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The Spyglass Files by Nathan Dylan Godwin #Bookreview

Spyglass

A few years ago I read the first of Nathan Dylan Godwin’s Forensic Genealogist series. This is the fourth volume and, in my view, the best.

Morton Farrier is a professional genealogist whose investigations into past events often lead him into trouble in the present. As he approaches the date of his wedding to Juliette he is trying to avoid new cases, but he is intrigued by the situation of a woman who was adopted soon after her birth, during the Battle of Britain. As he tries to locate her family, we follow parts of the story of her birth-mother, Elsie, who was a WAAF officer in the Y service, listening in to German pilots as they approached England.

It is fascinating to learn about the invaluable work of these young women and to observe the terrifying lives of the fighter pilots they encountered. It is understandable that they were living for the moment.

As Elsie’s story is revealed, Morton becomes aware that criminal activities which started in a cottage on the Kent coast in 1940, reverberate in the present day. We empathise with Elsie, an intelligent girl, threatened by her mother-in-law and seeming to have lost any chance of happiness. Morton’s investigations are intriguing, especially if you are interested in genealogy and the final chapters are surprising and satisfying.

Now I am hoping that Morton will learn more about his own family in a future book.

You can find The Spyglass  File on Amazon UK

Codename Lazarus: The Spy who came back from the dead by A P Martin #bookreview

Lazarus

Codename Lazarus takes us first to Germany in the mid-1930s as Hitler and the Nazis rise to power. We see the unpleasant changes through the eyes of John King, an English academic, whose friends include a Jewish family, the Bernsteins and a young German, Joachim Brandt, who has decided to join the SS.

Moving to 1938, King is recruited by his former professor to the world of espionage, in an attempt to foil the efforts of Nazi sympathisers in England. This requires him to cut off all ties with his former life and after another visit to Germany, he must disappear. However his under-cover activities take place in London, where he has to cultivate relationships with British nationals who wish to aid Germany. A significant relationship with a young German nurse is suspended, but old friends from the past will take a dramatic part in the denouement.

This is an exciting plot-driven story and although we gain knowledge of King’s feelings early in the story, he becomes increasingly more distant as other protagonists take a more active part in the storyline. One of the Nazi sympathisers gains our sympathy and we realise that she has trapped herself in a web of deceit. I was especially interested in the vivid description of pre-war Germany and in the realistic account of the evacuation scene at Dunkirk. The final scenes intensify in excitement and are real page-turners, but I was disappointed at the sudden conclusion which left questions about other threads in the book.

This debut novel is a fluent tale set in a fascinating time. Plotting and descriptions are sound but the earlier parts of the book lead me to expect greater knowledge of the hero’s emotions and confusion at his use of subterfuge and his abandonment of his friends and family. I look forward to reading the next book by this promising author.

The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift #bookreview

Gilded

The Gilded Lily tells a frightening tale of two young girls in Restoration London.  Young Sadie has been brought from her country home in Cumberland by her more worldly older sister, Ella, to start a new life.  Ella has stolen from the house of her dead Master and now she is suspected of his murder.  Perhaps they could have gone unnoticed, but Sadie has a distinctive port wine stain on her face and the dead man’s brother is hunting for them.

As Ella becomes entwined in the dangerous world of ambitious Jay Whitgift, she decides Sadie must hide away.  I empathised with Sadie’s feeling of entrapment in the city which teemed with unkind, threatening people but I began to realise that Ella’s thoughtless behaviour was rooted in her tragic childhood and her longing for love and prosperity.

The story shows the hard toil of girls making wigs in a perruquier’s workshop, the corrupt world of rich, self-obsessed young men and the lives of ordinary people such as clerks and barber-surgeons in 17th century London.  I particularly liked the role of the Thames, which fills Sadie with awe, as she watches a ship set sail on a distant voyage while later Ella sells beauty products from a stall on the frozen river. The details of life, the complexity of the plot and the variety of characters take time to unfold but the pace hots up in the last few chapters where the plight of Ella and Sadie worsens and there seems no escape from the gallows.

For Sadie and Ella, the bond of sisterhood is sorely tried by their difficulties and separation but they cannot deny their need for one another.  The Gilded Lily which shines so brightly in Ella’s eyes proves to be fool’s gold concealing ugliness.

