Book Review: The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

Little did Anthony Cade suspect that an errand for a friend would place him at the center of a deadly conspiracy. Drawn into a web of intrigue, he begins to realize that the simple favor has placed him in serious danger.

As events unfold, the combined forces of Scotland Yard and the French Sûreté gradually converge on Chimneys, the great country estate that hides an amazing secret…

If I remember correctly this was adapted to the TV as a Miss Marple case, I suppose to ensure it got the funding and the distribution/sales figures. Easier to sell a Marple story than a Buttle story eh?

As such, there are things in the book that are the same as the TV and much that is different – enough to allow for the reading of the book, especially when you haven’t watched the episode in a while.

As with several of Christie’s (unedited) books, there is the usual casual racism that we have come to expect. It’s not as bad as some – The original title of ‘And then there none’, anyone? – but in the same way that everyone in Midsomer is white (at least for the first 20 something series), expect the usual words for ‘foreigners’ to be bandied about.

At the beginning of a book, a man called Anthony Cade, who is established as being one who struggles to commit to settling down to any job for any length of time agrees to take on two jobs for his friend James McGrath. One job is to deliver the draft of a memoir to a publisher, with the other to return letters to the woman who wrote them.

Meanwhile, a plot is developing to restore the monarchy to Herzoslovakia, where the previous King and Queen were assassinated previously. British politicians are backing Prince Michael (the most logical and available member of the monarchy). Americans are backing Prince Michael’s Nicholas cousin for the seat. The fact that noone really knows what either man looks like (is one even still alive?) is beside the point. There is Oil to be had!

Therefore Lord Caterham is ‘persuaded’ to host a house party at Chimneys. A number of people are invited to occlude the nature of the party.

Cade, pretending to be McGrath (for various reasons), arrives in London a few days earlier than expected. On his 1st night, the potentially incriminating letters are stolen by <insert dubious term here> the waiter. The memoirs, which were written by the late Count Stylptitch of Herzoslovakia and are believed to contain politically sensitive information which could damage the monarchy, so need to be surpressed. Not being entirely stupid, Cade hands over a dummy version of the memoirs, and keeps the real ones.

The letter thief brings one letter to Virginia Revel at her home, and tries to blackmail her (she did not write them). On a whim, she pays, and promises more money the next day. When she arrives home the next day, she finds him murdered in her house, and Anthony Cade on her door step. Cade arranges to have the body discovered elsewhere by the police, to avoid a scandal and allow Virginia to proceed to Chimneys, as per the house party invite.

At Chimneys, Prince Michael is killed on the night of his arrival, not long after everyone has retired to bed. Crime scene details, such as footprints outside the downstairs room where Prince Michael is found dead, seems to be an odd clue, and Superintendent Battle is presented with Cade introducing himself, the story of the memoirs (and therefore partially explaining his presence), and persuading Battle of his innocence in the murder.

We learn much about the thief King Victor, who has masterminded the theft of many jewels, including The Koh-i-Noor diamond and replaced by a paste copy some years earlier. Chimneys is one place where it may be hidden, though many searches have not found it. With the release of King Victor from prison a few months earlier, so Battle expects he will seek to recover it. There are several break in attempts, all of which are interrupted. In an attempt to find the location of the gem, the stolen letters appear in Cade’s room. People have already been suspecting that the letters were in code (and why Virginia had never written them), so Battle gets them decoded revealing the clue: “Richmond seven straight eight left three right”.

SPOILERS!

At Chimneys, all are gathered to hear the mysteries explained. In the library, Boris (Prince Michael’s now ex valet) finds Miss Brun (an imposter posing as the governess) with a pistol, as she means to kill him and get the jewel. They struggle; the gun goes off in her hand, killing her. It turns out that Prince Michael had identified Miss Brun as the last queen consort of Herzoslovakia, thought to have been murdered with her husband in the revolution; but she escaped. Cade gives the real memoirs to Jimmy McGrath to earn his one thousand pounds. Cade and Fish solve the conundrum; it points to a rose on the grounds, where the Koh-i-Noor is subsequently recovered.

