I enjoyed this mystery - a very unpleasant old rich man has invited his family together for Christmas - not for any sentimental reasons, just because I enjoyed this mystery - a very unpleasant old rich man has invited his family together for Christmas - not for any sentimental reasons, just because he's horrible and wants to upset them. He's found murdered, in a locked room and it turns out that pretty much everybody in his family has motive to kill him.
There were several hints speckled throughout the story. It got my cogs turning and although I worked out some of the mystery I hadn't quite got to who the killer was before they were unmasked. On the whole this was a satisfying story, even more so because the person who was murdered was so unpleasant. There is usually a little romance in a Christie mystery and although there is one here it's only very lightly touched on, so that was less satisfying, but a pretty good read nonetheless....more
The book is made up of a load of short stories, which are heavily illustrated in a child-like style, with text interspersed. The chapters range from humorous to touching to plain weird, and many combinations of those. The stories where it works it works so well. There were stories which were absolutely hilarious, and others which brought tears to my eyes from the pathos. However there were also those which were just a bit odd and didn't work for me. I would hesitate to recommend this book, only because it's a bit off the wall and not everybody enjoys that. However, I enjoyed it....more
I think that the first Covid lockdown back in 2020 gave many of us a chance to look at our lives afresh. With having to form social bubbles it became I think that the first Covid lockdown back in 2020 gave many of us a chance to look at our lives afresh. With having to form social bubbles it became clear who our nearest connections were. I became aware of things about my social life that I hadn’t been aware of. For example, most of my social interaction outside my household took place at work. I’d meet with friends at lunchtime and chat with colleagues, only meeting with friends outside worktimes periodically. Over the years of home-making and having children, my social life had dwindled; the friendships that I couldn’t cultivate at work had dropped off one by one and I hadn’t even realised, because I was either busy or tired out. Without daily interaction at work, and not being in the habit of contacting friends regularly outside work I began to feel really lonely and over time this was something I wanted to address which is why I read this book.
Friendship in the Age of Loneliness starts out with the pandemic, and I thought it might be the book that I was looking for. One of the things the book looks at is social media. This gives us the illusion of being connected but it’s something that is really only on a superficial level, and to really feel connected you need to go deeper. I think this is a very true statement, but the question is, how?
The author goes through a lot of examples on this, but I felt that very little of the advice given I could relate to. The ideas would work best for extroverted people, preferably living in San Francisco, with a lot of existing connections, money, spare time, and without children who they also need to make time for or childcare concerns. I felt that many of the ideas would be incredibly uncomfortable for somebody introverted, or somebody who hadn’t reached out in a long time and might feel nervous. The assumption seems to be that you are extroverted and confident, which presumably is the type of person who wouldn’t need to read a book like this!
There were some things which I felt were useful takeaways though, which is that it’s important to reach out, even if you feel it’s been a long time. You need to invest time into relationships for them to be strengthened. It can help to have rituals, to block out regular time for your friendships to keep nurturing them. That it’s important to have friendships with people who are not like you, to learn more and understand better. So although the book didn’t help me on a practical level, I found it interesting on a conceptual level and would rate it as a 3 star read.
* I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for my honest review...more
This is a book of the fairytales told to wizarding children. Some are sweet, others quite dark, but ordinary fairytales they often are very dark when This is a book of the fairytales told to wizarding children. Some are sweet, others quite dark, but ordinary fairytales they often are very dark when you think about it. Each story is followed by notes from Dumbledore. I listened to the audio version, which I'd recommend, I think these type of stories benefit from being enjoyed at a slower pace....more
I thoroughly enjoyed Natalie Jenner’s first book, The Jane Austen Society, which was a fictionalised account of the setting up of the society, which secured Chawton cottage, now the Jane Austen House Museum. One of the characters from that novel, Miss Evie Stone, has progressed from Chawton, through Cambridge, as one of the first women to receive a degree. Evie is talented, intelligent, and a hard worker, but she isn’t part of the inner circle, the old boys network, or even merely male, and these things work against her. She ends up missing out on a research position and through the recommendation of another of the Jane Austen Society, finds herself attending a job interview at Bloomsbury Books in London.
