Books

The Mitford Murders – Jessica Fellowes

The Mitford Sisters have always fascinated me. How six women made such an impact on social and political history throughout the twentieth century. The people they knew and associated with jump from the pages of a history book.

When I first saw this title, I was intrigued. even more so when I learnt the author is related to Julian Fellowes* of Downton Abbey fame. There must be a storytelling gene somewhere in them there Fellowes!

But whilst this is a story, this is also a book based in reality, based in truth but I am not going to give anymore away about what reality and what truth – because like me you can read the book and find out in the end.

Louisa Cannon lives with her mother and an unpleasant Uncle, teetering on the border of poverty in London.

She finds herself escaping her uncle and going to work at the Mitford’s Oxfordshire home where she becomes a maid and companion to the Nanny and the small Mitford girls but also a friend and confidante with Nancy Mitford the eldest. Her life is going to change and Nancy sees Louisa as a way to escape the confines of being in society.

Florence Nightingale Shore related to her namesake and a nurse as well finds herself on a train at the same time as Louisa, the two do not know each other but their lives are about to become entwined especially as one ends up dead and the other making her own investigations.

This is a book which is a mix of fact made into wonderful fiction. The settings are perfect, the insight into the Mitford Sisters early upbringing intriguing although of course we  do not know how much poetic license has been taken, but the infamy perhaps gives you an idea of the characters they were when they were small.

This really is a different murder mystery book, but also seems to sit right in the Golden Age Mystery category. I am intrigued as to how the next book will pan out and what fact or reality is going to be featured and just how will the Mitford’s fit in. There is so much scope with setting yourself such a task.

* His adaptation of Mary Poppins for the stage is phenomenal!

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

The Mitford Murders is out now. 

I loved this book but I do know that the review does not do it justice. That is what comes from being so busy that finding time to review was so difficult and I have lost the momentum you have when you want to sing from the roof tops about a book! Note to self – must try harder!

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Books

November Roundup

November by tradition is always a quiet month for reading, this year even more so as it was a ‘zero’ birthday for me and much was taken up with celebrating. I am still eating the birthday cake.. don’t worry it is fruit, well made so, well-preserved.

It has very much been a Christmas month for me and catching up with people who I have come across in this years reading.

I only recently read The Canal Boat Cafe so I was delighted to see that there was more to follow with Cressida McLaughlin – The Canal Boat Cafe Christmas: Port Out where they reach Little Venice in London for some Christmas themed cakes and some ghost of Christmas past! And if you go Port Out you always go Starboard Home and that is lined up ready for reading in December.

I was lucky enough to complete the trilogy of Butterfly Cove and got to spend and early Christmas with the lovely Mia, Kiki and Nee in Sarah Bennett – Christmas at Butterfly Cove. It is always a sign of good writing and good stories that makes me sad to leave a place and that is certainly the case with this particular book.

I have mainly been disappointed by some of Tilly Tennant novels , they seem to not grab me as much as some other authors do but prepared to have my mind changed I embarked on Tilly Tennant – A Very Vintage Christmas. Sadly it was a book which could have been so much more, I do have the second in this Christmas selection she has written but I approach it with some trepidation.

Cornwall has featured heavily in many setting and plot in books I have read over the last couple of years and was probably one of the reasons I picked up Liz Eeles book back in May. I venture back for a colder and probably wetter Christmas in Liz Eeles – Annie’s Christmas by the Sea which was a lovely tale.

With all this jollity and festiveness what about a little bit of murder. This is the first in a series of novels, featuring each of the Mitford Sisters in turn. Jessica Fellowes – The Mitford Murders starts with the eldest Nancy who becomes embroiled in a murder on a train. What makes it even more intriguing is that some of the book is actually based on real life events. But I am not going to tell you which – you can read the book and find out for yourself.

So that was November, and to add a bit less Christmas and a bit more excitement I finished it reading Paula Hawkins second novel Into the Water – more of that in December.

 

Books

Murder at the Mill – M.B. Shaw

Iris Grey is staying at Mill Cottage, in Hazelford, a Hampshire Village. Not only is she escaping from her failing marriage but she has also been commissioned to paint Dom Wetherby’s portrait.

