books · dorset · novels · romance

Mysteries, crime and romance: six great novels for holiday reading

It’s nearly the holidays – wooooohoooo!  Tomorrow morning, before the sun is even up (although to be fair, at this time of year that could be quite late), me and my husband and our dog will be in a laden down car heading down the motorway to the south coast.  We’re spending Christmas in a cottage in Dorset for a week.  A whole week with nothing to do but walk on the beach, cook fine foods, watch films and (of course!) read, read, read.  Brilliant.

The trouble with choosing a reading list is what to leave at home.  After all, there are only so many hours in a day, sadly.

helena fairfax, boris akuningAnyway, here’s my whittled down holiday list.  And you might be surprised to know they’re not all romances.  In fact, I’m in the mood for a bit of criminal action, so watch out, Dorset :) Here’s the first one on my list:

The Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin  This is the first in a series of detective novels set in Tsarist Russia in the 1870s, featuring Erast Fandorin, a naive young police investigator.  According to Crime Time the story features ‘enigmatic and beautiful women, devious conspirators and a most unlikely Svengali intent on world domination.’  This is the first Akunin novel I’ve read, and I’m most excited about it.  It’s had brilliant reviews and sold a staggering 18 million copies in Russia alone.

The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliffe  This isn’t a crime novel, but is based on a real life mystery.  The Ninth was a Roman Legion stationed in York, in my native Yorkshire, in AD 17.  They marched north to deal with an uprising in Caledonia (Scotland) and disappeared into the mists, never to be heard of again.  Rosemary Sutcliffe has fashioned a classic children’s story out of this mystery.  I haven’t read the book for years, and am looking forward to revisiting it, and immersing myself in all things Roman.

helena fairfax, james mcclureThe Song Dog, by James McClure  From Roman Britain to South Africa.  This is another new-to-me author, and the first of a series of novels set in the apartheid era, featuring a white detective, Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and a black Bantu, Detective Sergeant Mickey Zondi.  It was this review in The Guardian that really sparked my interest:   ‘The interactions between people of different races and the tensions between the English- and Afrikaans-speaking whites are realistically portrayed. But what I like best is the relationship between Kramer and Zondi – they develop a fondness and respect for each other that has to exist within the confines of apartheid and often has to be concealed from others. Add to this good plots and wry humour, and all the books in the series are delightful reads.’  The two men meet first in this book, and I’m interested to see how the author develops their bond over the series – as well as the crimes they have to solve, of course!

helena fairfax, angela thirkellPrivate Enterprise and Peace Breaks Out, both by Angela Thirkell  Earlier this year I wrote about how I discovered Angela Thirkell, and how I was so blown away by Wild Strawberries I immediately joined The Angela Thirkell Appreciation Society (yes, there is one!)  The other members of the society were highly envious of the fact that I still have all the rest of Thirkell’s novels to explore.  Fabulous for me :)  One of the society members very kindly sent me these two novels, as she has umpteen copies.  (Yes,  buying Thirkell’s novels seems to be an addiction.  Unbelievably, Thirkell was out of print for many years, and so fans always leap on her books when they discover them in second hand shops.)  I’ve been saving these copies for Christmas, when I can read away and enjoy in peace.

And if I still have some reading time left (hope so!), I intend to re-read Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  Our cottage is not far from the seaside town of Lyme Regis – a town beloved by Austen and the setting for several key moments in her novel.  It’s also the setting for The French Lieutenant’s Woman.  I’ve never visited Lyme Regis, and I’m most excited about walking on the Cobb and looking out to sea – just like Meryl Streep, only instead of a long black cloak I’ll be wearing a duffel coat.

What’s on your Christmas wish list regarding reading?  And what films will you watch over the holidays?  And have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned?  If you have any comments at all, please let me know.  I’d love to hear from you!

13 thoughts on “Mysteries, crime and romance: six great novels for holiday reading

  1. Hi Helena. I hope you have a fantastic time in your holiday cottage and manage to get a lot of reading in as well as some lovely walks. Dorset is beautiful and I am a little envious as it sounds so idyllic! I haven’t read any on your list, (apart from Persuasion) but they do sound like excellent reads. I have always wanted to read about the disappearance of the Ninth Legion and would love to know what really happened. Perhaps we will never find out but it is a fascinating subject for authors to base their novels around.

    My list includes Buckle Down (a cowboy anthology, featuring three authors, one of whom is Samantha Holt), One Way or Another You Will Pay for Leaving Me (book 2), by Eve Rabi, Where Secrets Lie,a vampire novel by a new author, Ebony Kent and one of four dark fantasy romances that I have from Charlotte Boyett-Compo to review – I’m not sure which one yet. They all have some romance in them, but that is nothing new!

    Have a great Christmas and New Year Helena. :)


    1. Hi Tina,
      I posted a reply to you, but it seems to have got lost! :(
      I posted that I love your list of reading, especially the cowboy anthology. I hope you manage to find some peace and quiet in the mayhem of Christmas to enjoy your fab selection, and I look forward to reading your reviews in 2014!
      Have a lovely Christmas with your family, and a happy New Year!