Anthony presents himself as the missing Prince Nicholas, ready to ally with the British syndicate. He offers himself as Herzoslovakia’s next king. Earlier that day, he married Virginia, who will be his queen.

My Review

There are many characters in the book, that I’ve chosen not to cover as quiet honestly, there are so many and it’s really confusing in a review. Plus – why read the book if you’ve got everything covered in a review, right?

Some slightly dubious word usage aside, this is a good start to introduce Battle (I believe he appears in other books somewhere along the line), as well as Cade and McGrath.

I guessed Cade’s ‘reveal’ a few chapters before and found that the book was different enough to the rebranded Marple episode that makes this worth spending the time to read.

Book Review: A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley

A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley #BookCover #BookReview

Experience the magic of a perfect Cumbrian Christmas.

It’s been a year since Lottie’s fiancé walked out, leaving her heartbroken. But things start to look up when she lands her dream job at a beautiful Lake District estate, with a handsome groundskeeper for a neighbour.

So when Lottie is asked to organise a last minute Christmas wedding at Firholme, she can’t wait to get started. Until she meets the couple, and discovers that Connor, the man who broke her heart, is the groom-to-be.

As snow falls on the hills, can Lottie put aside her past to organise the perfect winter wedding? And will there be any festive magic left to bring Lottie the perfect Christmas she deserves?

This starts with a romantic holiday ahead of Christmas between Lottie and Connor which ends with a major surprise, which rapidly sours the whole experience.

There are spoilers below. Dont read the review if you dont like ’em – read the book instead!

A year later and Lottie has started a new job at Firholme as a Wedding and Events coordinator. Her sister is now in remission from the cervical cancer that she had been diagnosed at the same time Connor had split from Lottie. Lottie has a new neighbour – a rather rugged and handsome outdoorsman called Jay (with added dog). Her new boss is desperate for a Christmas wedding to added to their repertoire in order to help get the business off the ground. The opportunity comes in the form of an Australian woman (Keegan) who comes in on the off chance the venue has the time and space. Little does Lottie know, but the groom is her ex….Connor.

Of course, all this is a shock to Lottie, who is still in love – in part – with Connor. Between them they agree to not mention their shared history to Keegan, which turns out to be a really bad idea. During the planning of the wedding, it all comes out, and the wedding is in jeopardy just ahead of the wedding day.

Slight spoiler: The wedding DOES go ahead, but not without drama, including snow hampering attendance, and the generator not kicking in when the fuse blows.

I will admit I felt the story went on a little too long – e.g. the aftermath from the wedding continued long after the wedding concluded, including the whole (newish) story of Jay and his brother Ben, and why they had fallen out the previous Christmas. There’s another whole subplot over Seb, a child that is probably not Jay’s. There is also a subplot about Jay and Lottie finally getting together, celebrating Christmas together and with each other’s respective families.

Nevertheless, it’s still a relatively short book, at roughly 300 pages. My gripes are predominantly with myself, who was rushing for an ending, and the book didnt end when I thought it would.

Book Review The Song of Peterloo by Carolyn O’Brien

The Song of Peterloo by Carolyn O'Brien #BookCover

Manchester 1819: Prices are high and wages are low, but as the poor become poorer, the rich are alarmed by their calls for reform.

Mill-worker Nancy Kay struggles to support her ailing mother and sensitive son. Desperate to provide for them, she is inspired to join the growing agitation. But, as she risks everything to attend a great assembly on St Peter’s Field, Nancy is unaware the day will go down in history, not as a triumph but as tragedy; the Peterloo massacre.

This is one woman’s story of belief in change, pieced together by her family and friends and the two men who share her momentous summer. A story of hope, and sacrifice, and above all, courage.