The Mill is the house where Dom Wetherby lives, a famous crime writer whose books have sold millions and have been made into television programmes. But now it is time for him to retire his most famous detective and his writing. The portrait is one of the gifts that his wife, Ariadne gives him.

Iris is drawn into the Wetherby family as she starts to paint Dom. She starts to see the real man and not the facade as she spends time with him.

Invited to their Christmas Eve party, Iris watches as Dom and Ariadne greet welcome and unexpected guests. There is history at this party, there is hate at this party and there is a story to tell.

When a body is found on Christmas Day floating in a nearby stream, it seems that the party may have been the catalyst for what followed.

Iris, intrigued by what has happened and encouraged by a Wetherby family member she starts to ask some questions and hopes to get to the truth of the matter.

This is a rather light cosy murder mystery. For me it took too long in setting the scene before predictably you got to the dead body. I found it meander for far too long once the body had been found and it had a slightly unbelievable element to it in the process of detection and the denouement. The clues were there, the red herrings obvious and whilst I worked it out fairly early on, it did nothing to make me doubt my theory.

As someone who has read many Agatha Christie who can pull a punchy story in around 200 pages, this book is in fact 200 pages too long. It is a pleasant diversion and was the perfect book for an easy read after a hard day.

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

Murder at the Mill is published on 30 November. 

I have never read any Tilly Bagshawe who is the author behind this book and this book, the first in what looks to be a series is a step in different direction for the author. I do wonder if perhaps this first book should be given the benefit of the doubt and perhaps the second will be stronger. I will have to wait and see.

 

 

Books

By the Pricking of My Thumbs – Agatha Christie

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford visit an unpleasant aunt in a home. From this typically unlikely beginning, murder and all kinds of excitement develop, to the point when Mrs Beresford meets the mass killer in the secret room of the house.

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes

Divided into four books we are back with Tommy and Tuppence who are drawn into a rather peculiar mystery. And if the cover of the edition I read is anything to go by, something quite frightening or perhaps something desperately wicked.

I knew the story, but not the actual story. My warped version came from a television adaptation (more on that later) so I had a rough idea of the story and knew whodunnit. Perhaps not the right way to tackle a book but I wanted to know what happened and how the conclusion was reached.

I have always found Tuppence Beresford a bit wishy-washy, and this book lived up to that, but actually I think this part of her character which is what enables her to go off on these hunches when she remembers houses from trains, that later reappear in pictures and what elderly old women say when incarcerated in rest homes. None of it seems relevant or useful to Tommy Beresford but when you have been married as long as he has to Tuppence he knows there is perhaps a grain of something in her thought process.

We have the facts early on, but despite me knowing the answer I could not see how it was all going to come together.  Is that the beauty of Christie? I just think it might be.

Tuppence gets into some scrapes, but she is on to something and it takes a bit of Tommy’s past skills to find out where she is when she fails to come home to him. Of course Tuppence’s task is a simple one, to return a picture to its rightful owner, Mrs Lancaster after she gifted it to Tommy’s Aunt. How can one picture cause such trouble?

This is only the second Tommy and Tuppence that I have read and I have to confess they are a funny pair and in this book, they have aged. The only characters of Christie to do so within real-time of the books being published I learn.

I got into Tommy and Tuppence when back in 2015, an adaptation of a couple of their novels was made by the BBC with David Walliams and Jessica Raine. I enjoyed them, but didn’t hit the mark with the critics and subsequently was not recommissioned. Shame because I liked it. However they did not pick this particular story to adapt, but it has been adapted by ITV within the Marple series.

Some things you need to know:

Miss Marple does not appear in the original story in any way shape or form. There might be some veiled references to the innocent observations of little old ladies but no Miss Marple.

The book is set much longer after the Second World War, and neither of them were still involved with the security services anymore.

Tuppence is not an alcoholic who feels she has missed out on life and been passed over, because she is a woman, a mother and now suffering badly with empty nest syndrome.

