Books

The Perfect Guests – Emma Rous

I said last year when I read this author’s debut novel that she was one to watch out for and I think that is the case.

This book has a lightness to it but still is a rather intriguing mystery. What seems like two independent stories, simply featuring the same setting, clearly have to link, but how and who are all these characters?

Raven Hall – Past

Beth turns up at this big house, out the way in the Fens on the east of the country. Her aunt who really does not want the responsibility of an orphaned niece, has brought her here to live with Markus, Leonora and daughter Nina. Nina is of the same age as Beth, and it is hoped that the girls will form a companionship, as Nina is rarely let out of the house. There is something odd about this family set up, when Nina falls ill it is left to Beth to fill a purpose, but the question is why?

Raven Hall – Present Day

The big mysterious house is the perfect setting for a murder mystery weekend. Sadie an actress waiting for her big break gets the opportunity to take part in the test event to presumably publicise these weekends. Needing the money and the purpose she jumps at the chance, to play Miss Lamb. She turns up and thinks this going to be easy money. One of the clues to the game is quite near the truth and it looks like that perhaps this might not be a game after all.

How does it all come together? Who are all these people and how can a simple game reveal all the past as it all comes tumbling out as people go missing, start feeling ill and turning up unexpectedly.

A book with twists and turns, I thought I could see the path the author was intending us to go on, but on some occasions I was wrong. For thriller fans, they may want something a bit more darker and gruesome, but a lot was said about the setting and the characters without it being said at all. The art of suggestion enabled the red herrings and the twists and turns to work for me.

For the infamous ‘second novel’ this was very good and I stand by my original thoughts – this is an author to watch.

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

The Perfect Guests is out now.

Books

Yours Cheerfully – A.J.Pearce

Following on from the wonderful Dear Mrs Bird, we are back with Emmeline Lake as she tries to break into some more serious journalism from her role on the women’s magazine – Women’s Friend.

Taking a more front line role in responding to the letters to the readers and inspired by the Ministry of Information’s call to get more women to take on men’s work, Emmy finds herself drawn to the Munitions’ factories.

With her close friend and housemate, Bunty they both meet a young woman, balancing life as a war widow, two young children and doing her built not just for King and country but simply for her own families survival.

Emmy finds herself drawn into these factory workers lives and the fact that they are juggling so much, she sees what these women really have to face and suddenly finds herself fighting their corner.

Alongside Emmy’s crusade for these women, helped by her friend, she is thrilled to be seeing more of her beau Charles and when an opportunity for him to more than do his bit, it seems their romance is about to speed up down the aisle.

We are yet again drawn into Emmy’s world and life on the home front during the second world war, as romances blossom and beaus are mourned. As women survive however they can without sacrificing everything they believe in, Emmy has to decide what is most important and a critical point in her life.

Although this book is set very much in the past, it resonated with me and there was something of the present battles that women are still facing to this very day. A book full of strength of female bonds, friendship and a common goal that drives them all.

I hope we get to go back between the pages of Women’s Friend as there is much more that Emmy can report on.

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

Yours Cheerfully is out now.

Books

The River Between Us – Liz Fenwick

This is the latest from Liz Fenwick and is a must for fans of historical fiction, big houses and the complexity of family.

Theo recently divorced finds herself starting again in The Boatman’s Cottage which is on the river bank bordering both Devon and Cornwall. The cottage is run down and has many secrets to tell and whilst Theo wants to restore it to show of it’s best, the gardens hold just as much of an attraction as the cottage itself.

The cottage formerly part of an estate which is now an hotel, Theo finds herself welcomed by the locals and when she discovers a box of letters in the cottage, she finds herself drawn back to the past and with the help of these new friends, discovers the mysteries.

Lady Alice, is about to be presented at court, it is the Edwardian period, war is on the horizon and the obvious route for Alice is marriage. However she has much to say on the path her life is supposed to take, and does so at the most inopportune moment. Destined never to be married, she is shipped off to a house in Devon, right by the Tamar river. The river just does not divide two counties, it divides two worlds. Two worlds that destiny has decided will meet when class clearly says it cannot.

