Sunday, 14 May 2017

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is completely brilliant! This is far and away the best book I've read this year. I had assumed from the title that the story was going to be something along the lines of Bridget Jones, but the cover with the burnt out matches (on the UK version) intrigued me and I thought perhaps there was more to it - maybe a psychological suspense?

It turned out I was completely wrong about that too! There is no 'big twist you'll never see coming'; there are no big twists at all, just a very clever story about an unusual and interesting character, whose past history is revealed a tiny bit at a time. (Pay particular attention about halfway through). I'm not quite sure what genre to classify this as. It did remind me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, but I think that is more the style of writing; it's not really a psychological suspense.

The story is about Eleanor Oliphant who is nearly thirty years old. She's been in the same job since leaving university, has no ambition, and is happy to just keep doing the same things every day for the rest of her life. However, she has no friends - she has no social skills at all - and the kind of things the rest of us take for granted - smart phones,  social media, etc - completely flummox her. The other clue that things are not quite right in her life, is that she drinks two bottles of vodka every weekend, and has developed a crush on a musician who she is convinced will fall madly in love with her once he realises she exists. And every Wednesday she speaks with her horrible mother, who completely tears any self-confidence she has built up over the previous week to shreds. To me, she felt like a 1930s debutante who had suddenly been plonked into the 21st century and was completely clueless.

Of course things can't carry on like this and one simple act of kindness will turn Eleanor's ordered life upside down.

The story is told from Eleanor's point of view and, as well as being absolutely hilarious (this is one of those books that actually does have lots of those 'laugh out loud' moments), is by turns sweet, funny, sad, quirky, poignant, touching, incredibly lovely and completely wonderful. I loved it!

Thank you to Gail Honeyman, Harper Collins and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Review: Did You See Melody by Sophie Hannah

When I got my hands on this book I'm afraid it leapfrogged my 30-book-high to-be-read pile and I started on it immediately. I devoured it within 2 days! 2 days in which I was supposed to be doing other stuff, but I couldn't put it down.

The first half of the book is told from the point of view of Cara Burrows, an English woman running away from the (fairly minor) problem in her life. I can't tell you more about that, other than Cara wouldn't have a problem if she just learned to communicate with her family (husband and two children). When she asks for their opinion, and gets an answer she doesn't want, rather than plead her case she takes a chunk of money out of the family savings and heads off to a luxury spa in Arizona in retaliation. Although she does not tell her family where she is going, she does give them the date she plans to return - and then constantly checks their social media to see if they're missing her.

Cara arrives at The Swallowtail resort in Arizona full of self-righteous indignation, and completely disorientated from her flight. So when she picks up her key and goes into her room, it takes a moment for it to dawn on her that the room is already occupied by a father and his teenage daughter. Instead of quickly leaving Cara hides in the bathroom, making the situation worse, hearing them wake up and begin talking to each other - and discussing the person hiding in their bathroom ...

Later, when everything has been sorted out, it dawns on Cara that the man's 'daughter' may have been Melody Chapa, the most famous 'missing' child in America - her parents are currently in prison, suspected of her murder. But did Cara really see Melody, or imagine the whole thing?

I found Cara incredibly irritating but vastly entertaining - she comes up with some great one-liners towards the end of the book. I loved her friend Tarin, the 'Badass Mom', a florist who fancies herself as a sleuth. Tarin's relationship with her stroppy daughter is also entertaining, in an Eddy/Saffy (Absolutely Fabulous) kind of way. It's Tarin who perseveres with the 'is she/isn't she Melody' investigation (when Cara wishes Tarin would let the whole matter drop) and gets the police to take the case more seriously.

There is a lot of backstory, which I wasn't so keen on, telling the history of Melody's disappearance, the police investigation and the trials of the people suspected of murdering her. Some of this backstory is told in articles Cara reads online, some is told through transcripts of a TV show. The transcripts I found harder to concentrate on (they'd work better in a TV/film adaptation). I'm afraid I ended up skipping some because I wanted to get back to the story happening in the present. I wouldn't recommend doing this though, because I missed a fairly vital clue!

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. Sophie Hannah is a brilliant writer and there were lots of genuine twists I didn't see coming. Several times I thought I'd worked everything out, only to be thrown by another twist - particularly at the end. I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes well-written mysteries, lots of twists, psychological suspense that's a little bit different, and stories with eccentric characters.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book, which isn't out until 24th August 2017.

