It Started with a Secret by Jill Mansell

It Started with a Secret by Jill Mansell

Every year I look forward to reading the latest book by Jill Mansell, and It Started with a Secret was no exception – enjoyable escapism and a lovely Cornish setting.

When Lainey and Kit lose their jobs at a French chateau, they apply for a live-in position with a wonderfully eccentric family in Cornwall, but have to pretend to be a couple when they are really just good friends. This causes a few misunderstandings, but by then the family have come to rely on Lainey and Kit, and so they are forgiven.

There is a lot of humour in the stories of Majella’s internet dating, Sir Richard’s obsessive fans, and Seth’s weird mother to name but a few. There are also some truly awful characters, but I’ll let you discover them for yourself.

Jill Mansell writes believable characters who inhabit a world so realistic you almost forget you are reading a novel. I read somewhere that St Carys encapsulates everything that Jill loves about Cornwall (she created it initially for a previous book, Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay) without all the downsides; it certainly sounds idyllic.

I definitely recommend It Started with a Secret, and if you have not read anything by Jill Mansell before you have her extensive back catalogue to look forward to.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society is a fictional account of how the society came into being, in the Hampshire village of Chawton, just after the second world war.

This is where Jane Austen lived for the last few years of her life, and where she wrote some of her best known works. Love for her writing brings this diverse group of people together; most of them live in the village, with the exception of the American movie star, Mimi, and her friend from Sothebys. They are all suffering in one way or another and find solace in Jane Austen’s writing.

The pace is slow to begin with, as we are introduced to all the characters and their backstories, but picks up after the reading of Mr Knight’s will when the society’s task becomes more urgent. It does not help that Jane Austen was in no way as popular then as she is now.

While you do not need to have read the works of Jane Austen to make sense of this story, it would certainly enhance your enjoyment as there are echoes of some of her stories in the relationships in the book. The period detail is good on the whole, but there are some jarring words and phrases that would definitely not have been used in Chawton in the 1940s.

The Jane Austen Society is beautifully narrated by Richard Armitage, whose skill makes it easy to differentiate between the many characters. I had not read anything by Natalie Jenner before, but will definitely be on the lookout for her next book.

The Pretender's Gold by Scott Mariani

The Pretenders Gold by Scott Mariani

The Pretender’s Gold is the twenty-first action-packed thriller featuring Ben Hope. I have loved this series right from the start, and this one does not disappoint.

Boonzie McCulloch, Ben’s old friend and mentor, has gone to Kinlochardaich in northern Scotland to rescue his nephew from a bit of bother. When his wife has not heard from him for a few days, she calls Ben Hope. Not knowing much about what he is getting into, he sets off in search of Boonzie.

What follows is a character-driven, fast-paced action thriller (with a historical element) that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Ben Hope is definitely the one you want on your side in a crisis.

 I really enjoyed that The Pretender’s Gold was set mainly in my home country of Scotland; Scott Mariani really brings the beauty and remoteness of the highlands to life. Not long to wait now until the next Ben Hope adventure, The Demon Club, is published in November.

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read is marketed as a light-hearted romantic comedy, but it is actually quite hard to place in any particular genre; it’s neither one thing nor the other. The cover, while attractive to look at, is very misleading.

January and Gus end up living next door to each other on the shores of Lake Michigan. Both are published authors having trouble with writer’s block. They hatch a plan to swap genres to see if this will inspire them, and offer to help each other with their research. This is the interesting part of the story, as the writer explores why men can be so snooty about books written by women. I would have liked more on this subject, and less about the ‘Cult’ subplot which felt like it was in the wrong book.

The writing was good, but I did not like either of the main characters, and their romance felt contrived. Part of the problem was that the story was told solely from January’s point of view; in this case it did not work for me. Alternate chapters from both main characters might have given a more balanced view.

The lakeside setting was underused – it seemed strange that they rarely went to the beach – considering the book’s title and cover. There were a lot of repetitive phrases that became a bit annoying, and some of the dialogue was very cheesy. January, especially, did not come across as a mature adult.

Judging by the number of five star reviews for Beach Read, I realise that I am in a minority. Sometimes you just can’t put your finger on why a book does not appeal.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a review copy.

Borderlands by LJ Ross

Borderlands by LJ Ross

I have read and enjoyed all of the DCI Ryan novels by LJ Ross, but Borderlands just did not quite live up to expectations. The elements that drew me to this series are still there – strong sense of place (Northumberland) and well-written main characters (especially the relationship between Ryan and Frank) – but this story lacked focus as the team were all engaged in different directions. The plot left a lot to be desired as some of the supposed links were never explained. The ending was very unsatisfying with more questions than answers.

I thought there was too much emphasis on the home lives of the detectives. The sheer improbability of them all living and working with their partners has become far too cosy, and would not be allowed in real life (I know it’s fiction, but it still jars).

I agree with a lot of the other reviewers that this book felt a bit rushed, and would prefer fewer books each year, but to a higher standard. Nevertheless, I will continue buying this series, mainly because of Ryan. I have the latest one, The Shrine, lined up on my kindle, and look forward to reading it very soon.

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