New Read: Resthaven

At the end of September, I decided to continue my Autumn themed reading for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII event with the young adult thriller Resthaven by Erik Therme; which had been on my Kindle for too long!

As the new kid in town, Kaylee feels isolated and awkward, so the last thing she wants to do is go to a sleepover with girls she barely knows, let alone likes. Things only get worse when it turns out the queen bee Jamie has arranged a scavenger hunt inside the old abandoned retirement home, Resthaven, which sits right on the edge of town. After an explosive argument the girls all split off separately around the dark empty building…but Kaylee soon discovers that they’re not alone and to top it off the front doors have been mysterious padlocked from the outside! Now Kaylee must find everyone and try to find another way out before it’s too late.

Our narrator Kaylee is joined on this disastrous scavenger hunt by the sensitive Anna, who invited her, the silent Wren, the ditzy Sidney and the bullying Jamie. The problem was I didn’t really like any of them! As stereotypical teenage girls they were all hormonal and seemed to take it in turns to be selfish, thoughtless, insensitive and downright hurtful to each other, including our heroine Kaylee. So sadly I can’t say I found myself rooting for any of them!

Fortunately, Therme has written a tight story with pacey action scenes, twists and turns, and an element of surprise or two. Therefore I certainly wasn’t left bored and I was drawn to keep reading to find out more. As we read on we also learn more of the back stories of each girl, which does help to explain their current behaviour and attitudes, even if it doesn’t completely justify them. Plus of course there is the other person/s in the locked building with them that adds tension, mystery and a real sense of danger.

So overall, shame about the characters but otherwise I thought Resthaven was an easy-to-read, fast paced, young adult thriller which I just zipped through. It was also a very good fit for the R.I.P event. Okay read.

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

Have you read this? Or anything else for the R.I.P event?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII – 2/4

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New Read: Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage

After enjoying four comforting re-reads, I was excited to read new-to-me Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M C Beaton, the fifth book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series. (If you are unfamiliar with this author and series you may instead want to read my thoughts on the first book: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death).

Our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin believes all her dreams are about to come true, as the morning of her marriage to James Lacey dawns bright and clear. However before the service can be completed, Agatha’s presumed dead husband, Jimmy Raisin, turns up very much alive and kicking! In embarrassment James storms off and Agatha is left mortified. Things are only to get worse though, when Jimmy is discovered dead the next morning, Agatha and James are the prime suspects. So they will have to reluctantly work together again to catch the real murderer to clear their names.

Our formerly sharp, bossy and cajoling Agatha has reached her lowest point ever. Now embarrassed and heart sore she cares little for maintaining her usual immaculate appearance and strong outer persona, which in fact only makes her more endearing to the reader, her friends and secretly even James Lacey too. Personally not being a huge fan of the distant James, I wasn’t all that bothered when the marriage was stopped, but I was upset when the young Detective Sergeant Wong’s head is turned by the ambitious Detective Constable Maddie Hurd; who he believes is the one?! Fortunately, Mrs Bloxby is as steadfast and lovely as ever!

As with my re-reads, it was an absolute pleasure to return to the charming village of Carsely, but this time for an all new crime and a more personal although still rather eccentric and bumbling investigation with Agatha. 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. These aren’t ground breaking books, instead they are grab a mug of tea, curl up and simply enjoy kind of books. They are rapidly becoming my go-to-books for comfort.

Overall, I thought Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage was another quick, fun and comforting read. Next up is Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist. Good read.

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

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII – 1/4

New Read: Watling Street

Back in May, I requested a copy of Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past by John Higgs because, living just off this ancient road, I was interested to learn more about it.

In this book, Higgs takes us on a journey along one of Britain’s oldest roads, from the White Cliffs of Dover to the Druid groves of Anglesey, which was long ago formed by the tramping of feet; straightened by the army of Rome and gained the name Watling Street in the Dark Ages. This has been a road of witches and ghosts, of queens and highwaymen, of history and myth, of Chaucer, Dickens and James Bond. Alongside it Boudicca met her end; the Battle of Bosworth was fought; the Nazi’s enigma code was broken at Bletchley Park and Capability Brown remodelled the English landscape.

Methodically, Higgs works his way up the road starting in London and stopping off at key points along the way to discuss the history of the area; the people who lived there and the culture that sprung up there. Each stop off is detailed and well described, but loose in structure as Higgs allows his thoughts and feelings to meander and grow. Which is great when it is a topic you enjoy, however I found it hard when he got into full flow on something I didn’t share his passion on.

