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White Lies and Wishes - Cathy Bramley

Jo, Carrie and Sarah meet at a friend's funeral and are struck by the fact that time could run out for any of them at a moment's notice. Driven by the idea to seize the day, and helped somewhat by the fact that they don't really know each other, they decide to make a 'wish list' of aims to be completed by September. But what they've said they want to do, and what they actually want to happen might not be the same thing after all...

This is a very easy to read book, in that I soon found myself a third of the way through it after trying to decide which book to read between two choices. The storyline involves the trials and tribulations of three women who all have different aims in life, who want to support each other to get those aims, but who might not have been completely truthful with the others. There are mishaps and misunderstandings along the way. But also there was a lot of self-denial, each of the protagonists were misleading themselves as to what they wanted, and as to how they had got in the position they found themselves before they made friends. Carrie used self-deprecating humour as a defence mechanism but also failed to see her role in why she felt so sad and alone in her marriage. Sarah's determination made her quite selfish when she was trying to please everyone and Jo failed to see what was in front of her, so driven was she to run the family business well.

I did like the characters in the book. Carrie who's shyness hides someone who does not love herself at all, blossoms as her friendship with Sarah and Jo develops. She begins to gain confidence, self-awareness that allows her bubbly demeanour and caring nature to emerge. Sarah likes to be the one to organise, to control aspects of her life. She is desperately trying to juggle life so she can do best by her family. As she gets to know the others it becomes apparent that she in not in control and learning to let go sometimes. Jo is determined and driven, putting her own life on the backburner as she contends with keeping her staff happy and employed and believing she doesn't need close friends but learning that there are benefits to having them after all. All three women before meeting were somewhat loners, with seemingly few friends to rely on they all blossomed as their relationships developed. There were some parts of me I recognised in each of them, Jo's romantic side, Sarah's guilt at returning to work after having a baby and Carrie's lack of self-confidence. I did feel however that sometimes it seemed that there was too much guilt and too much lack of self-esteem from the characters. I sometimes wanted to shake Sarah and Carrie and tell them to look properly at their situations, tell them to talk to their husbands, though that of course would have cut the story very short!

This is an enjoyable, gentle read, perfect for a spot of escapism. I like Cathy Bramley's novels and her writing style and luckily I have a couple of her earlier books to keep me going before her next one is published.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old - Hendrik Groen, Hester Velmans

Hendrik Groen is embarking on his 84th year. In order to keep boredom at bay he decides to keep a diary of his days in the care home he in which he now resides. His diary charts the ups and downs of the coming year and how he fights the boredom that threats his days. Who says you have to grow old gracefully?

I have to admit I’m not really looking forward getting older with the potential for loneliness, misunderstanding and my body letting me down. I am, however, looking forward to being curmudgeonly and have been happily practising that for years. I liked the sound of Hendrik Groen’s diary and so thought it would be interesting to read about aging from someone in the know.

The diary format makes the book easy to read, the justification for at least finishing the month meant that I soon found myself well into Hendrik’s year.

The care home houses a host of wonderful characters. The Old But Not Dead Club members are a lovely bunch of people determined to enjoy their twilight years rather than waiting for the end by sitting in their chairs. I looked forward to hearing about the latest trip organised by a member of the club. Hendrik’s new found freedom with his motorised scooter was lovely to read as was seeing his burgeoning friendships develop.

It was interesting to read about the dynamics of the care home, that bullies will emerge whatever the age, that some were only too happy to live in the past, rather than face a potential bleak future and that some fight aging in whatever way they can.

There are also touchingly sad moments. The health scares of Hendrik’s friends, the sad prospect of Alzheimer’s, the risk of falls and the waiting of the inevitable casts a pall over the end stages of life. The book also highlights how easy it is to forget that the elderly were once young. They once fell in love or had their hearts broken, raised families or suffered loss. They danced and sang and were happy and vibrant. And all of their experiences shaped them, made them who they are and remain with them until the end.

The book discusses a wide range of topics in a humorous and often moving way. The political landscape of The Netherlands is discussed, as are the arrangements and funding for elder care, race and religious issues and the question of euthanasia. All of this is told with gentle humour and occasional, understandable rancour.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen is a funny, moving, thought-provoking and poignant portrait of aging and society’s view of the elderly.

