Books

Fudge Cupcake Murder – Joanne Fluke

We are onto cupcakes, fudge ones to be precise and for part of a Lake Eden cookbook, Hannah Swensen is collating recipes to put in there. She just cannot get the fudge ones right. The lady with the recipe never passed on her secret ingredient and so Hannah through trial and error and help from her business partner is trying to find what the secret ingredient is.

Not a problem if you can concentrate on the job in hand, but with Hannah this is never easy and when a body turns up in a dumpster, Hannah has to readdress her priorities. Especially when the dead body happens to be Sherriff Grant and he was the other candidate in the local Sherriff election alongside Hannah’s brother in law, Bill. But Bill does not have an alibi and is the first under suspicion.

Hannah is now in a battle of wits as she tries to understand why, Mike the current acting sheriff and on and off boyfriend is being so unfriendly and unhelpful. Balancing her feelings for Mike, Hannah is trying to make sure her heavily pregnant sister, Andrea gets the complete rest she is advised to get by the doctor whilst trying to clear Bill’s name. Then there is Bill who is trying to be so helpful suddenly being at home all the time and causing unknown tensions. Add to this Hannah’s cat Moshie who has decided that his diet is not to his suiting no matter what the vet and any diet sheet may say about feeding senior cats and then there is Delores, Hannah’s mother suddenly becoming secretive about a friend.

It has all the ingredients for a Hannah Swensen cosy crime mystery and goes a long at a fair pace. I spotted the odd clue here and there relevant to the current case, but also you can see where characters are going to perhaps go in future books. The criminal is caught and life perhaps should return to normal now for the residents of Lake Eden , especially when the secret ingredient is found. Two mysteries solved!  

My only disappointment is that now I am on book five, I would have thought Hannah would have made her mind up about whether it is going to be Mike or Norman she chooses, it is becoming a minor irritation but not so much that I won’t pick up book 6…

Thank you for your patience readers in reading these reviews of this series of books. They are formulaic and simple and I suppose repetitive in some ways, but to keep to my personal challenge of reviewing every book I am trying to make each one different as I read them. 

I have one more on my kindle at the moment to read and then I will have to see when I get to book 7. 

 

Books

The Chocolate Money – Ashley Prentice Norton

Meet Babs and Bettina, the most unlikely paring you will probably find.

Babs is the heiress to one of the largest fortunes in America , Ballentyne Chocolates. Babs does nothing, she simply is Babs, she spends her time organising parties, attending them, buying clothes, being pampered and preened and indulging her excesses with any man she chooses.

When she has none of this to do she talks at not to Bettina – she tells her ten year old daughter of all her conquests and correct sexual performance for pleasing a man. Babs thinks nothing of exposing Bettina to some of the seedier parts of society in late seventies/early eighties Chicago. All Bettina wants is to be a normal child, have a normal family and have a father attend the dad’s breakfast at school and be openly loved by her mother, rather than openly despised as an inconvenience.

But even that is difficult, because although Bettina must have a father, Babs will not tell her who it is, and only the clue is a medallion given to Bettina that once belonged to him.

With all the money to do anything, Babs sends Bettina to a private boarding school where she tries desperately to fit in amongst peers who think being kissed by a boy is worthy of hours of debate with other friends. Bettina, thanks to her mother has a very adult way of looking at this teenage world and it is that which is ultimately her downfall. Bettina will never fit in and this time Babs cannot help her out.

Babs and Bettina are characters you can love to hate. Babs’s complete disregard for her daughter makes for very graphic and quite uncomfortable reading and I really was not sure if this book was for me to begin with. But once Bettina gets older and moves away to school, she becomes the one with the foul mouth and the descriptive graphic scenes. The apple did not fall far from the tree with this mother and daughter.

If you can see past the graphic and extreme scenes which litter this book, it is an interesting read. Especially in the respect of the psychology behind why these characters behaved as they did and no matter how much money you have, I do not think it can buy exactly what both Babs and Bettina were both looking for. I saw past the filth and wondered about what makes the people tick.

