Book Review: Red-Handed in Romanée-Conti by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane

Red-Handed in Romanée-Conti by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane
The Winemaker Detective heads to Burgundy for the grape harvest when a hail storm strikes, and a body turns up. What dark family secrets are at play?

Received from Netgalley in exchange for a review.

This is the first time that we meet Benjamin’s (Benji) father Paul, as both Benjamin and Elizabeth are in London on one of the rare visits over. Benjamin’s brother and sister are, once again, nowhere to be seen, and it is therefore just the two of them who get to hear the news – he’s getting married again, this time to his nurse!

The following morning sees Benjamin get an emergency call to return to France and the Lemoine  estate in particular – the weather is predicted to be horrendous, with torrential rain and hailstorms, all at the most critical time of the harvest for a region brimming with Grand and Premier cru estates.

Elizabeth stays behind with her father in law and we get to see more of Elizabeth in this book, as it turns out Paul has been taken for a ride and has dumped by his fiancee. Over the course of the book, we have Elizabeth dealing with an old man with failing health, who realises he has been foolish and is in fact lonely and has lost many of his friends – a suddenly decided on car trip to France is soon knocked on the head and replaced with connecting him to the internet – a task he easily takes to (but which Benjamin is not impressed with).

Meanwhile, back in France, the area is trying to pull in the harvest before the predicted storms, and we get to see the difference between the traditional and the modern ways of sorting grapes….the traditional may be slower, but the modern way depends on whether it’s actually up and running in time to deal with unexpected events!

There is tension across the estates, as not all grapes have been brought in before the hail storms begin. Things are made worse when the naked body of one of the temp  woorkers  (Clotilde) is found up on the grounds of the local Abbey, and someone has tried to frame Benjamin by leaving her underwear in his car. It takes some less than discreet coversations with the local police for them to drop investigation Benjamin, but tensions continue, specifically on the Lemoine estate, where Marcel the father, Rafael the son, and one of the lead estate workers  Philippine as there seems to be some undercurrent as to who knew Clotilde and what if anything they had to do with her death.

It soon gets sorted out, with the denoument had at the dinner held for the end of the harvest and Benjamine’s relationship with the Limone estate is almost back on track.

Whilst I did enjoy the book, and there was a decent amount of information about the wine of the region and the specific estates, it was presented in a very dry manner in a short, dense section of the book and it did seem like I was reading a text book. The rest of the story was done with a light touch, especially when it comes to Benjamin’s family and I’m wondering if the two authors could balance up their writing a little.

 

Book Review: A Proposal to Die For by Vivian Conroy

A Proposal to Die For

With her father away in India, Lady Alkmene Callender finds being left to her own devices in London intolerably dull, until the glamorous Broadway star Evelyn Steinbeck arrives in town! Gossip abounds about the New York socialite, but when Ms Steinbeck’s wealthy uncle, Silas Norwhich, is found dead Lady Alkmene finds her interest is piqued. Because this death sounds a lot to her like murder…

Desperate to uncover the truth, Lady Alkmene begins to look into Ms Steinbeck’s past – only to be hampered by the arrival of journalist, Jake Dubois – who believes she is merely an amateur lady-detective meddling in matters she knows nothing about!

But Lady Alkmene refuses to be deterred from the case and together they dig deeper, only to discover that some secrets should never come to light…

I read this a few weeks ago having picked up a prepubbed copy from netgalley, but have only just gotten around to writing a review …. Sorry all!

Anyway Lady Alkmene is at a society event and at a loss of what to do now her father is off on one of his botany jaunts. She overhears a man propsing to an American woman, but both are hidden behind a folding screen and she never gets to find out who the man is.  She finds out who the woman is, when she is introduced to her later at the party. Having recently arrived from the states, Evelynis the niece of Silas Norwhich, a man known for having a priceless collection of art.

