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Madeleine's 2020 reads

What have you read this year? Post your list here and update it as you go along! (One thread per member, please.)
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Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5680
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens & "Coming Home to Winter Island" by Jo Thomas
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Madeleine's 2020 reads

Post by Madeleine » Fri January 3rd, 2020, 9:43 am

January

"An Island Christmas" by Jenny Colgan - this is the latest in the Mure series of novels set on a tiny Scottish island, and as the title says the close-knit community are preparing for Christmas, but other events are overshadowing the festivities, such as Flora's pregnancy by her troubled boyfriend Joel, and the serious illness of US businessman Colton, who has relocated to the island and opened a new hotel, but is sadly in the final stages of cancer, and being nursed by his partner, Flora's brother Fintan. Then there's Flora's best friend Lorna, who is in love with the local doctor Saif - a refugee from Syria, who is trying to settle on the island with his two young sons, but is desperate for news of his missing wife, and there are also various members of Flora's family who drift in and out, including the dog Bramble! It's a gentle of a close knit community, but the author also shows how claustrophobic such a setting can be, even if the locals are as well-meaning and caring (mostly) as the residents of Mure. But matters escalate when a terrible storm hits, and it looks like more than one issue will be resolved, or have to be faced. This is a warm and witty book, and the little community is actually very believable, as is the setting - a small rock out in the Atlantic! Enjoyable, and I look forward to reading the first two books in this series. 7/10

"Ryan's Christmas" by L J Ross - this is a sort of stand-alone, companion novel to the regular series and is set just before Christmas. DCI Ryan is off duty for once and goes to Edinburgh for the day with his wife Anna, and colleagues Frank and Denise, who are now married (I'm a bit behind on the main series). On their way home ,they hit a snowstorm which closes the main road, and when they turn off onto the smaller country roads they run into a snowdrift and have to walk to the nearest property, which happens to be Chillingham Castle, a real life castle which is also, reputedly, the most haunted castle in England, and which happens to be running a ghost weekend which is just about to start when the foursome turn up. They're duly invited to join in, and in true country house murder fashion it's not long before a scream rings out and the body of the housekeeper is found outside in the snow - but with only one set of footprints leading towards the body, and none leading away from it. Snowed in and with no chance of any outside help for the immediate future, Ryan and his team have to do their best to preserve the crime scene, and find out the identity of the killer. This was a lighter read than is usual in this series, and is almost a gentle pastiche of similar country house style murder mysteries. Thoroughly enjoyable. 7.5/10

The House on Vesper Sands" by Paraic O’Donnell - it's London, 1893, and young working class women are going missing, reportedly taken by the Spiriters. At first, the police think this is a bizarre rumour put round, but when a young seamstress commits suicide, and yet another girl goes missing, they finally take notice, and the indomitable Inspector Cutter is put on the case. A young man, Gideon Bliss, a theology student who's been staying with his uncle in London, is looking for the missing girl, who had been staying with his uncle - Gideon had been tasked with teaching her how to read, and there was an attraction between the two. He does find her briefly, in a church in a distressed and feverish state, but he's clobbered and drugged, and when he comes round she's gone again. When Cutter mistakes him for a policeman, Gideon decides to go along with the deception and finds himself on the case, for by now his uncle is also missing, as is an Earl who owns the house where the seamstress killed herself. The Earl has another house, the titular house in Kent, and the police head down there in search of answers. Also on the case is a young journalist, Octavia, who takes it on herself to investigate the Spiriters and their link to all these disappearances. Overall I enjoyed this, I liked Octavia who managed to be more than the usual feisty Victorian young lady who won't conform to what's normally expected of her, and Gideon, although a bit of a wimp at first, does come through as the story goes on. I did feel it was a bit over-written though, and as it went on and the supernatural element took over, it started to feel a bit like a Victorian X files story! But I think there could be potential in the 3 main investigators for more adventures, although it did feel a bit rushed at the end. 7.5/10

Murder at the Fitzwilliam by Jim Eldridge - this is the first in a new series set in late Victorian England, and is set in Cambridge's famous Fitzwilliam Museum. When an unidentified body is found in a sarcophagus in the Egyptian Room, former policeman, and now what we would call private detective/investigator, Daniel Wilson is called in. At first it's assumed to be a break in that went wrong, although how he ended up in the sarcophagus is unclear, but when one of the museum's nightwatchmen is also found murdered, it looks like the cases might be linked. Daniel is helped by archaeologist Abigail, who also wants to find out who is desecrating her beloved museum, and the museum are also keen to get the case solved, especially with the Press printing sensational stories about an escaped mummy being responsible. The case deepens when Daniel is attacked in the street, and coupled with the growing attraction between himself and Abigail (which of course both try to deny) it looks like there won't be a simple resolution any time soon. This was an enjoyable, cosy period crime read with two likeable (although I did want to shake them occasionally!) protagonists, and the two are set for more adventures, as the 5th book in the series is due out in the summer. I would like to know more about Daniel's background, he worked with Inspector Fred Abberline on the Ripper cases, and this is often referred to in the book, so hopefully a prequel might be due at some point? I'd certainly like to know more! 7.5/10
Currently reading: "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens & "Coming Home to Winter Island" by Jo Thomas

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5680
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens & "Coming Home to Winter Island" by Jo Thomas
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Madeleine's 2020 reads

