Book Bingo Seventeen: A book with a mystery – The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes

Book bingo take 2

 

Wow, it’s book bingo week again – these weeks roll around fast and for this reason, I quite enjoy using the scheduling tool to schedule posts weeks in advance in case something prevents me from posting one week on the day. Anyway, this week I’m ticking off the a book with a mystery square with a book I have been meaning to read for many months, that I have managed to get to now.

mitford 1

Filling out the final square in row three across and row five, square three down, is the first in a series by Jessica Fellowes, The Mitford Murders – a historical crime fiction centred around the Mitford sisters – in particular, Nancy the oldest, and their nursery maid, Louisa Cannon. Using the real-life crime – the death of nurse Florence Nightingale Shore, a real life mystery that in reality remains unsolved but on the page, comes to a fulfilling conclusion – encapsulates a post-war England trying to heal from four years of what was then known as The Great War, the War to End All Wars.

 

It is historical fiction and mystery all rolled into one, and it is fabulously written, and an intriguing introduction to a new series that I hope will continue and allow us to see the rest of the Mitford girls grow up and become the women that history tells us they became.

Book bingo take 2

It is quite possibly one of my favourite books of the year, and the full review is linked to this post.

 

 Booktopia

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Australian Women Writer’s Check-in three: thirty-one to forty-five

AWW-2018-badge-rose

My next fifteen takes me to book 45 of the challenge – The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell. In this set, I read a wide array of fiction – all by authors I had never read before, from contemporary fiction, to historical fiction, literary fiction, and kids’ books that delved into the world of spies, and one of my favourite periods of antiquity, the Minoans and the explosion of Akrotiri on Thera. I read a non-fiction book by Kitty Flanagan, which was more like an extended comedy routine, to mysteries and family legacies.

From World War Two seen through the lens of Jewish refugees in Shanghai, to book illumination in the middle ages, and the melding of various mythologies and histories to create unique characters and voices that stretch out across the decades and centuries to tell stories of war, family, fear and mystery, and the fun of child spies and wildlife adventures.

These next fifteen were recently completed and, the last fifteen will take me to the start of August. Just over half way done for the year, I have read four times what I pledged, and hope to read many more in the months to come, adding to my ever growing list.

Books thirty-one to forty-five

  1. The Jady Lily by Kirsty Manning
  2. The Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
  3. Burning Bridges and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan
  4. Bluebottle by Belinda Castles
  5. The Upside of Over by J.D. Barrett and Interview
  6. P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones
  7. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey
  8. The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady
  9. Ella and Olivia: A Wild Adventure by Yvette Poshoglian
  10. Kensy and Max: Breaking News by Jacqueline Harvey
  11. Swallow’s Dance by Wendy Orr
  12. We See the Stars by Kate van Hooft.
  13. The Far Back Country by Kate Lyons
  14. Beneath the Mother Tree by D.M. Cameron
  15. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

So far I haven’t mentioned favourites on any lists, because there have been so many on the others, but on this one, The Jade Lily, Kensy and Max, Swallow’s Dance and The Peacock Summer are the ones that stood out for me and that I enjoyed the most for various reasons, all stated in my reviews on these books.

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

early riser .jpgTitle: Early Riser

Author: Jasper Fforde

Genre: Fiction/Mystery/Adventure/Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Hodder & Stoughton

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 410

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Jasper Fforde’s first standalone novel – full of the imagination, wit and intelligence that has made Fforde a Number One bestseller.

The new standalone novel from Number 1 bestselling author Jasper Fforde. 

Imagine a world where all humans must hibernate through a brutally cold winter, their bodies dangerously close to death as they enter an ultra-low metabolic state of utterly dreamless sleep. All humans, that is, apart from the Winter Consuls, a group of officers who diligently watch over the vulnerable sleeping citizens.

Charlie Worthing is a novice, chosen by a highflying hero Winter Consul to accompany him to the Douzey, a remote sector in the middle of Wales, to investigate a dream which is somehow spreading amongst those in the hibernational state, causing paranoia, hallucination and a psychotic episode that can end in murder.

Worthing has been trained to deal with Tricksy Nightwalkers whose consciousness has been eroded by hibernation, leaving only one or two skills and an incredible hunger; he’s been trained to stay alive through the bleakest and loneliest of winters – but he is in no way prepared for what awaits him in Sector Twelve. There are no heroes in Winter, Worthing has been told. And he’s about to find out why…

~*~

It has been many years since a Jasper Fforde novel has been released, and of all his books, my two favourite series are the Thursday Next books, and the Nursery Crimes books – both of which I hope get updates soon, so I can find out what happens to my favourite characters. In Early Riser, the first stand-alone novel by Fforde, which is filled with the same satire, the same references to history, popular culture, entertainment and reading, as the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series his readers have come to know and love. Yet this is a different world to that of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, set in another alternate United Kingdom, this time in Wales, where humans spend the entire winter hibernating – and where a select few have volunteered to stay awake through winter to ensure everyone makes it through.