For those who adore dual timelines, this is the book for you and I enjoyed the contemporary side of the novel as much as the past. Themes are reflected through both time periods and it shows how there are still prejudices, that there are still class divides now as much as their was in the past. They might be hidden amongst other behaviours but they are there all the same.

But what makes this book stand out for some others? The evocative nature of the sweeping landscape, the flowers and trees that are both appreciated in the past and the present. How something so male dominated as fishing is shown to be achievable whatever your gender. I was swept away with this novel as if I was paddling in the waters of the Tamar and adoring the flowers that were bringing new life around me.

Full of emotion, full of life and full of everything you need to make a first class book – The River Between Us is one of the best books of the year I have read.

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

The River Between Us is out now.

Books

A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea – Liz Eeles

Heaven’s Cove and Driftwood House, the B & B was first introduced to use in a previous book by this author. And we are swept back to this house, almost at the edge of the world, the sea power below as the world carries on even when everything else seems to be changing.

For Lettie Starcross, Driftwood House is the right place to escape to and perhaps she can get some answers to not just her late great aunts previous life in Heaven’s Cove but also some answers for herself. Portrayed as the Starcross Family’s resident drudge – she is there for the convenience of them all and none of it is helping her. I was immediately struck at how callous and ignorant her family were in treating Lettie, it made me want to spit! When Lettie up sticks to Heaven’s Cove it was clearly going to do more than just Lettie some good.

Great Aunt Iris leaves clues to her previous life in Heaven’s Cove but never spoke of why she left and what she left behind. Lettie, grieving for this lost stability in her life she seeks to find out about Iris past. Driftwood House it turns out was Iris previous home and her name still makes some of the older residents blanch when it is heard. Some memories run deep and history has a way of still affecting the present.

As Lettie learns more about her aunt and what happened, she also learns about the village and it’s villagers and finds herself drawn into someone else’s past which somehow makes her connect to Heaven’s Cove stronger and the pull seems greater than her previous life in London, with her family close by.

Events unfold and secrets are shared and the truth is finally known about a previous Starcross at the Last House by the Sea but will the past make the newer one finally find a place in the world.

A book whose backdrop of the rugged landscape and the weather is as prominent feature in these stories about Heaven’s Cove as much as the character’s. It gives it a sense of importance and reflects on how its powerful and beauty can be seen in the actions of those who live close by.

I really hope to go back to Heaven’s Cove…..if only I could stay in Driftwood House…..do find the time for a break away there.

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

A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea is out now.

Books

Murder at Elm House – Helena Dixon

If there is one thing you can rely on it is the fact that Kitty Underhay, the main protagonist in these stories is that she isn’t far from a dead body or two! Her Grandmother implores her to stay out of trouble and stick to running The Dolphin Hotel in Dartmouth, but Kitty now with ability to drive can go further afield now.

In this the sixth instalment, Kitty finds herself visiting Mrs Craven, one of her grandmothers friends and someone who always has their nose into everyone’s business. Kitty finds her quite a challenge and her acid tongue can be quite cutting. Recuperating from an operation at Elm House, Mrs Craven is convinced that something untoward is going on.

There are a lot of comings and goings at strange times of the night and whilst residents should be recuperating there seems to be a high amount of deaths. Kitty cannot help but investigate especially when it seems her attempt to find out what happened to her mother interests many people and puts her forefront of some rather unsavoury characters.

All of these threads that Kitty is investigating along with private investigator, Matt Bryant, who Kitty is now officially stepping out with seems all rather random and unrelated, but as the story goes one the body count gets higher and it seems that perhaps what Kitty was looking for was closer than she first thought.

