Book Review: The Beekeeper’s Promise (*****)

I am a 10 Book Reviewer on Net Galley!

And here’s another one. I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

THE BEEKEEPER’S PROMISE

by Fiona Valpy

I was intruiged by the blurb on Net Galley:

Heartbroken and hoping for a new start, Abi Howes takes a summer job in rural France at the Château Bellevue. The old château echoes with voices from the past, and soon Abi finds herself drawn to one remarkable woman’s story, a story that could change the course of her summer—and her life.

In 1938, Eliane Martin tends beehives in the garden of the beautiful Château Bellevue. In its shadow she meets Mathieu Dubosq and falls in love for the first time, daring to hope that a happy future awaits. But France’s eastern border is darkening under the clouds of war, and history has other plans for Eliane…

When she is separated from Mathieu in the chaos of German occupation, Eliane makes the dangerous decision to join the Resistance and fight for France’s liberty. But with no end to the war in sight, her loyalty to Mathieu is severely tested.

It definitely sounded like my kind of book – I am always interested to read about ordinary people during World War II, often contemplating what would I have done, had I been in the situation? Of course, being set in France there was an added interest for me, as I live in France, although not in the area in which the story is based.

I have to say, I loved it! I finished it in about three days, as I found it difficult to put down – in fact, I was reading until half past midnight last night, because I wanted (and didn’t want!) to finish it. It is well written; perhaps not with the same lyrical prose as Patrick Gale (another of my five star authors) but there were certainly enough beautifully written passages to make me pause to enjoy reading them. The author writes with a real sense of place (Roxana Nastase please take note!) and she made me believe that such a place as Coulliac exists; I could imagine the village, the chateau, the moulin. She obviously loves France, and this shines through her writing.

The characters too were believable – perhaps some of the German soldiers were a little too nice, but there must have been many decent people in the army, who despised what they were being ordered to do, so presumably there were officers who were sympathetic towards the French people. I also liked the fact that these weren’t great heroic Resistance fighters, but ordinary people doing their little bit towards the opposition of their invaders. I liked both main characters very much, and I had no real preference towards the present day story, or the wartime narrative. Both were sympathetically written, and I very much liked the thread of bees that ran through the story. I find bees a very attractive creature.

gratuitous picture of bee and sunflower

While I had a reasonably good idea of how the story was going to end, and how the two narratives would be drawn together, there was enough suspense to keep it interesting.

All in all, I would thoroughly recommend this book, and, like the other reviewers on Net Galley, I give it five stars. I would be interested in reading other books by the same author.

*****

Sorry there’s been a lot of book reviews at the moment: I suppose I’m getting in all my reading while I have the desire to read. When I’m in recovery mode from chemo, I don’t feel like reading, so there’s about 7 – 10 days when I don’t read, giving me another 10 days to catch up! And, with Net Galley there’s always a constant supply of free reading material! What’s not to like!? The only obligation is to write a review, but that’s not a great burden: after all, it gives me the subject for a blog post!!

Advertisements

Book Review: McNamara series Set 1 (* if I’m feeling generous)

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

It’s not often I abandon a book, especially one where I feel under some obligation, as I do here. As I was sent this free of charge, I should uphold my side of the bargain. However, almost from the beginning I struggled with this book, for a variety of reasons.

The main reason I found this book difficult to read is that, quite honestly, it isn’t very well written. The characters are wooden, badly described, and unbelievable. They don’t speak with any conviction, or natural speech patterns – for example, when McNamara arrives at the crime scene, one junior police officer says to another: Look out, he’s mad, Jo. Look at his gait. Something’s got under his hat. We’re in trouble, listen to me. You know how volatile he is and anything could happen when he’s like that” If you try reading that aloud, it doesn’t trip neatly off the tongue, which makes me feel nobody would actually say that.

The author spends three paragraphs (three!!) describing the weather, in great detail, which actually has no bearing on the plot. I frankly don’t care that the weather in Edinburgh has been unseasonably warm, but the nights are getting cooler, although people are not yet “piling a lot of clothes on” they will be doing so in a couple of weeks. SO WHAT?!

