Page 1 of 2

Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Tue January 12th, 2016, 9:58 am
by Madeleine

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton - Yasmin arrives in Alaska with her young daughter Ruby for a holiday with her husband, in November (yes Alaska in November!) where he's been working as a wildlife film-maker, living with a local native group in a tiny village in the Arctic circle. Yasmin suspects that he's involved with a local woman, but when she gets off the plane she is greeted by the police, who tell her that the village and all it's inhabitants, plus one Westerner, have been killed in a devastating fire which wiped out the whole area. She doesn't believe them, and eventually finds a trucker who'll take them to the nearest town, from where she hopes to complete the journey. However, at the first truck stop, their driver is taken ill, so Yasmin takes the truck and decides to continue the perilous journey herself, with only her daughter, who is deaf, for company.
It's at this point that the story loses a lot of credulity - how could anyone, male or female, drive a massive 18-wheeled, 40 ton truck complete with pre-fabricated house as it's load, on one of the world's most dangerous roads (the Dalton highway, which is hazardous even in summer) in the middle of winter, without any special training? And how could a woman risk her young daughter's life, although Yasmin does admit this, several times. Meanwhile Ruby tries to communicate via her laptop's special programme, as well as sign language and lip-reading. But inevitably, there's a snowstorm on the way, which all the other truckers are sheltering from, and they are being followed by another vehicle. I did find this part quite gripping, albeit pretty unbelievable, but the descriptions of the weather and landscape are great, and it's genuinely suspenseful. But a plot development just when all seems lost was to me too neat and convenient, and from then on the story seemed to lose it's way, becoming almost B-movie style peril with a rather clichéd villain, and a very abrupt ending, which also felt too convenient. The pursuit scenes reminded me of the old Spielberg movie "Duel", where Dennis Weaver is followed mercilessly by a huge truck, and this would certainly make a good film. But I felt it ran out of steam after a while, and I found both Yasmin and Ruby irritating in different ways, although the child's deafness and sense of isolation (along with the physical isolation) were very well-described. The real stars, however, are the scenery and the weather. 7/10

The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne - Following the death of one of their young twin daughters in a fall, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft and their surviving daughter, Kirstie, move to a tiny island off Skye, which 'Angus has (conveniently) inherited. Their new home is in a terrible state, having been unhabited for several years, but as they gradually start to make it vaguely habitable, Angus gets a new job and Kirstie starts at the local school, hopefully things will settle down. But Kirstie has started to claim that she is really her deceased twin, Lydia, which her parents accept, but then Lydia claims that she can see Kirstie and talk to her, and Sarah sometimes thinks she can see her deceased daughter too - for example, Lydia seems to have a knack of appearing very suddenly in one part of the house, when only seconds earlier her mother had tucked her up in bed. The family start to disintegrate into a nightmare as they wonder how they can help their daughter, plus the sense of guilt and blame that both parents feel for the accident is never far away, and their marriage starts to fall apart. Various secrets are gradually revealed (not all of them unexpected) and Sarah especially wonders who she can trust. Overall I found this a good read, although it's not quite sure whether it wants to be a ghost story or a psychological thriller, and ends up being a bit of both. I didn't really think the ghost story element was totally convincing (personally I thought the remaining twin was seriously disturbed and in desperate need of proper help) and neither parent was particularly likeable. The ending is a bit ambiguous, and perhaps a bit too neat, but the book does keep the reader guessing as to what really happened. The setting is probably what gives this book an extra point, it's very atmospheric and the island and weather are beautifully described. It's a fairly creepy page-turner, although I thought it did get a bit repetitive, and the ending, in the inevitable storm, felt a bit rushed and cliched. 7/10

The Four Swans by Winston Graham - 6th in the Poldark series - Ross and Demelza's marriage hits a few bumps, and Ross goes into politics. Meanwhile their friend Morwenna faces up to life in her unhappy marriage, Demelza's brothers try to make lives for themselves, Demelza has an admirer, and the feud between Ross and George Warleggan gets even worse. Another good read, although the politics dragged a little. 8/10

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson - 1st book in the Dark Iceland series in which young policeman Ari Thor gets his first posting to the small, northern town of Siglundsfjordur just before Xmas. The weather closes in and the town is cut off by the storm when an avalanche closes the only road in and out; meanwhile an elderly man dies in a suspicious accident, and a young woman is found barely alive following a violent attack. Are the two cases connected? Ari finds himself having to tread carefully, as everyone in the town knows everyone else, and as the newcomer he is treated with suspicion and occasionally contempt. Gradually he uncovers a town full of secrets, whilst wrestling with his own feelings towards a potential witness. This was an entertaining, atmospheric read, with the small town claustrophobia beautifully evoked, and a well-plotted, albeit convoluted mystery to solve, with a few clever red herrings along the way. A promising start to the series. 7.5/10

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Mon February 8th, 2016, 1:59 pm
by Madeleine