The bookshop is home to six other members of staff, the senior members of staff all being male, regardless of talent. This doesn’t matter to Grace, an oddity in being a working wife, her husband being medically unable to work due to his mental state following the second world war, but Vivien is talented, energetic and ambitious, and it grates so hard on her that she is sidelined purely for her gender: 'Women such as Vivien and Grace had hoped for a fresh beginning for everyone; but five years on, new opportunities for women were still being rationed along with the food. Those in power would always hold on to any excess supply, even to the bitter end.'
The women of Bloomsbury Books have differences, but there is one thing that they have in common. All of them are being held in place by men – Evie has missed out on academic opportunities, Vivien is held back in her job, and in her writerly aspirations and Grace constrained by her husband’s controlling ways and society’s rules. A temporary reorganisation in work means that Vivien has more power. And she is going to use that to her advantage, while staying strictly in line with the 51 rules of Bloomsbury Books.
Aside from earning a crust, Evie has another motive in working for Bloomsbury Books. She is looking for a lost novel by a female author: “I thought you were a scholar of obscure eighteenth-century women writers.”
Evie stared at him. “They’re not obscure. They’re neglected.”
“Sorry.” He smiled. “Obscure sounds deficient. I am corrected.”
One thing I really enjoyed was the building of characters and relationships in this novel. The women are the main characters and they are all sketched out so well. Despite Evie being the character already known from The Jane Austen Society, the other female characters were drawn more vividly for me. I particularly felt for poor Grace, the secretary at the shop, whose private life was so drudgingly sad – a women who married and had children and then realised that the person she had married was not who she had thought. Who was unhappy in her existence as a wife but happy as a mother, and whose husband cast a shadow over her life that she couldn’t escape from. These days divorce can be a financial hardship and affect the children but I would think the societal stigma is minimal, rather than crushing and practically unthinkable as it would have been back in the late 1940s/early 1950s.
Vivien was an interesting character too, very modern in outlook but with a melancholy backstory of loss and class difference. It made me feel aggrieved that women and their contributions have been for so long overlooked.
Although the main characters are undoubtedly the females, we also get to know the male employees of the shop to an extent, and the shop’s owner. There is a very strong feminist streak running through this book. You get the feeling reading this novel that we are on the cusp of change, but knowing how slow change actually is, I found it hard to buy in to some of the events and timescales in the novel, particularly at the end of the story. I enjoyed it but I didn’t really believe it.
There are characters from real life added into the fiction too, such as authors Daphne du Maurier and Samuel Beckett and people from their social circle which was a fun touch.
I found the story extremely readable. Although in some ways the story is slow in building there are many mini interests along the way. There is one particular point in the story where I just HAD to see what was going to happen next even though it was at a tangent to the main plot. It’s lucky nobody tried to take it from me!
I would recommend Bloomsbury Girls to people who enjoy mid 20th century stories, stories about friendship and working together to overcome the odds and a big dash of feminism. I would rate it as a 4 star read.
*This is my honest review of the book, which I read for the blog tour...more
I love both cosy mysteries and Austenesque works, so this book was a must read for me. The Murder of Mr Wickham takes place over 20 years after the close of Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Characters from Austen’s other novels appear at the house party where Mr Wickham meets his grisly fate and the author helpfully sets out at what point in time those books took place, as they have been moved away from their publication dates.