In one scene, where there are just two people, C.I. McNamara and Bryony, the love interest, the author seems to struggle to find ways to describe who is doing which action. In my opinion, I would have generally stuck with he/she/ Bryony / McNamara or relied onthe intelligence of the reader to work out who was doing what. But instead, we have “the C.I.”/”the man” / “the lass” – all of which seemed clumsy and unnecessary. In a fairly intimate scene, the use of “the man” (when we know who “the man” is) seems really strange.

There are also some very odd turns of phrase which really annoyed me:

When describing the arrival of McNamara at the crime scene: “He was far from his usual slightly grumpy mood, which seemed like a sunshine now” (what?!)

The young policewoman wonders if her boss had been with somebody special:  He wouldn’t have cared a fig if he had been on a regular date” (there seems to be an obsession with dried fruit here!)

The grumpy McNamara says to a young woman: “You’ll have to wait for him for a while, if you sat your cap for him” (Bad grammar, incorrect vocabulary, and incorrect phrasal verb. Plus, who speaks like that nowadays?!)

I also feel that we came into this story, which I understand is the first of the series, in the middle of the narrative. It refers to characters (such as Mrs Somebody “the old bat next door”) already met and events that happened previously, which left me very confused. I realise that it’s necessary to have a back story, but it needs to be introduced in a way that is much more subtle, and doesn’t leave the reader frustrated.

In the notes about the author, she apparently fell in love with Scotland which is why she set her stories in Edinburgh. In which case, it might make sense to use Scottish, or at least British, words. “Parking lot”? I don’t think so. There were other American expressions used which jarred. Throwing in the odd “lass” does not convince me that this is set anywhere specific. The phrase “she lived…in the village situated in the north of Edinburgh” tells me that little, or no research has been done. A hint for the author: read the Rebus series if you want to know how to write with a sense of place. You can tell that Ian Rankin knows his city like the back of his hand.

I finally (and literally!) tossed my Kindle from me in disgust when I came across another sentence that made no sense to me. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back: “Each house sported three floors and each floor accommodated one flat, which left people wonder if the flats were spacious enough.” WHAT?!

In the end, I don’t know if this book is badly written or badly edited. Whichever it is, by the end of Chapter 5 I was so infuriated that I stopped reading. One star. Avoid like the plague.

Book Review: Women of the Dunes (****)

I was sent a copy of this e-book, free of charge (yay!) by Net Galley, in return for an honest review.

WOMEN OF THE DUNES

by Sarah Maine

The “blurb” made this book sound quite intruiging: From the author of the acclaimed novels The House Between Tides and Beyond the Wild River, a rich, atmospheric tale set on the sea-lashed coast of west Scotland, in which the lives of a ninth-century Norsewoman, a nineteenth-century woman, and a twenty-first-century archeologist weave together after a body is discovered in the dunes.

Libby Snow has always felt the pull of Ullaness a lush Scottish island enshrouded in myth and deeply important to her family. Her great-great-grandmother Ellen was obsessed with the strange legend of Ulla, a Viking maiden who washed up on shore with the nearly lifeless body of her husband—and who inspired countless epic poems and the island’s name.

Central to the mystery is an ornate chalice and Libby, an archaeologist, finally has permission to excavate the site where Ulla is believed to have lived. But what Libby finds in the ancient dunes is a body from the Victorian era, clearly murdered…and potentially connected to Ellen.
What unfolds is an epic story that spans centuries, with Libby mining Ellen and Ulla’s stories for clues about the body, and in doing so, discovering the darker threads that bind all three women together across history.

Infused with Sarah Maine’s signature “meticulous research and descriptive passages of lush, beautiful landscapes” (Publishers Weekly), Women of the Dunes is a beautifully told and compelling mystery for fans of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams.  

I really enjoyed the book, finding most of the characters interesting and engaging. The main story is woven around Libby and the family of landowners that are involved in her archaeological dig. She has familial links to the area, and as the story plays out we find out what exactly happened on the peninsular those hundreds of years ago. The interweaving of the three stories is well done, and although I found Ellen to be a slightly annoying character, not quite believing her obsession with the ancient legend, I found myself reluctant to put the book down – always a good sign.

