Books

Sidney Chambers & The Perils of the Night – James Runcie

I am back with Sidney Chambers and his faithful dog Dickens. In this second volume we are taken from the mid nineteen fifties through to the early sixties. It is Runcie’s intention to take us to the eighties with these volumes.

Not only is Sidney trying to remain faithful to his chosen vocation, a canon, he is yet again coming across murders and mysteries that needed to be solved in Grantchester As his father comments “Good God, man, it’s like the Battle of the Somme out there”.

All the time though the mystery that seems to be evading him is whether he should finally embark on marriage. And whether it will be Hildegard or Amanda.

As before we have six separate stories which link by means of character and place. But other than that they are individual, although to read them as such would perhaps spoil the overall plot and wonderful gentle tone of the book.

We are taken from university high spirits and ascending the buildings at night, fire at a photographic studio where some of the pictures are destined to never get beyond the top shelf. Then there is poisoning and deception as well as bit of espionage for good measure. A book that covers many ways to kill and deceive others.

As you can see this is not your average detective crime fiction it is something much more than that. Sidney Chambers gets himself involved in some rather testing cases and is either a help or a hindrance to his friend Inspector Geordie Keating.

What I will say about this novel is there were some parts of it that left me rather confused. In the main these were the religious elements and there is perhaps more theology in this book than in the first one. If religion is something which has not featured heavily in your life then you may well struggle as I did. The other struggle was the explanations and descriptions of the cricket. If cricket is not your game, you may find yourself skim reading one of the stories.

Runcie leads us to a nice conclusion at the end of the sixth story and I am not sure how Sidney Chambers is going to cope with the swinging sixties in the third volume.

Historical detective fiction which covers as much of the social attitudes as of worldwide and political events of the day as the book goes on. This really feels such a gentle read and you can take time to sit back and enjoy, that you forget perhaps the darker crimes that are committed within the crafted stories.

I am enamoured with this author and these stories and much enjoyed the two books so far in the series. My other main delight is the fact that when on a shelf they look great together and I cannot wait to build my collection. Sometimes it is just not the beauty of reading the words that the book contains, but the beauty is in the book itself.

The third volume Sidney Chambers and The Problem of Evil is published in May 2014.  

 

Books

A Mother’s Shame – Rosie Goodwin

It does not matter what class you come from, a baby born out of wedlock is the same in 1857. These secrets can shock the community and destroy a family. In Nuneaton, the only place some of these young girls go is a place called Hatters Hall.

Hatters Hall, is the local asylum, but with a special wing for unmarried pregnant women. It is in this place that Isabelle finds herself, taken in the night from her family home by her father and incarcerated until such times as the shame is over and she can come home and marry.

Maria finds herself at Hatters Hall in very different circumstances, to work. She is put with Isabelle and has to be her maid, as Isabelle is in fact a lady of class and Maria is very much not. Together an unlikely friendship forms and they find they have something in common and also that they both want to escape Hatters Hall. For it does not matter if you work there or are a patient, you will always be trapped.

They both go on a journey which is going to take strength, courage and determination, not to just survive the journey but at the destination as well. The destination is Tasmania.

The story moves across oceans, as Maria and Isabelle, as well as Isabelle’s brother Joshua embark on a very different lifestyle to one that they have all been used to. At their destination, they are tested again as the culture is very different to that of England and it even seems possible that life is easier for them all.

Like any saga, there is enough ups and downs in this novel and the contrasts between different classes, backgrounds, cultures and religion are all covered so well by Rosie Goodwin. She knows how to create such a strong story with equally strong and where needed weak characters (Isabelle’s father for instance) that the book pulls you right in from the first page and you actually care about them and want only the best.

I enjoyed the book, especially the long and arduous journey, it was not simply a day’s flight on a plane. This was going to take them four months. I felt every wave and storm as they made their way to the future. Even when Isabelle became rather trying, I still felt for her. When Maria had to confront her past on the ship, I wept until I knew she was going to be safe.

If you like family saga’s, or simply cracking good stories with lots to keep you turning the page, then this is certainly the book and probably the author for you.

