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.

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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!

New Read: The Enchanted Castle

Back in June, I found myself craving a lighter classic to continue my Classics Club challenge. So I reached for The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit, a lesser known example of Nesbit’s many classic children’s novels, that was first published in 1907. I adore her best known work, The Railway Children and I also really enjoyed Five Children and It and the other books in her magical Psammead series, which meant I had high expectations for this.

Similar to the Psammead series, The Enchanted Castle starts with a group of Edwardian children being, rather improbably, left to their own devices. In this case the children are siblings Jerry, Jimmy, and Cathy, who find themselves stuck at school over the summer holidays, with only the French governess and the maid, after a measles outbreak at home. Determined not to let this ruin their summer, Jerry sweet-talks the adults into allowing them to set off alone, with a picnic, for a jolly good adventure. Where upon they stumble across a mysterious castle with a beautiful princess asleep in the garden.

Once they awake the princess, she takes them on a tour of the castle and tells them it is full of magic, and they almost believe her, but Jimmy, and myself, immediately think something seems fishy. It is only when the magic ring she is showing them really turns her invisible and she gets stuck that way, that she panics and admits she is really the housekeeper’s niece, Mabel, and was just playing! What follows is a rather hodge-podge mix of adventures as the children try to get Mabel out of trouble and along the way discover the many other magical powers the ring possesses.

The fantastical scrapes and delights the children get themselves into due to careless wishes, is all very reminiscent of those in Five Children and It. But for me it just wasn’t half as much fun with them just wishing while wearing the ring, then it was having to go visit the wonderfully cantankerous sand-fairy, ‘It’! Some great fun was still had though, as they caught thieves whilst invisible; frolicked with statues by night and brought inanimate objects to life. However, due to the nature of the ring randomly granting wishes, the story hopped around a fair bit and so didn’t seem to flow as well as previous Nesbit stories I have enjoyed.

As for the children, there was the charming Gerald (Jerry), the no-flies-on-me Jimmy and the girls – I say the girls because sadly Cathy and Mabel were too similar and often blended into one for me. A bit of a let down when I think of the believable and endearing characters of Roberta, Phyllis and Peter in The Railway Children. On the other hand, I had a similar complaint about the children being rather one-dimensional in Five Children and It too, but then that book had the larger-than-life ‘It’ to save the day! All in all, Jerry, Jimmy and the girls were a sweet, but forgettable group of children to read about.

Overall, The Enchanted Castle was the lighter classic I was hoping for, with its blend of magic, adventure and old-fashioned ideals. Unfortunately, this is just not Nesbit’s best work I have read. I still look forward to reading more by Nesbit – Maybe I should try some of her books for adults next? Okay read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Nesbit? Could you recommend one of her adult novels?

This is book 4/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

New Read: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession

Back in March, I started reading Six Tudor Queens, an ambitious six-book series from bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir, in which each novel chronicles the lives of each of Henry VIII’s six wives. After being captivated by the opening volume, Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen, I didn’t wait long to pick up the next volume, Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession.

In this unforgettable second volume, Weir takes us back to 1512 to start the ill-fated tale of Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s second, bewitching wife. Who at just 11-years-old was sent by her opportunistic father, Thomas Boleyn, a minor but ambitious English lord, to serve at the royal court of the Netherlands. There, and later in the French court, Anne thrives: absorbing progressive ideas, learning the art of courtly love and adopting the French fashion. So when in 1522 Anne makes her debut at the English court, to serve upon Queen Katherine, wife of Henry VIII, she causes quite a stir and inadvertently catches the eye of the King; and when the King commands it is not a game!

I really sympathised with Anne as she finds her hopes of a love match with Henry Percy dashed and instead finds herself hounded by the King to become his mistress. She desperately spurns his advances – after seeing how he pursued and discarded her sister, Mary – but Henry will not take no for an answer. In fact her rejection only intensifies Henry’s pursuit, and finally with an aging Queen Katherine and no male heir, Henry proposes marriage. Though she feels no real affection for him, the opportunity to elevate the Boleyn family and to take revenge on her enemies, is too great for her to resist.