Problem is, Silas is dead within days, with the newly found niece about to inherit every thing. However, was the death an accident, or was it murder? Alkmene suspects the latter, and with time on her hands, starts investigating.  Her name and connections get her only so far however, but other doors begin to open when she joins forces with the investigative journalist Jake Dubois. He initially dislikes her meddling, no matter how well interntioned, especially when she tries to deal with issues that she ultimately will only make worse, no matter what she tries.

In the end however, they come to some form of truce, and work together to find out about identity fraud, lost families, deaths…all the things you would want in such a mystery. Whether or not the crime itself is complex, the hard work is on the world-creation for this novel, which is the more enjoyable for all the detail. It allows for further novels to have both the glamour of the “highlife” (diamonds, parties and steam ships) combined with the gutterlife (the slums, the pre-NHS/pre-dole world) for the low paid and sick.

I know there are at least two other books in this series, and there are enough “gaps” to allow for further developments later. Such as: where does the chemistry between the two leads take them? Is London really that progressive (a mere 20 years after the death of Victoria) for a girl to be allowed to run around town without a chaperone? Or is her father living in his own world so much that he doesn’t wonder about the “look of the thing”, and therefore not arrange for Alkmene to have a companion?

 

Book Review: Red Chrysanthemum by Henry Mazel

Red ChrysanthemumAlexander Rada doesn’t want to be called Alexander, or Alex for that matter — Rada will do just fine. It’s the summer of 1945, and army Lieutenant Rada has just arrived in Tokyo to witness the official surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces on the deck of the battleship Missouri.

Rada has a history. He was a cop in L.A. before the war. A disgraced cop. Along the way, he learned to speak Japanese, and now he’s working at GHQ as a translator for General MacArthur. To almost everyone’s surprise, Rada is transferred to the military police to stop an assassination of a top communist. And the thing is, Rada just hates communists. He finds himself attached to a Japanese partner working for the Occupation forces — and even more attached to a unique, beautiful Japanese woman. Love is in the air, and Rada is bound to mess it up.

I was sitting in a restaurant having finished my previous read, and with no paper book in my bag, it was time to scroll through my ebooks to see what I really should tackle next. I picked up this book from Netgalley a while ago, and since I was sitting in a Japanese restaurant, it seemed an appropriate book to start.

Set in the last days of WWII, Rada, a failed policeman and average interpreter, is sent to Japan to help clear things up. Immediately he is pulled into an investigation to find the man rumoured to be claiming to be the rightful heir to the Japanese Emperor’s throne.  Prone to putting his foot into his mouth, he is told very little, manages to annoy and be annoyed by the Japanese liaison he’s been assigned (not helped that the Japanese seem to have been told more than him), and his penchant for Oriental women has lead him to be attached to a Japanese prostitute who takes him for a ride.

The throne Pretender is found – and immediately assassinated – the killing being blamed on Rada, who subsequently goes on the run.  Unfortunately this is as far as I got with this book. Rada  has so few redeeming qualities, and lurches from one event to another with no apparent plan. I have read some reviewers that have enjoyed this book, but I have read over 50% and cant see it being pulled together in the last half to make me change my mind that much, sorry

Book Review: The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

the-sunlight-pilgrimsSet in a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter – it is snowing in Jerusalem, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to arrive off the coast of Scotland – THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS tells the story of a small Scottish community living through what people have begun to think is the end of times. Bodies are found frozen in the street with their eyes open, euthanasia has become an acceptable response to economic collapse, schooling and health care are run primarily on a voluntary basis. But daily life carries on: Dylan, a refugee from panic-stricken London who is grieving for his mother and his grandmother, arrives in the caravan park in the middle of the night – to begin his life anew.

I read Fagan’s debut novel The Panopticon a few years ago, and considered it to be one of the best books of 2013 (along with Longbourn). So when I heard that her next book was due out, and that it was getting positive reviews, I went and brought the hardback almost as soon as it came out. (Says a lot about the original book huh?).

