Book Review – Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood

Here’s the blurb;

The delectable Phryne Fisher has been invited to the Last Best party of 1928. When three of the guests are kidnapped Phryne finds she must puzzle her way through the scavenger hunt clues to retrieve the hostages.

It’s Christmas, and Phryne has an invitation to the Last Best party of 1928, a four-day extravaganza being held at Werribee Manor house and grounds by the Golden Twins, Isabella and Gerald Templar. She knew them in Paris, where they caused a sensation. Phryne is in two minds about going when she starts receiving anonymous threats warning her against attending. She promptly decides to accept the invitation – after all, no one tells Phryne what to do. At the Manor, she is accommodated in the Iris room, and at the party meets two polo-playing women, a Goat lady (and goat), a large number of glamorous young men and a very rude child called Tarquin. The acolytes of the golden twins are smoking hashish and dreaming, and Phryne finds that the jazz is as hot as the drinks are cold and indulges in flirtations, dancing, and mint juleps. Heaven.

It all seems like good clean fun until three people are kidnapped, one of them the abominable child, and Phryne must puzzle her way through the cryptic clues of the scavenger hunt to retrieve the hostages and save the party from disaster.

I received a free E Arc from Netgalley.

This is the fourth Miss Fisher book I’ve read and by far the longest. That said, it’s still a quick, and intriguing read and I did very much enjoy it.

The descriptions of the very elaborate party she attends are not quite as long and tedious as other reviewers have complained, although there is quite a lot of poetry which is irrelevant. That said, it’s all scene setting – showing the ridiculously opulent lifestyle of the brother and sister at the heart of the story, and the way that the very rich choose to amuse themselves when they decided to have a party. That said, it’s very much Miss Fisher’s associates who complete the story, the cook, the maid, the ‘strongmen’ and the eventual appearance of good old Jack Robinson, not to mention Dot, her daughters and indeed, her sister.

I particularly enjoyed the brief scenes where Miss Fisher is reading the latest Agatha Christie novel, and determining who Hercule Poirot has decided is guilty of the crime. In its own way, this serves to highlight the differences between the hedonistic lifestyle of the party givers, Miss Fisher, and the far more sedate, Hercule.

Miss Fisher manages to solve the mystery, as always, and if the ‘happy’ ending is a little silly, then it is fiction – and why not allow the characters, who admittedly aren’t that likeable, to profit from their misfortune. It was a neat solution to the problem of the cast forever onwards being stuck in Miss Fisher’s circle of friends.

(I do prefer the covers with the actress from the TV series on). And you can buy it here;

 

Book Review – Four Princes by John Julius Norwich (non-fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

‘Never before had the world seen four such giants co-existing. Sometimes friends, more often enemies, always rivals, these four men together held Europe in the hollow of their hands.’ 

Four great princes – Henry VIII of England, Francis I of France, Charles V of Spain and Suleiman the Magnificent – were born within a single decade. Each looms large in his country’s history and, in this book, John Julius Norwich broadens the scope and shows how, against the rich background of the Renaissance and destruction of the Reformation, their wary obsession with one another laid the foundations for modern Europe. Individually, each man could hardly have been more different ­- from the scandals of Henry’s six wives to Charles’s monasticism – but, together, they dominated the world stage.

From the Field of the Cloth of Gold, a pageant of jousting, feasting and general carousing so lavish that it nearly bankrupted both France and England, to Suleiman’s celebratory pyramid of 2,000 human heads (including those of seven Hungarian bishops) after the battle of Mohács; from Anne Boleyn’s six-fingered hand (a potential sign of witchcraft) that had the pious nervously crossing themselves to the real story of the Maltese falcon, Four Princes is history at its vivid, entertaining best.

With a cast list that extends from Leonardo da Vinci to Barbarossa, and from Joanna the Mad to le roi grand-nez, John Julius Norwich offers the perfect guide to the most colourful century the world has ever known and brings the past to unforgettable life.

I received a free E Arc from Netgalley of this book.

It’s been a long time since I read a non-fiction history book that wasn’t set in the Anglo-Saxon/Viking period, but the Tudor period – or rather Elizabeth I was my first great history crush and I was fascinated by the idea of this accounting of the first half of the sixteenth century. History books too often focus on one person, one event or one series of events, it’s high time that ‘history’ looked at the wider reach of events and this is exactly what the author tries to do.