Thank you to the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read this book. A Mother’s Shame is out now in paperback. 

I have found another author whose books I now need to go and read and read and read. Having only read Home Front Girls and this one, I cannot wait to read more. 

 

Books

Rattle His Bones – Carola Dunn

Daisy is back in another adventure and you know that without a doubt she is going to stumble  on some bones and be launched into some sort of murder investigations.

Trouble is the bones are a lot older than she could ever imagine as they have come crashing down in the Natural History Museum whilst she is there with her nephew and her soon to be step daughter. But it is not the bones that are the problem but the curator who has crashed into them.

Immediately Daisy begins thinking – why would anyone want to kill an expert? –  what could possibly be the motive? And what on earth is her fiancé Inspector Alec Fletcher going to say, about being the first person on the scene?

Daisy promises she will not doing any of her own investigating, but she does need to return to the museum to carry on researching her article, so some exchanging of information is going to be inevitable.

The possible suspects are numerous, from experts in minerals to fossils and everything in between. Even a regular visitor to the museum to reclaim back a jewel is a possible suspect.

Of course as the book progresses you know that between Daisy and her  not interfering and Alec and his faithful Sergeant Tring alongside, the perpetrator is going to be caught, the fun is how we get there with them as readers.

I actually found this book boring, that is because of the topic of fossils and the like. It is not a subject I have ever been particularly enamoured with and this made reading some bits of the book quite boring. However, what kept me reading was the fact that all the regular characters feature and that maybe Alec might be a step closer to marrying Daisy and stop her stumbling on these bodies. Then again………

So that is book 8 read and also 1 marked off as one of my challenges for 2014. I wonder where Daisy will be next discovering dead bodies? 

Books

The Perfect Match – Katie Fforde

Bella moved away from everything she knows, her family, friends and her job. But the key thing being in love with the man who she could not have as he belonged to another. She has settled herself in another place with her godmother and has found something a bit like contentment, a new man Nevil who also happens to be her boss in the estate agency where she works.

Bella has a way of matching the people she encounters with the correct property for them. She has been having trouble with Mr & Mrs Agnew who have very exacting standards of a mansion on the budget of a semi. Mrs Langley who is not really sure if she wants to sell her property but keeps Bella fuelled with tea and cake whilst she thinks it over. Bella is not your stereotypical estate agent which made me like her a bit more.

Nevil on the other hand immediately seems rather unctuous and is constantly criticising Bella about her looks, her weight and the fact that she perhaps needs to set her sights on living in a property far more superior than she currently is. You are instantly aware of Nevil and Katie Fforde has a way of making these characters really annoying and you know the main character is going to come to her senses soon enough and get rid of him, but sometimes it can take a really long time!

Everything seems to be going okay until Mrs Langley’s nephew, Dominic turns up. It seems he was the man who belonged to another. Can Bella see that perhaps her match is not perfect and the perfect property does not make a perfect marriage?

I liked Bella, however I was a bit disappointed in the fact that her and Dominic did not have a much more stronger link in the past, other than a kiss at Christmas. Because of that I felt their relationship was not quite as realistic as it could have been. This is an area that needed to be developed more, for me to make it all that more believable when Dominic and Bella meet up again.

What was very believable and could have been a book all of its own was the relationship that blossomed with Bella’s godmother, Alice and Michael, the younger man. This plot developed at a nice pace, and explored finding love when you think you have had your chance and the introduction of adult children into new relationships. It shows the pitfalls and the wonderful moments that can be created.

If you are a fan of Katie Fforde then you are going to enjoy the book, perhaps not as much as some of the others but enjoy it nonetheless you will.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this for review – via Netgalley.

Katie Fforde books are a must for any reader, who just wants to escape and absorb some wonderful characters and some differing scenarios all with a nice happy ending. I know life is not like that, but no harm in wanting it to be is there?

I have more of the back catalogue to read, so please excuse me while I try and catch up! 

 

Books

Anne of Green Gables – L.M.Montgomery

Have you met Anne before? If you have, then you know exactly what this book is going to do. If like me this is the first time of meeting Anne, despite some vague recollection of a television programme whilst growing up then you are in for a delight.