This book is a search for something else, the mystery of a happy life perhaps? A missing father? A desire to fit in? Whatever it is, I am not sure exactly where you would fit this book in – it seemed too young for adults but to adult for young adults. This is very much a cusp of adulthood book, perhaps to move away from the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon but I think it may well have picked up on elements of that for the book to sell? I may just be cynical. I can see children of Bettina’s age (around fifteen) reading it and passing it between their friends – this may be a book that perhaps taps into the American market more than the British market. Only time will tell.

Thank you to the publisher who sent me this book for review.

There is something about the book that drew me in to keep turning the pages and I finished it over a weekend quite easily. Certainly not a book of choice, and I would have been sucked in by the title, (there is very little to do with chocolate disappointingly) and also the rather stylish cover. However, if it wants to succeed perhaps avoid the obvious ‘grey’ connotations.

The book cover is a point of discussion I feel. It has the air of a book with glamour and the high society. It may well be grey to tap into that well know market, then again it could be to make it more elegant and sophisticated. 

But take a look at this cover – 

Having read the book, this seems totally inappropriate as a cover, I feel rather shocked by it.  It is a complete contradiction to what you are going to get between the covers. That said, the edition at the top of this post, is also not what you are going to get, but lends itself to being slightly more sophisticated? 

I will watch with interest regarding this book, and read various reviews and also the authors website where you can find out more about the book. I found some interesting articles about the author (herself an heiress) and her battle with depression. As well as a falling out with her mother, who Bab’s is based ‘slightly’ on – yes the naked Christmas Card (those family ones people send out!) did actually happen. 

If you ever read this book, let me know what you think. 

Books

oh Dear Silvia – Dawn French

Ed is still trying to come to terms with the end of his marriage. He even considers ending it all, but something stops him. He finally finds peace in a place of trees, nature and stillness. A place where people go to hide.

Cassie is coming to terms with her mother rejecting her when she announces she is pregnant at 16 and wants to keep the baby. Cassie wants to just be loved by her own mother when she is about to become one herself.

Jamie is in Afghanistan. He joined the army to escape his family.

Jo is the eldest sister, and promised her mother when she died that she would look after her youngest sister. Even now she is 63, she is still looking after sister and using any unconventional methods to do so.

Tia, is an employee, and to supplement her income, she also helps herself to her employers, surplus stuff. She figures that she will not be needing it any more.

Cat is upset her lover still holds on to her past. She wants her to make a choice and the choice they make together means that the present has to go into the past. 

Winnie is trying to be the best mother to her son and the best nurse for her patients, she knows that they cannot help their state, and wants to make it as easy as possible for the relatives as well as the patients.

Ed’s ex wife is called Silvia.
Cassie and Jamie’s mother is called Silvia.
Jo’s youngest sister is called Silvia.
Tia’s employer is called Silvia.
Cat’s lover is called Silvia.
Winnie’s patient is called Silvia.

And Silvia is in suite number 5 and cannot deal with the issues these people bring to her bedside. She is in a coma and cannot answer them.

This is a rather clever way of telling a story and to begin with I struggled to try and get into the characters but as you progress with the book, it gets more involved and you begin to see the real truth of these people all connected to the one persons voice you never hear – Silvia. The twist was something that I was not expecting and it made me question exactly where you would place this novel genre wise. It made it a very different read and different to Dawn French’s debut novel.

Two observations, which spoilt the book for me was something others have commented on; the letter that Jamie sends his mother – it was a very good written letter but it’s place was not in this book. It looked like the author had written this and wanted to use it come what may. The second was the voice of Winnie which was written in dialect and I admit to skim reading these parts because I could not understand it. I got the gist but it did spoil it somewhat, especially as Winnie was a lovely character and somehow managed to be both strong for everyone whilst she feels weak in her own personal life.

An interesting concept, that worked but not on every page. Worth a read.

Thank you to Amazon Vine for allowing me the opportunity to read this book. 

I did not know what I was expecting when I read Dawn French’s debut novel which was a unique and very good book. Pressure on for the next book I suppose and perhaps that’s why there were some weaker moments in it for me.

