New Read: Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist

Near the end of May, I was in the mood for an easy, comforting read, so I reached for Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M. C. Beaton, the sixth book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series. While each book is a self-contained mystery, there is the continuing character arc for Agatha running through them all, therefore I recommend checking out the first book, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, if you’re unfamiliar with the series.

Our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin, having been spurned at the alter, leaves the sleepy Cotswold village of Carsely in hot pursuit of her fleeing fiancé James Lacey to Northern Cyprus, where they had planned to honeymoon. Instead of the passionate reunion in the sun she had hoped for though, Agatha ends up playing a pathetic game of cat and mouse with the irritated James. Until they are both awkwardly thrown together by the murder of obnoxious British tourist, Rose Wilcox in a disco. Can they put aside their troubles to solve this mystery, especially as Agatha’s life seems to be in danger?

Our poor Agatha is at her most cringeworthy in this book, as she pathetically chases after James. I’ve never particularly liked him because he was always distant but now he is down-right cold and quite callous. I really felt for the heartsore Agatha, especially as she is far away from the support of her good friends and is instead surrounded by an odious group of British tourists – Anyone of which could be the murderer, who is trying to bump her off next. So I was thankful for the return of the dapper Sir Charles Fraith (from the Walkers of Dembley mystery), as a much needed friendly face, ally and a second love interest for Agatha.

With all of this emotional turmoil for Agatha and with the mystery taking place miles away from the usual, charming setting of Carsely, this was a little less comforting read for me. Agatha’s amateur investigation is as eccentric and bumbling as ever, but there is a more darker sense of urgency with the attempts on Agatha’s life and the lack of support and protection from James. In fact, James is almost as much use as a chocolate tea-cup! Fortunately, we have the well-meaning, if not always useful, support of Sir Charles and his rakish, bill-dodging antics to make us smile.

While perhaps not quite as comforting as previous instalments in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist is another quick, easy and fun cosy-crime. At first I thought this was a re-read, however the further I got into the twists and turns, I had no idea what was coming. So either my memory is worse than I thought or I never actually read/finished this. Next up is Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death. Good read.

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


New Read: Jane Austen at Home

Being a big fan of the wonderfully eccentric and colourful historian, Lucy Worsley, I was thrilled to snap up a bargain copy of her 2017 biography, Jane Austen at Home from Amazon for my kindle; especially as I had already enjoyed the accompanying TV series on the BBC. I started reading it back in January and enjoyed dipping in and out of it over the following months.

Seeing as homes or acquiring a home is so very central to many of Austen’s novels, in this biography, Worsley takes the reader on an in-depth journey through the homes Jane herself lived in. From her childhood at the Steventon Rectory; to her skittish homes in Bath and Southampton; to more settled years in Chawton Cottage; and finally to where she spent her last few weeks in Winchester. As well as the many great houses and country estates of friends and relations she went to visit. Taking us into the very rooms from which this beloved novelist quietly changed the literary world.

Marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, this new, refreshing look into the story of Jane’s life focuses on how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces, not just the people, that mattered to her. Sadly it wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but instead a life that was often a painful struggle: as an unmarried woman in Georgian England, Jane was beholden to her male relations to provide for her a home, and it was horrible to learn that wealthier Austen relations were not necessarily as generous as they could or should have been.

It is famously said that Jane lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Worsley cleverly peels back the rosy-coloured image of Jane – constructed later by the Austen family for their slightly problematic famous relation – to reveal a passionate woman who remained fiercely independent, earnt her own money, and who had a sparkling wit and sharp tongue. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end perhaps refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.

All in all I thought Jane Austen at Home was a fascinating look into one of my favourite author’s life, through the places and spaces that mattered to her; and all done in Worsley’s marvellously enthusiastic style. I read some of this alongside my comforting re-read of Emma and on finishing this all I want to do is re-read all of Austen’s wonderful novels! Great read.

Have you read this? Have you read any other Jane Austen biographies?

New Read: By Sword and Storm

Back in 2016, I read Turn of the Tide and A House Divided from Margaret Skea’s wonderful historical series about Adam Munro and his family during the reign of James VI of Scotland in the early 16th century. With a bloody clans feud, betrayal, loss and a witch trial, I was hooked and both books made it onto my 2016 list of top ten books of the year. So I’m sure you can imagine it was a hard wait for the 2018 release of the eagerly-anticipated third volume, By Sword and Storm.

At the beginning of this book, we re-join Adam and Kate Munro, and their children Robbie, Maggie and Ellie, now they have all fled Scotland and taken refuge in France. Kate and the girls are settled with Madame Picarde at her  farmstead in Cayeux. While Adam and Robbie are both serving in the Scots Gardes to the French king, Henry IV. The year is 1598 – The French Wars of Religion are drawing to an end and Henry introduces the Edict of Nantes, which establishes religious freedom in all but Paris.

