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Book Reviews October / November Part 1

I have read an eclectic selection of books the last few months, including listening to my first full length audio book.  I have also read what I think is going to be my book of the year. As I have quite a few book reviews to share with you I am going to spread them over two separate blog posts.

Here are a few of the book titles to tease you with Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson a murder thriller set in the 1780's.  A dystopian Earth, Eve of Man by Giovanna & Tom Fletcher. Eleanor Olilphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman voted 2018 Book of the Year winner by British Book awards. War Gardens by Lalage Snow a non fiction book discovering how people and their gardens exist when war rages around them. 

My latest Book Reviews 
I will never giveaway any spoilers in my reviews, just my honest opinion on how I found the book. So you can read my review with the confidence it will not ruin the story for you.
Thanks to Mantel publishing for sending me a pre published copy of Blood and Sugar to review and also to Quercus Books for the hardback edition of War Gardens. 

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson
My Rating: 5 of 5 star
Synopsis: June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark.Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . .
To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend's investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him.
And that is only if he can survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford...
My review
Whilst this book is a murder, mystery, thriller the place and era of it's setting make for a dark, hard to read and shameful chapter of British history. 

It is clear from the depth of detail throughout the story that the author thoroughly researched this period of time. You can almost smell the damp, dark, filthy and squalid conditions during this time. Laura immerses the reader not just into the story but into the  souls of the characters. I felt such utter shame at the descriptions of actions taken by the slave merchants. 

It is not just a case of solving a murder, a very complex case of intrigue, lies, blackmail and treachery. Interesting to see how the different levels of society interact throughout the story. The story twists and turns, when you think it can not get any darker it does.  As the book unfolds your view of characters change, people are not who you think they are and more blood is to be shed. One of the characters totally let me down, I was certainly taken in with their persona.

There is nothing predictable about this crime thriller.  I could certainly see this making it's way to our tv's as very a dark period drama.
Laura does not hide away from the graphic nature of the slave ships and it's merchants, it makes for difficult reading at times.  I was grateful for the cast of characters at the front of the book, if nothing to remind myself where some of the characters loyalties lay or not as the case may be. The book is 425 pages in length. The historical notes at the rear of the book help the reader to understand how factual incidents during the 1780's influenced the story of Blood and Sugar. A great debut novel by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Published by Panmacmillan Blood and Sugar is available to buy from 24 January 2019.

Molly and the Cat Cafe by Melissa Daley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
No synopsis on this book, I think my review says it all. 
Cat runs away from new home, cat finds another new home this time at a cafe. Cafe owner re name's cafe to cat cafe. Not much else to say. A very light read, and reasonably enjoyable.
My mum gave me this book to read, to be fair it was a great palette cleansing read having just finished the dark historical thriller Blood and Sugar. If you dare there is even a sequel to Molly and the Cat Cafe, but I think I will give it a miss.

Eve of Man by Giovanna & Tom Fletcher
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Synopsis Against all odds, she, survived.The first girl born in fifty years.They called her Eve...
All her life Eve has been kept away from the opposite sex. Kept from the truth of her past.But at sixteen it's time for Eve to face her destiny. Three potential males have been selected for her. The future of humanity is in her hands. She's always accepted her fate.Until she meets Bram.Eve wants control over her life. She wants freedom.But how do you choose between love and the future of the human race?
My Review
An interesting concept as to where our future may venture. Novels involving the decline in the birth of female babies have been written before, so it's not entirely new. 
The planet has slowly been destroyed by man. Eve's life has been sheltered, protected from men. She knows little of the real world, other than information fed to her through her mothers. Eve has a very distorted perception of history and the present.  Bram is there to re-enforce that world to Eve, though they never actually meet. 
As the story progresses through Bram we uncover more about the current circumstances of the real world, including Bram's family - which is integral to the story. What will happen with Eve to ensure the survival of the human race. 
Some futuristic novels can be immensely complicated, this one isn't. A very enjoyable dystopian novel, and I was delighted to find it was the first of a trilogy.  I was surprised to discover a good way through the book the actual location of where the story is set, I had anonymised the location as a new generic city, so it actually came as a surprise.  
Now to work on my patience whilst I wait for the next book in the series.

Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson
My rating 4 out of 5 stars
Synopsis The powerful story of Cecily Neville, torn between both sides in the War of the Roses.In fifteenth century England the Neville family rules the north with an iron fist. Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, a giant of a man and a staunch Lancastrian, cunningly consolidates power by negotiating brilliant marriages for his children. The last betrothal he arranges before he dies is between his youngest daughter, nine-year-old Cicely, and his ward Richard, the thirteen-year-old Duke of York, England's richest heir.Told through the eyes of Cicely and her half-brother Cuthbert, Red Rose, White Rose is the story of one of the most powerful women in England during one of its most turbulent periods. Born of Lancaster and married to York, the willowy and wayward Cicely treads a hazardous path through love, loss and imprisonment and between the violent factions of Lancaster and York, as the Wars of the Roses tear England's ruling families apart. 
My Review
There is nothing I enjoy more than historical fiction. For me this was a first, I did not read this book but listen to it as an audiobook. Which I enjoyed greatly. 

I have not read any Joanne Hickson novels, so a new author to me. The story was narrated in a Yorkshire accent, which added greatly to the authenticity of hearing the story. 
This is not a novel just full of castles, it talks about the land and it's people. Describes in detail, houses, furniture and clothing which I found really interesting. The places in the book are all so familiar, particularly for me Ludlow and the Welsh Marches. The story of Cecily Neville, is not one I knew in any depth, the author captured how strong Cecily was but how fraught and fragile her life was during the turmoil years of the War of the Roses.  Even those in the same family had split loyalties. 
The only thing I missed from listening to this as an audiobook, which I suspect the printed book had was a copy of Neville family tree. Following my recommendation of this book, my sister has read the first novel by Joanna Hickson and has ordered the second she has enjoyed it so much.

What's next on my bookshelf
I am currently reading Ranulph Fienes, Mad Dogs & Englishmen a book about his family history, it's a fascinating read. I have ordered the 15th Jack Reacher book Worth Dying For from my local library. I have also received a copy of The Almanac - A Season Guide to 2019 by Lia Leendertz from Octopus Books. A few years back a read a book called The Forest of Hands and Teeth,  the first of a series and an excellent zombie read, I am looking to introduce myself to the next book.

The second part of my book review will follow in a few days.

 ~ Leave me a comment if you have any book recommendations ~
You can keep up to date with my past and present reads by visiting my Goodreads page, see the link in the sidebar on the right hand side of your screen. Find out more about my Reading Challenge for 2018, I am making great progress.
See my blog post for 13 items you need for the perfect reading nook

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Autumn Home Style | Reading Nook Essentials with Wilko Shrewsbury

Reading Nook Essentials Autumn Home Style Wilko

Autumn has arrived, it's like someone has just flipped a switch. Gone are the long warm sunny days, hello to fresh mornings, autumn colours and cool dark evening. Just like the change happening outside I felt it was time to add some balance inside my home - with the addition of a cosy reading nook.  

Reading has become one of my favourite ways to relax over the last few years, losing myself in a good book - nothing beats it for escapism. Recently I was asked if I would like to visit the new Wilko store in Shrewsbury, well as a Shropshire gal how could I resist. I love Shrewsbury and love Wilko and I knew they would be a great shop to create myself the perfect reading nook. 
Reading Nook Essentials Autumn Home Style Wilko
Adding some glamour to my bookshelf with some home accessories and stationery from Wilko Shrewsbury 
So I gave some thought to what would make for a great reading nook. I wanted to create an area that would make me feel cosy, calm  and relaxed, maybe even thoughtful. A place to escape to, take a mug of hot chocolate and while away time. No, not while away time but invest time in me, in my well being. I am as important as any item waiting for my attention on my to do list. So you see it is not just a case of flicking through a magazine, reading a novel, or listening to an audio book. It is experiencing it, creating an area in your  home to embrace the enjoyment reading gives. 
Reading Nook Essentials Wilko Homestyle Autumn

