New Read: A Letter of Mary

Since reading The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, I have managed to collect much of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Earlier this year, I read the second book, A Monstrous Regiment of Women and then with the cooler weather and darker nights in October, it seemed the perfect time to pick up the third book, A Letter of Mary.

It is 1923 and Mary Russell and her husband, the retired Sherlock Holmes, have settled into a comfortable, if slightly dull, routine on their Sussex estate. Mary with her books and translations, and Holmes with his newspaper, pipe and bees. When they are visited by an old friend, Miss Dorothy Rushkin, an archaeologist just returned from Palestine. Who leaves in Mary’s care an ancient manuscript that seems to suggest Mary Magdalene was an Apostle of Jesus…. which, if authentic, could whip up a storm of biblical proportions! Then, just days later, Mary and Holmes discover their friend has been tragically killed in a car accident, but was it really an accident?!

So much has changed since we first met lonely 15-year-old Mary, that sunny day in 1915. Now Mary is a strong, brave, intelligent grown woman, who is now an equal to the great Sherlock Holmes’ as she takes on a key role in their investigations. In this case, going undercover alone to gain the trust of a possibly dangerous suspect, Colonel Edwards: the last person known to have seen and spoken to Miss Rushkin. While Holmes goes on his own undercover mission to find out more about Miss Rushkin’s estranged sister.

Since the last book Mary and Holmes’ have married. I wouldn’t say they suddenly fell madly in love. Instead they both just finally admitted how much they need each other. The large age gap was not an issue at all for me this time, because it is so easy to see how well they suit each other. In fact, it was highly amusing to see them both going quietly stir-crazy in their comfortable, settled routine at home together; which culminates in Mary sending herself cross-eyed reading and Holmes disappearing to his office to blow things up!

Then in-steps Miss Rushkin to save their sanity, but sadly lose her life. We then witness their complicated emotions as they mourn the loss of a friend. Mary fainted at the sight of the blood splattered at the scene of this tragic death and Holmes’ anger bubbling under is cool exterior. However they can then barely hide their excitement at the thrill of picking up the scent of a crime and throwing themselves body and soul into finding justice for a good woman. What unfolds is another thrilling mystery full of secrets, danger and disguises, clues, red-herrings and theological arguments.

All in all, I thought A Letter of Mary was another nostalgic and thrilling adventure with Mary Russell and the famous Sherlock Holmes. I look forward to reading more from this series – I already have the next book, The Moor waiting on my TBR pile. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any of the other Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes books?

This was also my fourth and final read for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XIII reading event.

Advertisements

The Classics Club: Spin #19 Result

Last week, The Classics Club announced their 19th Spin event. The idea for which is to list 20 books remaining on our Classics Club lists, numbered 1-20, and the number announced today (Tuesday) is the book we have to read by the 31st January 2019. So the results are in and our spin number is…

1

Which means I will be re-reading the wonderful Emma by Jane Austen. Not the longest book on my list, so I think I have got a sweet result!

Have you read this? If you also took part, what was your result?

New Read: Kin

After reading Lynn’s wonderful thoughts on the new, Viking murder mystery, Kin by Snorri Kristjansson, I knew I needed to read it. So I immediately requested my own copy from Netgalley, but then patiently saved it for the perfect darker, cooler days of autumn to read it.

In the summer of 970, legendary Viking warlord, Unnthor Reginsson has reached the winter of his years, he’s sixty-two, and has long since retired from raiding. Now Unnthor lives quietly at his farm, Riverside, with his wife, Hildigunnur, their adoptive daughter, Helga and his sworn brother Jaki and his son, Einar. Both Unnthor and his wife are well-respected in the valley and surrounding area, but as much as he denies it, rumours and gossip persists of a large treasure horde secretly buried on his land. All of which is to bubble dangerously to the surface when Unnthor arranges a whole family reunion.

Through the eyes of the young, intelligent and insightful Helga, we witness the preparation and arrival of Unnthor and Hildigunnur’s grown children and their families. There are three sons: the dark, dangerous Karl; the giant Bjorn and the gentle, henpecked Aslak, and one daughter: the lithe, clever Jorunn. With the gathering of the siblings, bad blood simmers and old feuds resurface, as they all make their moves on the old man’s treasure. Then one morning Helga is awakened by screams. Blood has been shed… kin has been slain!

I daren’t go any further with the plot in case of spoilers! What I can say is what follows is a fast, gripping and twisting murder mystery, as Helga races against time to solve this terrible crime, before an innocent is blamed and there can be anymore bloodshed. As an adoptive daughter she has a more objective view and open mind than the others, and she has a wisdom that belies her young years. Also she puts all the cunning traits she has learnt from her wise adoptive mother, Hildigunnur, to work her way through this large cast, wheedling out all their resentments and secrets.