Thank you to Sophie Hannah, Hodder & Stoughton, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Review: A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

I'm a sucker for a pretty cover, and it was the cover of this book that made me download it, as I had never heard of the author*. From the vintage look and the blurb, I got it into my head the story was going to be a glamorous 'golden age' murder mystery set on board a ship. A kind of Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey. In fact, the story is a very clever psychological suspense - one of those stories that slowly draws you in and builds up the tension until you can practically feel it closing in on you.

The story is about Lily Shepherd, who is travelling from England to Australia on the Orontes as part of the Government's assisted-passage scheme. Once she arrives, she will apply to work as a maid in one of the large houses in Sydney. It is 1939, and Britain is on the brink of war. Why would Lily want to leave her family, whom she loves very much, and travel to the other side of the world to work in domestic service - something she has sworn she would never do again?

Lily will be sharing her cabin with Audrey and Ida, two former chambermaids from Claridge's Hotel. While Audrey is friendly, Lily takes an instinctive dislike to Ida, who can't seem to say anything nice. At dinner, Lily finds herself seated on the same table as Edward and Helena Fletcher, a brother and sister who appear to have fallen on hard times. Lily is increasingly attracted to the good-looking Edward, but he seems to be obsessed with glamorous socialite Eliza Campbell. Eliza, meanwhile, takes Lily under her wing, paying for her excursions and lending her designer clothes - but are her motives entirely altruistic?

I loved the incredibly detailed descriptions of life on board the Orontes, and the places Lily visited, from the pyramids of Egypt to a Buddhist temple in Ceylon. I felt as though I'd travelled back in time and was taking the cruise along with Lily. The cast of characters, who all seemed to be running away from something, were fascinating. The author allows the reader to get to know character in turn, letting us discover their real personalities one flaw at a time. Which character's behaviour will result in their murder? Which character will be goaded into carrying out that murder?

A Dangerous Crossing is an absorbing and compelling read about an eclectic cast of characters forced into claustrophobic proximity with people they would normally cross the street to avoid. I loved it! Also, what a brilliant title!

If you love reading historicals with a bit of a mystery, or tightly-wound psychological suspense, you will love this book. If you're a fan of fast-paced murder mysteries then this might not suit, as the first murder does not take place until a good three quarters of the way through the book.

*Rachel Rhys is the pen name of Tammy Cohen/Tamar Cohen

Thank you to Rachel Rhys, Doubleday and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, 17 March 2017

Review: Mystery at Maplemead Castle by Kitty French

I absolutely love, love, love this series. I'm at that point where I wish Kitty French was a new-to-me author, and had written ten books in this series already, and I could read them all back-to-back. Why do I love them so much? First, it's the characters. I adore them. I want to go ghostbusting with them. I want hot reporter Fletcher Gunn to shadow my every move (don't tell my husband) and Marina to bring me cakes fresh from Nonna's kitchen. I wouldn't even mind giving Leo Dark advice on unrequited love - although it would be very tempting to tell him to get his hair cut and to ditch the cloak.

Confused? Let me explain. At the grand old age of 27, Melody 'I see dead people' Bittersweet has decided to stop fighting the unique talent which is persistently getting her fired/losing her potential boyfriends, and has set up The Girls' Ghostbusting Agency. Along for the ride are best friend Marina, the terrifyingly efficient Glenda, and naive young Artie, who has just enough sense to dig the girls out of trouble if they need it. Each book has a haunting and it's Melody's job to find out what is keeping the ghost or ghosts from moving on. In this story Maplemead Castle is haunted by circus folk - two trapeze artists and their ringmaster - doomed to repeat the events that led to their deaths every single night. And also haunted by something else I won't mention, because you'll have far more fun reading that scene without a spoiler!

This series would appeal to fans of romantic comedies, mysteries and the kind of ghost stories that don't take themselves too seriously. Imagine a cross between Scooby Doo and the Shopaholic series - only with ghosts instead of designer handbags. You don't have to read this series in order, but you would be missing a treat if you didn't. Thoroughly recommended! One of my favourite books this year.

Thank you to Kitty French, Bookouture and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review. I chose it myself, no one asked me to review it and I don't know the author.

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(now published as The Skeletons at Scarborough House)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Review: Everything but the Truth by Gillian McAllister

The cover and title attracted me to this book but, as it turned out, it was a different story to the one had I been expecting! I thoroughly enjoyed it though!

