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Lady Gardeners Rule OK: Book Review

The Fair Botanists Book Cover The Fair Botanists
Sara Sheridan
Historical Fiction | Romance | Women's Fiction
Hodder & Stoughton
Pub Date 5 Aug 2021

Could one rare plant hold the key to a thousand riches?

It's the summer of 1822 and Edinburgh is abuzz with rumours of King George IV's impending visit. In botanical circles, however, a different kind of excitement has gripped the city. In the newly-installed Botanic Garden, the Agave Americana plant looks set to flower - an event that only occurs once every few decades.

When newly widowed Elizabeth arrives in Edinburgh to live with her late husband's aunt Clementina, she's determined to put her unhappy past in London behind her. As she settles into her new home, she becomes fascinated by the beautiful Botanic Garden which borders the grand house and offers her services as an artist to record the rare plant's impending bloom. In this pursuit, she meets Belle Brodie, a vivacious young woman with a passion for botany and the lucrative, dark art of perfume creation.

Belle is determined to keep both her real identity and the reason for her interest the Garden secret from her new friend. But as Elizabeth and Belle are about to discover, secrets don't last long in this Enlightenment city . . .

And when they are revealed, they can carry the greatest of consequences.

I loved this book – but then I am a keen gardener and plant afficionado and as it happens I collect agaves and aloes especially, of all succulents and exotic Mediterranean plants. Not cactii. But a few euphorbia. Preferably not too prickly! I do have an Agave Americana in my collection, and interestingly of all agave, these are now the most common, even though, to be honest, I have never seen one flower in a garden. I have seen them flower on Mediterranean mountain sides. The flower is not very exotic. Normally they grow a lot of offsets and propagation is through them. I have masses of grey agave from offsets.

I thought that the sensory discussion about smells having colours was interesting as this is a well known phenomena – people also have music colours and taste colours.  And I liked the idea that smells produce emotions as people often associated perfume with a particular time, place, or person.

The setting up of the new Botanical Garden was fascinating. And how they transplanted the trees. In barrels. I always thought that they used sacking round the roots to transplant and to remove the soil. This was clearly a very different, and perhaps less brutal way, as the finer roots wouldn’t be damaged.

The argument over whether a botanical garden is for medicinal uses still ranges – especially now that we discover that many plants that were once thought to be ornamental – such as green beans – are now used for food; and others such as yew are used to extract (a cancer) drug from it called paclitaxel (Taxol), which is an antimitotic agent which stops cell division, resulting in cell death and this prevents cancer growth.

I knew about pineapples being a status symbol and that many wealthy plantation owners put a pineapple finial on their gates to indicate that they had grown them, but I was unaware about strawberries being a new plant. According to wikipedia, the garden strawberry was first bred in Brittany, France, in the 1750s via a cross of Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America and Fragaria chiloensis, which was brought from Chile by Amédée-François Frézier in 1714. Strawberry fragrance is extremely complicated – it has 31 elements that give it its flavour and scent and it is claimed to be useful in alleviating diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and osteoarthritis.

I did like the idea of a bath oil to help alleviate period pains – the doctors all being male (at this time, and what about later researchers and grants?) would think that was nothing to concern themselves over. And so it has continued for many years. As has been said, if only male doctors got periods there would have been a cure for the pain and discomfort long ago! Today the use of oil for cramps is common in the complementary medical world, and they recommend: peppermint, lavender, cypress oil, clary sage, rose, copaiba, cinnamon, and bergamot peel, roman chamomile flower, ylang-ylang, cedarwood, geranium, fennel seed, carrot seed, palmarosa herb, and vitex leaf berry, not to mention siberian fir. So there is a large number of essential oils that can help and special blends are available.

So what did I think of the book apart from all this wonderful plant knowledge? I loved it. I thought it very clever the way the various stories about the people of Edinburgh were blended into the story of the Botanical garden move and the excitement over a unique flower and other special, and new to that time, plants. The style was good and easy to read as well as being informative. We well understood that this was a blend of historical facts and fiction. The visit in 1822 of the Prince Regent to Edinburgh was real. Sir Walter Scott and his insistence on tartan for the dress code elevated the fabric to become again symbol of identity – as it had been forbidden after the Jacobite Rising.

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Witchling’s Girl

The Witchling's Girl Book Cover The Witchling's Girl
Helena Coggan
Sci Fi & Fantasy | Teens & YA
Hodder & Stoughton
Pub Date 7 Jan 2021

In a quiet street far from the river, with an ancient tree growing through its walls and floors, is the House of the Dead. There lives the witchling: healer, midwife and conduit between the world of the living and the world below. A witchling must give up her family and friends and spend her life alone, tending to the sick and carrying the dead down dark tunnels to the underworld. Haley was born with the gift of death-magic, and at the age of seven her mother abandons her to the witchling to be raised as her successor. But as Haley grows older and learns her craft - as invading armies pass through her town, people are born and die on her floor, and loyalties shift and dissolve around her - she finds it harder and harder to keep her vows and be the perfect and impassive healer. But if she can't, it will be her downfall - and that of everyone she's not supposed to love . . .

I failed to get involved in the storyline, it seemed too reminiscent of the stories of Baba Yaga and her house on chicken legs that lives in many dimensions. (In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural being who appears as a deformed or ferocious-looking old woman. Baba Yaga may help or hinder those that encounter her or seek her out). So having read stories about Baba and her disciples before and quite enjoyed them, I needed to read a story which was completely different – except this one wasn’t. And death magic is quite common too in stories and comes across better in a humorous format I find.