Of course, this could well have been the difficult second book, but thankfully Fagan has had a different enough landscape compared to the previous story. Set in the 2020 Scotland, when the temperature is dropping well below zero, icebergs are breaking away and making their way into the north Atlantic, and it’s generally agreed that the next Ice Age is upon us.

Dylan, his mother and grandmother now both dead and the bailiffs on the doorstep of the cinema that is his home, packs up the ashes of the two women and travels north to Scotland where his mother has apparently brought a Static mobile home. Here he meets a cast of eccentric characters, including Barnacle (who is bent crooked so he’s always looking at the ground); Constance, who is the closest Dylan will ever come to meeting a survivalist and who is the mother of the barely teenage Stella, who is trying to make her own way, having decided that she doesn’t want to be the boy she was born as (and therefore trying to cope with facing the boys she goes to school as who remember her as a boy from the year before).

The ice age itself isn’t the story, it’s just a backdrop of how people are living their lives, trying not to listen to the doom merchants on the tv as they report on London coming to a standstill and the snowdrifts in Italy. Stella’s father Alistair has an on-off relationship with Constance, which is not helped that he is married to someone else (his third) who hates Constance. Alistair still hasn’t come to terms with Stella’s choices and he does not get on with Dylan, as they seem to take an instant dislike to each other. It doesn’t help that Dylan has found a secret about his grandmother’s family in the diary his mother has left behind.

The way it is written is very fluid, especially in the beginning, and the lack of quotation marks and identifying “he said”s can make it a little confusing but worth getting through. Here is an example half way through the books as to how Stella tries to navigate her way through a staunchly conservative school and health strutucture who can’t comprehend she wants to not be a boy.

They took her into a meeting in school and she had to say in advance that she wasn’t a lesbian, or they wouldn’t have let her even try to use the girls’ changing room. They asked her if she was still a Christian. She explained that her family is not religious. They asked her what she knew of damnation. She asked them what they knew of autonomy. They asked her how she knew that word. She asked if they had met her mother. They said they would pray for her. She said it was not necessary. They asked if she might feel different in a few months, or if perhaps she should simply change for gym in the janitor’s cupboard. She said she’d felt like this her whole life and no amount of praying was going to change it and she could use the janitor’s cupboard to change, but she was a person, not a broom.

The story finishes on a bit of a cliff hanger, where it’s March , -60, and Dylan, Stella, Constance and Alisdair are holed up in Alisdair’s house (don’t ask), waiting for the storm to descend……

 

Book Review: Sonoma Rose (Elm Creek Quilts #19) by Jennifer Chiaverini

As the nation grapples with the strictures of Prohibition, Rosa Diaz Barclay lives on a Southern California rye farm with her volatile husband, John, who has lately found another source of income far outside the Federal purview.
sonoma-rose
Mother to eight children, Rosa mourns the loss of four who succumbed to the mysterious wasting disease currently afflicting young Ana and Miguel. Two daughters born of another father are in perfect health. When an act of violence shatters Rosa’s resolve to maintain her increasingly dangerous existence, she flees with the children and her precious heirloom quilts to the mesa where she last saw her beloved mother alive

Picked up at the 2016 Bookcrossing Unconvention held in Birmingham. This is the 19th in the Elm Creek Quilts series, and this time is set in the US during prohibition.

This is told from the standpoint of Rosa, and shifts across several timeframes – her early life as she grew up with her childhood friend Lars, marrying John who claimed to love her (even though he suspected the first daughter was not his), and having 8 children between the two men. Finally John’s abusive behaviour is too much for her to bear, and she escapes, taking a load of money from the barn (gained as a result of John’s bootlegging).

Lars, Rosa and the remaining children escape to the city, where they find out why some of the children get sick and the others (it’s coelic disease). They then set up new lives – under new names – and start again as if Lars and Rosa had married in the first place. The threat to their new life comes from the prohibition agents who come around the vineyards they now work in.