My Reading Nook Essentials... 
  • Books 
  • Cosy Throw
  • Mood lighting
  • Cushion
  • Hot chocolate mug 
  • Scented candles
  • Fairy lights
  • Notebook
  • Peg board
  • Photo frame
  • Bluetooth headphones
  • Fluffy socks
  • Sweeties
Autumn home styling wilko shrewsbury
Goals planner notebook £3, geometric tea light holder £4,
 pencils £1
List in one hand (I'm a list lover!) and gift card in the other I headed off to Shrewsbury. I found myself the cosiest silver grey waffle throw, I fell for the hummingbird design cushion with its pop of colour. Accessories I choose had an equally vibrant theme included the lustre geometric tea light holder, which I will use as a pencil pot. Love books, love stationery...surely that goes hand in hand.
Cosy Reading Nook items
Hummingbird cushion £7, Waffle Throw £10, bluetooth headphones £9, ceramic house lamp £15, winter wonderland fairy lights £6, mini pastel notepad £1, set of 3 glass tea light holders £1, dinner plate charger £2.50
reading nook essentials items
cat mug £2.50,  mini pastel notepad £1, set of 3 glass tea light holders £1, ceramic house lamp £15, pencils £1
As for lighting, I selected a cosy house lamp and some pretty silver globe fairy lights. The house lamp I thought created a great focal point so not just functional. Over on my Instagram stories I asked those of you watching to help me choose a lamp, I was very pleased when the majority vote went to this house lamp. 

There is no shortage of Wilko candles to choose from, perfect for creating not just a soft light the scented candles help to create a relaxing atmosphere too. Deciding on which scent to choose was probably the most time consuming part of shopping. Is it just me that likes smelling every candle and not being able to make a decision as I like so many! 
audio book headphones reading nook
Waffle throw £10, Bluetooth headphones £9 
Recently I discovered that I can download audio books free on the app from my local library. I have tried listening to them on my tablet but find I get distracted and lose interest in listening to the story. I've noticed on Instagram that many of my audio book reading friends use headphones. I was really surprised to find some headphones at Wilko, so I could not believe it when I spotted a pair of chargeable white bluetooth headphones. No wires, none! It really is a revelation, I don't even have to have my device in the same room once I have started the audio book playing, I can chill out and listen to the book without anything distracting me.
Reading Nook Essentials items
Wilko Treasure Letter Board £6, Oil burner £3.50, glass tea light (set of 3) £1, candle in tin £3
Blue Fusion mug £2.50,  winter wonderland fairy lights £6, hummingbird cushion £7, waffle throw £10
Home Accessory Styling Cheat
Here is a great styling tip...I needed something smaller than a tray to pop my notepad and sweets on, when I spotted a dinner plate  with a lip on - I knew it would make the perfect charger. It works really well, I may pop back for the smaller side plate version to use on my dressing table in my bedroom. 
Reading Nook Essentials items
 mini pastel notepad £1, set of 3 glass tea light holders £1, ceramic house lamp £15
There was one last place in store that I needed to visit - the sweetie aisle. Well what is a reading nook without a bowl full of jelly beans! I managed to get all these items (except for the fluffy socks) including light bulbs, more candles and sweets for £100. 

Picture the scene...snugly warm with my throw, hot chocolate and treats within reach and a good book in my hand. Relax and enjoy.  
Wilko Shrewsbury Pride Hill

Wilko in Shrewsbury opened it's new store in Pride Hill Shopping Centre in July 2018, it also has a very convent entrance directly outside at Mardol. They have good selection of home ware, beauty, diy, children's toys, stationery and garden products along with season items. I have to say the staff had much fun wrapping up some of the more fragile purchases, lucky for me they had plenty of protective sheets of paper. 

Disclosure: Big shout to Wilko Shrewsbury for helping me create my place to escape...my Reading Nook by providing me with a gift card, all items featured are Wilko own brand.

I have my reading nook but what key item would make it into your reading nook? Let me know in the comments below... 

creating a reading nook

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August Book Reviews

In August I read some fabulous and captivating books I also read one that I very much disliked. By the end of the month I had read a total of 24 books since January. I seriously underestimated just how many books I would read this year having already reached my target of 20. As always my reviews are always spoiler free.

