Books

Angel with Two Faces – Nicola Upson

Do you want a murder mystery story? Do you want it set in on an Estate which employs and houses a number of the village? Do you want characters such as the strange woman who seems to have the answer for everything? Do you want it set in the 1930s? Do you want it to resemble Miss Marple but with a touch of Daphne du Maurier bringing that mysterious edge? If you say yes to all these things or at least some of them then Nicola Upson’s second novel Angel with Two Faces is for you.

Upson uses the real life character of Josephine Tey and the real places of the Penrose Estate, Rowena Cade, Minack Theatre and location as a vehicle to show Inspector Archie Penrose on his local ground as opposed to the life in London. Penrose and Tey’s relationship is obviously dealt with in the first of Upson’s book. However not having read it(which I will now rectify) makes little difference to this story. Penrose has gone on holiday from London to his family home in Cornwall. He takes Tey with him for company and to enable her to work on her next book.

Penrose is launched into being a pall bearer at a local funeral of Harry Pinching, a young lad of the villager and worker on the estate whose body was dragged from the lake after being missing. However Harry’s death is not as straightforward as it seems and his two sisters, seem to have differing views on how he was.

With Harry gone, Penrose is also asked to step into his place in the local play the villagers are putting on at the famous Minack Theatre which is situated dangerously close to the edge of the cliffs of Cornwall. Here during the play he witnesses another murder, the curate Nathaniel holding onto his own demons is pushed off the cliff behind the Minack Theatre. His holiday turns into work as he feels he cannot just witness a murder and then leave it to others to investigate.

As Penrose starts to question the locals including his own relatives and starts to learn about his own past which has been kept hidden from him and others for years. Tey is his right hand woman in helping to discover much about the locals using her famous identity to her own advantage and learns things about Penrose and what he thinks of her along the way.

This is an excellent novel and the characters have depth and a back story which is the catalyst to the whole book. The characters of Harry and his sisters Morwenna and Loveday have similarities to the relationship Penrose has had in his past, with his cousins and this goes further back also with Penrose’s parents as well. There is other tales interweaved throughout, the relationship between Beth Jacks and her husband and the vicar. The missing of Christopher Snipe the village undertaker’s son. These stories are not as a diversion but they all are important to the main story – was Harry Pinching’s death murder or suicide and why would someone kill the curate, Nathaniel – what did he know and what was he hiding?

This review was first published on Amazon in 2009 and is featured on this blog as part of my look back at the last ten years of blogging. 

Books

The Mitford Trial – Jessica Fellowes

Louisa Cannon who we have met in the previous three novels in this series is set to marry policeman Guy Sullivan. I feel you need to have read all three to get the real sense of Louisa’s character development and how she has got to where she is now in this fourth book.

However the British Union of Fascists have other ideas about how Louisa and Guy are going to celebrate their wedding day.

This brings Louisa back in touch with The Mitford Sisters, who she thought she had left behind. Diana, now separated from her husband Bryan has started a love affair with Oswald Mosley and with her sister Unity obsessed with the beliefs and values of the Fascists, it seems that Louisa is going to be plunged into the darker side of politics and ever growing problems in Europe.

After first off refusing to accompany Diana, Unity and their mother on a cruise, Louisa funds herself compelled by an outside source to take up the offer and without sharing the truth with Guy she finds herself all at sea.

Onboard everything is not calm, with arguments, love affairs and fights, the atmosphere turns to murder and Louisa finds herself tangled amongst all the lies and deceit. The confessions and lies seem to permeate everyone and when the ship docks in Rome the culprits are removed.

Two years later the case is at court and everyone that was onboard seems to be a witness to something.

But what Louisa saw that trip still remains a mystery.

This is an excellent golden age crime novel, with the use of the Mitford sisters as the landscape to fictionalise the story of historic crimes. The murder like the ones before is based on the truth, information provided in the book (read at the end!)  so you can get a sense of time and place. Yet the growing unrest in Europe, the rise of Fascists and Unity’s compulsion to become close to Hitler is throughout the book and I am sure gives a great grounding into book five.

The narrative of this story goes between Louisa’s time on the cruise and the courtroom where the trial takes place, it also brings into play Tom Mitford, the brother of the infamous sisters who works as a lawyer and always appears in the background of their lives.