Charlie Worthing is one such volunteer. It is his first Winter awake, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time – there is an outbreak of viral dreams that start to kill people, and Charlie must work with the Winter Consul, and contend with the Wintervolk and those infecting the dreams of the hibernating folk and killing them.

This is a sort of dystopian, alternate universe that is quintessentially British, and charmingly so, with the presence of After Eights, Tunnocks Tea Cakes and a tongue-in-cheek humour that I have come to expect and love in Fforde’s works. It is a humour that knowing some of the references, such as his cheeky nods to The Sound of Music, that knowing where they are from helps you appreciate them all the more, and it is so typically Fforde – he manages to get the balance of respect and satire just right, and it suits the book and the character of Charlie so well -one wonders if Charlie has ever crossed paths with the Nursery Crime Division and Thursday Next – books I must read again, and am hoping for continuations of.

The cruelty of Charlie’s first Winter is evident in how the Consul treats him, in the hints at hazing and how different departments perform this – where one might be akin to pranks and drills, Charlie’s hazing is said to be more like making tea and doing laundry – that is, until he is given a promotion to take on heavier duties and investigations into the dream deaths. Fforde cleverly shows how this happens but using subversive and discreet language – nothing is obviously stated, and Charlie is constantly warned about the consequences of falling asleep. Part mystery as well as satire as Charlie investigates what happens, he soon finds himself uncovering secrets about people he thought he knew and finding out things he never thought he would.

Fforde manages to capture something unique about the world, about history and literature, and British culture that is entertaining, informative and amusing. He uses the punching up rule of humour, mixed in with equal delectable dollops of parody and satire to complement the seemingly insane and odd mystery that makes sense in the dystopian alternate universe of Wales that Fforde has created for Charlie to live in, with an ending that is both conclusive and open enough for readers to imagine what happens next. It is a novel that will appeal to Fforde fans and hopefully those who appreciate a tongue in cheek humour and nods to things we’ve all encountered or heard of at some stage, which makes the reading experience richer and more enticing when you can understand these references.

Jasper’s first novel in about four years, Early Riser is the beginning of what will hopefully be a barrage of new books, and updates on our favourite characters and stories. I enjoyed being back in the world of Jasper Fforde and can’t wait for his next offering – which I hope will be soon. In the meantime, I plan to re-read the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, that latter of which only has two books at this stage.

Booktopia

Review and Give Away: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

scrublands.jpgTitle: Scrublands
Author: Chris Hammer
Genre: Crime/Mystery
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 25th July 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 496
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: Set in a fictional Riverina town at the height of a devastating drought, Scrublands is one of the most powerful, compelling and original crime novels to be written in Australia.
In an isolated country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.

A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town’s secrets stay buried.

A compulsive thriller that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page.

~*~

MPB_4595_small.jpgMartin Scarsden is travelling towards a Riverina town a year after a tragic event took the lives of several townsfolk at the hands of the priest, to write a piece on the anniversary of the events. He arrives in a town with a ghost-like aura, where many businesses are shut, or failing, and where everyone has their own version of events that doesn’t quite line up with the official record that Martin has to work with, and he finds that he needs to probe further, and dig into the rumours spun by previous articles – which leads into conflicting account after conflicting account, and further conflicts with characters as he asks the wrong questions, writes a story that goes to print too quickly and brings a media storm to the town, resulting in more deaths and the discovery of more evidence and hints that the crimes committed a year ago were not as cut and dry as the first seemed – questions of motives and suspects, and whether they were linked in anyway come up throughout the novel. Through all this, Martin is quite taken with young Mandalay Blonde, whose involvement and knowledge of the people involved must be peeled away slowly, throughout the novel as the secrets of the town and its residents are uncovered in a media frenzy that seems never ending.

As the novel ambles towards a conclusion where many threads of what was once thought of as a singular, lone crime splinters off into four, and implicates crimes from the past in the concluding chapters, wrapping up the mysteries that Martin encounters and that the town has been hiding – each person with the secrets hiding them for various reasons. Occasionally, the novel touches on Martin’s past as a correspondent in war zones, and how his fellow journalists feel this has impacted him – he has been given a chance to show them he can write still.