This month's reads...
  • The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
  • The Girl Who Wrote in Silk 
  • The Rival

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

How do you stop a murder that’s already happened?
At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed--again. She's been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden's only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle's murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend--but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

My Review
I wanted so much to enjoy this book, but alias I could not get passed the repetitive nature of the story line. Initially drawn in by the book cover and the 1930's feel it had. It gave me the promise of a good murder mystery, but it took me so long to get into it, it started to feel like a chore. Having only made it to page 70 after a few weeks I probably should of given up. But there were flashes of enjoyable reading and at times I was back in the 1930's and drawn into the characters and their story lines. Which is why I continued.

Reliving the same day in order to escape this dark, run down, secluded country estate. Well it wore me down. Reading this book in bigger sections helped, its not a pick it up and put down again book, you need to invest your time in the story line if you are to ever keep up with what is going on. Heavens knows how the writer managed, his time line for the story and characters must of been a nightmare of confusion.

At one point, when I was well into the book and understood the premise of the what happens with Aiden the main character I skipped 40 pages, that's right I turned over a wad of pages and did not read them! I have never done this before with any book I have read. Do you know I did not feel like I had missed out on any of the story. I did however want to know who did what, and why they did it or didn't do it. Obviously I am not about to tell you, but I was very disappointed with the ending. Oh and unless I missed something the book never did explain the whole repeating the day think - why or how did that keep happening.

I am aware I am in the minority with not liking this book, so who knows you may very well enjoy it.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes

I read this book as an ebook, downloaded for free from my local library using the Libby app on my ipad. Many libraries now use the Libby app for members to access ebooks - it's a great way to read for free too.

The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lein tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core — and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.

My Review

A delightful read. The title of this book captured my eye and once I read the synopsis I knew it was one for me. I do enjoy historical fiction, particularly when the characters are so well written and bought to life. 

Being English I only now the basics of American history, I always find discovering new history fascinating. The story is set initially in the present when Inara, is about to start a new career that she has doubts about, her family run a very successfully transport and travel business and her father is keen to see her succeed. Whilst at a visit to her aunts house on the Orcas Islands (set of the west coast of America/Canada near Vancover) she discovers a beautiful piece of embroidered silk under the stairs, and so starts her journey to uncover her family history as to how it may have gotten there.

The story flips back to the 1880's and follows the life of a young Chinese girl Mei Lein and her family who live in Seattle. But when Americans turn on the Chinese Americans, the introduction of the Exclusion Act of 1882 and they are encouraged to leave the country, and so the story of Mei Lein begins. I thought the author really bought Mai Lein's character to life, you really do attach yourself to her.

I was not the hugest fan of the modern day story line that follows Inara, but it needed telling to connect the story lines together. A thought provoking and touching story that captures a disturbing area of history little told. I broke my heart during some chapters of this book, but this book was an absolute pleasure to read and worth discovering.

I am aware of the English and Scottish pioneers that went over to North America in the 1800's - some of my ancestors did just that. So certainly identified with some elements of this story.  If you enjoy exploring your family history then you will certainly enjoy this book.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Rival by Charlotte Duckworth

What a great physiological thriller! I was lucky enough to win a copy of The Rival in a giveaway and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 

NOW:Living in her home in the countryside HELENA is a career woman without a job and a mother without a baby. She blames ASHLEY for destroying her life. But is what happened really Ashley's fault?
THEN:When Helena hires Ashley to work with her, she's startled but impressed by her fierce ambition. They form a dream team and Helena is proud -maybe this is the protégé she's always wanted to have? But soon Helena realises that nothing will stand in the way of Ashley's drive to get to the top. And when Helena discovers she is pregnant, she quickly realises how vulnerable her position is, with devastating consequences.The Rival is an addictive psychological suspense about ambition, female rivalry, mental health and motherhood and how far you'd ever go to get what you want.

My review

I loved how the story unfolded, telling it from both sides of the main characters, Helena and Ashley the past and present, headed up as Now and Then at the start of each chapter. I do enjoy this style of storytelling.