The Marsh King's Daughter - Karen Dionne

Helena was raised in the marshes. Away from other human contact, it was only ever her, her mother, who she distanced herself from and her father, who she loved and feared in equal measure. It is only when she finds out the truth about her unconventional family that her world is turned upside down. Fast forward and nearly 20 years later her father has escaped prison. The prison she helped put him in. Helena knows only she can find her father. For although he is a hunter, used to surviving in the marshes, he taught her everything he knows. And she is her father’s daughter….

 

I picked this novel up to have a quick look and soon found myself not wanting to put it down.

 

There is a darkness that runs through the novel, for obvious reasons given the subject matter. There is also sadness. The reader can’t help but feel for Helena, unaware as a child of her unique and tragic upbringing. Buffeted between love and cruelty the foundations for a regular life so taken for granted by most people are absent for her. Drawn towards her father who provides more obvious emotions of either love or violence, he is perhaps a clearer character to read than her mother. Unaware of the reason why her mother is with her father she simply sees someone who shows no emotions, not recognising until she is older, how her mother did show her affection.

The story draws the reader in. There is something compelling about the writing, the fascination of the violent situation the family revolves around. The narration moves between present day, when the true nature of Helena’s upbringing emerges and to the past, showing how she grew up in the marshes, being taught how to hunt and kill by her father. I looked forward to each viewpoint, finding a dark fascination with the younger Helena’s story. The alternating chapters lent themselves to the justification of ‘just one more chapter’ that saw me flying through the book.

 

There are limited characters in the book so the story is very much character driven, concentrating mainly on Helena and her father. Helena’s mother is there however, she is in the periphery, a constant presence but often not thought of by the father and daughter. Helena’s father a chilling character, a sociopath concerned only with his wants and needs, using Helena and her mother for those needs when required, discarding them at other times.

 

Helena is a more rounded character. The reader sees her as both an adult and a child and we can see how her character develops into the present day Helena. She is, to herself, more obviously her father’s daughter. A proficient hunter, though she has her family she still needs to escape them, to spend time alone. However, as she hunts for her father she comes to re-examine her relationship with her mother, coming to realise she has more of her character traits and that her mother did indeed love her.

Despite being set in the wilderness there is something claustrophobic about the story. The reader knows that Helena and her mother are effectively living in a prison, albeit one enclosed by rivers and forests.

 

This is a novel that is easy to see being adapted for the screen. Karen Dionne herself spent time living in the marshes with a small baby whilst her husband built a shack and the knowledge and experience is apparent in the writing.

 

This is a taut, gripping, well written story that enthrals and entertains in that unique way dark storylines can. I look forward to reading more from Karen Dionne in the future. Highly recommended.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont - Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Bailey

Mrs Palfrey, newly widowed, moves into the Claremont Hotel. She expects that she will not check out again until her death. Chosen for it’s location, with all the sights and sounds of London on it’s doorstep, it’s cheap rates and the proximity to her grandson, she is determined to make the best of it. But things aren’t as expected and the monotony is only lifted when she meets Ludo by accident.

 

This book quietly works its magic on the reader. Gently, slowly, it worms its way into your heart. There are no big scenes, no fast paced dialogue. It has beautifully evocative prose that allows the reader to easily envisage everyone and everything.

 

Ludo is of course using Mrs Palfrey, though she is not always aware of it. Using her as inspiration for his writing, whilst he doesn’t always actively seek her out he does come to value her friendship. It could be taken that Ludo should be vilified for this but his actions are so considered and considerate that the reader does not find Ludo to be the enemy. Indeed Mrs Palfrey herself is using Ludo. She uses him to save her own embarrassment but also to stave off her loneliness. She needs a friend, a connection to life and Ludo provides that connection.

 

The writing is understated yet beautifully done. It is only a short novel at 208 pages yet it does not feel that it has been under written. Everything that is contained in those 208 pages is a necessary part of the story. Any more pages would detract, and less would likewise.

 

There is a tragic edge to the story. It is after all about aging and the inhabitants of the Claremont have little to do but wait for death. Elizabeth Taylor’s insightful novel examines society’s view of the elderly and shows that it has not much changed in the last half century. It is both of it’s time and yet also ageless.

 

It is not just a tale of aging. It is also a love story, showing that love can develop over time, can be lost, won or indeed never really be where it is expected.

 

This is the first novel by Elizabeth Taylor I have read, so engaging was it, I read it in a day. It won’t be my last. I’m looking forward to discovering more from her.

Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law - Katherine Wilson

Katherine Wilson heads to Naples for work experience in the US Consulate. Little does she realise she will fall in love, with Naples, with Italy and with Salvatore and his family.

 

Only in Naples is a love story. A true story. It is a book about finding a home and a family on the other side of the world.

 

The more I read, the more I fell under the spell of the Neapolitan culture. It was a pleasure to read about the lives and loves of Katherine, Salvatore and his family. It was also interesting to see how cultures compared, the differences often stark to a non native such as Katherine, who in turn often provoked incredulity with her Italian family when she told them of US customs.

 

The book is not only a memoir of a love affair but is in fact a tale of a love affair with a country and a society. And also a culinary love story. It becomes apparent that food plays a major role in the lives of Neapolitans. Emotions are expressed through what is made. The amount of love that goes into preparing a meal is seen in direct proportion to the love felt by those who make the food for those who consume it. Food is used as allegories, as tokens of affection and as non-verbal communication. It can show courtship, romance, customs, history, compassion or signal the break down in a relationship. It also means that you will inevitably be hungry when reading this book.

It also made me keen to visit Naples. Katherine Wilson’s obvious love for the city is evident in the book. The writing is engaging and animated. I could easily imagine the scenes depicted and the more I read, the more I wanted to visit.

 

Only in Naples is not just a travelogue or a memoir. It is a book about learning to live in another country, to speak another language and to find ways of bridging cultural barriers. It is told with gentle humour and an engaging style.

What's in a name.

Just a little note to say I've changed by Booklikes profile name to match my blog name. So goodbye from Written Gems, hello from From First Page to Last :-)

Death in the Tunnel - Miles Burton

Sir Wilfred Saxonby sits alone in his locked compartment as the train he  is travelling on enters a tunnel. When the train emerges from the other side of the tunnel, Sir Wilfred is dead. All evidence indicates suicide but Inspector Arnold and his friend Desmond Merrion believe that murder is more likely. Can they outwit the seemingly perfect perpetrators?

 

A traditional ‘locked room’ mystery, Death in the Tunnel was the first of the British Library crime series I have read. The series features re-issues of various Golden Age crime novels, popular at the time but forgotten by the reading public until recently.

There were parts of the story where I was silently shouting at Arnold, telling him to stop being an idiot and see what was blatantly obvious to the reader and to Merrion. Of course he did get to the same conclusion, just several pages later. I had figured out the main motives and spotted the red herrings before the reveals but this didn’t alter my enjoyment of the story.

 

There is something comforting about Golden Age crime novels. The murders are clean, no gore or unnecessary violence. Usually the victim was disagreeable, no justification for murder of course, but lends to lots of suspects (from a small cast of characters) and perhaps a little understanding of their actions. There is the clever detective, amateur or otherwise, and their not so on the ball sidekick. The scenery is idyllic, the stories threaded with a sort of romanticism for a bygone age where glamour and understated opulence were the mainstays.  The stories are clear cut, easy to read and the guilty parties revealed and dealt with accordingly, order therefore being restored. They gentle tax the ‘little grey cells’ to borrow from one of the era’s finest detectives. Death in the Tunnel was reminiscent of this, even the cover suggests a long lost glamour.

 

This was a pleasant, gently paced novel with an old world charm, reminiscent of Sunday evenings watch Poirot or Marple adaptations. Happily I have all of the other British Library crime series novels to work my way through.

Before Everything - Victoria Redel

Before cancer, before aging, before children, before marriage, before divorce they were friends. The Old Friends, forged before everything.

 

When Anna’s cancer returns the Old Friends gather at her house. Ostensibly to say goodbye, some are having a harder time accepting that Anna is no longer fighting the battle against the disease. As friends both old and ‘new’ come to visit we see how Anna has affected the lives of her many friends.

 

There is no doubt that this is a sad story, a book about dying is bound to be, but it is also filled with bright moments. Recalls of family holidays, dinner parties, kitchen gatherings with children running wild intersperse the darker memories. The reader is taken through the trials that each of the Old Friends has had to endure, trials which have solidified the relationship between the five friends.

 

There are no big moments in Before Everything. The story takes us back to occurrences that have stood out in the lives of the women, and bring us to the present day when they have to come to terms with the fact that the Old Friends are going to alter irrevocably.  It is an examination of grief. Helen, Ming, Caroline and Molly are all trying to come to terms with the impending loss of their friend. Their anger, despair, sadness and love is examined throughout. Some refuse to allow Anna to ‘give in’, willing her, almost begging her to fight, as she has before. There are those who have to deal with their jealousy of Anna’s friends, both old and new. Victoria Redel deals with all of these emotions in an understanding and real way. No one appears too unreasonable, too annoying or too selfish.