The portrayal of the media is interesting – showing that a push to publish from an editor can force the hand of a journalist, but also, the anger at a journalist for reporting what he has been told, or in other ways not told, and how interviews can be warped for the gain of others. It shows that what is first reported or known isn’t necessarily the truth – and that sometimes it can take a while and a lot of digging to get to that truth. The conflict between the media, law and townsfolk was well written, and had notes of intrigue that kept the story going even when i thought things were wrapping up – there was always one more thing that needed to be taken care of.

It is a very long novel – though it didn’t take me forever to get through. The premise is interesting, with a very well written execution and delivery. The compelling mystery that isn’t quite what it seems presented a good opportunity to explore human nature and what people will do to keep suspicion off of themselves, and protect themselves – and in some cases, hurting others in the process. It interrogates the nature of small towns, and crime within these towns, and the impact that tragedies can have on a town and on individuals. Crime can affect anyone, anywhere, as this novel shows, and it also shows that the past will eventually catch up – for better or worse, and betray the flaws and cracks in humanity, where cover ups and secrets start to fall apart at the seams to reveal the truth. At times meandering and ambling in some scenes that felt slower than the rest of the novel, it is still a compelling story, that will capture the imagination of those who enjoy these kinds of mysteries and want to enter a world of secrets, betrayal and murder. It is one I enjoyed, though, and recommend to crime fiction fans and fans of Australian literature – there is an audience out there for it.

 

Giveaway

Allen and Unwin have kindly said they have three copies of this novel to give away via my blog. To be in the running for this giveaway, please comment on this blog post within one week of it going live, and answer within 25 words or less the following question:

Why do you think small country towns in Australian crime fiction have higher levels of crime?

The giveaway will run for a week, from today until the 1st of August, and is open to Australian residents. Remember to put your entry in via the comments section to be in the running, and send me a message via the contact me form to let me know how I can contact you if you win. Prizes will be mailed out by Allen and Unwin.

Booktopia

The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1) by Jessica Fellowes

mitford 1.jpgTitle: The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1)

Author: Jessica Fellowes

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Sphere

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 422

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A Golden Age-style mystery bursting with period detail and set amid the Mitford household, THE MITFORD MURDERS is the glittering start to a thrilling and sumptuous new series written by Jessica Fellowes, author of the number one bestselling Downton Abbey books.

‘A lively, well-written, entertaining whodunit’ THE TIMES

***You can now preorder Bright Young Dead, the thrilling second book in The Mitford Murders series*** Lose yourself in the sumptuous first novel in a new series of Golden Age mysteries set amid the lives of the glamorous Mitford sisters.

It’s 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.

Louisa’s salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy – an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.

But when a nurse – Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake – is killed on a train in broad daylight, Nancy and amateur sleuth Louisa find that in postwar England, everyone has something to hide . . .

~*~

The first in what I am sure will be a gripping and enthralling series, The Mitford Murders takes place in 1919-1921, the years immediately following the end of World War One, with soldiers and nurses still returning from the front and various theatres of war. During late December 1919, Louisa Cannon has escaped London, and her uncle. She’s on her way to take up the position of nursery maid in the Mitford household at Asthall Manor – but an incident on the train she’s one delays her. This incident delays her arrival – and almost jeopardises her job, had it not been for the oldest Mitford daughter, Nancy’s intervention and excitement at a confidant other than her younger sisters and brother. As Nancy and Louisa become friends, they become involved in the murder investigation – helping a police officer – Guy – find out what happened and who the killer was, and looking into people who are not quite who they say they are, introducing another mystery to the story as Louisa does her best to protect Nancy and remain her friend amidst the societal conventions they must live and work within.

These side characters add flavour to the novel, and the premise of the novel, the murder of Florence Nightingale Shore on the train heading towards Sussex that Louisa was on, is based on a real case, a real murder that remains unsolved in reality, but in fiction, is given a resolution, and in true murder mystery style, a murderer caught and brought to justice, and the other strands and characters brought together to conclude the plot and lead into the next book, out later this year.

Taking real life people, historical figures, ad placing them in a fictional context is always interesting and always has potential to go really wrong, or really right. Jessica Fellowes has done an exceptional job – taking historical figures who would later become well known in various circles – Nancy for her writing, Unity for her Nazi tendencies – and created a world where we can see what might have triggered these choices for the girls, and we get to know the Mitford sisters as children and humans and also get to know the ones whose names might not instantly come to mind such as Pamela, and Deborah.

