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Madeleine's Reading Log 2017

What have you read this year? Post your list here and update it as you go along! (One thread per member, please.)
User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: The Body on the Doorstep by A J Mackenzie & The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Madeleine's Reading Log 2017

Postby Madeleine » Tue January 10th, 2017, 11:09 am

The Angel Tree by Lucinda Riley - I found this book a bit of a clunker, and quite different to the blurb on the back, apparently it's a revised and re-written old book, which was re-issued just over a year ago with a lovely snowy cover, but it's not very Christmassy and the Angel Tree is only mentioned very briefly. It's the story of two women, Greta and her daughter Cheska, and starts with Greta working in a revue in Soho (London version), falling pregnant and being given shelter at the Welsh home of David, a comedian who works at the venue and who has befriended her. When her daughter is small, Greta returns to London and gets a job in an office, which she has to leave after her boss's wife finds out they've been having an affair! Desperate for money, things start to look up when David's agent puts Cheska forward for a film role, the little girl becomes a star and all Greta's money problems are over...obsessed with her daughter's career, she pushes her even when it becomes obvious that the child has serious mental health issue, but a few pills and she's back in the studio. Not surprisingly, she rebels as a teenager and soon falls pregnant by her co-star, a relationship which must be kept secret to protect both their careers. Like her mother before her, she's whisked off to Marchmont in Wales, has her baby and then flees to LA to resume her career, leaving her daughter Ava in the care of David's mother. Just before she left for LA, Greta had a serious accident in London and lost her memory, so basically we get Cheska's story of her career - the usual drink, drugs, divorce etc and very little of Greta as she tries to piece her past together when she returns to Marchmont 20 years later. I found it went on for far too long, and although I should have sympathised with Cheska (I think she probably suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and probably had psychopathic tendencies too, but back in the 1960s it was covered up - again, to protect her career, and I really disliked Greta for not seeing how ill her daughter was, and the poor woman became mired in drink and drugs) but she was so two-dimensional I just found her irritating after a while. And when she returns to Marchmont, supposedly to pick up her career and re-bond with her mother and daughter, who's now training to be a vet, all hell breaks loose. I've read one of this author's other books, which I quite enjoyed, which is just as well as this one would have put me off reading any more by her. It would be interesting to see what the original book was like. 5/10

Larkswood by Valerie Mendes - I thoroughly enjoyed this, like The Angel Tree, it tells of a woman trying to find out about her past, in this case her own family. It's 1939 and Louise is suffering from a bad bout of glandular fever and to her relief is sent to Larkswood, her grandfather's home in Hampshire. Once she is better, instead of returning to London and the endless round of parties and shopping which her sister thrives on, Louisa blossoms as she finds a love of gardening and becomes close to her grandfather Edward. But there's apparently something from the past which is troubling Edward, recently returned from a long stay in India - when Louisa finds an old painting which is obviously of Edward and his two sisters, he is furious and refuses to talk about them, which of course only makes her more determined to find out more about the family's secrets. We also get flashbacks to an idyllic summer in the 1880s, when Edward's eldest sister, Cynthia, turned 18, but fell pregnant which inevitably threatened to bring scandal on the family. Gradually the story is pieced together with several twists, one of which I guessed almost immediately, but the other one I didn't see coming at all. A nice, easy read with some likeable characters, although the ghastly parents were a bit two-dimensional, but I was rooting for Louisa and Thomas, her beau who also worked in the gardens at Larkswood. 8/10

End of the Roadie by Elizabeth Flynn - this is the third in a series of cosy crime novels set mainly in London, with the main detective being DI Angela Costello whose team are investigating the murder of a roadie immediately after a concert by current pop heart throb Brendan Phelan. One of her team, Gary, was at the gig and was first on the scene, and once they start probing into the dead man's background they find a very unsavoury character indeed, with a long list of suspects due to the various scams which he had operating. This was an enjoyable read, with for once some fairly happy detectives (as opposed to the usual maverick/alcoholic/divorced etc) who are part of a team which actually like each other and work well together. Having said that, I did find some of the dialogue a bit old-fashioned with the result being that some of the characters didn't quite ring true, and the dialogue seemed to belong to another era. However as a cosy crime it was fine. I was sent this book to review through Library Thing's Early Reviewers, and thanks to them and the publisher, Lion, for sending it. 7/10