I’ve read several books about Peterloo, but still don’t think the situation is well known historically – the massacre of what is now accepted to be peaceful protestors fed up with high food costs and low wages by armed and horsed militia. Book included as part of A Box Of Stories, which means this book has been rescued from being pulped

This story is told from multiple voices/POVs. There is a difference in the “voice” between Mary/Nancy and other people in the story. Especially at the beginning, Nancy’s voice seemed forced as the local “there’s trouble at t’mill” speech pattern. I understand why it was done, it just jarred me every time. Once it moved from dialogue to description, this was less of an issue.

As it came to the crux of the issue, the relatively short chapters became even shorter, which resulted in a sped up pace in the storyline. Ultimately, there is a personal cost to both the mill owners and the mill workers

A slight issue with the secondary (and some of the primary) characters – their development only goes so far and then seem to be lost some where near the end – what happened to Adelaide and Joe?

Overall this was a decent take on the story, suitably personal for Nancy and the people around her, but lacking something about the extended characters (see above). The book would have not made the author top of the sales list but not sure it should have hit the ‘pulping’ list

For additional information on this issues, here’s the wikipedia page for Peterloo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peterloo_Massacre </p>

Book Review: Nordic Fauna by Andrea Lundgren, John Litell (Translator)

Nordic Fauna by Andrea Lundgren, John Litell (Translator) #BookReview #BookCover #WITMonth

In these six short stories, Andrea Lundgren explores a liminal space where the town meets the wilderness and human consciousness meets something more animalistic. A train stops on the track in the middle of the night and a lone woman steps out of the open doors, following a call from deep in the forest. A father is haunted by the nocturnal visits of an elusive bird, and a young girl finds escape through the occult. From foxes to whales to angels, the creatures that roam through this collection spark a desire for something more in their human counterparts: a longing for transformation. 

The first of my 2021 subscription books from Peirene Press. Made up of 6 short stories, I have to admit that it took me much longer that it should have. I have struggled with Translated books in the past, but I dont think this was the issue here – I think it was a combo of short stories plus and overall lack of interest in reading or completing books.

Since there were large gaps in my reading, I’m not in a position to do a detailed review of each story. However, I will say the following:

The main character in 5 of the 6 stories are unnamed (and in many of the stories, the gender is also unstated)

There is a overall feeling of remoteness or connections with others. There is a sense of loneliness and a lack of connection with the other people in the stories (friends, parents, carers etc). I’ve looked at other reviews (something I do, especially when I am struggling with a review) and I have found that other people have also struggled to write reviews of this book

I did enjoy the tightness in the language, in that even in translation the narrative is “sparse” and I never got the impression there were not any excess words used.

I still have 2 books from this year’s subscription pack (there’s 3 a year, so they come every 4 months or so), and I now need to decide what to do with these books. I really dont fancy giving them to other people – they are simply too nice to look at and are a lovely publication, so I need to decide what to do.

Book Review: One Night to Remember by Erica Ridley

One night to Remember by Erica Ridley #BookCover #BookReview

Notorious whip Giles Langford is surprised to learn his blacksmith is a girl, shocked to realize she’s the out-of-his-league sister of a duke, and horrified to discover he’s fallen in love with the impossible-to-tame woman anyway. With no money and no title, Giles has nothing to offer but his heart…

Felicity Sutton knows poverty firsthand, and she’s never going back. She might miss the smithy, but not the relentless desperation of no home and an empty belly. Of course she’ll accept the stability of a wealthy ton suitor. As for the penniless daredevil she loves, well… At least they’ll have one night to remember.