Still featuring Alice, Kitty’s faithful employee at the hotel and one of my favourite characters for her forthrightness when it comes to Kitty’s behaviour coupled with her unwavering loyalty as well, they make an interesting duo when they investigate together. Dolly, Alice’s sister is working at Elm House and seems she might have innocently seen some of the answers to many of the questions that Kitty and Matt have. I do hope we get to see more of Alice and Dolly in future novels.

As the story reaches it conclusion, of course there are many questions answered, but still Kitty is seeking the truth about her mother and it looks like we might need to wait a bit longer for that one. And as for the fordable Mrs Craven, perhaps the events at Elm House might mellow her? I of course like everyone else will have to wait and see.

This is a delightful series of cosy mysteries set in Dartmouth, Devon in the mid Nineteen Thirties, full of humour, warmth and a bit of romance amongst the body count and the scrapes that Kitty and Matt find themselves in. I recommend you start at the beginning and catch me up!

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

Murder at Elm House is published on 7 June 2021.

Links to my reviews of the previous novels can be found below:

Murder at the Dolphin Hotel – Helena Dixon

Murder at Enderley Hall – Helena Dixon

Murder at the Playhouse – Helena Dixon

Murder on the Dancefloor – Helena Dixon

Murder in the Belltower – Helena Dixon

Books

The Glorious Guinness Girls – Emily Hourican

As the title suggests, this book is about the Glorious Guinness Girls and whilst this is a fictional story featuring real life people, it is very much a story which shows you the life that the privileged were leading both in Ireland and England in the nineteen twenties and thirties.

Fliss is the narrator of this story, a fictional character used as a vehicle to tell the story of Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh Guinness, the three daughters of Ernest Guinness of the famous brewing family. Fliss is sent to live with the three sisters in Ireland in the early nineteen twenties. Whilst she is educated along with the girls, she is stuck in this void of being not quite one of the family and not quite a servant. It takes a long time for Fliss to find her right purpose in life because for all it seems she will be indebted to this family forever.

Cosseted away from real life in Ireland during the civil unrest of the twenties it seems faintly ridiculous that three women simply cared about parties, practical jokes and frocks when all around them life was changing. They are briefly touched by this when Fliss brother, Hughie comes to visit and brings with him talk of a new life. It is only Fliss that can see the change, the three sisters are kept in their precious bubble.

As the family decamp to London, society again is very much at the forefront of this story. Think darling debutantes, balls, high jinxes and excesses of champagne, laughter and life this is the society that Aileen, Maureen and Oonagh are immersed in and with Fliss very much on the side-lines we see a very different perspective.

Whilst for me Maureen was the more dominant of sisters of the story, her actions towards others were not pleasant and with the additional thread of the story shows Fliss returning to the house in Ireland to make sure a secret is kept – a secret that involves Maureen. 

This is a book which only touches on the surface of the history of the Guinness girls, I implore you to do more of your own reading about them, I certainly did after I had finished. If you want to look at the book as a piece of historical fiction about the life of those “Bright Young Things” and a small part of Irish history then this book will fascinate you. 

 

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

The Glorious Guinness Girls is out now.  

Books

A Postcard from Paris – Alex Brown

Annie is rather dissatisfied with her life, her children have flown the nest and are treating her as some elderly woman who is about to croak her last. In fact Annie is in the prime of her life and she is worried she is letting it pass her by,

When her definitely elderly neighbour Joanie, inherits and apartment in Paris, Annie offers to go across and investigate this legacy and try to piece together how a lady with no relatives has been left an apartment in Paris above what looks to be an old fashioned shop.

Annie discovers the story of Beatrice ‘Trixie’ Crawford who left to be a nurse in First World War, through the Roaring Twenties and into the depths of occupied Paris in the Second World War. Told through letters or diary entries throughout the present day story we piece together who Trixie was and why it comes that Joanie is her sole benefactor.

As Annie discovers Trixie she discovers herself as well. Making friends with a loud brash American, Kirsten and widow Maggie who runs the place where Annie is staying they all discover that love can come in many forms. Of course being in the most romantic city in the world there has to be a touch of romance, and that was provided in bucket loads by the gorgeous Etienne.

