Book Review – Truly Devious

Several months ago I watched a Booktube video which recommended Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious as a boarding school story crossed with Agatha Christie. Naturally, that very much appealed to me but although I made a note of the title I didn’t actually get around to finding a copy. Now of course, I am in the middle of a huge cosy crime phase and am desperate to find new authors to read. Added to that, the onset of autumn always gives me back to school fever and makes me very keen to study so this was the perfect read for me right now.

Publisher’s Blurb

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester.

But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy . The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

I loved this book. It gave me just the right amount of school content and I could really picture myself there. It sounded like a great school too – lots and lots of time for reading!

The mystery was gripping and I didn’t want to stop reading. So much so that I had to get hold of the second book straight away – you don’t see the whole mystery solved in the first book and I for one very much want to figure out exactly what happened. It is now sitting on my desk waiting patiently for me to finish writing this so I can read it instead.

It is wonderful to have found a new series about which I can get excited. There is nothing quite like waiting impatiently for the next book to be published and I just know that by the time book four is published next year I will be more than ready for it.

Book Details

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 9780062338068

RRP: £7.99

In Defence of Georgette Heyer

My online book club’s choice for August was Frederica by Georgette Heyer.  I practically lived on Heyer when I was a teenager and this is one (of many) which I read over and over again.  It has been several years though since I read one of her Regency novels (although I have read some of her detective stories more recently) so I was very excited to pick one back up.

It was wonderful to be back in Heyer’s world.  I had forgotten just how much I loved reading these books and I was immediately drawn back to a very comforting place with characters I really cared about.  Heyer’s books are just lovely stories and are above all funny – Frederica has what must be the best non-proposal scene in literature.

Many of the readers in our group had issues with the amount of Regency slang used in the book but I have to confess that I didn’t even notice most of it.  I still haven’t quite worked out whether that is a cultural thing (only a handful of us are from the UK – do we still use any of these words?) or whether I have just read too many of the books, although I suspect it is the latter!

I would have said that Georgette Heyer was the perfect read for anyone who loves Jane Austen but there were a few in the group who found it too slow for them and couldn’t finish it.  Frederica is not perhaps the fasted paced of her novels and if you want a bit more action it might be worth starting with something like The Reluctant Widow or The Unknown Ajax which, incidentally, has the funniest final scene – it belongs on the stage in a farce.

The romance aspect does always tend to be a slow burner.  Heyer is credited with creating the whole Regency romance genre (Barbara Cartland is known to have copied her) but really her books are so much more than ‘just’ romances.  They are comedies of manners and are all about the relationships between many different characters.  Heyer is all too often written off as only a writer of romances for women.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with romances but giving books that label does tend to limit their readership.

Georgette Heyer deserves to be much more widely recognised, if only for the incredible amount of research she put into her books.  A great deal of what I know about Regency England was gleaned from the pages of her books and I firmly believe that there is so much variety in her books that there is at least one of them for everyone.  That goes for men too – I once got my Dad to read The Unknown Ajax and he enjoyed it very much.  It is all about finding the right book for you.

Book Review – The Plot is Murder

I am always on the lookout for new (to me) cosy crime books.  They are just so comforting and the best kind of relaxation so when I heard about the Mystery Bookshop series by V M Burns I had to try it out.  It is set in a mystery bookshop after all!

Publisher’s Blurb





Samantha Washington has long dreamed of owning a mystery bookstore.  And as she prepares for the grand opening, she’s realizing another dream–penning a cozy mystery set in England between the wars.  While Samantha hires employees and stocks her shelves, her imagination also gets to work as her heroine, Lady Penelope Marsh, long-overshadowed by her beautiful sister Daphne, refuses to lose the besotted Victor Carlston to her sibling’s charms.  When one of Daphne’s suitors is murdered in a maze, Penelope steps in to solve the labyrinthine puzzle and win Victor.

In the meantime, however, the unimaginable happens in real life.  A shady realtor turns up dead in Samantha’s backyard, and the police suspect her–after all, she might know a thing or two about murder.  Aided by her feisty grandmother and an ensemble of enthusiastic retirees, Samantha is determined to close the case before she opens her store.  But will she live to conclude her own story when the killer has a revised ending in mind?

