Book Review: Christmas at Holiday House by RaeAnne Thayne

In the town of Silver Bells, there’s always a feeling of Christmas in the air… Let love—and RaeAnne Thayne—melt your heart this holiday season!

This New Year will bring widowed nurse Abigail Powell a fresh start in a different city. Excited about the chance to create an unforgettable Christmas for her young son in picturesque Silver Bells, Colorado, Abby has been hired to take care of her dear friend’s recuperating grandmother. But sprightly senior Winnie insists she doesn’t need looking after. What she does need is help decorating her historic mansion, Holiday House, for a seasonal town fundraiser. Abby warms to the festive task, but she’ll have to contend with her own personal Grinch: Winnie’s prickly grandson, Ethan Lancaster.

Ethan Lancaster is good at a lot of things. Relationships surely aren’t one of them. His ex-fiancée convinced Ethan he was incapable of love, and he believes her…up until the moment he impulsively kisses Abby. What is it about this vibrant woman and her sweet son that knocks his world off-kilter? He knows they’re leaving town after Christmas. He just didn’t expect they’d be taking a little of his heart with them. But as he and Abby work together on the magical Holiday House through the record cold weather, visions of a different future dance in his head…one filled with warmth, love and a new beginning for them both.

Received as one of my books from “a Box Of Stories” subscription, and since it was Christmas related, I thought I’d read and review it ahead of the Christmas season

Lucy, working abroad, asks her college friend Abby to travel to Silver Bells just before Thanksgiving, in order to look after Lucy’s grandmother Winnie, who has broken her wrist following a fall.

Abby has a 5 year old son Christopher, which she had with her husband who died following a car crash 2 years previously. Abby is a nurse and preparing to move across Texas in order to start a new job in the New Year. Going to Silver Bells for 6 weeks allows her a winter break before hand, so everything works out for the best.

Abby drives multiple hours with her son and cat (what happened to the cat? It’s never mentioned beyond the 1st few chapters). Abby finds the Holiday House to be a large Victorian style house, covered in the standard Colerado winter snow.

She finds that Winnie is old, and has some strained/broken bones, and apart from needing some pain killers, she was otherwise fine.

Lucy’s brother Ethan wants Winnie to go into a home. Winnie doesnt want to. In fact she still wants to open up the house to visitors for guided tours (hence the “Christmas at Holiday Home” title)

As a side thread, Lucy is facing a personal challenge about her relationship with Luiz potentially going from a Friendship to romantic. Lucy and Ethan have both been damaged by the relationsip between their parents, their divorce etc.

The next few weeks cover Thanksgiving, prepping for the open house, and then Christmas. It includes skiing, shopping, as well as decorating the house for Christmas.

As with other ABOS books, this book is good enough to have been published, but not one of those books to set the world on fire – sorry. It’s a decent Christmas related romance novel with few (if any) extras to distinguish it from some very similar stories

Book Review: Christmas at Liberty’s by Fiona Ford

September, 1941: Mary arrives in war-torn London nursing a broken heart and a painful secret.

When she is offered her dream post as an assistant in the fabric department at Liberty store, she knows this is the fresh start she needs. Amid the store’s vibrant prints and sumptuous interiors, Mary finds a new family who can help her to heal.

But not everyone will give Mary such a warm welcome, and the trauma of her past will soon catch up with her.

As Mary and the Liberty Girls endure the heartache and uncertainty of war, it will take a steady heart to keep the magic of Christmas alive.

This is one of the books I got from A Box Of Stories, whose mission is to prevent books from heading to the recycling bin. By definition, any book was good enough to be published, but not strong enough to be a best seller.

I have a large pile of Christmas themed books from various sources (not just a Box of Stories), so I decided to start reading Christmas books early so that I had some new content to share (I had to start somewhere in reducing the TBR too!).

Onto the story: Apart from the occasional editorial error (e.g. referring to a wife as a sister), this is an average, reasonable version of a basic trope. e.g. “Someone from a privileged background, makes friends through slumming it and working hard, whilst keeping a significant secret from everyone”. It’s not a *bad* book, but it’s not enough to get on the bestseller list/feature table.

