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Archive for March, 2020

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The Birthday Mystery is the first in a series of cozy(ish) mysteries featuring cook Jenny Starling as an amateur sleuth.

Jenny is hired to cater the 21st birthday party of aristocratic twins Alicia and Justin Greer. However when she arrives she discovers that a young man has been killed on the premises of the Greer home. The death is thought to be accidental and the party proceeds. But another death during the evening shocks everyone, and as the cook, Jenny is aghast when she learns that the victim was poisoned. She soon sets out to help the police solve the mystery, and in the process secrets are uncovered.

Hmm, I have mixed feelings about this one. It started promisingly – Jenny seemed a likeable enough character, and it appeared to be an intriguing mystery, with enough suspects to keep the reader/listener (I listened to the audiobook) guessing, and plenty of red herrings. However, the constant references to Jenny’s physical characteristics soon became annoying; she is described at the beginning of the book as being 6’1″ in height, and probably slightly overweight, but the author rather patronisingly points out that despite this, Jenny is very attractive – this in itself was somewhat insulting, as if saying that it is unusual for an overweight person to be attractive. Still, okay, it’s not unusual for a writer to give a physical description of their character. But it felt as though Jenny’s appearance was being pointed out constantly. She was frequently referred to as being “Juno-esque” and I felt that the only reason to labour the point was that it became plot relevant somewhere down the line. It doesn’t.

Secondly, while it is a staple ingredient of cozy crime stories to have the main character as someone assisting the police who in all honesty has no right to get involved, in this case it lost it’s charm. Jenny seemed to forget that it wasn’t her job to investigate at all and took it as her right to solve the crime. To add insult to injury, she later reveals that she has known for ages who the perpetrator was – THAT’S WHEN YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO TELL THE POLICE!! Instead she kept the info to herself. Sigh. The last part just consisted of Jenny’s exposition to the police, as to the who, how and why of the crime. Frankly it was all a bit ridiculous.

Overall, while the book held my attention for the first two thirds, it ended up annoying me at the end. I also felt that it was not cozy enough for a cozy mystery, and not thrilling enough for a full-on thriller. It seemed somewhat caught in the middle. That said, it is only the first book in the series and maybe some of the kinks might be ironed out in subsequent stories.

This audiobook was narrated by Charlotte Worthing, who did a perfectly decent job.

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The Thorn Birds has been on my tbr shelf (I laughingly refer to it as a shelf as if there aren’t that many books I have not yet read – ha!) for about six years. It’s not generally the kind of book I go in for, but I bought it for some reason – I have a feeling my aunt recommended it – and just occasionally I like to get caught up in a sweeping saga, so in search of some escapism (at the time of writing, most of the world is on lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic) I decided this might do the trick.

Pretty much all I knew about The Thorn Birds prior to reading was that there was a tv series adaptation in the 1980, starring Richard Chamberlain; I knew it was about the love between a woman and a Catholic Priest, and apparently it was extremely scandalous!! With this in mind, the book turned out to be a bit of a surprise. I was expecting a love story but this is more of a family saga, concentrating on three generations of the Cleary family. It takes place from the early to mid/late 20th century on a homestead in Australia (mainly) and at the centre of it is Father Ralph De Briccassart and his love for Meggie Cleary. It starts as a paternal type of love as Meggie is only a child when they first meet, and Ralph is a young priest, but as she grows older, their love becomes more – but Ralph’s vocation is always between them.

A lot of the book is given over to other characters – in the beginning, Meggie’s brothers and parents; and later on the net generation of the family, Justine and Dane. The hardships and realities of running a sheep station in Australia.

I did more or less enjoy the book – clearly it was well researched and it did hold my attention for the most part. However, I did not particularly warm to Meggie and I certainly didn’t like Ralph, who seemed particularly mercenary and manipulative. Nonetheless, I am glad I read it although it wouldn’t be a story I would probably want to reread at any point.

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This is the third ‘episode’ in the Cherringham series and another enjoyable story.

Cherringham is preparing for it’s annual Christmas choir performance, when one of the women in the choir, Kirsty, dies of anaphylactic shock from eating a biscuit containing peanuts. It is originally thought of as a tragic accident, but Kirsty’s friend Beth has her suspicions and asks the unofficial detectives Jack and Sarah to investigate.

As always, secrets are unearthed and of course the truth is finally revealed.

Expertly narrated again by Neil Dudgeon, this series has continued to delight me, being undemanding enough to listen to while out running, but also keeping me guessing. Bring on episode 4!

 

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In the late 80s, the Thunder Girls were the biggest girl band on the planet. Chrissie, Carly, Roxanne and Anita had the world at their feet, until it came to an abrupt end. Three of their careers were destroyed and the friendship was in tatters.

Thirty years later, they are invited to get back together for a reunion gig, but after all the backstabbing, betrayals and recriminations, can they even bear to be in the same room?

This book follows the girls throughout their separate lives, which include divorce, children, addiction, and bankruptcy. Not to mention that while they are planning the huge comeback which will see them back on the pedestals, someone else is plotting to bring them down…

I wanted a book that was undemanding and light hearted, and this book fitted the bill. It wasn’t always light hearted, but it also wasn’t ever to be taken too seriously. There’s a fairly healthy dollop of Jackie Collins-esque storylines here (although without the X-rating), mixed in with The Bold and the Beautiful type scenes and some of the events require a suspension of disbelief, while others were were predictable.

This is not the kind of book that wins literary prizes and nor is it meant to be. But if you want some pure escapism, this might do the trick.