Meet the unforgettable men of London’s most notorious tavern, The Wicked Duke. Seductively handsome, with charm and wit to spare, one night with these rakes and rogues will never be enough…

I got this book a while ago, read part of it, but in going through my Netgalley library etc I realised I hadn’t finished it or reviewed it. This is my attempt to rectify that

This fits in with other books by this author (in this and other series) where it is female centric, and the woman often finds herself rebelling against expectation in order to find themselves

Much of this is over 2 weeks where Cole (aka Colehaven) has entered into a bet with another member of the gentry, which he bets that his curricle will beat the curricle of the other (Silas) in a race in two weeks time

Cole has promised his sister (the Lady Felicity) that it would not be him riding the curricle – in fact he has engaged the best smith in town (Giles) to maintain his curricle and drive it. The main/only proviso – that Lady Felicity is the apprentice to help on upgrading the curricle.

Over the next 2 weeks, Giles and Felicity fall in love, all whilst Felicity is trying to make an catch in the TON that would give her the stability she needed whilst allowing her the freedom to do what she wanted. Ultimately a major decision needs to be made – what does Felicity need more – the apparent stability of a titled husband, or love?

This was a decent story, but reading this a year after reading the other books in the series was interesting. It can easily be read alone, as whilst there are references to other stories in the series, this story is not dependant on having read the other stories in the series. There is ONE reference to distances being measured in “blocks” – a personal bug bear of mine when reading stories written for the American Market, but written about Regency London. Gah!

Book Review: The Colonel and The Enchantress by Paullett Golden

Lady Mary Mowbrah, daughter of a duke, fell in love with a man beneath her station. When he leaves for war, determined to earn her hand as a hero, she promises to wait for him, never dreaming the man who returns will be different from the man who left.

Colonel Duncan Starrett returns from war with honors, accolades, and a debilitating injury. As much as he still loves Lady Mary, he fears a future between them is now impossible.

​This is the love story of Mary and Duncan as they forge a future from the shadows of the past.

Different format to the usual romance – the couple had a romance at the beginning of the book, then meet up 5 years later, when Duncan has returned (highly injured) from active service. They are married before half way through the story and the rest of the book is spent working out how to be a married couple.

There are several obstacles to the marriage working fully – in part because Mary is of a higher class than Duncan (so both have class issues); Her fractious relationship with her mother (with an interesting backstory), etc. The second half of the book had potential, as the two newly weds got used to being in a partnership, but sometimes I felt like running through treacle – plenty of detail but perhaps too much detail

The epilogue is a little overwhelming in having SO MANY children suddenly introduced in the last chapter of the book. It is set up as if there is or will be a sequel (or a prequel that I’m somehow missing out on).

One thing that did annoy me (very minor point) is to the repeated referral to the butler as “Mr x”. Bollocks. No Servant (even Butlers) would have the “Mr” designation, Valets are perhaps excepted from this rule. This is clearly for the American Market. For those who care, I would trust Julian Fellowes (and things like Gosford Park and Downtown Abbey) for clues.

About the Author

Celebrated for her complex characters, realistic conflicts, and sensual love scenes, Paullett Golden puts a spin on historical romance. Her novels, set primarily in Georgian and Regency England with some dabbling in Ireland, Scotland, and France, challenge the norm by involving characters who are loved for their flaws, imperfections, and idiosyncrasies. Her stories show love overcoming adversity. Whatever our self-doubts, love will out.

Author NameAdditional Author detail

Book Review: Serial Killers – Up Close and Personal by Victoria Redstall

An actress who has bonded deeply with serial killers shares her insights into their minds
 
Victoria Redstall is a glamorous model, actress, filmmaker, and investigative journalist who has spent years visiting high-security prison and getting to know sadistic killers like Gary Ray Bowles and Keith Hunter Jesperson, “The Happy Face Killer.” These hardened killers have opened up to her in a way that they would never do to psychiatrists, prosecutors, or other authority figures, and have revealed terrifying chapters of their lives that might otherwise have stayed hidden forever. In this chilling book she shares every detail and insight, bringing the reader up close and very personal with some of the most dangerous and disturbed serial killers that the world has ever seen. 