I have always admired Anne for standing strong and for her part in the religious reforms, including Bibles in English. However, in this novel, Weir also shows a side to Anne I didn’t like. As the years drag by waiting for Henry’s divorce to be finalised, she becomes bitter, spiteful and cruel – pushing Henry to ever harsher treatment of her kind, former mistress Katherine, their innocent child Mary and their supporters. Once married things do not improve either, as Anne finds herself under immense pressure after failing to produce the longed-for son and her feisty, independent attributes Henry formerly admired rail him in a wife.

Ultimately though, Weir had me on the verge of tears again as Anne bravely met her violent and, I feel, unjust end. In bringing this emotional-rollercoaster of a story alive, Weir has kept closely to historical records, but taken some dramatic licence to flesh out minor characters and fill in any gaps. As in the previous book, Weir’s research and imagination meld seamlessly to create a completely believable tale – and perhaps a more balanced portrayal of Anne. So through her eyes it really feels like you are there in the lost Tudor world of splendour, power, ambition, courtly love and danger; as well as gaining a glimpse of the enlightened Dutch court and the glamorous French court too.

Overall, I thought Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession was a powerful, gripping tale of an intelligent and ambitious woman, who was the victim of a restrictive and dangerous time. While Weir didn’t make me like Anne as much as Katherine, the one person who is really coming out of this series looking bad is Henry! I can’t wait to read volume three: Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen next. 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 any of Alison Weir’s other novels?

This was also book 7/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

Re-Read: The Hunger Games

Finally in the school summer holidays, I got round to my planned re-read of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the first book in 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.

This first book, introduces us to the nation of Panem, which was formed from the remains of North America after a post-apocalyptic event. This is a brutal and unfair world consisting of a rich, privileged Capitol region surrounded by twelve poor, working districts. After a failed, bloody rebellion by a former thirteenth district early in its history, the Capitol now reminds and punishes the remaining districts with the Hunger Games, a barbaric and cruel annual televised event. That forces each district to yield one boy and one girl, as ‘tributes’ for the games, who will be forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

It is on the day of the Reaping – a lottery system to choose the ‘tributes’ – in the poorest District 12 that we meet 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen as she selflessly volunteers herself, after her little sister, Prim is chosen. Katniss’ male counterpart chosen is Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son who once showed her great kindness. The games are pretty much a death sentence for them, as they will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives from the richer districts, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. But Katniss is a survivor and Peeta will be a better ally than she realises.

What I love about Katniss is that she is an imperfect heroine. On face value she comes across prickly and she can be naïve and fiercely independent – finding it hard to trust people. However she is also loyal, kind, brave and devoted to her little sister, which adds up to make an imperfect but realistic heroine. Peeta on the other hand is exactly how you find him: strong, kind, personable and honest. (If anyone knows where I can find a Peeta of my own please let me know?!) They are both characters you can really root for and I found myself completely invested in their blossoming, complicated relationship.

Loving these characters means, that even though I knew exactly what was coming, I still found myself gripped and on the very edge of my seat as through Katniss’ eyes we enter the arena and have front row seats to the unfolding bloody games. After escaping the opening massacre, Katniss must find food, water and shelter. Whilst always being on guard for other ‘tributes’, because everyone is a possible enemy, including Peeta as only one can win this game. If all that wasn’t bad enough, the games masters also have some horrific tricks up their sleeves: a deadly wild-fire with fireballs reigning down; killer crackerjack bees; poisonous berries; water supplies drying up overnight and finally hideous mutant beasts.

All in all The Hunger Games is a gritty, dystopian young adult adventure, full of hardship, danger, love, death, friendship and courage; that lost known of its shine on re-reading it. I look forward to continuing my re-read of the trilogy with Catching Fire soon. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you watched the films?

This was also book 5/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

New Read: Hannah’s Moon

Having previously enjoyed John A. Heldt’s Indiana Belle and Class of ’59, I picked up Hannah’s Moon, the fifth and final instalment in Heldt’s American Journey series, back in July to discover how it all ends. Although there is a continuing background thread to this series each book has its own individual, time travelling adventure so you could read these as stand-alone stories too.

In 2017, after struggling for years to conceive and then suffering the tragic still-birth of their only child, Claire and Ron Rasmussen decide to turn to adoption to start their longed-for family. Just after making this difficult decision, Claire is contacted by her brother David with an extraordinary offer from their distant aunt and uncle: How would they like to travel back to a time when there was an abundance of bouncing babies available to adopt and red tape was short? Within weeks, Claire, Ron, and David unbelievably find themselves, with a suitcase of money and false documents, on a train to Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1945!