Post by Madeleine » Wed February 5th, 2020, 9:45 am

February

"Intrigue in Covent Garden" by Susanna Gregory - this is the 13th in the Thomas Chaloner series, set in Restoration London and takes place over Christmas and January 1665/66. Chaloner, a spy, finds himself investigating several cases, the most important one being a plot which will at best cause riots and at worst might well be another attempt to take out the King (the restored Charles II) and as many of his courtiers as possible. A troupe of actors has arrived in the City and seems intent on stirring up rebellion, along with a self styled preacher Urban, who wants the protests to be peaceful but is planting more seeds of provocation amongst the ordinary people of the City, those who survived the plague, and are furious at the King for fleeing the City during the outbreak, and for living a life of debauchery and flamboyance ever since his Restoration. There's also the ongoing hostility with the Dutch, including a disastrous battle, and the mysterious sinking of a British warship whilst at anchor in London, the murder of 2 physicians, removing a Dutch spy to safety, hunting for a missing courtier's wife, and bizarrely, searching for a missing trumpet which will play an important part at the forthcoming Fast, which supposedly will commemorate and remember Charles I's execution. So Chaloner is pretty busy, and soon becomes caught up in the endless plotting and various machinations of the Court, and then a known assassin decided he wants to help him with his inquiries! This was a very convoluted plot, and it took me a while to work out who everyone was, but once I got that straight I quite enjoyed it, although it did flag a little at times and felt a bit repetitive. But it certainly got eventful, with subterfuge, explosions and a vast list of characters, most of whom, according to the author's note, really existed, so it covers a fascinating area of history too. And Chaloner is, as always, an engaging likeable character, even though sometimes he has to do some very unsavoury things. 7.5/10

"The Hunting Party" by Lucy Foley - a group of friends from London, all with good, high powered jobs - 4 couples and 1 single woman - are at a hunting lodge in a remote part of Scotland, which has now been converted into a luxury resort, the only other occupants are an Icelandic couple who are staying in a separate part of the complex, Heather who is in charge of admin/housekeeping etc, and Doug, the gamekeeper who keeps himself very much to himself and doesn't mix with anyone else unless he has to or it's work related. The Londoners all travel up by train together, and before the celebrations have even started old tensions - most of them were at Oxford together - are beginning to surface, but these are brushed off as the midnight hour approaches, and a lot of alcohol is drunk, a few drugs are taken, and before the New Year is even halfway through it's first day, one of the group is found dead in a ravine, having been reported missing earlier. It's fairly obvious that the death wasn't an accidental drunken fall, and even more obvious that the killer is someone at the Lodge. As snow falls heavily, the Lodge is cut off and although the police are informed, not even Mountain Rescue can get to the area for several hours, maybe even days, at least. So as the residents all wait, and live in fear as to who the killer is, we gradually get their back stories. We don't know the identity of the victim (although I wasn't surprised when I found out who it was, as I'd suspected all along), but in a clever twist as the climax builds, for a time it's not clear who is the killer and who is the victim. For a while I did fear it would end in one of those lurid bloodbaths so beloved of this type of book, but thankfully it didn't go that way, and all was revealed, although I did think the ending was a little rushed, although there were a couple more revelations along the way. This book has been heralded as a breath of fresh air, but personally I don't think it reinvents the country house mystery/thriller genre - the characters are all fairly stock and most of them are pretty two dimensional, apart perhaps from Heather, who does show some character development, but most of the Londoners are depicted as pretty shallow, and the gamekeeper is the classic strong silent type with A Past. But it is a enjoyable romp, and according to the author's note, a TV version is in the works, not surprisingly. 8/10

"Dear Mrs Bird" by A J Pearce - the main character of this book, despite the title, is actually Emmeline (Emmy) Lane - it's 1941 and WW2 is devastating London, but Emmy wants to be a Lady War Correspondent, and when she gets a job at what she thinks is one of the London newspapers, she's thrilled. But when she reports for work she finds that she will in fact be working on a magazine, "Woman's Friend", answering readers' problems, which is where Mrs Bird comes in. She is Emmy, and her colleague Kathleen's, terrifying boss and to say she rules with a rod of iron is an understatement. She also vets readers' letters and won't answer anything even mildly salacious eg anything to do with Man Trouble and romance in general. But Emmy, a kind soul, feels sorry for many of the readers, and finds even more to empathise with when she is dumped by her fiancé who promptly marries someone else. So she starts replying personally to those readers who have enclosed an address and before long she occasionally slips a reply into the magazine, having been reassured that Mrs Bird never reads her own column. But discovery is of course inevitable, and coming after a personal tragedy, Emmy finds herself bereft on all fronts. However she is nothing if not resilient, and for me this was when the book really took off, as she tried to pick up the pieces of both her life and career. Overall this was an enjoyable book, the first half is very breezy but it does become darker as the war inevitably takes it's toll when it comes very close to home for Emmy and her friends. Emmy is a great character, well meaning and kind (a bit like Jane Austen's Emma but not so scheming, I wonder if the choice of a similar name is coincidental?) but I found Mrs Bird to be something of a cliche and a bit two dimensional, she's the epitome of the classic English lady dragon! But a nice read, well-written and very evocative of the war-time spirit. 8/10

All of a Winter's Night by Phil Rickman 8/10
Currently reading: "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens & "Coming Home to Winter Island" by Jo Thomas

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