The story covers Births, marriages, deaths, uncertainties during WWII, Lashing of milky tea (eh? 1941 rationing meant that tea and milk was freely available – who knew?!). The idea that fabric was already rationed in 1941 was reasonable.

It’s late 1941 London and Mary has left the ATS under a dark cloud and is looking for a job and lodging. She finally gets a job in Liberty’s fabric department. Here she meets friends and enemies, faces the hardships from now being a year of war (rationing of food, fabric, etc). People become sick, others have babies, husbands may be dead, boyfriends get called up etc.

Apparently this is #1 in a trilogy. If I’m honest, I’m not in a rush to buy the others but I wont turn the others if they turn up.

 

Book Review: I am the Sea by Matt Stanley

1870. Apprentice lighthouseman James Meakes joins two others at the remote offshore rock of Ripsaw Reef – replacement for a keeper whose death there remains unexplained.

Meakes’ suspicions grow as he accustoms himself to his new vertical world. He finds clues, obscure messages and signs that a fourth occupant may be sharing the space, slipping unseen between staircases.

With winter approaching, the keepers become isolated utterly from shore. Sea and wind rage against the tower. Danger is part of the life. Death is not uncommon. And yet as the storm builds, the elements pale against a threat more wild and terrifying than any of them could have imagined.

One of multiple books from A Box Of Stories, where this is one of the challenge books to read a non-romance based book. It can also be classed as a Gothic/Spooky novel. The fact I’m still reading it in early September says as much about me as it does the book. (“hiding” in the handbag for 2 weeks of August naturally does not help the reading process. Not wanting to find a book – any book – also says something about me and reading right now).

Set in 1870, James Meakes, a man of undetermined age, goes out to start an apprenticeship at the Ripshaw Reef Lighthouse. There are 2 other men the – the Principal (an older man with peculiar, obsessive habits) and the Second, Adamson, a churlish and moody man prone to vicious mood swings, fuelled in part by alcoholism. Both men are, by definition, flawed. On paper Meakes is suitable for the specific quirks of being a lighthouse man, but it soon becomes clear that his credentials are dubious and open to interpretation regarding their validity (e.g. it appears his letter of recommendation from his uncle was written several days after his uncle’s violent murder).

A commissioner arrives for the Annual inspection, but disappears later that day in rather suspicious circumstances (did he jump or was he pushed – and who by?). The Principal is also heavily injured – likely fatally – following a massive argument. Meakes and Adamson are left alone in a remote lighthouse, cut off from everyone else by the dire winter weather. Where better to keep two men suspected of murder than in an isolated building? No Jail could keep them better.

Everything is made worse by the isolation, the animosity between the two men, and the lack of sleep overall.

There is also a young boy that appears and disappears within Meakes’ company. Meakes cannot trust Adamson to confirm that the child is real, and does not trust him not to use the detail as a way of torturing Meakes in some way. Does the child exist or is he some kind of ghost?

I will admit I skipped parts of this book, especially in the last 100 pages or so. This is partly due to the overall problem I have with reading at the moment, and partly due to the verbosity of the author. Whilst the following is not indicative of the overall book, it is from the book itself and gives an indication of the bits I skipped:

Listen long enough and words materialise in the vortices, the wash of rushing elements – a tumbling, random lexicon. Whittawer hypabyssal, Syncope bursiculate, Onychomancer hellebore. Elytrum murrion, Areopagitic. tephritic. Nephritic. Protomartyr protomartyr somnolescent sesterce

A shipwreck brings strangers into the lighthouse, as well as refreshment casks of alcohol. The mariners dont speak much English but bring disruption into an already strained living environment. Adamson becomes the defacto friend to the sailors (at least whilst they’re all drunk) and the sailor’s behaviour descends into an implied rape and definite murder.

