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;

 

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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;