Sunday, 4 October 2015

Murder in a Mill Town - P.B. Ryan

Murder in a Mill Town - P.B. Ryan
After reading the first of the Nell Sweeney mystery books the other day, (you can see my review here) I couldn't resist moving onto the second in the series. I didn't go straight into it, but I'm not reviewing every book I read at the moment, so it is the next one that you are going to hear about. 

Murder in a Mill Town picks up some months after the end of Still Life with Murder, and Nell hasn't seen Will since. The story opens with Nell in her governess role, playing the Mad Hatter's tea party from Alice in Wonderland with Gracie. Not only does this show Nell in the position that she holds in the Hewitt household, but it also gives Gracie the opportunity to proclaim 'How dweadfully savage' something is, with great comic timing, a little further into the story.

Nell is called downstairs to listen to the plight of a couple who's daughter is missing. She had been working at the Hewitt family Mill, run by the third of the Hewitt son's, Harry. Having already appealed to him for help and getting nowhere, they have now turned to his mother, Viola, for assistance. Nell finds herself sent off on an investigation for a second time, to attempt to find out what has happened to the missing girl. Before long she runs into Will again and the two of them begin to investigate together, particularly when it becomes clear that Will's younger brother, Harry, is caught up in the affair one way or another. 

In the first book we learnt a little of Will's past, his experiences during the civil war and how he came to be an opium addict and a gambler. In Murder in a Mill Town we are shown much more of Nell's back story and her life prior to becoming part of the Hewitt's household. Nell and Will become closer and work well together, but as the past is revealed their growing relationship comes under increasing strain.

The first time I read this book I didn't work out who done it and the end came as a surprise, that may of course have just been me being a bit slow, but either way, I did think that the mystery worked and didn't leave big unanswered questions. I have already mentioned that I love this whole series, so it will come as no surprise that I love this book and highly recommend it, (but read Still Life with Murder first).

By the end of Murder in  Mill Town, you may well find that you're a good way to being in love with Will, if you're the type that does fall for fictional characters, I certainly was. I'll try to hold off reading the third in the series, for a few days at least. 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Lacking motivation

At the moment, I'm in a bit of a slump and feeling rather sluggish. That's an attractive thought, I hope that I'm not looking sluggish too and giving off sluggish vibes. Although, if I'm honest, I haven't really got the energy or the inclination to care either way, so I don't suppose that it really matters. 

I'm not really sure what the reason for this feeling is, it's possibly just the time of year. Winter has been long and cold this year, at least for New Zealand it has, it's been much more like a UK winter. Although with a distinct lack of central heating and double glazing, it's slightly less tolerable than a UK winter. Everyone being sick hasn't really helped matters either, it's seemed to be one thing after another for the last month or so now, and, to be honest, I've had enough.

Half of the problem is that I've got so much to actually do, there's all the work that I need to get on top of, and then of course there's all the things that I'd like to do but don't have time for. I had such big plans for when A started going to daycare, so much that I was going to get done. But of course, it doesn't actually work like that. I think in the time since she started about two months ago, I've probably only had a handful of full days at home to get things done. 

I really would like to think that as summer comes, I might have a bit more energy and a bit more chance to get things done. The weather keeps teasing me at the minute, one day it will be warm and beautiful and then next cold, wet, grey, and miserable. Just the other week I went for a drive after dropping the kids off and took the photo below. It was stunning, the next day was a completely different story, wet, windy, and generally horrible. Still it at least gives me hope that there's something better on the way.

Lacking motivation

With any luck, I'll be out of the slump soon too, and any resemblance to a slug (be it mentally or physically) will be long gone.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Still life with murder - P.B.Ryan

Still life with murder P.B.Ryan
I think I've said before that as much as I love reading real books, I wouldn't be without my kindle. One of the many great things about it, is that it has allowed me to find books and authors that I would have never come across in a million years. The self-publishing phenomenon which has grown alongside the popularity of e-readers, has it's downsides, there are stories out there that probably should never have been published. On the other hand, there are some wonderful writers who are publishing their own books and reaching an audience that they would never have encountered before. 

