Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Margery Benson is introduced in this story as a ten year old girl, sitting in her father’s study and enjoying his company as he shares the book Incredible  Creatures. She is quite taken with the sketches of animals and in particular a Golden Beetle from New Caledonia.

Suddenly this pleasant moment is shattered when her father receives a visitor telling him all four of his sons have been killed in the war.  His grief and shock is so great that he immeditely goes outside and kills himself. This life shattering event forces Margery and her mother to leave their home and live with relatives.

We quickly jump to 1950 in London, Margery is an unmarried disheveled school teacher getting zero respect or joy in her job. After a particularly horrible day at school she sinks into depression and suddenly remembers a bright spot in her life; her former obsession with the golden beetle in New  Caledonia.

Margery decides to upend her sorry, boring life and take an adventure to look for the golden beetle. Some of that inspiration may come from wanting to connect to her much missed father, in my opinion.  She knows nothing about New Caledonia and advertises for an assistant who speaks French so she will have an interpreter.  After interviewing several people she ends up with an unlikely companion, Miss Enid Pretty.  This beuatiful blonde tells her, after they are well underway toward New Caledonia, that she does not in fact speak French.  She only knows “Bon Shoor” and off they go. Margery and Enid set off unprepared for an adventure of their lifetime.

These women couldn’t be more different in looks and personality but a true friendship develops as they move through the jungle, end up in crazy predicaments and their lives intertwine. I very much liked the end but the middle of the book dragged a bit, just for a while.

Much thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book. This book will be published November 24, 2020. Opinions are mine and I was not compensated for this review.

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brifri  netgalley

The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves {Book #9 in the Vera Stanhope series}


Ages ago I was introduced to Ann Cleeves’ series Shetland and I enjoyed the few books I read.  But this series about Vera Stanhope has completely captured my attention.  If you like British police procedurals and an uncoventional detective you are in for a treat.

The setting is Northumbria near the Cumbrian border in December, just before Christmas.

Detective Vera Stanhope is on her way home from work when she is caught in a blizzard. She ought to have waited until the storm passed but being a stubborn woman, set off anyway. After a wrong turn she comes upon a car pulled off, the door open and a toddler strapped in a car seat in the back. No sign of any adult.   Vera takes the little boy through the blizzard to shelter at a nearby estate.  This manor home is a known to her as it’s in the Stanhope family.  Her father Hector took her there when she was a child but she never developed relationships with this distant family as Hector was the black sheep of the clan.

After calling the station to get assistance and report a missing woman (Vera assumes it’s a woman and most likely the child’s mother), a body is discovered near the estate.  It is indeed the child’s mother and she was most definitely murdered. There are a number of possible suspects, any of which may have motive.  This one keeps you guessing and I certainly thought I had it figured out early.  Nope!  I was wrong.  What an ending!

I enjoyed this book very much. As it’s book number nine in the series and I’ve only read book one previously, I obviously missed some character development. There is a detective named Holly who seems to want Vera’s approval and I sensed reading she is either a new character to the series or I’ve missed important developments. No matter, it was a smooth read and I never felt like I ought to put it down and start at the beginning of the series.

Foodie Stuff

Wine and mince pies, tea and thin sandwiches, meringues, roasted pheasant cooked slowly in with red wine and shallots, vegetable casseroles for the veggies and vegans, roast potatoes, sprouts and parsnips.
Bread and soup
Eggs Benedict, avocado on sourdough toast


I’m loving the series so plan to make it my goal for the remainder of the year to catch up. I’m on a Vera mission! Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced complimentary copy. I was not compensated for this review and throughly enjoyed this book.

Publication date is September 8, 2020. Genre is mystery and thriller.

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The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher


The Shell Seekers and Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher remain two of my favorite books.  It’s rare that I will reread a book unless I need a comfort read so to speak.  I needed that recently and desired to immerse myself into this story and return, through print, to Cornwall, London, Devon and Ibiza.

