Friday, 29 June 2018

Review: The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

When I spotted the cover of The Death of Mrs Westaway I knew I would enjoy it. I LOVE gothicky mysteries with spooky old houses and old family secrets!

The story starts with Hal (Harriet), who is struggling to make a living following the death of her mother three years previously. Hal had to give up her dreams of going to university and instead took over her mother's job of tarot reader on Brighton Pier. Falling behind on payments to the local loan shark, it seems like a dream come true when a solicitor's letter arrives to tell her that her grandmother has died and left her a bequest. Except Hal's grandmother died before she was born, didn't she?

Ruth Ware takes familiar tropes and motifs from the traditional/old school gothic mystery and puts her own original spin on it. There is a nod towards Rebecca, with the creepy Mrs Danvers-like housekeeper, but all references are done with an affection for the genre.

Hal makes a very likeable, if unusual heroine, who has suffered several setbacks in life. I loved the way she kept telling herself that she was a tenacious rat, not a little mouse, whenever she felt herself falter! Linking in Hal's job as a tarot reader, and the way she reads the cards to help her think through problems was inspired and I was became so engrossed in the story I completely forgot to try and work out who the murderer was.

The title makes the story sound like an Agatha Christie but it's a traditional gothic mystery. Exactly who was murdered and why isn't revealed until after a superb build-up of tension. There is a thread of historical (1994!) backstory running through the plot, giving an insight into the characters' past, but it doesn't dominate the novel.

The Death of Mrs Westaway should appeal to fans of Daphne du Maurier, Eve Chase, and possibly Mary Stewart, although there is no romance.

In conclusion, The Death of Mrs Westaway is one of my favourite reads this year. I absolutely loved it. More please!

Thank you to Ruth Ware and Vintage Digital/Harvill Secker for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed.

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Monday, 25 June 2018

Review: Ruin Beach (Ben Kitto #2) by Kate Rhodes

When I read the first book in this series of mysteries set on the Scilly Isles (Hell Bay), I fell in love with DI Ben Kitto - so I was eager to read Ruin Beach as soon as I saw it!

Although a native of the islands, Ben's career was based in London until the death of his partner forced him to transfer back home - along with his partner's dog, Shadow, a Czechoslovakian wolfdog. In this story Ben is investigating the death of professional diver, Jude Trellion, who has been found deliberately tied to a cliff.

I love these stories because of the characters: Ben, his enthusiastic if rather naive sidekick Eddie, and the disloyal Shadow - who will go off with anyone who feeds him! The books have a terrific sense of place; the Scilly Isles are so brilliantly described they are practically a character themselves and make me long to visit. I love history, so I found all the legends of the shipwrecks around the islands fascinating, and the parts about diving were well-researched and sounded authentic. Running alongside the main plot is also the story of a character who knows why Jude was killed, putting them firmly in the sights of the murder. This gives the book a thriller-like edge, leading to a nail-biting finish.

The only negative for me, as for the first book, is the character of Ben's boss, although he does seem to be gradually warming up to him!

I loved Ruin Beach; it's my favourite of the series so far and I'm thoroughly looking forward to the next one, Burnt Island, due to be released in 2019.

Recommended to anyone who loves traditional murder mysteries, and authors such as Ann Cleeves, Elly Griffiths, and Caroline Graham.

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Thursday, 21 June 2018

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower (Bareknuckle Bastards #1) by Sarah MacLean

I adore Sarah MacLean's historical romances. Her writing style just seems to have a sparkle about it that other novels lack. While set firmly in the past, her strong-minded heroines, and the smart, sassy dialogue between her characters, give her stories a modern twist. And the way she puts those poor characters through the emotional wringer means one can never be quite sure if they are going to have a happy ending! Predictable she isn't!

Felicity Faircloth's family is teetering on the edge of financial ruin and it is up to her to land a rich, titled husband. She's already failed to land one duke and now she's announced her engagement to another before she's even met him. So when a strange man turns up in her bedroom and offers to help make her fake engagement become a reality, she quickly agrees. But maybe she shouldn't make deals with the devil...