The house party is being hosted by Mr and Mrs Knightley of Donwell Abbey (Emma). They have invited Mr & Mrs Darcy (P&P) plus their eldest son Jonathan, who is aged 20. From Sense & Sensibility we have the recently married Colonel and Mrs Brandon, The Wentworths (Persuasion), who rent Hartfield are there, as are Mr Knightley’s relative Mr Edmund Bertram and his wife Fanny (Mansfield Park). From Northanger Abbey we have the eldest daughter of the Reverend and Mrs Tilney, seventeen year old Miss Julia Tilney. The house party has only just gathered when there is an unexpected and uninvited arrival, Mr Wickham. He is a very unwelcome guest, come to collect money that Mr Knightley’s younger brother has come to owe him following an unsuccessful business transaction. The weather turns, meaning that Mr Wickham is unable to leave due to the road conditions, and less than 36 hours after he arrives at the house he is found struck down.
Austen’s Mr Wickham is not an upstanding character, and this version of Mr Wickham has become worse over time, becoming a con-man with a chip on his shoulder about what he is owed by society. He has encouraged ‘investments’ which only enriched himself but remained just on the correct side of legal, so there is limited chance of redress. Both Captain Wentworth and Mr Knightley’s younger brother have lost significant sums to him. The Darcys obviously have had bad dealings with him in the past but they also have more recent suffering which they blame Wickham for. As time progresses it appears that members of the Brandon and Bertram couples also may have a motive. But who is responsible?
Jonathan Darcy was tending to his horse at the time the body was found, and Juliet Tilney actually makes the discovery of the body. These two, one with an alibi and the other with no knowledge of Wickham, decide to try and investigate, once it becomes clear that the local magistrate, Mr Churchill is likely to blame it on the servants or travellers.
There was a lot to enjoy in this book. It was good to see so many characters from Austen’s works all together. I particularly enjoyed the new characters of Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcy. Juliet is as imaginative and compassionate as her mother but far less naïve than seventeen year old Catherine was. My main love, however, is held for Jonathan Darcy. I just adored this character. He lives in a world of rules that he obeys but doesn’t really see the point of. He is certainly written as neuro divergent, probably as somebody with Asperger’s. How close this is to a faithful portrayal of a person with high functioning Autism I don’t know. He has to spend mental energy on masking and fitting in, and is aware of how often his intentions are misunderstood. He is much relieved when he realises that he can be open with Juliet and still be accepted. "It is peculiar of course," Miss Tilney said, "but my mother has often told me that most people are really very peculiar, once you get to know them. The only difference is in how well we hide our peculiarities."
As for the couples, there is sadness and misunderstanding between most of them, for various reasons, which is quite sad, although we and they work towards a path of greater understanding during the time of their stay at Donwell Abbey. I felt a little bit sad and worried for whoever had murdered Wickham, as I was sorry to think of any of them having to face the consequences of their crime!
Some of the details seemed a little off to me, such as Sir Thomas Bertram being a lord rather than a baronet, and I don’t think that Frank Churchill would have lived in Highbury – he was definitely headed for the family seat in Yorkshire directly after his marriage although it’s possible that he may have headed back south if his uncle died soon after the aunt. I also felt that some of the language used came over as too modern or US English.
I usually like to sleuth along with a cosy mystery (with variable success) but I didn’t get anywhere with this book, as the opportunity of killing Wickham was there for a number of people to have taken so it still could have gone a number of ways at the dénouement.
I have read another mystery/Austenesque story, Death Comes to Pemberley, and so of course this story comes to mind when reading The Murder of Mr Wickham, although Wickham was suspect rather than victim in that. DCtP is much more of a police procedural than a cosy mystery, so we get to see a lot more of the characters in TMoMW.
Although the murder is solved and wrapped up in this story I wonder whether Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney may meet again… is there the possibility of a sequel? I would love to meet these particular characters again! This is an extremely readable book which I found hard to put down. And I love Jonathan Darcy, did I convey that in my review?!!!! I’d rate this a 4 star read.
* I received an ebook of this story from Netgalley for my honest review as part of the blog tour for the book...more
Although this is a series of fourteen books I’ve actually only read the last three, including this one. The ‘Being a Jane Austen Mystery’ series puts Jane Austen as a sleuth, intermingling fictional murder mysteries into her known real-life movements.