There was much I had forgotten so there were happy surprises.  This book was written in 1987 and therefore a bit dated.  We open with our central character Penelope Keeling who is 64 years old.  She has discharged herself from the hospital after a heart attack and once you get to know her, you will get a sharp mental image of this strong, kind and likeable woman. She was brought up by an artist father, Lawrence Stern, and her French mother Sophie. There are many references and scenes that are pivitol regarding Lawrence Stern’s paintings, the Shell Seekers among those whose importance deserves to be listed as a character in it’s own.

You will travel back in time to when Penelope was a young woman durng WW II, her enlistment in the WRENS and how she met her husband. The times during the war are well written and you are immersed in the scenes of people rationing, happy and grateful for any extra that comes their way, deprivation yet hope and love surround Penelope.

Her children are Nancy, Olivia and Noel. With the exception of Nancy’s introduction at birth, we get to know her children mainly as adults.  Each one is very different. Olivia is genuine and I know you will love her when she is introduced but Nancy and Noel are greedy and fairly unlikable.  You need characters such as this to cause tension and do you ever get it.

I never realized how much food was mentioned in this book until I read a digital copy and used the digital bookmarks.

When Nancy requested a meeting with Olivia to discuss Penelope’s living situation, Olivia took her sister to a fancy restaurant she uses for business lunches. Omelette and salad for Olivia and consommé, escalope of veal with mushrooms for Nancy.

Olivia plans to have a gentleman over dinner. Crusty brown bread, butter, a pot of pate de foie gras; chicken Kiev and salad. Olive oil, fresh peaches, cheeses, a bottle of Scotch, a couple bottles of wine. She bought an armful if daffodils and loaded all this into the boot for her car.

In Ibiza there were many  picnics by the pool.  One day Cosmo took Olivia out on a boat and their picnic that day consisted of bread and tomatoes, slices of salami, fruit and cheese and wine that was sweet and cool from him hanging the bottles in the Mediteranean.

When they hosted a party there were boiled hams, roasted birds, concocted paellas, whipped eggs, stirred sauces, cheeses, breads and tomatoes.

Chelsea buns when Noel was in Knightsbridge.

In the kitchen the air was filled with the scent of roasting sirloin, baking onions and crisping potatoes. Penelope made a pastry, peeled apples, sliced beans and carrots.
Later she would arrange cheeses on a board, grind coffee and decant the thick cream she’d fetched from the village dairy.

Yorkshire puddings, beef, crisp and nutty vegetables, horse radish sauce and rich brown gravy.

A memory of Penelope’s French mother Sophie as we travel back in time during the war.  Sophie made a chicken cassoulet in their Cornwall kitchen.

Lunches shared with Danus: a pot of homemade vegetable soup, half a cold chicken and a crusty loaf of brown bread. Stewed apples and a jug of cream.
Cold baked ham, baked potatoes and cauliflower cheese. For pudding there were jam tarts and baked egg custard.
Fresh fruit salad, Shepherds pie, biscuits and cheese.

The fresh fruit available in England might have been different than what I had on hand, but it’s a refreshing accompaniment to any meal.


Baked trout with almonds, new potatoes, raspberries and cream was the meal served for Noel after cleaning out the attic.

This meal of roast lamb and potatoes, peas and broccoli was just finished before a big blowout between Noel and Nancy.  They certainly showed their true colors and argued over money. I love the way Penelope put them in their place.

Overall I can say I enjoyed this book very much and it was worth rereading.  Family tensions and historical perspective, love and despair….it’s all here.

Sharing with

Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for Souper Sunday.  Check out her cold cucumber soup.  I brought her a fruit salad.

Marg at The Intrepid Reader and Baker for the Weekend Cooking series

Carole at Carole’s Chatter for the Books you Loved, June edition

Joy at Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday

Mum and Dad by Joanna Trollope

F51984E3-2FF8-4C04-BC56-9A4E8C8227B1I decided to take a break from my usual mysteries and read a few books about family drama and dynamics.  This author seemed to have garnered quite a following and after reading Mum and Dad I see why.

Joanna Trollope can certainly write a good detailed narrative without going overboard and boring you with too much detail.  Just enough that you get a flavor of the characters and are immersed in the scene.