I was disappointed with the dialogue of Winnie and I was not sure why I could not get into her voice. Other books I have read, for example The Help did not cause me a problem, I got into it very quickly. This I could not, perhaps if I heard these chapters spoken I may think differently but it let the book down for me.

I look forward to seeing what she might write next though as it is apparent she has not chosen a genre to slot straight into which is great for readers but not for all those folk who like to pigeonhole books!

Books

Book Club #6 – The Last Ten Seconds – Simon Kernick

Due to holidays and some rather unexpected sickness, we were a smaller group which convened for the sixth meeting!

The book I am happy to say was a huge success for the five of us that were there! Everyone gave it a smiley face. For those who don’t know, I hand out three little cards with a smiley face, sad face and quizzical face. That way everyone can show which card they feel sums up the book most for them.

For L it was right up her street, she read it in five hours and was surprisingly pleased with it. She is a thriller kind of reader but much prefers the American books, they seem to be more action packed for her.  S agreed definitely a book for her and she liked its pace and had to keep reading.

L found it different from her normal reads. This was not a book of choice, but one her husband would read. It was certainly graphic in parts but is glad she has read something out of her comfort zone.

For W it was a good read, gruesome and also how always good triumphs over evil despite the sometimes rather unorthodox methods to get there.

This book choice was the first I had where I did not have any questions prepared and I admit it showed. It really ended up being just a discussion, and without questions to point us in different directions it did stall. Plus I wonder whether with a thriller book, there is much to discuss? I am now off seeking a standard set of questions for future books – it makes such a difference!

Coupled with a poorly attendee who had to leave early, we brought proceedings to a close very early on in the evening. So maybe not a great success, and probably as you can see from my rather less than flowing prose on the night I have stalled with something to talk/write about!

Our next book is going to be the complete opposite – M.C. Beaton – Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye. A bit of Christmas fun to go with our little party we are having in a few weeks time. The only way to describe to the other is ‘Enid Blyton for adults’! W was horrified at such a thing, but said to me afterwards as she has already read some of Beaton’s before and is halfway through this one, it is a bit like Enid Blyton for adults! Now she is worried what people will think of the choice and what it says about me. (W also happens to be my mum!)

Books

Thornyhold – Mary Stewart

Is there something magical in the world and can you perhaps know more than you actually originally think you do?

It seems to be the case with Geillis (Gilly) Ramsay who inherits her godmother house when she dies. It seems that everything is written in the stars or some other uncontrollable force. Gilly had to give up university when her mother tragically dies and she comes home to tend to her father, vicar of a church in a colliery town in the North East. She has an existence but nothing more, but when he dies and the future looks bleak, homeless and without purpose. The news comes that she has inherited this house. Thornyhold. Now Gilly has a purpose. But does the house come with another gift?

Thornyhold needs care and attention to bring it back to life along with the garden that has become overgrown and unruly. Gilly restores life and warmth to this property which is hidden away from the outside world. She gets help from the young William who helped her godmother and steers Gilly in a direction. The direction of love. This is what ultimately this story is – a gentle quiet magical love story with no aggressive behaviour, the only fly in the ointment is Agnes Trapp.  Agnes has her own plans and I thought at one point she was going to win a battle with Gilly that poor Gilly did not even know she was fighting until very close to the end of the book. But all comes right in love and war and the magical natural setting that Mary Stewart creates makes it a diverting and enjoyable book.
Well worth a read.
 
This is another author I discovered through the influence of book blogs – spotting the author many times. Check out She Reads Novels and Fleur Fisher who are recent discoverers too! Katrina at Pining for the West is someone else who is working her way through the back catalogue. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and so I did. Again, another discovery which has paid dividends as I found the story so rich and enjoyable – and it features a ‘house as a character’ which always appeals to me.
 
I had no preconceived ideas about the author until after finishing the novel. I realised that the author wrote this particular book in the nineteen eighties and the author was in her seventies at a time. Perhaps that accounts for its gentle resonance but perhaps not its magic. This element of the story surprised me, it reminded me of magical childhood stories, but with a reasonable outcome everything was explained by the end. Magical and believable rather an oxymoronic combination.
 
