Thursday, April 8, 2021

Madam by Phoebe Wynne

The book starts with Rose Christie receiving an amazing job offer to teach at the prestigious school Caldonbrae in Scotland. The students are all female with a mostly female staff.

She explains to her mother, who is thrilled, yet Rose is hesitant. I'm not keen on her mother from the start and the few times she appears in the story I have a mixture of pity and loathing.  Rose eventually excepts the position and wonders if the distance is enough to sever ties with her mother. You don’t know what’s between them at this point but you can tell Rose is anxious to escape.

There’s something slightly Gothic  with a sinister atmosphere about Caldonbrae.  You pick up on that as soon as Rose arrives at the school. She has no one to meet her, only written apologies from the headmaster and a promise to get together the next day. (This doesn't happen for weeks).

After settling in she is required to give a speech to the students and you see right away a similarity to a Hogwarts setting. The headmaster and other teachers sit behind her as she steps up to the lectern to address the girls. There are four separate Houses (think of Gryfindor, Slytherin, etc.) and the students are placed in different ones according to their value or status. All teachers are called Sir or Madam by the students.

One of Rose's first classes is a complete disaster with all of the girls challenging her with impertinent questions and telling her they don’t wish to be bothered to learn Latin or history. They state they’ve gotten rid of the other Latin teacher and by the end the teacher didn’t care. The smells like a lord of the flies story  but with female students which could be even scarier.  As you learn more about the students and the "curriculum" you'll be applalled. Could something like this go on in this day and age?  Too scary to think it could. Feminists will be apoplectic with this book.

Publication date May 18, 2021 by St. Martin's Press.  Genre: Literary Fiction and Women's Fiction.

Thank you to Netgalley for the advanced reader's copy of this book.  I was not compensated for the review, all opinions are mine.

Sharing with Joy's Book Blog for British Isles Friday.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman


I have read two novels by Catherine Steadman and I will say this one is her best work. I loved this book. As it turns out this is her first novel and here I am just getting around to reading it.  The suspense levels are perfect. Genre is psychological thriller. 

There have been times I have said to my husband, wouldn't it be cool to find a big suitcase of money abandoned in the woods?  He always said it would bring more trouble than it's worth.  This book has that message and it's full twists and turns.

The primary setting is London and Norfolk England. Erin a  documentary filmaker and her husband-to-be Mark is an investment banker. They are planning a lush wedding when Mark is suddenly fired from his well paying job. They start the cutback on expenses from everyday living to the wedding.  The honesymoon was paid for so they go off to Bora Bora for the last exciting fling and expenditure.  

While scuba diving they discover something in the water which is a real game changer.  This ordinary couple unwittingly fall into sinister situation and it's a real page turner.

The story begins with Erin telling us how hard it is to dig a grave.  In the movies the dirt flings up as if a dog is throwing soft dirt from a hole.  The reality is it's back breaking work and your muscles are sore as you prepare to hide your husband's body in a hole.  Wait!  She's burying her husband and this is in the start?  So is that a spoiler before you get into the book - nope!

As you get into the story you see the sequence of events and I can say, I never guessed how things would turn out. I liked this novel better than her latest.  Right now I am caught up on Catherine Steadman's books and I look forward to more in the future.

Sharing with Joy's Book Blog for British Isles Friday.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Reluctantly Home by Imogen Clark

What attracted me to this book was the rural Southwold county Suffolk setting and the discovery of an old diary - a mystery! Also, I am an easy mark for a attractive cover and I just love the looks of this one.

The beginning of the book is set in London and we do travel back there briefly during the story.  Phillipa Rose Appleby is from a rural area of England, growing up on a farm.  She aspired to have a grander life than a farmwife and achieved her goals by becomng a barrister, QC which means Queen's Counsel.  On the farm she was always known as Pip.  When she begins her life in London she switches to a posher name, Rose. 

One morning during her drive through London she has an accident.  She is on her way to court when a young boy darts out on traffic. Rose struck him with her car.  It's an accident and ruled so by the police, coroner and witnesses but  Rose can't forgive herself.  She is detroyed by guilt and panic attacks and returns home to Suffolk, hence the title of the book - Reluctantly Home.

Her parents are supportive but Pip, as she was always refered to at home, is impatient with her situation.  She longs to go back to her London life yet she is still consumed with guilt and worries about having another panic attack in court.  Stuck in a small town where life is decidedly slower and low key, she volunteers at a charity shop to keep her occupied.  Fortuitously she comes across a diary from 1983, donated by mistake, and lets herself escape her life by reading the diary of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Evelyn was an actress in London but her story is very interesting as laid out in the diary. Both Evelyn and Pip have one thing in common - they both felt stuck in Southwold and wanted their old lives back. Evelyn's story is engaging and resonates with Pip even though their reasons for being back home are different.  I will say the ending was not what I would have predicted but I'm satisfied.