The story is about Rachel and Jack, who have been together for a very short time and who are expecting a baby together. Everything is going well until Rachel sees part of an email on Jack's iPad: 'Douglas's Atrocity Rears Its Head Again'. So who is Douglas and what did he do that was so terrible? This question begins to eat away at Rachel until it is all she can think about. It doesn't help that when she meets Jack's family and friends they seem to be hiding something from her, but the more she digs about in Jack's past, the more questions are raised.

And as we learn more about Jack, we also learn more about Rachel - that she split up with her last boyfriend because she didn't trust him, and that she has a huge secret in her own past ...  

I was expecting a psychological thriller, but it wasn't really. No one is murdered, there are only a few scenes when the heroine feels she is in jeopardy, there is no race against time to catch a killer. Instead we have a very cleverly written psychological suspense/domestic noir, with brilliantly drawn characters - I did love Jack! The clues are dripped in a little bit at a time and, although it is quite a leisurely read, I found myself reading faster and faster to find out what happens. Each time Rachel catches Jack out on a lie, the tension racks higher and higher, and at the same time we find out more about Rachel's own secret; it was like watching a car crash in slow motion and being unable to stop it.

So, Everything but the Truth is a gripping and compelling read, with a moral about being honest - and that if you're going to snoop around in someone's past, you really ought to be prepared for what horrors you might find. Recommended!

Thank you to Gillian McAllister, Michael Joseph and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Review: The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder's Sister is set in the mid-1600s and opens with Alice returning to Essex to live with her brother, Matthew Hopkins. Her husband is dead and she is pregnant and destitute. Alice and Matthew were very close as children but they parted on bad terms when she married the son of their old servant, Bridget - the woman Matthew blames for the accident that left him scarred.

Alice is uneasy to realise that not only is their childhood bond is no more, Matthew intimidates her. One of the servants tells her he has a great book that has the names of all the witches written down in it. Yet this is the 17th century - who believes in witches?

But in the town there is talk. Young children have died and people are saying it was done with witchcraft. Alice assumes the gossip will come to nothing. The women arrested are obvious choices - elderly, eccentric, living alone. Despite Bridget's pleas for her to speak to Matthew, to do something, Alice remains quiet, believing the women will be found innocent. Instead, more women are seized and Matthew turns his attention to other towns and villages - and now he wants Alice to help him.

The Witchfinder's Sister is one of the best books I've read this year. It is beautifully written with so much historical detail I felt as though I was there, witnessing it all. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, with the occasional hint of the supernatural. The subject matter is bleak; it is based on real events, so anyone familiar with history will know there can be no happy ending for some of these women. However, the author has mixed fictional characters in with the real ones to keep the reader on edge, and there are a few very clever twists - including one I'm still thinking about! 

From our 21st century perspective, it is easy to laugh at those who believed in spells, charms and witchcraft. But then you realise how easily a petty squabble can be blown up out of proportion, how easy it is to blame someone else for your misfortune - and suddenly The Witchfinder's Sister seems horribly topical.

There is not much actual violence in the novel, the subject matter is disturbing enough, but it is bleak in places. Anyone who enjoys well-researched historical novels, or real-life stories of witches, will love this. The cover is absolutely beautiful and the final line is brilliant. I'm hoping there's going to be a sequel!

I definitely recommend it - I'd give it six stars if I could.

Thank you to Beth Underdown, Viking (Penguin Random House) and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Review: To Kiss a Thief by Susanna Craig

This story popped up as an 'also bought' recommendation from Amazon and the title intrigued me. I am wary of buying books by authors I don't 'know', so I read a sample and was hooked. Sarah Pevensey is the daughter of a wealthy merchant and has recently married St John Sutliffe, Viscount Fairfax. It is an arranged marriage and neither parties are particularly happy about it. Her father wants a title for his daughter and St John's father needs her large dowry as the family are broke. Sarah and St John have only been married for a couple of weeks when Sarah is found sitting on the lap of Captain Brice, her clothing in disarray and the priceless Sutliffe sapphires missing from around her neck. She tries to explain her innocence to her husband, but he just walks out of the door. Her father-in-law calls for the Bow Street Runners and only her mother-in-law is sympathetic - arranging for Sarah to escape the house to a small fishing village on the Devonshire coast. When a body is pulled from the Thames a few weeks later, it is identified as Sarah's and everyone believes she is dead. 