The concept works, as you hear evidence and the questions being asked of the witness you can go back and see what really happened. For me it felt like I was in the public gallery watching the trial unfold, a totally immersive experience.

A well written murder mystery perfect for fans of history and the gold age of crime. Long may they continue. Highly recommended.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Mitford Trial is out now. 

 

 

Books

The Six Tales of Christmas – Anne Marie Ryan

What better place to be in the run up to Christmas than in a bookshop, in a Cotswold village. Surely you should be living your best life trying to find the right book for the right person as a gift.

For Simon and Nora this has been their life for a number of years, but it seems that this could be the last Christmas at the bookshop. They need to draw people in, stop them going to the chains, to the online stores and to offer that something different.

When an act of kindness takes on a whole new twist, they send out six different books, randomly to people and it just so happens that the books that land with these six very different people all have very different problems and the books strike a chord with them.

As we learn more about the recipients we also learn more about Simon and Nora and how the bookshop, leaky roof and all is the things that keeps them together and how they relish being part of a small community who appreciate the kindness from its residents.

If you want a book to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside then this is the book for you, the bonuses being it features a bookshop and some great reads as well which you could quite easily take away as recommendations if you have not read them already.

Very different feel for me than some Christmas books I have read and it deals with current issues; mental health, loneliness, separation, probably more highlighted at the moment during the current pandemic. But there was something almost magical contained with the pages of the book as if I was watching some film, it felt American, but I cannot put my finger on why whilst reading it. However, I discovered afterwards that the author was born in America. I wish I could pin down what it was, the book reminded me of the Christmas books I have read by Debbie Macomber and I think that is a closest comparison I am going to get.

A book that can start your festive reading off if you have not started yet.

 

Thanks to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read the book. 

The Six Tales of Christmas is out now. 

Books

The Chalet – Catherine Cooper

A debut novel, a setting that perhaps would have turned me off – the French Alps. The thought of skiing not something that has ever interested me. However, the luxury, the mystery and the murder had me hooked from page one.

1998 – Will and his brother Adam, with respective girlfriends find themselves skiing. Not necessarily the choice of them all but still a holiday that is going to change all of their lives forever.

Will and Adam have a testosterone fuelled one-upmanship that is simmering beneath the surface of both brothers and when the opportunity to perhaps put it to the test on the slopes presents itself it seems too good an opportunity to miss.

Cameron and Andy, ski guides meet Will and Adam, out of the four of them only three return and their lives are changed forever?

2020 – Hugh and wife Ria are here to impress Simon and his wife Cass to get Simon to invest in Hugh’s business. The one-upmanship has a different purpose now. But the slopes are the same, the snow is the same and amongst a fierce snowstorm the likes that no one has seen for over twenty years; a body is discovered.

Whose body is it?

And can the four people from the past and the four people from the future have connection to it?

Told across dual timelines, a plot device that I enjoy in historical fiction works really well in this novel. Not only are we getting the movement of back and forth we are seeing everything from the different point of view of the main characters. It doesn’t always work, in this book it excels and adds to the build up of tension.

Don’t make your mind up about what you think about one character? Immediately the author twists that on its head and shows you a different version?

All these versions, these sets of events and beliefs result in a real pacey novel which had me hooked and add to that the claustrophobia of being trapped in a chalet with people you don’t know, in the midst of a snowstorm. I felt I was trapped and the only way out was to solve the mystery.

An excellent debut novel and if this is what to expect in the future from this author then I am ready for the next novel. A contender for one of my favourite books of the year. And as for skiing – still not interested!

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Chalet is out now. 

 

Books

The Cornish Cream Tea Summer – Cressida McLaughlin

I wanted a second book, a sequel, a follow on to the Cornish Cream Tea Bus and I have got it in abundance with story.

Charlie now settled into her way of life in Cornwall serving the best cream teas in the area and with the added bonus of being able to also provide tours of the local area as you drink in not just the views but the tea as well.

Of course nothing runs smoothly and when Charlie’s cousin, Delilah descends on to Porthoglow and straight into life with Charlie and life on the bus it seems that the perfect existence might be a but unsettled for a while.