This is my personal view as someone who reads and has already read, far more than the 10,000 lifetime books – as I read 400 books a year. So you really have to be good and original especially when delving into folk-lore or fairytales.

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Bridesmaid for purchase: Book Review

The Secret Bridesmaid Book Cover The Secret Bridesmaid
Katy Birchall
Women's fiction, Contemporary fiction
Hodder & Stoughton
13 May 2021

Sophie Breeze is a brilliant bridesmaid. So brilliant, in fact, that she's made it her full-time job.

As a professional bridesmaid, Sophie is secretly hired by brides to be their right-hand woman, ensuring their big day goes off without a hitch. From wrangling rowdy hen dos to navigating last minute portaloo cancellations, there's no problem she can't solve.

So when she's employed by an actual Marchioness to help plan the society wedding of the year, it should be a chance for Sophie to prove just how talented she is.

Of course, it's not ideal that the bride, Cordelia, is rude, difficult and determined to make Sophie's life a nightmare. It's also a bit inconvenient when Sophie finds herself drawn to Cordelia's posh older brother, who is absolutely off limits. And when a rival society wedding is announced, things get even more complicated . . .

Can Sophie pull off the biggest challenge of her career, follow her heart and maintain her reputation - all while keeping her true identity hidden?

A job as a bridesmaid/ wedding planner in disguise. Interesting take on how to undertake a job when disguised. Hair dyed, name changed, relationship with bride changed – and then she is doing this multiple times all at once! How does she remember which story to tell to which set of friends and relations?
Of course, there comes a time when things don’t work smoothly. The bride doesn’t want her as her bridesmaid/planning helper. And finds inventive ways to try and persuade her to leave, but as the bride wasn’t the employer it was difficult. And of course, the bride had a dishy brother and…
Nicely written I thought, and I particularly liked the innovative use of a large blue IKEA shopping bag – and a dress – but I’ll not spoil it by telling you how.
My main concern with the story is that it again encourages the ‘Princess’ wedding. The idea that the wedding day is all about the bride and how she wants it to run and how much money – lots – will be spent on a fantasy day.
My husband and I were talking about this earlier this week. A wedding is not about the bride. It is a joining of families and two best friends in a compact for life. What she or he wears is pretty irrelevant to this, as is the colour of the napkins or bows on the chairs. Or where the wedding is held or or or… If the wedding itself is that important than why do all the fripperies matter? A simple ceremony with family and friends and maybe a meal together afterwards is all that it needs. What is worn can be anything that they all feel good in and needn’t be designer, frothy or… My wedding photo below!  

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Where did she go?

The Vanished Bride Book Cover The Vanished Bride
Bella Ellis
Female sleuths, historical fiction, bisexual erotic fiction
Hodder & Stoughton
November 7, 2019
352

The year is 1845, and Emily, Charlotte and Anne Bronte are sat around the dining room table, laughing merrily as the rain of their Yorkshire summer falls outside. When their brother, Branwell, returns from The Bull Inn, he brings with him the most shocking revelation: that Elizabeth Chester, wife of Robert Chester and mistress of Chester Grange has gone missing - but the bloody scene found in her bedroom suggests she may have been murdered. The governess at Chester Grange is Matilda French, a close friend of Charlotte's, who resolves to pay her a visit the following day. At Chester Grange, the sisters make the acquaintance of Robert, a rumoured cruel man, who is suspected of having driven his first wife to suicide. Determined that he should be brought to justice, the sisters throw themselves into solving the case. As everyone knows, solving a murder requires sense, morals and a very good imagination - qualities which these sisters have more than enough of...

The idea of this book is great, but somehow, for me, the execution didn’t work. I found the Bronte girls 2 dimensional and the gypsy too stereotypical.

I didn’t manage to finish the book.

There is one good statement however, one which many of these historical genre novels emphasise, that women were considered property and thus the authorities – who were all men, and of which there few enough, were not bothered to investigate fully, if at all. Detectives were just coming in in London at this time and not further afield.

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The Heat

The Burning Men Book Cover The Burning Men
DI ALEX FINN AND DC MATTIE PAULSEN. #1
Will Shindler
Noir Crime, Heist Crime, Serial Killers
Hodder and Stoughton
February 6, 2020
368

THE FIRST IN A PHENOMENAL NEW PROCEDURAL SERIES FEATURING DI ALEX FINN AND DC MATTIE PAULSEN. Perfect for fans of Mark Billingham, Peter James and Peter Robinson. When a high-rise development in South London catches fire mid-construction, a close-knit team of fire fighters tackle the blaze. The building should be empty, but they find a man, unconscious, next to several cases of money. The fire crew make a fateful decision; leave the man, take the money, quit the service and never speak of this again. But five years later one of them is set alight in the toilets at his own wedding. Soon after, a second is found in the burnt out remains of his Maserati, nothing but a smoking corpse. It appears that someone knows what they did. And there are still three firemen left to go. . . DI Alex Finn and DC Mattie Paulsen are an unlikely pairing, but they need to discover who is behind these killings before the last man burns. This is first in Will Shindler's Finn and Paulsen series - a British detective series that ranks with Mark Billingham, M.J. Arlidge, Staurt Macbride.

A definite 5 star read. With a great twist on the final page.

A well written, well plotted story that makes you wonder what would you have done? If you were the firemen, in that fire, and you had personal problems? And how would you have rationalised it? We do take our firemen and first responders for granted and forget just how dangerous their work is and how little they are rewarded in the scheme of things.

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