Charity Ends At Home by Colin Watson is the fifth novel in the Flaxborough mystery series. The book has a smart, intriguing cover that gives a new, modern look to a novel that was first published fifty years ago. It recreates that era for us in a timeless way that doesn’t feel dated. We are conducted back in time very enjoyably.
The stately town of Flaxborough is awash with colourful characters. They’re not quite eccentric but definitely not quite ordinary. And a lot of them aren’t quite as respectable as they try to make out. The place is also awash with charities that don’t take very kindly to each other at all. So when a leading light of one of the charities is found dead, there are plenty of suspects, including her husband whose alibi quickly disintegrates.
DI Purbright leads the investigation, assisted by Sergeant Love. And there are another pair of investigators at work – Montgomery Hive and his friend Lucy Teatime. They interact, as do all the characters, in fascinating and delightful ways.
Comedy simmers below the surface in the form of razor sharp wit and situations that are almost ridiculous but somehow retain their dignity. An example is one magnificent scene where everyone is at cross purposes. The headteacher thinks one of his guest speakers, recruited at the last minute, is someone rather important but he is actually a private detective, although he’s masquerading as a photographer. He himself thinks he’s at a prize-giving rather than a careers evening. Add a few too many double whiskeys and some cheeky students and things don’t go as expected.
The whole book is full of wry observations and tongue-in-cheek humour, but it never collapses into farce or slapstick. This is what keeps the story lively, even though the action moves at a sedate pace and our characters are Britishly self-controlled. It’s thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.
Recently widowed Evie, who’s 75, realises she should never have sold her home and moved into a care home in Dublin. She’s bored and going into a decline. So, she absconds. A four-tuitous (four is her lucky number!) win on the horses gives her the funds she needs to head first to Liverpool and some other cities, and then south for some sunshine. And so she leaves the UK for France, where she encounters some fascinating people and situations. It’s an emotional and developmental journey for her as well as physical one.
Meanwhile, her son Brendan, whose marriage to Maura is floundering, takes it on himself to track hi mother down. He doesn’t have much to go on other than dogged determination. He’d rather go alone, but Maura insists on joining him in the ailing Fiat Panda. Time after time they narrowly miss Evie but in the process learn a lot about themselves.
Part picaresque, part coming of age, and with a touch of travelogue, this book is a total delight from start to finish. Every character is fascinating, although none can outshine our ordinary yet extraordinary heroine. There’s humour and tragedy, conflict and love. It’s simply unputdownable. A grand old novel.
‘The Goat Parva Murders’ is a very entertaining and quirky cozy mystery. It’s populated with many very colourful characters who are a delight,even if some of them are a touch creepy. Our investigative heroes are Inspector Knowles and his sidekick Barnes. They have their hands full trying to make sense of things in Goat Parva, that’s for sure.
Julian Worker is a wonderful writer. There’s sharp observation of detail, loads of tongue-in-cheek humour, and an ingenious and imaginative plot. The story bounds along and drags you with it, with lots of action and excitement.
This is a super piece of writing, one of those indie gems that make you so grateful for the ebook revolution.
Murder She Knit is a gentle, enjoyable cozy. Yes, there’s a murder but it’s offstage, although the dead body is found in the garden of our heroine, Pamela Paterson. Widow Pamela is on her own now that her daughter Penny is off at college, but she has a busy life editing a craft magazine, and knitting and baking fill any time left. Plus there’s a stray cat that keeps appearing and demanding attention.
It’s her turn to host the Knit and Nibble group that meet on Tuesday evenings. At the last minute she invites an old acquaintance she unexpectedly bumps into that day. However, this friend, Amy, never arrives and she’s the body that Pamela subsequently finds, stabbed by a knitting needle.
Pamela, with help from friend and neighbour Bettina, sets about investigating. The mystery she untangles is well constructed, interesting and convincing. The town of Arborville, a small college town, offers plenty of possible needle-wielders. There’s some very special yarn involved, and another victim. The author keeps us all on our toes in guessing who the perp actually is.