Winter Siege by Ariana Franklin/Samantha Norman - well after a very shaky start (a fictionalised account of John Marshal's famous hammer and anvils incident, with John being turned into a horrible old (by the standards of that time) man who was an unfeeling brute to his young wife, and not much better to his son, William; at this point the book nearly hit the wall, but as it was early on I decided to give it another chance, and was grateful that I did, for once I got over this appalling travesty :o I settled down to read what turned out to be a rollicking good story. There are two main storylines, the aforementioned John's wife Maud, who is left in charge of Kenniford Castle after John has what we would now call a stroke; Kenniford was one of King Stephen's most desired prizes, strategically positioned as it was in the Oxfordshire countryside and this castle provides the siege of the title. Meanwhile, mercenary Gwil has rescued a young girl, who he found close to death after a vicious attack by the band of brigands with whom he was working at the time; one in particular, a monk with a strange smell about him, is particularly cruel and when Gwil finds the girl's battered body he swears vengeance for her. However, thanks to his care and much to his surprise, she recovers from her injuries and, disguised as a boy, accompanies him as they try to stay clear of bands of brigands, and eventually hope to return to her native Cambridgeshire Fenland. Whilst hiding in a shepherd's hut, they are joined by two gentlemen and a lady, also seeking shelter, and they eventually accompany them to Kenniford Castle, where Gwil and Penda (as the girl has decided she would like to be called) decide to stay for the time being, for safety's sake if nothing else. But as the siege starts their skills are needed, and Maud finds herself drawn to one of the men accompanying the mysterious lady (although her identity isn't hard to guess), and Penda's attacker is never far away. I found this an exciting read, with likeable characters - especially Gwil, Penda and Alan of Ghent (the hunky mercenary accompanying the lady), and there is real humour and drama. Some of the dialogue jarred, but overall, despite the rocky beginning, I found it a gripping story, and I actually cared about what happened to the characters. 8/10

Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd - this is the first of Lynn Shepherd's "mash-up" type of novel, where she takes a popular classic and turns it into a detective story. So here we have Jane Austen's novel, which goes off in a different direction to the original when one of the main characters is found murdered, and everyone at Mansfield Park and it's environs is under suspicion. Thief-taker Charles Maddox comes up from London to investigate, and although his methods are somewhat unorthodox (and would be inadmissible today) he does eventually get results. At first I was reminded of all the reasons why I disliked the original novel (it's my least favourite Austen, along with Northanger Abbey and Emma), but once the story went off at the murder tangent it really picked up, and I found it quite gripping and thoroughly enjoyed it. Shepherd is an excellent writer, managing to keep the period feel and spirit of the original book without it feeling contrived, or just putting something in for the sake of it (there are a couple of sneaky refs to other Austen works, too, but they fit in perfectly). Her second book, Tom All-Alone's (The Solitary House in the US), which was inspired by Bleak House, was even better. 7.5/10

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo - this is the 7th Harry Hole novel, and my second and it was an excellent, quick if slightly gruesome read. Married women are disappearing, with the only clue seeming to be a snowman left at the scene. There seems to be a connection with the disappearance of a Bergen-based detective several years earlier; in fact, some believed at the time that he was the Snowman himself. Meanwhile Harry and his small team have a new member to deal with, the enigmatic Katrine, and Harry's love life is as messy as ever. And as more women go missing, Harry starts to feel that this case is a personal challenge, and that someone is watching his every move. A good thriller, which is currently being filmed with Michael Fassbender in the lead. 8/10

The Body under the Bridge by Paul McCusker - apparently the main character in this book, Father Lewis Gilbert, a detective turned priest, has appeared in several radio plays (in the US I believe), but this is his first adventure in print, and very promising it is too. Father Gilbert, now based in a small town in Sussex, is disturbed when he witnesses a man committing suicide by leaping from the church tower. However, before he jumped, he gave the priest a medallion. Then Father Gilbert is called to another suicide, this time someone who has hanged himself in his garage, and it's the same man who jumped off the tower. The priest then realises that the drama on the tower was one of his "visions", and he has several more similar experiences throughout the book. In the meantime, workmen excavating land on a nearby country estate discover a body under an old bridge (hence the title) which although around 200 years old, turns out to be linked to the medallion which was given to Father Gilbert. Everything seems to centre on a centuries old feud between two local families, the Todds and the Doyles, and a secret society which used to hold sinister meetings in the crypt of the church. They had three artefacts which they used in their ceremonies - a sword, a ring and a medallion, and as the body count mounts, it seems that someone is trying to resurrect the group. The main suspect is David Todd, and there are also several other people who want the three relics, and Father Gilbert finds himself caught up in the police investigation, both as a helper and also, if he's not careful, a possible victim. I enjoyed this, it was atmospheric and a little bit creepy, and Father Gilbert is an appealing character. I hope that there are more books to come (it's published as Volume 1 in the series) and would love to know more of the priest's back story. This book would appeal to fans of Phil Rickman and Kate Ellis. I received a free copy to review from the publisher, courtesy of Library Thing - thanks to both for sending me the book to review. 7.5/10

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Wed March 2nd, 2016, 12:18 pm
by Madeleine

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy - one of the author's last books, this focuses on a small hotel opened on the west coast of Ireland by a woman called Chicky Starr, and we're told of how she went to the US to follow her heart, and when that all went pear-shaped she returned to her hometown and opened her hotel. We get the stories of each of the guests who are booked in for the hotel's opening week, and that's about it really, giving the book the feel of a series of short stories with a common theme, but no real plot as such. I thought there might have been some sort of event once everyone was at the hotel, but apart from a few fairly minor incidents, after their week, they all go home again, well most of them anyway. Ultimately I found it a bit disappointing, it was pretty predictable and a couple of the stories I found downright boring, and felt more could have been made out of the lie that Chicky tells near the beginning, which would at least have given it a bit of a twist. A nice read, but one that didn't really go anywhere, although I would like to stay in that hotel! 6.5/10