Meanwhile, unknown to Sarah, St John fights a duel with Captain Brice, survives, but leaves immediately to the West Indies, only returning three years later. St John is told his wife is dead, but then finds a receipt for her pension in his step-mother's possession. He heads off to Devonshire to find out what is going on.

As it turned out, the plot of this story is similar to one I read a few weeks ago, but it did not spoil my enjoyment. I liked that at the start Sarah is a 'little mouse' but when she begins to make friends with the villagers, and realises how hard their lives are, she begins to work to help them them and her own confidence improves. By the time St John turns up she is more than capable of dealing with him - but he still believes she's a liar and a thief ... 

The author creates lots of problems for the characters to work through. Just as you think they are finally due a happy ending, something else pops up. There is a mystery to solve too, regarding the disappearance of the jewels, and where they have been for the past three years, although that was not too hard to solve.

This story is the first in a series of three, loosely tied by the heroes having recently returned from the West Indies and the heroines running away from something. But I did enjoy it and have downloaded the next one.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Review: A Secret Garden by Katie Fforde

A Secret Garden is a delightful story about three very different women and the garden they are restoring.

Lorna is the gardener at Burthen House and has had a crush on the owner Peter, her childhood friend, since forever. He, meanwhile, has been enthusiastically dating women he's met on the Internet but has recently become serious about Kirstie, a very managing type. Lorna realises it is finally time to move on - and then meets Jack. Jack is handsome, very fit, somewhat younger than her - and is convinced he knows her from somewhere else ...

Philly lives with her grandfather, known as 'Grand', in a 'tumbledown money pit' that they bought mainly for the attached smallholding - where Philly can grow her plants and sell them on her market stall. Since Grand was widowed, he's become addicted to TV shows like Bake Off and discovered a hidden talent for baking the most delicious cakes, which he now sells on Philly's stall. While waitressing at a party, Philly meets Lucien, a chef who would rather be an artisan baker. He thinks she's great but his family are very 'posh' and Philly's ... aren't.

I loved all the talk about gardens and gardening. My parents used to grow plants in the same way as Philly does, so it brought back a lot of memories! And I always love reading books with big old houses in them. I think my favourite scenes were where Philly and Lucien visit his godfather and meet his old nanny - or 'Evil Mary Poppins', as Philly calls her - and the bit when Lucien's parents turn up unexpectedly! I loved all the characters but I think my favourites were Grand and Lady Anthea - whose 'secret' garden is the one being restored.

A Secret Garden is a romance but it is as much about the lovely friendship between Philly, Lorna and Anthea as it is their romantic relationships. There are no sex scenes and very little kissing, but it was lovely to see Lorna and Philly's developing romances with Jack and Lucien, and root for them to have their own happy ever after.

Thank you to Katie Fforde, Century and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review: The Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

The heroine of The Devil in Spring is Pandora, one of the three daughters of the (thankfully) now deceased Earl and Countess Trenear - so neglectful they might as well have allowed their offspring to have been raised by wolves. Pandora is particularly eccentric. She dislikes society, hates dancing (we find out why later), does not wish to marry (she would lose everything she owns to her husband), and would much rather create board games. If this sounds a little far-fetched for a Victorian heroine, Lisa Kleypas does mention in her notes that the character was partly inspired by Elizabeth Magie, who created a precursor to Monopoly called The Landlord's Game.

Our hero is Gabriel Challon, the son of Sebastian and Evie from The Devil in Winter (#3 Wallflowers series)Unlike his father, Gabriel is not a devil at all but a thoroughly nice man with a great sense of humour, who finds himself absolutely fascinated by Pandora, but rather taken aback that he has to convince her to marry him.

I found the character of Pandora highly original, although I can see some readers might find her annoying as she is so unconventional. Or as her equally original lady's maid puts it, 'only a donkey-headed halfwit' would turn Gabriel away. And I did love the way the two characters meet - Pandora gets tangled up in a piece of furniture and has to be rescued by Gabriel - brilliant! 

So, I loved the characters. I loved meeting the new generation of the Challon family (I do hope they get their own books!) and catching up with Sebastian and Evie from The Devil in Winter. I loved the bit about the board games. The only thing that stopped this from being 5 stars is the rather random thriller plot at the end. I can't explain further because of spoilers. It just didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the story, which is very character driven.