Using an unsolved mystery from history and giving it a potential resolution in its own time and place in fiction worked wonderfully – it was a case that captured the imaginations of the characters and gave them a drive to find out what had happened. Louisa is cleverly written, as is Nancy – both confined by what society wants them to do, yet at the same time, rebellious and eager to step outside these boundaries, Louisa perhaps less so as she wants to remain in the safety of the job and away from her uncle – a plot point that swims through the narrative as well, and at times, these little shifts outside of what they’re expected to do take the plot in an unforeseen yet useful and intriguing direction that helps to bring the many strands together to solve the mysteries that surround the murder, Louisa herself, and Roland Lucknor, a young man who served with Nancy’s father in war and whose suspicious behaviour triggers alarm bells in Louisa and Guy’s minds. Like all good mysteries, it of course has the initial crime and investigators but also red herrings and conflicts between characters that show their flaws and humanity, but it also encapsulates a period in history where class and gender could dictate what one could do and say, and how to present oneself – and I felt this was dealt with really well, and in a way that is believable and accessible to a modern audience, as well as dealing with the hints at rebellion Nancy showed, whilst ensuring she still fit into the mould her parents wanted her to.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of these novels go, and what will happen next with Louisa and the Mitford sisters.

Booktopia

The Legacy of Beauregarde by Rosa Fedele

THE_LEGACY_OF_BEAUREGARDE_BOOKCOVER_1024x1024.jpgTitle: The Legacy of Beauregarde

Author: Rosa Fedele

Genre: Australian Noir/Suspense

Publisher: MoshPit Publishing

Published: 10th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 424

Price: $39.95

Synopsis:‘You could lose someone down there, couldn’t you? Anyone could get buried under the concrete slab, and no one would even know!’

The Beauregarde women have lived in the shadow of The Seminary for four generations. And there is nothing conventional about Marcela, or her family.

When the decadent and obsessive Gordana acquires the iconic Sydney property and invites a television crew to film the building’s transformation into a magnificent showpiece, strangers suddenly penetrate Marcela’s world, each with a dark secret of their own.

But Marcela conceals a sinister bond which inextricably ties her to the derelict estate, holding the power to not only unravel Gordana’s grand designs, but expose bloodstained treachery, long-buried betrayals and lies.

A decadent and eccentric tableau of theatre and treachery, old secrets and betrayals; exploring friendship, guilt and obsession … slipping between characters to gradually reveal a century-old mystery.

#australiannoir

~*~

The Legacy of Beauregarde takes place over several months during 1990 in Sydney, surrounding a family legacy, and the renovation of what was once a home and Seminary linked to them, and the mysteries of the people who have lived there and been involved with the family. Marcela’s family have lived in the shadow of the seminary for generations – but when Gordana acquires it to renovate on a television show reminiscent of Grand Designs, these strangers that enter Marcela’s world and shatter the sense of calm she has built around her for many, many years.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs well these characters, friends of Gordana  Claudia, Madeleine and her husband, and Ilijana and her brother, Dan, are present, and their stories and links to the Seminary and Marcela are woven throughout – and there are mysterious incidents and deaths happening, and each character, whilst trapped within their own lives and dilemmas, is somehow linked to all the other ones – and each chapter is told from a different characters perspective, which at first , feel like individual stories linked simply by time and place, by the setting of the novel.

The premise of this book, and the basic plot is intriguing, with gothic, mystery and suspense elements that are engaging for the reader, yet at the same time, confusing for the first several parts, until the links and connections between characters hinted at early in the novel become clearer and more concrete, culminating in a series of unforeseen and tragic events that will rattle each and every character to their core.

With so many characters, it did get a little confusing at times, especially when a new one popped up quite suddenly and unexpectedly – adding to the feeling that each chapter at first felt like an individual story that somehow had a link to the overall plot of Marcela and her family, and what they experienced throughout the years and what their history was – which was hinted at throughout as well and came full circle towards the end. In time I got used to it though, even though there were a couple who only made a couple of appearances, and I wasn’t sure what their purpose was – it still worked for the novel.

The personalities and relationships that make up The Legacy of Beauregarde speak to feelings of abandonment in some, and reliance in others, a feeling of who can be trusted and who can’t, and why – perhaps illustrating the complexities of relationships, human nature and society, and how different environments, circumstances and people can have both positive and negative influences on us as children and adults.

As the characters tell their stories and the century old mystery is gradually revealed, the fluctuating pacing ensures that it is unclear who has what motives and indeed what those motives are until the end – which makes the mystery compelling.

This is a book with many threads to make sense of, and threads that weave together slowly, which I found I needed perseverance and patience for, and even though it may not be one of my top reads for the year – it was still enjoyable and for readers who enjoy a meandering mystery with lots of twists and turns like this, I highly recommend it. The meandering ensures the suspense is kept up throughout the novel and potentially, never really leaves.

