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.