What did I read in February 2021?

As things in my personal life continued to take their toll-I used reading as an escape from reality.

Reading was my escape and refuge.

        Troubled Blood By J.K Galbraith.

Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough — who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974.

Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike.

As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . . 

My review

I have mixed feelings about this brick of a book. At 900+ pages it is a lot to read. It could have been edited to a more manageable length without losing much. I did finish the book, but frequently I was lost in the morass of clues, diagrams, astrological and mystical information. The case is complex, at times horribly graphic and disturbing. I might have stopped reading, but I was intrigued by the developing relationship between Strike and Robin. Also, I suspect any woman who has been subjected to unwanted male attention will feel for Robin dealing with a crass male. But I admit I felt sullied after reading this and doubt I will read another Strike novel. I needed to read something lighter and more cheerful, so I picked up a mid-grade novel.

The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle by Gabrielle Kent.

 An exciting story of magic, adventure and a mysterious inheritance. Perfect for fans of ENID BLYTON, ROALD DAHL, and J K ROWLING.

Alfie Bloom’s life is dull. Dull and lonely, and this summer is set to be the most boring yet. All of that changes when he is summoned to the bizarre offices of mysterious solicitor, Caspian Bone, where he discovers he has inherited a castle full of wonders that has been sealed for centuries. Alfie is astounded to learn he was born in that very castle six hundred years ago during a magical timeslip. There, Orin Hopcraft, the last of the druids hid an ancient magic inside him, which others seek but should never be used. With the help of his cousins Madeleine and Robin, and Artan the flying bearskin rug, Alfie must keep the magic from terrifying adversaries and ensure that the secrets of Hexbridge castle stay secret, forever!

My Review

An exciting mid-grade book with lots to like. After all, who wouldn’t want to inherit a castle? Alfie’s life is humdrum and boring, but that is about to change. He receives a letter from Caspian Bone, a Lawyer inviting him to call to discuss his inheritance. This is Hexbridge castle and there is far more to the castle than meets the eye. Not everything is perfect. His new school Wrymwald House’s joint headmistresses, the Misses Murkle and Snitch, are renowned for their bizarre punishments, as well as their ability to bamboozle parents. There is far more to the castle than meets the eye. Alfie and his friends will be tested to the limit, as they battle to save the castle, the village, and themselves.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.

Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder. 

My Review.

It seems to me that Anthony Horowitz had fun writing this. His fictional detective Atticus Pund is the creation of an unlikable writer, Alan Conway. Few mourn his death, but he has left a fictional puzzle with his last book. Susan Ryeland, his editor wants to track down the last chapter. In doing so she puts herself in danger as the fictional world impinges on the real world. Adding veracity to the tale is the supposed interview from the Spectator magazine between Anthony Horowitz and Alan Conway. Horowitz exercises his considerable talents with wordplay, anagrams, puzzles and extraneous information. A tour de force.

Never Judge a Lady  By Her Cover by Sarah MacLean Award-winning author Sarah MacLean reveals the identity of The Fallen Angel’s final scoundrel in the spectacular conclusion to her New York Times bestselling Rules of Scoundrels series . . .

By day, she is Lady Georgiana, sister to a duke, ruined before her first season in the worst kind of scandal. But the truth is far more shocking–in London’s darkest corners, she is Chase, the mysterious, unknown founder of the city’s most legendary gaming hell. For years, her double identity has gone undiscovered . . . until now.

Brilliant, driven, handsome-as-sin Duncan West is intrigued by the beautiful, ruined woman who is somehow connected to a world of darkness and sin. He knows she is more than she seems, and he vows to uncover all of Georgiana’s secrets, laying bare her past, threatening her present, and risking all she holds dear . . . including her heart. 

Hardcover, Large Print, 613 pages

Published July 8th 2015 by Thorndike Press (first published November 25th 2014)

The author was recommended to me as someone who wrote whip-smart dialogue. I picked up the first title I saw, not realising at first that it was part of a series. It didn’t matter, the story although improbable, was entertaining and easy to follow. It had the readability factor which kept me entertained, even as my critical faculties were querying the implausibility of the plot. Just what I needed, pure entertainment.

My One True North by Milly Johnson From the bestselling author of the “glorious, heartfelt” (Rowan Coleman, New York Times bestselling author) novel The Magnificent Mrs Mayhew comes a warm-hearted tale about two people brought together by fate.

Laurie and Pete should never have met. But life has a different idea.

Six months ago, on the same night, Laurie and Pete both lost their partners. Overwhelmed by their grief, they join the same counselling group…and change their lives forever.

From their profound sadness, Pete and Laurie begin to find happiness and healing. Except, the more they get to know one another, the more Laurie begins to spot the strange parallels in their stories. Then Pete discovers a truth that changes everything—one which threatens to reverse everything they’ve worked towards.

But, as surely as a compass points north, some people cannot be kept apart.