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley - this is another enjoyable book from SK, involving time travel rather than time slip. It's set in Cornwall where Eva has decided to scatter the ashes of her late sister Katrina. When they were children, the sisters holidayed with the Hallett family at their lovely house, and she has decided that there was where her sister was happiest. She decides to stay for a while to help her old friends set up a tea-room business, and gets involved with the marketing and PR. Then one day, whilst out for a walk, she suddenly comes across a path she's never seen before, but manages to get back to the house, and finds that everything is different, and the man who greets her is not her childhood friend Mark, who now runs the family's rose-growing business (hence the title). Instead, he is Daniel Butler, and together with his roguish brother Jack he runs a smuggling operation, to which most people, including the law, have so far turned a blind eye. However now that there is suspicion of involvement in the Jacobite plot to restore King James, currently in exile in France, to the throne, the law, in the shape of Constable Creed, is clamping down hard, and Creed has the Butler brothers in his sights. No prizes for guessing what happens between Eva and Daniel (it does tell you on the back of the book!) but as danger approaches she is torn between going along with the brothers, or trying to change events which she knows will happen, having researched the local history in the course of her PR work for the tea-room. Meanwhile she keeps slipping between the two periods, and is finding it increasingly difficult, especially in the past, to cover up where she is really from. Overall I enjoyed this, it was a nice easy read with a lovely setting and likeable characters, particularly Daniel himself and his best friend, Feargal, who is a softie under his initially forbidding exterior. I think it can best be described as whimsical, as her time travel seems to be fairly readily accepted by Feargal and Daniel, who seem to think nothing of a woman coming from 300 years in the future! But it's a nice bit of escapism, well-written and atmospheric, and very evocative of the area, in both time frames. 7.5/10

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult - there was a time when I would dive into the latest JP book, but after a while I started to grow tired of them, and they seemed to have increasingly far-fetched scenarios and sensationalist themes, so I stopped, plus some of her earlier books, re-released when she hit the big time, weren't as good as the later ones. And I think this one is one of the weaker books. 14-year old Trixie Stone lives with her parents, comic book illustrator Daniel and lecturer Laura, in a small town in Maine. Distraught after being dumped by her boyfriend, high school ice hockey hero Jason, she decides to try to win him back, but she comes home after a disastrous party and tells her parents that he raped her. What follows isn't a trial, which is what usually happens in her books, although there is a police investigation, but instead we see the fall-out from her accusation, and how the school sides with the boy rather than her. Her parents are also at a loss as to how to help her, and she lurches from one crisis to another while the police, and the reader, tries to find out what really happened. And that's basically it, but I found it hard to get involved or care about the characters as they were all so unlikeable; Trixie is a pretty annoying teenager and is perhaps the most believable character, but both her parents, especially her mother, are so self-obsessed that it was difficult to sympathise with them too much. I also found the tone of the novel slightly preachy, almost as if it was a morality tale, which I suppose in a way it is, and the comic strips placed throughout the book became annoying after a while, and I couldn't be bothered to read them. Disappointing. 6/10

Dead Cold by Louise Penny - this is the 2nd in the Inspector Gamache series set in the delightful village of Three Pines in Canada, not too far from Montreal. When CC Poitiers, a relative newcomer to the village, is electrocuted during the traditional Boxing Day curling game, Gamache is brought back to investigate. CC was thoroughly unpopular and unlikeable, but whilst Gamache is pretty sure who killed her, he finds it difficult to prove, and also, how exactly the bizarre murder was carried out. Meanwhile, the murder of a homeless woman on the streets of Montreal seems to be somehow connected to that of CC, who it turns out was something of a mystery, and Gamache believes that her killer is linked to her past - as is Three Pines, for why else would an aspiring businesswoman move to such a tiny backwater? I enjoyed this, it's an intriguing whodunit, and also a whydunit, although I suspected the killer fairly early on. Gamache is a likeable character, although the author does tend to hero-worship him a bit, which I found jarred slightly. There's also a story arc of an agent on his team who seems to be involved in some sort of plot to discredit him, which looks set to develop in future books, and there are several in the series, so presumably he's around for a while!8/10

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback - this debut novel is set in Lapland during the 18th century, when war was raging between Russia and what we now call Scandinavia. Maiija and her husband, Paavo, move to a remote area, although he soon leaves for the coast to find work, so that Maiija and their two daughters are left on their homestead to get by as best they can. One day Maiija finds the mutilated body of another homestead owner, Eriksson, and whilst their neighbours think he was killed by a bear or a wolf, Maiija is convinced his killer was human, and sets out to find out why, which only antagonises the other residents of the valley, and of course uncovers a lot of secrets. This book should have been engaging, but I actually found it quite a hard read; it was quite slow, and the side-traps into the supernatural - the ghost of Maiija's grandmother Jutta, and the dead man himself who appears to the eldest daughter, Frederika (who has the "sight") - were irritating and didn't really move things on that much. The author is Swedish although she now lives in Canada, and in her notes at the end of the book she does admit that she finds it difficult sometimes to write in English, so perhaps that's why I didn't think the book flowed as it should. Despite the plot and setting being promising, it never really took off for me and at times I nearly gave up on it. The setting and period are very interesting, and almost unknown to me, and whilst there's the inevitable severe winter (hence the title) and terrible snowstorm, I never really cared much about any of the characters, except perhaps the younger daughter Dorotea, who is the most engaging character. Disappointing. 6/10

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Tue April 5th, 2016, 8:31 am
by Madeleine

The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill - this is the 8th in the series of crime novels set in a small cathedral town in southern England, and which features Inspector Simon Serrailler and his family. In this instalment, Simon goes undercover to try to smash a child abuse network, and most of the book concentrates on this, which is a gripping story and handled well, conveying his hatred of the perpetrators and making their crimes clear, without going into salacious detail. There are also the usual sub-plots involving his family, especially his cold, unlikeable father, and his new girlfriend, which has a rather clunky link to the main storyline and which I spotted coming from a mile away. I've always found these books solid, if rather unemotional reads, and the characters do come across as a bit one-dimensional. I have read that this will be the last book in the series, although it's difficult to judge by the ending, best to say that it's left open-ended. Another quibble I have is that the murder thread from the previous book seems to have been completely forgotten about! 7/10