Meanwhile the storm outside is a good allegory for the mess that’s going on inside, where the two keepers are literally at each others;’ throats, making accusations against each other, culminating in the desctuction of both the lighthouse and then men inside.

About the Authour

Normally, at this point I try to give a brief overview of the authour and a link to a relevant website to garner traffic from anyone who has got this far. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out, and this is such an occasion. I’ve found no bio details for this authour, and no link to his books. Please assume you can buy from all known outlets in all known formats. Please advise if anyone knows different, and I will amend accordingly.

This is a good Gothic Horror novel to read as the autumn and winter comes in. I did struggle with the language where some of it could have been dropped. I know in the 19th Centaury, an man of “independent wealth” would expect to have a good Classics education but really, it got too hard and boring to get through.

Book Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known

Before I start, I will offer a few admissions:

The books I’ve been reading over the last five or more years have not exactly been “challenging” and have otherwise been “soft” books to read.

This may or may not affect my review of this book

This is one of the few books I brought new on publication, though I suspect that I forget why I was so excited when it came out. For a moment, I *think* I suspect I mistook the author as Sarah Winters, who I’ve also enjoyed.

Meanwhile, this was in the pile, was relatively short (<300 pages), I’ve not been reading much recently, etc, so when this came up as an option for a book club, it was an automatic “yes” from me.

For such a short book, it was a fairly hard book for me to read, especially in the first half. I am willing to accept that this is because I’ve not read a “proper” book in so long. It was pretty much over a month when I looked up the authour (ok, it was a case of “why the hell did I buy this book” kind of thing). Then I realised I had previously devoured the 1000+ page “Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell” book in the space of a few weeks that I remembered why I had probably brought this specific book in the first place. After that, a lot made sense.

This book is both the same, but also significantly different to Mr Norrell. At under 300 pages, it is shorter, but also inhabits a different physical world, that may or may not be wholly different on an other previously defined world.

I will admit that reading got easier when certain things fell into place. I am not going to point out what happens later in the book as that would be considered by many readers to be classed as a spoiler, and I try to avoid that. To give even one clue away could potentially spoil the whole. If you want to take from that I didn’t understand what happened, well that’s you’re right and you may be correct. Or maybe not.

Summary: initially this was a hard book to read, for so many reasons, most (if not) all of which are mine, and which I hope I’ve detailed above. As to the book itself, it was detailed and beautifully written, with few justifications as to “what happened” and more of “it can and did happen”

Favourite Format for reading?

All other things being equal, what is your favourite format for reading? Hardcover? Paperback? New book? Old book? Leather-bound first edition? E-book?

My most common formats are paperback and ereader. That’s because they are easy to carry in the travel gear (especially the handbag!), and the paperbacks are easier to share with other people.

I like the books to be readable, but have no objection to a book that’s been read before. (e.g. A Broken Spine). I dont like it when x number of pages have been ripped out – I mean what’s the point?

I do buy hardbacks but only in specific situations: I dont prepare to share with anyone else, I like the authour and want a memento. I generally dont carry hardbacks as they are both heavy and precious to me so I dont want them damaged.

I do like listening to Audiobooks, but most of those are played when I’m trying to sleep. Right now. I’m too cheap to pay for wireless headphones, and since I’ve moved to a late model ipad and iphone, it means I dont listen to audiobooks in public.

I’m so used to sharing books with other people, I can find it hard to say “no” to people who want a specific book. Therefore I can be overtly strict over some books (I have shelves for “share but I want back”, “never share” and “I am fine with never seeing again”). Therefore leather bound and/or first editions dont get put into any mix. I may like reading them, but I’ve been burned too many times by people who swear they will bring books back and then…..dont.

So: for sharing and/or travelling, it’s paperbacks. For sentimental reasons: hardback

What about you, constant reader?

Inspector Montalbano: August Flame, Collection 4 Episode 1

Montalbano August HeatThis is where (apparently) the TV show differs from the source book.  This is number 10 in the Commisario Montalbano books which is called “August Heat”.