I loved this book because of the characters and the way Sarah MacLean turns a familiar trope inside out and upside down. The hero, who reminded me a little of Rumpelstiltskin,  makes all the running in the beginning. But soon Felicity is turning up unannounced on his territory, questioning his motives and breaking into his warehouse - her particular skill is picking locks - and completely mucking up his carefully laid plans.

Negatives? Well, perhaps there is a little bit too much information about the hero's smuggling operation in the middle of the story, but the end is thoroughly nail-biting. I can't say anymore without giving away spoilers, but I am really looking forward to the rest of the series!

Recommended, particularly for fans of authors who write historical romance with a slightly darker edge, such as Elizabeth Hoyt.

Related Post:

The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Review: With This Ring by Amanda Quick

A couple of months ago I bought five Amanda Quick novels from a charity shop. I'd never read anything by her before but I'd heard good things about her historical romances. The first two novels I read (Scandal and Deception) I really enjoyed, but this one left me a little cold.

Antiquities expert Leo Drake lives alone in his gothic mansion, Monkcrest Abbey. He married young, his sons have gone off on their Grand Tour, and he spends his free time chasing highwaymen. Despite having a fearsome reputation, he's not only bored but starting to feel his age (actually only 39, I think). His life livens up considerably when Mrs Beatrice Poole arrives uninvited, demanding his help in tracking down some mysterious rings - keys to a mythical treasure.

With This Ring is a homage to 18th century gothic novels. I loved the characters of Leo and Beatrice. They are older than the usual hero and heroine - late thirties and late twenties - and the author had fun cracking jokes about their 'great' age. There are some good suspense bits, where the characters' lives are in jeopardy, and the writing is fine - but I couldn't get on with the plot. The whole searching London for mysterious rings, in between attending the usual balls and parties, was just too far-fetched for me. (Deception is equally far-fetched, but somehow that worked!)

So in conclusion, while there's nothing wrong with With This Ring, it just wasn't for me. The right reader would probably love it!

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Friday, 15 June 2018

Review: Her Name Was Rose by Claire Allan

I downloaded this one because everyone was raving about it and it sounded like the kind of thing I would enjoy. It certainly was - I read it over two days in three greedy gulps!

Our heroine is Emily, slowly getting her life back together after the break-up of a relationship, when she witnesses another woman die after a hit and run. Emily feels horribly guilty because she'd let the other woman exit the building first. So over the next few days Emily devours news reports about the accident, and checks the dead woman's social media account, and soon learns Rose was everything Emily wanted to be. Beautiful and kind-hearted, Rose had a handsome husband, a gorgeous baby, and friends who loved her. And now there is a Rose-sized hole in these people's lives. A hole that Emily could fill...

Oh, I did love this book! I read a lot of crime fiction so I knew where it was headed but the quality of writing was great, there were some fabulous twisty bits and the ending was very clever. I loved the character of Emily, despite her flaws, and was so involved in her story I was practically shouting at the book "No, don't do it!" every time I thought she was going to do something really stupid.

There wasn't anything I didn't like! Her Name Was Rose is now firmly on my 'favourites' list and I thoroughly recommend it!

Thank you to Claire Allan and Avon for my copy of this book, which I requested from NetGalley and voluntarily reviewed.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of Her Name Was Rose, which will be published in the UK on 28 June 2018.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Review: Deception by Amanda Quick

I was in the mood to read something completely escapist, ideally along the lines of Romancing the Stone, but unfortunately no one seems to write/publish those kind of books! So I had a rummage through my 'to be read' pile (all 5 crates of it) and found a selection of historical romances by Amanda Quick that I'd recently picked up from a charity shop. This particular one caught my eye because it mentioned pirates and buried treasure, but although it does (sort of) have a pirate, the action takes place entirely in Dorset and London.

