Murder at Mallowan Hall

Murder at Mallowan Hall by Colleen Cambridge

Phyllida Bright, who was a nurse’s aide in the Great War, is the housekeeper for mystery writer Agatha Christie and her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, at their country house in Devon in 1930. When an univited guest is found dead the next morning by Mrs. Bright and another death soon follows, the housekeeper, a fan of the fictional Hercule Poirot, investigates. Phyllida occasionally brings Agatha a cup of tea and an update on the investigation; readers will be happy to know the writer seems much happier than in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict. While there are rather a lot of staff and guests to easily tell apart, the setting is well-drawn and appealing, and I look forward to the planned sequels. Readalikes include A Devious Death by Alyssa Maxwell and Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott.

Brenda

Battle Royal

Battle Royal by Lucy Parker

Four years after judge Dominic De Vere voted Sylvie Fairchild off Operation Cake when her unicorn cake exploded and showered him with edible glitter, the pair are rival business owners in Notting Hill, London. Sylvie has opened Sugar Fair, a bakery straight out of a fairy tale, across the street from the traditional De Vere’s, where delicious cakes are beautifully decorated, mostly in white or perhaps ivory. Sylvie is asked to fill in as a judge on Operation Cake, where she gets to know the stern and prickly judge as a fellow business owner, and they gradually become friends. When Princess Rose announces her engagement to John Marchmont, the pair are finalists to bake the royal wedding cake, and end up doing research on the royal family together, with witty banter, tender moments and irresistible chemistry. I thoroughly enjoyed Dominic and Sylvie’s story, and the audiobook narration of Billie Fulford-Brown. A second Palace Insiders is planned, featuring Dominic’s younger sister.

Brenda

Yours Cheerfully

Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce

Fans of Dear Mrs. Bird will cheer Emmy Lake’s return as a young advice columnist in wartime London. A chance meeting on a train with Anne and her two young children lead to Emmy visiting the munitions factory where Anne works for an article on women war workers. While the article is upbeat, Emmy and her friend Bunty learn more about the struggles the women face, especially finding child care when they work long, varied shifts. Emmy has infrequent dates with Charles, now stationed in England, and thoroughly enjoys her work at Woman’s Friend magazine, now managed by supportive editor Guy. Emmy and Bunty do get into a bit of trouble when they agree to be in two different places on a very important day, but it makes for very entertaining reading. Such a wonderful story, very well told. More Emmy and Bunty, please! Sure to please Anglophiles and readers of historical fiction.

Brenda

The Thursday Murder Club

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club meets in the jigsaw room at the luxurious Coopers Chase Retirement Village in Kent, on England’s southeast coast. Widowed Joyce is the newest member of The Thursday Murder Club, taking the place of Penny, a retired police officer who’s in a nearby nursing home. Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Ron, and Joyce discuss Penny’s cold case files, then find themselves with two murders nearby, probably connected to plans to develop a nearby hilltop and relocate a convent cemetery. Elizabeth has a secret background, with connections almost everywhere. Ron was an organizer whose son is slightly famous, while Ibrahim is a psychiatrist. Agreeable Joyce worked as a nurse, and together they work to get information from PC Donna De Freitas and DCI Chris Hudson. There are poignant scenes as well as lighter ones in this witty, dryly funny character-based mystery that is hard to put down. The Thursday Murder Club is the first novel by Osman, a quiz show host on British television; a sequel, The Man Who Died Twice, will be published soon. Film rights have been bought, and a third book is planned for this deservedly popular debut.

Brenda

The Rose Code

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

This immersive, compelling read features an unlikely trio of friends who work at Bletchley Park during World War II, secretly trying to break the codes used by the Germans and Italians. Debutante Osla Kendall, who reads German fluently, is dating Prince Philip of Greece. On the train from London she meets ambitious Mab, a typist whose height gets her work on the machines at Bletchley Park and who is anxious to evacuate her little sister Lucy from London’s East End. Shy Beth, whose demanding mother rents Mab and Osla a room, finds her skill at crossword puzzles leads to work as a codebreaker. The strain of the work and the demand for complete secrecy affect the women’s relationships, although outlets such as their Mad Hatter book group help somewhat. In 1947 the women are no longer friends, yet Mab and Osla meet for tea in York in response to a desperate plea from Beth, who is trying to discover who framed her as a traitor. This crisis is set during the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the royal wedding of Osla’s Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth. I loved the focus on the women’s war work and found this book, with its intensifying pace, hard to put down. Only the 624 page count will keep this book from being the top pick of many book groups. Readalikes include Code Girls by Liza Mundy, The Gown by Jennifer Robson, The Secret Lives of Codebreakers by Sinclair McKay, and The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott.

Brenda

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