With Milly Johnson’s signature “warm, optimistic, and romantic” (Katie Forde, bestselling author) style, My One True North is an unforgettable exploration of the power of love, friendship, and hope.

Paperback, 400 pages .Published July 23rd 2020 by Simon & Schuster UK

My Review.

I had requested this book from my local library a while back. By chance, it arrived after a death in my family. I debated whether to read it, would it be too depressing? I didn’t think Milly Johnson could write a depressing book, so I gave it a go. I laughed, and I cried, the characters were real to me. Laurie, the young solicitor, is aware that something was missing from her marriage. Fireman Pete is traumatized after attending the accident where his wife had died. Leavening what could have been a very sad story, were the extracts and malapropisms from The Daily Trumpet newspaper. A wonderful support group and a psychic who is amazed, to discover her powers are real, all propel the story forward to the desired happy ending, but not before a few surprises along the way.

A  Year at Castle Court by Holly Hepburn.

 The brand new novel from bestselling author Holly Hepburn, perfect for anyone who loves Jenny Colgan, Veronica Henry and Lucy Diamond. A Year at Castle Court is Holly Hepburn’s four Castle Court e-novellas collected together as a novel for the first time. 

Sadie is a single mum, nursing a broken heart. Her best friend from childhood, Cat, is burned out from working long hours as a chef in Paris. In need of a change, they decide to invest in their dream – running their own handmade biscuit shop in gorgeous Castle Court, a three-storey food court tucked away behind Chester’s bustling streets.
 
They soon discover that Castle Court has its own community – a little haven of delight against the stresses of the outside world. But not everyone welcomes the new business; the patisserie owner is less than pleased by what she sees as direct competition and Greg, who runs the fancy bistro that dominates one end of the courtyard, doesn’t think Sadie and Cat have the talent or business acumen to succeed. Luckily, there’s support in the form of the delectable Jaren, who owns the Dutch waffle house opposite Smart Cookies, and Swiss chocolate-shop owner, Elin. And if all else fails, the friends can drown their sorrows in Sebs cocktail bar on the third floor!


Paperback, 400 pages

A book, a coffee and time to read.

Published July 23rd 2020 by Simon & Schuster UK

A new author to add to my list. I found it an enjoyable read and it increased my pleasure that it was set in Chester, UK. The story flowed well, as Sadie and Cat began to establish their custom-made biscuit shop. In Castle Court, they find both friendship and rivalry and events that will challenge and change them.

A Home Away from Home by Veronica Henry.

Sunshine, cider and family secrets…

Dragonfly Farm has been a home and a haven for generations of Melchiors – arch-rivals to the Culbones, the wealthy family who live the other side of the river. Life there is dictated by the seasons and cider-making, and everyone falls under its spell.

For cousins Tabitha and Georgia, it has always been a home from home. When a tragedy befalls their beloved great-uncle Matthew, it seems the place where they’ve always belonged might now belong to them…

But the will reveals that a third of the farm has also been left to a total stranger. Gabriel Culbone has no idea why he’s been included, or what his connection to the farm – or the Melchiors – can be.

As the first apples start to fall for the cider harvest, will Dragonfly Farm begin to give up its secrets?

A Home from Home is the very best of Veronica Henry’s storytelling – gorgeous scenes you wish you could step into, a cast of characters who feel like friends, and an irresistibly feel-good family drama crossing three generations.

I generally enjoy books by this author, and this was no exception. I was drawn in immediately by the delightfully named Dragonfly Farm. The warm and sheltering home for generations of Melchior’s. They live across the river from their rivals the Culbones. A long-ago feud means there is bad blood between the families.  Dragonfly Farm is under threat as their uncle’s will has thrown up an unsettling surprise. Tabitha calls the farm home, and it is her cousin Georgia’s second home. They are shocked to learn that a third share of the farm has been left to a Culbone. What possessed Uncle Matthew to do that? The past must be explored to reveal the reasons for this decision.


Author: soniabellhouse

Sonia Bellhouse is the author of Fire & Ice, a Scandi-timeslip romance about ice dancing, Norway and Vikings. She is also a contributor to Passages, a short story anthology and a contributor to Writing the Dream, an anthology for published writers both published by Serenity Press. In 2012she won two major awards in the inaugural Rockingham Short Fiction contest. Sonia's articles and stories are published in various magazines both in Australia and the UK. These include Good reading, Today's Bride, That's Life! and That's Life! Fast Fiction in Australia and Yours, The People's Friend and Best of British in the Uk. Sonia worked as a book reviewer for two years. An avid reader and writer of multiple genres she facilitated a local book club for eleven years. She reluctantly decided to give it up, to concentrate on her writing. Sonia is a long time member of a writers group, regularly engaging authors to present workshops to the group. Sonia enjoys catching up with friends, ignoring the ironing in favour of playing with her cat and learning new things. She's taken several online courses with Future Learn and The University of Iowa for both writing and non-writing topics.