Anne Shirley, the chatterbox redhead arrives at Green Gables and into brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert lives. They were expecting a young boy to come and be some sort of help to them on their farm. There seems to have been some sort of mix up and the hard hearted Marilla wants to send Anne back.

But as Anne infiltrates both Green Gables and Marilla’s heart with her constant chattering and wildly imaginative stories it seems Anne has finally found her home and people to love her.

We see Anne moved into her late teens and develop and grow away from the imagination that captures her and us as readers at the beginning of the story. She gets into lots of scrapes along the way, “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person”. Some of them are quite funny when you read this with an adults point of view and life experience but it is such a gentle book you escape into this past age, where everything seemed to be simple and joy was found in the most simple things.

I confess it did take me a while to adjust to Anne’s constant chatter and I did want to strangle her on occasions for her chattering but actually if you look past this, Anne is a girl who is struggling to come to terms with growing up and realising the responsibility that comes with being an adult, “That’s the worst of growing up, and I’m beginning to realise it. The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them”.

I surprised myself by enjoying this as I thought I was going to get something overtly twee and over the top. I only wish now I had read it as a child because I know I would have enjoyed growing up with Anne.

This was a choice for my book club. Out of all of us, only one had read it and had recently devoured them all and was shocked to know we had not read them. Which is how we came to choose the book, we needed two book as we had a break in March as one of our members was busy having a baby. 

I am not sure if I will continue to read more about Anne, I did look up exactly what happens to Anne in subsequent novels to get an idea, but I feel I have been cheated by not reading them as a girl. As an adult I am sure they will not feel the same. 

Books

The Summer House – Santa Montefiore

When you have lost your husband, and he was all you lived for along with your three sons, it seems that nothing can get any worse for Antoinette. Her husband, George was a risk taker and lived life on the edge it is also how he dies.

Then you meet someone who has a past.

Someone who has a connection to not your past but your husbands.

And you know nothing about them.

Neither do your three sons, David, Joshua and Tom. But this someone has something about them.

Antoinette and her sons meet Phaedra. It means that everything they thought they knew about their husband and their father is turned on its head.

What builds is a story which is rather slow and not as captivating in terms of plot as previous Santa Montefiore novels I have read. However the characters and the descriptions of the landscape, the scenery and the house where the family live is certainly one of Montefiore’s strengths when it comes to writing.

Phaedra has connected to this family in many ways just by one meeting and she suddenly brings the wisdom of youth to the family home as she somehow gets under the skin of everyone.

Antoinette thinks she has now got a daughter she never had. Margaret, Antoinette’s mother in law is taken with her honesty and views and Phaedra permeates the rather bitter and gruff exterior she has put up around herself. David has the spark of something he thinks could be attraction after being alone for so long. Tom just seems to be taking it all in his stride and thinks that he has simply found another drinking buddy and Joshua or more his pushy wife, Roberta thinks there is an ulterior motive and moves to unmask the real Phaedra.

Although I do not rate this book compared to some of her others, I had to keep reading because I wanted to see exactly where Phaedra was going to take us and how she was going to fit in to this group of people. I had my suspicions, I was right and I was wrong. I was worried it was going to take me down a road I really did not want to read about, it did not and I breathed a sigh of relief. I will say the author handled it all with a touch of grace and subtlety.

As the book reaches it conclusion, there is a sense that Phaedra has actually come into their lives for a reason, to heal and resolve love both in the past, present and ultimately the future.  If you are a fan of Santa Montefiore then you will undoubtedly enjoy this novel, but it is not one of her strongest.

What I failed to mention in this review is the house where Antoinette lives. This was partly through choice and the fact that I have left writing the review too long from finishing the book. (Note to self – I really should jot notes down once I have finished a book if I am not going to review it straight away.). 

I felt the house was integral part of the story but part of me wondered, if it was cashing in on the whole “Downton” world that we have fallen in love with. Although this story was set in the present and not the past, although there was a faithful butler looking after everyone. We had the Dower House with the over powering matriarch of a mother in law who put the fear into her daughter in law as she strides across to the ‘big’ house. Whether it was intentional and the jacket quote from Julian Fellowes (creator of Downton) was all coincidence we will never know, but the sceptic in me wonders…….

