Sunday, 30 November 2014

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Amelia Peabody is Victorian spinster who suddenly comes into wealth and independence on her father's death.  Although her father was rather distant he gave her an excellent classical education, the ability to speak several languages and an urge to see the world.  Bemused by the sudden interest shown in her somewhat limited charms by the men around her, she sets off on her travels with her forthright nature and a sturdy parasol. When the grand tour reaches Rome, she encounters Evelyn, a lady in reduced and compromised circumstances.  As Amelia is tired of being let down by her feeble companion and annoying maid, she decides that Evelyn will make a very suitable companion on her further travels into Egypt.  Amelia finds her spiritual home in Egypt and becomes a keen student of archaeology with a particular penchant for pyramids.  During their stay in Cairo they meet the Emerson brothers, the mannered Walter, who immediately charms Evelyn, and the older, irascible Radcliffe.  Evelyn's past catches up with her through her faithless lover Alberto and her cousin Lucas who wants to marry her to restore her good name and wealth after the death of her estranged grandfather the Earl of Ellesmere.  To avoid these distractions they take off on a dahabeeyah to journey down the Nile where they stop off at Armana, home of the heretic king, Akhenaten.  Here they find the Emersons' dig, but Radcliffe is seriously ill with a fever.  Amelia takes charge and nurses him back to health but they are disturbed by the wanderings of a nocturnal mummy.  The ghostly mummy spreads terror amongst the local workers, but despite strenuous efforts to catch it, the mummy appears invincible.  The atmosphere becomes threatening and tensions rise further when Lucas arrives and unsettles the early romance between Evelyn and Walter. Amelia finds the antagonistic relationship between herself and Emerson a source of frustration and something else.  Why does it appear that the mummy is after Evelyn and who will get the upper hand between Amelia and Emerson?

I have read all the Amelia Peabody books numerous times and although I've always meant to review them, I just never got around to it.  After re-visiting the whole series a couple of times a few years ago on audiobook (by the amazing Barbara Rosenblatt) I've started it all over again and might even manage to get them on my blog!  I tried a few years ago to do this but never managed to complete reviews on the first few of the series.

I found Amelia completely by accident in a London Waterstone's about fifteen years ago and was totally converted!  I love the series, they are all keepers, and even though some are  better than others and I have a few absolute favourites...I will probably rate them all as 5 star!  Every now and then I revisit and wallow in the exciting lives of the Emersons...I'm just sooo jealous, as it's a life I would love to be in!

The book is written as Amelia's journal, so it's all in first person.  Her humour and strong views are immediately apparent, it also allows for her to digress into rants about the failings of men, social climbers and other irritants.  This first outing for Amelia does take a while to get going as there's a fair bit of necessary explanation and scene setting.  She's an aged spinster (32 years old!) who describes herself as black haired, steely eyed and well endowed where it isn't fashionable.  She's a no nonsense, straight speaking busybody who pushes her way in where she isn't necessarily wanted, usually with her parasol and I think she's fab! Resigned to spinsterhood, her questioning of Evelyn is typical and sums up her attitude completely.  She contrasts with the soft, sweet natured and fairly naive Evelyn, who has been badly used by her Italian lover.  Although she could come across as wet, she isn't too saccharine and is a good foil to Amelia's less engaging personality traits.
Emerson is a huge character in all ways!  With his caustic, rather bullying manner he has the potential to be a rather unlikable character, but once in Armana with the ongoing sparring between him and Amelia he shows a more considerate side.  Obviously he's meant to be hugely attractive, all bluff but with a kind heart and the fact that he sees through Amelia's rather spiky persona also makes him more agreeable.  Walter is fairly thinly characterised and through the series doesn't seem to get much stronger...although his declaration of love is really sweet! The more bookish and even tempered brother he is the complete opposite of Emerson.

Peters rich detail and accurate portrayal of Egyptian antiquities and archaeological methodology demonstrate her expertise in this area and make it a joy. 

This series have become my perfect comfort read ...a pleasurable wallow into romance, mystery and Egypt when I need a bit of escapism.  Probably not for everyone, but I love them!

A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore


Fay Knox, a talented musician, was born on the day that World War II started.  She doesn’t remember her early childhood or her father, who she was told was killed in the air raid that destroyed their London home and prompted the move to a Norfolk village with her mother Kitty.  A school trip to France triggers feelings of déjà vu, but several years later the opportunity to perform with an orchestra in Paris finally prompts Kitty to give her a clue to enable her to unravel her family history.

I love everything that Rachel Hore has written and so was desperate to read her latest. It’s a great read, although (mildly embarrassed shrug) I didn’t love it as much as some of her earlier novels.  The atmospheric story of Kitty and Gene living in Nazi occupied Paris, where ordinary people showed such bravery was gripping and heart-breaking.  I loved those sections and the build up to the sacrifices and quiet heroism of some characters was so moving; but as I got further into the story I was less interested in Fay and didn’t really warm to her part in the narrative.

It’s a well written, complex book and Kitty is a fantastic character, just a shame I didn’t rate her daughter as highly!

Thank you to the publishers, netgalley and Good Housekeeping Magazine for the review copy.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Indian Summer by Marcia Willett

I haven’t read anything by this author before, so wasn’t sure what to expect. 

Retired actor Mungo lives in the Devon village that he grew up in.  This idyllic setting attracts the various characters as the perfect place to getaway and reflects on their lives and choices.  Long hidden secrets are stirred to the surface

I found it a bit of a slow burner but became drawn in however, on reflection, not a lot actually happens.  That’s not a problem as it is beautifully written infused with the feel of long hot days in a lovingly described setting.  The “secret” adds some darkness and tension but it is the engaging characters and their relationships that makes the book work. I particularly liked Mungo, for his loyalty, humour and willingness to use his talents to protect the young mum Emma.

It’s well worth a read, I enjoyed it and I’ll look out for other books by this author.

Thank you to the publishers and netgalley for my review copy.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

A Place For Us - Part Four by Harriet Evans


Well, all I can say is that it all comes to a very satisfying end where everything falls into place.  Overall, I loved it!  I was desperate to read the final section to see how everything was resolved and I wasn’t disappointed.

I’m still not a fan of instalments and would have preferred to read it as a whole book.  I think the whole is greater than its parts and I’d probably rate it as a 4.5.  It’s a well written, engaging family saga and one I’d recommend, but I’m not giving anything else away.

Thank you to netgalley and Headline for my review copy.