Peacocks in Paradise by Anna Nicholas – a couple enjoy an eviable lifestyle in Mallorca with animals

Peacocks in Paradise by Anna Nicholas

This book begins as it continues, with full immersion into Anna and “the Scotsman’s” world of house and huge garden in Mallorca. Married with a son who is travelling the world, Anna is a keen explorer of  her adoptive country and its wildlife. She has work online, and gets fully involved in local life, from greeting the delivery people while out on a run, to spending time with the producers of local drinks, soaps, edibles and much more. Anna is a runner and a walker, who with a friend takes on challenges such as climbing the local peaks with all the issues of a varying landscape. Her home and garden includes an orchard and room for hens, cats and even an attention seeking peacock. They adopt all manner of animals, including abandoned kittens and “broken wings”. She has conversations with Johnny, the biggest of the toads who spends much of the year on the pond. 

This is a gentle exploration of a lifestyle which many would envy, even though Anna only sees her British friends rarely. She has a genuine concern for those creatures who cannot find a home elsewhere, though sometimes knowing it will cause problems, such as tiny kittens who will need frequent feeding. She gets involved in local environmental activities, such as beach cleaning and helping raise awareness of the plight of sea turtles. It is a detailed and lovingly written book in which Anna and her husband enjoy local drinks with friends and the olives, tomatoes and other local produce. It is a very positive book packed with seasonal and other activities, details of walks and climbs, and the multitude of creatures that cause all sorts of challenges in the house and attached land. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book. 

There are lots of themes that run throughout the book, such as the Scotsman’s inability to work the coffee maker and his show of reluctance to take on any more animals. Fortunately there are those friends who will offer alcohol and the couple share a similar pun based sense of humour. Anna still has contacts in Britain who need her advice and input, including a hypochondriac teacher and a semi-scrupulous businessman called Greedy George. She gives advice to a local character on his diet and exercise, while visiting an award winning olive tree. This is a plentiful island with lots of fruit falling from every tree and plant. Anna and her friend Alison go for long walks and hikes on the local peaks with and without guides, and the landscape becomes a large part of the book. There is a contrast with Anna visiting a friend who manufactures soap using as many local products as possible. There are problems with flooding in the orchard and rescues of animals, vehicles and more. There are many technical descriptions of alcohol production from fermentation to sampling the finished product.

 Anna has a fine way of presenting information that is carefully researched amongst the gentle humour of local misunderstandings. It is an entertaining and enjoyable book which describes a lifestyle where animals are fed, small mysteries such as missing chillies are solved, and wealthy business people are sorted out. It reveals a genuine love of an unusual countryside, and the desire to celebrate a variety of activities. In a sense it is travel writing, but is much more in the sense that it looks at those who have chosen to immerse themselves in a country with all its possibilities. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in a lifestyle dominated by animals, landscape and the possibilities of friendship in a land of plenty.     

Haunted Magpie by Anna Nicholas – a mystery set on an idyllic island with a lively detective

Haunted Magpie by Anna Nicholas

Isabel is a well known character on the beautiful island of Mallorca, being a former detective with the police, and now helping her mother run a lettings agency. This is the second book in the Isabel Flores Mallorcan Mystery series, but definitely works as a standalone book which is how I read it. She is in her thirties, and very attached to her pet ferret, Furo. Her close friend, Tolo Cabot, was her old boss, and persuades her to help solve crimes where her local knowledge and immersion in the community of Sant Marti gives her extra leads. As part of her investigations, she drives her memorable little car around the island, recognising the spots made special by family and friends. She enjoys food, and this book is a guide to the local food made lovingly by her mother, cafe chefs and others. Helpfully there is a Glossary of Mallorcan and Spanish words in the front of the novel to help the reader distinguish between a Botifarro (a local pork sausage) and Potaje (soup).  Isabel’s progress is marked by the foodstuffs she consumes, though her active lifestyle stops it being a problem as she tries to discover what really happened to some missing people. Another mystery surrounds the disappearance of various pets on the island, which seem to have been abducted by someone who knows the owners’ habits. Humour and a fluid writing style means that this novel  is easy to read and enjoyable, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this charming novel. 

The book opens with the disappearance of Paloma Crespi, a young florist with a troubled past. Angry with her boyfriend, she chooses to walk back home, and meets with a determined attack. Meanwhile, Isabel is volunteering with local school children in the village centre, until the local mayor asks her to investigate the apparent abduction of several pets, including the local police officer’s Alsatian. As it is winter the holiday letting business is less busy, so she agrees to investigate, especially as many in the village are anxious about their own pets. Meanwhile Paloma’s disappearance is causing concern, and Isabel is drafted in to question her uncle and aunt, boyfriend and others. She visits a lot of Paloma’s clients for whom she worked as a freelance florist. The characters of the village and the surrounding area appear and are well described, coming to life in the author’s hands. The descriptions of the settings are well handled, making the island sound very attractive.

This is a very well written book with gentle humour, a lot of food tastefully described, and a strong plot with many entertaining subplots. There is tension and excitement in this extremely well constructed novel. It is a good read constructed around a community in which the main character, Isabel, is obviously well liked. The research is so well done that everything is well blended and impressive. I really enjoyed this book, finding it an easy, flowing read. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well plotted mystery in a well described setting with hints of comedy, animals and plenty of food!