Liz has been reading Elle’s A to Z Of Love by Claire Huston
If you enjoy spending time in an idyllic but realistic English village you will love this novel. When Elle Bea returns from University she is welcomed home to Haileybrook by her rather odd family and close friends. Her love life is non-existent but she will soon be travelling to Europe with her lively friend, Serena. However, memories and old ties are entangling her. She cares deeply for old friend, Toby, who took care of her when she was a shy schoolgirl, but she still can’t stop thinking about Adam, the handsome publican’s son she had briefly dated.
I found Elle’s attitude rather irritating. Her dynamic mother has sapped her confidence and her life seems to be permanently on hold. The redeeming feature is the series of emails she exchanges with Zach, a charming young man she met briefly in the University Library, who is now living with his girlfriend in the States. Their frank remarks tell us a great deal about their personalities and interests. The events in Haileybrook such as a wedding and a country fayre are recoded by Elle as part of her job as a local journalist and we encounter a number of interesting characters such as the elderly Mrs Cooper who tries to provide Elle with guidance.
The usual misunderstandings and foolish mistakes are delightful resolved in an exciting conclusion.
Haileybrook, a beautiful village in the peaceful Cotswolds countryside, is most people’s idea of heaven on earth.
Born and raised in this small slice of paradise, Elle Bea can’t wait to leave. It should be easy, but every time she packs her bags for exotic adventures, old loves and loyalties pull her back.
Will Elle be forced to forget her dreams of far-flung places and epic romance, or can she grab one last chance to have it all?
An uplifting, romantic story about friends, family and the relationships that make a place a home.
Liz has been reading His Castilian Hawk by Anna Belfrage
Noor is a teenager living in the countryside with her dog and her horses, far away from the political challenges of life under the rule of Edward I. Bravely accepting marriage to Robert FitzStephan, the bastard son of a Lord, she rapidly matures both physically and mentally. She should detest the man responsible for the death of her father but finding him an honourable man who treats her with respect she develops a passion for him.
This is a novel which shows us the brutality and hardships of medieval life in a well-researched account of Edward Longshanks determination to finally subdue the Welsh by murdering their Prince and capturing his children, but it is also a sensual love story with the complication of an evil spurned woman. In addition to the threat of Edith’s revenge, Noor cannot abandon her family links with Welsh cousins, putting loyalty before diplomacy. Can she trust Robert to stand by her after years of faithful service to the King?
Noor’s life is further complicated by her kinship with Queen Eleanor. At first, she is shown kindness and given help with her relationship with Robert but soon she realises that life is not straight-forward and is difficult to know who to trust. The conclusion of this book is a surprise but the promise of a new adventure for Noor and Robert is very exciting.
For bastard-born Robert FitzStephan, being given Eleanor d’Outremer in marriage is an honour. For Eleanor, this forced wedding is anything but a fairy tale. Robert FitzStephan has served Edward Longshanks loyally since the age of twelve. Now he is riding with his king to once and for all bring Wales under English control. Eleanor d’Outremer—Noor to family—lost her Castilian mother as a child and is left entirely alone when her father and brother are killed. When ordered to wed the unknown Robert FitzStephan, she has no choice but to comply. Two strangers in a marriage bed is not easy. Things are further complicated by Noor’s blood-ties to the Welsh princes and by covetous Edith who has warmed Robert’s bed for years. Robert’s new wife may be young and innocent, but he is soon to discover that not only is she spirited and proud, she is also brave. Because when Wales lies gasping and Edward I exacts terrible justice on the last prince and his children, Noor is determined to save at least one member of the House of Aberffraw from the English king. Will years of ingrained service have Robert standing with his king or will he follow his heart and protect his wife, his beautiful and fierce Castilian hawk?
Liz has been reading Buried Treasure by Gilli Allan
This unusual love story breaks the usual pattern. Although initial conflict between two personalities might be expected, the hang ups both events organiser, Jane, and university lecturer, Theo, have seem too great for anything, even friendship, to develop. Both have dysfunctional relationships in their past, from which they have not fully recovered. Alternating between their back stories the author builds up a picture of two flawed personalities who do not see happiness in their future. Theo, brought up by a demanding single mother, is the easiest to identify with while Jane’s feelings of inferiority due to her lack of education have given her an obsession with achieving perfection in her working life.
But Jane and Theo are linked by their interest in archaeology and a mystery from Jane’s family is an intriguing part of the plot. There are also serious issues addressed in the way men and women respect each other and how healing can be achieved from mutual respect. Intriguing portraits of two minor characters add humour and relieve the tension. At times I wished for less detail of all the complex tasks involved in running a conference but overall, I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys reading about a realistic partnership firmly set in the present day.
Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different. And there is nothing in the first meeting between the conference planner and the university lecturer which suggests they should expect or even want to connect again. But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. Both have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them; both have an archaeological puzzle they want to solve. Their stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems.
Liz has been reading When Murder Comes Home by Shana Frost.
Reopening her grandmother’s neglected inn set in a Highland village in Scotland proves much harder work than she expects for accountant Aileen McKinnon, but the locals remembering her from her childhood are keen to join in. Aileen soon becomes close to Bakery owner, Isla, who helps her with the cooking, but soon they are also working together to solve murder and theft.
As soon as ten guests arrive to the newly opened hotel, a gruesome murder occurs, and Det. Insp. Callan Cameron is certain he can solve the case without assistance. He and Aileen clash, seemingly unaware of an underlying attraction between them. The case becomes increasingly complex as a valuable item is stolen from the safe and then another guest is murdered. Cameron agrees to involve Aileen in the investigation and they gradually discover secrets about every one of the guests.
This is an interesting cosy mystery, and the two main characters show promise for further adventures; the storyline makes it an enjoyable novel. However, it does need a good tidy up as there were too many spelling errors and incorrect word usages for me to ignore. Added to which there was also an overuse of adjectives, idioms and clichés which was a shame; it just needs a good polish to lift the writing to the level of the crime script.
An adventure she’d asked for, being a murder suspect? Not really.
A solitary inn in the Scottish Highlands welcomes ten new guests. But when one is murdered in his own bed and the other dangles over the windowsill, all hell breaks loose. Then a mysterious heirloom goes missing. Who is responsible?
Introverted yet brilliant (former) accountant Aileen Mackinnon needs to figure out whodunnit and save her grandmother’s inn from ruin. But when someone steals a family heirloom from the safe and her guests start to drop dead, her mission gets tougher by the minute.
One-man-show Detective Inspector Callan Cameron finally has a murder to solve, but these ten new guests are not who they seem to be. Can he join forces with the new innkeeper and stay sane?
Aileen and Callan venture into a world of bloody murders, deception, and heists. The tension is high, so is the heat. They might not always see eye to eye, but can they agree: whodunnit?
Liz has been reading Living The Dream: in the Algarve by Alyson Sheldrake
Living the Dream describes the experiences of Alyson and David Sheldrake as they began a new life in Portugal. It includes amusing anecdotes, useful information for prospective residents and delightful descriptions of this beautiful locality. At this point I should declare my personal interest. We have a holiday home in the Algarve and we seriously considered becoming permanent residents. Eventually we rejected the idea for family reasons, but I still yearn to be there now.
So why Portugal? Alyson tells her readers how a short holiday captured their imagination and after returning several times they couldn’t resist buying a property in Ferragudo in the western Algarve. Of course the weather is a plus, not just the sunshine, but also the fact that there are seasons with spring flowers and cool damp winters. As well as the tourist resorts there are quaint villages with beautiful old churches and traditional customs and best of all, the warmth and friendliness of the Portuguese people.
The practicalities of their permanent move abroad were time consuming but achievable and they soon settled into the mainly Portuguese community. Alyson’s efforts with this difficult language were appreciated even though she sometimes made some amusing mistakes. We share her experience in adopting the abandoned dog called Kat and laugh with her over the eccentric driving in the area. Those who need more information about day-to-day life will appreciate the details on healthcare, cost of living and entertainment and even if you just go there for a holiday, the chapter highlighting some of the best beaches is superb.
You will find this an easy to read book, in the style of a friendly blog, which is enjoyable even when you are locked down in an English winter!
The story of one couple’s move from the UK to live in the sun. From propositioning a builder, to battling bureaucracy, and adapting to a slower pace of life in the sunshine; this is the refreshingly honest and often hilarious account of one couple’s move from the rainy UK to the sunny Algarve in Portugal. Alyson and Dave Sheldrake were determined to realise their dream of living abroad; so they ended their jobs, packed up everything they owned and moved to the Algarve to start a new life. Follow them as they battle with the Portuguese language, set up their own businesses, adopt a rescue dog and navigate the ‘expat’ world. Part guidebook, mostly memoir; this book is for anyone who has ever wondered what moving abroad is really like; and is essential reading for anyone considering moving to Portugal.
Liz has been reading The Other Mrs Samson by Ralph Webster
This book caught me unawares as it swept through the history of late 19th century and twentieth century Europe and America. Focusing on the story of two women, Hilda and Katie, both of whom married Josef Samson, we are shown what happened to Jewish families in Germany from the 1840s until the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s.