I will be on the look out for more of this author’s work. Any recommendations?
 
Books · Witterings

Another Day in books

Back last year Karen at Cornflower Books did a little meme and I joined in here. The idea being to reflect back on some of the books read in the year and fit them into this little story. So in a break from review posts and other witterings, I thought I would give it a go again. 

I began the day Below Stairs

before breakfasting on Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues

and admiring A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar

On my way to work I saw The Light Behind the Window

and walked by The Grand Babylon Hotel

to avoid Paradise Fields,

but I made sure to stop at Pictures at an Exhibition

In the office, my boss said, Cards on the Table

and sent me to research A Dangerous Inheritance

At lunch with The Darling Girls

I noticed Jane Eyre

in The House by the Sea

greatly enjoying Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

Then on the journey home, I contemplated The Uninvited Guests

because I have A Perfect Proposal

and am drawn to The Chocolate Money

Settling down for the evening in The Summer House

I studied Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies

by The Light Between the Oceans

before saying goodnight Au Revoir Liverpool

Do join in if you have the time all the links take you to my review of the book. The exception being The Chocolate Money, which I have yet to post my review of.

Books

Harris’s List (of Covent Garden Ladies) – ed. Hallie Rubenhold

Now I am not sure whether readers of this blog know or not, but I have a degree in history and absolutely love learning about the past. It is sometimes far more interesting than the present or even in fact dictates what happens in the present. So when this book dropped through my letterbox recently, I was intrigued. I had not been sent such a book before and certainly not been sent a book about prostitutes before! Can I just add here, that this book does not dictate anything of my life that is happening in the present.

But what I have found as I have dipped in and out of this book, is a pure delight. Not just the fact that in the Eighteenth Century it was considered okay to publish such a book. Oh imagine the outcry now if such a book was printed. The language is a dream, and when reading it with Twenty First Century eyes, knowledge and vocabulary it I think has more than one meaning. Allow me to share the odd little snippet:

A knowing one, lives in the first floor…if she returns you a favourable glance, she will immediately conduct you in a very complaisant manner to a convenient sofa, and suffer you there to take a view of her have of delight…in return she likewise expects a view of nature’s gifts from you, which if she thinks clean and properly adopted, she will unload for two pounds two.

She lives elegant, and is a great economist, is tall and genteel, about twenty-four years of age, rather dark complexion, a little pitted with the small  pox, her price is one pound one, but will not refuse half a guinea.

And so this list of ladies goes on and their prices are given, the complexions and age commented on and it seems that having a good set of teeth is a must when choosing. Don’t worry if your request may be of the little perverse, there are some of those ladies mentioned to!    It is all in the description and the language, the odd little drawing or sketch that appears in the book makes this a rather naughty little read. Forget 50 Shades of Grey this is the book to read this year.

This is the ideal book for those who perhaps have spent the last few years receiving saucy calendars, for Christmas. This could give them a good education!

From the Press Release :

HARRIS’S LIST OF COVENT GARDEN LADIES was a bestseller in the Eighteenth Century, shifting 250,000 copies in an age before mass consumerism. A ‘guide book’ published annually at Christmas, it detailed the names, attributes and ‘specialties’ of the capital’s prostitutes. During its heyday (1759 -95) HARRIS’S LIST was the essential accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure.

 Hallie Rubenhold has collected the funniest, rudest and most bizarre entries penned by Jack Harris, Pimp-General-of-all-England, into this fascinating and mischievous collection.

This book was published in hardback by Doubleday on 8 November 2012, priced £10.

Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy.