Whilst this is classed as an “Elm Creek Quilt” book, but there’s very little mention of the “previous heirloom quilts” mentioned in the blurb, and only the occasional reference to Rosa making her own quilts. There’s no tie into Elm Creek at all so I struggled to work out the connection.  Rosa has a certain amount of strength, as shown in standing up to the Prohibition agent, but whilst John was being violent towards her, she still went ahead and got pregnant by Lars (so she has no issue with committing adultery).

The potential threat from John is removed quite quickly, and Lars seems to have no problems with disappearing “off grid” from his family, never to be heard from again – the similarity in his looks to the Prohibition agent only proves to be useful in the end, and there seems to be no issue in deceiving people.

Overall, this wasn’t my favourite in the series and it left me feeling rather disappointed.

Book Review: Lady of the Bridge by Laura Kitchell

lady-of-the-bridge

Saiko, warrior princess under Japan’s first ruling shogun, is tasked with entering the dethroned emperor’s household as a consort. It is her duty. It brings honor to her family. This alliance between the old regime and the new can end rebellious uprisings that keep Japan in upheaval.

Takamori is an elite samurai in service to the first shogun. He is war-weary but loyal in his service under the man who ended the civil wars that threatened to destroy Japan. With no major battles to fight, he faces a peacetime that has all samurai questioning their role and their future.

When Saiko and Takamori meet on a garden bridge, both seeking answers and calm, they stir unexpected desires and create more questions than answers. Each day they meet and each day they fall deeper in love. Duty and honor, however, dictate that Saiko must belong to the emperor, and as her father’s marshal, Takamori must deliver her.

A ronin attack forces them to fight for her life. They race across Japan with armies on the chase and two questions left unanswered. Who organized and directs the ronin army? And how much time do they have together?

In a world where duty is everything, how will she choose between family honor and her heart’s desire?

Received from the publishers via Netgalley. I do have a thing for books set in Asia, and Japan and China in particular, which is what drew me to this story.  It is told from the perspective of Princess Saiko, who is the daughter (and youngest child) of the Shogun.  She has spent several years staying with her brother, and using her time to study martial arts.  She knows that it is her duty to become consort to the dethroned emperor, and also develops the more “womanly” virtues, of poetry, literature, painting and calligraphy.

Takamori has come back from extended fighting, having built up a fearsome reputation as an excellent fighter and leader of troops. Since the fighting has been essentially suppressed (ronin not withstanding!), he’s now at a loss as to what happens next with his career.

The two meet on the covered bridge that Saiko’s father has built for her each year, and at first she is more than a little angry he is invading her space. Not wanting to make a scene – she’s come out without her ladies in waiting – she lets him stay, but doesnt tell him who she is. Over the next few weeks, they meet, fall in love, and there’s plenty of discussions about painting, poetry, nature etc.

Finally, Saiko has to go to the Emperor’s household, and Takamori is to lead her escort. However, they get attacked by a group of Ronin, and they have to separate from the escort.  The pair end up in a protected castle, and it’s here that their relationship becomes more physical. Finally they make it to the Emperor’s household where the Ronin attack again. Saiko defends the emperor, killing a number of soldiers in the process.  As a result, she manages to find a way to leace the emperor and find her true love, with noone losing face, and with her having performed her duty.

It was good to have a female character who was interesting, educated as well as able to hold her own as a warrior (she kills more than a few Ronin along the way, with no subsequent wailing that you might expect from someone not trained as a warrior). Takamori has done well as the Shogun’s Marshal, but is also educated and now searching a different path in life. The occasionally forays into fights are not too often and are decently written, showing that Saiko and Takamori can work well together, whilst showing that Saiko can defend herself (and others) without the need to be “protected by a man” (can you feel the feminism standpoint coming through?)