Please note that I watched this episode/read the book over two years ago and this post has been sitting around pretty much since then. I am aware I am out of sequence at this point. I decided to publish in order to clear up my scheduled posts. Apologies if i have missed something as a result.

August is the hottest summer month in Sicily and Montalbano is forced to remain at Vigata, taking care of police business.  Apparently in the book, Livia joins him, and brings  a friend (with husband and baby) and asks Salvo to rent a beach house for them. In the TV Programme, a heard but unseen Livia goes out on a boat with a friend called Gianfranco and is fed up with Salvo refusing to come out and join them.  It is Mimi who rents the rather nice house and all is well as the holiday develops nicely, until the day Mimi’s little boy Salvo disappears. Montalbano rushes into the garden to help in the search and discovers a tunnel that will reveal sensational surprises, including a trunk with the body of a missing girl who disappeared six years before.

As he begins his investigation, Montalbano makes the acquaintance of the victim’s twin sister Adriana Monreale. Suffering in the terrible August weather, and jealous of what might be happening with Livia on the boat, Salvo is grumpy, jealous and out of sorts. Having previously rejected the come-ons by various other women, it is the attentions of the much younger and very attractive Adriana – who makes no bones about finding Salvo attractive – that breaks his resolve one night when she strips on the beach to go swimming in the sea. Next thing, Salvo has come up behind her in the water, and one thing leads to another, with the pair finally making it back to the house to finish business.il commisario

Along with Fazio – who has spotted the underlying tension between the two and tries to warn Salvo not to take it forward – the pair hatch a plan to bring the killer to justice, using Adriana as bait. The following morning finds Salvo arriving at the holiday let, Adriana, Fazio and Galuzzo already in place. There’s a short, post-coital kiss between Salvo and Adriana (Salvo looks embarrassed and confused, as if he doesn’t want to be caught by Fazio, or is immediately regretting things) before he hides in the corner for the killer to arrive. Adriana tempts the killer into the basement before grabbing Salvo’s gun and shooting the killer dead.  Fazio and Galuzzo, who have been hiding outside, hear the gunshot and arrive after Salvo has taken the gun off Adriana and he takes responsibility for the killing. Despite suspecting otherwise Fazio and Galuzzo don’t argue with him.

It’s an interesting balancing act when it comes to the relationship between Salvo and Livia – he does seem to love her; has been faithful to her (apparently) all these years, despite the temptations – something Ingrid throws back in his face in a later episode – but he wont marry her and seems satisfied with them living a plane trip apart. It was therefore a case of “oh Salvo, really!?” when he follows Adriana into the sea – he chooses her (of all people) to have his mid life crises with? (she’s early 20s  and judging by elapsed time, he’s in his mid 40s . I did the maths at one point and I think Zingaretti’s actual age closely matches Montalbano’s in the series – there’s 15 years between the first episode and the last of series 9 in terms of both storyline and rate of episode production).

The heat of August is also reflected in the clothes the characters wear – they haven’t resorted to tshirts and shorts, but gone are the leather jackets and the long woollen overcoats favoured during the rest of the series (which is filmed in the off season in Sicily, and therefore relatively cool). Fazio looks suitably hot and out of sorts, and somehow Salvo has managed to acquire the only battery operated fan in the station.

Inspector Montalbano: Find the Lady, Collection 3 Episode 4

Please contact for any copyright issues

Please note that I watched this episode over two years ago and this post has been sitting around pretty much since then. I decided to publish in order to clear up my scheduled posts. Apologies if i have missed something as a result.

“Find the lady” is an old card shark’s game, which links to the original Italian title of “The Game of the Three Cards’. which is not based on any of the books in Andrea Camilleri’s series but may be based on a Camilleri short story.

The episode stats with an old man taking a slow evening walk along a well-lit empty street, not noticing he’s being followed by a car. As he goes to enter a house, the car pulls up, and a man gets out, and “persuades” the old man (Girolamo Cascio) into the car.