One of my favourite books (and authors) to have discovered this way is Still Life With Murder by P.B.Ryan. Actually, I would go a lot further than that, the Nell Sweeney books are some of my favourite books anyway, not just from those I've discovered via my kindle. Reading some of P.B.Ryan's other novels (under the name Patricia Ryan) actually made me realise that I do actually like romance books. Or at least some romance books, there is still a lot of rubbish out there. Modern technology and social media have also helped me find quite a few other authors I enjoy, as self-publishers seem to be quite good at promoting one another. Enough about all of that though, this is supposed to be a review of Still Life with Murder, not some ramble about self-publishing and kindle books.

Still Life With Murder is set in the late 1860's in Boston, America. Our heroine is Nell Sweeney, an Irish girl who has survived a rough beginning to find herself as governess to a wealthy, Boston family. She has become close to her employer, Viola Hewett and when the black sheep of the family, Will Hewitt, who was presumed dead in Andersonville during the American civil war, turns up having been arrested for murder, it's to Nell that Viola turns.

We're taken into the dark underbelly of Boston where whores, drinking, and opium smoking are the order of the day. Nell is in a unique position, being a member of a respectable household, but also having grown up around the darker side of life herself, she is not as delicate and shockable as other members of more respectable society might be. She also has more freedom to visit some of these places and do some investigating. One of the huge draws to this book is Nell, her character is very likeable and well-drawn. I did wonder slightly about how plausible her becoming a governess was, the first time I read this, but it works so well for the story, and I really don't mind suspending belief slightly, it really is a small thing.

The other main character in Still Life With Murder as Will Hewitt. A broken man, dependent on opium and not really caring if he lives or dies. There is something about him that really draws you to him, despite all of his faults. Somewhere hidden under all of the emotional turmoil and mess, is really a good, decent, caring, person. 

I do love a good murder, or, as I should perhaps quickly clarify, a good fictional murder, then trying to find out who-done-it, ideally before the end of the book. This being the third time that I've read Still Life, I already knew who the guilty party was, but it didn't stop me from enjoying the book all the same. The first time I read it, I was kept guessing until the end, but in the spirit of all good murder mysteries, the final reveal worked and didn't leave me thinking 'huh?' 

Even though I've now read this three times, I doubt it will be the last time I read it. I'm looking forward to moving onto the next in the series.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Getting back on track.

Getting back on trackI started doing book reviews on here with a hiss and a roar, after my July blog challenge, things were going along swimmingly. Then August arrived. I don't want to talk about August, but I will say that I'm glad that it's now September. I still find myself deIveloping a tic as I answer the phone, just in case it's the school again asking me to collect another vomiting child. (Shudder, it's been one of those months.)

I haven't felt like blogging, I have been reading, quite a bit, having been ill myself, but I haven't had the motivation to do any reviews. I thought that it was about time to get back into both the blog writing and the book reviews. I have just finished a book, (Zone of Interest by Martin Amis) but, although it was a great book, I just don't feel that the holocaust is a subject that I want to tackle in order to get back into the reviewing thing. 

Last night I needed something else to read, I had got something ready out of the library, but it had been helpfully tidied away somewhere or other by a child, so I needed something else at bedtime. Picking up my trusty kindle, I couldn't resist giving an old favourite another go. I have reviewed this book before, on Amazon, but not on here. Being a favourite, I thought that it might be worth re-reading and then sharing my thoughts on here. 

I shouldn't think that it will take me long, I can't help myself with this one, I'll try to not race through it and race to the end, but I can't promise. Watch this space though, because shortly I shall have a review of Still Life With Murder by P.B. Ryan for you shortly.