The main location in this book is a sunny hilltop off a small town in Spain, home to British couple Monica and Gus Beachum. Gus always wanted to live in Spain and took his reluctant wife Monica to live there 25 years ago. Both are English and had been living in London prior to the move. Gus bought a vineyard and was quite successful growing grapes and making delicious wine. He won awards for the wine. His entire life was wrapped up in vines, spreadsheets and his business with barely time for his wife. Then he had a stroke.

Now we meet their three children, Sebastian, Katie and Jake, all of whom live in London. They are very different from one another and frankly not all that likeable in different parts of the novel.  But wait…..get to know what makes them tick and share in their own adult frustrations and lives, you gain some empathy.

You like Jake instantly with his positive attitude and willingness to drop everything and help his parents. Sebastian comes off as a cold fish and doesn’t seem to care about his parents situation. It was they who decided to become ex-pats and live far away from their homeland and children. But then you see another side of Seb as you read about his marriage to Anna (what a shrew)and what his life is like. Katie is a solicitor and partner in a law firm in London, living with her longtime partner Nic and their three daughters. She is usually stressed and after delving into her life and the shenanigans of her daughters, you have sympathy.

What do three adult children of ex-pats do when they live in London and a critical situation arises in Spain? Gus is a stubborn old man and Monica just went along with everything he wanted, all their married life. Sometimes, as the cover of this book states, Mum and Dad don’t always know best.

Every family has grievances of some sort with one another, siblings and parents both. This is an in depth family portrait of how everyone handles this situation.

Side note here – in 1999 Doug and I were traveling in England with our then 10 year old son. In Dunster we came across a business for sale and spoke to the owner. It was a gift shop selling postcards, snacks, souvenir items, etc. The living quarters were above the shop and spacious enough to accommodate our family. We were sorely tempted to take the jump and move and it makes you wonder, what situation would we have now? Could have been perfect or could have been financial ruin. Who knows! I posted detail about that HERE in my wool gathering post.

A bit of food mentioned in this novel – Dry muscatel, grilled red mullet with a salt crust.
Stuffed red peppers, aubergines fried with honey, spinach croquettes.
Grilled lamb, paella, chicken and rice and much wine is presented as the foodie items in this book,

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I Know You Know By Gilly MacMillan


The setting is Bristol England. We start off with detectives arriving on a crime scene, the rain is coming down heavy and the crime scene needs to be secured. The detectives find the bodies of Scott Ashby and Charlie Paige,  two eleven year old boys, half buried in a construction site. The prime suspect is a local man, 24 year old Sidney Noyce.  Sidney is a large man and mentally deficienct, but does that make him the murderer?  He proclaims his innocence.

Twenty years later that same detective, John Fletcher, now a seasoned officer is called to the exact crime scene to find another body buried in the same spot.  Fletcher will open the old files as it seems too big a coincidence.

Now we are introduced to Cody Swift, a film maker and good friend of Scott and Charlie’s when they were children.  He is seemingly tramatized by the events 20 years prior and with the discovery of another body/murder in the same place, he decides to start an investigative podcast about the murders.  The story is told from all sorts of perspectives – those of the podcasts, the detectives and family members. The podcasts are a medium to stir up feelings and behaviors from the past focusing on Charlie’s mother, a pimp and a twist on how the detectives handled the earlier murder.

The podcasts were integral to the plot but it’s like reading a radio talk show. That part was a little weird for me.  Otherwise, Gilly MacMillan weaves a twisty mystery in her usual style.

Much thanks to Goodreads for the complimentary copy of this book. I was not compensated for my review.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday


Black Rabbit Hall & The Irish Cottage {meh….}

I am not ashamed to say the title of the book and the photo on the cover is what attracted me. It is pretty cover and the name Black Rabbit Hall is just great. Alas, it was a rather slow moving and mopey bit of Chick Lit, pardon me for describing it that way. There is a difference between women’s fiction and chick lit in my opinion. ( That being said I enjoy a light read now and then but when you are pumped for a good mystery, it’s disappointing.)

The book was compared to that of Kate Morton or Daphne du Maurier. Probably because there is a mystery of sorts as well as an old neglected house. The setting is Cornwall and that greatly appealed to me.