 

Whilst the story does inevitably focus on death it is also the study of life. Of how a person affects others, how incidents and interactions can change the course of a person’s live, or just brighten someone’s day.

 

A gently paced, reflective story about living and dying.

The Wages of Sin - Kaite Welsh

Sarah Gilchrist, sent to Edinburgh in disgrace, has fought for and won her right to study medicine. When not at university she helps in an infirmary for poor women and children. When she is faced with the body of one of her patients Sarah is sure that the woman died by someone else’s hand. Determined to find out the truth, and with no one to help her, will Sarah find herself out of her depths, and in the path of danger?

 

I was soon caught up in the story, eager to find out who had killed Lucy and why. I was also eager to see how Sarah would copy with all of the adversity in her way and for the reason for her being ostracised from society.

 

I spent most of the novel feeling angry. Angry at the way Sarah is treated. Angry at how society viewed women. Perhaps to be expected by men of the time, it was the treatment of her by other women that stung the most. Being ostracised from her family for something that was not her fault, to teeter on the edge of society and be beholden to her relatives meant she showed a great deal of moral fibre. Sarah comes across as feisty, ahead of her time. She is impetuous, her actions throughout the book show that. She acts first and thinks later but yet she is also well aware of her precarious position and has an internal struggle to balance what she wants, and what her family require of her.

Whilst this is a crime novel it is very much in essence a study on the role of women in the Victorian era and the tumultuous changes that were taking place at the end of the 19th Century.  I felt that Sarah was finding her feet as a detective in The Wages of Sin. Much was deduced by way of stumbling upon the answer, she often jumped to the wrong conclusion. However, the relationships she develops as the story progresses are interesting. She finds friendship with Elisabeth, who not only offers her respite from her studies and the contempt of her class mates, but also offers her a way back into society. Then there is her burgeoning friendship with Professor Gregory Merchiston. Starting off on very rocky ground it was a pleasure to follow the story as the relationship between Sarah and the unusual Merchiston developed.

 

Despite spending most of the book annoyed on behalf of Sarah, I did enjoy reading The Wages of Sin. I was transported to another time. I was soon caught up in the social structure of the day, of the hardships faced by all levels of society.  Whilst many of the issues facing women’s rights have now been dealt with it was interesting to compare their roles in society and see how far society has changed, and indeed how similar things still are. The mystery itself was intriguing and whilst I had determined the outcome before the reveal, it was fun to see the story unravel.

 

Intriguing, thought-provoking, engaging and entertaining. I am very much looking forward to the next book to feature Sarah Gilchrist and Gregory Merchiston. I just hope the next book is out soon.

Tin Man - Sarah Winman

Tin Man opens with Dora winning a painting in a raffle. That painting ignites something in her. Moving forward in time the narrative moves to Ellis, Dora’s son. The reader is led on a journey of loss and love and discovers how some people complement each other, much like the colours in the painting.

 

It’s been a while since I read a book in a day but Tin Man broke that run. It was a book I picked up whenever I had the opportunity, one I was soon absorbed in, reluctantly putting down when the real world called.

 

Not that the world beneath the yellow cover didn’t feel real. It did, at times all too real. The story does not contain too much action but that wasn’t necessary. Tin Man is a story about people, how what they do, and don’t do, can have long term ramifications.

Tin Man is a love story. It is a story of lasting love and fleeting love, love lost and found, of familial love, romantic love, unrequited love and secret love. It a story about clinging on to the happiness in our lives, learning from the sadness and how both can shape us.

It is a sad story but the sadness is interspersed with moments of joy, of real happiness. As Ellis remembers the loves of his past he works towards loving himself, something he stopped doing years ago. As he revisits old ghosts he becomes more aware of the present. He realises that people do see him, that he is not fated to wander alone through life until the end. By coming to terms with the loss of those he loved he finds his life beginning again.

 

Every character adds something to the story. There are those that love openly, without expectation. There are those who’s love is more hidden, Len, Ellis’ father appears to be heartless, yet his way of showing love is no less valid. Dora, Annie and Michael all show Ellis different ways to love and live.