This is a great introduction to historical fiction if it isn’t your normal choice of book. For me I would have liked more in the past and perhaps less of the present day story which was not really relevant to the story. That said, it was there to give an understanding to the character of Annie but could easily have been removed for more pages dedicated to Trixie and her story, which fascinated me more. This book holds your attention as you discover how everyone is related and get swept into the beauty of Paris, from the hidden streets and banks to the wonder of the Eiffel Tower all lit up.

A book which will take you away not just to the past but also to Paris without you even leaving your home. Perfect holiday reading at any time of the year.

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

A Postcard from Paris is out now.

Books

A Class Act – Gervase Phinn

This is the final book in the trilogy of the Top of the Dale school series from Gervase Phinn, which is set in the village school of Risingdale, as the trilogy suggests at the top of the dale – the Yorkshire dales of course.

Here we find that as the Eighties are coming to an end, so is the end for the career of Gerald Gaunt, headmaster of the school for a number of years. The other teachers, Miss Golightly, Ms Tranter, Mr Cadwallader and the young dynamic Mr Dwyer who is the main protagonist of these novels are all at cross roads in their lives.

Miss Golightly, might have some outdated teaching methods and materials for teaching the infants but none of her children leave her class without being able to read.

Ms Tranter, ex actress with a lot of drama in her personal life as well as her school life, encourages the youngsters to speak, to project and certainly not to lose their wonderful accents and dialects.

Mr Cadwallader, late to teaching and with a taste for garibaldi biscuits, still wants the children to able to understand everything around them

Mr Dwyer, a former professional footballer who has certainly now found his niche in life as he listens to what the children have to teach him as much as he makes them listen to him teach. His knowledge of sheep, cows and bulls is far more advanced than when he first arrived.

Amongst a village school is of course a village with all its locals and eccentrics, the lord of the manor, the vicar with a liking to his own voice, the landlady, the farmer and of course the wonderful children of the school.

This book is really tying up some loose ends, there are many. At times it seems that we skip rapidly through many life events to bring everything to a conclusion, but when you do you are treated to some real Yorkshire warmth and blunt humour and you really have to know the accent to be able to read some of the passages. It brings great joy to me as I can hear the accent of many of my relatives and can well imagine them saying some of it.

A book which is simple in it’s aim – to bring joy and warmth, through the story of the children and the innocence of what they say (though I warn you to look out for the shopkeepers malapropisms) as well as their thirst for knowledge and sometimes wise advice.

Certainly a class book to read for all those who love; children; education; teachers; village tales and Yorkshire!

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

A Class Act is out now.

Books

The Girl From the Island – Lorna Cook

Lucy was desperate to escape Guernsey as soon as she could, she felt trapped, that life wasn’t going anywhere and she would be better off living her life anywhere but there.

But when an aged relative, Dido dies she is called back to the island of her youth, and to Dido’s home as plans are made to put it up for sale. As she starts to put the house in order she discovers, some old papers and photographs. One of these is of someone called Persey, who was she and why do the sisters know nothing about her. Now with Dido dead, it seems there is no one to ask and Lucy decides to piece all the pieces together herself. It is a story that will be heart breaking and heart warming and perhaps makes Lucy look at life in a very different way.

The dual narrative of this book takes us back on occasions to the 1930s, still on Guernsey and then to the 1940s during the occupation by the Germans. Here two sisters have spent their childhood days of the 1930s playing around the island with no care in the world with the housekeeper’s son, Jack and the German boy Stefan who visits relatives during the summer months.

When their mother dies the same day as the occupation life changes forever for these two sisters and it seems as if those carefree days are now going to cause them pain and anguish.

This is a fascinating book which gives a real insight into life under German occupation on the island and shows the conflicts and battles that the islanders had to face as well as the occupying German forces as well. The book certainly pushed your expectations to make you think of both sides during the war and for that I commend it.

