Book Review: Death In Provence by Serena Kent



The first entry in a clever, lighthearted mystery series set in modern Provence—a delightful blend of Agatha Christie and Peter Mayle—featuring the irrepressible Penelope Kite, a young-at-heart divorcee with a knack for stumbling across dead bodies.

It’s love at first sight when Penelope Kite sees Le Chant d’Eau—The Song of Water—the stone farmhouse tucked high in the hills above the Luberon valley, complete with a garden, swimming pool, and sweeping mountain vistas. For years, Penelope put her unfaithful ex-husband and her ungrateful stepchildren first. Since taking early retirement from her job in forensics at the Home Office in England, she’s been an unpaid babysitter and chauffeur for her grandchildren. Now, she’s going to start living for herself. Though her dream house needs major renovations, Penelope impulsively buys the property and moves to St. Merlot.

But Penelope’s daydreams of an adventurous life in Provence didn’t include finding a corpse floating face down in her swimming pool. The discovery of the dead man plunges her headlong into a Provençal stew of intrigue and lingering resentments simmering beneath the deceptively sunny village. Having worked in the forensics office, Penelope knows a thing or two about murder investigations. To find answers, she must carefully navigate between her seemingly ubiquitous, supercilious (and enviously chic) estate agent, the disdainful chief of police, and the devilishly handsome mayor—even as she finds herself tempted by all the delicacies the region has to offer. Thank goodness her old friend Frankie is just a flight away . . . and that Penelope is not quite as naïve as her new neighbours in St. Merlot believe.

Set against the exquisite backdrop of Provence, steeped in history, atmosphere, and secrets, Death in Provence introduces an irresistible heroine and a delightful new mystery series.

This makes a change in my “English woman moves to romantic European country” novels, where I usually go for ones based in Italy, so it took me a while to get used to this being set in France.

So: Penelope, recently divorced and recently retired, falls in love with a run down house, buys it on the spur of the moment (partly because she’s fed up with her step-children’s bratty children), and moves in.  Things dont go according to plan, with some of the locals not wanting someone foreign to the area coming in, some of the older gents dont like certain women disrupting their lives (especially women who have experience in forensics finding dead bodies in their swimming pools and challenging investigations); there are still long held grudges about what happened during and immediately after WW2.

However, Penelope becomes sort-of-friends with her chic estate agent (possibility of them becoming investigating partners in future books) and settling in is helped by the arrival of her friend Frankie, who not only knows a thing or two about house renovations, but also has a hitherto unknown ability to speak fluent French (and an ability to down a remarkable amount of wine). Investigations drag on, Penelope begins to settle in and make herself known to the locals, and then there are more murders and threats, culminating in Penelope being in danger herself from a most unexpected source.

In short, an interesting but light hearted crime novel and I would certainly look for further books in this series!

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Book Review: Confetti at the Cornish Cafe by Phillipa Ashley

The heart-warming new novel in Phillipa Ashley’s bestselling Cornish Cafe series

Cal and Demi are preparing to launch their beloved Kilhallon Resort as a wedding venue. Cakes are baking, Cornish flowers are blooming, and fairy lights are twinkling. With the cliff-top setting and coastal views, it’s the perfect place for a magical marriage ceremony.

But their first clients are no ordinary couple. The bride and groom are internationally famous actors Lily Craig and Ben Trevone. Kilhallon is about to host a celebrity wedding . . .

With the pressure on, Demi and Cal are doing all they can to keep their guests happy and avoid any wedding disasters. But is the unpredictable weather the only thing standing in the way of the Big Day?

As secrets surface and truths are told, can Demi and Cal ensure that Kilhallon’s first wedding is a success? One thing’s for sure, this will be a Cornish celebration to remember . . .

Unfortunately, another book that I read months ago, but have failed to complete a review as yet (I start, then get distracted, sorry!).  I actually brought this is a local bookstore at the beginning of the year, having read books by this author before, and I deemed it worthy of some of my book tokens!  So Demi and Cal are still together, and running the Cafe and Kilhallon between them.  They are looking to expand what is offered and it’s not long before Lily and Ben book for their “handfasting ceremony” (it’s certainly NOT a wedding, got it?).

Anyway, much of the book then covers the lead up to and the actual ceremony, with many of the expected dramas: Cal’s ex girlfriend remains heavily on the scene, inserting herself into everything, oblivious as to whether she is wanted or not; Demi’s stepmother proves to be a life saver more than once, even with Demi’s baby step-sister in tow; the media descend on the site, damaging the reputation of the new place in the process; Lily and Ben’s PR team prove to be a nightmare, making demands that Lily doesn’t actually want to happen; the yurts in the field prove to be a success, and Ben’s bodyguard is not all that he seems.