Next up is The Irish Cottage, book one in a series by Juliet Gauvin.   It was a free book on Amazon  so I grabbed it as I love reading stories set in the British Isles. Not nearly enough Ireland and (for me) too much graphic sex. Romantic interludes are fine but the… uh… descriptive encounters were certainly well documented.

I was expecting the Irish setting and characters to be a major part but there isn’t much of that other than a pub dinner and talk of Guinness.

I gave it a gallant effort but ultimately it goes in a DNF pile. There are were just too many books I want to read and I’m not getting any younger so I’m not wasting my time

I just received notice an Ann Patchett novel arrived in my library holds so I will either start that next or turn to an old favorite, The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. Recently I felt ill and ended up having an emergency room visit so my concentration wasn’t keen for awhile.  Depends if I want to drive into Tallahassee for a library run.  We’ll see. Good news is I am feeling better now and want to read.

Hope all is well in your household and you are reading and cooking and enjoying life!

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Grace is Gone by Emily Elgar


Grace is Gone is a nice twisty mystery about Meg and Grace Nichols. The setting is Cornwall in a peaceful small town. Cara Dorman is the neighbor of these two, Meg is the mother and Grace is the very ill 17 year old daughter. Cara is banging away at the door to drop off a bag of clothes for Grace when she makes a shocking discovery.
As she makes her way into the house calling out for Meg, she finds Grace’s wheelchair overturned, Grace is nowhere in sight and Meg is dead in her bed. Her head is bashed in so obviously it’s murder. Where is Grace? Did Meg’s violent ex-husband kidnap her?

The story is told from two points of view, Cara the neighbor and Jon, an investigative reporter. There is also Grace’s diary where Jon gets a glimpse of her life through these diary entries.

There are many correlations with a real life case about Gyspy Blanchard. If you read about that HERE you may have some spoilers as far as this book.

I enjoyed Emily Elgar’s first book If You Knew Her much more than this one. Would I read another novel by this author? Absolutely.

For more info on the author check out her website HERE. Emily grew up in West country and currently lives in East Sussex England.  Much thanks to LibraryThing for my copy of this book.

Linking up with: British Isles Friday at Joy’s Book Blog


Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

5456994F-34B9-4AC3-AA0E-73C66C5DE6A4This book is labled as a psychyological/thriller drama involving a host of characters to which I only slighted warmed. Is it wrong to let a character name put you off? Let me just start with that – one of the main characters, or I should say a supporting character – named Roan Fours.  Maybe it’s just me but Roan Fours sounds like a game or an intersection.  He was not a likeable or sympathic character.

The main character is a 17 year old girl named Saffyre Maddox who went through some heavy trama early in her life. Roan Fours was the young woman’s child psychologist when she was 10 years old, helping her get over self harming herself.  Three years of sessions and he stopped therapy. We follow 17 year old Saffyre along as she sits outside the Fours household, watching the comings and goings of Roan, his needy haunted and suspicious wife Cate and their two children Georgia and Josh.

The abandoned lot Saffyre sets up camp is next to an apartment building where 34 year old virgin Owen Pick (yes, he is described this way in the book) lives with his aunt. He and Saffyre exchange greeeings some days but otherwise they do not intersect in each other’s worlds.  Owen is looked upon as the “creepy guy” at work and by the neighbors on the street.

There are random attacks on women in the area, grabbed from behind and groped, some raped.  Thankfully there isn’t vivid detail of the attacks, just suspicion thrown around.  During all this Saffyre suddenly disappears.  I she hiding or dead? You will wonder if it’s creepy Owen or the son Josh or the misogynistic Harrison John who makes his appearance near the end of the book.

This was my least favorite of any book authored by Lisa Jewell and I had difficulty connecting to anyone.  No empathy from me on any of them…ok, maybe Saffyre’s uncle Aaron but he does not get a big part in the book.

Some food mentioned throughout and of course the curry grabbed my attention.


Much thanks to NetGalley for the complimentary ARC copy of this book. I was not compensated for the review.  Just because I wasn’t thrilled with this book does not mean I wouldn’t read more by Lisa Jewell. The Family Upstairs was good and I enjoyed The House We Grew Up In as well as I Found You but…this one wasn’t for me.

This book is scheduled for publication October 2020.