Friday, 4 September 2015

To snack or not to snack

To snack or not to snackI've never really been one for snacks between meals, I might very occasionally have a little treat, or if someone's offering me some chocolate, I'm never going to turn that down, but I don't tend to regularly eat between meals. I've also never been really one for offering my kids snacks outside of meal times. I don't know if it's a British thing, or a me thing, but since living in New Zealand, I've certainly noticed that most people here do tend to feed their kids between meals.

Most children, small children in particular, are grazers. Rather than eating three fairly substantial meals a day, they are happier with a lot of smaller meals, or opportunities to eat throughout the day. I have read that even adults might be better off eating like this, rather than the three main meals in the course of the day too. For some reason though, I struggle with the idea of eating between meals, and as a result, tend not to bother or offer the kids extra food.

When we first came over here, I was really quite surprised to find that most kiwi parents will take a stocked lunch box out and about with them for their children, even when it's only a couple of hours and not over a meal time. It's not something that has ever occurred to me, and I don't remember people doing it back home. 

For most New Zealand children and adults, morning and afternoon tea, a break time with food, is a part of every day. (Slight side issue here, morning tea? How can you have morning tea, tea is by definition in the afternoon, but that's a debate for another day.) A mid-morning snack was not something that I ever had at school and the idea of eating as soon as I got in from school would have immediately have been questioned by my Mum, as I'd probably not eat all of my tea that evening.

It's true that we do have a term for  mid-morning snack, elevenses, and that high tea is generally a small meal in the late afternoon in Britain, but I'd always dismiss these as something that maybe the rich do. I wonder if there's more to it than that though? 

Certainly historically speaking, the poorer end of society might not have been able to afford snacks between meals, but perhaps there's a bit more to it than that. I wonder if the impact of the second world war and rationing has had more of an impact on modern life than we realise. If you look at some pre-war books, the likes of Enid Blyton's famous five for example, they do nothing but snack and eat. 

When the war arrived, rationing meant that food was hard to come by, there wasn't this huge amount available anymore. Rationing lasted until nine years after the war, food rationing was lifted in 1954, which in the scheme of things isn't that long ago. I can't help but wonder if that has altered the way that we think about food in Britain? It would definitely have impacted on my parents experience, which they would have passed onto me. 

Maybe that's not the reason at all, maybe I just don't do snacks, I might try to embrace the idea of snacks, I doubt I'll find it too hard.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Fear of the frizz.

Fear of the frizzWhen I was little, I loved the idea of having curly hair, sadly my hair is straighter than straight. If you needed to draw a straight line and you had a ruler or my hair to use to mark it out, my hair would probably give a straighter line, it really is that straight. It wasn't like I didn't try, I remember being a bridesmaid and having my hair in rags all night, to give me ringlets. Ha, ha, ha, of course in the morning I woke up with hair as straight as ever. It just wasn't going to happen. I even had a perm at one point, (oh the shame,) but curly hair was never going to be for me.

My girls though, are different. No doubt when they're older they'll be desperate to have straight hair, it's always the way, you want what you've not got. But I think their hair is beautiful, those lovely curls. It may not be as long as some other girls their age, I may not be able to tie it up very easily, but it's still fantastic hair.

There is, sadly, a huge downside to such lovely hair. Frizz and birds nests. Beautiful curls can, overnight mass together into a solid mass of tangle. It becomes so knotted and tangled that in one night a whole section of the hair just becomes one solid mess that you can't do anything with. Of course, I can't leave it like that. 

Dealing with the curls
The temptation is to get the sheep shears out, clip the whole lot off and start again, well, sort of temptation, I'd never actually do that. No really, I wouldn't... So the alternative is slowly combing it out. I have a tangle teezer, which does make it a bit easier, but it's still a nightmare. Of course, if you brush it too much, then boom, frizz city. There are lots of detangling sprays and products that can help you un-mess these tangles, but I don't really like to use lots of products on their hair, I still don't really use shampoo on any of the kids if I can help it.