Books

The Villa Girls – Nicky Pellegrino

Holidays are meant as a break, as an escape from the normal humdrum way of life. For Rosie, Lou, Toni and Addolorata it is the beginning of a lifelong friendship which is punctuated by these holidays away together. The first is when they are eighteen and go to a villa in Majorca. This is not your typical group of friends, they seem to have come together by accident more than design. For Rosie, the main character in this book, she is the last one in, the outsider. More so by the fact that she is orphaned and the others have no idea what to do or say. Rosie has her own ideas about life and as the book progresses you see how she starts to find her way for herself, realising that she perhaps does need the strength of family love behind her. Even if it is not her own family.

From Rosie’s story, we alternate into Enzo’s story. Enzo is the complete opposite of Rosie, he has everything that she does not. Parents, siblings, a future, a path in life but just like Rosie he does not have love. Enzo is the first son of an olive oil estate in Italy. We learn about how life works in Italy for such a well known family and the way that simple Sunday evening walks are seen as parading the best girls from families to be snatched up by the best boys. This is a marriage market without the title.

But then four girls arrive in the Italian countryside, on one of their holidays to a villa they catch the eye of Enzo and his friends. Does Enzo see a way out of a structured life that he has coming and does Rosie see a way into a structured life that she secretly wants but will not admit to? Or is it just a holiday romance?

When Toni, one of Rosie’s friends witnesses something whilst visiting the estate that Enzo has invited them to, it changes the path for all of them. Life now has to go very differently and the present very quickly becomes the past. But there still seems to be issues to be resolved.

If Rosie goes back without knowing, will she ever find what she is looking for?

The story takes a while to get going for me, mainly because we swapped characters in each chapter and I felt that not enough time was being given on building their background story. However, once you overcome this and I did so within the first 60 pages or so, the story gets going and it becomes a good read. Nicky Pellegrino somehow manages to make you want to jump in the book and eat the food that she is describing, to be sat round a big table whilst the food is brought on a somewhat continuous conveyor belt. Eating is an occasion in Italy, and Nicky reflects this very well. You can taste it, you can smell it, you can feel the sun on your back whilst you watch it all grow.

If you have never read any of Nicky’s work before then this is a good place to start. Be grateful you can experience all this rich food without putting on one calorie!

Nicky Pellegrino will make your mouth water as she describes not just the method of making the oil, to the wonderful Italian food which Enzo’s family creates and eats as if it is an occasion and not a means of fueling yourself for the next day. This is one of the strengths of the book, the whole atmosphere of the Italian olive farm is brought carefully to life. I have no idea if it is right, but it was certainly an interesting read about something which I think very little of when we pick up a bottle in the supermarket. Oh to be sat outside on a warm summers day (either in the UK or Italy) reading and dipping fresh bread in flavoured oil! Oh the calories are just sticking to me. Thank goodness for her books. 

I have read nearly all of her books and must seek out the ones I have not read. I took a chance on one of her books, why don’t you? 

Books · Witterings

Discussion Time

And for something a little bit different.

I am featuring over on Verity’s Virago Venture today and Friday in reference to Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. This is part of the Elizabeth Taylor Centenary which Laura hosted this year.

Verity asked if I fancied having a read-a-long ?

So I read the book.

Then Verity asked if I minded answering some questions?

So I did.

This is one of the great things I love about book blogging – being able to connect, share and talk about books which I know would have just passed me by!

Books · Jottings · Witterings

Authors in November – CSI Portsmouth

So what is CSI Portsmouth? It is an event which has been running for 3 years now organised by Pauline Rowson, crime writer who has written about the full day here. CSI Portsmouth is part of the Portsmouth Bookfest and was an interesting mix of the fact and the fiction, the real and the imagined.

I only attended the afternoon session, but I can see from Pauline’s review of the day, the morning was just as interesting and lively.

Held at the John Pounds Centre which was one of the better venues I have been to (take note please Portsmouth Library Service) it was a very well packed audience of a mixture of men and women and all ages. In this instance I took my mum, who has never been to an event such as this before but is a fan of crime fiction! The main reason was so we could hear Ann Cleeves talk as we have read one of her Vera novels and obviously seen the wonderful programme on ITV with the even more wonderful Brenda Blethyn.

So what did Ann have to say? Well she likes to write a good story as that is want people want [how true – Jo] and her interest is in Scandinavian Crime. Which is having an effect on many of the books published in this country.