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The Witch Elm by Tana French


This is the second time I picked up Witcn Elm as I didn’t get very far into the story the first go round. Admittedly it was my frame of mind as I had been hoping Tana would continue with the Dublin Murder Squad. With my husband and I staying in so much these days we decided to have our own book club.  We ordered a few books from Thift Books and set to reading The Witch Elm together.  It was enjoyable keeping the same pace and discussing the plot.

As with any Tana French mystery the writing was excellent. I do wish the book description hadn’t given away so much of the story ahead of time.
It was already established one of our main characters, Toby Hennessey, was a successful handsome man who came from a good family and always seemed to be….lucky.  That is how he is described.

One evening he is awakened during a home invasion and is viciously assaulted, leaving him with devasting injuries.  He decides to spend time at Ivy House with his uncle Hugo as he recovers and also to help his uncle.  Hugo has his own medical issues so its an ideal situation for both parties. At some point during  a family visit a human skull is discovered in the 200 year old Witch elm in the garden.

All of the above is known from the book jacket.

Incidentally, Ivy House is the ancesteral home of Toby’s grandparents and now Hugo, a gathering place for all family members to visit and have Sunday lunch. A place Toby and his cousins Leon and Susanna spent summers growing up and having parties.
As always Tana French’s writing style has you fully involved.  I felt like I was in the shadows witnessing these conversations between the cousins Toby, Susanna and Leon and those with Hugo.

The small trivial parts of a conversation such as Susanna ragging on Leon for picking through a bowl of nuts. “Stop picking  through, other people like cashews too, and besides it’s disgusting. ” That sort of natural banter that makes the scene so real.

Was I surprised by the ending? Yes.  There was an incident with a detective and Toby near the end that didn’t ring true with me.

Tana French is an excellent author and I will preorder any book she’s about to have published.  I can’t say that about any other writers with the exception of Jane Harper and Robert Galbraith.

Now for a bit of fun!  The character desciptions were detailed enough that we had our own mental images and tried to imagine a cast to play them if this were a movie.  Below see the decsription of Toby – thick straight blonde hair, very blue eyes and an open boyish face.


I’m picturing Emily Blunt as Susanna, Charlie Hunnam as Toby and Tom Hiddleston as Leon.

Anthony Hopkins as Hugo Hennessey, Saoirse Ronan as Melissa and David Tennant as Detective Rafferty.

Did you read the book? If so did you like it or wish Tana would go back to writing Dublin Murder Squad?

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The Stormy Petrel by Mary Stewart


I saw this book on sale at Amazon and the description appealed to me.  There is an old house, a cozy cottage and its on an isolated island off the Scottish coast.  There is also a mystery and lots bird watching activity so this all appealed to me.  Yeah, I am a nerd about stories featuring old houses or mentions of birds/wildlife.

Our main character is Rose Fenemore, a college professor of English and also a poet. She finds an advertisement for a rental on an isolated island off Scotland.  It’s a perfect retreat for her to relax and work on her poetry without interruptions by students or campus life.  Rose invites her brother, an avid bird watcher, to come along for the vacation. Sounds like a relaxing place with peace and quiet.

One evening after Rose is in bed she hears a door open downstairs and goes to investigate, thinking her brother finally arrived.  There is a stranger in her kitchen who proceeds to tell her this used to be his childhood home.  Right there I had to suspend disbelief as Rose’s reaction was more of annoyance rather than fear.  Rose is 27 years old, not a big woman and she is suddenly alone in complete isolation with a stranger.  She makes him a cup of coffee and they chat a bit. But then, even odder, another man turns up on this stormy night. He also coms in. Hmmmm…

What I liked about the book was the setting and descriptions of the island.  The quieter and slow pace of life appeals to me very much.  The birds, seals, old house on the hill and residents of the island were described well. The mystery regarding the two men is solved and there is a hint of romance on the horizon here.

Seems I read a book by Mary Stewart a long time ago but I can’t remember which one, just remembered I liked the style so this sounded like a good plot.  Apparently from other reviews I am seeing this wasn’t her finest book.  I would certainly try more by this author and start with recommendations from her avid fans.

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