Booktopia

We see The Stars by Kate van Hooft

we see the stars.jpgTitle: We see The Stars

Author: Kate van Hooft

Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime, Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A haunting and deeply moving novel with a brilliant voice in the tradition of The Eye of the Sheep and Jasper Jones.

‘Mysterious, compelling and almost unbearably tender.’ Danielle Wood, award-winning author of The Alphabet of Light and Dark

‘Is that the Big Dipper?’ Mum asked. Her eyes were bright from the light in them, and they shone in the darkness more than any of the stars in the sky. 

Simon is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a world of silence, lists and numbers. He hasn’t spoken for years and he doesn’t know why.

Everyone at school thinks he’s weird and his only friends in the world are his brother Davey and Superman, who’s always there when he needs him.

One day Simon shares his Vita-Weats with Cassie, the scary girl from his class, and a friendship starts to form. And the new teacher Ms Hilcombe takes an interest in him, and suddenly he has another friend as well.

When Ms Hilcombe goes missing, only Simon knows where she is. But he has made a promise to never tell, and promises can never be broken. So now Simon is the only one who can save her.

A haunting and deeply moving novel with a brilliant voice in the tradition of The Eye of the Sheep and Jasper Jones.

~*~

Simon lives in a world of silence – it has been years since he has spoken, and the reason why is a mystery to the reader, though it is hinted at throughout. Even his family don’t say outright what it is, nor do they mention what caused it – they comment on it from time to time, and his Dad and brother, Davey, are always ready to help with his puffer when his asthma gets bad. But at school, Simon is alone, and has no friends. Until his new teacher, Ms Hilcombe takes an interest in him, and does her best to understand him and work with him, and then Cassie, the girl everyone is scared of, with her mangled hand, becomes his friend. Simon also has Superman, who acts as an alter ego and gives him strength when he needs it.

AWW-2018-badge-roseSet in the 1970s, not long after the end of the Vietnam War, We See the Stars is a mystery about family and those who care for us, and about ourselves. Simon never articulates why he doesn’t talk, nor does anyone else – they hint at it being like his mother, who is referred to and seen in flashbacks, but his reason for silence and isolation is never made clear. But this makes the mystery interesting, trying to work out all the possible reasons for his silence – some of which, in the 1970s, which is when I think the book was set, were not understood in the same way they are today. So perhaps this is why the reason for his silence isn’t defined.

Simon lives with his dad, his brother, Davey and his grandmother. His grandfather is in hospital, and the door to his mother’s room is always closed, and throughout the novel, there is the mystery of where is mother is and why she is so silent – Simon hopes that she can hear his Morse code taps through the door, and waits for her to respond.

Also, as the story is filtered through Simon’s perspective, it is as though we don’t need him to define it for us, it’s his thing and he doesn’t appear to want to talk about it – not in the same way he counts colours, or makes lists of good and bad things, manages his asthma and feels the angry that comes and goes, and the honey dripping inside of him. He describes his feelings as tastes and sensations of food but within his own body – making him an interesting character. His struggling sense of self and feelings are impacted when Ms Hilcombe goes missing, and he loses one of the only adults who really understands him – Dad tries, but it is really Ms Hilcombe Simon connects with.

His friendship with Cassie, and eventually with Jeremy, is perhaps one of the most unique and genuine friendships. They know they are different, and Cassie knows communication is hard for him – and when a new teacher tries to force him to speak, it is Cassie who stands up for him, who defends her friend and in everything she does, wants to protect him from the wrath of her mother, and does all she can to understand him – as does Jeremy as the story moves along and Simon begins to speak – with Cassie, with Ms Hilcombe, and his father and brother, and at least once with his Grandmother.

Simon is an intriguing character. I’m not sure how I would define him as a narrator – maybe somewhat unreliable because we’re seeing the world through his eyes and the consequences of things that happen through his eyes, memories and imagined scenarios. The memories hint at Simon knowing where Ms Hilcombe is – it is her disappearance that forms the main mystery. Unlike other mysteries, some things are hinted at, and not explicitly defined – indicating that anything could have happened, that anyone could be responsible.

The story is moving and the ending answered a couple of questions, in a rather odd way for a first person narrative, but given the character perspective of Simon, it made sense, and fitted in with the novel. Perhaps the ending allows for the reader to imagine what happened themselves, and how it happened – a similar style of ending to Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf. An intriguing novel where things aren’t always clear or what they seem from a new Australian voice.

Booktopia