I’m not a huge fan of True Crime books, but I thought I’d give this one a go. I started reading this book, and within the first chapter decided that I didn’t like the writing style. It was it is supposed to be “Up close and personal” but in the stuff I read, it was more about the author than what the subjects have to say. In the first chapter, there was minimal quotes from the killer or the people around him. Here are a couple of quote from the first chapter alone to give you some kind of idea

Following a stormy marriage, Wayne’s parents divorced in 1971, with Mrs Ford travelling the world for six years while leaving her boys in the care of their father, who was now living in the Golden state of Napa. This was a bad choice because Wayne didn’t see eye to eye with his father; indeed to put no finer point on it, they didn’t get on at all.

Ford then told another unlikely story which had the dectectives winking at each other in disbelief.

We have seen the mitigation cards played by these predators and their lawyers, who deal them out time and time again prior to sentencing. Simply put, it just doesn’t wash!

I had to stop reading after the first chapter – I was being interrupted from the narrative by the writing style. In reading the other online reviews (I tend to read reviews AFTER i’ve read the book itself) and it seems I’m not alone.

Book Review: Midnight Bargain of a Runaway Marchioness by Patricia Haverton

Midnight Bargain of a Runaway Marchioness by Patricia Haverton. Woman in yellow dress on staircase, back to reader, looking over left shoulder

“You’re my world and I’m incapable of not loving you.”

When her mother sneaks inside her bedroom at night and begs her to flee, Lady Rhodeia wastes no time. With only a small bundle and the clothes on her back, she runs away, hoping against hope that her betrothed won’t ever find her.


There are two things Emmet MacLachlan, Marquess of Maynardshire, hates above all else: the Season and matchmaking. Furious at his meddling mother, he hopes a night ride will calm the beast in his gut. Until he finds an injured woman in the middle of a storm.

With Rhodeia’s true identity hanging above them like the executioner’s ax, Emmet is determined to escape with her to Scotland and start anew. A plan that quickly goes sour when Rhodeia’s father announces a bounty for her. And unbeknownst to them all, the beast that claws at Emmet’s gut has flesh, bone, and a heart made of stone.

Lady Rhodeia is an only child, who is generally ignored by her father – at least until he sees her use in marrying her off to the Earl of Carrington. Carrington is an older man, with a reputation for being a drunk, a Cad and a cheater, having a thing for younger women, and disposing of them when he’s bored.  Rhodeia’s mother is of much the same mind as her daughter – both are horrified at the thought of the marriage, so Rhodeia’s mother arranges for her to escape the house and travel to Rhodeia’s aunt in Scotland.

However, things don’t go entirely to plan and Rhodeia gets caught in a nasty storm, which results in her spraining her ankle falling off her horse and having to take refuge in a nearby abandoned cottage.  Little does she know, it’s not as abandoned as she initially thought, with Emmet Maclaclan, the Marquess of Maynardshire also taking cover. He has recently returned from India following the death of his father, in order to take over the running of the estate.   He finds the estate has been run into the ground, in part because of his mother’s frivolous spending and his father’s mis management and adultery.   Emmet also seems to be an eternal disappointment to his mother due to no interest in dressing accordingly, making the right connections, and by refusing to marry the woman who dumped him for another man 8 years previously. 

Meanwhile, Emmet and Rhodeia travel to London, in order to get Rhodeia’s ankle looked after. Neither of the MCs have told the other who they really are, not wanting to expose themselves as something more. Both do it for secrecy at the beginning but then cant think of ways to correct the other.

Two weeks later, Rhodeia’s father has been searching for Rhodeia, as he cant see beyond the marriage. He believes that Rhodeia is in London, and employs investigators to find her. Meanwhile Emmet’s mother employs an investigator to find out what Emmet’s getting up to, since he’s being so secretive.

Finally things come out into the open, at roughly the same time as Emmet and Rhodeia realise they love each other. Both get to confront their respective parents and at least Emmet’s mother has some reason behind her behaviour (even some of it is objectionable and she cant see anything wrong with it).  

