by Deanna Raybourn
This gorgeous romantic adventure begins when the heroine, Poppy Hammond, climbs out a window in her wedding gown, determined to escape her marriage to a stuck-up and sexually inept aristocrat. A handsome curate named Sebastian Cantrip helps her escape to her father’s quiet country village, pursued by her irate fiancé and family. Poppy doesn’t really know her father, but she can’t think where else to go. But then Sebastian disappears in mysterious circumstances and Poppy sets out to discover what has happened to him. The trail leads her to Damascus … and into danger, adventure and romance.
Like all of Deanna Raybourn’s books, Night of a Thousand Stars is utterly charming – I wish someone would make it into a movie!
by C. J. Sansom
I’m a big fan of C. J. Sansom’s Tudor murder mysteries featuring the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, and so I eager to read his stand-alone novel Winter in Madrid, which is set in Spain during the 1930s and early 1940. The story is about a young man named Harry Brett, who is employed by the British embassy in Spain, primarily because of his connection with a former school friend, Sandy Forsyth, who is now a person-of-interest to the British Secret Service. Madrid lies in ruins after the Spanish Civil War.
Corruption and cruelty are rife, and Harry – who is still suffering from the aftermath of injuries he sustained at Dunkirk – is lonely and uncomfortable with his new role as secret agent. His path crosses with a young Spanish woman named Sofia, and Harry finds himself falling in love. Meanwhile, Harry needs to try and work his way into Sandy’s confidences … only to find himself caught up in intrigues beyond his understanding. Partly an old-fashioned spy thriller and partly a tragic love story, Winter in Madrid illuminates the Spanish Civil War in all its complexity and brings the place and the time to vibrant life.
by David R. L. Litchfield
I should have been warned by the words ‘uncensored’ – this rehash of the life of the least lovable Mitford sister was the worst kind of trash-mash possible. For those of you who do not know about Unity Mitford, she was one of six famous aristocratic sisters who enlivened life in Britain between the wars, but – for at least two of them – fell a cropper once World War II started. Unity Valkyrie Mitford was the fourth of the seven Mitford children (there was one boy, who died tragically at the end of the war); the sisters are popularly known as Nancy the Novelist, Pamela the Poultry Freak; Diana the Fascist; Unity the Hitler Freak; Jessica the Red; and Deborah the Duchess.
They are entirely fascinating, but this biography adds nothing but smut and slime to the tragic story of a young woman who fell in love with Hitler and shot herself as a result. There are much better places to learn her story.
by David Rehak
This biography of Unity Mitford – while rather lightweight and under-referenced – is a much better introduction to the sad but fascinating life of the fourth of the famous sisters. She was a rebel and a misfit as a child, never quite as clever as Nancy, or as beautiful as Diana, or as amusing as Jessica. She grew obsessed with Hitler while still a teenager, and convinced her parents to send her to a finishing school in Munich where she spent her days sitting in the Führer’s favourite restaurant, hoping for a glimpse of the man she idolised. One day he beckoned her over, and she wrote rapturous letters to her father and sisters about the experience. He was most interested to know that her full name was Unity Valkyrie Mitford and that she had been conceived in a town named Swastika (it seems too eerie to be true, doesn’t it?).
For the next few years, Unity was part of Hitler’s inner circle. She wrote awful, spine-chilling anti-Semitic rants to newspapers to prove herself to him, and denounced friends who spoke against him. It seems she hoped he’d marry her. When Great Britain declared war on Germany following Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Unity shot herself in the head. She was only twenty-five. Although she survived, her life was ruined and she died of complications from the gunshot wound nine years later.
by Sophie Masson
I’m really enjoying this new series of YA fairy-tale-retellings-romances from Sophie Masson. The Crystal Heart draws its inspiration very loosely from ‘Rapunzel’, one of my own personal favourite wonder tales – yet the novel is much more interested in what happens once the girl escapes the tower. Izolda is rescued by a young army conscript called Kasper, who ends up a prisoner as a result. He must suffer his own ordeal before he can travel to the dark underground kingdom of Izolda’s father and try to win back her love.
These stories are fast-paced, suspenseful and surprising … and deserve as much attention as the many celebrated fairy tale retellings coming out of the USA at the moment.
by Jack Higgins
I’ve had this old, battered paperback on my bookshelf for years, first reading it as a teenager. Feeling in need of a good thriller, I dug it out and re-read it. He really is one of the masters of the genre. The pages just whizzed past, yet every character sprung to life on the page and the story itself is utterly compelling. A squad of crack German paratroopers sent on a desperate mission to kidnap Winston Churchill. A middle-aged but still attractive widow living in the quiet village with her dog who is really a German spy. A charming IRA assassin who falls for a pretty village girl, and finds himself torn between ideology and love.
The writer himself, stumbling upon the story one day quite by chance, and doggedly pursuing it across continents. I’ve read a few wartime thrillers lately, but this was by far the best. It just goes to show its harder than it looks.
by Liane Moriarty
The Husband’s Secret has had an incredible success in both the US and UK, despite being set in contemporary Australia – something which those in the know say is almost impossible to do. It’s the story of the entwining lives of several women – all mothers and all dealing with the impact of a revealed secret upon their lives. It’s an incredibly real, savvy, funny and heart-breaking book. The characters all feel as if they could just walk off the page, sit next to you, and have a chat. The story itself is incredibly gripping and suspenseful … and yet the story is set in a normal Sydney suburb, with normal Australian men and women.
It’s also a real emotional rollercoaster – one moment you’re laughing out loud, and the next you’re reaching for a tissue. Utterly brilliant!
The Man in the Brown Suit
by Agatha Christie
Every now and again I like to snuggle down with an old favourite, even though I know the ending…I’m a real Agatha Christie fan, and this is my favourite of her books. It is as much an adventure story as it is a murder mystery, and the indomitable heroine Anne is one of Christie’s most charming creations. She is an impoverished orphan who one day witnesses a man stepping backwards on to the tube rails. A doctor steps forward and examines the body, but something about his actions bothers Anne. She begins to investigate … and finds herself setting out for Africa on a dangerous quest that may very well cost her her life…
Blurb: A young woman investigates an accidental death at a London tube station, and finds herself of a ship bound for South Africa…Pretty, young Anne came to London looking for adventure. In fact, adventure comes looking for her — and finds her immediately at Hyde Park Corner tube station.
Anne is present on the platform when a thin man, reeking of mothballs, loses his more…
by Kimberley Freeman
I love Kimberley Freeman’s books. They are absolutely compulsively readable. The pages just race past as I read as fast as is humanely possible – I’m always desperate to find out what happens. I always love a novel that interweaves a contemporary narrative with a historical one, but often you find one narrative thread is much more interesting than the other (with me, I usually love the story set in the past the best). This isn’t true of Kimberley, though. Her contemporary story is as always as interesting and compelling as the other. I love her mix of romance and mystery and family drama, and can only wish that she could write just a little faster! I always get that little prickle of tears at the end of one of her books that show I’ve been really moved.
This one is set in the Blue Mountains, a place I know well. The setting of a glamorous hotel in the 1920s – and the same hotel, now decayed and half in ruins – is incredibly atmospheric and reminded me of an Agatha Christie book. In short: I loved it! A must read for anyone who loves a big, fat, heart-warming read.
Kate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults.
She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite Novelists, coming in at No 16. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’