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I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

This is an interesting collection of crime stories dating back to early in the twentieth century.  All are set in Europe.  There are well know authors as well as not so well known ones.  There are thefts of jewels, the discovery of murdered bodies and some very spooky happenings in a fairy tale castle on the Rhine.

I enjoyed the Agatha Christie story which features J Parker Pyne rather than the much better known Hercule Poirot.  I thought it was interesting to see that there is a story featuring a retired French detective called Hercules Popeau who has many similarities to Christie’s later creation of Poirot.  The story’s author was apparently not very impressed when she came across Christie’s creation.

If you enjoy Golden Age detective fiction then you will probably enjoy this interesting collection of short stories which has something for everyone.

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The Brandons: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics Book 42)

This is a charming story of life in a country village with the focus on a fete.  The beautiful Mrs Brandon – a widow with two grown up children – captivates all men who come within her orbit though she is completely oblivious of the effect she has on other people. Her late husband’s Aunt Sissie seems likely to die before long.  She is an irascible old lady and Mrs Brandon feels sorry for her much tried companion – Miss Morris – and vows to have Miss Morris to stay once Aunt Sissie dies.

A chicken pox epidemic among the poor and a vicar who is excellent at parish work but who regards Mrs Brandon as a goddess; Mrs Grant who is obsessed with Italy and who lards her conversation with Italian phrases; servants who are domestic tyrants and  the usual collection of angst ridden young people make up this entertaining froth of a book.

If you want a book to lose yourself in and where the descriptions and dialogue will at least make you smile then this book is ideal.  It is light hearted and amusing and ideal if you want to remind yourself that such villages did exist in the 1930s.  If you have read Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels and Ivy Compton Burnett then the society depicted in Angela Thirkell’s novels will be familiar to you.

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The Spirituality of Jane Austen

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

Paula Hollingsworth shows how Jane Austen’s faith and spirituality runs through all her work and her life.  It is all too easy to assume because Austen makes fun of Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice that she is making fun of faith and religion in general.  But if you look more closely you will see that she only makes fun of Mr Collins in social situations and we never see him in church or about his parish duties.

Mansfield Park is probably the most spiritual of the novels and it shows clearly the importance of spirituality in daily life.  Fanny and Edmund are excellent examples of faith and Christian principles in action.  They do not impose their believes on other people but they set a good example to everyone else with whom they come in contact.

The author shows that Austen makes fun of the church which allows such people as Mr Collins and Mr Elton to hold office but she does also show how spirituality and faith are so important to living a good and virtuous life without being pious or pompous.

This is a fascinating book and it has shown me how there is always something new to see in Austen’s six novels and I shall read them with fresh eyes having read the book.  It includes a reading list and an index and is a must for anyone who loves Jane Austen and books about books.

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The Virgin In The Ice (Chronicles Of Brother Cadfael Book 6)

Civil war is ravaging the countryside and a young boy and his beautiful sister have disappeared in the snow.  Brother Cadafel is one of those out looking for them as well as treating a fellow monk from another Benedictine house nearby.  Hugh Berengar, the deputy sheriff, is part of the search party but it is Cadfael who discovers the first traces of the missing children.

Violence, snow and ice and deception are rife in this tense and well written mystery set on 1139.  I love the way Cadfael puts together the small clues which he sees to create the true picture of what has happened and where the missing children might be.

This book really does show how difficult life becomes if law and order breaks down even though it is set nine hundred years ago.  This is the sixth book is this well written and interesting series featuring Brother Cadfael.

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Before Lunch (VMC Book 2216)

Jack Middleton has agreed to his sister and her two stepchildren staying at the house next door to where he lives for the summer.  Jack himself is not an easy man to get on with if only because he never stops talking.

His sister Lilian talks a lot as well but she does listen to other people.  Her stepchildren, Denis and Daphne are soon fitting into the neighbourhood and becoming part of everyone’s lived.  The neighbourhood is indignant about proposed plans to build on a local beauty spot and vows to stop the owner in his tracks.

This is a delightful social comedy which made me laugh out loud at some of the descriptions and dialogue.  There are misunderstandings, star crossed lovers – both young and older – and plenty of snobbery and one-up-manship.

If you enjoy authors such as Nancy Mitford, Ivy Compton Burnett and Jane Austen then you will probably enjoy Angela Thirkell.  It is good to see these books available again.

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The Leper Of Saint Giles (Chronicles Of Brother Cadfael Book 5)

A marriage is about to take place in Shrewsbury between a powerful lord and a young heiress in the care of her aunt and uncle.  Brother Cadfael watches the procession as the both bride and groom ride into the town with the bride and her entourage staying at the abbey.  He thinks the bride is not too keen on the marriage and wonders whether there is more behind it than meets the eye.  A leper is struck out of the way of the procession by the bridegroom though in the main the town is tolerant of the lepers at St Giles hospital.

When the bridegroom is found murdered a young squire of his is under suspicion but Cadfael doesn’t believe him guilty and sets out to find out the real murderer.  This is an entertaining mystery with some interesting sub plots and some well drawn characters and situations.  I like the historical background and can almost feel as though I am in twelfth century Shrewsbury while I am reading. This book has interesting information about the treatment of leprosy at that date.

If you enjoy historical crime stories then this series is a good one to try.  The books can be read in any order though some of the characters do reappear in other books.

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The Mermaid's Feast (The Darina Lisle Mysteries Book 10)

This is the tenth and last book in this entertaining mystery series.  Darina Lisle is offered a free cruise round the Norwegian fiords in exchange for doing a cookery demonstration and advising the chef on Scandinavian dishes.  It seems like a good opportunity for Darina and her detective husband William to get away from it all for a fortnight.  But it turns out to be a bit of a busman’s holiday for William when a crew member disappears and it seems as though he could have thrown himself overboard.  Did he fall or was a he pushed?

Darina finds herself left to her own devices when William is asked to help with the investigation. She soon discovers that there are all sorts of tensions between the passengers and some of them have been on the same cruises before.  Can she discover what is going on before William?

This is a well written and interesting crime story with a particularly vicious murderer at the heart of it. I enjoyed the food background and the descriptions of Norwegian scenery as well as life on board a cruise ship.  If you enjoy crime stories without on the page violence and with interesting and informative backgrounds then this series is worth a try.  The books are best read in the order of publication.

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