On the way into work, Salvo sees a funeral with only one mourner. The dead man is Cascio, the mourner is his accountant Ciccio Monaco. Having got wet in the rain, we get the mandatory topless shot of Zingaretti as he changes shirt whilst talking to Fazio. Girolamo died in a hit and run which was dealt with by Mimi, who hasn’t been seen for days.

Salvo goes to lunch…..I’m beginning to recognise external sets!…..and is approached by Monaco, who says the death makes no sense….there are no skid marks on a well lit road, Cascio had been nervous due to phone calls, and had asked to be walked home after dinner with Monaco, which Monaco couldn’t do due to his sciatica.

Salvo visits Dr Pasquano in his private club, to hear that Cascio died at 2am, full of drink, covered in vomit, and hit with such force that his spine was broken in half.

Coming out of the club, Salvo finds Mimi and makes him sit and talk at a local cafe. Mimi’s had a tip that Tarantino is in town, a fraudster who robbed half of Vigata, then disappeared. Salvo complains that Mimi has spent no time on the Cascio case, then realises why as a beautiful woman in a tight dress comes sashaying down the street. It is Gloris, Tarantino’s wife, and Mimi is clearly in lust.

Salvo goes to visit one of the older judges, who tells him of the Rocco Pennisi case from 20 years earlier. Pennisi killed his lover’s husband, was convicted of murder, and had been released several days before and now Cascio is dead. Turns out that Cascio worked for Pennisi, and his fortune only started after Pennisi was jailed.

Pennisi comes to the station but the interview is unproductive. Salvo goes to visit Tommasino, who has appeared in previous episodes, who is Pennisi‘s cousin and he fills in some background. Renata was initially engaged to Rocco, but then got married to business partner Giacomo. Giacomo finds out about the affair, and when he is found dead, Rocco is blamed. Renata is the one to initiate everything, but was ambivalent at the trial. Tommasino thinks that with the conviction, she manages to get rid of Rocco and Giacomo in one go. There is good use of flashbacks, showing that Rocco in particular was much more dynamic and animated than when Salvo met him. It’s also rare to see people smoking on tv anymore, especially at the dinner table!

Salvo visits Gloris, who is a massive flirt, showing legs and cleavage a plenty. She takes the phone off the hook as they talk “in order to not be disturbed”. Salvo asks a few light questions, but mainly takes the chance to look round the rooftop of the house, which has a very nice garden connecting to other buildings.   Mimi is upset when he finds Salvo has visited Gloris, but calms down a little when Salvo points out what Mimi doesn’t see because he is thinking with the wrong part of his body…there are multiple escape routes from the house, Mimi needs to check out for garages or something similar that Tarantino could be hiding from. Taking the phone off the hook is to allow Tarantino to listen in, as he’s jealous, but it means he’s nearby.

Salvo visits Rocco’s sister Virginia who is blind. She tells of days leading to the murder where some gas men came to the house to do checks and went upstairs even though there were no pipes there. A few days later the gun that had previously been kept in the bedroom gets used in the murder.

Xavier Granieri, an Argentinian, is found dead, having being killed execution style. Pasquano thinks he was killed elsewhere and has had plastic surgery.  Investigations into Cascio show that he colluded with the Ricolo mafia family that got him the contracts that made the company rich. Salvo visits Monaco, who tempts Salvo to stay for dinner….it is pasta with broccoli after all!…..and manages to get Salvo talking as he eats. Monaco confirms the mafia connection, whilst giving detail of the voice calling Cascio having a weird accent and sounding rough.

The team get a recording of Granieri’s voice from his answer phone….well done Caterella! Monaco confirms it was the man calling Cascio. Rocco’s sister isn’t sure, but could have been the gas man.

Salvo returns to find Tarantino being taken away after being arrested. Mimi assures Salvo he’s stopped sleeping around but it seems more to convince himself.

It turns out that Granieri is not who they think he is, but is an ex Sinagra man called Salvatore Lucia, “leant” to the Riocolo family, and who emigrated to Argentina a few months after Rocco’s trial.