Additional storylines of American Air Force, turning village girls heads does not appear, film premieres with precocious children are not part of the plot either. And the names of the villages are very different.

I could go on, but I won’t. However for a Sunday night television drama and without causing much offence it is a reasonable programme and it has everything I suppose you need in such a thing.

However like a lot of things it cannot beat the book – this is the case with By The Pricking of My Thumbs. Although perhaps choose your choice of cover carefully, mine is creepy and the back cover has a picture of Christie herself, staring out at me from my bedside table. I am not sure that the cover conveys the right message. I do prefer something much less weird.

I read this book as part of the 1968 Club which is run by Simon and Karen. I have joined in nearly all of them and have found it a great way to make a dent in the back catalogue of Christie. She wrote so much!

 

Books

October Roundup

So there goes October, a funny month. The weather cannot make its mind up, I have been full of cold and yet I am still swimming outside! And so begins the countdown to Christmas and the reading continues apace with it.

Lily Graham – Christmas at Hope Cottage is one of those magical Christmas stories that fill you with hope and food. There is some magic food happening on the tables of Hope Cottage.

Of course you need a drink with Christmas and it will depend on what your favourite tipple might be. I expect you can guess what mine is? Catherine Miller – Christmas at the Gin Shack sees us return to octogenarian Olive and her friends as they discover more about Gin and friendship in difficult times.

If you only have time for a few short stories then turn to Katie Fforde – The Christmas Stocking and other Stories, if you are a fan of this author you will recognise some but still read them because they are brilliantly written and capture the spirit of Christmas is just the right amount of pages. The new stories are just as capturing.

It cannot all be about Christmas in October, which is why I have gone back a bit to Summer and picked up a book that has been sitting on myself for an age. Cressida McLaughlin – The Canal Boat Cafe, why I had not read this sooner when I enjoy the author I do not know. However I was transported away to the freedom of a Canal Boat and the wonderful Summer who is struggling to make a go of a very different lifestyle, especially when it seems many are against her. I am also thrilled to see that two short stories, Christmas themed of course are due out following on from this story so I read it just at the right time.

Another book which was a sort of serendipity to me was Poppy Dolan – The Woolly Hat Knitting Club. I love crafts and in the middle of doing quite a bit of knitting, for myself and for others. In particular the little babies born at my local hospital. If you are a fan of knitting then this book is a must and if you want to knit something yourself then get in contact and I can direct you to some great patterns. I am looking forward to seeing what Poppy writes about next.

I always enjoy getting into a saga and I have this year with Nancy Revell and the Shipyard Girls series. I have read books one and two and was thrilled to be able to get hold of book three. Nancy Revell – Secrets of the Shipyard Girls is a good read and it was lovely to be back amongst women that you have grown to know and admire as war still rages and loves still has to conquer all, no matter what stands in its way.

Sometimes with all these ‘nice’ reads as I call them, you need something which is a bit more meaty with the odd dead body or two. So I was intrigued by what is to be a new series of books by an author I have heard of but not read, publishing under a different name is how I came to get M.B.Shaw – Murder at the Mill. It sounded promising but for me did not really live up expectation. I think I have read too many Agatha Christie.

Which leads me to the 1968 club and my choice which was Agatha Christie – By The Pricking of My Thumbs. I try and participate when I can in these clubs as it is a useful way for me, to be able to make my way through Christie’s catalogue!

So that is it for October, my netgalley shelves are positively bowing with the weight of books that I have requested and I have more actual books wandering around my house looking forlorn by not being read. So time for more reading.

Books

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

A woman walks into a funeral directors to arrange her funeral.

Six hours later she is dead.

Coincidence?

Murder?

A private detective, Daniel Hawthorne has been called in by the police to help with this case. A consulting detective like Holmes or Poirot but with a character and manner all of his own. So gruff and strange I could not be anything but fascinated by him. Hawthorne is private in many ways, we know little about him and whilst he was once a police inspector, it takes us a while to find out what happened.

The narrator of this story, is drawn into Hawthorne’s world.

The narrator is in fact an author, who has used Hawthorne before to help in his research in previous novels and television adaptations. Here you can quite easily think Watson to Holmes, Hastings to Poirot. Except this author, this narrator, we all know.