There can be few who know nothing about the reign of Henry VIII and his two ‘frenemies’ Charles V and Francis I of France, but by offering an account of the interactions of these three men, and adding Suleiman the Magnificent into the mix, a far richer landscape of Europe at this time is revealed. It was a time of great change, and all four of these men strove for something different, but all of them wanted, perhaps, to earn the biggest reputation for themselves, and they all seemed determined to bankrupt themselves in order to do so.

The author treats each king in a similar way; he might not agree with their actions but he can at least offer an explanation for their actions, and, with not a little humour, he’s able to find their achiles heel – for Suleiman it seems to have been the weather, for Charles V his unambitious son, the later Philip II, for Francis I his hatred of Charles V and we all know about Henry VIII and his need for a son and heir. And yet these men all dealt with far greater issues as well and I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for Charles V who seemed to face some sort of disaster from everywhere simultaneously.

I would have liked more information about Suleiman as I know so little about him, but the purpose of the book precludes that – indeed I think some understanding of the period is needed beforehand in order to appreciate all that the author has to offer.

Overall, this is a very readable account of the time period – the Papacy looms large, as to be expected, as do some of Suleiman’s piratical allies, but each king is given his own space and time and I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading history books.

Four Princes is already available in hardback and for the Kindle, and you can buy it here;

Book Review -The Riviera Express by T.P. Fielden

Here’s the blurb;

“Murder on the Riviera Express

Gerald Hennessey – silver screen star and much-loved heart-throb – never quite makes it to Temple Regis, the quaint Devonshire seaside town on the English Riviera. Murdered on the 4.30 from Paddington, the loss of this great man throws Temple Regis’ community into disarray.

Not least Miss Judy Dimont –corkscrewed hair reporter for the local rag, The Riviera Express. Investigating Gerald’s death, she’s quickly called to the scene of a second murder – setting off on her trusty moped, Herbert, she finds Arthur Shrimsley in an apparent suicide on the clifftops above the town beach.

Miss Dimont must prevail – for why was a man like Gerald coming to Temple Regis anyway? And what is the connection between him and Arthur? And just how will she get the answers she wants whilst under the watchful and mocking eyes of her infamously cantankerous Editor, Rudyard Rhys?”

I received a free E-Arc from Netgalley.

The Riviera Express is, quite simply, a very good read. The author does have a particular writing style which initially threw me and I worried that the novel would be a hard read, however, after only a few pages, I was used to the writing style, and while many might not appreciate the ‘wordiness’ the author choices to use, I found it fit very well with the novel.

The characters are nuanced and a little stereotypical, but then, that really is the point. It is Miss Dimont who is the star of the show and she receives the most back-story and is the least stereotyped, shortly followed by her fellow newspaper colleagues – the photographer, Terry, and her main rival/friend at the newspaper, Betty. The author also captures the essence of a 1950’s seaside town – the busy-bodies, the small mindedness, the general nosyness of everyone knowing everyone else’s business and the stresses and strains of keeping everyone happy within the small community that wants a localnewspaper but only if everyone is presented in their best light.

And yet into all this comes a little bit of glamour provided by one of the murder victims and his entourage. The author does a very good job of presenting the actors as actors – ensuring that their dramatic moments are always referenced to the film/play that they’ve stolen their lines from and juxtaposing the strange and magical world of actors to the more mundane events of life in a seaside town where the summer season has just ended.

The mystery that Miss Dimont finds herself unravelling, earns as much ‘spread’ as the development of the characters and the venue, which I’m sure will feature in more books in the future, and ends rather well with not so much a twist, as an unlooked for answer to all the questions.

Overall I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a historical novel with the added bonus of intrigue.

(I am a fan of historical who-dun-its be it Sherlock Holmes, Marple, Poirot, or my latest find – The Phryne Fisher books).

And you can buy the book from 23rd February from here:

Announcing the Winners of the Red Sister Art Contest

that thorn guy

First of all I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who took the time and submitted an entry (or more) to this competition, as well as to Mark Lawrence and Pen Astridge for their help in considering the submissions.