War Crimes For The Home by Liz Jensen #TuesdayBookBlog

War Crimes

`You know what they say about GIs and English girls’ knickers,’ ran the wartime joke, `One Yank and they’re off.’ When Gloria met Ron, he was an American pilot who thought nothing of getting hit by shrapnel in the cockpit. She was working in a munitions factory in Bristol during the Blitz, but still found time to grab what she wanted. Ciggies. Sex. American soldiers. But war has an effect on people. Gloria did all sorts of things she wouldn’t normally do – evil things, some of them – because she might be dead tomorrow. Or someone might. Now, fifty years on, it’s payback time. In her old folks’ home, Gloria is forced to remember the real truth about her and Ron, and confront the secret at the heart of her dramatic home front story. In a gripping, vibrant evocation of wartime Britain, Liz Jensen explores the dark impulses of women whose war crimes are committed on the home front, in the name of sex, survival, greed, and love.

Gloria, a poorly educated, foul-mouthed old woman doesn’t seem like the normal heroine, but the tortuous interwoven account of her life, now in old age & formerly during the war, certainly make for compelling reading.

This is a story with layers which float to the surface indiscriminately.  There is the typical story of a simple English girl seduced by an American serviceman, an amusing tale of an old dear with a weak memory causing havoc in an old people’s home, an account of betrayal & human suffering and in amongst the “jokes” and amusing anecdotes, a sad story of many unhappy people affected by events 60 years earlier.

The use of a hypnotist allows the story to be slowly unravelled with an interesting final twist, but it doesn’t seem quite credible.  Gloria’s early wartime experiences, however, are understandable.  The two young sisters are effectively orphaned in a time and place where moral constraints have disappeared, as an antidote to the awful horrors which also occur in their everyday lives.

This was a book which I did not warm to in the early pages, but it was an easy read and soon became a fascinating account of a real human being who despite her misfortune still relished the pleasures of life.

Liz Jensen

Liz Jensen was born in Oxfordshire in 1959. Her critically-acclaimed work spans black comedy, science fiction, satire, family drama, historical fantasy and psychological suspense. Three of her novels have been nominated for the Orange Prize and in 1998 she was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Award. She is Writer in Residence at Kingston University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her work has been developed for film and translated into more than 20 languages.

Exposure by Rose Edmunds

exposure

The return of Crazy Amy in this nail-biting story, opens with drama and amusement. You have no need to have read Rose Edmunds’ previous book, Concealment as you will soon know a great deal about Amy and her devilish alter ego, Little Amy, within the first few pages. But Amy is a highly intelligent, talented lady who has discovered a conscience and after the loss of her well-paid, city career in London, she needs a project.

Returning to her life is old-flame Toby Marchpole, an investigative financial journalist. While prying into possible fraud at IPT plc, a distributer and retailer of plumbing components, he is shocked to see the firm’s finance director, Venner collapse in front of him, spluttering, “Tell Amy….” He soon discovers that Venner was a former colleague of Amy Robinson and realises that it’s time to renew their friendship.

I know nothing of city finance, but then I also know nothing about spies or murder, so what is important is that the thrilling events keep me reading and the complexities of the fraudulent actions are clearly explained. This is a story which is a worthwhile read for two reasons; Amy’s adventures keep you on a knife edge and at the same time you warm to her flawed personality, longing for her to find happiness.

Adopting a new identity, Amy is unsure whether to trust Toby and she is sometimes unwise in those she does choose as trustworthy. Once again, she encounters DCI Carmody, with whom she had hoped for a relationship, but he is chilly and judgemental, knowing her failings and trying to deny his own feelings.

This book stands alone as an enjoyable, exciting page-turner but I would also recommend Concealment either before or after reading Exposure, and you never know, Amy may return for another adventure after the exciting final twist in this story.

Exposure  will be published on March 24th 2017
I reviewed this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

You can read my review of Concealment here

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Irex by Carl Rackman #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

irex

Set in the late Victorian era in the claustrophobic environment of a sailing ship, this dark tale of passion, blackmail and murder is intensified by the onslaught of a savage storm and the threat of mutiny. The inevitable shipwreck must be investigated by an honest coroner, Frederick Blake, who arrives on the Isle of Wight, seeking the truth although thwarted, apparently, by government intervention. While Blake is ably assisted by Mr Rennie, a canny Scottish journalist, we read of the true events on board the Irex, in parallel to the investigation.

After a false start when the newly built craft set out from Greenock in Scotland, Captain Will Hutton had to return the ship to port, due to the badly laden cargo of iron pipes. Eventually they were able to set sail for Rio de Janeiro with a sound crew and three unusual passengers. A married couple, George and Elizabeth Barstow, were Salvation Army missionaries, while the third passenger, Edward Clarence, a strange, arrogant man. Captain Hutton and many of his crew were captivated by the young Elizabeth Barstow, but as Clarence bribed the crew to do his will, Hutton felt increasing antipathy for him. The weather on their voyage went from bad to worse throughout the Irish Sea, and in the Bay of Biscay they were forced to return to the south of England.