The only other novel I have read by Ms. Clark is The Last Piece and I enjoyed it very much. I've now discovered she has several books published which I intend to add to my to-read list. As a matter of fact, I just purchased Postcards from a Stranger which was on sale for $1.99 (Kindle version/ Amazon).

Publication date for Reluctantly Home is April 29, 2021 by Amazon Publishing UK. Genre is Women's Fiction and General Fiction.

Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book. I was not compensated for the review and all opinions expressed here are mine.

Sharing with Joy's Book blog for British Isles Friday.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Disappearing Act by Catherine Steadman


British actress Mia Eliot has arives in sunny Los Angeles to put a humiliating breakup behind her and audition for a major role in a movie. Her agent lined up other readings for Mia as nothing is promised when auditioning. 

During an audition to read for a television show Mia meets Emily Bryant, an aspiring actress whom she feels an immediate connection. As they chat during a break, Emily's script reading comes up next and she realizes her meter will run out for her rental car. She offers to let Mia go ahead of her. Mia doesn't want to go ahead as she's still preparing.  Unbelievably,  Emily gives Mia her wallet and car keys so she can feed to parking meter. Who does that? Here is where the mystery and disappearance play in.

With the sudden disappearance of Emily intruding on Mia's  thoughts she knows she must banish them while auditioning for this role of a lifetime. The setting of the movie is years before cell phones and war so she closes her eyes and forces herself back to Edwardian England, Covent Garden and immerses herself in the part. I like the descriptions of the auditions.

Once Mia calls the police and reports Emily missing I would think that would be the end of it.  In real life it probably would be but in this story Mia goes the extra mile to find out what happened to Emily. Creepy things happen after this point such as items missing or moved in her apartment. There is a sinister element to this amateur investigation and things start to fall into place at the 80% mark.  The ending has a chilling scene as well.

If you are interested in more by Ms. Steadman check out Mr. Nobody on a previous post. In addition to authoring several novels she is also a successful actress appearing in The Tudors, Downton Abbey and Mansfield Park to name a few.

Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced reader's copy of this book.  Publication date is June 8, 2021 by Random House Publishing -  Ballentine. Genre is Mystery, thriller, general fiction. Opinions and thoughts regarding this book are all mine; I was not compensated for this review.

I will be starting Something in the Water next.  That's the only other Catherine Steadman novel I have not read

Sharing with Joy's Book Blog for British Isles Friday.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman


Dr. Emma Lewis is a 30 year old neuropsychiatrist living in London. She is offered the case of a lifetime, one which could make her career.  A well respected doctor in her field offers her the case of Mr. Nobody.  The man was found on a beach, drenched to the skin and having no apparent memory of who he is or where he is from. Could this be an actual rare case of fugue?

If you recall, back in 2005 there was a similar real case called The Piano Man, the circumstances of his case very similar and probably (in my opinion) gave our author the inspiration for this story. True story you may read by clicking the hyperlink above.

By page 76 the plot dances around a previous incident with Emma and her family, one so bad her family needed to be relocated and given new identities. As a reader I think it would have been better to reveal what her horrific experience was much earlier in the book. You learn why at page 200+

Anyway, she decides, against her brother`s advice, to return to Norfolk as it is a  career changing case. Also weird was a government agency did an intense background check on her, knows her identity and why she left Norfolk 14 years ago.  Lots of mystery about the government agency and what happened to Emma and her family. She was required to sign a confidentiality contract before proceeding. Hmmm…..they must know or suspect something about this Mr. Nobody.

I ask, if they wanted HER in particular why not relocate the man with fugue to a London hospital where Emma Lewis is working and reduce risk of her former identity revealed near her childhood home? Logical question.

The psychological mystery does wrap up with a few twists that were nicely incorporated.  The mystery man knows so much about Emma already although they’d never met.You have to suspend disbelief on some scenes, I wont give spoilers, but it is a decent enough mystery to make me look for her other publications.  This one is her second book.

Coming up next is a review of her latest book The Disappearing Act.

Catherine Steadman is an actress based in North London, UK, and the author of Something in the Water. She has appeared in leading roles on British television as well as on stage in the West End. In 2016, she was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in Oppenheimer. She is best known in the United States for her role as Mabel Lane Fox in Downton Abbey.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday


Friday, March 19, 2021

A Place Like Home by Rosamunde Pilcher


If you are a fan of Rosamund's Pilcher's previous novels and short stories you will love this collection. She is a breath of fresh air with the timeless stories and the lovely settings in Scotland, Northumberland and Cornwall.

Fifteen stories with a bit of romance, some with personal relationship conundrums and interspection.  My favorite books remain The Shell Seekers and Coming Home, I highly recommend those large books.  