Delilah is running from something, but it seems to follow her all the time. Delilah likes to become all consuming involved in things and when she signs up the Cornish Cream Tea Bus to be part of on site catering for a new period drama then there is bound to be a few issues. Especially when she doesn’t check with Charlie first!

But Charlie gives her a chance and along with her rather interesting coffee concoctions, she feels safe to leave Delilah alone on the bus whilst she goes away.

Surely nothing can go wrong?

In the midst of he glitz and the glamour of working on a tv set, it seems Delilah has had her head turned and she may have inadvertently found her niche in life where she was least expecting it.

What she also didn’t expect to find was love?

These things don’t happen to Delilah it will all end in disaster, so Delilah needs to react quickly. Are her actions the right ones and can she really find the thing she has been hiding from all these years?

This is another mouth watering tale from Cressida who writes such honest and warm books filled with delightful characters and delicious food. There has to be more to tell from this bus and the lovely characters created in this and the first novel and I am thrilled that there is to be a sequel.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Cornish Cream Tea Summer is out now. 

 

Books

Finding Love at the Christmas Market – Jo Thomas

Connie caters for the local care home and she has made friends with this eclectic mix of elderly men and women. So much so that they are just invested in Connie’s happiness as they are in their own. Connie is trying to find love and after some rather disastrous mistakes it seems she has forged a burgeoning friendship with Hendrich online and now it is time to meet.

Thanks to Pearl, one of the care home residents it looks like Connie is about to do that and she can see if he ticks all the boxes.

However Connie did not expect to be bringing Pearl and the other residents on a trip to Germany to a Christmas market along with her on her first date. It all seems to be going well until Connie finds herself stuck between two different versions of Christmas, of two Christmas markets, Christmas memories and also Christmas romance.

Is having a list the right way to start a relationship?

As we see Connie and Hendrich on various dates, we also see how Pearl and the gang start embarking on all the things they miss and love about Christmas. It seems that one Christmas market has the answer when the other perhaps doesn’t have what everyone is looking for.

I immediately warmed to Connie and her care home residents. It was as if she was giving them an adventure all of their own whilst the one she was planning was not going the way she wanted it to. Hendrich was not the man that I was expecting and was willing Connie to see what I could as the pages went by.

Was I going to get a happy ending?

Ha! That would be telling and why would I want to ruin your own trip to the Christmas Market. If you go, make sure you choose the right one!

I am relatively new to Jo Thomas novels and if this is the quality of the writing and the development of the characters then I am going to spend many a happy day going back and reading all her earlier work.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

Finding Love at the Christmas Market is out now. 

 

Books

Away with the Penguins – Hazel Prior

At 85 Veronica McCreedy thinks her life is almost done. Perhaps it was not the one she ever imagined but there you are. That is until she sees a documentary on Adelie penguins and decides that is what she wants to do, see these penguins for real and to make a lasting impact on the world. If helping other poor creatures than so be it.

What she doesn’t know that is perhaps Veronica is helping more than the penguins. Her very isolated life is kept busy with litter picking, telling Eileen her carer come companion of sorts to shut doors, the crossword in the Telegraph and wildlife documentaries.

The image that is painted of Veronica to begin with is a women who may well be determined, dogged in her ways but one whose mind is perhaps starting to fail her. The loss of the glasses, the mirrors needing to be removed (and then rehung) is written so beautifully that you cannot really believe the author then transports this woman to Antarctica.

Because that is where Veronica ends up, on the South Shetland Islands, accessible via a ship that docks every three weeks at a project for Adelie Penguins where three researchers have the basic facilities, food and tolerance for each other. They do not want anyone else and certainly someone who could perhaps end their days thousand of miles from anywhere.

Veronica makes an impact not just on the other researchers but also she starts to see some parallels in the life she has led with this penguins that she has grown fond of.

Miles away in Bolton, is Patrick. Initially thought of as a waste of space, a drain on the benefit system not stuck to anything, of little purpose now that his girlfriend has dumped him, who whiles away his days growing weed and trying to survive. But Veronica McCreedy enters his life too.

After a false start, Patrick becomes fascinated with Veronica and diaries reveal what happened to her in her past. When an email from one of the researchers startles Patrick into some action, he finds himself in this remote place with an old woman he barely knows, hand raising a baby chick penguin.

