New Read: Indiana Belle

Back in 2014, I read nostalgic romance The Mine from John A. Heldt’s Northwest Passage series. Being at the end of a long, tiring term, I was in the mood for another cosy, easy read, so I picked up Heldt’s Indiana Belle; a novel from his American Journey series.

In this book we meet a doctoral student Cameron Coelho, from Rhode Island, just as he opens a life-changing package from Indiana. Within he finds more than the private papers of society editor Candice Bell, that he hoped would help him with his dissertation on the roaring twenties, but he also finds enclosed a photograph of the beautiful Candice and clues to a century-old mystery. With the help of Geoffrey Bell, the “time-travel professor,” Cameron steps back to 1925 to the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz in search of love and answers.

Unlike Joel from The Mine, Cameron is an instantly likeable character as he is a kind, honest and down-to-earth chap (although he perhaps chuckles a little too much). However he is also a lonely soul. He has a few friends but no close family, after being orphaned very young and the recent deaths of his grandparents who raised him. This leaves him free of responsibility and ties to travel back in time on a mission of importance for Professor Bell, as well as a taking chance to meet the bewitching figure in the photograph. So charmed is Cameron with Candice that he desperately grapples with his conscience on whether to right a terrible wrong, when it could have dire implications for the future.

Back in 1925, Cameron travels to the rural town of Evansville, Indiana. Candice’s hometown where she is the well-known editor of the society column in the Evansville Post; she has ambitions for the crime desk though. I thought Heldt brought alive the time (one of my favourite periods) and place well – I liked the addition of the cloche hats and beaded dresses; the local drugstore selling ‘special elixirs’ and just over the river a thriving ‘speakeasy’. Under the friendly veneer though there is some tension brewing with Klan marches and an impending murder. I found myself very easily lost in it all.

Overall, I thought Indiana Belle was a highly readable, nostalgic mystery, that has nice touches of time travel and romance. In fact, I think it had all the elements I enjoyed about The Mine and none of the niggles. I look forward to reading more of Heldt’s novels. Good read.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any recommendations of other books set in the 1920s?

New Read: Celebration of Discipline

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. After an interesting discussion of The Shack by William Paul Young in our February meeting, club members were asked to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster next.

Our vicar chose Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (first published in 1980) because it is now well established as a contemporary spiritual classic, that has helped well over a million people discover a richer spiritual life infused with joy, peace and a deeper understanding of God. By exploring the ‘classic disciplines’ of Christian faith: the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission and service; and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance and celebration.

Now if that seems like a lot to cover – in a book under 300 pages – then you would be right! This book is absolutely jammed packed with detailed, thoughtful and inspired discussion on what Richard Foster believes to be the basic practices for a Christian to exercise to enhance their faith and lives. Through longer chapters broken down into sub-sections for each area of discipline, Foster shares eloquently all about these practices and his experience of them, however I found it was all a little too much for me to take in, in one reading. Fortuitously our book club meeting had to be cancelled so I was able to take longer over reading this.

After finishing this, I can already see myself re-reading it and for many years to come dipping in and out of it for inspiration. I can understand how it is already being described as a classic, as it is full of universal, timeless advice for a practicing Christian. While I would currently rate this as a good read this could definitely change the more I read and the more I learn from it. As well as re-reads to look forward to, there are also many other books I could read too. As Foster is a prolific writer of theology and devotional guides, although he is primarily from a Quaker tradition his writings have appealed to a broad Christian audience. If we don’t read more of his books for my church book group I am tempted to read more for myself.

Overall, I found Celebration of Discipline to be a useful and inspirational read (I look forward to my second reading of it). I have not started a new book yet, as the book club is currently on a break for Easter. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any of Richard Foster’s other books?

New Read: John F Kennedy

Earlier this year, I finally got back into Mark Black’s A Very Brief History series, when I read Richard Nixon for the What’s in a Name 2017 challenge. So I thought I would keep the US president theme going by picking up the John F Kennedy instalment next.

Before reading this, I knew J F Kennedy as the young, handsome president with his glamorous wife, who brought a wave of hope and change with them. Sadly he is also remembered for the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’, the subsequent and disastrous ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion, and his tragic assassination on the 22nd November 1963 (I always find it poignant that on the same day, C S Lewis passed away quietly at home in Oxford). With this in mind, this brief history is probably the one I have learnt the least from. However there were details about how Kennedy organised his new administration, his military service and the ill-health that plagued his younger life, which were all new and interesting to me.