Frederick Blake is expecting a straightforward case of a wreck caused by the Captain’s error since the surviving crewmembers report Will Hutton’s irrational behaviour and obsession with Elizabeth Barstow, but why have two survivors disappeared on the island and who is the mysterious Mr Thornthwaite who has turned up to interfere with the enquiries?

This tortuous tale is effectively described with excellent characterisation and I could not decide whether I wished to read more of the investigation or to return to the stifling atmosphere on board ship. Perhaps slightly long-winded in places, this thrilling story based on a real shipwreck with an exciting twist is well worth reading.

I reviewed this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Carl Rackman

carl-rackman

 Carl Rackman is a British former airline pilot turned author. From a naval military background, he has held a lifelong interest in military history and seafaring. His life spent travelling the world has given him a keen interest in other cultures, and he has drawn on his many experiences for his writing.

Carl’s writing style can best be described as the “literary thriller”, with a flair for evocative descriptions of locales and characters. Complex, absorbing storylines combine with rich, believable characters to create immersive worlds for the reader to explore.

Carl is married with two daughters and lives in Surrey, United Kingdom. Irex is his first novel, published under his own company, Rackman Books.

You can find Irex at Amazon UK  or at Amazon.com

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley Book Review

lucy-w

On the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen I feel beholden to return to her timeless stories, but in Lucy Worsley’s book I have been given additional insight into Jane’ character and sensitivity. “Jane Austen at Home” is assiduously well documented, showing a depth of research and most importantly, a grasp of Jane’s spirit.

At first sight, the thick book of small text seems daunting, but as you begin to read you are invited in to Steventon Rectory and soon come to know Jane’s family; her loving father, unsympathetic mother, the legion of brothers and dear sister Cassandra. From Jane’s letters and many accounts by family members, Lucy has built up a clear picture of her everyday life and the way in which her homes are reflected in her books.

It is a delight to read Lucy’s own voice as she reveals her discoveries about Jane Austen,
in her letters – “her personality is there, bold as brass, bursting with life, buoyant or recalcitrant as each day required.”
Jane’s letters were “double-voiced,” giving an entertaining account to be read aloud, but with a subtext that her nearest and dearest would understand. Lucy Worsley also parallels Jane’s letters to the tweets of J K Rowling!

It is the first time I had fully appreciated that the demands of the long Napoleonic War, raising prices and causing shortages, made middling families, such as Jane’s, experience hardship but they also brought the military officers in their dashing uniforms, both aspects being the meat for Jane’s plots.

The retirement of Reverend Austen and the family’s move to Bath are described in intricate detail, underlining the dreadful effect on Jane and Cassandra. We read of the sale of all the family’s books and of Jane’s piano and her music. Leaving her home of 25 years, they move from one rented house to another among the “pea-soup fogs in Bath.” Her father’s death causing a large drop in their income shows how much she understood the importance of money to her heroines.

The frustration of Jane Austen’s life story is how poorly she was acknowledged as an author, during her lifetime and what a pittance she received when they were published. Despite the help of her father and her brother in finding publishers, novels and women writers were not yet considered worthy of great praise.

Reaching the chapter where Jane, Cassandra and Mrs Austen move back to Hampshire and settle into Chawton Cottage, I also felt as if I was coming home. I could see her sitting by her table in the cottage window, trying to write, while others moved about the compact house. The last few years of her life show Jane as a calm, determined woman with the same purpose and energy as her heroines.
This is a book for lovers of Jane Austen’s books who wish to know more about this quiet, enigmatic person. Did she have romances, were there regrets that she remained single and had no children? Did she achieve what she wished to accomplish? I suggest you read “Jane Austen at Home” to look for those answers.

Jane Austen at Home will be published on May 18th 2017 and can be pre-ordered at Amazon UK or Amazon US

(A review copy of this book was kindly provided by the publishers, Hodder & Stoughton)

Lucy Worsley

worsley

Dr Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the charity which looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace.

Her first paid employment after studying history at Oxford was at a minor stately home called Milton Manor, near Abingdon, where she fed the llamas. After that she became an Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage, doing historical research at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire: this led to her first book, ‘Cavalier’, about a dissolute Royalist duke. Her work as a curator at Kensington Palace led to ‘Courtiers’, which was followed by ‘If Walls Could Talk’, ‘A Very British Murder’, and her first historical novel for young readers, ‘Eliza Rose’, which is set at the Tudor court.

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