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I previously reviewed Murder on Thames, which is the first book in the Cherringham Cozy Crime series, and over the past two days I have listened to book 2, Mystery at the Manor. In this book, Victor Hamblyn, the elderly owner of Mogdon Manor, dies in a fire at his house. But when he is found, it appears that rather than trying to get out of the manor downstairs, he went up to the attic for reasons that nobody can fathom.

Meantime his three avaricious children, Dominic, Susan and Terry, are all only interested in one thing – their inheritance. None of them trust each other, and each of them thinks that they will be the only heir. But is that enough reason for them to murder their father? Sarah Edwards and retired NYC detective Jack Brennan are soon on the case…

As with the first book, and indeed the rest of the series, this novella is narrated by Neil Dudgeon, who has a perfect voice for audiobooks. I found this episode in the Cherringham series to be just as enjoyable as the first one, if not more so, especially as at the beginning of this one, we are already acquainted with Sarah and Jack.

I didn’t guess the ending either, and that’s always a bonus, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers for anyone who is thinking of checking out this series (and if you are a fan of cozy crime, then you really should).

All in all, another great read and I look forward to book 3.

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I listened to this audiobook over the course of two runs. Narrated brilliantly by Neil Dudgeon, who stars in Midsomer Murders (a favourite show of mine although I love the John Nettles episodes best, because well…John Nettles), this is a similar kind of story and I can actually imagine this would work really well as a TV series.

Sarah Edwards is a single mother, who moved back to Cherringham – a lovely little village in the Cotswolds – from London after her marriage broke up. She is shocked to hear of the apparent suicide of her childhood friend Sammi, but soon starts to suspect that Sammi may in fact have been murdered.

Jack Brennan is a retired New York Homicide Detective who has moved to Cherringham after his retirement, to live a quiet life with his dog on their boat. However, when the opportunity to get involved in solving a possible murder comes his way, he teams up with Sarah to find out the truth behind Sammi’s death.

I really enjoyed this book – it comes in at just under 3 hours, but happily there are several more episodes in this series, as well as a couple of fuller length novels.

If you like shows like Midsomer Murders or books like the Agatha Raisin series, I would highly recommend this. I enjoyed the narration but I think I would have equally enjoyed reading it as a physical book. I will definitely be listening to / reading more in the series.

 

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I first saw The Book of Mormon at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway, New York. This time it was in Birmingham, UK, a lot closer to home.

I’m trying to link to my previous review, but at the moment WordPress won’t let me, so here it is in it’s entirety:

“If you haven’t heard of this musical, then all I can say is, where have you been hiding for the last  few years?! Causing fits of laughter, receiving accolades and plaudits aplenty and managing to offend a few people along the way, The Book of Mormon has carved out a huge name for itself, not least because it was written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

I was lucky enough to be able to see this show on Broadway in New York, and wow! What an experience! The story is fairly straightforward – after a brief intro explaining what The Book of Mormon actually is – we are plunged into the narrative of two young Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, who are given the task of preaching the Mormon religion in Uganda. However, when they arrive in the remote Ugandan village, they discover the inhabitants are more concerned with their own problems, such as famine, AIDS and trying to escape the tyranny of the local warlord.

As Elder Price becomes increasingly frustrated with his inability to get through to the locals, as well as his annoyance at being teamed with the misfit Elder Cunningham, it is in fact the said Elder Cunningham who gets through to the villagers in a most unconventional manner, leading to chaos – and much hilarity.

It must be said – as if everyone didn’t already know – that this is most definitely not a show for children or for the easily offended. It relentlessly takes the mickey out of organised religion (there is a song in it called F*** You God), there is a hefty dollop of swear words throughout, and references to all kinds of lewd and illegal acts. So there are plenty of reasons to think that this show wouldn’t have been a huge success…and there are plenty of reasons why it is absolutely a success and is now in its sixth year on Broadway.

In the production we saw, Mancunian actor Don Simpson played Elder Price – he was excellent, and had a wonderful singing voice and perfect comic timing. The more eccentric Elder Cunningham was played by Brian Sears, who was hilarious and had the whole audience rooting for him, bringing a sense of vulnerability to the character.

Nabulungi, beautiful daughter of the Ugandan doctor and the villager who is most enthusiastic to learn more about The Book of Mormon is played by Kim Exum. She too had a gorgeous voice and was exactly as sweet yet feisty as the role demands. The aforementioned Doctor Mafala was played by Billy Eugene Jones, and has the honour of getting to sing the last – and possibly the funniest – song lyric in the whole show (I’m not spoiling it for you here). The evil General was played by Derrick Williams, complete with yellow cowboy boots and utter confusion at Elder Price’s attempts to convert him.

There are some excellent songs in the show, and although I didn’t know any of them prior to attending, they were all very catchy – my favourites being the opening number Hello!, as well as You and Me (But Mostly Me), Sal Play Ka Siti, and Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, which accompanied an incredibly funny scene set in hell, as the title would suggest (complete with the characters of Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Genghis Khan and…Johnny Cochran.)

Overall, I really enjoyed this show, and the rest of the packed auditorium also seemed to love it. I would dearly like to see this show again and am already looking into the possibility of seeing it in London’s West End.

Highly, highly recommended (but not if you are easily offended!!)”

Everything I said above about the show still stands – it’s hilarious and the cast (entirely different and listed below) were equally as good. I loved the show and highly recommend it.

Elder Price was played by Robert Colvin

Elder Cunningham was played by Conner Peirson

Nabulungi was played by Nicole-Lily Baisden

Elder McKinley was played by Will Hawksworth

Mafala Hatimbi was played by Ewen Cummins

The General was played by Thomas Vernal, who also played Satan

 

 

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