The first thing to know is that the year without a summer is not a bit of dramatic embellishment by the author but actually a real event; 1816 had a colder than usual summer globally, due to volcanic ash. There were crop failures due to the cold summer. Another thing to bear in mind with this novel is the timeline. Jane Austen died in July 1817, just over a year after this novel is set (May-June 1816, during a trip Austen took with her sister Cassandra, to Cheltenham Spa, as she had been feeling unwell with the disease that would eventually take her life). So in a way the incessant bad weather provides a sympathetic background as the reader knows that Austen is beginning to face her last days: I spoke with determined cheerfulness, for in all truth I have not been feeling very stout of late, and at my sister Cassandra’s urging had at last sought the advice of the Alton apothecary. Lassitude, a want of spirits, and a persistent pain in my back dogged me throughout the winter months.
At the spa, Jane will come to meet a mix of characters and get involved in a mystery. The characters that she meets are actually quite an unlikeable bunch! She will also become reacquainted with Mr Raphael West, an artist who has featured in the last few ‘Being a Jane Austen Mystery’ books. Surprisingly he was a real person, although I am not aware of him having known Miss Austen, much less having a friendship with her.
As for the mystery, I really enjoyed it. The pace is relatively slow but even and in keeping with a realistic course of events. Although I was pretty certain what had happened before the reveal, that wasn’t really the point of the exercise, I felt like I was enjoying the mystery along the way with Jane.
The big bonus with these books is that they are told in Jane’s voice and I really enjoyed Ms Barron’s take on her character. She is humorous, self-deprecating and very sharp; I loved Jane’s ‘voice’.
There were nods in some of the text to Austen’s works. Some of these worked better than others for me. There is some wording used which came from Austen’s books which were published at this time and in some cases didn’t feel natural, but there were some resemblances to some of her characters which I enjoyed. In one of the previous books in the series I thought that Austen’s sister in law Mary bore a strong resemblance to Mary Musgrove from Persuasion. In this book Jane’s brother James could have been the model for Mr Collins from Pride & Prejudice:
“I blame my father—may he rest in peace, poor soul. He ought never to have encouraged your writing; the female mind is too weak to support the rigors of composition, and must necessarily fall into vice.”
“I apprehend you have been composing your sermon, James.” I beamed at him with unruffled serenity.
This episode of the series was a little bit melancholy, which was inevitable as the reader knows that Jane’s time is running out. On the flip side many of the characters were quite unlikeable, so I didn’t mind the bad things happening to them so much – if I’d have liked them more I might have struggled, so I thought the balance was good!
One thing I really appreciated were the notes added in by the author to highlight things which were facts. I love learning history through stories but sometimes you can’t tell what is fact and what is fiction, so having the facts highlighted for me saves me looking it up later!
There appears to be scope for at least one more book, which is another sad thought, because I like this series. I’d recommend reading Jane and the Year Without a Summer if you enjoy mysteries and Jane Austen as a character. Although it’s part of a series you could read it as stand alone with few difficulties. This is my favourite one I’ve read so far and I’ll rate it as a 5 star read....more
One of the joys of still being in touch with school friends is that you are often going through similar stages in life at the same time. We've been thOne of the joys of still being in touch with school friends is that you are often going through similar stages in life at the same time. We've been through the clubbing days, house buying and babies, and a while ago when I met up with some school friends they were talking about perimenopause! To be forewarned is to be forearmed, so when this was on kindle daily deal I picked it up.
This book sets out the wide range of symptoms that can be attributable to menopause (and there are a LOT) and the things in your body that can be affected by a reduction in hormones (pretty much everything). Dr Newson is a HUGE advocate of HRT, which is no longer made from horse wee like it used to be (gross) and is now much better and without some of the health risks it used to have.