The three winning entries of this competition are:

Jorg on the Lichway’ (Chalk on wall) by Josiah Bancroft

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‘Marshal Jalan’ by Lily Yearwood

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‘Mother’s Music’ by Krystal Wolfe

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The fourth prize, randomly selected, and offered by Mark, goes to entry 4:

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‘Snorri vs Bear… minus Snorri. Didn’t go according to plan.’ by J.P. Ashman & Freya

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Honourable mentions go to:

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Katherine by Sarah Trac

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‘Red Kent by Juan Pablo Cartasso

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‘Bear’ by Vivianne Holmén

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Thank you very much for all the entries once again and special thanks to Pen Astridge for the great image used in the header.

Agnes

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Book Review – Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy)

Here’s the blurb;

“Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy trilogy overturns the expectations of readers and then goes on to tell the epic story of evil overturned in a richly imagined world.

A thousand years ago evil came to the land and has ruled with an iron hand ever since. The sun shines fitfully under clouds of ash that float down endlessly from the constant eruption of volcanoes. A dark lord rules through the aristocratic families and ordinary folk are condemned to lives in servitude, sold as goods, labouring in the ash fields.

But now a troublemaker has arrived and there is rumour of revolt. A revolt that depends on criminal that no-one can trust and a young girl who must master Allomancy – the magic that lies in all metals.”

Wow, this book starts with quite a bang, dragging you in, and then seems to sort of stop for a bit, by which time I was considering not reading anymore but really, did I have any choice?

It was a thoroughly enjoyable novel but didn’t quite produce what I was expecting it to, becoming an almost typical fantasy book, complete with the same themes etc. Some of it was also a bit too nice! I know that might sound daft but I was expecting terrible events that never really materialised. That said, I will be reading Book 2 and 3.
I very much enjoyed the interplay of the short chapter headings and the way they contrasted with the story – and the little twist at the end was clearly quite obvious if I’d been paying enough attention!

On a final note – it is a typical fantasy book – it is very long and detailed, and sadly, Book 2 has not started well – but I might persevere.

And you can buy it here;

Book Review – Requiem for the Wolf by Tara Saunders – 5 stars. Highly recommended.

Here’s the blurb;

“They told him that the Lost were animals. Crazed and brutal, they said, a danger to themselves and others. Hero, they called him, for providing the mercy of a clean death. They lied.

The Tiarna Beo is a land frozen in the still moment between acts of savage violence. Forty years after a Purging that drove an entire race either into the ground or north through the mountains, every man watches his words and his neighbour. Only a fool draws attention to himself, and only the suicidal travel from the North.

Growing up fatherless in a cold and grieving home, Breag had a clear vision for his future – a good woman, a family of his own and a quiet life. When his good woman betrays him, her confederates force him into the Tiarna on a mission to find one of the Lost and bring it home to be sacrificed. Mired in hopeless duty and wandering rootless among people who would kill him if they knew what he was, Breag struggles to hold on to the frayed edges of his humanity.

But no good deed goes unpunished. When his rescue of a brutalised young woman reveals her to be the Lost he has spent eight years hunting, Breag is forced to choose between her life and his future. And she’s not prepared to go quietly. Breag’s choice will create ripples that ignite the fumes of anger among his people and theirs, and ultimately to burn the entire kingdom down around his ears.”

I received a free E-Arc from Netgalley.

This book, is quite simply, an absolute gem. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not the easiest read out there – but it’s well worth persevering with the slightly heavy writing style – which sometimes feels like wading through treacle (in a good way). The author does not, as opposed to some writers, waste a single word in this story. Everything is loaded with importance and each and every word must be read to fully appreciate the nuanced style of writing. I did, on occasion, have to backtrack and reread a paragraph or two. This is not a book to read while doing something else – it’s a book that demands your full attention, all the time, and one where you might have to take designated breaks just to absorb what you’ve read and to think about something slightly less dark and self-centred thoughts.

There is a heavy Celtic? influence to the writing – the names of places and people may not roll easily from tongues unused to the elaborate words. Neither is the author the type to throw her entire world building at your feet within the first few paragraphs or sentences – no the world building unravels as deliberately slowly as the writing – but we need to know everything we’re told – there are no wasted words even here.

The conflict between the Brotherhood, the Guard and the Daoine – all with old hurts and new ambitions to temper their relationships with each other, provides a vision of a desperate world – a world on the brink of something – we just don’t know what. Everyone in this book is scared of something being revealed against their wishes.