The team know that Lumia is the son of the shepherd they met when they found the body, so pay him a visit. He’s not home so Salvo waits alone. When the Shepherd comes back, it is clear he is old and probably ill. He admits his son returned after 20 years away, and admitted killing 8 people. It was when he admitted to killing a 9 year old that the father shot him with his own gun. He hadn’t killed himself as he wanted to square things with Salvo before dying. Salvo leaves the building, alone, and it is unclear as to whether the man is dead or alive – if the former, has he shot himself in Salvo’s presence, or, if Salvo did it himself?

Salvo calls Renata in, and puts a theory on table….Cascio had Giacomo killed and framed Rocco as a favour to Renata, Granieri returns to blackmail Cascio and put pressure on Renata but kills him when it doesn’t work. She kind of confesses, but believes it won’t go anywhere due to lack of evidence. The question therefore is….who killed Granieri?

2021 Blogger Resolutions- the results!

It’s now traditional for me to set goals at the beginning of the year, then reflect how I’ve done by the end. TL;DR, I’ve not met my goals – Again!  At the time of writing (1am 29th December), I’m considering not doing goals for 2022, and certainly not so aggressive if I do.

Book pages text
Patrick Tomasso via Upsplash

  • Increase subscribers to this blog to 1000, excluding twitter followers.

Update: whilst I’ve increased by a few, I’m certainly not at 1000

  • Increase annual page hits to this blog (to 7500)

Update: I dropped numbers to somewhere between 2017 and 2018 numbers. You may be able to spot why later!

  • Increase twitter followers to @brumnordie (to 800)

Update: Oh so close at 797!

  • Read and review 20 books. 50% to be paperbooks or audiobooks.

Update: I read and reviewed about 14 books, with not quite a 50% rate on the audiobooks, but it’s still a work in progress

  • Get my Netgalley ratio into the 72% range (from 66%).

Update: I’ve read one or two Netgalley books this year, have not requested any new ones, but not managed to improve my ratio by much

  • To aid in reading the books that I already have there will be a moratorium on requesting books from Netgalley or LibraryThing, and reviewing books I already have,

Update: I didn’t request any, but I did purchase some from the bookstore! Only one new audiobook has been listened to

  • Make better use of twitter, including the analytics, scheduling content.

Update: one day I may allow someone else to look over my numbers. Maybe. My scheduling software has changed a number of times, so it can be a tad difficult to get things set up, but I’ve found some workarounds

  • Take part in twitter chats such as #ContentHour, #BrumHour

Update: I’ve lost some followers by not engaging enough, but have picked up more, mainly by engaging more.  In the new year, I should be taking part in at least one reading challenge, and do it beyond December/January!

  • Make use of scheduling and planning software

Update: I’ve changed my schedule software around a little in the effort to make some stuff more visible. There does seem to be a bug/”feature” in my scheduling software that makes auto scheduling books more difficult, but I may well have found a workaround for that

  • Release more books via Bookcrossing, either in OBCZs or via RABCKs.

Update: with the travel restrictions being eased a little, I’ve been able to release more books at local OBCZs. It’s certainly helped in lightening the load a little!  For a second year running, the Country wide Bookcrossing event has had to be cancelled – boo! It does mean that not many books escaped, but it also means that not many books came into the house, neither!

As for my previous comment about blog view:

  1. I’m simply not reading (and therefore reviewing) books at quite the same level as before. However, my twitter feed has still be reminding my followers of posts (especially the older ones!) and many are still getting views
  2. Putting out my themed tweets, whilst having a targeted framework and timescale, also has made me realise that perhaps I need new content. (NO!).  Therefore I need to read and review some more stuff.
  3. I’m aware that to ensure that people know the blog is not technically dead, I’ve tried to be creative in some non review related posts.  This is just one of them.
  4. I’ve officially retired the ‘Blog prompt’ post that’s been lurking around for years. I may well have some of the prompts lying around….somewhere…..but if I’ve not written something for it yet, it wont be happening soon!

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.