Each short story is preceded by a sketch along with the title. The romance story lines are not long and complicated, rather the attractions and commitments happen quite quickly. There are stories of loneliness as well and Pilcher brings the emotions to life on the page. 

I recommend this book for a quick read and one that will take you armchair traveling to a different time period.  A gentler kinder depiction of a lifestyle in the British Isles long before a pandemic. 

Publication date is July 27, 2021 by St. Martin's Press. Genre general fiction; romance; women's fiction

Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book. I was not compensated for the review and all opinions expressed here are mine.

Sharing with Joy's Book Blog for British Isles Friday.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Vines by Shelley Nolden

The setting is North Brother Island in New York.  This place actually exists and you find some interesting information online about the medical facility there as well as info about Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary.  The author incorporated Mary Mallon in as a character who is quarantined at the facility due to her perceived illness.  She interacts with our main character Cora. 

The story involves generations of doctors in the Gettler family and spans over a 100 year period. There is more of a horror element to the experimentation the doctors perform on Cora and through it all, Cora lives alone on this island for decades. Cora's blood has qualities which make her immune to disease. Medical ethics are certainly in question here.

The back and forth chapters in the different timeframes was confusing at first.  The book starts with Finn Gettler sneaking onto the island and seeing Cora.  He is well aware of his father and grandfather's medical research but he doesn't know of the heinous experiments performed on this woman. There are surprises about Finn's family and while I did finish the book, there were some times I almost made it a DNF and moved on.

If you are engaged with the story then you'll be pleased to know there will be a followup book.  I personally won't be looking to continue the storyline.  

Publication date is March 23, 2021 by Freiling Publishing. Genre: historical fiction; mystery; thriller

Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book. I was not compensated for the review and all opinions expressed here are mine.

Sharing with Marg at The Intrepid Reader for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading challenge. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Dilemma by B. A. Paris


This book could have  been 200 pages shorter. In my opinion, the entire sequence of events could’ve been summed up in a short story and you would not have been left wanting more. It's important to state the IMO straight away as I am definitely in the minority on this.  I see many 4 and 5 star reviews but I am going with a solid 2 and a half.

Livia  and Adam are a couple married  for 20+ years. Livia  seems like a self-absorbed woman with loads of low self esteem. She’s been planning her 40th birthday party ever since she felt robbed of a big wedding back when she became pregnant with her son. Her parents did not approve of having a child out of wedlock and cut her out of their lives. The big wedding her mother promised her suddenly disappeared and so she planned, back when she was newly married, to have her “ big day” on her 40th. That's a long time to nurse a grudge because she felt slighted by her parents.

The other storyline woven in concerns Livia and Adam's daughter Marnie. She is studying in Hong Kong. Unbeknownst to Livia she is secretly flying home to London so she can be at her mothers 40th birthday party. 

Adam knows his daughter is flying back and what flight she will be on and so, when he hears about a deadly crash on a flight she was supposed to be on, he is obviously concerned. But does he tell his wife? Oh noooo. He doesn’t want to ruin her party. No seriously. A birthday party with 100 people, catered and costing who knows how much money.  Adam has to be sure Marnie was actually on the flight because if she was, she did not survive.

The title Dilemma refers to Adam and Livia keeping a secret from one another.  After the party they each plan to tell the other the secrets they are holding.  For Adam, it's Marnie is missing and presumed dead. Livia's secret also involves her daughter but it's about an affair and more involving Marnie and someone they know. They don't talk to each other!  That's the big thing here.  Each one going over their worries alone and planning when to share with each other. Bah...

This author had been getting good reviews for her book Behind Closed Doors so I thought I would start with this one when the library got it in. Perhaps I will try Paris' other novel but I won't be rushing to the bookstore to grab it.

Sharing with Joy's Book Blog for British Isles Friday as the setting is England and B.A. Paris is a British author.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle


This book description and beginning had me convinced this was a predictable plot, yet it surprised me with a serious turn of events.  In the beginning we have David and Dannie, a successful young Jewish couple who have a five year plan and are supportive of one another in career goals. Danie is a successful attorney and knows, in her well detailed timeline, when she and David will become engaged and when they will marry.

I thought this would be a chick lit sort of book once I started reading it but the author threw in a curve ball with a serious medical issue. Love and friendship are tested, lifestyles I could never imagine were described with detailed descriptions of the type clothing they wore and a plethora of foodie passages. 

A hodgepodge if women’s fiction, the lesser grave subplots fitting the chick lit genre, a type A personality with a work ethic and dedication to the career that would wear me out (something that never came my way).

In a nutshell, Danie's best friend Bella is more like a sister, a forever friendship which started when they were children.  They couldn't be more different in their personalities but they are very dedicated to one another.  Bella's parents weren't ever there for her and enrolled her in a private school, Bella spending more time living with Danie and her parents than her own. Danie is a planner and never does anything impetuous. Bella decides to fly to Paris (or where ever suits her) and stay for months on a whim.  