You are very aware that a significant event has taken place right from the beginning of the story, but it is purposely unclear as to exactly what and to who. This left me wanting to discover more and so the story of work colleagues Helena and Ashley begins to unfold. The suspense of what finally happens between them is maintained right until the end of the book, and I really did not see most of it coming.

Exploring the character of Ashley made for interesting reading, she so reminded me of someone I had previously worked with who was very ambitious. At times I liked and disliked both characters, it was cleverly written in that I could connect to both of them, empathise with them yet at times I still judged them and disliked them too.

I can not wait to read what Charlotte Duckworth writes next.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What's next on my bookshelf
I am currently reading Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson  which I have been lucky enough to have been sent for review by Mantle Books.  I'm not sure what I will read after that, I have a plenty sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be started. Do let me know if you have any book recommendations. 

To find out more about the books I am currently reading or vote on which book I should read next on my Instagram account Garden Tea Cakes and Me.

Follow me on Goodreads to see which book I having waiting on my reading list and see all the books I have read in this years Reading Challenge.

Read my previous reviews including:- 
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Jack Reachers 61 Hours
the thriller I See You
or Jesse Burton's The Muse
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A Tale of Mini Cucumbers and Supermarket Compost

mini cucumber variety mini munch cucino thompson and morgan
The Summer of 2018 is one that will live long in my gardening memory. Extreme heat, endless sunny days, empty water butts, an abundance of garden birds and the promise of rain that never seems to arrive. But mostly I will remember the mini cucumbers I grew from seed, or rather the the cucumber plants that would grow no more.

Last year I grew very little in the way of vegetables, having been poorly for many months. However, I did buy some mini cucumber seedlings from a garden centre which grew very well and supplied plenty of juicy fruits.  Which encouraged me this year to grow my own from seed, I have previously grown plenty of standard cucumbers from seed. 

The varieties I had selected were both Thompson & Morgan mini cucumbers, Mini Munch and Cucino.  All my seeds successfully germinated. As the plants grew well it was time for them to be potted on. Now this is where I think things went wrong.  Not having enough compost to pot on all the seedlings,  I visited the supermarket later that day, my sister pointed out the compost was on offer. You know the type 2 bags for £5 or thereabouts, so yes why not. 
growing mini cucumber seedlings success failure
The Cucino Cucumber (left) Mini Munch Cucumber failure (right
grow your own cucumber failure
Mini Munch variety, stunted growth
All my seedlings were potted on with two of them (mini munch) using the new compost I had just purchased.  As the weeks passed my seedlings were growing well, the plants put on extra leaves and their tendrils were clambering for support, so most of them were staked. Except for 2 plants, where everything seemed to be growing all in the top of the plant, clumped together. Something certainly was not right, I could not blame the pack of seeds, they all germinated and the rest of the plants have grown well. All plants were in the same environment, received warmth and watering the only difference...the compost in the 2 stunted plants.  Could the compost really be the cause of this problem? It is the only variant I can isolate from all the other healthy plants. When I emptied the pot, the root system was certainly less well developed than the other plants.

mini cucumber mini munch variety
Mini Munch variety currently growing well and fruiting

So my gardening friends can you help.  Have you encountered this problem with mini cucumbers, particularly Cucino? Or have you had this problem with supermarket compost?

There's one thing for sure, there is always something new to learn about gardening, and our failures only help to make us better gardeners.

Cucumber Mini Munch variety
Cucumber Mini Munch variety
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Lots of Book Reviews and a Reading Challenge Update

2018 Book Review Reading Challenge Garden Tea Cakes and Me

Big news about my 2018 reading challenge, at the very end of June I hit my target of reading 20 books! Whoop whoop, this is good stuff and I have enjoyed being driven to embrace reading by giving myself a challenge.  I don't intend to take my foot of the reading pedal, but with a busy few weeks socially in July I'll be lucky to get one book read in the month. But I do have quite a few book reviews to share with you, including one I think will be in my top 3 books of the year.

This blog post will cover book reviews of six books with strictly no spoilers, so grab yourself a cuppa and delve into my good the bad and the amazing of the book world.

  • Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister
  • Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
  • Explore the Garden at Chatsworth by Peter Drew
  • The Daughters of Gentlemen by Linda Stratmann
  • The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
  • All By Myself Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

2018 Book Review Reading Challenge Garden Tea Cakes and MeAnything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

Joanna is an avoider. So far she has spent her adult life hiding bank statements and changing career aspirations weekly.
But then one night Joanna hears footsteps on the way home. Is she being followed? She is sure it's him; the man from the bar who wouldn't leave her alone. Hearing the steps speed up Joanna turns and pushes with all of her might, sending her pursuer tumbling down the steps and lying motionless on the floor.
Now Joanna has to do the thing she hates most - make a decision. Fight or flight? Truth or lie? Right or wrong?

Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are no spoilers in this review, so read on knowing I won't ruin the book for you, and what a book it is!

I was in turmoil reading this book, I was totally captivated by the position the main character Joanna found herself in. Having turned around and pushed someone she believed was following her, she looks to find them fall down some steps and not get up again. Very quickly you start to imagine how you would react and the decisions you would make. Do the right thing and call the emergency services, I mean who wouldn't. Or run and do nothing and tell no one, live with the lie!

The story follows both scenarios, with each chapter headed either 'Conceal' or 'Reveal' it was not until the end of the book that I realised this, I'm not one for taking much notice of the titles of chapters. It was very easy to follow the two storylines, there was no way to mix them up.

I know that I could never have walked away and do nothing, the guilt would leave me a wreak. A lie that big eats you up, something the author Gillian McAllister captures really well in Joanna's 'conceal' life. Although the reveal story is not necessarily the easy option, Joanna still has to live with the consequences of her actions, and the reaction to them from her family and friends. Joanna's would be attacker has a family who what answers too.

This is a very relatable read, compelling, a real page turner.

I read this book for the June read of The Bookmatchmaker Bookclub, an online bookclub and a great suggestion is was too. Find out which books are on the reading list this year or to find out more about this online bookclub check out their website The Bookmatchmaker Bookclub.
The book is 389 pages and I read it in 2 1/2 days, my fastest read of the year.

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
2018 Book Review Reading Challenge Garden Tea Cakes and Me

England, September 1939Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go ...Australia, six-weeks laterThe world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted onto dry land in handcuffs.What has she done?

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lily Shepherd is about to set sail on a journey from England to Australia. Taking advantage of the government scheme offering £10 fares for young women to work for 2 years as housemaids in Sydney, Lily embarks on a 6 week voyage on an cruise liner. It's 1939 and there is much talk of war, by the time Lily arrives in Sydney world war II has been declared.

This period drama had elements of an Agatha Christie thriller, the author describes beautifully the fashions and style of the time. As the ship is British the class system in Britain is reflected onboard - first class, tourist class and third class passengers are all on separate decks.

It really is voyage of discovery for Lily, the ship calls at a number of ports including Gibraltar, Singapore, and Egypt all offering her the once in a lifetime chance to see the places she has read about. Lily befriends Helena travelling to warmer climates with her brother Edward for his health. The class system on board becomes blurred as Lily socialises with a glamorous married couple Max and Eliza from first class. Her friendship with Maria a Jew from Austria fleeing persecution for a new life is frowned upon by her travel companions.

Lily does her best not to fall in love with Edward or to succumb to the pestering of unwanted attention of other men on board. The mix of different nationalities and talk of war makes for a tense atmosphere on board, with not everyone getting agreeing and some quite awful attitudes for those of other nationalities. Mix with your own class, mix with your own type. During the voyage you can sense the tension building, you know that something is going to happen and you know its going to be something awful but you are not sure what. Then it happens, not what I was quite expecting or to the person I was expecting either so it was still a shock. Then the story settles down again, and I was left thinking was that it, as bad as it was I was expecting worse. Just as I was starting to think well that was a little disappointing - boom, one sentence in this book changes the way you have just viewed many parts of the storyline. Very cleverly done, something I did not see coming at all. Then there is more involving some major characters, murder, lies intrigue this book has it all.