Books

The Shop on Blossom Street – Debbie Macomber

This is the first in a series of novels from the pen of Debbie Macomber. If you have ready any of her books before, you may well know what you are getting, a character rich and a community based novel.

Welcome to  Blossom Street where Lydia has set up a wool/yarn shop and has invested everything in it. Lydia hopes this will bring everything she wants for her future, because having beaten cancer she knows how precious life is.

The shop A Good Yarn, brings Lydia into the community and customers that come to her door are suddenly all part of Lydia’s life as well as each other.

Carol has invested everything in her future – to be a mother and she has the final chance with IVF. She goes to Lydia’s shop because she wants to knit something for the baby.

Jacqueline has nothing but has everything, she has the frippery; clothes, hair and make up. But she does not have the love of her husband any more and she seems to be alienating her son because of his choice of wife and now they are going to have a baby. She goes to Lydia’s shop because she wants to knit something for the baby.

Alix does have nothing. She has had a tough childhood and a past she does not want anyone to know about. Especially the locals and one particular man she has met. Her reason for going to Lydia’s is because if she learns to knit it can count towards her community.

Put all these very different women together and you have knitted some interesting relationships, friendships and testing times for them all. It is amazing how so much can happen and how much all these women learn about love, life, themselves and each other.

If you are looking for comfort reads then anything by Debbie Macomber is going to hit the spot and this book was no exception. I look forward to the rest of the series.

These are not great works of literature but they are great for hitting that spot when you need to read and just want to feel nice about it all. Cosy reads, for those days when you need them. 

Books

The Facts of Life and Death – Belinda Bauer

Women in a beach community and surrounding areas in Devon are being targeted by a sick individual.

When they have been captured they are stripped.

When they have been stripped they are told to make a phone call…. to their mother.

When they make the phone call… they are told to say goodbye.

When they say goodbye… their mother’s watch.

Who suffers the most in this game of murder, the victim or the mother left behind?

Whilst this is happening, a young girl Ruby Trick is struggling with her own battles, she is being bullied on the bus to school, she is being bullied at school. She lives in such a small community that she has only four other children to play with. Ruby cannot play in certain places, not just because of this sick individual who seems to be prowling the area but because part of the cliff face where they live is dying. It is being swept away by the weather and by the sea.

For Ruby there is no solace at home, the house has leaks and drafts which are ignored by her jobless father who seems to spend his time dressing up as a Cowboy to join a local cowboy club and a mother who works every hour she possibly can whilst trying to bring up Ruby in better circumstances and better choices than her husband is showing Ruby. The arguments between the parents seem to be reaching breaking point, similar to the eroding of the landscape around them. Every storm breaks away a little bit more of the marriage. But for Ruby, her dad is the best and he doesn’t seem to mind the extra chocolate or biscuits that she eats, as long as Ruby helps feed this Cowboy obsession and Ruby can be his deputy and they can try and catch the killer together.

The book starts by placing the building blocks of the characters and the community. You immediately get a sense of a community which is no longer on the map, it has been left behind for some reason to decay and destroy itself. The feeling of damp seeps off the page as Bauer describes the home that Ruby lives in and the surrounding area. The incessant weather is something which you think you would tire of living with and move away, but it is somehow pulling them all together to stay in this one place.

The characters also seem to have been forgotten and are destroying themselves and decaying in a place where it seems that sun never shines.  This does make the characters in any way weak, they fact they have been well-formed and you can feel empathy and sympathy with them in equal measure. Ruby’s childish innocence, to the rather weak police detective, escaping something he has become caught in and the isolated teacher Miss Sharpe, who sees something in Ruby that she recognises. To me it was if the surroundings had sucked the life out of these characters and there was no hope for them, which is one of the reasons I had to keep on reading of course, the book got under my skin.