Recommended if you love historical romances, particularly the kind of books written by Eloisa James and Julia Quinn. You might want to read The Devil in Winter (#3 in the Wallflower seriesfirst though. And if you love unconventional heroines, you might also enjoy Love in the Afternoon (#5 Hathways series) by the same author.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Review: The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

I discovered the Ruth Galloway series over Christmas, read them all back-to-back, and was then thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy of The Chalk Pit, which is Elly Griffiths's latest one. You don't need to have read the other books to make sense of the story but I recommend that you do. Elly Griffiths has created such wonderful characters that they feel like old friends and I love seeing how they develop from book to book. Regular readers will 'get' the joke of DCI Harry Nelson being sent on a speed awareness course at the start of the story and that he now has a female boss who thinks he's a dinosaur. She may have a point but that's part of his charm!

The story starts with Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archaeologist, investigating a collection of bones that have been found in a tunnel beneath Norwich Guildhall during renovations to turn an undercroft into an underground restaurant. The bones are shiny, like 'glass', and have strange cut marks on them. Even if you don't read a lot of crime fiction, you'll probably realise the sinister implication.

Meanwhile, Nelson has been approached by a homeless man he knows only as 'Aftershave Eddie', who is worried about a female friend of his (also homeless) who has gone missing. Shortly after, Eddie is found dead on the steps of the police station where Nelson works - and not from natural causes.

The Chalk Pit is a more serious book than its predecessors, dealing with the plight of the homeless and how others view them. When another woman goes missing, this time a middle-class mother of four, the contrast is made between the amount of time and police manpower spent searching for her to that of Eddie's homeless friend.

I've always been a sucker for stories with secret tunnels (I blame Enid Blyton) and I loved the historical background of the chalk mines and labyrinth of tunnels beneath Norwich. My only niggle was that I'd have liked to have had more archaeology and less police procedure, more of Ruth and Cathbad, and less of Judy - who I do like, just not as much as Ruth, Cathbad and Nelson!

Right at the end of the story there are a couple of revelations about major characters that made my jaw drop. I cannot wait until the next book in the series!

Recommended - particularly if you like a slice of history with your murder mysteries.

Thank you to Elly Griffiths, Quercus and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, 13 February 2017

Review: All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

I absolutely loved this book! 

This story is about Nic who left her home town of Cooley Ridge ten years ago and has absolutely no desire to go back. She's managed to reinvent herself, obtained two degrees, has a great job that she loves, as well as a lovely fiancee. She's even managed to iron out her accent. But around the same time Nic left Cooley Ridge, her best friend Corrine went missing - and now her father says he's seen her on the porch of their old home. But her father is senile and in a care home - surely he's imagining it?

There are several reasons why I loved this book. Firstly, the characters are so well-drawn I felt I knew these people. They weren't entirely lovable, they all had very realistic flaws - for me, that was part of their appeal. Different aspects of their personalities were dripped into the story, a little at a time, so just when I thought I'd worked someone out, there was another twist to surprise me. And as I read an awful lot of crime fiction, it takes a lot to surprise me! Every character has a very plausible motive for wanting Corrine to disappear. I'd read one chapter and think 'Ha, he's the murderer!' and then in the next chapter I'd think it was someone else, and so on. I never did work it out!

The third reason I really enjoyed this books is that the story is told backwards. You have the beginning, where Nic receives the news about her father, and then the story skips to fifteen days later. The chapter after takes place fourteen days after Nic's arrival in Cooley Ridge, counting down to day one. It is a brilliantly clever way of telling the story; it hits the ground running and doesn't let up in tension until the very end. I did have to concentrate hard though! It's a bit like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle, have someone sweep all the pieces back in the box after an hour, and then having to start all over again!

I would definitely, definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves psychological suspense. With the claustrophobic setting and dysfunctional characters it reminded me of one of my favourite authors, Shirley Jackson. But, like Jackson, the author takes her time in letting the tension mount up and tighten into a stranglehold - which means that if you're the kind of person who devours fast-paced crime thrillers, you might find it a little slow - but I loved it!