 

This is only a short novel at only 208 pages but that doesn’t mean the reader is left feeling short of a complete story. It is just the right length. It is a book I realised I enjoyed a lot more once I had finished reading it.

 

An ode to love in all its forms. Beautifully written, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by it.

Earthly Remains  - Donna Leon

Commissario Brunetti’s rash actions in an interview lead to unforeseen consequences and the detective is left facing what he wants from work. Eager to escape the confines of the Questura he takes two weeks leave, escaping to the villa of a relative of his wife.

There he plans to row and to read. He befriends Davide Casasi, the caretaker of the villa and the two spend days out on the Laguna. But during a storm Davide goes missing and when tragedy strikes Brunetti is compelled to find out what happened.

 

There is something wonderful about reading the latest book in a beloved series. And sitting down to read Earthly Remains was a treat I savoured and devoured. Try as I might I couldn’t eek out reading the book and I soon found myself racing through it.

It is always a joy to return to Venice and to be again in the company of Brunetti and his family and colleagues. It feels like revisiting old friends, catching up with what they have been doing since the last novel.

 

Brunetti is the anti-thesis of the stereo-typical fictional detective. He is happily married, still in love with his wife after over 30 years together. He has a stable family and a network of friends. He likes his job but is aware of its pitfalls – in particular his boss, Patta and his sycophantic side-kick Scarpa. He is not afraid to bend the rules and is more than belligerent towards the state of the politics and bureaucracy rife in Italy. He is also well aware of the limits of the justice system and that some things don’t always work out for the best.

 

In Earthly Remains the story is much more focussed on Brunetti and indeed for the first third of the book the narrative is focussed on him away from his role as police officer. It is also a pleasant change to see him out of his comfort zone by not being surrounded by his family and friends. It was interesting to see him function without Paola, his support network and it was even interesting to see him fend for himself and cook meals, though not the grand affairs usually provided for by Paola and which may the reader wish they were invited for dinner.

 

The prose conjures up Calles and beautiful vistas. I could imagine the hoards of tourists wandering the bridges and canals and see the clear waters of the Laguna away from the city. Venice is very much a central character in these novels and so it is the case in Earthy Remains. The way of life, the battling with the heat and with the rising waters of the Aqua Alta. The beauty of the city is never far away, sometimes fading into the background then suddenly thrown into focus.

 

This is book 26 in the series though it can be read as a standalone. I love the series and would recommend that if you like this novel you go back and read the series from the beginning. The series is very much character based and part of the appeal of the books is watching the family and friends age and develop stronger ties. Much like real life there are not always happy endings, or endings that tie up nicely. There are what ifs and unsettling situations, conclusions and abruptness. But there are also points where truth does out and where love rules supreme, again, much like reality.

 

As is often the case with Donna Leon’s novels Earthly Remains is more than just a crime novel. It is a social commentary on the state of politics, of corruption, of human nature and in this instance a commentary on the environment. It examines what humans have done to the planet, their self-righteousness in doing so and also their despair.

 

Donna Leon’s novels reflect the true nature of life. There are not always happy endings, sometimes justice isn’t served. Don’t expect everything to be rounded off, to be completed. Because life isn’t always like that. But do expect to be transported to a beautiful city, to meet a variety of characters ranging from wonderful to exasperating, to read about crimes that are sometimes tragic, sometimes perhaps more well deserved and to be entertained. Because sometimes life is like that too.

The Dry - Jane Harper

Aaron Falk has returned to Kiewarra, his childhood town, after a 20 year absence. He is there for the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke Hadler, who killed his wife and child before turning a gun on himself. But questions are raised as to the true nature of the killings. As Aaron reluctantly investigates he finds himself faced with hostility. The events that led him to leave Kiewarra 20 years earlier, and the secret that he and Luke shared from that time threaten to surface as Aaron investigates what really happened to the Hadlers.

 

There is an excellent pace to this story. It opens with a tragedy and slowly, yet surely, progresses into something less clear cut. It soon becomes obvious that Aaron is not the only person to be keeping secrets and the longer he is in Kiewarra the more determined he is to uncover them, and the more the reader wills him on.