I liked the way the story was wrapped up once the ship arrives in Sydney. You have lots of questions about what really did happen and the author has a nice way of wrapping the loose ends up and answering those questions that as reader you have.

Very enjoyable read, thoroughly recommend it.

It was with this book I hit my 20 book target, and what a book to do it with. 'High five'! I some how also managed to find the time to crochet a cover for my new phone, complete with a meconopsis poppy.

2018 Book Review Reading Challenge Garden Tea Cakes and MeExplore the Garden at Chatsworth by Peter Drew

No synopsis for this book as it is a guide book around the garden and estate at Chatsworth House in Cheshire. 

Review Explore the Garden at Chatsworth by Peter Drew
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This guide book is just over 60 pages, and every page is a thoroughly enjoyable read. The gardens at Chatsworth demonstrate the history of gardening and garden design over the years, this guide is cleverly written to also includes this history. Using historical documents you can see how some of the features in the garden have since been altered, adjusted and moved around as interests and fashions changed. So many different aspects and feats of engineering to enjoy. It is also clearing shown how each earl and duke have developed the garden.

There are some clear maps demonstrating the different areas of the garden and how to best move through them.

It has certainly piqued my interest for a return visit, I realise now just how much I managed to miss out on my first visit.

The Daughters of Gentlemen by Linda Stratmann

2018 Book Review Reading Challenge Garden Tea Cakes and Me
The second book in the series of Victorian murder mysteries set in London, with a clever and determined female sleuth. Frances Doughty is a young sleuth on her first professional case, trying to discover who distributed dangerously feminist pamphlets to the girls of the Bayswater Academy for the Education of Young Ladies. Armed with only her wits, courage, and determination, she finds that even the most respectable denizens of Bayswater have something to hide, and what begins as a simple task soon becomes a case of murder. As election fever erupts and the formidable ladies of the Bayswater Women's Suffrage Society swing into action, Frances’ enquiries expose lies, more murders, and a long-concealed scandal—and she makes a powerful new friend. 
The Daughters of Gentlemen
by Linda Stratmann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book of the Frances Doughty crime thrillers set during the victorian period, and I much stronger book than the first, A Poisonous Seed.

The story continues on from the end of the last book, so it is worth reading the first book. Frances needs to find an income and a new home or she will have to move from Bayswater and live with her uncle, and her maid Sarah will be without a home and a job. A lifeline is found when Frances is approached by the board of Bayswater Academy for Young Ladies, and is asked to investigate who is distributing feminist pamphlets.

Frances takes on her first case as a private detective, this sees her maid Sarah now become her companion and apprentice detective. This complex mystery set in 1880's invites you into Frances's world of solving a crime not something a lady of the day should be doing - follow her steps as she investigates. Frances explores the worlds of ladies of society, servants, police, politicians and journalists. But this simple investigation soon turns into something far more sinister, with lives at risk. I loved that there was so much going on in the storyline, not just the main crime to be solved but some mini ones that Sarah has to solve too.

This story also touches on important aspects of history, it was very apt to be reading about the Women's Suffrage Society when this very month 100 years ago women were given the vote in the UK.

These books have many characters and weaving storylines, you have to pay attention so no late night reading and dozing off. Really enjoyed it and can not wait to read the next book from my library.

The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
2018 Book Review Reading Challenge Garden Tea Cakes and Me
Jane Grey was queen of England for nine days. Her father and his allies crowned her instead of the dead king’s half sister Mary Tudor, who quickly mustered an army, claimed her throne, and locked Jane in the Tower of London. When Jane refused to betray her Protestant faith, Mary sent her to the executioner’s block, where Jane transformed her father’s greedy power grab into tragic martyrdom.
“Learn you to die,” was the advice Jane wrote to her younger sister Katherine, who has no intention of dying. She intends to enjoy her beauty and her youth and fall in love. But she is heir to the insecure and infertile Queen Mary and then to her half sister, Queen Elizabeth, who will never allow Katherine to marry and produce a Tudor son. When Katherine’s pregnancy betrays her secret marriage, she faces imprisonment in the Tower, only yards from her sister’s scaffold.
“Farewell, my sister,” writes Katherine to the youngest Grey sister, Mary. A beautiful dwarf, disregarded by the court, Mary keeps family secrets, especially her own, while avoiding Elizabeth’s suspicious glare. After seeing her sisters defy their queens, Mary is acutely aware of her own danger but determined to command her own life. What will happen when the last Tudor defies her ruthless and unforgiving Queen Elizabeth?