Thank you to Megan Miranda, Corvus and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Review: The Duke's Secret Heir by Sarah Mallory

Four years ago in Egypt, Ellen Tatham fell in love with an English soldier named Max Colnebrooke and married him. But on returning to England, no record can be found of their marriage - the Chaplain and Max's regiment were not even supposed to be in that part of Egypt. Was she tricked by a conman? Ellen writes to Max's family, to tell them she is pregnant, but they dismiss her as a fortune-hunter. Utterly ruined, Ellen is forced to create a new identity for herself, that of a wealthy widow with a young son. Now she is the toast of Harrogate - which is the exact moment Max reappears in her life - as the Duke of Rossenhall.

From Max's point of view, Ellen ran away from Alexandria under the protection of the French Consul - so naturally he assumed she was having an affair with the other man. When he meets Ellen again, to demand a divorce, he finds her living with her son - who is obviously his. How dare she keep his child a secret from him?

I have a bit of an addiction to historical romance but even I get fed up of seeing the same tropes over and over again - wicked rake falls for innocent debutante who changes him, etc - so it's particularly refreshing to read something so completely different. Ellen and Max were mad for each other but now, through a series of misunderstandings on both sides, they actively dislike each other. In addition, the obstacles they have to face are very real, not something that can be easily overcome by one short conversation.

I love how the characters spark off each other, that first Ellen has the upper-hand, and then Max. Ellen is very independent, and has money of her own, so she's not easily bullied, while Max has to get over his past (and himself!). Their son, Jamie, is beyond cute and I loved the way Ellen dealt with her horrible sister-in-law - and not in a way I was expecting. The strength of the story is definitely in the characters and I was really rooting for them to find their happy ever after. Definitely recommended. Fans of historical romance will love it!

Note: Ellen appears as a secondary character in Sarah Mallory's novel The Chaperon's Seduction, but you don't have to have read that book to enjoy this one.

Thank you to Sarah Mallory for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James

I read so many novels that familiar tropes, particularly in romances, really grate on me. This is why I love Eloisa's books - they never quite go in the way you expect.

Eugenia Snowe is a wealthy widow and the daughter of the Marquis of Broadham (hero of Duchess by Night). Devastated when her husband died, Eugenia has no intention of marrying again. To the horror of the ton, she has set up a very successful employment agency for governesses but still feels as though there is something missing in her life.

Ward is a brilliantly clever inventor and the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gryffyn (hero of Desperate Duchesses). However, Ward's mother Lisette was a complete nightmare - neglectful and more than a little unhinged. Or as Eugenia's father says, 'The type who would keep drinking tea while faint screams came from the dungeon'. But it turns out Lisette had two more children before she died - legitimate ones - after scandalously running away with the under-age Viscount Darcy. Lisette has entrusted her young children into the care of Ward - but now his evil grandmother wants custody - and is prepared to fight him in Court to achieve it. Ward is in desperate need of an ultra-respectable governess to mould his eccentric siblings into perfect children and he's decided only the best will do - Eugenia herself.

As with all Eloisa's books it is the sheer brilliance of her writing which keeps me entertained, along with the humour and, of course, her characters. Eugenia and Ward are attracted to each other right from the start, don't bother to hide it and soon embark on an affair - but nothing serious, obviously, because Eugenia was madly in love with her late husband, and Ward because he knows he has to marry an aristocrat if he is to keep custody of his half-siblings. It's a shame he's so wrapped up in himself he doesn't realise Eugenie neatly fulfils all his criteria (she actually tells him so at one point!) until it is far too late.

As well as the banter between hero and heroine, I loved the characters of the children - Lizzie, who has taken to wearing a black veil at all times and quoting inappropriate lines from Shakespeare, and Otis, whose pet rat goes everywhere with him. I particularly loved the rat!

I only had one niggle. As I read the story I kept thinking 'I'm sure this character is dead', to the point where I had to dig out the book they originally appeared in and - sure enough - the character was dead - I hadn't imagined it! I then spent the rest of the story worrying that perhaps Eloisa James had forgotten she'd previously killed the character off. However, the reason for their Lazarus-like reappearance is explained in the author's note at the end of the story - I just wish this note had appeared at the beginning!

Recommended for all fans of historical romance and romantic comedy.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Review: The Spinster and the Rake by Anne Stuart

Anne Stuart is one of my all-time favourite authors. I think the first book of hers I read was one from her House of Rohan series when I bought my Kindle. Over the years I've read most of her books - not as easy as it sounds, because she has been writing for over 40 years (mainly romantic suspense and historical romance) and some books are out of print. The Spinster and the Rake is one of her older books, originally published in 1982 and now brought out as an ebook, revised and with new material.

