The Last Garden in England

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

Readers of historical fiction who like a strong sense of place and enjoy multi-period novels will enjoy this appealing novel. In 1907, Venetia Smith designs a variety of garden rooms for Highbury House in rural Warwickshire. A rose fancier provides romantic interest here. In 2021, Emma Lovett is searching for plans, drawings, and letters to help her and her crew restore Venetia’s neglected gardens.

In 1944, widow Diana Symonds and land girl and amateur artist Beth Pedley try to prevent the gardens being plowed under for crops during World War II. Most of the house is a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers run by Diana’s sister-in-law, which causes some conflicts. Cook Stella Adderton and her young nephew Bobby are also featured here. The stories all connect in the end, making for a satisfying read, though the characters struggle with loss in two of the time periods. I should mention that some of the names are confusing; in one chapter we meet Captain Hastings, then he’s referred to as Graeme further on; I would have liked a list of characters.

Readalikes include The Lake House by Kate Morton, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert, and historical novels by Jennifer Robson, Beatriz Williams, and Rhys Bowen. Readers may also want to browse the gardening section; I found some beautiful books by Jackie Bennett: The Writer’s Garden and Shakespeare’s Gardens.

Brenda

 

The Windsor Knot

The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett

When a young Russian musician is found dead at Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth doesn’t think the investigation by MI5 is headed in the right direction. With help from her new assistant private secretary, Rozie Oshodi, a veteran and daughter of Nigerian immigrants, the Queen secretly makes inquiries. In the spring of 2016, the Queen is soon to turn 90, and enjoys talk of horseracing, walks with her dogs, and giving well-deserved honours. The mystery is clever and intricately plotted, but I most enjoyed the characterizations of the Queen, who is depicted as shrewd, loyal, and an excellent judge of character, and of Rozie, along with the wonderfully described setting of Windsor Castle. The first book in a planned series, this compulsively readable and engaging mystery is sure to delight fans of The Crown and readers of British mysteries with amateur sleuths.

Brenda

The Narrowboat Summer

The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson

A howling dog on an English narrowboat brings together three women at turning points in their lives. Independent Anastasia is looking for someone to take her boat to Chester for maintenance while she deals with a health issues. Eve and Sally, who just met, decide to take up the challenge, and spend their summer on the narrowboat, with the dog. Eve has just lost her high pressure job while Sally wants a break from her marriage now that her children are grown. Eve and Sally move in and learn to pilot the boat and cope with the challenges of navigating locks and tunnels, while enjoying the leisurely pace of life on the canals. Charming, entertaining, and unforgettable, a novel of women’s friendship and the colorful characters they meet along the towpaths. This book, by the author of Meet Me at the Museum, will be published in January.

Brenda

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

Marrying right before World War I, Agatha Miller followers her mother’s advice to put her new husband Archibald Christie first. Unfortunately, other than surfing and playing golf, nothing Agatha does seems to make Archie happy. She even puts time with her daughter Rosalind at a lower priority, and leaves her behind to travel with Archie. Finally, Agatha thinks about what makes her happy: time with her daughter, mother, and sister Madge, and writing mysteries. It’s not so enjoyable reading about Agatha and Archie’s increasingly unhappy marriage. Then Agatha suddenly vanishes in December 1926, the same day she and Archie have a loud argument during breakfast. The story really takes off here, and the disappearance is related from Archie’s point of view, as the police become suspicious of his role in her disappearance. I wanted to know more about Agatha Christie’s life after reading this novel, which is based on the real disappearance of the author. It’s been 100 years since the first Hercule Poirot mystery was published; so it’s perfect timing for a novel about the creator of Poirot and Miss Marple. This mystery will be published in late December.
Brenda

The Switch

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Workaholic Londoner Leena Cotton has a panic attack at work, and takes two months off. She ends up switching places with her grandmother Eileen, and moves to her cottage in a small Yorkshire village. The Cotton women even exchange phones and laptops so Leena won’t be tempted to work. Eileen, 79, is pretty happy but is having trouble finding romance in her small town. At Leena’s London flat, with two quirky roommates, she organizes a social club for seniors and has a fling or two, while also spying on Leena’s London boyfriend. Back in Hamleigh-in-Harksdale, Leena ends up on the May festival committee, befriending her grandmother’s grumpy neighbor Arnold, and plays Easter Bunny with the help of former classmate Jackson’s little girl. Both women have challenges adjusting to their new environments and neighbors, but relish their new projects and Leena learns to re-connect with her mother Marian, and start dealing with her grief over her sister’s recent death. Mixed grief and humor, with a strong sense of place and appealing, quirky characters. Grandmother Eileen is especially appealing, embracing life and love in London at 79. A light feel-good story that makes for an absorbing, enjoyable read.