At first, we are given tiny hints as the author recounts meeting Katie, a widow, living in New York and hears about her beloved husband who had died in 1961. She becomes a close family friend, so it is not surprising that when she dies, she leaves him an envelope of documents. Circumstances cause this envelope to be ignored and it is not until this year, during the pandemic, that he investigates the contents. He also has another look at a small black cabinet she left, discovering a secret compartment contains a journal. Now he must piece together the story of the two women who loved Josef Samson.
In the words of Hilda and Katie we become closely involved in their lives. Hilda describes how her father and her uncle, as young Jewish men, had needed to leave their loved ones in Germany to seek their fortunes in America. By the time her mother and her aunt arrived in San Francisco the two men were on their way to becoming very wealthy. They had succeeded first as traders and then as bankers supporting those who had joined the gold rush. As a result, Katie grew up in a privileged household and she was able to follow her interests in art and culture. She describes the terror of the San Francisco earthquake but the family escape serious harm and a holiday in Germany meeting distant cousins introduces her to Josef. After a long correspondence they marry in Berlin and establish a happy marriage despite the shortages of the early years of World War One. Josef briefly takes over the story at a sad time and then we move to the words of Katie.
Katie was a young child in Berlin in 1914. Her father went to war and her family suffered. One of her brothers died of TB and the other followed extreme right-wing politics. After the war ended her embittered mother died but at least Katie was able to look after father. She was happy to take a job as a companion to a rich elderly lady who treated her as a friend. When she met the lady’s son, Josef, they soon became close. After his mother’s death, Josef and Katie became lovers, despite a 30-year age gap. As the political situation became more dangerous, Josef moved to Paris and Katie followed soon after. Once war started and Germany invaded France, Josef was arrested but later he was released and eventually both he and Katie were imprisoned in different camps in Vichy France. The story describes their eventual marriage and escape through Portugal to the United States but there is an interesting twist in the tale.
I was captivated by their stories and their survival against all odds. This is a wonderful way to learn more about the tumultuous history of the twentieth century.
Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.
A secret compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.
From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.
Liz has been reading Viking Voyager by Sverrir Sigurdsson
From a childhood in wartime Iceland to retirement in Chesapeake Bay, Sverrir Sigurdsson followed the life of a modern-day Viking. Working and travelling widely in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa through turbulent times he has given us a life story full of fascinating encounters and observations. The development of Iceland from its simple, traditional lifestyle to the modern successful country of today is shown in the lives of Sverrir’s family and friends and you can’t help but admire his personal adaptability and skills. The range of languages he has acquired have enabled him, as a trained architect and later project manager of educational developments all over the world, to gain satisfaction in his achievements. There have been problems along the way in his personal life, but he has two successful children and happiness with his second wife Veronica Li who co-wrote this biography.
I learnt a great deal about world history in the second half of the twentieth century from this informative book and the extraordinary escapades Sverrir experienced driving his family through remote parts of Asia and southern Africa are amazing to read. The inclusion of maps and photographs enhance the content. I would certainly enjoy sitting next to this energetic Viking at a dinner party, as I suspect he has many more tales to tell.
This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland. Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success. Spurred by this favourable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!
Liz has been reading High Wire In Nuala by Harriet Steel
Returning to Nuala in 1930s Ceylon is always a pleasure. The courteous Inspector Shanti de Silva and his delightful wife Jane have an active social life in the pleasant Hill town and on this occasion, it includes a visit to a travelling Russian circus. Shanti is not looking forward to the performance of the snake charmer, but he enjoys watching the clowns and the high wire act, until there is a disaster. Shanti’s boss, Archie Clutterbuck, does not consider the death of a Russian a relevant problem to the local police force, but the detective is determined to check the circumstances.
This volume of the series involves Shanti in undercover work and his Sergeant, Prasanna, excels himself. Add in the fear of poisonous snakes, rivalry between two female performers and another case involving jewellery burglary and you have an exciting, action-packed tale. The story is further enhanced by detailed descriptions of parts of the locality.
“The vicarage’s mellow stone walls basked in the afternoon sunshine. As if to remind viewers of its inhabitants calling, the tall windows were set in pointed Gothic arches decorated with carvings that were more modest versions of those at the church. A vigorous soft-pink rose spread its branches between the windows, also scrambling over the roof of the deep entrance porch. The latter was decorated with a fleur-de-lis pattern of faded blue on a yellowish-cream glaze, well-worn by many years of footsteps; the front door was a massive piece of oak.”
The escapades of kittens, Billy and Bella, are a pleasant interlude between progress in the case and dire danger to our hero. I particularly enjoyed this novel and can see it as an episode in a cosy crime TV series similar to Death in Paradise.