 

The characterisation is spot on. Falk is a complex mix of Federal Agent, grown used to city life, and the 16 year old he was when was forced to leave the town of his youth. He finds that though the people may be older the same prejudices are still around. He is still considered, as he appeared in his youth, but with age an impetuousness has seeped in. He is methodical and compelled to find out the truth of what happened to his friend, and what happened 20 years ago. Raco is another great character. An outsider, only having the job of police chief for a week before the killings, he has no preordained ideas about Falk. The belligerent Grant Dow and his uncle Mal are easy to imagine, their general malevolence casting a pall over the town. As for the town of Kiewarra, it is a contradiction. Whilst it is surrounded by wide open spaces, made up of farms, it has a stifling, claustrophobic, closed off feel. Outsiders are outsiders no matter how long they have lived there and people it seem are quick to judge but take longer to forget. The tension in town is heightened by the drought and the secrets of the town threaten to ignite more than tempers.

 

The narrative flits from Falk’s investigation to episodes in the recent and distant past, allowing the dead to become more rounded characters, which adds to the sense of loss their deaths have brought.

 

Jane Harper discreetly leaves clues as to what happened dotted in the narrative. I had worked out what had happened before the reveal but this did not lessen my enjoyment of the novel. I sped through the last hundred pages of it, so eager was I to find out what had happened.

 

This is a story about what happens when bullies grow up and grow old. When fear and prejudice and small minds take the place of sense and understanding. It is a tale of the lengths people will go to keep secrets and protect themselves.

 

The tension of Kiewarra is palpable, the story engaging, the characters all adding different facets to the story. Jane Harper has created a compelling story, one that transports the reader to the arid landscape of Australia. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Let the Dead Speak (Maeve Kerrigan Novels) - Jane Casey

Chloe Emery returns home after a weekend away to find her mother gone. In her place is a wave of blood covering the house. Maeve Kerrigan and her colleagues are called to investigate. What secrets was Kate Emery keeping and where is she? If there are all the signs of violence, but no body, is it really murder?

 

This is the first Jane Casey novel I have read and I didn’t know what I had been missing out on. My first thought on finishing the book was – Brilliant.

 

The narrative grabs from the opening, leaving the reader intrigued to find out more. I did not have any previous reader relationship with Kerrigan and her colleagues so I was a little worried that I would find some aspects of the story passing me by. My worries were unfounded.

 

There is an acerbic, dark humour to the writing that I felt worked perfectly with the story and characters. I loved the interaction between Kerrigan and Derwent. The banter offset the seriousness of the case to a tee. Theirs is a great example of a fictional duo, the trust shown in the easy, yet sometimes turbulent relationship between the two. Kerrigan’s new colleague Georgia Shaw is annoying, too over confident for someone so newly part of the team, trying too hard to impress the wrong people, though that is, I think, how Jane Casey intended her to be portrayed.

 

The story revolves around few characters, making it easy to follow. As a result there is a closed room mystery feel to the novel. It is obvious that there was more to Kate Emery that met the eye and that the houses on Valerian Road were keeping many secrets. The story examines the fact that we never truly know someone and that the motives behind their actions aren’t always as they appear.

 

This is book seven in the Maeve Kerrigan series but it can easily be read without having read the rest in the series.

 

Cleverly constructed, engaging and gripping, the perfect combination for a crime thriller. I look forward to reading more from Jane Casey soon.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop - Veronica Henry, Julia Barrie, Orion Publishing Group

When her beloved father dies, Emilia Nightingale inherits Nightingale Books, a much loved bookshop, nestled in the Cotswold town of Peasebrook. There she makes new friends, unwittingly helping them with more than book choices. But when a situation arises that threatens the bookshop, can Emilia keep her promise to her dying father, and keep Nightingale Books open?

 

The thing I find about bookshops is how inviting they are. There is the anticipation of finding a new book to fall in love with, of new worlds to explore and often times the shop seems to radiate the comfort and warmth the books themselves can bring. Nightingale Books sounds like the ideal place to lose a few hours, wandering the shops and browsing the shelves, chatting to like-minded book lovers. Lots of people dream of owning their own book shop, I’m one of them, and to my minds eye, Nightingale Books is how I’d picture my bookshop.

 

The story itself is warm and comforting, easy to get wrapped up in. It’s the kind of book to curl up with on a rainy winter evening, or to read whilst lying in the sun. It is filled with a cast of characters that all add layers to the story. Emilia is a lovely character, depicted as kind, considerate and understandably conflicted by her desire to keep the bookshop and the struggle she finds herself in. Julius, Emilia’s father is also a wonderful character, depicted as he is in a few explanatory chapters and through the memory of the other characters. The bookshop itself is a character, and rightly so. It is the linchpin, where the inhabitants of Peasebrook meet, chat and discover new books, and perhaps new people, to fall in love with. There are some characters I would have liked to find out more about as there felt the potential to find out more about them for example Thomasina, the excruciatingly shy chef and Marlowe, the violinist, friend of Julius whose appearances seemed to just scratch the surface of his character.