Sidney James and the Problem of Evil by James Runcie - this is the third in the Grantchester series and we've now moved on to 1963, Sidney is married but still finds time to investigate various crimes. Like the other books in the series, this reads more like a collection of sometimes connected short stories - the first involves, rather worryingly for Sidney, a killer who seems to only be targeting priests, the second story is slightly lighter and follows the investigation into a painting stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum whilst a young woman strolled naked through the gallery, which causes Sidney to be the subject of some gentle teasing. In the third story, he's thrust into the acting world when he's cast as a priest in an adaptation of Dorothy L Sayers's "Nine Tailors", but finds himself playing detective when the accidental drowning of one of the film's stars turns out to have been caused deliberately, and in the final story he tries to track down a newborn baby which has been taken from hospital, whilst he awaits the birth of his own first child. This was an OK read, the short story format doesn't really seem to be as involving as a full-length novel, and I do wonder how a single storyline would play out, I thought the weakest story was the third one about the film, which seemed to ramble on with rather tedious dialogue about the technical side of film-making. But Sidney is a likeable character, and the setting is lovely. 7/10

The Marsh King's Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick - this is one of EC's older novels, and in fact the first of her books to catch my eye in a bookshop, although I passed on it at the time as I was more into time-slips rather than straight historical. However I'm so glad I've read it as it's become my second favourite of her books after "A Place Beyond Courage". This is much more of an escapist read, and is definitely more romantic, although not in a soppy way! Miriel is the daughter of a wealthy weaver and wool merchant, however she doesn't get on with her stepfather, who eventually tires of her headstrong and wilful ways (and it's also hinted that he has designs on her himself) and packs her off to the local convent. In the meantime, King John and his baggage train get into difficulties whilst crossing the nearby marshes, and before it disappears into the mire a young mercenary, Nicholas de Caen, who was a captive but cannily gets himself released, ostensibly to help the members of the baggage train, manages to "rescue" some of the King's treasures, and escapes into the mist amidst the confusion. However, he's weak and exhausted, and is found by Miriel and another nun, on their way to treat a sick parishioner, and is brought back to the convent to recover. There's a definite attraction between them, so much so that Nicholas, once he's started to regain his strength, is asked to leave, and Miriel sees her chance and escapes, and persuades him to escort her away from the convent. She's also a shameless opportunist, and takes some of the loot to help her set up on her own; Nicholas isn't too happy about this, needless to say, and vows vengeance if they ever meet again. We then follow their lives, as they both make their own way in the world, and inevitably their paths do cross, with predictable results - it's not too difficult to work out where this one's going! But it was an enjoyable read, and I liked Miriel and Nicholas, although I did think Robert was a rather stereo-typical villain. I did feel sorry for Magdelene though, she wasn't a bad person (despite being the rather cliched tart with a heart) but I don't think she deserved her fate, although it was probably an all too common occurrence in those days, and it did of course leave the way clear for the story to pan out the way it did. No real surprises but an entertaining, page-turning read, a nice piece of escapism with a great setting. I read some of it whilst staying in Hunstanton, but no one's found the treasure yet! 9/10

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Thu May 5th, 2016, 9:38 am
by Madeleine

Sanctuary by Robert Edric - this novel tells the story of the last few months of Patrick Branwell Bronte's life, as he tries to come to terms with his own failings as a writer, and with life in general, whilst his sisters' fame grows, to the extent that they have to hide from onlookers who form a crowd outside their parsonage in Haworth (so celebrity was nothing new even back in the 1840s!) It's another reminder of what a mess he's made of his own life, with his poetry being only marginally successful, a failed affair with a married woman, and being fired from his job as a railway clerk, supposedly for some sort of discrepancy with the accounts. It's a litany of self-pity really, with Branwell being trapped in a cycle of feeling sorry for himself, his family trying to help him, and then meeting up with his equally dissolute friends, and getting drunk and running up an even bigger bar tab than they already have. They all have creditors after them, and yet some of them still try to help each other out. His father despairs of him but continues to support him and to pray, and his sisters also try to help in their own ways, despite both Emily and Anne getting gradually sicker. Charlotte is at the end of her tether, and whilst there's little love lost between them now, she still tries to help by paying some of his debts, if only to keep him from prison. Personally all the endless "poor me" speeches got a bit tedious after a while, this really was a man who was his own worst enemy, and whilst nowadays he'd be diagnosed with depression and alcoholism, he has sunk so low and into such a rut that he can't or won't pull himself out - he does acknowledge this occasionally, but does nothing to help himself and has sunk into a vicious cycle of drinking to blot out all his other problems, most of them largely self-inflicted. But the family loyalty is touching, and it certainly makes the family seem like real people, I have a vivid image of an exasperated Charlotte greeting Branwell after yet another lost weekend. Despite their father being described as being old and frail, he outlived them all and lasted well into his 80s. It was a hard life for everyone at the time, with descriptions of the railway both improving and destroying life in the area - lots of land was cleared for the railways, and for grazing, meaning that people were turfed out of their homes, and then the promised railway wasn't extended to Haworth, therefore no new jobs were available which might have helped some of the displaced farm workers. There's also the danger of the mining industry, and the diseases which were rife at the time - the author describes Mr Bronte wanting to extend the churchyard, but being refused. An interesting read, although a rather depressing one, but a good insight into what life was like for the Brontes and those around them. 6.5/10

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - re-read of my all-time favourite - it's a lot wordier than I remember it, but still a lovely story. Boy those Reeds were a nasty bunch, and St John rivers - ugh what a nightmare of a man, the worst kind, the one who thinks he's acting for everyone's own good. In fact, the Rivers section is probably the weakest part of the book - too much of a coincidence that Jane should find she's cousin to the Rivers clan, and then inherits a fortune, even for fiction it feels very contrived. Thank heavens for Mr Rochester, still my favourite male character in books! 9/10