What was a very good murder mystery, which could perhaps be transposed to any time period, was taken to a whole new level by the fantastic, historical Viking setting. The picturesque, wooded Norwegian valley, with the Riverside farm and longhouse nestled within, where life is quiet, isolated and closely tied to the seasons. Then the reunion explodes this life apart with the busy, continuous slaughtering of animals, making beds, cooking food, bringing up the best wine and ale, and entertaining guests. We also have the chance to see traditional Norse games, sports and a blood sacrifice to the gods.

Overall I thought Kin was an excellent Viking murder mystery, which shows a different side to the raiding and pillaging Vikings. On finishing this book, I discovered that it is the first in a planned series, so I look forward to reading more of Helga Finnsdottir’s adventures. Great read.

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

Have you read this? Or any other Viking books?

This was also my third read for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XIII reading event.

Re-Read: Catching Fire

Back in September, I picked up Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins which continued my planned re-read of Collins’ highly successful, young adult dystopian trilogy. A trilogy that went on to spawn a film franchise that was a massive box-office success. After enjoying the films a lot, I was excited to remind myself of the extra details in the books. (Warning: this will probably contain spoilers for the first book).

Against all the odds, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have both survived the Hunger Games and come home as joint winners. Katniss should be relieved, perhaps even happy, but her brave act to save them both has set a dangerous spark of hope and now there are whispers of bloody rebellion against the Capitol. To protect herself, her family and her friends from the wrath of President Snow, she must convince everyone she is just a silly girl, madly in love with Peeta. In love and not a rebel! Which is made hard as Peeta truly loves her, but she has complicated feelings for her longtime friend Gale.

Again I really felt for Katniss, because she is a young woman who finds her life and love taken out of her control. While she has true affection for both Peeta and Gale, the real truth is she isn’t ready to fall in love with anyone. (Although for me it would hands down be Peeta!). However the show must go on, so Katniss and Peeta find themselves packed off on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour of the districts. Where they must come face-to-face with the people of the other tributes that did not live, some of whom they killed or failed to save, like little Rue. And with all eyes on them, they can make no wrong move or the consequences could be horrifying.

Then, if it didn’t seem bad enough for Katniss, The Capital announces the 75th Quarter Quell, a special Hunger Games that happens every twenty-five years. The shocking twist for this Quarter Quell is that the ‘tributes’ will be chosen from the existing pool of winners. Even on re-reading it was heartbreaking as realisation dawns that Katniss is the only female to ever win from District 12. It would seem someone has it in for her! And so with stomachs churning we witness Katniss enter the arena for the second time. Can she possibly beat the odds and win for a second time?!

Again Catching Fire is a gritty, dystopian young adult adventure, full of hardship, danger, love, death, friendship and courage; that has lost known of its edge or shock on re-reading it. I am now intrigued to move on to a re-read of the final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, because I was a little disappointed with it first time around. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you watched the films?

Re-Read: The Return of the Prodigal Son

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 a summer break, we read and met to discuss But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing. Having got muddled with the order of the books, I actually read our October book, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen first. So it seemed like a good idea to re-read to refresh my memory before we met.

In The Return of the Prodigal Son, the bestselling writer and pastor, Henri Nouwen chronicles how a chance encounter with a poster of Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, catapulted him into a long spiritual adventure. That saw him making a pilgrimage to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg to see the original in the flesh and undertaking deep, personal meditation; that led him to discover the place within which God has chosen to dwell.

Inspired by Rembrandt’s powerful depiction of the Gospel story, Nouwen probed the several elements to the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s resentment and the father’s compassion. Broken down into three parts with three short chapters each, Nouwen describes and discusses concisely each element and how he feels about them. With this lay out it meant I was able to take my time and easily dip in and out of this book, which gave me plenty of time to think and reflect.

The themes of homecoming, affirmation and reconciliation contained in this book will resonate with all of us who have ever experienced loneliness, dejection, jealousy or anger. I was also interested in how Nouwen felt that he and many of us have probably been both the younger and elder son at some point in our lives; even if you initially feel sympathy for one or the other. But the point is not which son we are, instead the challenge is to be able to love like the father and to be loved as the son, which Nouwen believed was the ultimate revelation of this parable.

When my church’s book club group met, just last week, to discuss this we were split on the use of Rembrandt’s painting to discuss this parable: some absolutely loved the visual aide, others found it distracting and at worst some thought it was irrelevant. However we all agreed we enjoyed Nouwen’s in-depth exploration of the parable, looking at the roles of both the younger and the older brother, as well as the father. We all also thought it was a beautiful piece of prose, with some real little gems of wisdom. Many of us had noted down favourite quotes.

All in all, I thought The Return of the Prodigal Son was an inspiring guide that helped me to look at this well-known parable with fresh eyes, which made for an interesting, if a little contentious, discussion point. Now I am reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan for our November meeting. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Henri Nouwen?