Review The Last TudorThe Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love reading about the Tudor period of history, and this novel about the Grey sisters did not disappoint. You follow the lives of Jane Grey who very briefly was Queen of England if for just a few days. Katherine Grey who marries the love of her life to the displeasure of Queen Elizabeth I, much like her sister Mary.

It was a real eye opener for me, just how tricky and complex life at the court Elizabeth I was. If you were invited to be part of the royal court you did as the queen commanded, or suffer the consequences. I don’t think I would of survived 5 minutes! The intrigue, scheming, blackmail made for many unhappy lives particularly for the Grey sisters.

Queen Elizabeth I refuses to marry, and will not grant any of her close relatives permission to marry for fear of them providing a clear heir to the throne of England. Other threats for the crown from England, Scotland, France and Spain make for a very paranoid monarch. All 3 Grey sisters suffered greatly at the hands of the Queen.

This book gave me an understanding of why Elizabeth I never married, and how woman were pawns and manipulated in the power play of royal houses. Though I can’t help but think why on Earth didn’t the Grey sisters learn from each other’s mistakes.

Another enjoyable Philippa Gregory book.

All By Myself Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

2018 Book Review Reading Challenge Garden Tea Cakes and Me
Fleeing a disastrous and humiliating arrest of her husband-to-be on the eve of their wedding, Celia Kilbride, a gems and jewellery expert, hopes to escape from public attention by lecturing on a brand-new cruise ship—the Queen Charlotte.
On board she meets eighty-six-year-old Lady Emily Haywood, “Lady Em,” as she is known throughout the world. Immensely wealthy, Lady Em is the owner of a priceless emerald necklace that she intends to leave to the Smithsonian after the cruise.
Three days out to sea Lady Em is found dead—and the necklace is missing. Is it the work of her apparently devoted assistant, Brenda Martin, or her lawyer-executor, Roger Pearson, and his wife, Yvonne, both of whom she had invited to join them on the cruise? Or is it Professor Henry Longworth, an acclaimed Shakespeare scholar who is lecturing on board? Or Alan Davidson, a guest on the ship who is planning to spread his wife’s ashes at sea? The list of suspects is large and growing.
Celia, with the help of her new friends Willy and Alvirah Meehan, who are celebrating their forty-fifth wedding anniversary, sets out to find the killer, not realising that she has put herself in mortal danger before the ship reaches its final destination.


All By Myself Alone by Mary Higgins Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My second Mary Higgins Clark book, a straightforward murder mystery set on board an exclusive transatlantic luxury cruise liner. You will find there are no spoilers in my review.

This novel is a straightforward murder mystery, I certainly wouldn't describe it as a thriller. The story revolves around jewels, deception, and embezzlement. There are a key number of characters who could be the next murder victim or murderer. There are clues a plenty, most of which I followed though I critically failed to identify the murderer. Which I'll be honest there are clues but I did not put two and two together. It's no Agatha Christie, an easy read with reasonable characters, a mix of the likable and annoying.

I should add the cover and title of this book are very misleading, there is absolutely nothing scary or dark about the story. In that respect it was quite a disappointment. The more I am reading through my review of this book the more I want to revise my 3 star score, very mediocre, so many better books to read, don't believe the hype on the back cover. 

Currently Reading...The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, I still, yes still have a number of Philippa Gregory books on my bookshelf waiting to be read. 

Do let me know if you have any book recommendations. You can find out more about the books I am currently reading or vote on which book I should read next on my Instagram account Garden Tea Cakes and Me.
Read my previous reviews including:- 
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Jack Reachers 61 Hoursthe thriller I See You or Jesse Burton's The Muse.

Goodreads What to follow me or see what the other books I have sitting on my GoodReads virtual bookshelf, pop over to my Goodreads page.
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