A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor - 2nd in the series set at St Mary's Institute (somewhere in Yorkshire, I think) where historians really do travel back in time in pods, a bit like Doctor Who's tardis and often with equally chaotic results, but these books are much funnier, with a bit of sex and violence thrown in. This time round the experts battle Jack the Ripper, hunt for dodos, and try to reset the timeline which has gone very wrong in Elizabethan times, so they head back to Elizabethan Edinburgh, and an encounter with Mary Queen of Scots, no less. Great fun, and very eccentric too. 8/10

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George- the bookshop of the title is actually a barge, which has been turned into a floating bookstore moored on the Seine, until one day it's owner, Jean Perdu, decides to sail to Provence to try to find out what really happened to the love of his life from over 20 years ago, and why she suddenly left him and went back to her husband. He's joined on his journey by a young author (who's also his neighbour) suffering from writer's block and the over-attention of fans following the success of his first book, two cats and one or two other people they pick up on the way. It's a sweet story, a bit twee in places (although maybe that was the translation) and it's a tale of grief, finding yourself and laying old ghosts to rest. There's also quite a bit of humour, some gorgeous scenery (the best thing about it is the setting) and several literary references, including one to Game of Thrones's Brienne, and also a mention of the Akashic records, and there are some lovely recipes at the back too. 7/10

Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch - fifth in the Peter Grant series in which Peter, a young police constable and trainee wizard, finds himself out of his London comfort zone when he's summoned to Herefordshire after a couple of young girls go missing. Cue unicorns, fae and possible alien abduction as he tries to rescue the girls and find out what's really happening in the ancient woods near Leominster. Not quite as engrossing as previous books but still a fun, escapist read. 7.5/10

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Thu June 16th, 2016, 8:44 am
by Madeleine

The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan - the year is 1922, and a young woman, Grace Fairford, takes up a position as governess in Fenix House, not far from Cheltenham, where many years ago (in the late 1880s in fact) her grandmother held the same post. Orphaned in 1910 by a terrible train crash, Grace has been brought up by her grandmother and loved the older woman's tales of life at Fenix House, but when Grace arrives there, she finds the house and it's occupants in a state of decay, and as she gradually learns some of the history of the house and the Pembridge family, she realises that her grandmother was at best leaving a lot of detail out of her stories, and at worst was lying. Something traumatic obviously happened during the few months of her grandmother's tenure, and Grace is determined to find out what really went on back then. I enjoyed this, it's a dual time frame novel and is well-written, although I could have done with a family tree as I found it a little difficult to keep track of the two different stories. It's also very derivative, with nods to Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden and even Picnic at Hanging Rock, and I did work out most of the revelations myself - in fact, I thought one of the later reveals was a bit too much of a coincidence, but overall it's a thoroughly entertaining, escapist read. 7.5/10

Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves - 4th book in the Shetland-based series of crime novels and very readable it is too - a celebrity bird expert is murdered at the bird centre on Fair Isle, the most remote island in the UK and, when the centre's much-liked cook is also found brutally killed, it becomes obvious that the killer is still on the island, as bad weather has made leaving impossible. The comparisons with Agatha Christie's "And then there were None" are inevitable, as Inspector Jimmy Perez starts to investigate on his own, as he was visiting his family at the time, and support and forensics can't get to the island until the weather clears. There are several twists as various secrets start to be revealed, with a shock in store for one regular character. Another involving addition to this series which, after a slowish start, exerts quite a grip on the reader.8/10

Lionheart by Sharon Penman - the first book in SKP's pair of novels about Richard I - I found this fairly easy to read although there was a lot of information to digest as it chronicles Richard's experiences on the 3rd Crusade to the Holy Land, stopping off in Sicily and Cyprus before finally reaching what is now the coast of Israel. I quite liked Richard's character, although SKP isn't afraid to show his faults, especially his quick temper and his at times almost suicidal recklessness, but his feelings and concern for his army, as well as respect for his enemy, come through, as do his relationships with two of the most important women in his life - his sister Joanna and his wife Berengeria (and mum Eleanor of Aquitaine appears briefly at the start). His cousin Andre and nephew Henri were also well depicted, as was their frustration at sometimes having to handle a man who at times seemed to be his own worst enemy, but for whom they also had huge affection, as did he for them, as they were possibly two of the only men who understood him. An interesting insight into a turbulent period of history, during which Richard was also threatened by some who were meant to be on his own side, and the fascinating, albeit mercurial, character of the Coeur de Lyon. 7.5/10

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Mon July 4th, 2016, 8:29 am
by Madeleine

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver - this is the first instalment in a new crime series featuring Amory Ames, a young woman married to the feckless Milo, who is invited to a hotel in Devon (the Brightwell of the title) by her former fiancé Gil, who wants her to help dissuade his sister from marrying the equally feckless Rupert, who no one seems to like very much, so it's no surprise when he becomes a murder victim, although initially his death is thought to have been an accident. Sheer curiosity, plus a willingness to clear her friend Gil's name, leads Amory to try to find out who killed Rupert - it's obviously someone in the hotel, and so unfolds an Agatha Christie type mystery as she battles storms, power cuts and more strange deaths as she tries to help (or hinder) the police investigation. Despite my comments after my score, I actually did enjoy this book, it was a nice light read and I liked Amory, although the way the book was written makes it hard to believe that it has a British setting - so many Americanisms give it a distinctly trans-Atlantic feel (not that I have anything against them, they just seem out of context here), even the character names are more American than English - I've never know a single English person called Gil or Amory, although Milo is quite a popular name now, but this is a period drama. And the way the speech patterns keep changing, eg in one sentence a character says "I want to speak to you", and in the next paragraph they say "I want to speak with you" - very inconsistent and slightly jarring. However, in spite of all this, overall I liked it, and look forward to reading the next book in the series. 7.5/10 (would have been 8 but loses 1/2 a point for terrible proof reading and grammatical errors :o )