The Spinster and the Rake is a familiar trope to readers of romance: bad boy meets innocent heroine, but as usual Anne Stuart puts her own twist on it.

Gillian Redfern divides her time between the households of her two sisters and domineering elder brother, running errands for them, helping with their children and generally behaving as an unpaid servant. She does have her own money, thanks to legacies from her mother and an aunt, but has sleepwalked into her current lifestyle without realising it. It takes a chance meeting with the wicked Marquis of Marlowe for her to understand what she has been missing.

I enjoyed the banter between the characters and their growing respect for each other. I liked the way Gillian was not some downtrodden Cinderella character but quite capable of standing up to her bullying elder brother. The minor characters were well-drawn too - Gillian's nephew, who has incurred gambling debts, and her niece, who is determined to marry an impoverished Vicar. Not to mention her sister-in-law, who hardly moves from the sofa, no matter what disaster threatens the family!

If you enjoy this book then you will love The Devil's Waltz, which has a similar plot and is one of my all-time favourite books. If romantic suspense is more your thing, then I'd recommend Anne Stuart's Ice series.

Thank you to Anne Stuart, Bell Bridge Books and NetGalley for my copy of this book in exchange for an  honest review.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Review: Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

This is the fifth book in Elly Griffiths's 'Ruth Galloway' series about a forensic archaeologist. It can be read as a stand-alone but you do get more out of the series if you read them in order (which I didn't!); you learn more about the characters and their lives.

One of Ruth's old university friends, Dan Golding, has just died in a house fire. In a horrible coincidence she receives a letter from him detailing his latest, controversial find - the grave of a mythological king. Could this find have been controversial enough to get him murdered? He certainly admits to feeling afraid.

By coincidence Ruth has also been approached by Dan's old university, who want her to confirm the bones are as significant as Dan thought they were. But when Ruth arrives in Lancashire she realises there's something not quite right about the bones - they're not all from the same body for a start.

Dying Fall is now one of my favourite Elly Griffiths books. I loved the story behind Dan's find (no spoilers!) and the revelation that would cause history to be re-written. The Pendle witches are also mentioned and there's a hint of the supernatural when Ruth's friend Cathbad spends the night in what might be a haunted cottage.

I completely fell for the red herrings and failed to guess the identity of the murderer, and there's a nail-biting finish at a funfair, where one of the characters really does suffer a dying fall ...

Great stuff!

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Note: I have read the book preceding this, A Room Full of Bones. I enjoyed it and would recommend it but, as I read it some time ago, I would have had to read it again to write a review.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Review: A Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell

Bess Farrar's father is the Vicar of Penton Wyck but he's more interested in his books than looking after his parishioners, so it's up to Bess to do the jobs that would normally fall to a Vicar's wife - including organising the annual Nativity play. Everything is going splendidly, except the donkey is traditionally supplied by the Earl of Channing and, although Bess has written politely to the new incumbent several times, she hasn't had a reply to any of her letters. Drastic measures are called for and she decides to call on the Earl in person, even though the rumour going around the village is that he's a pirate ...

Ex-Royal Navy Captain Rory Beaton finds himself thrown in at the deep end when he unexpectedly inherits an earldom from the brother he hardly knew. Rory was raised as 'the spare' by his mother in Scotland and doesn't have a clue about what is expected from him as the new Earl. As no one in the village has seen him, let alone met him, rumours abound that he's a pirate - and the locals aren't far off 'locking up their daughters and calling in the militia'. And, if he didn't have enough to worry about, the resident battleaxe is hounding him about a donkey ...

A Pirate for Christmas is an entertaining and engaging Regency romance. Although I was a little disappointed there were no actual pirates, I would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre. I loved Bess and Rory and the way they sparked off each other. There is humour too, particularly involving Daisy the donkey - who eats everything from bonnets to floral arrangements, and likes to be sung to. The story is also very Christmassy, with descriptions of decorating a manor house for the festive season, getting stuck in a snowstorm, as well as the aforementioned nativity play. All the ingredients for a great little festive romance. I really enjoyed it and I downloaded two more by the same author after reading it.

Note: A Pirate for Christmas is a 142 page novella; the last 15% contains an extract of another novella by the same author: Her Christmas Earl.