I never realised that my hair was so easy to care for. It may just hang there, no matter what I do with it, (and believe me I've tried just about everything). In fact, I've even been known to go out in public without even brushing it in the morning, just because I can. The girls curls are stunning, but they are difficult to care for. I have fear of the frizz!

Monday, 6 July 2015

The haberdashers series - Sue London

I read the first three in the Haberdashers series by Sue London recently and decided that rather than doing one review for each I'd do a bit of a joint review. I should start by saying that regency romance is not something that I'd normally pick. I have a natural aversion to historic fiction, a hangover from my degree, which means that I usually tend to see the faults in it, rather than enjoying the story. In recent years I've got over this a bit, two of my all time favourite romance novels are historical novels, and one of these is actually set in the regency period. Recently I've found myself reading a few regency romances, including this Haberdashers series.

The basic idea behind the series is that as young girls, three friends formed a boy's club and called it the Haberdashers, not realising what it actually meant. Now we join them as young ladies, learning about love and romance...

Trials of Artemis

Trails for Artemis - Sue LondonThe first story starts with us meeting our first haberdasher, Jacqueline, or Jack as she is known to her friends. She finds that her reputation (that most highly guarded virtue for all Regency heroines) is called into question when she is found in the library (quite by accident, wrong place, wrong time) with a devilish rogue. He does what any honourable man would do and they find themselves married in no time at all.

What starts out as a marriage of convenience, turns slowly into true love, with some misunderstandings along the way (this is a romance novel after all). There is a little difference with this novel, compared to others with a similar theme, our heroine is very keen on weapons, and even finds time for a little swashbuckling adventure. It does add a little colour and interest to the story, but I did find it a little far fetched. Of course that's the joy of a novel, it doesn't have to be true to life.

Our hero, Gideon, is a very likeable character, which always helps. He might have a 'colourful' past, but he is more than willing to put that behind him for the woman he loves.

Athena's Ordeal

Athena's Ordeal - Sue London
Of the three in the series that I've read so far, Athena's Ordeal has been my least favourite. There are some good parts to it, but, and unfortunately this is a big but, I didn't really like either of the main characters. Our haberdasher, Sabrina, or as she likes to be called Sabre, (really??) is annoying in the extreme and far too forward for a woman of her time. Our hero, Quincy, is in many ways the stereotypical idle rich boy. He spends far too much time being remote and detached for my liking and the rest of the time he's just down right lazy.

There are a number of sex scenes in this one, which rather that being 'hot' or entertaining are a bit awkward. I suppose it's refreshing in some ways to have a romance novel hero who fumbles and doesn't brandish his 'throbbing love stick' (haven't actually come across that in a book, tend to avoid ones that have the silly euphemisms in them, but you know what I mean) like a master swords man. The main problem though, is that in this case, he's again too lazy and detached and doesn't really even put the effort in.

As I said, this was my least favourite of the three, but it's still worth reading if you've going to give the others a try.

Fates for Apate

Fates for apate - Sue london
Our third haberdasher, Georgiana, or, yes you've guessed it, George as she likes to be known is a spy. She finds herself in Vienna and falling in love with Prussian possible spy Casimir. 

I was a little unfair with this one, scoring it only 3 stars on my kindle, (I know I've been here before, but the whole out of five mark is next to useless in any case) I think it was worth more than a three, but not quite up to a four. Anyway, I did enjoy this much more than the last, which would have been a three.

Again there was a bit of a suspension of disbelief, would a woman have really been a spy? An unmarried woman at that? I really don't know, this is after all a world where a lady found alone in the library with a gentleman has had to marry him, only two books ago...

Our hero Casimir is lovely and George is very likeable, so far so good. The only downside with this one is that is suddenly stops. I was happily reading, turned the page expecting... well something more, some kind of conclusion and there was nothing, it was over. 

I am going to read number four at some point and possibly the novellas, of which there are a number, but perhaps not just yet. I'm a bit haberdashered out right now. I would recommend them as a good, escapist series though, with a little different on offer than your usual Regency Romance novel.