The book is well written, with light touches and lots of tension. Pamela is a convincing and likeable heroine, and we’re quickly pulled into her world. We encounter lots of equally fascinating characters. Arborville is described in careful detail and starts to feel like home. And as an extra treat, after the exciting denouement, there’s a recipe and a knitting pattern for us.
An easy, absorbing read, and the first in a series that I look forward to following. And what a lovely cover!
This book makes for perfect reading at this meteorologically challenged time of year as it takes us from the cold, snowbound days of Christmas into joyous, warm springtime and then summer. Ellie Browne, landlady of the Dog and Duck, and her partner Max, owner of the country mansion Braithewaite Manor, are our central characters. There’s great excitement at the beginning of the book, when their baby Noel makes his precipitous entrance into the world, but the action keeps going as life is busy for Ellie and there’s also Polly’s wedding coming up. Polly is Ellie’s best friend so she wants to put on a really good show. However, deep down there’s another wedding she’d rather be planning for, but she’s the one who keeps throwing the spanner into the works where that one’s concerned.
There’s a fascinating cast of characters in the book. We get to meet Ellie’s parents, now back from Dubai, and they add some drama of their own to proceedings. Max’s family supplies a few surprises too.
As well as the feel-goodness of the story, the author’s writing raises your spirits as it’s warm and inviting. Jill Steeples tells her romantic comedy in a friendly, flowing fashion. There’s humour, drama, tension, heartache and joy, all the compelling ingredients we need to keep us hooked to the very end.
This is the last in the Dog and Duck trilogy, and it’s been a pleasure to read them all. The previous books were ‘Christmas at the Dog and Duck’ and ‘Summer at the Dog and Duck’. What’s more, all three have wonderful, eye-catching covers. Author and publishers have worked hard to produce a real treat for their readers.
‘Winning your never-ending battle against stuff’
Let’s face it: most of us have a lot of stuff. Possessions, like they say of enemies, tend to accumulate as you go through life. Now, having stuff is OK, so long as it’s useful and you have a place to keep it. But when you don’t use yet still hang onto it, and it’s taking up the space where you could and should be keeping beneficial items, then it’s crossed the line and become clutter. And it needs to go.
The author tells us that the most important thing about decluttering is that stuff you don’t need leaves your home. It’s not about shifting stuff, rearranging it or buying new containers. Decluttering is not organising, but it’s certainly the first step towards it.
Throughout the author is very encouraging and very down to earth. She begins by explaining how her own clutter built up, rapidly and unnoticed, and then became a problematic part of her life. Her message is to live for now – not the future or past. Don’t hang onto items of vaguely sentimental value if you haven’t got space for them. Don’t hang onto stuff just in case you think you might use it one day. (There is a big difference between usefulness and using something.) Have what you need now to hand.
Dana K White uses some great words and terms. Here are a few examples that will resonate with most of us messy people:
• Deslobification – method of improving how your home looks from a cluttered mess to far more acceptable.
• Decluttering paralysis – don’t let it afflict you: you can overcome your clutter.
• Procasticlutter – things you just haven’t got round to dealing with but you know what you must do with it.
• Redecluttering – what you need to do when clutter threatens to make a come-back. But don’t panic, it’s a lot easier than decluttering first time round.
• Clutter threshold – the point at which the clutter becomes too much. Tell me about it!
There are four main parts to the book:
• Building a decluttering mindset: laying the ground rules and getting the ball rolling
• Decluttering room by room: the author reveals her 5-step process, but I won’t tell you what it is because you must go and buy the book. However, it really is effective as I’ve been trying it out.
• Helping others declutter: giving friends and family a helping hand in getting rid of stuff they no longer need
• Special circumstances in decluttering: how to tackle the huge jobs, like moving house or clearing out a loved one’s home.
