Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Review: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes

I've always been fascinated by the Mitford sisters, so I was really looking forward to reading this. And I did like it a lot, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. I had thought it would be an Agatha Christie style cosy mystery, with the Mitfords as the detectives (or friends of the detectives). Instead, The Mitford Murders is more historical drama with the murder mystery as a sub-plot. And, as it is set from 1919-1921, the Mitford sisters are quite young children, with only the eldest, Nancy, featuring in the story.

In addition to the Mitfords, the plot features the real-life unsolved murder of Florence Nightingale Shore - goddaughter to the famous nurse. The story starts with her walking to her death, then skips back in time to introduce Louisa Cannon, a young woman desperate to escape her life of poverty in the East End of London and an abusive uncle, by applying for the job of nursery maid to the Mitfords. By coincidence, Louisa ends up travelling on the same train as Florence, although she doesn't realise it at the time. When Nancy discovers this, plus the other connections Florence has to the Mitford family, she is determined to investigate the murder and solve the crime.

I really enjoyed this book. I particularly liked the insider information on the Mitfords and the glimpse into their lives, and I loved Nancy! So this would definitely appeal to anyone who loves historical novels or Sunday evening period dramas such as Downton Abbey. However, I do feel that readers expecting a 'golden age' cosy crime in the style of Agatha Christie, would find there is too much day-to-day detail about the Mitfords and not enough murder mystery.

Thank you to Jessica Fellowes, Sphere, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Review: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Well, I read this one in twenty-four hours flat! I picked it up, meaning to read a few pages and return to it later, but was completely and utterly hooked. I ended up reading the last half in the evening without realising it had got dark outside until I hit the last page. And reading this book while sitting in the dark is not really a good idea!

The Silent Companions is a deliciously gothic mystery/horror with a dual timeline - Victorian England and the reign of Charles I. The story starts with a new doctor meeting one of the patients at St Joseph's Hospital for the Insane. The patient is mute so she writes down the events that led to her incarceration a year ago. We then switch to Elsie Bainbridge, newly married, newly widowed, arriving at her husband's crumbling ancestral home to wait for her baby to be born. She's also running from scandal - her husband was wealthy and the whispers about whether or not his death was natural have already started. Although escorted by her younger brother, he soon leaves her in the company of a few resentful servants and her husband's widowed cousin, Sarah. When Elsie and Sarah explore the house they find two wooden props, skillfully painted to look like children, hidden away in a locked garret: a girl and a gypsy boy - and the girl looks just like Elsie...

As you will have already worked out, I found The Silent Companions absolutely gripping. It's very well-written and very fast-paced - unusual for this kind of novel. Something happens on practically every page and the clever thing is that until almost the very end you are never quite sure whether Elsie is imagining everything that happens, or if she's being 'Gaslighted', or if there really was something evil locked up in that garret.

One of my favourite reads this year. Recommended, particularly if you love authors such as Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier, stories like The Turn of the Screw and The Woman in Black - and terrifying yourself half to death on a dark autumn evening!

Thank you to Laura Purcell, Raven Books/Bloomsbury, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.


If you're curious as to what a 'silent companion' actually looks like, you'll find pictures on the author's Pinterest page.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Review: The Major Meets His Match (Brides for Bachelors #1) by Annie Burrows

Major Jack Hesketh meets Lady Harriet Inskip when she stops his horse from bolting. He thanks her by drunkenly falling on top of her and kissing her, assuming she's a light-skirt. By the time he's sobered up and realised his mistake, she's decided he's an idiot - unfortunate, because over the next few days he realises he really likes her! How can he get her to change her mind?

I've read nearly all Annie Burrows's historical romances and I think this is my favourite. I loved the good-humoured banter between hero and heroine - I always enjoy books where the main characters actually like each other! The story doesn't go in quite the way you expect either, another plus. Harriet is staying with her aunt and beautiful cousin but, instead of a Cinderella story where our heroine is treated appallingly, her relatives are really kind. Her aunt introduces Harriet to Society and even buys her new gowns. Unfortunately, Harriet has terrible taste in clothes - another funny twist.

There is a mystery running through the story, about stolen jewellery, carrying on into the next book in the series, The Marquess Tames His Bride. We're also given a fascinating glimpse into the sad/tragic lives of Jack's friends, who will feature as heroes in the remainder of the series.

If you like sweet, funny, warm-hearted, historical romances, then this is the book for you. Recommended!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Review: Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek by Anthony O'Neill

I downloaded this book because I was attracted by the stunning cover. I was also intrigued as to how this sequel to the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, would play out. I don't have anything against prequels, sequels and re-imaginings to classic novels, provided it's not a novel (Pride and Prejudice!) that's already been done to death.

After starting this novella, I realised I should have re-read the original, because I only had a hazy memory of some of the characters. But it is very well-written, in the style of a Victorian novella, and I soon became gripped by the story.

Almost seven years ago, murderer Mr Hyde was found dead the same day that Dr Jekyll mysteriously vanished. Only his friend, Mr Utterson, knew that the two men were one and the same. Now that Dr Jekyll has been missing for seven years he can be declared legally dead, and Mr Utterson can inherit his property and propose to the woman he loves. Unfortunately, two days before this can happen, someone moves into Dr Jekyll's old house, changes the locks, and announces that he is Dr Jekyll returned from the dead.

This starts Mr Utterson's obsession with proving the man is a fraud. And, as much as I enjoyed the story, part of me did want to say 'Get over it already!' Also, without going into spoiler territory, I did not like the ending.

However, I did think Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek was a clever story and I liked the writing style (which, for some reason, reminded me of Susan Hill's Victorian ghost stories). I think it would appeal to anyone who likes reading Victorian-style mysteries but fans of the original might be taken aback by that ending.

Thank you to Anthony ONeill, Black & White Publishing, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Review: The Mermaid's Scream (Wesley Peterson #21) by Kate Ellis

I have been a huge fan of Kate Ellis since reading her first Wesley Peterson crime novel (The Merchant's House) about 20 years ago - I won it a competition run by the publisher! I especially love the mix of past and present: DI Wesley Peterson investigates a crime in the present, which usually has a link to something his archaeologist friend is working on.

The story starts with a middle-aged couple on holiday at a caravan park found dead - suspected suicide. Then a journalist, visiting the area to write a biography of a bestselling reclusive author, goes missing. Add to that, an American millionaire anxious to prove his ancestor didn't commit murder a hundred years ago, and this is why I love Kate Ellis's books. There are so many different plot strands it is almost impossible to work out how they will come together - making it ultra-hard to guess the identity of the murderer before the end. A proper puzzle!

The Mermaid's Scream is now one of my favourite Kate Ellis books. I loved the title and the cover, I loved the way the different plot strands tied my poor brain in knots, and the way a certain theme ran through the story - making me want to slap my forehead for not spotting it earlier. A definite 'duh!' moment. There might not be any 'proper' mermaids, but there is a collection of sinister old puppets, and the method the Victorian villain used to bump off his victim was very unique!

So, thoroughly recommended to anyone who loves a murder mystery with a fiendishly clever plot. But if you are new to Kate Ellis, I would suggest starting with one of her earlier books, as there are lots of characters - the police team and the many suspects - which might be confusing.