So, a strong addition to this series, progressing the site, the relationships etc of all those involved in the Cornish Cafe.

 

 

Book Review: Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

‘From the point of view of the nation, it’s a good thing that he died.’

Great Barwick’s least popular man is murdered on a train. Twelve jurors sit in court. Four suspects are identified – but which of them is on trial? This novel has all the makings of a classic murder mystery, but with a twist: as Attorney-General Anstruther Blayton leads the court through prosecution and defence, Inspector Fenby carries out his investigation. All this occurs while the identity of the figure in the dock is kept tantalisingly out of reach.

Originally published in 1938, this was recently republished in under the British Library Publishing under their “Classic Crimes” series.

This is a crime story with a slight difference – the events before and after the death of victim is presented to us as part of the prosecution’s case against the person in the dock. The main difference being that, until late in the book, we dont actually know the identity (or even the gender) of the person in the dock.  the majority of the story is presented either directly as evidence as part of the trial, or via the story of the investigations being undertaken to get the evidence.

Fenby is presented as dogged, persistent, and certainly not as stupid as he likes to portray. Blayton is a seasoned barrister, but this is his first significant murder trial. He believes that he is leading the prosecution case in a suitably professional manner, without realising that he is in fact, annoying the judge with his mannerisms.

The majority of the story is presented in retrospect, starting on the day of the death (there is always the uncertainty of whether the death was natural or actually murder), through the death and the subsequent investigation. Much depends on how the poison got into the snuff, and whether it was the snuff or the subsequent sneeze that killed the man with the weak heart.

(This book was actually read a few months ago, and I’ve only just gotten around to reviewing it, so apologies).

Book Review: Once Upon A Duke by Erica Ridley

Beware romantic spirits from Christmas past…

Due to the terms of an estranged relative’s will, the Duke of Silkridge must revisit the cold, unforgiving mountains where he lost everything he once loved. As soon as he rights his family legacy, he’ll return to London where he belongs. He definitely won’t rekindle the forbidden spark crackling between him and the irresistible spitfire he’d left behind…

Noelle Pratchett is immune to charming rakehells like the arrogant duke. He stole her heart, stole her first kiss, and then stole away one night never to return. Now he’s back—and so are all the old feelings. Noelle knows he won’t stay. But how can she maintain her icy shields when every heated glance melts her to her core?

The Twelve Dukes of Christmas is a laugh-out-loud historical romance series of heartwarming Regency romps nestled in a picturesque snow-covered village. After all, nothing heats up a winter night quite like finding oneself in the arms of a duke!

Just in time for Christmas! The start of a new series, set in a snow filled village (cressmouth) described as so far north “the next town is in Scotland”. It’s January, when the Duke of Silkridge is visiting his maternal family’s house to hear the will of his recently deceased maternal grandfather.

Silkridge dislikes Christmas, the town and his grandfather for various reasons, including being born at Christmas, his mother dying not long after, his father also dying several years later (also at Christmas), and his grandfather blaming him for his part in his mother’s death….giving him reason to deny Silkridge the pendant with the only known picture of Silkridge’s mother.

He is annoyed to hear that the town has unofficially been renamed as “Christmas”, and the house he thought would be in a deep state of disrepair was actually warm and homely. It turns out that his grandfather had given the town a reason to exist (not fade away) and that everyone in the village seems to have a reason to love Mr Marlowe.

He sees Noelle on the first night, and both remember the attraction between them previously. Noelle, not understanding his history with his grandfather cannot understand his animosity, which seems to be made worse when Marlowe’s will only gives him the locket if he finishes the aviary by the end of the month.  Things are made worse when he finds out that Noelle has been asked to be his assistant, since she has reinvigorated the counting house over the previous 4 years.

Whilst not a rip roaring laugh, this book certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously – e.g. Silkridge reacts to everything as “humbug!”, the aviary contains a sick pygmy goat nicknamed “Tiny Tim”, and there’s a general cheeriness around the place that puts paid to Silkridge’s Scrooge-like mood. As per all good romances, things work out in the end with both characters having learnt that they both have value, not only because of what they do but of who they actually are.

Having read several books by this author before, I can see there are plenty of unique characters in the wings just waiting for their own books to be written.

Book Review: Spider-Man (Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes Graphic Novel Collection #12) by J. Michael Straczynski, Stan Lee, John Romita Jr., Steve Ditko

Ok, this review is going to be short, since I actually read this some time ago, and haven’t reviewed it yet.  I picked up the hardback version in my local Comic Book Store.

As per many of the books in this series, it is designed to give a reader some indication of back story and some really important plot points in the hope that interest will be sparked to delve deeper into a character.

