Friday, 12 June 2020

Book Review: Murder at Enderley Hall by Helena Dixon

Murder at Enderley Hall: A completely addictive cozy mystery (A Miss Underhay Mystery) by [Helena Dixon]I did enjoy Helena Dixon’s Murder at Enderley Hall. A cosy historical mystery is right at the top off my reading wish list at the moment and this one delivered.

It took me a while to get into it, and I wonder if that’s because I haven’t read the first book in the series. The first few pages threw a lot of information at me and I wasn’t quite able to sort it out until the story had moved on a little; but that’s the risk of being late to the party. I did feel, though, that we didn’t really need to know everything that happened in the previous murder mystery and the references to them had me expecting that one character, in particular, would turn up in this book. (They didn’t.)

So, the story. In search of secrets in her past, Kitty Underhay heads to Enderley Hall to meet her relatives for the first time — but the elderly Nanny who might be prepared to tell her is soon found dead at the bottom of the stairs. And so, with the help of her handsome not-quite-beau Captain Matthew Bryant, Kitty has a mystery to solve.

Once I got to Enderley Hall and became properly engaged in the story, the book really galloped along. I enjoyed the characters, especially the sparky relationship between Kitty and Matthew, and the period details. The book is well-written and has all the hallmarks of a traditional country house mystery yet with a refreshing modern touch. It’s the first book by Helena Dixon that I’ve read, and I’ll be reading more.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bookouture for an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Book Review: A Letter From Munich by Meg Lelvis

I love a mystery, I love a historical connection and I love a dual timeline story. The blurb for Meg Lelvis’s A Letter from Munich ticked all of those boxes and, while I did enjoy it, it somehow failed to deliver. 

The book is the story of ex-Chicago cop Jack Bailey, who travels to Munich to seek out the story behind a letter written to his father at the end of the Second Word War. Jack has a back story of violent bereavement, in the loss of his wife and daughter 12 years earlier, and he’s travelling with his mate Sherk (of German extraction) whose wife is going through cancer treatment. With Sherk’s help, Jack tracks down the woman who wrote the letter, Ariana, and discovers the truth about his father. And that’s it. 

This is the problem I had with the book. The plot was very slender indeed. There was one twist, which was hardly difficult to spot, and too much of the rest of it was Sherk repeating back in English a conversation he’d just heard in German (Jack, as the running joke goes, doesn’t speak any other language than his own) or Renate, Ariana’a sister, narrating the story (rather than the reader being taken back, as it were, live). Of course, if a reader doesn’t know anything about the liberation of the concentration camps that might be a help in pushing the story on, but if you do, then it feels like padding. I felt very much removed from the story, rather than involved in it.

The book is filed under historical fiction and women’s fiction, though it doesn’t fit neatly into either of those categories — especially given the dominance of the male leading characters. It felt more like a mystery but not much of one. I enjoyed the banter between Jack and Sherk, I liked the almost travelogue-like descriptions of their German trip, and some of the historical background was fine, though I thought there was too much of it. 

But, as I say, I expected more plot, and even in the end it petered out. 

Thanks to Netgalley and Black Rose Writing for a copy of this book in return for an honest review. 

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Book Review: The Organic Book of Compost by Pauline Pears

As a recent convert to gardening, and someone confronting the task of composting with a degree of awe, I found Pauline Pears’s The Organic Book of Compost a very useful introduction.

The version I read was an advance copy and so the formatting wasn’t perfect. I can’t, therefore, criticise the graphics and flow charts on such things as what you can compost or what kind of compost heap you should have, but nor can I praise them for their usefulness as the were impossible to follow. But I will say that as far as I could tell they looked as if they might be very handy.

That apart, I felt the book was good at demystifying the composting process. (I now know what rookie mistakes I’ve made and how to put them right.) I felt that some of the introductory material wasn’t really necessary — for example, there was a longish section extolling the virtues of organic gardening, most of which is common sense if not common knowledge.

Overall a good and useful guide, clearly written and easy to understand.  

Thanks to Netgalley and Fox Chapel Publishing for an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Book Review: Murder at Kensington Palace by Andrea Penrose

I love historical mysteries, so much so that I sometimes think I read too many. After a while they can merge into one another unless there’s something to differentiate them from the mass. Andrea Penrose’s Murder at Kensington Palace is yet another set in the Regency period, but Penrose has taken the standard and given it a very nice twist indeed with her protagonists — the well-connected Lady Charlotte Sloane, who has an alternative existence as a satirical cartoonist, and the aristocratic scientist Lord Wrexford. 