A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor - despite the title, this is the 3rd instalment in the St Mary's series, and is just as madcap as ever, with Max returning from a day in Thirsk to discover chaos, and almost every member of the history department covered in blue paint - which won't wash off. It does get more serious, with trips to Troy and Agincourt being the high points, and there's sadness and tragedy too. Another hugely entertaining read, difficult to say more but suffice to say she plays with timelines a lot, and there are a few shocks along the way. 8/10
Currently reading "The Body on the Doorstep" by A J Mackenzie & "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: The Body on the Doorstep by A J Mackenzie & The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2017

Postby Madeleine » Fri February 10th, 2017, 9:43 am

February

A cold death in Amsterdam by Anja de Jager - this is the first in a new crime series featuring Detective Lotte Merman, who is still reeling from the bad judgements she made during a missing child case, which eventually became a murder investigation. Now she finds herself investigating the murder of a prominent financier, shot outside his house, 12 years after his former business associate was killed. The new murder victim was a suspect in the first man's murder, but nothing could be proved, but now the police believe the two killings must be linked. So the reader is drawn into the world of finance - I must admit most of this went over my head, although I did generally enjoy the book. I would have liked more of the previous case, and also found it hard to believe that none of the police knew that Lotte's father was involved in the first murder case - they're meant to be detectives but didn't know they were related! I also found it hard to believe some of the things Lotte got away with - some instances which would be tantamount to entrapment and surely in the real world would render any evidence obtained inadmissible at trial. Despite that, not a bad start to a new series. 7/10

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes - this is the latest novel from the writer of "Downton Abbey", and has all the ingredients that will be familiar to that show's fans, except the house is in London rather than the country. It's the tale of two families, the Trenchards and the Brockenhursts, who are thrown together when their son (Brockenhursts) and daughter (Trenchards) become romantically involved, but tragically Edmund is killed at the Battle of Waterloo, and Sophia dies after giving birth to their son. The Trenchards, who have packed Sophia off to their country house to have the baby (to avoid the scandal of having people know that she had a baby out of wedlock) secretly have the baby adopted and don't even tell Edmund's parents. Fast forward twenty odd years, and the baby, now grown up, comes back to London, but only Mr Trenchard knows, and doesn't even tell his wife, although she does inevitably find out. From then on it's a story of secrets, unsuitable romances, cads, flighty women and domitable ladies, and whilst it's quite entertaining it's never more than a gentle bit of escapism. It has the same rather rushed feel that Downton had, although there is a bit of suspense towards the end, and whilst some of the characters are pretty two dimensional, I did like Anne Trenchard and the super snobbish Caroline, who was like a younger version of Maggie Smith's character (but not quite so acerbic). 7/10

Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths - 2nd in the crime series set in 1950s Brighton, with policeman Edgar Stephens and his friend, stage magician Max Mephisto. Edgar and his team find themselves investigating one of the most upsetting cases of their careers, when two children are murdered just before Xmas, and when the teacher of one of the children is also killed, the case takes on an even more urgent edge. Max takes a bit of a backseat here, as he's busy in pantomime, but there could be a link to the current panto, involving the murder of a young actress in another panto several years earlier - some of the people who worked on the earlier production are working on the current one. I found this another enjoyable mystery, and Edgar and Max, and Edgar's team, are vey likeable. 8/10
Currently reading "The Body on the Doorstep" by A J Mackenzie & "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Currently reading: The Body on the Doorstep by A J Mackenzie & The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's Reading Log 2017

Postby Madeleine » Mon March 6th, 2017, 9:58 am

March

The Snow Rose by Lulu Taylor - when we first meet Kate, she is fleeing from a terrible tragedy with her young daughter, convinced that her estranged husband will take her daughter from her. In the past, a young woman, Arabella, is also fleeing, from an asylum where she claims her sister Cecily had her unjustly incarcerated, and forces her hapless sister Letty into going along with her plans. Back in the present, Kate becomes a sort of custodian of a large abandoned house in the countryside - she has taken on a false identity, and apart from a few brief texts and calls to her best friend, no one has any idea that she even exists any more. She seettles into life in the rather dilapidated but still liveable mansion, and gradually starts to feel a bit calmer. But she finds a mysterious locked room in the basement, plus freezers full of freshly bought food (she can tell by the sellby dates!) but for the time being lives fairly peacefully. Then she meets two elderly sisters who live nearby, who used to live at the house, and refer to it's mysterious occupants. Then she receives an email telling her that more will be arriving soon, and sure enough 2 young women turn up, and begin to clear and air the house in readiness for new occupants. As Arabella and Letty's stories unfold in the past, nearly 100 years ago, we start to find out what the house is really used for, and also what really happened to make Kate run away and go into hiding, although her husband and friend are beginning to hunt for her. After a rather sluggish start, I found this an engrossing read, although I did find Kate a bit annoying and selfish, but it certainly kept my interest, although it wasn't entirely convincing. But there were quite a few twists, plus a hint of the supernatural. Better than the first book I read by this author, Winter Folly, which started well but wasn't much of a story. 7.5/10