The ‘at the speed of life’ element of the title is basically just fitting decluttering into your free time without it driving you mad. And simplifying the process as much as possible with easy steps, such as put the item where you’d look for it. And remember you’ve got it the next time you need it.
This is a common-sense, heartening and uplifting book. It makes decluttering possible and actually almost enjoyable!
This book is a must for anyone with chickens and who enjoys a bit of DIY. I think the two often go together, as if you’re someone who likes to produce your own eggs then you’re generally someone who enjoys being self-sufficient. All the projects in this book are achievable, especially with such clear instructions and helpful photos. Some can be completed in an hour while others may take three or four.
The authors invite you to either follow the instructions to the letter, or make adaptations and adjustments as you see fit for your own particular little flock. They encourage recycling and customisation in all their projects.
There are four sections:
Why DIY: the aims of this book are to help you save money by making things for yourself.
Basic tools and skills: from hammers and tape measures, to circular saws, you get the lowdown on what you need. You can manage with very simple straightforward tools, but electric ones make life quicker and easier. There’s advice on techniques such as cross cuts, and accurate measuring and marking, and handy and very sensible safety advice.
A look at the history of chicken keeping: this provides a nice little interlude before we roll our sleeves up and get busy, and very much gets the point across that improvisation to reflect the economic climate has always been part of keeping chickens.
And finally the projects. Each on is graded as to difficulty (many are beginner level) and gives an idea of how long it will take to make. They’re varied but they’re all extremely useful.
First up is a chicken tractor, not as in a farm machine for your chook to drive, but a movable chicken run. These are so handy.
Dust-bathing area: a great and hygienic treat for your chooks, and it will stop them digging holes in the flowerbeds.
Feeder/waterer: made from drainpipe parts, this is inspired. Chickens are messy eaters, and this has the benefit of keeping the food clean too.
Compost bin: to get the benefits of all that chicken compost, mixed with kitchen scraps
Egg incuabator: This is an advanced project, but looks a very interesting one to try.
Nest boxes: my chickens pointedly ignore any nesting box I give them and lay wherever they please, but I’m hoping that these might tempt my girls to be good.
Egg candler: this is a box design which provides a secure base for the egg you’re examining.
Chicken roost: a sturdy, movable roost that satisfies their psychological need to roost off the ground at night, and helps keep their feet healthy. Adapt this for the number of chickens you have.
Dropping board: this fits below the roost to catch all that night-time poop.
Chick brooder: to keep your hatchlings nice and cosy.
Quarantine habitat: chickens get sick from time to time and here’s a comfy cage to keep them isolated and unstressed in.
Collapsible chicken run: a foldable run, easy to move around, for when you need to keep your chickens contained.
Chicken ramp: to give your chickens easy, non-slip access to any elevated area, such as a raised coop door.
Chicken swing: delightful! A swinging roost, that’s really simple to make.
5-gallon bucket next boxes: a very quick and easy nesting box.
hod: an egg-collecting basket with wire mesh sides and bottom. You don’t have to worry about all of your eggs in this as it will keep them undamaged.
Grazing box: allows your chickens to graze at plants without totally destroying them.
Wading pool: a paddling pool ramp for hot days.
Chicken sweater- knitting pattern: this is just for fun to make your chooks look pretty, but could come in handy in short spells for a chicken that’s suffering at the beak of an overzealous cockerel.
Egg recipes for when you’re getting overwhelmed with eggs!
I was delighted to see a helpful index at the back – so many books don’t bother with these yet they’re an essential feature of a non-fiction book.
This is a fabulous book, full of great ideas. It’s beautifully thought and out and presented and if you keep chickens then you could really do with this book on your shelf. It would make a fantastic present for any chicken lovers in your life.
The authors are Samantha Johnson and Daniel Johnson. Published by CompanionHouse Books.