In hindsight, I think I am very lucky to have managed to collect so many of these short histories, as I doubt I would have ever read about Kennedy or any other US president for that matter otherwise. Which would be a shame because it is a place and history I know very little about. This was another clear and concise history (although I spotted a few grammatical/editing mistakes in this one) that is broken down into bite-size chapters on: his early life, military service, political career, winning the presidency, his domestic and foreign policy, and finally his assassination and it’s aftermath. I warn you now though if you already know something of Kennedy or American history I doubt you will learn anything from this. I recommend to those, like me, who know little to nothing.

Overall, John F Kennedy: A Very Brief History was another quick and mostly interesting read. I have nine more editions from this series still to go – it seems appropriate to read The Cuban Missile Crisis instalment next. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or anything else about J F Kennedy?

Re-Read: Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener

During the miserable weather in March, I decided to indulge in a comforting re-read of Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener by M C Beaton; the third book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series. (If you are unfamiliar with this author and series you may instead want to check out my thoughts on the first book: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death).

Our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin returns from holiday to discover to her horror, that she has a new rival for the affections of her handsome neighbour, James Lacey: Mary Fortune. Mary is an attractive and glamorous divorcee, who has the whole village of Carsely in a spin over her pristine garden, delicious baking and charming conversation – how can the stocky, sharp Agatha ever compete? Then Mary is discovered murdered and macabrely planted head first in her own plant pot! Which sets Agatha off on another meddlesome, amateur investigation, where she reveals Mary was not as perfect or as well loved as she seemed.

To be fair Agatha isn’t an instantly likeable character either, although she is very amusing! As the former boss of a highly successfully PR company, Agatha became sharp, bossy, cajoling and completely work focused. Once she took early retirement and settled in the quiet, picturesque village of Carsely her softer side has started to emerge, as she experiences the kindness and friendship of the vicar’s lovely wife Mrs Bloxby and the funny Detective Constable Wong. In fact it is revealed in this horticultural mystery just how popular Agatha has now become with all the villagers, but Agatha (bless her) is still oblivious!

In this re-read, it was again an absolute pleasure to return to the charming village of Carsely; spend time with it’s eclectic mix of inhabitants and follow Agatha for another eccentric, bumbling investigation. I love a good murder mystery however I don’t always want all that gore and gritty realism, which is when a cosy-crime like this is perfect. As I said before, I picked this up during a particularly wet and miserable spell of weather, and it was so comforting to tuck myself in bed with this and a mug of relaxing chamomile tea.

Overall, Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener was another quick, fun and comforting re-read. I hope to get round to a re-read of Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley soon. Good read.

Have you read this? Have you read any cosy-crime recently?

The Classics Club: My Lady Ludlow

Last year, after having long wanted to read something by Elizabeth Gaskell, I read first the eponymous Cranford and then Mr Harrison’s Confessions. So it seemed appropriate that I should finish my Classics Club challenge with My Lady Ludlow, the final story in The Cranford Chronicles.

Similar to Cranford, we are introduced to a young woman, Miss Dawson, who after the loss of her father is invited to live at Hanbury Court by her charitable, distant relative Lady Ludlow. Through Dawson’s eyes we come to see how the Hanbury estate and the surrounding rural community are ruled over by this indomitable but beloved Lady, who eccentrically chooses to employ no servant who can read and write. However the winds of change are blowing through the community as the new vicar, Mr Gray, has the preposterous idea to open a school for the poor! Our Lady Ludlow has a rough time ahead but she is perhaps not as rigid as even she thought.

I must admit to be rather disappointed this was (again!) not set in Cranford, as the BBC’s 2007 TV adaptation had built me up by merging these novellas into one setting. However I can see how this has been placed in these chronicles because of the small rural setting and the dominate female presence. In this setting, men are neither feared or coveted but instead tolerated, with the larger-than-life personality of the matriarchal Lady Ludlow overruling their thoughts and beliefs. I fear I am making our Lady sound like a real horror, in fact I found her wonderful to read about – especially the French Revolution back story that explains many of her rigid views – and the power she holds really only comes from the fact she is so well loved.