Brenda

This Side of Murder

This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

In this atmospheric and intricately plotted mystery, war widow Verity Kent attends an engagement party in 1919 that is anything but a celebration. Verity drives to the coast in her late husband Sidney’s roadster, and travels to Umbersea Island, where she finds that most of the guests are connected to Sidney’s army unit. When one of the men is found dead and bad weather strands the guests and a few employees on the island, the tension level cranks up to high. Everyone seems to have a secret, including Verity, who did intelligence work during the war that even Sidney didn’t know about. Many plot twists kept my interest, along with the fast pacing and a very clever mystery. This is the first Verity Kent mystery; the sequel is Treacherous is the Night.

Brenda

The Other Windsor Girl

The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

Princess Margaret is 19 when Vera Strathmore’s cousin Rupert introduces them. Vera, who lost her fiancé in the war, writes romance novels under a pen name and dreams of moving to New York City to write. Swept up in Princess Margaret’s social set, Vera becomes a lady-in-waiting to the temperamental princess. In Blalock’s novel, the princess enjoys dancing, drinking, smoking, flirting, and Captain Peter Townsend. Vera puts her writing dreams on hold indefinitely, and her work for the princess gets more demanding over the years. Viewers of The Crown will be familiar with the plot and setting, but Vera’s viewpoint has both clarity and empathy. A fun, escapist read, with plenty of gorgeous gowns.

Brenda

The Exiles

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline

The author of Orphan Train returns with a novel set in the 1840s, in England, on a perilous ocean voyage aboard the Medea, and on an island in southeastern Australia. This is not the sort of book I was in the mood to read, yet I couldn’t put it down. Naïve governess Evangeline is transported as a convict to Australia along with young Hazel, an herbalist and midwife, who delivers Evangeline’s baby on the ship, along with a sympathetic doctor. Also on the island unwillingly is Mathinna, orphaned daughter of an Aboriginal chief, who is taken from her stepfather by the governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Hardship, the abuse of power, the resilience of women, opportunity, and hope fill this well-researched epic novel. This is an August LibraryRead selection.

Brenda

Three Mysteries

A Divided Loyalty by Charles Todd, Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth, & Trouble in Nuala by Harriet Steel

Travel back in time with me to three mysteries set in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1921, Inspector Ian Rutledge travels to Avebury in Wiltshire, to investigate a death by a standing stone, part of the largest stone circle in England. Since then, many more of the stones have been uncovered, but even then it was apparently an uncanny place. Rutledge, having solved a similar crime in Shropshire, is asked to take over Chief Inspector Brian Leslie’s case. When some new evidence, painstakingly discovered, contradicts Leslie’s report, Rutledge has to decide where his loyalty lies. There are many twists and turns along the way, an atmospheric setting, and even a pursuit at night on horseback. One of the best in this long-running series.

In 1929, Charles Moray has come home to England to his inherited house, only to hear voices and see a light in the supposedly vacant house. His former fiancée Margaret, is mixed up in a gang of criminals, but is willing to help Charles save the life of a lovely but naïve young girl, Margot. This is the first mystery featuring Miss Maud Silver, retired governess turned sleuth, and the mystery was suspenseful and fast-paced. I found the book hard to put down, surprising me as this book was published in 1929. Perhaps a new mystery with a similar setting and plot would have more violence, but maybe not. Miss Silver was a contemporary of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, but is not as well known.
The first Inspector de Silva mystery is set in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in the 1930s. Shanti de Silva is enjoying his work in the town of Nuala, driving his Morris car and picnicking with his wife, until a complaint is made against an English tea plantation owner, and then a body is found at the plantation. Shanti’s wife Jane, a former governess, befriends the plantation owner’s wife. A lovely setting, a cricket game, and some fine detecting add to the reader’s pleasure. Dark Clouds Over Nuala is the next book in the series.
I enjoyed all three mysteries, and plan to read more by these authors.
Brenda

 

A Useful Woman

A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde

This is the engaging first book in a mystery series set during the Regency period in London. In 1817, a few years after her family’s fortunes changed for the worse, Rosalind Thorne lives on the fringes of London society as a personal secretary for fashionable ladies, helping to organize events, shop, and plan debuts for young ladies. When Rosalind’s godmother, Lady Blanchard, is late leaving a meeting with the other patronesses of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, Rosalind finds a body in the ballroom. The dead man’s sister asks Rosalind to look into his death, along with Adam Harkness, a Bow Street Runner. A former beau reappears in Rosalind’s life, and she must balance uncovering secrets with keeping her good reputation. A pleasantly diverting read, followed by A Purely Private Matter, then And Dangerous to Know, which I plan to add to my reading list. All of these titles are available from Media on Demand, our Overdrive/Libby collection. A fourth book is expected in November.

Brenda