I can see why Ann liked these books – the setting. If you have read any of her work, she has a real feel for place and setting and this makes her novels work. When it comes for these novels to be transferred to the small screen, Ann held this fact as important and in the case of the Vera novels it does work. Ann humorously admits that Brenda Blethyn’s accent is a bit ropey now and again; but the setting and the story are good so that is what matters. Her new series Shetland which starts on the BBC some point soon, again has the setting and probably will rival something of the bleak setting of anything set in Scandinavia.

Pauline Rowson was the other author, whose crime novels are set in the Solent and Hampshire which is my home county. Again I felt setting was very important to Pauline but as the books are set in an area I know well, my view might well be skewed somewhat. I have yet to read any of her work but if they compare to Graham Hurley who also sets his books in my local vicinity then I  will hopefully enjoy them.

Making this a very different event was the fact that there were ‘experts’ on the panel. Those who deal with the truth behind all the fiction that readers consume. A policeman who specialises in hi-tech crime (think computers but try not to think that a greater percentage of his work is taken up with pedophilia). Technology has helped in many ways but also makes other avenues for criminals to use.

A lecturer from the university who has a great interest in fraud and interviewing victims as well as the perpetrators. He gave an example of how easy it is for fraud to affect your life, even when you think everything is okay and you have been reimbursed the taken money. He gave an example of a man who had fallen to a victim of fraud, for around the sum of two hundred pounds on his card. He got the money back and thought nothing more of it. Until a year later, when his house was raided early one morning and his computer taken away, along with himself. The card had been used to buy child porn. He was cleared, but the whole street where he lived made their decision and would end up crossing the road with their families when he approached. Small frauds can have large effects. Is technology as good as we all think?

The final ‘expert’  an University professor was interested in stalking and also in how the internet is making it easier for people to access information for stalking.  He was also interested in the concept of the link between reading/watching too much crime that might make us actually commit crime ourselves. The conclusion of his findings and something I agree with, it there is probably not much of a link, but it is probably a debate which will run and run. One of his observations featured the much loved crime writer Agatha Christie who wrote over 100 works which although were not as graphic as what perhaps we are used nowadays it explained one thing – anyone can commit a crime. Race, Class, Gender, choice of weapon etc is almost irrelevant. This got many nods from the audience and the authors.

This was an afternoon with a difference, it brought a different approach to listening to authors. Personally I felt it was too long but Cheryl Buggy who is the station director of a local radio station (apologies I have never tuned in, being a stalwart Radio 2 girl!) did an excellent job in asking the questions and keeping the discussion going. It was also obvious that the authors picked up many ideas for future novels.

Perhaps if the afternoon was broken into two it might have been better. I only say this compared to other events I have been to as it gives more variety and audience interaction.

As I was not there in the morning, my views are only from the afternoon session but it was a bit too heavy on the experts for my liking and I would have liked to have known more about the authors and their work. How they started writing, why chose the genre they do, books they wish they had written, books they like to read, their writing day, the list is endless. But not to the extent where I felt they were promoting their books too much.

Pauline Rowson, mentioned her latest novel and when her next novel was due out and even when an expert mentioned ‘real life’ scenarios that were similar to her novel, the book was quoted. For me it was a bit too much, too much of the hard sell. I had already made my mind up to buy a book and still did so despite this and now I feel rather hypocritical about my observation, but felt I had had recent experience to compare it to.  Having seen many authors in the last few weeks this really stood out for me. None of the others did this, although they mentioned their work, they seemed to be more interested in the reader and what they thought of their first book, their latest and all those in between as well as the shared books that might have been read.

I am aware that this day is very much Pauline Rowson’s concept, and do not want to appear overly critical, as it was a very good afternoon and the inclusion of the local college who had a crime scene set up, with students studying Forensic Science as well as the opportunity to have fingerprints taken made it a concept which can only grow as the years go by. If you are a fan of crime fiction it is definitely the place to come and visit. I look forward to seeing how this crime scene evolves in 2013.