The book centers around a number of main characters – Breag, Sionna, Carad, Cu, Tarbhal and Laoighre. None of these characters is simple (apart from maybe Cu but even he has his secrets) and none of them is a simple goodie or baddie, they all have back stories and carry life’s judgments like a weight around their neck. This is no simple tale of good vs evil. There are too many lies and half truths from all of them – they all have something they wish to accomplish and seem content to do so at others expense and in the end, the ones who accomplish the most, are those that manage to bend their wants to the reality of events, and you have no idea who that’s going to be. Every betrayal is a fresh wound to the reader, and every success heavy with the scent of future failure.

This book got into my head and stayed there. Perhaps a simple tale, exceeding well told, or perhaps a more complex one, I genuinely think that the reader can take away from the story what they want but I doubt that many will be able to skim read this and will find themselves sunk into the Tiarna Beo and wishing for much, much more in the future.

P.S. You may have guessed that I liked this book – read it, please! Don’t let it get ‘lost’ in the huge number of fantasy books out there.  I’m not sure that the ‘blurb’ does it justice. The story is about much more than just Breag.

And you can buy it here;https://www.amazon.co.uk/Requiem-Wolf-Tales-Tiarna-Book-ebook/dp/B01N6L55KJ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1487319816&sr=1-1&keywords=Requiem+for+the+Wolf

 

Book Review – The Dark Days Pacts by Alison Goodman (Book 2 in the Dark Days Club)

Here’s the blurb;

“June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be.”

The Dark Days Pact doesn’t suffer from a lack of intrigue and action. Far from it. Whereas The Dark Days Club was a little slow to get going – the author needing to show just how constrained society was for women at this period of time – Book 2 neatly sidesteps the problem by having Lady Helen learning to walk and talk just like a man, and indeed the descriptions of her being dressed as both a man and a woman, highlight just how ridiculous fashion was during the Georgian period.
As soon as that’s been accomplished, Lady Helen finds herself caught in the middle of a number of different intrigues as she tries to please everyone, and initially, fails quite magnificently.
If anything, my only slight problem with the novel is the Duke of Selburn, who quite simply, gets in the way time and time again. As others have mentioned – you can’t help wondering if he is The Great Deceiver but that is not answered in this novel, and possibly won’t be for a good few to go.
Bring on Book 3!

This is a Young Adult book but I was drawn to the first novel because of its historical setting – the early 1810’s. The author provides a fascinating glimpse of high society at the time and manages to weave contemporary events into the story in a deft fashion. I hoped it would amuse my own Young Adult in the family who is a huge fan of the Shadowhunters series (I prefer the series set in Victorian London), and it worked it’s magic, so much so, that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is now being read. As such I think it appeals to those who like historical fiction with a slight twist, and also the younger generation, although some of the words are a little strange and I did have to point out that there was a dictionary on the kindle to look up what the words meant. Some of the storyline is also a little risque for the younger of the young adults but on another level it works to highlight how much has changed in society in the last two hundred years and how much more accepting today’s world is of well, almost everyone!

You can buy it here but read Book 1 first!

Book Review -Ruddy Gore by Kerry Greenwood

Here’s the blurb,

“Running late to a gala performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, Phryne Fisher meets some thugs in dark alley and handles them convincingly before they can ruin her silver dress. She then finds that she has rescued the handsome Lin Chung, and his grandmother, who briefly mistake her for a deity.
Denying divinity but accepting cognac, she later continues safely to the theatre where her night is again interrupted by a bizarre death onstage.

What links can Phryne find between the ridiculously entertaining plot of Ruddigore, the Chinese community of Little Bourke St., or the actors treading the boards of His Majestys Theatre?”

Netflix keeps suggesting that I watch the TV series of these books and so I was pleased to be offered the opportunity to read a free E-Arc in exchange for a review from Netgalley.

So, I knew that this was a period piece and I do love a good mystery and I wasn’t disappointed. The writing style is light and infectious (if occasionally a little muddled with Gilbert and Sullivan quotes – something I’m not very familiar with), and the characterisation of Miss Fisher is excellent. It didn’t matter that this was book 7 and the first one I was reading.

I very much enjoyed the attention to detail of both being in a theatre and the 1920’s in Australia, as well as the back story in London, and I might just listen to Netflix and give the TV series a view as well.

Would recommend to all those who like a good period piece who done it.

And you can buy it here;

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1590583140/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb_uk-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738

Just so you know – I am now completely addicted to these novels. They’re short and sweet and very easy to read.