Can everyone reconcile themselves to their actions of the past and the events that may have shaped them and can this now move everything forward to a better future.

This book takes your breath away, the cold of the Antarctic so richly described you can almost feel it biting your nose as you watch Veronica amongst these penguins, learning about life and survival. This is a quiet book, the noise is absorbed in the snow that surrounds them all.

I came away from the story where I felt I knew Veronica’s life fully, there were no more secrets to be discovered and that she recognised that what happened to her was continuing to happen not just to Patrick but also these delightful penguins she fell in love with.

I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, the story that is contained delighted, humoured and humbled me in equal measure and was a great surprise and truly original.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

Away with the Penguins is out now and was featured on Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 Show in the Book Club slot as well as Richard and Judy’s choice for this winter. 

 

 

Books

The Windsor Knot – S.J. Bennett

There is only one Queen of Crime (Agatha Christie if you don’t know) but what if the Queen was involved in solving crime. Well she needs to fill her days somehow between all the papers, visits and family battles surely?

After a small gathering of a select few people, a Russian pianist is found dead in his room in rather strange circumstances.

As the police, secret services and other government departments descend at Windsor Castle what originally looked like suicide is in fact murder and it needs to be kept to minimum information not just for the public but also for the Queen. She does not need to be bothered with such things.

But when her servants seem to be targeted as preparators because of their backgrounds or interests, the Queen is bothered and the so called Russian interference seems to be the obvious conclusion.

Helping the Queen is her new Assistant Private Secretary, a young dynamic former solider called Rozie, who has some very useful skills and had no idea about the Queen’s other interests until she realises why her predecessor left her certain instructions.

However, Elizabeth is a lot more canny than her faithful servants realise and when she can see that the police are heading in the wrong direction, she does in her inimitable way direct them back. Of course she makes it look like it was all their own idea!

This really is an exuberant take on the cosy mystery genre and has some good research done on it, to understand the workings of the the Royal Family and also the descriptions of Windsor Castle. There are some humorous moments and it had me laughing out loud and what seems like the absurdity of it all but then really do not know what goes on behind palace walls, do we?

Perfect for fans of crime, the Royals it is all just terribly British and l loved it!

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Windsor Knot is out now. 

Books

October Roundup

October ends and another lockdown looms within a couple of days. October normally seems a long month but it seems to have flown by with a plethora of books. Let’s just take some time away from the global pandemic.

Of course Christmas books still feature and even better when they feature a beloved series which I absolutely adore Nancy Revell – A Christmas Wish for the Shipyard Girls. The saga continues with all my favourite characters and because it is Christmas it always adds a lovely dimension despite it being in the middle of the war.

I know many people opt for Christmas weddings (I think I would too – though someone would need to ask me first!). Phillipa Ashley – A Surprise Christmas Wedding takes us to the Lake District instead of her normally stomping ground of Cornwall to plan the wedding of the year. I thoroughly enjoyed being transported to the Lake District and would love to be able to spend time there, I hope Phillipa takes us back there one day.

Katie Ginger – Winter Wishes at Swallowtail Bay also features a wedding and it is the wedding that is going to save the hotel in Swallowtail Bay where the trilogy comes to it’s conclusion. Again, I was swept away into the magic of Christmas and romance and how that perhaps we need to keep true to all of our wishes whatever they may be.

Wanting to put my feet up from all those weddings what better way to escape that to a lovely Christmas market and experience the smells, the tastes, the scenes in Jo Thomas – Finding Love at the Christmas Market. I am relatively new to Jo Thomas books, though I have seen them on shelves before now and this is only the second I have read, but this was just as joyous and took me on a trip abroad with a band of merry makers of a certain vintage. What a wonderful piece of escapism when we are all limited in where we can go at the moment.

Some people don’t like moving far from what they know and I was wonderfully surprised to be going back to a place I know; Hope Farm with Carole Matthews – Christmas for Beginners. This is a place for all things broken both animal and child and even adults to be put back together and be able to show the world the sort of person that they are. It is a place that I hope Carole Matthews returns to again.

Many a Christmas card has a penguin or two adoring the front but what if you got the chance to see the real things in their natural habitat. Well the next best thing is reading Hazel Prior – Away with the Penguins which is going to be ‘one of those’ books. Very much in the vein of Harold Fry and it is a book which is gentle despite the harsh landscape of the Antarctic, it was like an Attenborough documentary with a story. Beautiful and quiet.