It is in fact Anthony Horowitz.

All of a sudden, The Word is Murder becomes part autobiography, part fiction and part fact and it was actually fascinating to learn all about Horowitz’s world as an author and script writer, to  the idiosyncrasies of the publishing and television world. A parody but actually not  – more a reality, a truth.

But just like us as readers, Horowitz is drawn to Hawthorne and the murder of the woman hours after arranging her funeral. He is reluctant to become involved but something draws him back to Hawthorne, because it is not just the murder to unpick Horowitz needs to understand the detective as well. Without that surely he will never have a book.

This is an interesting book, where you have to remind yourself when you are reading, what bit could be true and what part was the fiction of the story being weaved by Horowitz as he helped Hawthorne (not a real person) complete his investigation.

I chose not to go into much detail about the murder in this review, mainly because I am always too frightened of giving some obvious clue and rendering anyone else reading the book as a pointless exercise.

A cleverly crafted novel which will appeal to fans of murder mysteries. I would not put it down as a thriller but it is certainly a page turner. Very different to Magpie Murders published last year but both of these books have the potential to be developed further.

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

The Word is Murder is out now. 

 

 

Books

September Roundup

I hate to say it but after a lovely summer of reading, I have hit the Christmas reading already – what I hear you cry. It is still autumn and we haven’t even put the clocks back yet.

But the nights are getting darker earlier and I am waking up on int he dark to drag myself out to go swimming before work, so it can only mean that Christmas is really on its way. I even confess to having made a couple of lists for presents.

So the festivities have started with Holly Martin – Christmas at Mistletoe Cove. I really do like Holly’s books and read this series of books which concludes with Christmas on the Scilly Isles.

Funnily enough, coincidence perhaps, the next Christmas read was Phillipa Ashley – Christmas on the Little Cornish Isles: The Driftwood Inn. This also happens to be set on the Scilly Isles. It is the first in a new series of books from this author who I have to say produces books which are a great read.

Christmas funnily enough is covered in Judith Kinghorn – The Snow Globe but rather than being contemporary, this takes you back to the mid 1920s. Romance is around, but sometimes the choices you make are not always ‘seen’ to be the right ones.

So with Christmas out-of-the-way, let’s get back to summer and something a bit more warming and Katie Fforde – Summer of Love. I am a fan of Katie’s work and whilst I read the new books when I can if I can get hold of a copy, I am busy working my way through her back catalogue. Still got a few books to get through yet.

Summer makes you think of swimming and if you are lucky, lidos. I chose The Lido Girls  – Allie Burns when it appeared as a choice on netgalley. But the book was not for me and I abandoned it, the first this year and felt as I normally do quite ruthless, but some books just don’t work and when you have lots more to read then I feel I cannot waste time ploughing through a book which I get no enjoyment from.

I know I am going to get enjoyment and a laugh from Sarah Millican – How to be Champion and was thrilled when it popped up on netgalley. Even more thrilled to be approved and read a copy. If she makes you laugh, then without any doubt this book will too. I am going to get a copy for myself as I didn’t get to see the pictures and the formatting was a bit adrift on my kindle, so it did make for disjointed reading. But a ‘champion’ book!

I have noticed when you pick books up from netgalley that they can start you discovering one place and you have to go back and keep reading more about it, that is certainly the case with a few of the books I have got hold of lately. Which is why I chose and have read Ellen Berry – The Bakery on Rosemary Lane which takes us back to the Yorkshire village where new business are popping up and contentment is being found.

Looking back over the year I have read quite a lot of contemporary womens fiction. You get drawn certain ways with books and you just have to keep reading them. I know some are very similar it setting and style. If the writing is good, the plot believable and the characters three-dimensional then I carry on reading. Now and again I do like to throw in something different and this month besides an autobiography it was Anthony Horowitz – The Word is Murder. A different take on a murder mystery book and one which involved the author himself. Confused, you could well be but it is worth sticking with as it is a cleverly constructed novel.

So quite a good month for reading but there is plenty more to read so I must get on…..