Day Shift by Charlaine Harris - this is the second instalment in the "Midnight, Texas" trilogy, and in this we discover more about some of the inhabitants of the isolated little town in the middle of nowhere with only a few residents and even fewer businesses, so it's no surprise when the Midnight gang hear that the local hotel, which has been boarded up and derelict for years, is going to be re-opened, as a general hotel but also as a sort of halfway house for older people waiting to go into assisted living. But it's psychic Manfred who's the main focus here, when a reading is horribly interrupted when the client keels over and dies on him. As the lady, a wealthy widow who was one of his "regulars", had been very ill lately, it's initially thought to be natural causes, but then the police discover that she's been given a massive overdose of one of her medications, and Manfred, who was the last person to see her, is initially the prime suspect. However he's soon cleared of murder, but her son accuses him of stealing his mother's jewellery, and the residents of Midnight (along with some of the newcomers) set out to try to clear their friend's name. In the meantime, a strange boy has arrived, and is staying with the mysterious Rev - why does he grow so quickly, and why are the residents told to stay in their homes on certain nights? This bowls along at a fast pace, with some nice humour and more revelations about some of the town's inhabitants, and I found it to be an enjoyable romp, with some characters from the author's other books making a visit to Midnight. Fun if you're a fan of her work. And Mr Snuggly is as acerbic as ever! This has been commissioned for a TV series, which should be interesting. 8/10

The Death Season by Kate Ellis - another instalment in the long-running crime series featuring detective Wesley Peterson, who investigates crimes in the picturesque Devon team of Tradmouth (based on lovely Dartmouth). When a man is found dead in a hotel room, Wesley finds himself on a mystery where the clues lie in the man's past, for he had several fake identities and, once his real name is discovered, it turns out that he was implicated in the murder of a young girl at a holiday camp in the resort in the late 1980s. The likeable Wesley is also having family problems, as his wife and children are complaining that he's hardly home, and he has concerns about his wife's new best friends, a wealthy local couple whose son attends the same school as their own. And there's also a case in the past, as Wesley's archaeologist friend Neil uncovers the story behind a child's skeleton found in the ice house of a building he is working on. I found this another enjoyable read, with some genuine suspense and more of Wesley's family's involvement too. 8/10

The Seventh Sister by Lucinda Riley - this is the first in a series of, presumably, seven books, based loosely on the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) constellation. It starts with 6 sisters (the seventh is missing) who gather at Atlantis, the luxurious island home on Lake Geneva where they were all brought up by zillionaire Pa Salt, who adopted them as babies and brought them to his fabulous home where he and his housekeeper, Marina, raised them. Now Pa Salt has died suddenly, whilst aboard his yacht in the Aegean, where he was buried at sea. Bereft and upset at not being able to say goodbye properly, the girls, all now adults making their way in the world, are baffled when they are each given an envelope, which contains clues as to where they originally came from, and they came to be adopted. And so we get the story of the eldest sister, Maia, which takes us to Rio, and back into the 1920s, when the mighty statue of Christ the Redeemer was being constructed, and we get the story of Maia's grandmother, Bel, a society beauty who, despite being engaged to the son of another, equally rich family, is allowed time to go to Paris, where she meets Laurent Brouilly, apprentice to the main sculptor of the statue. What happens next is no surprise, but then Bel returns to Rio and dutifully marries Gustavo, and begins a new life in his household with his cold, unfeeling mother. It's a fairly predictable story, and although I quite enjoyed it I preferred the present day story of Maia's investigation, as she becomes involved with the remnants of Bel's family, and also a young historian, whose book she has been translating -again, no surprise as to what happens there. Overall this was quite an enjoyable book, but it could have done with a bit of editing. 7/10

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Tue August 2nd, 2016, 8:12 am
by Madeleine

The Plague Land by S D Sykes - this is the first in a new mediaeval crime series featuring Oswald de Lacy, a young man who, originally sent for training as a monk at a young age, returns to his family homestead following the death of his father and 2 elder brothers after the plague which struck in the mid 14th century; apart from his mother and sister, he's the sole survivor and therefore has to take over the running of the estate. But when a local girl is found brutally murdered, and her sister goes missing and is then also found in gruesome circumstances, he feels compelled to investigate. The locals think that the murders were committed by "dog-headed demons", but Oswald finds their superstition ridiculous, and when he discovers a family connection with the murdered sisters, he becomes even more determined to get justice for them, and make sure that the wrong person isn't accused instead, as a witch-hunt ensues. I thoroughly enjoyed this, for the most part it was well-written and quite gripping. Oswald is an appealing character, seemingly very mature for his tender years (he's barely out of his teens) and I also quite liked his annoying hypochondriac mother (who provides some lighter moments) and even his acerbic sister evoked some sympathy. The period was well evoked too, and I found this a promising start to a new series - not quite up to C J Sansom's standards as the cover blurb claims, but very readable. 8/10