This tale sees Gaskell returning to her steady, touching and meticulous style, that follows in detail the simple action and drama of a small Victorian community during a time of peaceful revolution. Before this, I had found Gaskell perhaps not as gripping or dramatic as some of her contemporaries, however the French Revolution section of this one really did grip me – I was desperate to find out what happened next!  While it also still retained a wonderfully comforting and personable style, stories and characters. Happily I picked this up and read a chapter or two a night, and just lost myself in this nostalgic world.

Overall, I thought My Lady Ludlow was a charming classic that made for a very comforting read, although Cranford is still definitely my favourite. Now I look forward to reading one of Gaskell’s full-length novels – I have North and South on my TBR read pile. Good read.

Have you read this? Or can you recommend anything else by Gaskell?

The Classics Club – 50/50

New Read: Faith and Moonlight: Part 2

Last year, I read and enjoyed four of Mark Gelineau’s & Joe King’s novellas from two threads of their fantasy series, Echo of the Ascended. So much so I didn’t wait long into this year to start a third thread of their epic series with Faith and Moonlight and to continue it with this: Part 2.

In the previous instalment, we were introduced to teenage orphans Roan and Kay: best friends who had travelled together to the city with hopes and dreams of entering the prestigious School of Faith, to become a legendary Razor. At the start of this instalment, passing the entry test is not the end of their trials, as they are now both thrown deep into the vigorous training regime and are tested in dangerous one-to-one combats. Through out which Roan and Kay are finding themselves growing further and further apart.

The protagonists Roan and Kay are still young, naïve and vulnerable, which gives us, the reader, the opportunity to watch them grow. It is in this second instalment where we see more clearly that these best friends are now on very different paths. Roan excels in his training and is determined to succeed, so as not to return to his brutal past. While Kay struggles with the dark, powerful magic growing within her; and fears the price she paid to get into the School of Faith may have been too high. I still definitely felt the most for Kay as Roan seems to be leaving her in his wake.

This majority of this young adult thread is set in the beautiful and serene School of Faith – a place of peace, education, power and history, with its marble buildings and lush green grass. Where there is the opportunity for fame and glory but this can come at a great cost, and in this instalment we are also introduced to the  dark, bloody fate that could await those who fail in the fighting pits. The authors, Gelineau and King, have certainly ramped up the ante with the fights, danger and power for the characters in this – I think I may have read this one even quicker than the one before!

Overall, I thought Faith and Moonlight: Part 2 continued this highly enjoyable young adult thread to this epic fantasy series very well. Sadly I have no more instalments from this series…get writing Mr Gelineau and Mr King, I want more! Good read.

Thank you to the authors for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any of the other Echo of the Ascended novellas?

New Read: The Butterfly Summer

Last year, My mother passed on her copy of The Butterfly Summer by Harriet Evans to me, as she knows how much I love a book with an old mysterious house in it. In February, I finally picked it up as an escape during one of the many rainy days.

This tale sweeps the reader off to Cornwall, up a hidden over-grown creek towards a long-forgotten house: Keepsake. A place full of wonder, sadness and danger, which has been passed down through the female line of the Parr family; since it was bequeathed by Charles II to his abandoned lover. Now the elegant Elizabethan walls are crumbling and the exquisite garden, full of exotic butterflies, has grown wild, but locked within this place, waiting to break free, is a heart breaking story of love and betrayal. This is Nina Parr’s birthright – it holds the truth about her family and offers a chance to finally put things right.

The narration is split between two characters. In the present day, the reader follows Nina Parr – a young divorcee, from a dysfunctional family, stuck in an unfulfilling job – who lives in London and is set on unravelling this mystery after a chance encounter in The British Library. While the secrets of the past are slowly and unreliably revealed by Theodora (Teddy) Parr, through a letter written to her estranged son George. I’m not sure I always liked or agreed with either narrator, however I could totally sympathise with the difficult situations they were in. What was most interesting to see was how the legacy of Keepsake affected these two very different women’s lives.

I have never read anything by Harriet Evans before, however if you read my blog regularly than you will know how much I love a dual time period novel (some of my favourites being by Susanna Kearsley), so with the big mysterious house this book had double appeal for me. I think Evans dealt with both time periods well, although as usual I was most drawn to the past which in this case was set during the lead up to and during World War II. Both periods were realistically described with nice touches of detail like fashion, culture and food – my only niggle would be that I would prefer less sexual detail, but that is just my personal taste and is not a reflection on the writing skill.

Overall, I thought The Butterfly Summer was an interesting mystery full of secrets, betrayal and history. I would definitely be open to reading more by Harriet Evans. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Harriet Evans?