The book draws parallels between the two leads and how they refuse to meet the expectations of the dominant parent which is a nice change to the standard Romance book – it’s usually only one Main Character that has the issue and it’s the other to teach that they can be loved by someone else. The Secondary characters are decently rounded out, considering – not enough that I would expect subsequent novels containing these SCs, but a bit better than other novels.

This was a reasonable (if unchallenging) Romance novel – slightly better than a lot of the other Romance novels, but not in the realms of Georgette Heyer (who I will say is in her own league!)

Book Review: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. Book Cover

Faith, I tell them, is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain.

Sweeping and lyrical, spellbinding and unforgettable, David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife combines epic historical fiction with a modern murder mystery to create a brilliant novel of literary suspense. It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.

This is a mixture of historical fiction with a modern mystery thriller with some parallels to the older story

I don’t know much (anything!) about LDS and “The Firsts” so I don’t know how much of the story is based in fact and how much is fiction.  I will presume that many liberties have been taken.

It starts with Jordan, a young gay man, who had been excommunicated from “the Firsts”, hearing that his mother has been charged with the murder of his father. Jordan’s mother is commonly referred to as “The 19th wife”. Jordan travels back to Measdale, whilst trying to work out if and how his mother did this.

The majority of the book tells the story of the beginning of the LDS and the breakaway sect of “The Firsts” – members of the LDS who believed that “celestial marriage” (pologamy) was the core of their faith as it was the only guaranteed way to get eternal glory in the afterlife.

Through letters, papers, books etc, the story of Bigham Young’s 19th Wife (Ann Eliza, and the struggles she has as being a multiple wife, which ultimately leads to her loss of faith, her divorce, her loss of income and her ultimate disappearance from history.  Meanwhile the story of Jordan and his mother does take a bit of a background story and hinges on a technicality.

I was removed from the overall story due to regularly thinking “how much is true?”, though I thought generally the book was good and entertaining. I’m not convinced that Jordan’s modern day story added much (quite honestly – too many step-siblings and sister aunts got confusing – but perhaps that’s the point!). Would I have gotten through the rest of the book without it though? Probably not!

Book Review: Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas

A summer escape she’ll never forget . . .

Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her Nonna’s mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home.

But she’s shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can’t bear the thought of the place changing hands – especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over!

Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams? 

I’ve previously read books by this author, so when this book was available on Netgalley as an ebook, I took the chance to get a copy.

Lucia (born to Italian parents, but growing up in Wales following the death of her father and the remarriage of her mother) has been working on landing a promotion at her Welsh Law firm, the decision to come in after she leaves on her annual holiday to Italy.

Her arrival at her grandparents is bitter sweet – her Grandmother’s cooking, care and attention provide a level of coziness, her Grandfather’s restaurant is still providing people with traditional food, and many of the customers are the same visitors who come back time and again. This allows Lucia to start to relax almost immediately. However, it also turns out that things are also changing – her grandfather is getting old and wants to pass the restaurant on to someone who has similar passion as himself. In the absence of Lucia, her almost-ex husband Giacomo has been lined up to take over.

Lucia, Giacomo and Lucia’s Grandparents come to an arrangement – a competition to cover the next month, where Giacomo and Lucia’s cooking are pitted against each other, but the competition is to remain a secret. Not only does Lucia have to fight the memories of her marriage, the belief that Giac is sabotaging her, and that locals would not accept a female pizza maker consumes much of the book

Lucia also finds support and friendship in various women, including a young widowed friend (who needed to branch out to being more than a “kept mother” by her in-laws), Lucia’s Nonna and one of the local now-ex prostitutes

The decision day comes and yet still, things dont go quite according to plan. However, things work out in the best possible way, as you would hope and expect.

This was a lovely read during a summer break, with a suitable romance, lovely food, the chance of redemption and that perhaps you can go back to somewhere before where you get the chance to reinvent yourself, and help others at the same time