I’m not sure I’d call it a “mystery” – with the legend of Ulla and her deadly entanglement with two brothers signalled from the beginning, it wasn’t hard to guess what had happened in the Victorian mystery part of the story. However, the story romped along at a good pace, and it was well-written. I’d certainly be happy top read other books by this author, and if I’d paid for this book, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

This merits a good, solid 4 stars. The date for publication of this novel is 24th July 2018

Book Review: Dressed for Death in Burgundy ** and a half

I was sent this e-book free of charge (yay!) by Netgalley in return for an honest review.

DRESSED FOR DEATH IN BURGUNDY

by Susan C. Shea

Excuse me while I yawn from sheer tedium. That’s better….

Apparently Catriona McPherson, award-winning author of the Dandy Gilver series, says of this book: Not since my first visit to Louise Penny’s Three Pines, have I encountered a more beguiling fictional world than Susan Shea’s Reigny-Sur-Cannes. With an engaging cast, the rare realistic depiction of a good, modern marriage, a sideways look at a budding mystery-writer, and a real head-scratcher of a murder plot, Dressed for Death in Burgundy is a box of delights!”  I’m afraid this only serves to make me think I have to avoid Louise Penny’s “Three Pines” if Ms McPherson thinks it’s as good as this book. Which I thought was dire.

Although other reviewers think that the descriptions of the French countryside are charming, I’m afraid I found them cutesy and unrealistic – nothing like the French countryside I live in! – and the two main characters really annoyed me. Katherine, a fifty-something American artist (who appeared to do anything she could to actually avoid painting ) and Pippa, who was apparently an author of murder mysteries, but behaved like a 13 year old from an Enid Blyton book, bumbling around like an over grown puppy and “looking for clues” . The two of them discovered information which they did not hand over to the police, and were really irritating!

I certainly wouldn’t call it a “head scratcher of a plot” – I will admit I didn’t guess who dunnit, but by the time we discovered I couldn’t have cared less! Very little seemed to happen, except for Katherine and Pippa returning endlessly – and uselessly – to the scene of the crime to bemoan the fact that there were no clues, (except for those they’d picked up and refused to tell the police about) and then to trot off to have café crèmes in the local bistro. Or buy chocolates and marzipan sweets in the chocolate shop. Finally, it was the police who worked out who the murderer was, without the help of our two hapless “heroines”, who just seemed to get in the way.

This has an average of 4 stars on the NetGalley site, and I honestly can’t understand why. I’m giving it 2.5 stars – it isn’t quite as bad as the book I gave 2 stars to, but as NetGalley doesn’t allow half stars I’m definitely rounding this one down. In my opinion, it doesn’t deserve three stars! I will not be reading any more in the series.

Book Review: Dead Ernest ( **** and a half)

This book wasn’t sent to me free – I paid out good money for this one. (But I think it was less than £2)

The Amazon page reads:
No one had expected Ernest to die, least of all Ernest…
Ernest Bentley was a pillar of the community. But when he suddenly dies of a heart attack his wife Annie refuses to have the words ‘beloved husband’ added to his gravestone. Worried about how she will cope on her own after the bereavement the local vicar, Andrew, starts to visit her.

Before she knows what is happening, Annie finds herself telling Andrew things she has kept hidden for years. Dark secrets that had plagued her marriage to Ernest.
When Annie’s estranged granddaughter, Ophelia, turns up for a visit, the two quickly realise how much they have in common. But when Ophelia meets Andrew, the unhappily married vicar, things start to get very complicated…

What is the truth about Ernest? Why is Annie behaving so strangely now that he is dead? And how can Andrew reconcile his growing feelings for Ophelia with his respect for his religion?

Spanning from the Second World War to the present day, DEAD ERNEST is a poignant, moving and, at times, very funny look at love, marriage and family life, dealing with issues of abuse and heartbreak to make a beautifully sensitive and inspirational novel.

****

I really enjoyed this book – all the characters were sensitively written, and their motivation, their actions, were consistent with what you learn about them. The three main characters are particularly engaging, and I kept reading because I really wanted to now their stories, and how their problems were going to be resolved. As a Christian, I found it good to read about a person’s struggle with their faith handled in a sensitive way, with no beating-around-the-bush.