This is a bleak thriller but that does not make it depressing, far from it. Bauer creates a twist and a turn, and in amongst all this desolation there is the murders that need to be solved, it is very different to her previous novels. For me it had a du Maurier-esque romance about it, for some reason I thought of Jamaica Inn, which no doubt was down to the descriptive landscape which made it all come alive from the page. It is a very different sort of book and not your conventional thriller or serial killer novel and because it did not fit a nice pigeon hole is the reason I really enjoyed the book.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this copy. The book is out in hardback (and ebook) now.

I wanted to write a lot more about the book, as I have not even touched on the title – The Facts of Life and Death. That title seemed to be so relevant in many places, however I know to have gone into any more depth about it, I would have given away many spoilers which would have ruined the book for many.

I have yet to read Darkside, which I have on my shelf to read. From all the Bauer books I have read it is without a doubt this author is going places and will be around for many years to come, if this is the sort of work she is producing. 

Books

Finding Mr Rochester – Trisha Ashley

 

This is a short story, exclusively for e-book which can keep you tantalised with the works of the author if you are waiting for her latest novel or want to perhaps try Trisha Ashley out for the first time.

In this book we are taken to the windswept Yorkshire Moors, where Eleri who is a writer herself and has a hankering to be absorbed into the land of the Brontes escapes to finish her book and hide from her disastrous love life.

Within days she has meant a dark swarthy character who infuriates and intrigues her in equal measure. Eleri cannot escape it seems even in the Yorkshire Moors.

With the wonderful descriptions and the tantalising food that Eleri discovers, this book could quite easily become a full blown novel from the author. Which is probably what makes it a lovely little read.

I am a fan of Trisha’s novels and am waiting with delight for her new one Every Woman for Herself to be released on 8 May 2014. This and The Winter’s Tale will be the only two that I have not read (I think?) although I may be wrong and there maybe some more lurking in the back catalogue. 

However, it matters not a jot. Trisha Ashley is an author I can rejoice in when her books are released as they are a joy and delight to read. 

Books

The Midwife’s Confession – Diane Chamberlain

Three women brought together in friendship. They can trust each other. In fact they can trust each other with their own children. But do they know each other?

Diane Chamberlain introduces us to Tara, Emerson and Noelle. Then she shocks them and the reader with Noelle’s suicide (this is mentioned on the blurb on the reverse of the book).

Tara and Emerson are left reeling, as I was as a reader. Suddenly as a life is extinguished, the two women seek solace in each other as they try to piece together who Noelle was. But then they knew her, so it should not be too hard should it?

This is as much as I can say, without actual giving away vital plotlines and ruining the book for any potential reader. What I will say this is a book which reflects very much on the differences in the mother and daughter bond that there is. Is it something which can hold together or can it be wrenched away from you as soon as your back is turned.

As Tara and Emerson learn about Noelle, they also learn a lot about themselves as mothers and ultimately their daughters, respectively Grace and Jenny. Grace and Jenny learn as much about the past and their mothers as they do about each other. The world suddenly seems a strange and frightening place without the support of your mother. This is a truth test on the state of friendship between these women separated by generations.

The book progress in each chapter with flashbacks to Noelle, we can form a picture of her from beyond the grave if you like. We try to understand all her actions and her reactions to events. In the ‘present’ chapters we see how Tara and Emerson as well as some other characters tell their story and learn piece by piece the confession. This technique gives you perspectives and a well rounded picture of events. For me it is a great way of getting to the heart of the story, but whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it and was drawn into the web of lies which were beginning to unfold I actually did not like any of the characters. They were not badly written in my opinion, and I am still trying to work out how I can like a book,  but not like the characters? There may not be a clear cut answer for this.

This is a book of strength, the strength of the ties that bind, mothers and daughters, friendship, love. The strength of trying to hold everything together when there is a stronger force at work trying to ruin your life. The strength of the twists and turns kept me wanting more and it is all packed into a relatively short book, where it could have laboured for many more pages, building and building but Diane Chamberlain’s writing has not needed to do this.

This was a book club choice. Chosen by me opening just one of my newbooks magazines at a page and  seeing what book was on it and then selecting that. It is more of a fateful choice as one member of my book club is actually a midwife…….. I cannot wait for this particular discussion.