Wednesday, January 28, 2015

This Little Piggy by Bea Davenport

It’s the summer of 1984 and there is a sense of unease on the troubled Sweetmeadows estate. The residents are in shock after the suspicious death of a baby and tension is growing due to the ongoing miners’ strike. Journalist Clare Jackson follows the story as police botch the inquiry and struggle to contain the escalating violence. Haunted by a personal trauma she can’t face up to, Clare is shadowed by nine-year-old Amy, a bright but neglected little girl who seems to know more about the incident than she’s letting on. As the days go on and the killer is not found, Clare ignores warnings not to get too close to her stories and in doing so, puts her own life in jeopardy.

This mystery/thriller takes the reader back to the gritty world of the miners' strikes in the early 1980s. The growing desperation of those miners as well as the crushing poverty that some of them face is well-drawn and gives a remarkable flavor to the backdrop of the story. As Clare attempts to solve the mystery of a murdered baby, she is also trying to rescue her career- damaged almost beyond repair by a personal tragedy she refuses to acknowledge. Her relationship with fellow reporters and police ring true, and it is easy to see why she gets sucked into attempting to create a better like for little Amy. The big twist wasn't much of a surprise to me, but I'm certain the read is supposed to suspect what is going on- only Clare is wallowing in ignorance, unable to separate facts from feelings. I wasn't thrilled with the end as I think Clare should have realized the need to cute ties and run, but that is a niggling quibble. Overall, this is a strongly written and enjoyable story; I will be on the lookout for more by this author.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Wagon Train Cinderella by Shirley Kennedy

1851, Overland Trail to California. As a baby, Callie was left on the doorstep of an isolated farmhouse in Tennessee. The Whitaker family took her in, but have always considered her more a servant than a daughter. Scorned by her two stepsisters, Callie is forced to work long hours and denied an education. But a new world opens to her when the Whitakers join a wagon train to California-guided by rugged Indian, Luke McGraw...

A loner, haunted by a painful past, Luke plans to return to the wilderness once his work is done. But he can't help noticing how poorly Callie is treated-or how unaware she is of her beauty and intelligence. As the two become closer over the long trek west, Callie's confidence grows. And when disaster strikes, Callie emerges as the strong one-and the woman Luke may find the courage to love at last...

This enjoyable romance set on the wagon train to California and Oregon made for quite the engaging read. The terrible treatment meted out to Callie by her family has turned her into a quiet shadow, but watching her blossom on the trail felt real, as she vacillated between spreading her wings and retreating back into herself. I was also glad to see that her sisters also eventually grew and matured as their circumstances changed. Luke and his family were also great characters, sharing knowledge and a friendly hand to help Callie learn her worth. I wasn't too caught up with the subplot revolving around Magnus the train leader- parts of that did seem a little overdone. Still, all in all, a good read and a decent reworking of a classic tale.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way.

After a long wait, I was delighted to see a new Maisie Dobbs book on offer- I did miss her. As always, Winspear has written a powerful book about war and its aftermath, though the mystery here wasn't really very engaging. I never felt any connection to the victim or the family he left behind- it was all about Maisie and the impact the case has on her. To be clear, I'm fine with a focus on Maisie- she is the reason I read the books and I love watching her character unfold.

That said, this book was just so very sad. After all the buildup to her finding happiness with James, it was devastating to have it snuffed out so abruptly- hasn't this poor woman been through enough? I was also sad we as readers didn't actually get to experience happy, contented Maisie- it is clear from the opening that her life has once again been marred by tragedy. I was hoping she was going to catch a break- I think she deserves one. A good book, and a must read for those following the series, but I wouldn't recommend reading this as a standalone.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

It’s just another day at the office for London book editor Samantha “Sam” Clair. Checking jacket copy for howlers, wondering how to break it to her star novelist that her latest effort is utterly unpublishable, lunch scheduled with gossipy author Kit Lowell, whose new book will dish the juicy dirt on a recent fashion industry scandal. Little does she know the trouble Kit’s book will cause—before it even goes to print. When police Inspector Field turns up at the venerable offices of Timmins & Ross, asking questions about a package addressed to Sam, she knows something is wrong. Now Sam's nine-to-five life is turned upside down as she finds herself propelled into a criminal investigation. Someone doesn't want Kit's manuscript published and unless Sam can put the pieces together in time, they'll do anything to stop it.

This delightful mystery combines great characters, enjoyable intrigue, and a tongue-in-cheek look at the publishing world- what's not to love? Well written and witty, this wonderful series debut pulled me from the opening paragraphs. The mystery is rather complicated but unfolds well, and the glimpses of Sam's life in publishing bring a welcome element of humor to the story. I love a good mystery, especially one not soaked in blood or graphic violence, and will definitely be looking for other offerings from this author. I think this book would appeal to anyone who likes Alan Bradley or Elizabeth Peters mysteries.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Matchmaker's Christmas by Donna Lea Simpson

Twenty years ago, Beatrice Copland committed a reckless and foolish act of deceit that she’s certain ruined the life of a man she’d fallen in love with and led to his wife’s death. Now serving as companion to the stern Lady Bournaud, she leads a quiet life and attends to her duties as a kind of penance. But Lady Bournaud, trying to make amends for her own selfish ways, is opening her country estate to a few select guests for the holidays—including the man Beatrice wronged so many years ago.

Sir David Chappell spent nearly two decades coming to terms with the haunting memory of his wife’s death. When he receives an invitation to Lady Bournaud’s for the Christmas season, he’s reluctant to go at first, but he’s sure the time away in Yorkshire will be a welcome change from London. Once there, he’s immediately captivated by the youthful beauty and genuine compassion of the lady’s companion, Beatrice Copland—all the while sensing that he’s met her before.

Even as David pursues her and Beatrice realizes she’s still powerfully attracted to the man, she must gently rebuff his advances for fear that her damning secret will come to light and reopen his old wounds. And while Lady Bournaud watches, happily scheming to make matches for all her guests, it may take more than a Christmas miracle for David to free Beatrice’s conscience, and her heart, at last.

This regency romance had an almost gentle tone that made it a quietly enjoyable read. Beatrice and David were both lovely characters- it was impossible not to hope that they would find love together. There were times where I thought Beatrice was being very hard on herself for what were youthful indiscretions, and I thought it took too long for her to provide a full explanation of exactly what form those indiscretions took. David was very well-drawn and believable as a character, and made for a wonderful hero. The secondary characters were all enjoyable as well, thought it was perhaps stretching belief for three separate couples to emerge from one Christmas party. Still, a little wish fulfillment never hurt anyone...

I would definitely look for more books by this author.