Much to the delight of the locals, a colourful Russian circus rolls into Nuala, but the fun ends abruptly when, on the opening night, a tragic accident takes place. Shanti de Silva and his wife, Jane are among the crowd to witness the accident. Or was it an accident? Inspector de Silva senses murder, and soon, he’s juggling with the evidence. Will the trail lead to the circus’s dashing stunt rider and master of horse, Alexei Goncharov, or to Alexei’s brother Boris, its boisterous ringmaster? Throw a string of jewel thefts and some deadly snakes into the mix and the list of suspects grows. De Silva will need to keep his wits about him to unravel yet another absorbing puzzle in this charming and addictive mystery series set in the 1930s in exotic Ceylon.
Liz has been reading Writedow: Lockdown In The Galloway Glens At The Time Of Covid by Margaret Elphinstone et al.
Writedown provides a unique record of life in Galloway, south west Scotland during lockdown through the work of 22 writers in a collection of lyrical poetry, desperate rants, humour and quiet endurance. They tell the story of a community encountering unprecedented times
I came to this book wondering if these writers would have shared my experiences of Spring 2020 and they did. They speak as Everyman expressing our shared responses to unprecedented times. Through diary entries from March 23rd until June 15th we are reminded of the day lockdown began, of the shortages in the supermarkets, the difficulties arranging food deliveries and of the grief at being cut off from our loved ones. Some had accidents which were more worrying than they would normally be, operations were postponed, yet the skies became quiet and unpolluted and the birds sang.
We lived in virtual reality. There were zoom calls with family, quizzes with friends on Kahoot and, my shared experience, reading to my grandchild on Facetime, even though she told me I was an imaginary Gran. As one of the writers said, “How acute is the isolation when my screen shuts down.”
I loved the reference to “The Subjunctive World,” where a calendar showed where we would have been or the appointment we would have kept. I empathised with Mary’s feelings of the “lightness” of having no commitments, only time to ourselves but also with the “weight” of guilt because no-one in my family has the virus and I have a garden to enjoy. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful weather and the time to garden and Leonie’s detailed description of the wildflowers, insects and birds is magnificent. And yet it was difficult to ignore politics. The murder of George Floyd in America and the massacre in Kabul were also part of life at that time and we shared not only clapping for the NHS but also the feeling that, “our government floundered like numpties.”
Individual anecdotes lit up the entries. I have great admiration for Cath who made scrubs for hospital staff. Several of the writers are widows and they recalled moments of their lives with their husbands. Sharing a phone call with a friend you have known most of your life was something many of us did but one elderly writer decided to phone lonely people in the parish to cheer them up. Little things like having a banana to eat or finding somewhere to swim gave great pleasure.
Perhaps most sad was that although we hoped, “the pandemic would lead to a fundamental shift in society, maybe kinder, and in politics they’d be honest, maybe actually work for the good of the people once it was over,” one of the writer realised, “Maybe that’s a step too far into the realms of Utopian fantasy.”
When a rich, successful businessman dies in an accident on a large Highland estate, the Kingfisher undercover organisation is called in by his next of kin. For R J Rox it is only her second assignment as a well trained but inexperienced agent. She is reluctant to return to Scotland, her former home, as it is also a place of personal tragedy, but she is keen to prove herself. Unfortunately, she has to work with a man who has reason to dislike her.
Calling themselves Riley and Stuart Black, they explore the Buchanan estate under cover of darkness, but they soon find themselves in serious trouble. They are unsure who to trust but are sure there has been foul play. The characters with whom they interact are complex people reflecting the tensions of the situation. Knowing the west of Scotland personally I enjoyed the authenticity of the midges and the description of the countryside is clear and vivid.
As R J and her partner become closer, the danger increases, leading up to a thrilling, murderous conclusion. This exciting, taut novel promises more thrills in future volumes of the series and I am hoping that we will learn more about R J’s feelings and her past.
On the vast Buchanan Estate in the wilds of Scotland, tech billionaire James Sullivan dies a suspicious death. Rookie agent RJ Rox is drawn back to a homeland to which she’d sworn she’d never return. She soon realizes the present is far more threatening than her past as she hunts the killers and the powers that unleashed them.
The close-knit community surrounding the estate is the perfect place to hide secrets and lies. RJ finds herself searching for the weakest link that will allow her access into Buchanan’s sinister world.
Thrown together with a partner who clearly hates her makes RJ even more determined to prove herself to the elusive Kingfisher organization.
Remote, desolate, and beautiful, the hills hide a killer lying in wait. Can RJ close the case before anyone else is subject to the same fate as Sullivan? Before she is hunted herself?