About this author

Laura Kitchell is a member of Romance Writers of America and Chesapeake Romance Writers. She’s never happier than when she’s spinning a new tale. Hearing from fans is her second favorite activity, though book signings come in a close third. She writes historical, contemporary, and will dabble in romantic suspense and even mermaids when the fancy strikes.

 

Book Review: The Olive Branch by Jo Thomas

the-olive-branch

It’s amazing what you can buy online these days:
Memorabilia
Fashion accessories
A crumbling Italian farmhouse…

After a Prosecco-fuelled girls’ night in gets out of hand, Ruthie Collins awakes to discover that she has bid for her dream Italian home online – and won. Recently out of a relationship, a new start is just what Ruthie needs. Anything is better than sleeping on her mum’s settee.

But arriving in Southern Italy, Ruthie doesn’t know the first thing about running an olive farm. And with new neighbours, the tempestuous Marco Bellanouvo and his fiery family to contend with, all Ruthie wants is to go back home.

Life can change with the click of a mouse. But all good things – friendship, romance, and even the olive harvest – take time to grow. Can Ruthie finally put the past to rest and find her own piece of the Dolce Vita along the way?

I picked this up at an event organised by Foyles bookshop in Birmingham, where Jo Thomas was one of the speakers. I liked the sound of this book, and the fact that Thomas admits to wanting to write about foreign places, especially about the food, primarily because it allows her to go on holiday to do research!

I will admit that when I read this book, I had just finished a number of books where the main female leads were older (~60s) and getting another chance at love. Therefore it did take me a while to twig that here, Ruthie is about to hit 30, and with her 10 year marriage having just fallen apart.

There was one reference – well into the book – about Ruthie having piercings other than her ears, which whilst unsurprising for a woman of that age to have one, it seemed to be a little odd to include it half way through the book, and then not mention it again. (What does it say about Ruthie? Did Marco get to see it? Did he like it? Hate it? What?)

The chaos of Italian families is described wonderfully, with extensive siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, and a mother who wants Marco to marry a local girl and who fears that Ruthie could spoil everything. The big dinners, where the whole family sit down and pass food around sound great. Ruthie thinks she knows basic Italian, but is stymied when it turns out that the locals all speak a local dialect so she is flummoxed when she realises she understands little – and it is made worse when she finds out that the house was sold on ebay days before the grandfather died, and she is now the owner of a house the family had expected to inherit.

Being offered half of what she paid for it only makes her determined to make the best of things, and turn the house around into something workable in order to put it back on the market.

Having lived in the “Fixer upper” house in London, Ruthie has already learnt the skills she needs to do up the house (a handy way of not introducing a cast of thousands and Italian planning laws into the book) and with Marco’s help she does gets the house and olive orchard ready. Out of pride she engages Ryan from the local town to help out, only to find out just in time his methods are not traditional or even the best. He also proves to be unreliable, especially when he finds out that Ruthie is not going to be pressurised into doing everything his way. Finally he disappears off the scene, with the implication that the Italians have “made an offer he cant refuse”.

There is a feud going on between two sides of the family (the fathers – brothers – fell out due to Marco’s father’s gambling), Ruthie manages to bring the family back together with her painting skills.  There is the chance of romance between Ruthie and Marco – something his mother disapproves of – and for a long time it looks like it’s going nowhere, partly due to Ryan, and certainly not helped by the late and sudden arrival of Ruthie’s ex husband Ed.  Comedy comes from Daphne the Goat (named after the ex MIL), and Kirsty and Phil the chickens.

Some readers may call Ruthie stubborn, stupid or naive and perhaps she’s a little of all three (why not ask the electrician – anyone – how to light the fire so she could have hot water once in a while?).

This is a summer/Sunday afternoon read when you want to think of Italy, good food, Lemons and olives there for the taking along with your glass of wine. As such it’s not one to think too hard or deep about, just go with the flow and see where it takes you!