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood - psychological thriller which alternates between 2004 and the present day; in 2004, property developer Sean Jackson gathers his current wife (no 2) and their children, his children from marriage no 1, and various friends and their offspring, to celebrate his 50th birthday at an exclusive house in Dorset which he's been renovating along with Linda with whom he's having an affair (and who becomes wife no 3) over the August Bank holiday weekend, when one of his twin toddler daughters goes missing - or that's what the family tell the police and press. Fast forward 12 or so years later, and Sean (now on wife no 4) is found dead in the Dorchester Hotel, one of the most exclusive hotels in London, in unsavoury circumstances. The group from 2004 is reunited for his funeral, and what really happened to that little girl is gradually revealed. After the opening chapters, which felt a bit superfluous, the story developed in a gripping way, although the cast of characters are, in general, some of the most obnoxious people you could ever hope not to meet. In fact, some were so awful I almost wanted to hiss at them, and they felt a bit two-dimensional, almost clichéd in their awfulness. The best, and most believable characters, were the two youngest - Mila, from Sean's 1st marriage, and Ruby, the surviving twin from that fateful night in August, who is now in her mid-teens, and living in the middle of nowhere with her tormented mother (who was wife no 2). The way their relationship, and friendship, evolved was lovely, and they seem to be the only two sane people in the book. Toxic doesn't even come close to describing most of the others, and their tangled relationships and self-deception. I thought this was a gripping thriller, although I did guess what really happened, and think it would make a good TV series. Good holiday reading. 8/10

The Angry Tide by Winston Graham - 7th in the Poldark saga, and Ross is now an MP, spending a lot of time in London, which puts further strain on his marriage to Demelza. His feud is with George Warleggan is worse than ever, and Ross hasn't lost his knack of putting himself in danger either. But then a shock ending looks like changing everything. This was another enjoyable read, although I found the political side a little bit boring. These books still work best when they're about the family, and it's touching watching the Poldarks try to get their relationship back on an even keel again. 8/10

Falling in Love by Donna Leon - latest instalment in the Commissario Brunetti crime series set in Venice, in which a character from the very first book, opera singer Flavia Petrelli, reappears and is helped by Brunetti when she seems to have a stalker. Her tormentor escalates from sending her masses of bouquets of yellow roses, to physically attacking people around her, and only then do the police really start to take things seriously. It's a fairly short book, not really much of a story and not the best book in this series of the ones I've read so far, but still an entertaining read, with the trademark dry humour intact. 7.5/10

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Fri September 9th, 2016, 8:42 am
by Madeleine

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths - 8th book in the series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, and for once this book doesn't deal in the discovery of old bones which have a connection a more recent murder case. This time it's more personal for Ruth, for she is contacted by an old friend from university, who's in the local area to attend a conference for female priests; her friend, who is now a priest and hopes to one day become a bishop, has been receiving hate mail, and when one of the other women on the course is murdered, it looks as if her friend may be the next target - a young girl has also been found murdered, and the police wonder if there is a link between the hate mail and the murders. It's another entertaining story, as Ruth wrestles with her feelings about religion, her fast growing young daughter Kate, and her difficult relationship with Kate's father. It's amusing in parts too, and the characters, even after 8 books, are still developing nicely. 8/10

The Coffin Road by Peter May - stand alone novel which features George Gunn, one of the policemen from the Lewis Trilogy, who investigates when a man who claims to have amnesia is suspected of murdering another one, who is found dead in the ruins of an old chapel on a deserted island, which is a popular tourist day trip destination. The main story is concerned with the amnesiac's desperate attempt to find out who he really is, he regains consciousness after being washed up on a beach on Lewis, and manages to find his way back to a house which he knows is his, his dog recognises him, he can remember how to drive a car, and how to boot up and get into his lap top, just not who he is. And did he kill the man on the island? He has a horrible feeling suspicion that he may well be guilty, but all the work which is listed on his computer turns out to be blank documents, and why are there a load of beehives in a secret location, which he also manages to find? Coupled with this is a young Edinburgh girl's search for her father, who is believed to have committed suicide a couple of years previously, although no body was found. When she tries to contact his old work colleagues, she is instantly rebuffed and told to leave things alone, but as always in these books, she becomes even more determined and sets off to discover the truth. This was quite a good read, although I thought the first part was a bit too drawn out, but it did get more gripping as it went on. Still nowhere near as good as the Lewis Trilogy though. 7.5/10

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett - the assistant of the title is a woman called Sabine, who is devastated when her husband (the Magician) dies suddenly, and she is even more stunned to discover that he has a mother and 2 sisters in Nebraska, when he told her he lost his family when he was young in an accident, and was originally from Connecticut. After his mother and one sister visit her in LA, wanting to see where he lived (and died), as they hadn't spoken since he was 18, although once his act became successful he regularly sent them money, they invite Sabine to come and stay with them in Nebraska, and she accepts. It turns out to be an eventful visit, as she discovers the truth behind the family estrangement. Overall I enjoyed this, it was well-written and easy to read, and I preferred the second part, set in snowy Nebraska, to the first part in sunny LA. I did find Sabine a bit whiney though, and it was interesting to see how her character developed more in Nebraska, when she ofund herself having to deal with some awkward situations. 7.5/10

A Night on the Orient Express by Veronica Henry - this is a nice little novel about several disparate groups of people who spend on a night on the world's most famous train as they head towards Venice - there's a family on their first outing with the father's new girlfriend, and his 2 teenagers, a couple who won a "date" in an internet dating website competition, a woman who's been sent on an errand by her grandmother, and a celebrity couple who take the trip every year. It's fairly predictable, with the family storyline probably the least convincing, but it's an easy read, and the descriptions of the train and Venice are wonderful. I think this author is a natural successor to the much-missed Maeve Binchy. 6.5/10