I won’t say what happens at the end, but I found the conclusion satisfying, believable, and “right”.

This is not a book to set the literary world alight, but it was well-written, and held my interest (so much so, I would read “just one more chapter…” before going to sleep) and made me care about the characters.

This is a solid 4-and-a-half star book. Not as good as the two 5-stars, but better than the 4 star “Rosie” (which I did really enjoy!)

 

Book Review: The Madonna of the Mountains ***

This e-book was sent to me free of charge (yay!) in return for an honest review. So here it is:

THE MADONNA OF THE MOUNTAINS

by Elise Valmorbida

The publisher’s blurb describes this as: An epic, inspiring novel about one woman’s survival in the hardscrabble Italian countryside and her determination to protect her family throughout the Second World War—by any means possible

I suppose that sums up the story neatly enough, although I object to the word “hardscrabble” (what does that even mean?!) (according to my online dictionary it means “involving hard work and struggle.” Which I suppose one could have guessed.) But I think it makes it sound a more engaging book than it is.

Maria, the main character, is a fiercly uncompromising person, and her faith – and thus also her God, and her Madonna – is just as unbending. Although I found the story interesting, the fact that I didn’t really warm to Maria made it a more difficult book to read. Another reviewer writes: I thought that one of the real strengths of this book is that the story is unvarnished. Maria is not portrayed as a romantic figure. Her life is harsh, she has to make difficult choices, and she herself can be quite hard and unbending. But her motivations and emotions seem genuine – survival and love for her children are her prime motivators.

I’m not saying it wasn’t interesting – although I’ve read many books set during WW2, this is the first that I’ve read set in Italy, and thus it was interesting to find out more about Fascism in this country, and how it played out during this period. It was also intriguing finding out about the country food eaten before and during the war, especially with a few recipes given at the end (including, slightly macabrely, instructions as to how the Fascists used salt and castor oil as torture).

I’m not saying it wasn’t well-written – there were some passages of lyrical writing, and the story did pull me along.

And yet…and yet…I just wasn’t engaged as much as I wanted to be. I wanted to really enjoy this book, but at times I felt I was reading it because I felt obliged to. I find it quite interesting that the member reviews on Net Galley are either of the “loved it” or “really didn’t enjoy it” variety. I am in the middle, but wavering more to the negative end. I’m giving it three stars, because it’s nowhere near as bad as my 2-star-review book, but I’m afraid I didn’t really enjoy it.

Book Review: Paris Ever After (*** and a half)

This book was sent to me free of charge (yay!) by Net Galley, in return for an honest review.

PARIS EVER AFTER

by K.S.R.Burns

This is actually the second in the series – I’m not sure there will be a third – but it read well enough as a stand alone novel. The press release reads:

Amy traded a stale life and crumbling marriage back in Phoenix for adventure in Paris. She conquered her lifelong obsession with food and learned to enjoy a good croissant. Then, on Amy’s thirtieth birthday, two unexpected visitors leave her wondering if she will soon be saying au revoir to the City of Light and the new life she struggled to build. Her estranged husband, Will, shows up—but is he interested in reconciliation or separation? And a young woman who arrives on Amy’s doorstep unleashes chaos that could push Amy out into the street. Amid secrets and surprises, set in enchanting gardens, cozy cafés, and glittering Parisian streets, Amy must choose between two very different worlds. And each has a claim on her heart.

I found the main character, Amy (or Aimee) engaging, and while I found a few of her actions slightly unbelievable, and some of the events just a little too coincidental or serendipidous, the story romped along at a good pace. Yes, there was a modicum of suspense about which man Amy would end up with – although it was never really in that much doubt – but generally the story was fairly predictable.

Having said that, it was interesting enough, and reasonably well written, with certain paragraphs or phrases being poetic enough for me to pause and enjoy reading them again. I’m not sure I was engaged enough to go back to read the first, nor would I necessarily rush to buy a sequel, but I enjoyed reading this book.

 

I give it three-and-a-half stars (but as there’s no half-stars with Net Galley I round it UP to 4 stars, rather than rounding it down!)