I don’t think a month has gone by without some sort of murder happening on this blog, book wise of course. I wanted to get ahead of the game for when the Kenneth Branagh version of the film come out and tick another one off the list so it was Agatha Christie – Death on the Nile that I picked it up. I knew what happened I have seen the film and Suchet version often enough but you can’t help marvel at the original work and the little grey cells of Poirot and when you know, you can see all those little clues and red herrings.

Christie is without a doubt the Queen of Crime but it seems she may have a rival on her hands and this time it is the Queen herself. S.J. Bennett – The Windsor Knot is a new murder mystery series which features yes The Queen, Elizabeth II as the solver of crimes, ably assisted by her private secretaries who all have secret about the real goings on behind those palace doors. And when a body is found in Windsor Castle it seems the Queen’s nose for finding out the truth twitches once more.

Like reading too many Christmas books that could merge into one, you can end up doing the same with cosy mystery series where they are set in certain eras and with the same protagonists. At the moment I have opted for Helena Dixon – Murder on the Dance Floor which takes me to inter war years, in a hotel with the delightful Kitty Underhay who manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time but also has some personal mysteries of her own to solve.

Trying to solve mysteries would sum up the whole of Philip Pullman – The Subtle Knife. Again in the interest of completeness I wanted to read the book before the new series started on the television. Fantasy, Science Fiction or however you might categorise this book is not normally my choice of book, but these are so well written that I am rather intrigued by it all and now I have read this, I need to progress to the third in the Dark Materials trilogy.

It has been a while since I abandoned a book, but I did this month. What bothered me more was that it was from an author I have read before and this time it really was not working for me. It all seemed robotic and as if a machine had churned out the story with no real depth of feeling to the characters or even the setting. That is to say the book just did not work for me – it has worked for others. It was immediately obvious when I chose another book and started to fly through that and knew the writing was exactly what I was looking for and that is the book I carry on reading into November.

Happy Reading for November in whatever restrictions you find yourselves under.

Books

Christmas for Beginners – Carole Matthews

We first met Molly in Happiness for Beginners and her wonderful eclectic mix of animals and children on Hope Farm.

The farm having had to be moved has reinvented itself with more vim and vigour than before and with a new more spacious caravan with indoor facilities, Molly is starting to feel more at home here than ever before. Even Shelby Dacre, well known actor’s son Lucas seems to be thriving in such a place. It is a shame that the relationship between Shelby and Molly is not thriving.

Knowing that Molly is somewhat reliant on the funds provided by her boyfriend, she does not want to become beholden to Shelby and wants to look at a way of raising funds, to keep the farm the special place it has become for all waifs and strays be it animal or human.

An Open Day in the run up to Christmas with a full nativity seems to be the way to go, along with stalls, Christmas delights and of course a rather camp sequinned Santa. Molly cannot think of anything worse than having to interact with all of these other people, she is most happy interacting with the animals or challenged children. But she knows that she needs to face some of her own challenges if she is going to make a success of the day, the farm and hopefully her relationship with Shelby.

However, Shelby is facing his own challenges and it sees his career take a different path and if Molly wants to continue with her relationship some changes will need to be made. And what of Lucas in all of this, surely his feelings need to be considered?

As Christmas approaches and the thought of a lovely family time seems to be disappearing across the horizon, Molly has enough to deal with, teenage angst, domestic abuse, sickness, some misbehaved alpacas, an anti social sheep and a couple of turkeys. It seems that perhaps the hope at the farm and for Molly is no longer there.

Only some Christmas magic is going to help.

This is a wonderful follow up to Happiness for Beginners and I felt I was transported back to the farm and simply picked up where I left of as if I was part of the family. This is the beauty of Carole Matthew’s books, I was swept away with some real difficult issues but with an abundance of love and interesting characters I was going to have a magnificent second visit. Carole please can I come and visit Molly and Hope Farm again?

Perfect for anyone who wants a real lift in this difficult times and if you can pick up Happiness for Beginners first you are going to have the best time at Hope Farm and I am jealous that you get to discover it all for the first time.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

Christmas for Beginners is out now.