I liked this twist very much. The plot itself isn’t really what drives the story, which is a fairly standard romp through Recency London as Charlotte tries to track down the murderer of her cousin amid the usual cast of corrupt lords, Bow Street Runners and smart-alec valets, and which has a conclusion that rather stretched my credulity. But the protagonists are different from most, and they’re quirky and (apart from the fact that I found some of the repartee a little bit unbelievable), they work. 

I thought the book was nicely written though in places the dialogue felt a bit brittle. But the tension built up when it mattered and I kept turning the pages, and it was strong enough to keep me interested when the plot started to feel a little silly. But it was fun and it was readable and I will be back for more of Wrexford and Sloan.  

Thanks to Netgalley and Kensington Books for an advance copy in return for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Body in the Garden by Katherine Schellman

The Body in the Garden by Katharine SchellmanI’m a sucker for a good old historical mystery, and Katherine Schellman’s The Body in the Garden didn’t disappoint. It’s a Regency mystery, set among the upper classes in London with, of course, the obligatory descent into the rougher parts of society along the way. Rich, attractive young widow lily Adler stumbles upon a body during a high society ball and there’s a mystery to solve.

I really enjoyed this book, although it took me a while to get into it. Once i` got going, though, it was a good read. I loved the character of Lily and her determination to maintain her independence, and I also loved her friend and would-be-beau Jack. The banter between them was clever and amusing and I definitely felt theirs is a relationship that has a long way to run. 

The plot was fast moving and complicated. Sometimes I got lost a bit but I suspect that was down to reading too late at night — something which is a compliment to the author in its own way! I loved the historical detail and the picture Schellman draws of Regency London and I also liked the way the story included a degree of moral ambiguity and a real dilemma for lily as she suspects her best friend’s husband, a magistrate, may be involved either in the murder itself or in covering it up. 

Thanks to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for an advance copy in return for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Illumination of Sherlock Holmes by Paul D Gilbert

THE ILLUMINATION OF SHERLOCK HOLMES a gripping mystery inspir... by Paul D. GilbertIt’s taken me a few months after finishing it to get round to reviewing Paul Gilbert’s The Illumination of Sherlock Holmes, and I think that’s because I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I love the original Conan Doyle stories and this mimicked them in a very clever way; but there was something missing and I don’t know what it was. 

The publisher’s blurb is as follows: “Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson reunite after a long and hazardous journey through the icy mountains of Bavaria. They face a dramatic encounter within the walls of a secluded castle. Sherlock Holmes and his brother, Mycroft, give chase, only for their quarry to escape. The three men, in the company of a new and mysterious ally, return to London knowing that an old adversary will be seeking a deadly revenge. Almost at once Holmes and Watson are presented with an intriguing case, one that brings back disquieting memories. However, this only serves as a temporary diversion. Before long, Holmes is challenged by a deadly but beautiful stranger. In a spectacular final showdown, their vengeful enemy proves just how far they’re willing to go.”

It has all the ingredients of a Holmes story… and yet, and yet. It didn’t grip me. I got a little confused in the middle and stopped reading for a while, and when I went back it took me a while before I realised my Kindle had somehow flipped back and I was reading a chapter I’d already read. And now, the acid test for any book — after a few months I can’t really remember much about the plot. 

I think a lot of people will love this book. It’s true to the Conan Doyle originals in many ways. But in the back of my mind I seem to hear Elvis singing She’s Not You. It’s everything a Holmes fan could want, but it’s not Conan Doyle. For me, the magic ingredient is missing. 

Thanks to Netgalley and Joffe Books for an advance copy in return for an honest review. 

Book Review: Return to teh Reich by Eric Lichtblau

Return to the Reich: A Holocaust Refugee's Secret Mission to Defeat the Nazis by [Eric Lichtblau]Eric Lichtblau’s Return to the Reich is the true story of German Jew Fred Mayer and his struggle against the Nazis. It’s a proper adventure story, almost in the you-couldn’t-make-it-up category. 

Fred’s family fled Germany in 1938 when he was sixteen and had seen enough of the Nazi’s actions against the Jews to instil a bitter hatred and a determination to fight Hitler’s regime with all the resources at his disposal. Turned down when he tried to enlist because of his German citizenship, he was selected by the US secret services and sent out to Austria, from where he sent back regular reports. 

It’s an adventure story packed with twists and turns. Fred’s character and enormous qualities come through and it was almost a real page-turner. I say “almost” because I found the writing a little slow and repetitive at times, although the story itself was enough to carry the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, both as a story and as a historical record. 

Thanks to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.