Olympia Wingfield spends her time tracking down old books, journals and letters that deal with travel and exploration, and has become something of an expert in treasure maps - even though she rarely leaves the library of her home. However, her life has been recently turned upside down by the arrival of her three orphan nephews, who are completely out of control. The arrival of a new tutor seems like a gift from the gods, even if he does bear a remarkable resemblance to a pirate...

The hero, Jared Ryder, is a fascinating character. His very flamboyant family are descended from a notorious 17th century privateer (legal pirate) and have been searching for his missing treasure ever since. Think: National Treasure, except Jared is the only sensible one, forever bailing his family out of trouble, and he has no interest in long-lost treasure maps. Until he meets Olympia.

Deception is a completely unbelievable, thoroughly over-the-top romp - and I absolutely loved it. The characters are a delight: Jared the 'sensible' pirate, his eccentric 'Captain Jack Sparrow' father, the grumpily impertinent housekeeper, the hooligan nephews, the mad dog. It's totally brilliant - provided you like that kind of thing! The only negative for me was that sometimes the nautical-themed dialogue got a bit daft and the word 'siren' was severely overused. Recommended for fans of authors of the romantic-comedy style of historical romance, such as Julia Quinn and Eloisa James. 

Related Review:

Scandal by Amanda Quick

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Review: Scandal by Amanda Quick

I'd had a rather rubbish weekend so I was looking for some pure escapism to cheer me up. I had a rummage through my 'to be read' pile (all 5 crates of it) and came up with Scandal by Amanda Quick. I had bought this from a charity shop a few months ago, along with four others by the same author as I'd heard good things about her. These turned out to be to true, because I absolutely loved this book!

Emily Faringdon is firmly on the shelf at twenty-four, due to an Unfortunate Incident five years previously (the 'scandal' of the title). But she is happy enough, organising the finances of her gambling-mad family to keep them from ruin, and slowly falling in love with her mysterious penpal, 'S. A. Traherne'. She is completely unaware that he is really the Earl of Blade: a ruthless, cold-hearted man, who would quite happily see her family ruined in revenge for the death of his father.

Scandal is a slightly tongue-in-cheek historical romance. The plot mainly concerns the various scrapes the heroine manages to get herself into (and inventively out of), and the style reminded me of Georgette Heyer's novels, particularly The Convenient Marriage (although there are several sex scenes, so watch out if that's not your thing). Considering the book was written in 1993, the story isn't dated and actually seems ahead of its time with the heroine's attitude to the would-be alpha male hero (ie: not taking him remotely seriously). 

The story is a bit silly in places, and the heroine is sometimes a bit of a twit, but she's completely lovable with it. If you prefer your historical romances slightly more serious, this probably isn't for you. But I absolutely adored it and have already started on the next one in the pile. Fans of authors such as Julia Quinn will love it. 

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Review: The Poison Bed by E.C. Fremantle

The cover for this book is simply beautiful and I couldn't resist downloading it. It was only later I realised it had been written by the author of The Girl in the Glass Tower (using a slightly different name), which I read last year and thoroughly enjoyed.

The Poison Bed is set in the early 17th century, at the court of King James I, and is about a real-life murder. Frances Howard, married to a man she despises, falls in love with the King's 'favourite', Robert Carr. Promoted beyond his abilities, Robert depends heavily on his friend James Overbury's advice to keep his job and favour with King, but finds himself becoming increasingly obsessed with Frances. James Overbury will do anything to prevent his friend ruining himself over a woman - but will he go so far as to reveal the truth behind Robert's friendship with the King - and risk bringing down the entire monarchy?

The Poison Bed is a gripping story of lust and power and murder. I was completely enthralled by the story of Frances and Robert and couldn't put the book down, partly I think because their characters are so brilliantly written. The past was a terrible time to be an aristocratic woman - they were little more than pawns to consolidate the power of their family, and they'd need real strength to survive. The time period and life at the Court of King James is also beautifully realised. I think my only niggle would be the way the story switches between past and present, first person and third person, and I became bit confused at times. I loved the first part and I loved the second part, but I wasn't so keen on the twist in the middle!