I found the glimpse into the history, culture and characters of Canterbury, the infamous Tyburn, St Albans, Dunstable and Bletchley fascinating. On the other hand, I wasn’t very interested in the town planning of Milton Keynes; the street football game in Atherstone or the enthusing on life in London (not living there myself). So a real mixed bag! Sadly there was also no stop off in my own home town. In fact it only warranted one or two lines! While I learnt more about the rest of the road, I have to admit being extremely disappointed not to learn anything about my own piece of the road.

Overall though, I thought Watling Street by John Higgs was an interesting, if somewhat eccentric and meandering, exploration of the people, history and culture that has grown up along this ancient road. Okay read.

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

Have you read this? Or anything else about Watling Street?

New Read: The Mistress of Blackstairs

Midway through my glorious holiday to Rome, and having finished Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor, I found the historical mystery The Mistress of Blackstairs by Catherine Curzon calling to me – I dived in hoping for another light and fun read to enjoy in the sun.

Back in 18th century Covent Garden, we meet Madam Moineau, the mysterious and alluring, masked mistress of Blackstairs, an establishment offering a good time and beautiful companions for some of the finest clients in London. Beneath the fine dresses, make up and masks though, Moineau hides a dark past that she wishes to remain hidden. This is all to be threatened in the winter of 1785 by the appearance of two men: first, the charming rogue artist Anthony Lake and second, the cold Viscount Edmund Polmear. Finding themselves both up against the fearsome Polmear, Lake and Moineau’s lives are to become inextricably entwined for good or ill.

Moineau, or Georgie as we learn her true identity is, has been through a terrible ordeal after which she has worked hard to build a new, safe life at Blackstairs. Now ferociously protective and independent, she finds it hard to let anyone close and with the return of Polmear, the instigator of her ordeal, she raises her defences even higher – when she first sees him again the fear was palpable. But could her heart also be under threat from the handsome Anthony Lake? Anthony has recently returned from Europe on a mission to find his daughter and revenge the murder of her mother. Feckless in the past, he is now determined to put things right. I really liked Georgie and Anthony, and I was totally invested in them and their struggles.

Catherine Curzon is a new author for me and my request of this book was a bit of a whim, purely based on the sound of the premise – boy am I pleased I followed my whim. I thought Curzon did a wonderful job of bringing alive 18th century London, with well rounded characters, a dark, twisting mystery and a will they/won’t they romance. While the romance was a larger part of the book than I had expected, I was enjoying the mystery and the characters so much I was happy to go with it. In the future, I would be interested in reading more by Catherine Curzon.

Overall, The Mistress of Blackstairs was exactly what I hoped it would be: a light historical mystery that was a real, easy page turner for my holiday and flight home. Good read.

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

Have you read this? Or anything else by Catherine Curzon?

New Read: Just One Damned Thing After Another

In the last week of August, as I jetted off for Rome, I decided to finally give Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor, the first book in the Chronicles of St Mary’s, a go – hoping for something light and fun to enjoy on the flight; and I was not to be disappointed!

It all begins, when Madeleine Maxwell (known as Maxwell) is urged, by her mentor, to apply for the seemingly innocuous role of Historian at the rather eccentric St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. However, Maxwell is to discover this is not your usual, dull desk job, but instead an opportunity of a lifetime. St Mary’s actually has a way for the Historians to physically travel back in time to observe, document, and to try to find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions … whilst trying not to tamper with the timeline or to die in the process, as one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death – and it is soon made clear that it’s not just History they’re fighting.

I thought it was an absolute hoot travelling with Maxwell and her fellow Historians from 11th century London to a field hospital in World War I, and from dinosaur watching in the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. But nothing is to be straightforward as wherever Historians go, chaos seems to follow! While we don’t spend a large amount of time in each period, I felt Taylor described them adequately and made them feel real and distinct for me.

I also loved the little, time travel ‘pods’ the Historians used to transport back in. They are pretty much portable offices/homes, which are well stocked with equipment, food, clothes, beds, showers and a kettle; because there is no problem that can’t be figured out over a good cup of tea! If you are a science-fiction buff, I warn you there is no real scientific explanation of how the ‘pods’ worked, however for me that was absolutely fine as scientific detail would go straight over my head – I was perfectly happy to accept they worked and to hop on board for the ride.

Our narrator for all this, Maxwell, is a clever, stubborn, resourceful and strong woman, who is also a chaos magnet! She is joined in her adventures by many other characters – some friends and some enemies – as St Mary’s is like one big eccentric family. Made up of not just Historians but also scientists, engineers, technicians, trainers, medical staff, librarians and kitchen staff (you can get food anytime at St Mary’s). On top of all this, there is also a love interest for Maxwell, while I generally enjoyed this relationship, I could have done with less bedroom gymnastics details.