New Read: Stop Press Murder

It may have taken me a while to get to it, but after really enjoying Headline Murder earlier this year, I didn’t wait long to pick up Stop Press Murder by Peter Bartram. Which is the second book in Bartram’s comforting, crime series, Crampton of The Chronicle.

We re-join Colin Crampton, ace crime reporter for the Brighton Evening Chronicle, in the summer of 1963, almost a year after solving the murder of crazy-golf owner, Arnold Trumper and having his Aussie girlfriend, Shirley walk out on him. But there is no time for heartache with two juicy crimes having been committed on Brighton s Palace Pier. First, the theft of a saucy film from a ‘What the Butler Saw’ machine. Second, the murder of Fred Snout, the pier s night-watchman, who is found bludgeoned in the coconut shy! And even though he is ridiculed, Crampton is convinced that these two crimes are some how linked.

We follow all the fast-paced action, as his investigation spirals out of control, through the eyes of our protagonist, Colin Crampton, a dedicated – if a little cocky – local reporter. Who again is willing to go the miles, even risking life and limb to finally solve this mystery, get his story and prove the scoffers wrong! I have definitely grown rather fond of our reporter, especially seeing him get up to all kinds of mischief and scrapes. His cheeky, chappy personality also lends a lighter tone to the darker, edgier elements of murder and crime.

So what we get is a very British murder mystery, with twists, turns, colourful characters and a good dash of humour too. But there is no gratuitous blood or gore, which makes this perfect for those, like me, who prefer lighter murder mysteries. Then we have the setting of Brighton in the swinging sixties, that Bartram has brilliant evoked with its classic cars, well-cut suits, pop music, food and smoky pubs! All of which reminded me of my two favourite crime dramas, Endeavour and Inspector George Gently.

What impressed me so much about both books is how Bartram has been able to realistically describe the world of 1960s crime reporting. With the smoky, bustling newsroom, ringing phones and clicking typewriters, and, in an age without computers or mobile phones, everything has to be done the good, old-fashioned way with leg work and trips down to the archive office. In this book, Bartram also introduced me to the seedy world of the adult film industry in the roaring twenties, through the theft of a saucy film, entitled ‘Milady’s Bath Night’! Which Crampton is convinced has led to the subsequent pier murder.

Overall, I thought Stop Press Murder was another good, page-turning murder mystery, with a likeable protagonist and great setting. I would very much like to read more from this series. 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? Or any other mysteries set in the colourful Brighton?

This was also my second read towards the R.eaders I.mbibing Peril reading event.

New Read: Cauldstane

With September heralding the start of autumn and the R.I.P reading event, it seemed the perfect time to pick up the gothic romance, Cauldstane by Linda Gillard. The only thing I can’t believe is that it took me so long to read more by this great author! After loving her Emotional Geology, Untying the Knot and three of her other modern, women’s novels, with their wonderful mixture of mystery, romance, history and the paranormal.

Author Jenny Ryan has landed her dream job to ghost-write the memoirs of Sholto MacNab, the legendary adventurer and Laird of Cauldstane Castle. When Jenny arrives at the MacNabs’ ancestral seat in the stunning Scottish Highlands, she is prepared for thrilling tales of adventure and danger. Never imagining that danger awaits her! As members of the family confide in her their sins and secrets, slowly the castle’s violent and tragic history is revealed, with lust, betrayal, death and an ancient curse having blighted the family fortunes for generations.

I instantly liked Jenny, who is another realistic, independent but also fragile female heroine, which I have come to expect from Gillard. Jenny also has her own back story of heartache, mental illness and secrets, that she truly starts to explore and come to terms with as she begins to feel at home with the eccentric and eclectic MacNab family. Including, in particular, the handsome, brooding Alec MacNab, swordsmith, widower and heir to Cauldstane. As soon as Gillard introduced him, I knew we were to be treated to another mature, passionate romance, and I wasn’t disappointed!

However as Jenny and Alec become close she begins to find her work deleted, threatening messages and she even finds her life in danger. But Jenny refuses to be bullied into leaving the castle and family that she has come to love as her own. Instead she throws herself into discovering the truth. Is there really a curse? Is one of the family not all that they seem to be? Or crazily is there an evil presence residing within these ancient walls? Following Jenny as she risked her sanity and her life, I was gripped from page one and rapidly drawn into this sinister, family mystery.

Hats off to Gillard because Cauldstane is another beautiful written tale, with all the things I love in a book: mystery; romance; history; a big, old house and a touch of the paranormal. I can’t believe I waited so long to read this and I vow not to wait so long again, and I have no excuse as I already have Gillard’s The Trysting Tree lined up on my Kindle. Great read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Linda Gillard?

This was also my first read towards the R.eaders I.mbibing Peril reading event, and what a cracking start to it too!