Paperback is priced at €13,64 $19,99 £14,99
F may be for France but it’s also for fascinating! This really is an interesting collection of assorted facts about France, many of them quirky. It will give you plenty of interesting things to bring up in conversations. “Did you know that it takes half a mile of Merino wool to make a beret? Did you know that the Eiffel Tower was only intended to be a temporary construction? Did you know that 95 pizzas are eaten every second in France? Did you know that the 100 billionth Bic pen was sold in September 2006?”
This little gem of a book is packed full of such rich snippets, covering culture, literature, history, language, art, nature, beauty, food, everyday life, eccentricities to give just a few examples. They’re presented in A to Z format. The author has put many, many hours of research into this book, and I think she must have had a ball while she was doing so. She shares plenty of quirky, delightful, and occasionally macabre bits of information that really do give you a good idea of what France and Frenchness is all about.
The author has a lively style and you quickly become thoroughly engrossed in what she’s saying. It’s a book you can dip in and out of, but it’s very hard to put it down once you pick it up.
In conclusion, I have to give this book another F word – ‘formidable’!
I love knitting and I love birds, so it was impossible for me to resist this book. And if you share those sentiments, then so will you.
It’s a luxurious book. The first two pages fold outwards to give a four-page spread showing all the various birds you’ll be able to knit using this book. Same again at the back. The book is illustrated with full colour photos throughout, and there are very clear and well laid out instructions for making the birds.
Chapter One is an introduction from Arne and Carlos, describing their love of birds and how that gave rise to this book. The next two chapters in Part One outline everything you’ll need to make these fabulous little birds, from yarn and stuffing material, to how to construct their wire legs. (An note here: the book recommends using 1.5mm galvanised wired, but I found that rather stiff to handle so I’ve used 1.1mm wire very successfully.)
Part Two presents the birds. They’re all variations on the same basic pattern, and each one can be knitted up in a couple of hours. There are hats and scarfs to knit for them too, and a couple of tea-cosies to which to attach them. There are spring birds, winter birds, garden birds, embroidered birds, birds in traditional sweaters and rare birds of paradise. These latter are knitted using embroidery yarn rather than the usual fingering yarn from which the others are made, and have sequins and feathers attached. Gorgeous!
It really is a wonderful, inspiring, work-of-art of a book. I’ve already knitted four little birds and just can’t seem to stop. They’re addictive. It’s exactly the book to treat your knitting self to for a special occasion, such as Christmas or birthday or the fact it’s Wednesday. Any excuse will do!
Here to finish are a few of my birds.
From the very start, I was gripped by this novel. I have to confess that I thought I probably would be, as I’m a huge fan of Aaron Paul Lazar. And this wonderful author didn’t let me down.
Gus and his wife Camille are on a long-awaited and much-needed holiday. But, as is so true when you’re leaving family members behind, they’re torn. They need this break but they miss home too. This is just one of the lovely touches in this book. As with the other novels in this series, there is such a warm domestic background. In fact warmth is what characterises the book: bad things happen, but there is security and love and loyalty in the background. Gus himself is such a warm likeable character. People can’t help opening up to him, and he can’t help getting involved. Camille is far more than a token sidekick. She’s a strong character, and has a strong role to play in this exciting mystery.
When a car crashes onto the beach close to him, Gus is drawn into a mystery concerning two feuding families. One is dysfunctional in the extreme whilst the other is very close but challenged. Sinister events pull Gus into thrilling events that have their roots in the eighteenth century. We have pirates and lost treasure alongside very modern problems, such a single mum struggling to make a living and also trying to save her baby’s father from the abuse he appears to be suffering at home.
The title Murder on the Brewster Flats is a clever one as there are actually two we learn about – one in the past, connected to the pirate element, and a modern one that puts several other characters in immediate danger. Also clever, there’s a crossover element: Gus and Camille encounter Jack and Scout Remington from the Paines Creek Beach series. It works so well!
This is an exciting and polished novel which you can’t put down.