For the exiles, the edict and Kate’s unexpected pregnancy symbolise a new start, free from their past troubles and persecution, despite their lingering home-sickness for Scotland and their friends: the Montgomeries. After suffering so much hardship, I truly wanted to see the Munros find some peace; but of course if they did, that early on the book anyway, there wouldn’t be a book! Instead, when Adam bravely foils an attempt on the French king’s life, the whole family are called from the quiet of Cayeux to Henry’s glittering court in bustling Paris.

However this does open up some exciting opportunities: Adam has his family back by his side; Robbie meets a young Huguenot woman; Maggie has the chance to study medicine and Kate becomes close to the king’s mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées. But as well as delights, Paris also holds danger, as religious tensions remain high. While they have dispensation from the king for their protestant faith, they must all tread carefully, be discreet and not let their sympathies give them away.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Hugh Montgomery, his wife Elizabeth, and his brothers John and Alexander must also tread a delicate path in their dealings with the spiteful William Cunninghame, his cousin Patrick and his cronies Hamilton and Fullerton. The king, James VI, has outlawed the carrying of weapons and duelling in Edinburgh to curb these long-standing family feuds, but they are still simmering away beneath the surface and James’ has little patience or mercy left. These are still troubled times for the Munros and Montgomeries alike…

Unlike the previous books though, this time the friends are separated and unable to support each other. Each time the narrative switched, I found myself emotionally torn, as I was rooting for them both. As well as the drama it created, having the families split also gives Skea a wonderful opportunity to show us a new setting and a different thread to history. As I knew little to nothing about Henry IV or the French Wars of Religion before reading this book, I was thrilled and again Skea did a beautiful job of bringing the history alive in a totally believable way.

All in all I thought By Sword and Storm was another wonderful, historical rollercoaster ride, that had me gripped from start to finish. When I started reading this I believed it was the third volume in a trilogy, but since finishing it I read that it is actually a saga – I am really hoping it is the latter as this had a tantalisingly open end and I just want more! Great read.

Have you read this? Have you read any other Scottish historical fiction?

Cookbooks: May – June 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms and foodies, as the weather has (on the whole) continued to warm up, I have enjoyed trying these easy, lighter recipes:

Easy Cheesy Leek Risotto
The Co-operative Magazine

Having previously enjoyed four of the Co-op’s rice based recipes, I thought I would try another: this comforting baked risotto, that I had cut out and saved; which really is as easy as the name suggests! Soften leeks in a oven-proof dish, then add risotto rice and stock, and pop in the oven for half an hour. Once done, stir in cheese and enjoy! I served with some fresh, baby leaf spinach on the side. Delicious and simple! Great recipe.

Roasted Cod Basa with Spicy Lentils
The Co-operative Magazine

Another Co-op recipe I cut out and saved some time ago now, was this rich dish that had me roasting cod – although I used the more sustainable basa fillets and I think you could use any firm, white fish – on a bed of spicy lentils, tomatoes and spinach. Another simple and tasty recipe, but I did have to serve it with some seasonal Jersey Royal new potatoes, because this wouldn’t have been filling enough for my family’s appetites otherwise! Good recipe.

Easy Crispy Chicken
The Hairy Dieters (1) by Si King & Dave Myers
Grills & Roasts – Page 70

Love some finger-licking, crispy chicken? Well this recipe bakes chicken breast fillets with a delicious coating of breadcrumbs, garlic and herbs, cutting the calories considerably but to taste you would never know! It could be versatile too: with the warmer weather I served it with potato salad and seasonal asparagus, but I think in colder weather it will be equally good with chips or mash, and a variety of veg or baked beans. Yum! Great recipe.

Poached Chicken and Tarragon Sauce
The Hairy Dieters (6) Make It Easy by Si King & Dave Myers
Half-Dozen Winners – Page 87

Finally I tried this dieter’s version of the French classic of gently poached chicken with a creamy tarragon sauce, however no naughty cream here but half-fat crème fraiche instead. With only six ingredients this was a super simple and economical dish to make – Perfect served with seasonal Jersey Royal new potatoes and green veg. My only niggle is the sauce was too thin for my liking, that could be easily fixed with more reduction and perhaps some cornflour though. Good recipe.

So altogether that’s four delicious new recipes. I also remade Jamie Oliver’s garlic, sage and honey Pork Chops (30 Min Meals) with his Garlicky Green Beans, and Jool’s Sweet Pea & Prawn Pasta (Save With Jamie). As well as The Hairy Biker’s Coconut Prawn Curry, but substituting the prawn for Quorn, (Hairy Dieters 1) and their White Bean and Tuna Fishcakes (Hairy Dieters 4). What a month or so of great spring cooking, however now I look forward to more sun, trying some new salad recipes and eating al fresco on the patio.