Through the alternating third person narration of Claire, Ron and David it was lovely to experience 1940s America, with its sedan cars, friendly neighbours, copious amounts of pie and a wonderful innocence, even despite the world war which is still raging. Claire, Ron and David are all likeable characters (even if they ‘chuckled’ and ‘giggled’ a little too much for my liking, as was Cameron’s wont in Indiana Belle too). So I enjoyed seeing Claire and Ron successfully adopt the angelic baby Hannah and David befriending their beautiful neighbour, Margaret. Then I felt for them when Ron is forced to join the Navy and Claire and David come under suspicion by the secret services.

As with his previous books, Heldt has stuck to his familiar time travelling formulae. A formulae which some may argue is a little far-fetched, as Heldt never really explains how the characters time travel with any realistic scientific detail. Personally I prefer the lack of scientific detail and I am happy to completely suspend belief and once you have these books make for light, escapist reads full of love, romance, hope, danger and endurance. And Hannah’s Moon is no exception.

For those interested, the continuing background thread revolves around Geoffrey and Jeanette Belle, through whose time tunnel (powered by gypsum crystals in their basement) all the characters in this series have gone off on their time travelling adventures. If you hadn’t already guessed it, the Belles are Claire’s distant aunt and uncle. And the last few chapters of this final book are dedicated to a reunion of all the characters from the series (some were unfamiliar to me as I haven’t read the earlier books but this wasn’t an issue as Heldt introduces them all to each other) for a poignant resolution.

Overall, I thought Hannah’s Moon was a nostalgic, time travelling adventure with touches of romance and drama. I enjoyed it more than Class of ’59 but not as much as Indiana Belle, the latter is definitely still my favourite. Now this series has come to an end, I look forward to trying Heldt’s newer Carson Chronicles series. Okay 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 1940s?

This is book 4/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

New Read: Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia

After I enjoyed the swashbuckling classic, Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem by Italian author Emilio Salgari, last year, I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read another, Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia, by its translator Nico Lorenzutti. First published in 1896 this edition was translated by Lorenzutti in 2007.

Some years after the last adventure and the destruction of their home, Sandokan, the feared ‘Tiger of Malaysia’; his faithful friend Yanez and his loyal band of rebel pirates are back with a vengeance. On one such raid, Yanez spares the life of a young Indian man, Kammamuri, who is attempting to rescues his poor master, Tremal-Naik, who has been wrongfully sentenced to life in a notorious British penal colony. Kammamuri enlists the help of Sandokan and Yanez, but in order to succeed they must lead their men against the forces of James Brooke, ‘The Exterminator’, the dreaded White Rajah of Sarawak.

It was great fun to be re-united with our righteously angry, princely pirate Sandokan and his friend, my personal favourite, Yanez, the charming Portuguese adventurer. However it was sad to learn that Marianna, ‘The Pearl of Labuan’, the woman Sandokan moved heaven and earth to possess, has tragically died in the few intervening years. But this does help to show a softer, more human side to Sandokan, especially when he discovers that Kammamuri has in his protection his master’s fiancée Ada Corishant; who is the very image of her beautiful cousin… Sandokan’s very own, dear Marianna!

Sadly Ada plays an equally small, passive role in the adventure, as Marianna did in the previous book. However Ada is by far a more interesting character: having been snatched from her father and fiancée in India by the terrible Thuggee cult. This shocking event and the violence she witnesses during her time with them have shockingly sent her quite mad, which is the main reason she plays such an understandably passive role. Seeing the sad state this beautiful, young woman has been brought to only resolves Sandokan and his pirates to see her fiancée, Tremal-Naik free and reunited with her.

While it was nice to have a more interesting female character and through her a more touching, realistic romance, what I really picked this book up for was adventure! And boy did Salgari deliver more of that! With battles at sea, deadly traps, shipwrecks, cannibals, jungle hideouts and a fetid convict ship, Salgari takes us on another fast paced, roller coaster ride. Also Lorenzutti’s translation is so smooth and seamless it means we never miss a beat or flow of the all the twists and turns.

Overall, I thought Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia was another rip-roaring adventure (with a touch of romance) that swept me back in time and across the seas. I look forward to reading more by this author. Good read.

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

Have you read this? Or any of Sandokan’s other adventures?

This is also book 3/50 off my Classics Club II list.