 

There were parts of the story that could be considered predictable, the trial and tribulation that would lead to the conclusion but I found comfort in those, enjoying the journey the story took me on. The story was told with the right pace, with a variety of different characters to provide entertainment and lots of separate story strands that were brought together by the bookshop.

 

This book exudes the sentiments of a good bookshop I mentioned above, it is warm, inviting and fun. It is a story about love, literature and the celebration of stories and what’s not to love about that?

 

This is the first book by Veronica Henry I have read but I shall certainly be reading more from her in the future.

The Madwoman Upstairs - Catherine Lowell

Samantha Whipple, recently enrolled at Oxford University finds herself surrounded and followed by her past. Still struggling to overcome the death of her father she is also on the hunt for her inheritance, hinted at by her eccentric father. It would appear to be connected to her ancestors, as so much of her life is. It just so happens that those ancestors are the Brontës…

 

Being a huge fan of Jane Eyre, and having just visited the Bronte parsonage I thought it was high time I read this book.

 

This is a fun take on the Brontës, using them as a narrative device to propel the mystery of Samantha Whipple’s inheritance and her hunt for it. Samantha has travelled over from the United States to study at Oxford and finds herself shut away in a tower room with no windows and an austere portrait looking over her. To top it off, her room is a stop on the tourist trail. Then there is her tutor, James Orville III. He’s taciturn, provocative and Samantha finds herself begin to become attracted to him.

 

The mystery of the missing inheritance is less about finding an item and more about Samantha finding herself and learning more about her father. She finds her attitudes towards Charlotte, Anne and Emily Brontë changing as Orville challenges her entrenched views on the sisters.

 

At times the novel feels like a dissertation, with it’s definite views on various works of literature peppering the narration. However I liked the literary discussions and thought the setting of Oxford worked well. I was a little disappointed with how Samantha reacted to her visit to the parsonage in Haworth, though this may be because I had just visited and had the complete opposite reaction.

 

This is more a story that examines literature and it’s subjective nature, rather than a love story or a mystery. It made me want to read more of the Bronte s works which can only be a good thing.

 

Whilst the slightly ambiguous ending left me a little flat, this novel was an enjoyable read and a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Heartbreak Hotel - Jonathan Kellerman

Alex Delaware’s usual patients are children. So it is purely down to curiosity that he goes to visit Thalia Mars, who at 99 is considerably older than his usual consults. Thalia asks about criminal behaviour. His interest peaked, Alex agrees to visit Thalia the next day. When he arrives he finds she has been killed. But who would murder Thalia and why? Alex and his friend Lieutenant Milo Sturgis are soon embroiled in a mystery that spans back to the golden age of gangsters and organised crime.

The story itself is well paced and interesting. Harking back to the days of gangsters and organised crime the reader finds out the clues as Alex and Milo do so can sit back and watch the story unfold. There are no chase scenes or dangerous situations, this is more of a gentle paced whodunit, though that’s not to say its boring. I was soon caught up in the story, revisiting old friends, and enjoyed reading this very much.

There were moments when references went over my head, a lot of them obvious to US culture but not enough to loose the thread of the story for those of us not familiar with them. There are quite a few side characters in the book, sometimes it was hard to place them in the narrative and I did find myself at one point flicking back to see where the name had been mentioned before.

This is book 32 in the Alex Delaware series. You don’t have to read the series in order as all of them can be read as a standalone, but regular readers come to know the recurring characters.

I had noticed in recent novels that Robin, Alex’s girlfriend, and Milo, his detective best friend, had seemed to take something of a side role. This was still the case to some extent in Heartbreak Hotel. Thankfully though both began to have more involvement as the story developed. Whilst these are the Alex Delaware mysteries I always feel that the stories benefit from more of a rounded cast and Milo and Robin add more interest to the books.

The staccato narrative is still present. Some sentences are two words. Jonathan Kellerman has developed a style of removing unnecessary verbs and adjectives but you soon become used to the clipped writing style.

This is an enjoyable crime caper with two well established and likeable returning characters. I look forward to reading more novels featuring Alex Delaware in the future.