So in this book, we start with early Spidey. The early telling of origin story, the artwork, colouring and lettering from a bygone age where technology didn’t necessarily match the vision. Story telling? Decent. Rendering? Probably/possibly pioneering at the time, but compared to what’s available now? Ehhhh…

I remember a time before the T-2000, before bullet time and doing homework without the internet, so I know how things can change, how fast, and sometimes even for the better.

Anyway. The rest of the book shows how the telling has moved on. How the images get less crude, have more depth and colour. There’s the concept of different multiverses, where Aunt May is less meek, Uncle Ben is still around etc…

This hardback is therefore useful for those who only have a vague idea about Spider-Man, and/or those who have an interest in comic books developing as an art form.

Book Review: Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston

‘Scores of men and women died daily in London, but on this day of days one of them had died in the very midst of a crowd and the cause of his death was a dagger piercing his heart. Death had become something very real.’ 

When Bobbie Cheldon falls in love with a pretty young dancer at the Frozen Fang night club in Soho, he has every hope of an idyllic marriage. But Nancy has more worldly ideas about her future: she is attracted not so much to Bobbie as to the fortune he expects to inherit. 

Bobbie’s miserly uncle Massy stands between him and happiness: he will not relinquish the ten thousand a year on which Nancy’s hopes rest. When Bobbie falls under the sway of the roguish Nosey Ruslin, the stage is set for murder in the heart of Piccadilly – and for Nancy’s dreams to be realised. When Chief Inspector Wake of Scotland Yard enters the scene, he uncovers a tangled web of love affairs, a cynical Soho underworld, and a motive for murder.

 

It starts with the naïve Bobby having fallen in love with the 19 year old Nancy, a dancer from the Frozen Fang nightclub, and coming home to tell his mother that he has proposed and expects to marry her soon.  He understands on one level that Nancy will not marry him in his current situation – he has been pampered by his mother most of his life resulting in him having no focus or drive; he has little money and no job, and only one prospect: that he will inherit an estate worth £10,000 a year when his uncle Massy dies, which is unlikely to happen any time soon.  Uncle Massy meets Nancy at a small party, where she proves to be uncultured and very mercenary – it is clear she is only with Bobby because of the chance that he will be rich sooner rather than later.

Bobby meets with Nosey (a skint ex-boxer) and Billy the Dancer – both friends of Nancy’s, and it soon becomes clear that Nosey has his own plans, and is manipulating everyone to his own ends (usually for the getting of money).

Massy dies after being stabbed with a stiletto whilst in a packed Piccadilly tube station late one evening. The rest of the book is therefore spend by Scotland Yard investigating the killing, hoping that this is the case that they finally get to Nosey up on a charge.

It’s interesting to see how easy Bobby and Nancy can be manipulated – he sub consciously understands that the pressure is on and he runs the risk of losing Nancy if the money situation isn’t resolved soon.  He doesn’t want to do something as drastic and tiresome as actually going out and working – why bother when he’s grown up believing he’s going to inherit the family estate and money before too long. Nancy, despite her lower class “street smarts”, believes she is due to embark on an American dancing tour, without realising that Billy the Dancer hates her, believes her to talentless and hasn’t dropped her (yet) in the belief that he will get money from her marriage to Bobby.

Nosey is a charmer when he wants to be, but also threatening, and gets by by constantly “borrowing” money from people, whilst looking for the big win. There are hints that he has been involved in serious crimes before, including murder, but Scotland Yard have been unable to prove anything so far.

We, the reader, are manipulated a little too. We are lead to believe that Nosey is working in Bobby’s favour, until we get to overhear a conversation between him and Billy indicating otherwise.  We still don’t get all the facts throughout the story, but suffice to say, things are resolved (after a fashion) in the end.

A cleaver little book, with plenty of people weak in their own way, who are dominated by the few strong characters in their sphere.

Book Review: Lord of Vice by Erica Ridley

Vice merchant Maxwell Gideon is wickedly handsome, sinfully arrogant, and devilishly ruthless. Rumour has it, his gaming hell has the power to steal souls and grant miracles. Truth is, Max only owns half of The Cloven Hoof. He’d buy out his silent partner if he knew the man’s identity. But it’s hard to focus on business matters when a fallen angel tumbles right into one’s lap…

Miss Bryony Grenville has a well-earned reputation as an unrepentant hoyden. But even the gossipiest of the pinch-faced matrons ruling High Society could never imagine the daughter of a baron secretly financing the ton’s most infamous gambling parlour. Its maddening, sexy proprietor doesn’t suspect a thing… and two can play at temptation!

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