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I very much enjoyed this book.  It is light, easy reading which is perfect right now.  The mystery kept me guessing and I especially loved reading about Nana Jo and the girls.  I only hope I’m half as active and resourceful as them when I’m their age!

I hadn’t realised that half of the text  would be taken up by the crime novel which Sam is writing.  That did throw me a bit to start with but I actually really like the way it was woven into the main plot.  There were however some aspects of the portrayal of life in 1930s England which grated and I did feel that perhaps some more research could have been done here.

Overall though, I thought it was a fun book and I will definitely be reading more in the series.

Book Details

The Plot is Murder by V M Burns
Publisher: Kensington Publishing
ISBN: 9781496711816
RRP: £11.99

 

Book Review – Death Sets Sail

I have been a fan of Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series for years so, although I am very sad that Death Sets Sail is the last in the series, I was incredibly excited to receive a review copy from Penguin Random House.

Publisher’s Blurb

The ninth and final novel in the number-one bestselling, award-winning Murder Most Unladylike series.

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are in Egypt, taking a cruise along the Nile.  They are hoping to see some ancient temples and a mummy or two; what they get, instead, is murder.

Also travelling on the SS Hatshepsut is a mysterious society called the Breath of Life: a group of genteel English ladies and gentlemen, who believe themselves to be reincarnations of the ancient pharaohs.  Three days into the cruise their leader is found dead in her cabin, stabbed during the night.

It soon becomes clear to Daisy and Hazel that the victim’s timid daughter is being framed – and they begin to investigate their most difficult case yet.

But there is danger all around, and only one of the Detective Society will make it home alive…

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I have been waiting for this book for so long that I was afraid I might have built it up too much in my mind and I would be disappointed.  I needn’t have worried though – this is a great book which definitely lives up to the rest of the series.

Of course, I am well above the target age for these books but even so I found the plot had a lot of unexpected twists and I only guessed the murderer a few pages before they were revealed.  That’s the best kind of mystery – it’s satisfying to be able to work it out but only if it’s right at the last minute!  I also loved the fact that the book is set in Egypt and I especially enjoyed the Agatha Christie references.

The characters have grown a lot over the course of the series and I will be sad to see them go.  Hazel in particular has developed so much and I found myself cheering for her several times in this one.  Robin Stevens has just announced a new series which will begin in 2022 and will focus on Hazel’s little sister May – I will be very much looking forward to that. In the meantime if you haven’t read Murder Most Unladylike yet I would highly recommend giving it a go.

Book Details

Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens

ISBN: 9780241419809

Publisher: Puffin

RRP: £6.99

Mostly Butterflies

Last week I received a surprise parcel from Macmillan.  I had a suspicion as to what it might be but was completely wrong as it turned out to be a beautiful copy of Matthew Oates’ His Imperial MajestyMy first flick through showed me that it has some gorgeous illustrations but I was somewhat sceptical about the review on the front cover from Patrick Barkham – ‘Monumental, transcendent, hilarious.’  This is a natural history of the Purple Emperor butterfly and it is packed full of fascinating information.  How could it possibly also be hilarious?

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I had to take this picture on a rainy day when not a butterflywas in sight so I made do with a brooch.

It turns out that it can.  I am still only partway through (my Mum who doesn’t normally like reading non-fiction was so taken with this book that she borrowed it to read herself) but there are definitely some very funny moments.  I particularly enjoyed the account of a meeting with a walker when the author was lying flat on his back looking for butterflies in the trees above him with binoculars.

I love butterflies.  Hacking out on the ponies I often see many of them flitting about the hedgerows and although I can identify very few of them they are wonderful to watch.  I even have a sketchbook from when I was eight or nine to which I gave the misleading title of Mostly Butterflies.  On looking through it I find that there is precisely one butterfly – apparently a Monarch.  A more accurate title would have been Mostly Horses but I was obviously very keen on butterflies at the time – even if it was a short time.

Thank you to Macmillan for the free review copy.  I am looking forward to reading the rest of it when I get it back!

Sparkling Cyanide

I have been reading Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide with a lovely group of people on Instagram and have been thoroughly enjoying it.