  2. Hi Helena, looks as though you’ve got the time of year sussed. The Russian novel looks interesting as I’m heading to St Petersburg next year some time. I’m currently reading Judith Flanders’ great book about life in the Victorian house. I intend to read Rosemary Gemmell’s Midwinter Masquerade and I’m adjudicating a short story competition so an unknown number of them, too. Also, I have 2 novels from our mutual publisher waiting, Angel Heart and Vermont Escape. Gosh, I think the visitors might have to do some of their own cooking. Anne Stenhouse


    1. Hi Anne, I’d love to go to St Petersburg! It’s long been on my wish list. Ideally I’d travel there by train. That would be a fabulous journey! I haven’t heard of the Judith Flanders book. I’ll check it out, thanks :) You have a great selection of novels from our mutual publisher! Have a great Christmas in Scotland, Anne, and a great Hogmanay!


  3. I wish you a wonderful holiday, Helena. Dorset is a beautiful part of the world, and one of my favourites, and I am sure you’ll have a lovely Christmas there. I am very intrigued by your list, in particular The Winter Queen and I think I’m going to get it for myself. I love anything Russian, I think it’s the most beautiful language ever and I love Russian novels! I studied Russian at the Baccalaureat and had the chance to go to Moscow and Rostov for holidays. It was the time of the Communist regime (now I am showing my age) and it was the most bizarre experience ever, but I won’t forget the beautiful buildings and the countryside. Joyeux Noel et Bonne Année!


    1. Hi Marie, how I envy you being able to speak Russian! I wish I had studied the language at university. And to visit Russia before the wall came down must have been a great experience. I love Russian literature, and I think now the wall has come down we are seeing more and more modern Russian and Ukrainian authors being translated into English, which is brilliant. One I specially like is Andrei Kurkov, who wrote Death and the Penguin – a surreal thriller, and one of my favourite books ever!
      Also, have you been watching The Young Doctor’s Notebook, based on Bulgakov’s short stories? It stars Jon Hamm and Daniel Radciffe, and is one of the best things I watched on television last year. I think you would love it!
      Joyeux Noel to you and family, Marie, and here’s to publication of our next novels in 2014!


  4. Have a wonderful Christmas, Helena – I love that part of the world. Persuasion is one of my favourite Austen books and I really enjoyed the F L’s Woman many years ago. Love the sound of the Russian novel as we enjoyed a trip to St Petersburg a couple of years ago. Haven’t discovered Thirkell yet! I’m trying to catch up on all types of reading both on kindle and in print.


    1. Hi Ros, if only there were more time to read! One of hte things I love about going away at Christmas is the time to relax with a book. I’d love to go to Russia, and St Petersburg in particular. A train trip there – with plenty of books – is on my bucket list.
      Have a great Christmas and all the best in 2014!


  5. What a fabulous trip for Christmas…relaxing and romantic! Going to add these international books you and your commenters suggest to my TBR list. I really don’t plan to read much over the Christmas break, but am taking my Kindle loaded with all kinds of books including several from our publisher, MuseItUp Publishing. My DH and I are flying to California on Christmas Day and spending ten days there. We will be in Pasadena on New Year’s Day to watch the Rose Parade, a trip we’ve wanted to take for years and years. (We were in the florist business.) In case you aren’t familiar with the Rose Parade, celebrating its 125th year in 2014), all the floats are completely decorated with flowers (roses and more), seeds, leaves, etc…all natural. Although we are not going to the Rose Bowl football game, Michigan State is playing Stanford U. We’re from Michigan so we will have lots of fellow Michiganders around us.for sure. Have a very Merry Christmas!


    1. Wow, JQ, that sounds a fabulous Christmas! I have some English friends who flew out to Caifornia a few days ago for Christmas. They’ve put some photos on Facebook and are having a marvellous time. The Rose Parade sounds wonderful. I hadn’t heard of it, but I’ve heard of the Rose Bowl. I didn’t know where that was, but now I do. It’s good to get a feel for these places – and maybe one day go there to see them for myself!
      Have a great Christmas, JQ, and a lovely New Year. Hope to see some photos on your blog!


  6. What a lovely trip, Helena. You must include some pictures in your next post. I’m so impressed with your reading list. Very “real book.” Back in the day, DH used to tell me I had to read one “real book” for every 10 romances. LOL Now I think he’d call my romantic suspenses “real books,” but not in the way the books you’re reading are. :) I have lots of writing/editing to catch up on during the holidays and an office crying out for me to rescue it from the avalanche of papers. So I’ll only do some reading. Want to make sure to read the two books from Lea. One is Leona Pence’s Hemphill Towers. And I can’t remember the other. Brain is so fried with all the extra holiday work. Have a lovely holiday and do include pictures. :)


    1. Hi Marsha, thanks for taking the time to come by. It’s a busy season. We’ve reached Dorset now and it’s quite cold and rainy, but we have a fire so we’re happy:) I admire you for carrying on with your editing and writing during the holidays. Hope you find time to rest, too. Have a good Christmas, and I’ll be back in the New Year with some photos. Happy Christmas!


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