Do you fancy any of these recipes?

What cookbooks are you reading? Have you tried any new recipes?

Adaptations: May 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms and adaptation lovers, here is what I watched in May:

Game of Thrones (Series 8)
Not Read (Yet)     TV Series     Television

The 8th and final series of this epic fantasy drama, based on George R R Martin’s books, that has had millions of us hooked on its scintillating political intrigue, family rivalry, back-stabbing, bloody battles, dragons and the dead! There has been much criticism of this final series, however other than the story and character arcs felt a little sped up and one disappointing death I don’t generally agree. I thought it was a breath-taking, heart-breaking and ultimately fitting end. With such a long-running series though I don’t think you could have pleased everyone! Great watch.

That’s only one new-to-me adaptations watched, but what a watch?! I also enjoyed comforting re-watches of Practical Magic (1998) and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001). Which brings my grand total up to three adaptations watched over the month. I have also continued watching American fantasy drama Once Upon a Time (Series 1) and the German war drama Das Boot (2018).

As for non-adaptations, I watched the charming, historical drama Victoria (Series 3) on ITV and I watched, back-to-back, the very amusing Ghosts, a new comedy series from some of the hilarious makers of Horrible Histories (2009-2013), on the BBC iPlayer.

Have you watched any of these? What have you been watching recently?

Goodbye May, Hello June 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well? May has absolutely flown by for me in a blur of four friends and family birthdays (including my baby brother’s 21st!), a lovely bank holiday weekend, buying a new car, and a short term at work which led to another week break. Even though it flew by, it was a quieter, more relaxing month, which left me plenty of time for some great reading. Here’s what I read:

Fiction: 3          Non-Fiction: 1

First, I finished reading the engaging, turn-of-the-century classic, Howards End by E. M. Forster off of my Classics Club list, which I was inspired to add to my list after watching the BBC’s delightful 2017 adaptation. I found the book to be an equal delight and the perfect spring read as I had hoped. Then I travelled further back to 16th century Scotland and France, in By Sword and Storm by Margaret Skea, the gripping and eagerly anticipated conclusion to Skea’s brilliant Munro Scottish Saga trilogy. It was great to catch up with well loved characters and see some conclusions for them… although I think teasingly left open enough for the possibility of more.

Finally, for something completely different, I indulged in a short, fun read of Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M. C. Beaton, the sixth full-length mystery from Beaton’s long-running cosy crime series. The premise for which was so familiar I thought this was a re-read, but the further I got into the twists and turns I had no idea what was coming, so either my memory is worse than I thought or I never actually read/finished this before.

Alongside these fictions, I also finished my continued read of the fascinating biography, Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. Started back in January, I took my time over this in-depth and enthusiastic look into this beloved author’s life through the places and spaces that mattered to her.

Pick of the Month: I can’t choose!

Altogether that is a brilliant four books read – not only does that make this my best month numbers wise this year, it was all top-notch quality too. At the end of the month, I also started reading my first book off my 10 Books of Summer 2019 Reading Challenge: Runemarks by Joanne M. Harris; my book club‘s next read, Undivided by Vicky Beeching; and my Classics Club Spin result: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.

In June, I look forward to a trip to a local Film and Comic Con; a special ‘Vision Evening’ at my church; celebrating Father’s Day and a trip to the theatre to see The Lady Vanishes. It is shaping up to be a busy month – Here’s hoping there is still plenty of time for reading!

What did you do and read in May? What are your plans for June?

New Books: April & May 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, it has been a while since I did one of these posts, because I have been resisting the urge to buy any new books. However I have received a few review copies, which are free…so totally okay, right? Here’s the goodies I’ve got over the last two months:

Her Kind by Niamh Boyce

Radioactive Evolution by Richard Hummel

Back in April, I received two new books from two new authors. First, I was kindly sent a copy of the new historical fiction, Her Kind from the publisher Penguin. It is said to be a ‘vivid re-imagining of the events leading up to the Kilkenny Witch Trial’, so I am super excited about it!

Then I also happily accepted a review copy of Radioactive Evolution, a new science fiction and fantasy cross-genre, from the publicist, after it was described as a collision of Hunger Games, Ready Player One and Game of Thrones.

Caitlin’s Son by John A. Heldt

The Comedy Club by Peter Bartram

While in May, I received two review copies from authors I have enjoyed before. First Heldt’s new time-travel novel, Caitlin’s Son, which is the fourth book in his Carson Chronicles series. I have previously enjoyed several books from Heldt’s earlier American Journey series, so I look forward to trying more.

Then The Comedy Club is the third book in Bartram’s nostalgic, murder mystery series. Having already enjoyed Headline Murder and Stop Press Murder from the series, I am looking forward to more adventures with ace crime reporter, Colin Crampton in 1960’s Brighton.

Do you fancy any of these? What new books have you got recently?