One point Dr Newson makes, which I think is a fair one, is that in olden times once you hit menopause you were pretty much at the age that you would die so the health effects wouldn't be lasting; thankfully, these days that is not the case, and there is no need to spend half your life hormone deficient. This is especially important in light of the fact that hormones affect so much in our bodies including our memories, chance of dementia, bone density etc. etc. Just because your ancestors got through without HRT doesn't mean that you should have to unless you wish to - progress means we can do things differently.
I get the impression that things are improving in terms of menopause awareness and the care provided, but Dr Newson gives advice on how you can best prepare for a doctor's appointment in terms of recording your symptoms etc, and giving you the heads up on how mild depression brought on by menopause won't be solved by anti-depressants and how you can push back against doctors trying to prescribe this. There is also a free app (balance), which I haven't tried, but appreciate that it's there to help back up your requests to doctors.
On the whole I thought this was a good book. Dr Newson explains many things simply. If you are looking for a drug-free menopause book look somewhere else though as this strongly pushes HRT - the rationale is explained so I don't have an issue with this, just flagging for those who may be looking for an alternative approach.
I felt like I went away from this book knowing a lot more than when I began so on that basis I'd recommend this book....more
This is a book looking at Jane Austen’s works as a guide to life, from a Catholic perspective. Although I would call myself a Christian, and was baptised Catholic, I didn’t have a religious upbringing, so am not coming at this book from a Catholic perspective. Austen was not Catholic, but was obviously born at a time when religion was much more a part of everyday life. When you think of some of the clergymen she wrote (Mr Elton in Emma and Pride & Prejudice’s Mr Collins, for example) you could be forgiven for thinking that she didn’t hold religion in high regard but I believe that she held hypocritical clergymen in low regard. Austen is known to have written prayers and I think had a belief in God. Moreover, I think she had a belief that it was important to have a moral code and improve yourself. When you think of her novels, most of them have a strong correlation between good morals and good outcomes.
I love Austen’s novels for the fact that we have realistic good and bad in the characters – at the time most heroines were tiresomely perfect, and Austen’s heroines had flaws, while her less admirable characters also have redeeming characteristics. Some characters, like Marianne in S&S, learn to behave differently, and this helps on her road to happiness. Others, like Lydia Bennet in P&P or Maria Bertram in MP, behave outside the moral code, don’t change their ways are punished by their outcomes.
Austen’s villains make excuses, view the world through a fog of selfishness, and are incapable of loving other people well. They are in a hell of their own making – and without contrition and transformation, they will stay there.
Ms Stewart looks at the 6 main novels of Austen and looks at the lessons we can learn from them in detail, relating them to everyday modern life events.
One of the things that I think make Austen’s novels so timeless is that they are about people, rather than events, which are universal, and the author looks at many of their faults, and what we could learn about ourselves from reading Austen’s books.
Do you have those trustworthy Mr. Knightleys in your life? Do you have people who will call you out because they love you?
As highlighted in the book description, focus is put on each of the novels and how Austen’s novels teach us how to cultivate the virtues of humility, compassion, temperance, constancy, fortitude and prudence.
One aspect I liked is that the author mentions the novels having moments of ‘undeception’, where usually the heroine, but sometimes the hero realises where they have been wrong. This hadn’t occurred to me, but it was interesting to think of the moments in each novel with this in mind.
Dante’s The Divine Comedy was mentioned many times, almost as though it was as important as the Bible. I am not sure how this work is regarded in Catholic culture but the author seems to think that we should be aware of it and agree with it. I looked it up after reading and it seems to be a work from 1320 which was hugely successful in its time and centuries after. It has had a lot of influence on popular conceptions of hell.
At the end of the book there are book discussion questions, and summaries of the six main novels for those who were unfamiliar with the works, which I thought were a useful addition.
I enjoyed reading this book. It gave me food for thought. There are some religious themes and comments such as working towards becoming the person God wants you to be, but I think that should be expected in a book that is billed clearly as being Catholic. I’d rate this as a 4 star read.
* I received an ebook of this title from Netgalley for my honest review....more