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I haven’t read any Christie for a while and it has been years since I read this one.  So much so that I genuinely had no idea whodunnit – which makes a nice change for me when I’m re-reading a book.  This was a good one too – a long list of suspects who all seemed pretty plausible.  Early on I did single out the love interests and write them off as suspects but then I remembered that Christie is not Ngaio Marsh or Georgette Heyer.  Anyone could have done it – including either or even both of the love interests – so they went back on the list.

In the end, I only guessed a few pages before the reveal which is always satisfying.  I like to be able to work out the solution before the detective but it’s not so great when you work out the murderer right at the beginning of the book!

It was a lot of fun reading this with the others.  There are always so many things which come up in the chats that I just don’t notice for myself when I’m reading and it is lovely to share my ideas with other people.  We might not be able to have in person book clubs at the moment but this is just as good (especially as my book club would never read a lot of the books I would like to choose!).

Book Review – The Fowl Twins

I was so excited to receive a review copy of Eoin Colfer’s new book The Fowl Twins last autumn.  My sister was obsessed with his Artemis Fowl books as a teenager so out of curiosity I picked one up myself.  I was instantly hooked and have loved them ever since.  It took me far too long to get around to reading this one but I’m glad I finally did.

Publisher’s Blurb

Criminal genius runs in the family…

Myles and Beckett Fowl are twins but the two boys are wildly different. Beckett is blonde, messy and sulks whenever he has to wear clothes. Myles is impeccably neat, has an IQ of 170, and 3D prints a fresh suit every day – just like his older brother, Artemis Fowl.

A week after their eleventh birthday the twins are left in the care of house security system, NANNI, for a single night. In that time, they befriend a troll on the run from a nefarious nobleman and an interrogating nun both of whom need the magical creature for their own gain . . .

Prepare for an epic adventure in which the Fowl twins and their new troll friend escape, get shot at, kidnapped, buried, arrested, threatened, killed (temporarily) . . . and discover that the strongest bond in the world is not the one forged by covalent electrons in adjacent atoms, but the one that exists between a pair of twins.

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Starting this book was like stepping back into a familiar world.  Artemis himself wasn’t around and neither were Holly Short or Butler but this book fits right in with the original series and I felt very at home there.  I loved Myles and Beckett and NANNI was just genius.

The plot is full of twists and turns and although I saw most of them coming it didn’t at all detract from my enjoyment of the book.  After all, it is aimed at children significantly younger than I am!  This is a fun and exciting start to a new series and I am already eagerly awaiting the new book.

Book Details

The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 9780008324810

RRP: £14.99

Book Review – A Kind of Paradise

I have seen Amy Rebecca Tan’s A Kind of Paradise recommened by many people and as it is set in a library I just couldn’t resist it.

Publisher’s Blurb

Thirteen-year-old Jamie Bunn made a mistake at the end of the school year.  A big one.  And every kid in her middle school knows all about it.  Now she has to spend her summer vacation volunteering at the local library—as punishment.  What a waste of a summer!

Or so she thinks.

A Kind of Paradise is an unforgettable story about the power of community, the power of the library, and the power of forgiveness.

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I loved this book.  It was exactly the kind of cosy, comfirting read I need at the moment.  As a celebration of libraries and community it is perfect but the plot is also engaging and you can’t help rooting for the characters.  Piecing together what happened to Jamie at school makes for fun problem solving as well.

I spent a lot of time at the library as a child – I would take out as many books as I was allowed and would quite happily have taken more and read them too.  They are such a fantastic resource and although they are closed at the moment this book reminds us of that.  I would highly recommend it to any book lover.

Book Details

A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan

Publisher:  HarperCollins

ISBN: 9780062795410

RRP: £12.99

Book Review – The Other Bennet Sister

I recently received a parcel from Pan Macmillan which actually made me jump for joy when I opened it – it contained a review copy of The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow.  I’m normally very wary of reading sequels and retellings of my favourite books written by different authors as I am worried about what they will do with characters I love.  However, a book about Mary Bennet is hard for a bookworm to resist!

Publisher’s Blurb

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the middle of the five Bennet girls and the plainest of them all, so what hope does she have?  Prim and pious, with no redeeming features, she is unloved and seemingly unlovable.