All in all though, I thought Just One Damned Thing After Another was a fantastical, time-travelling romp and a perfect quick, easy read for my holiday. I would very happily go back to St Mary’s … actually I would like to work there, perhaps I could make the tea?! No? Oh well, maybe I will just have to read the other books instead. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any other time travel adventures?

New Read: The Girl in the Glass Tower

In 2014, I read the fascinating The Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle, about the ill-fated Grey sisters, after which I was eager to read more of her work. It was earlier this year I got that chance when I received a copy of this, The Girl in the Glass Tower, Fremantle’s novel about the less well known Arbella Stuart, which was published just last year.

The Lady Arbella was the only child of Charles Stuart which made her, along with the Grey sisters, a possible contender for the English throne. Having been orphaned at a young age, Arbella is raised in comfort and privilege, with the very best education to prepare her to be queen, by her domineering maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cavendish (better known as ‘Bess of Hardwick’). However her royal blood is more a curse than a gift for Arbella, as she is forced to live cloistered away from the world behind the towering glass windows of Hardwick Hall. If she ever wishes to break free she must learn to navigate a treacherous game of power, intrigue and danger.

History has largely forgotten poor Arbella and it would seem her contemporaries also wrote her off as cold, aloof and mad! So I think it is wonderful that Fremantle chose to showcase her in this book. Fremantle paints Arbella as a clever, strong-willed, but naïve woman, who actually has a lot of passion and love just no one to share it with. And there is little wonder she may have grown to be cold, aloof and mentally unstable, when she had no family or true friends to speak of other than her grandmother. Now while her grandmother may have cared for and protected Arbella, heartbreakingly it was more as an investment rather than she had any true love for her.

Again Fremantle has delivered a well-written and believable glimpse into the intrigue and danger of the Elizabethan and early Stuart period in English history. Through Arbella we see a life within a gilded cage – in fact, Fremantle brings it to life so well I was often left feeling claustrophobic and hopeless; as I’m sure poor Arbella did too. Cleverly Fremantle has balanced this feeling by having a second narrator Ami (based on a court poet and mistress), who looks back on her old friend Arbella’s life by lovingly reading through her papers; which were thoughtlessly discarded after her death. While Ami does have her own troubles and is racked with guilt over her friend’s sad end, I felt she does offer a more hopeful and healthier perspective.

Overall, I thought The Girl in the Glass Tower was another fascinating read, that really grabbed at my heartstrings and had me truly invested in the lives of Arbella and Ami. I can’t wait to read more by Elizabeth Fremantle and it just so happens I have her 2014 novel Queen’s Gambit, about Katherine Parr, on my bookshelf! Great read.

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

Have you read this? Or anything else by Elizabeth Fremantle?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 9/10

New Read: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (A Very Brief History)

Unintentionally this year, I have had a bit of an US president theme going on in my reading through Mark Black’s A Very Brief History series. Having read about Richard NixonJohn F Kennedy and The Cuban Missile Crisis, it seemed only appropriate to read the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis instalment next.

Before reading this, I knew that Jacqueline was a fashion icon, affectionately known as Jackie O, who had first been married to the young, handsome and sadly doomed president John F Kennedy, and was heartbreakingly by his side in the car when he was assassinated on the 22nd November 1963. But I knew very little else. From reading this, I was interested to learn how Jackie was the one to redefine the role of First Lady into the form we know it as today, as well as redesigning and restoring The White House to its current glory. After JFK’s death, she also played a key role in building a positive legacy for him and his short term in office. Clearly this woman was more than just a very pretty face.

In hindsight, I think I am very lucky to have managed to collect so many of Black’s short histories, as I doubt I would have ever read about US presidents, politics or about Jackie for that matter otherwise. Which would be a great shame because I found her really interesting. This was another clear and concise history that is broken down into bite-size chapters on: Jackie’s early life; her Kennedy marriage; her time as First Lady; JFK’s assassination; her later Onassis marriage and life; her death and the release of sealed tapes she recorded just after JFK’s death. I warn you now though, this really is a short history so if you know or have read about Jackie before, than I doubt you will learn anything new from this. I recommend to those, like me, who know little to nothing.

Overall, I thought Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Very Brief History was another quick and interesting read. I have seven more editions from this series still to go – it seems appropriate to read either the instalment on the Vietnam War or Ronald Reagan next. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or anything else about Jackie Kennedy?