The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick - this is another dual time frame novel, but with a difference, as the main character, Alison, is actually living in the present, and trying to get back to her past (the mid 16th century). We first meet her in Marlborough, Wiltshire, just before Xmas and she's now been in the current day for several years, having inadvertently time travelled after walking into an old inn, which is still there, but has now been so refurbished that the "portal" is no longer there. She grew up at Wolf Hall with her cousin, Mary Seymour, but fled when she and Mary were being removed to another location, and to prevent her being married off, but she's desperate to get back to find her son, Arthur, who was illegitimate and was taken from her as a baby. She meets up with TV historian Adam, a former boyfriend although the relationship ended badly. However 10 years later he's in the town to give a talk promoting his new book, on the discovery of a "lost" portrait of Anne Boleyn, only Alison knows who the subject of the portrait really is - because she was there when it was new. She eventually convinces Adam that he's wrong, and he reluctantly tries to help her find out what really happened to Mary Seymour, and also what happened to Alison's son. I enjoyed this, although it did seem to go on a bit, but I liked Alison's character, and the historical scenes were really well done. There was a dastardly but charming villain, and a few twists too, and it would definitely appeal to fans of Barbara Erskine - like Erskine's novels, there are some cosy scenes with cups of tea and a Labrador curled up in the background! Entertaining, and as usual I preferred the historical parts. 8/10

Some Veil Did Fall by Kirsty Ferry - this is the first in a series of dual time-frame novels loosely connected to the works of various Pre-Raphaelite artists, in this case the title is taken from a poem by Rossetti, and the book is set in Whitby, in the present day and also the 1860s. Becky is a journalist who is in the town covering the Goth festival, when she bumps into Jonathan, the brother of her best friend from school, neither of whom she has seen in years; he now has a photographic studio in the town, and takes her there, where she has great fun rummaging through his Victorian costumes, and has her photo taken in a particularly appealing dress. But as she's trying the dress on, she starts to feel she's not alone, as if another woman is in the room with her, and trying to communicate. And there seems to be further connections at her hotel, and also with some of the Victorian articles which Jonathan uses as props for his customers. They start to investigate the connections, and gradually the history of the previous occupants of Becky's hotel, which was once a large country house, start to tell their story. It's a familiar plot device, with the love triangle between Becky, Jonathan and her rather obnoxious (cliche alert!) ex Seb, echoing a similar situation from the past, but despite, or maybe because of, the predictability of it all I still enjoyed it; it works as a fairly cosy dual time-frame which would appeal to fans of Barbara Erskine and Pamela Hartshorne, and Whitby is nicely evoked too. 8/10

The Trysting Tree by Linda Gillard - Ann is recovering from the break-up of her marriage, and the fact that her soon-to-be ex is now expecting a baby with his new partner (they'd tried for years to have a baby, with no success) and moves in with her rather cantankerous mum, Phoebe, an artist who, having gone through treatment for cancer combined with general ageing, is becoming increasingly frail and not taking care of herself. So Ann comes to stay at her mother's home in the grounds of a former estate in Somerset, and when she finally persuades Phoebe to sell up and move to somewhere more practical for herself, a young man is the only prospective buyer. A garden designer by trade, he eventually confesses that he has a personal interest in the house, for his grandmother Ivy, who's died recently, lived and worked there. She'd been going through family papers at the time of her death (in fact, the fact that she was burning the papers, which accidentally started a fire, was a major factor in her demise) and the man, Connor, wants to find out more about her, and what caused her to try to burn every record of her family. Ann and Phoebe agree to help on the basis that he tidies up the garden, and when one of the beech trees is felled during a storm, and a box of seed packets which turn out to be mysterious letters is found concealed within it's trunk, Connor's family mystery deepens. So the story of Ivy and her family is gradually revealed, which goes back to WW1 and family secrets which by turns delight and shock Connor. In the meantime (naturally) there's also a sweet, tentative romance between him and Ann, and Ann finally finds out why her father left all those years ago, and why he's never tried to get in touch. This is a nice story, thoughtfully and touchingly told but written sparingly, and makes me wonder once again why this author isn't better known! And there's a nice nod to nature too, with the trees having their say as well. 8/10
Currently reading "The Body on the Doorstep" by A J Mackenzie & "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zusak


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