Her Silent Oath by Julia Leijon, and some excellent queermance.

A Pride of Poppies, as also mentioned, was very moving, while Jane Elliot‘s Smoothie, an action-romance for a lesbian couple, was a lively read. Tyler Knoll’s Just for Fun by AB Gayle was just sheer silly-crazy fun.

How about you?

I hope your reading year was also filled with old favourites, new discoveries, unexpected knowledge and ideas to spark other reading or your own writing. Feel free to share your favourites in the comments!