David is Danie's fiancee and they fit together perfectly.  Each is supportive of the other's career goals and never have issue with the late work hours. But something is missing or why would they become engaged yet never make time to marry? The flash of color in the relationships is all from Bella. You'll like her.  It's hard to do a detailed review because of the medical issue and that brings spoilers.

I would read another of this author's books but I  say she's one of my go to new authors.  This book had me interested enough to keep reading because I did want to know how it ended.  It was not predictable and I was a bit surprised by the ending.

More about the author Rebecca Serle.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

A Bit About Britain's History by Mike Biles and Clanlands by Heughan and McTavish

Starting with the best book first we have A Bit About Britain's History by Mike Biles. It seemed appropriate to use my favorite and treasured bookmark I picked up at Cheddar Gorge back in 1999. 

This isn't a comprehensive history book yet richly detailed to keep your interest.  The writing isn't dry as one might think when conjuring up ideas of our school history tomes. The delivery of the historical information is very engaging and the humor kept me turning the pages. The time periods are broken down in eight chapters starting with ancient Britain, early medieval, Tudors, Stuarts running to the modern history.  

I loved reading about the Romans and the timeline at the end of the book breaks things down, sort of a basic crash course on which period you may want to explore more.  I learned more about Britain's history and the development of government from this book and found subjects I want to know more about. Why couldn't history classes in school/college be this delightful?!

If you have a history buff or Anglophile in your family this would make a dynamite gift for birthday or Christmas.  Mike Biles has a wonderful and informative blog as well called A Bit About Britain.


I enjoyed this book so much that I ordered another of Mike Biles' books.  This time I selected a Kindle version. My paper copy of the history is littered with post-it bookmarks for reference.  As soon as I have access to internet again (sigh) I will download and enjoy the holidays and high days book.



Clanlands by Sam Heughen and Graham McTavish

This book starts off quite funny but it wore thin for me after several chapters. What I expected was a history and virtual tour of important Scottish sites such as Glencoe, Inverness and Culloden as well as educating me about Scotland.  Heughan and McTavish are friends having worked on the Outlander television series together for many years. This relationship is a bromance and it certainly shows in the writing.

While it was amusing to hear Sam call Graham Lady McTavish and crack on him about how much he eats and his love of latte, likewise reading how Graham cracks on Sam about his whisky comsumption and his brand he sells, the number of times he goes shirtless, etc....after a while you want to say...C'mon guys....

I enjoyed the Outlander books but didn't love the television series.  I have a feeling this book grabbed the attention of the TV fans and I would probably give the series Men in Kilts a try.....but this book couldn't keep my attention.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday and Shellyrae at Book'd Out for her Nonfiction  Challenge.
Genre/category: Travel (for Clanlands)


The Nonfiction Reader Challenge hosted by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out.  Check out the sign up post and info HERE. The challenge runs from January 1 through December 31, 2021. You can join in anytime!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman


If you enjoy books which feature gardens and flowers, you will enjoy this book.  This is a nerdy thing I like, flowers and  gardens and people who have a career taking care of great inspiring gardens. I do not possess the green thumb to succeed in a career at a botanical garden or a National Trust English garden, yet I admire the beauty of these creations.

Our main characters in this story are Iris Maynard and her tenent Abby.  Both women had husbands in the military and while Iris lost hers in WW II, Abby has her husband home but scarred by PTSD. 

Iris has a garden of flowers she has developed by cross breeding.  Most of her flowers came from the clippings her grandmother had growing in her garden next door.  Hence the title Heirloom Garden. There are some chapters dedicated to Iris in the 1940's when she was a young mother working at a Victory garden.  Hers is a sad story of loss - not only her husband but her young daughter Mary.

In present day Iris has rented her grandmother's home (next door to her) to a military family.  Abby is the bread winner working as a chemical engineer.  Her husband Cory is hanging on by a thread after being injured in Iraq and losing friends during a bombing. They have a young daughter named Lily.

Iris choses to remain hidden behind her tall fences and live with her flowers.  She doesn't want interaction but as the story unfolds, she is gradually drawn to this struggling family next door. They help heal each other.  This is a such a nice story and the background of the setting on the Michigan shore is well detailed.  You get wonderful mental images of the neighborhood, the sand dunes and water.

A surprise to me is the author is a male. The name Viola Shipman brings me images of a older woman and this is womens' fiction.  The emotional interchanges are very well captured.  I would definitely read more by this author.  

Madam by Phoebe Wynne

The book starts with Rose Christie receiving an amazing job offer to teach at the prestigious school Caldonbrae in Scotland. The students ar...