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2016

Posted: Tue October 4th, 2016, 10:07 am
by Madeleine
October 2016

The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson - this is the second outing for the title character, and follows on from last year's "Devil in the Marshalsea", which was my favourite book of last year. Tom is now living happily in London with Kitty, but is becoming restless, but when he accepts an invitation from local gangster James Fleet, he soon lives to regret it, as he's asked to "help" none other than the Queen herself, whose lady in waiting (who is also the King's mistress) has a very unpleasant husband. Then Tom threatens to kill his neighbour in front of practically the whole street, and the next day the man is found brutally murdered in his own bed. Tom suspects the man's grown-up children, who had been living in his strict, abusive household for years, but can't prove it, and in due course finds himself standing trial for a crime he didn't commit. How it's all resolved is gripping, and I enjoyed this, although I thought the first book was better, but this was still an action packed gallop through Georgian London, with our hero lurching from one crisis to another. But he's a very likeable character, and I also like the spirited Kitty. Can't wait for the 3rd book! 8/10

Thunder on the Right by Mary Stewart - yet another hugely enjoyable novel by the late great Lady Stewart; Jennifer is in the Pyrenees, summoned to visit her cousin Gillian, who lives in France but since being widowed has spent time at a convent. However, when Jennifer arrives at the convent she is told by the convent's cold and rather creepy bursar, Dona Francisca, that her cousin died a few weeks ago after contracting a fever following a car accident. But then a young girl who helped nurse Gillian tells Jennifer things about her which don't add up to the cousin she knew, and Jenny starts to suspect that her cousin is alive. Naturally, as she tries to discover the truth, she finds herself in more danger, especially as the convent, and it's bursar, seem to be linked to a smuggling ring between the French and Spanish borders, and the humble convent has some very interesting relics as well. It's all great fun, even though some of the final reveals are a little bit far-fetched - some of the language is quaintly old-fashioned; it's a long time since I heard someone called "a clod", but that's inevitable for an "older" book, and it's better than a lot of stuff around now! 9/10

The Time of the Hunter's Moon by Victoria Holt - overall I enjoyed this Gothic romp, although I felt the ending let it down slightly by being rather sudden and happening largely off the page, and the increasing slowness of the heroine to catch on to what was happening also annoyed me a bit. Cordelia Grant is sent to a posh (and very expensive) Swiss finishing school, where on a summer evening (the time of the Hunter's Moon) she and her 3 friends go into the woods to try to see their future husbands. And a handsome stranger duly appears, right on cue, and seems to take a shine to Cordelia. Not long after, the school breaks up for the summer holidays, and as Cordelia travels back to England she meets the stranger on both the train and ferry, and later he turns up at the house where she's living with her aunt Patty, who brought her up. He gives her his name and tells her where he is originally from, but when he stands her up on their next "date", she decides to try to find him and heads to the town in Suffolk that he mentioned. But all she finds is a burnt out shell of a house, and an old grave with his name on it. Somewhat shaken, she eventually puts him to the back of her mind, and becomes employed as a teacher at the exclusive school, Colby, down in Devon, where her time is taken up with teaching, and fending off the amorous advances of the caddish Sir Jason Verringer, who owns all the land in the area, including the school. Arrogant and persistent, she says she hates him but enjoys their verbal sparring, but she is daunted by the rumours about him - his wife has just died; in fact their first meeting is when he is on his way back from her funeral - and his mistress (and rumoured child) have been installed in a house on his estate. Then his mistress disappears and the villagers become even more enthralled by the gossip and rumour surrounding him. Then the pupils start to act strangely, and it looks as if another stranger has turned up at the school to captivate it's pupils, or one of them at least, who happens to be Sir Jason's heiress (she's his niece and he has no sons). At this point I was practically shouting at Cordelia to make the connection, but as she helps Sir Jason try to find his niece who's eloped with the stranger, she seems more concerned with falling in love with him (despite a very unsavoury incident earlier in the book). But the final showdown is dealt with very quickly, which made the ending feel very rushed and seemed to wrap things up too neatly. And the happy every after ending also felt slightly unconvincing, especially given everything we know about Sir Jason. This let the book down a bit for me, but overall I loved the atmosphere of the school (built on the ruins of an old Abbey, it's quite spooky) and liked Cordelia (until near the end!), her aunt Patty and the irascible headmistress, Daisy Hetherington. An entertaining read, but let down a bit by a rushed final 20 pages or so. 8/10

Time's Legacy by Barbara Erskine - another typical time-slip from this author, in which young vicar Abi is assigned to her first posting in Cambridge. Initially she likes working with her new boss, a priest called Kier, but soon he starts telling her that she is too attractive and should cut her hair, and worries that she is dabbling in witchcraft - for she starts seeing ghosts in the local church. What she doens't know is that Kier can also see them, but is terrified that it is some sort of black magic. Eventually both of them are brought to the attention of the local bishop, who suspends Kier (for which Kier blames Abi), and he sends Abi to recuperate with a friend of his in Glastonbury. And there she starts to relax, under the kind eyes of Mat and his wife Cal, and Mat's brother Ben who tries to help her explain her strange experiences. Then she starts seeing more ghosts, this time a Roman family in her hosts' orchard - however although her hosts are familiar with the ghosts and don't seem to bothered by them, it looks as if one of them, Mora, a young druid healer, is trying to reach out to Abi, and soon Abi finds herself "seeing" Mora's life. And it all seems to be tied in to a period in which Jesus is rumoured to have come to England - to study with the druids, and Mora inevitably finds herself drawn to the charismatic young man. It all gets a bit convoluted, and I'm not sure what both Christians and pagans/druids would make of it, but it's well-written with the author's customary creepy atmosphere. The characters, as usual, are a bit flat, especially Kier who is such a caricature that he's almost a pantomime villain, and Abi gets increasingly silly as the book goes on. Nevertheless I enjoyed it as an escapist read, and the theme is slightly different to the author's usual, more historical bias. 8/10