The Other Bennet Sister, though, shows another side to Mary.  An introvert in a family of extroverts; a constant disappointment to her mother who values beauty above all else; fearful of her father’s sharp tongue; with little in common with her siblings – is it any wonder she turns to books for both company and guidance?  And, if she finds her life lonely or lacking, that she determines to try harder at the one thing she can be: right.

One by one, her sisters marry – Jane and Lizzy for love; Lydia for some semblance of respectability – but Mary, it seems, is destined to remain single and live out her life at Longbourn, at least until her father dies and the house is bequeathed to the reviled Mr Collins.

But when that fateful day finally comes, she slowly discovers that perhaps there is hope for her, after all.

Simultaneously a wonderfully warm homage to Jane Austen and a delightful new story in its own right, Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister is, at its heart, a life-affirming tale of a young woman finding her place in the world.  Witty and uplifting, it will make you feel – and cheer – for Mary as you never have before.

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The very first sentence of this book drew me straight in.  It had a nod to Pride and Prejudice which caught my attention but it is very much its own story which is what kept me reading.  I loved the passing references to some of Jane Austen’s other novels (especially the discussion about muslin!) and I thought that Janice Hadlow had captured Austen’s tone well.

I found that this book to be more descriptive and contain less dialogue than Austen’s own work and it also had a more introspective feel to it.  This may have been due to the fact that it is told from Mary Bennet’s point of view – it suited her  very well.

I had expected to be given a different view of Mary and that was indeed the case.  Growing up I always wanted to be Lizzy (don’t we all?) but was afraid that really I was much more of a Mary.  Now that idea doesn’t worry me.  What I didn’t realise was that I would also see an entirely new side to Mr Collins.  I may have been unfair to him in the past!

I very much enjoyed this book and I would recommend to fans of Jane Austen.  It is obviously not the same as a book by her but it is a believable new story in her world and I think it fits nicely.  I have also appreciated the fact that it has sent me back to Austen’s own novels.  I have dipped into Northanger Abbey and am currently staying in Hunsford Parsonage as I work my way through yet another re-read (or – in this case – listen) of Pride and Prejudice.  Any book which gets me involved enough to go back and compare scenes with those told from a different perspective in the original novel is clearly doing something right.

Book Details

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Publisher:  Mantle

ISBN: 9781509842025

RRP:£16.99

Book Review – Break the Fall

When Hachette Children’s Books sent me a review copy of Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli (several months ago) I had never heard of it.  I knew immediately that I wanted to read it though.  A young adult book about gymnastics?  Yes please!

So much so that I abandoned all my reading plans for that evening and started it straight away.  I love watching gymnastics and have always wished that I was flexible enough to actually do it.  This was my chance to pretend to be a part of that world

Publisher’s Blurb

The only thing seventeen-year-old Audrey Lee dreams about is swinging her way to Olympic glory.  Nothing is going to stop her, not even the agony in her back.  Every spasm and ache will be worth it once she has that gold medal around her neck.

But none of her training prepares her for her coach being led away in handcuffs, accused by a fellow gymnast of the unthinkable.  No one knows what, or who to believe and Audrey’s teammates go into meltdown.

As the Olympic torch closes in, Audrey has no idea who to trust, let alone what life holds after her final dismount.  The only thing she can do is hope that in the end, belief in herself and what’s left of her team, will be enough for gold.

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I was immediately sucked in to the tension of competition and after that I just didn’t want to stop reading.  I stayed up way past my bedtime because I really wantd to know what happened to these girls.

Of course, for me this book was all about the gymnastics and I lived every moment of the competiions and training.  However, I did also like the way the accusation of the unthinkable was handled.  I am always wary of too much teenage angst in books (just because as an adult it can infuriate me) but that wasn’t an issue for me here.  I thought the girls handled the situation very well, whilst still being believable teenagers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It made me think of a more modern, more adult Noel Streatfeild book – a book about a specific interest but with a great plot as well.  Streatfeild always makes me want to rush out and conquer whichever sport or interest I happen to be reading about and this gave me that same feeling.  I will certainly be trying Iacopelli’s previous books about tennis.

Thank you very much to Hachette for the review copy.

Book Details

Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

Published 20th February 2020 by Hachette Children’s Group

ISBN: 9781444953244

RRP: £7.99