The stories interweave distinctly backwards and forwards and with an added piece of romance just made the story more intriguing as it added another element to the puzzle that Lucy was trying to solve about the house and its occupants.

This latest from Lorna Cook, like her previous novels takes an element of history that is perhaps overlooked or not given as much page space and weaves the fact with the fiction to create a story to draw you in and care. Care about the characters, the places, the storyline and the conclusion so it becomes a joyous occasion to have read the book. This is very much the case with The Girl From the Island.

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

The Girl From the Island is out now.

Books

The Sun Sister – Lucinda Riley

I have been holding onto The Sun Sister for reading when the time was right, I could have dived straight in but the trouble with that is Lucinda Riley’s novels are so well written that I feel so bereft when I have finished them.

The time has come for me to become involved in Electra’s story the sixth of the girls to be adopted by Pa Salt, the billionaire who has died at the beginning of all these novels and leaves clues as to where he found all of his daughters. I never had a warm feeling from what I knew of Electra when she had been mentioned in her sisters stories and she has been someone who has been described as aloof and rather scathing of her sisters and the paths that they have chosen to follow once they have found out where they belong in the world.

For Electra she is the person that is going to light up the room, she is rich, she is beautiful and is a famous model, known across the globe. It is this arrogance that comes across which makes her a character you are not going to warm to and for a while that was how I felt. As the story progresses you can see this was intentional.

Electra whilst beautiful is fragile and her fragility is masked through drink and drugs and as the story opens in New York, not long after the death of Pa Salt, it seems that Electra has reached crisis point. Those around her are trying to protect her and her image, but it seems that it is about to all come crumbling down until a letter turns up from someone…. her grandmother, Stella Jackson. Alive and well, living in New York and as famous as Electra but for many different reasons.

Stella Jackson has a story to tell and that will be the story of how Electra came to be. It is the late 1930s and we are taken from America to Kenya and we meet Cecily Huntley-Morgan a young American whose marriage prospects have hit a bump in the road and she goes to stay with her godmother in Kenya, specifically what was known as Happy Valley.

The core of the story begins and just like the heat of Kenya, the heat of the story and the plot gets more interesting and draws you right in. Cecily falls in love not just with the place and the area but with the culture and her life changes beyond all recognition to her American relatives who are half a world away as war rages across the globe. When Cecily meets and agrees to shelter a local girl from one of the tribes this simple action changes her life forever.

All around her well known real life characters of the Happy Valley interact with Cecily and we witness some real life events weaved around this wonderful story. I had a very vague knowledge of the ‘Happy Valley’ set and as with all Riley novels I was educated as much as I was enthralled with the plot and the characters. Drawing real life characters into a fictional story can cause problems, but not here, for Cecily it reiterates the strength of hers. She is so much like a fish out of water at the beginning that you can feel how much she does not fit in, something to what Electra is feeling in the modern day tale.

As the book moves back to Electra we are moved again to a very different hedonistic world from the one that many described the Happy Valley set to be. Electra’s addictions take her to a place where she learns a lot about what problems these addictions can cause and the life it leads people to exist in, very different to Electra’s privileged one, even when she was growing up. I found all of these scenes rather uncomfortable and you can see what a hold an addiction can become but it was the start of Electra finding her place in life.

Electra’s transformation in the face of it might seem rather contrived, but as the story has so many depths and we are taken back to the early days of her childhood and life with Pa Salt in the family home at Atlantis in Geneva we begin to understand more about her and the relationship she had with her adoptive father as well as her adoptive sisters. I am sure Electra has more to give but now we must make sense of the missing sister.

I feel I have been all over the world with Lucina Riley and the Seven Sister series and I have learnt so much from all of the places I have been. The fact that real life events, real people are simply weaved into the fictional tale is a testament to the skill of Riley’s writing and means that for me she is without a doubt one of my most favourite authors.