I really enjoyed The Poison Bed and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction. It was lovely to read about the Stuarts and James I (even if he was horrible!) about whom I know very little. A five star read, especially if you're a fan of authors who mix fact and fiction (such as Philippa Gregory).

Thank you to E.C. Fremantle, Michael Joseph (Penguin), and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of The Poison Bed, which will be published in the UK on 14 June 2018.

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Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Review: The King's Witch by Tracy Borman

I do love reading historical novels about witches and royalty, and I did like the look of this one, with its lovely red and gold cover. However, although the story started off with a wise woman in the time of King James I (a rather perilous occupation in those days!), it was actually about something else entirely - which I won't mention because of spoilers!

Frances Gorges's parents were courtiers to the old Queen  Elizabeth but have fallen out of favour now that James is on the throne. While Frances would have been happy to stay at home growing her flowers and herbs, and concocting potions to heal the sick, her uncle has managed to get her the job of lady-of-the-bedchamber to eight-year-old Princess Elizabeth. Arriving at Court, Frances is immediately plunged into all the political intrigue surrounding the King and is soon forced to choose a side - possibly not the right one! While her uncle wishes her to use this time to make an important marriage that will benefit her family, unfortunately Frances only has eyes for one, very unimportant man - yet is he all that he seems?

The author has included an incredible amount of detail about the way these people lived and I was quickly caught up in their lives. I particularly loved Frances for her forthright opinions, although these soon got her into trouble. Although I don't know much about this time period, I began to recognise some of the characters' names and soon realised where the story was headed! Even though I knew what the outcome would be, I still found the story completely gripping. I think my only niggle was that I'd liked to have known which parts were fiction and which were based on fact. (Google wasn't much help!)

I really enjoyed The King's Witch and could imagine it appealing to fans of authors such as Philippa Gregory. Although readers expecting something more witchy might be disappointed in the way the plot goes in a different direction.

Thank you to Tracy Borman, Hodder & Stoughton, and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of The King's Witch, which will be published in the UK on 14 June 2018.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Review: Too Wilde to Wed (The Wildes of Lindlow Castle #2) by Eloisa James

I love Eloisa James's historical romances, and I am so pleased she has gone back to the Georgian period for this new series, as her Desperate Duchesses books are favourites of mine. Eloisa's particular strength is her ability to write lovable characters, even in small roles. They are usually part of a close family or group of friends, and you can almost believe you know these people in real life - and wish you did! The Wildes of Lindlow Castle are a particularly lovely bunch. However, there are an awful lot of them so, if you are considering reading this book, you might benefit from reading Wilde in Love first.

This story is about Lord Roland (known as 'North'), who is the eldest surviving son of the Duke of Lindlow but his reluctant heir. Prior to the start of this story (another reason to read Wilde in Love first!), North fell madly in love with Miss Diana Belgrave but she promptly jilted him at their betrothal party. Now he has returned home from war in America to find her employed by his family as a governess - along with a young son, who everyone believes is his!

I absolutely loved North. In fact I loved him so much there were times I felt Diana didn't deserve him. All through the book he makes compromises for her, yet she doesn't seem to make any sacrifices in return. Also, although I really, really enjoyed the book, I did find the ending a little unsatisfying.

Too Wilde To Wed has some interesting things to say about how love sometimes isn't enough to make a happy marriage, and that two people have to be completely right for each other and able to move freely in each other's world. It seemed particularly timely that I read this book shortly after the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and could consider how someone from a show business background, used to dealing with both the public and the media, would fit perfectly into the royal family. In Too Wilde To Wed, as much as Diana loves North, she has no confidence in her ability to make a good duchess.

I can't wait to read the next book in the series, Born to be Wilde, which will be out in the UK on the 31st July - whoop! 

Related Reviews:

Wilde in Love (The Wildes of Lindlow Castle #1) by Eloisa James
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James