The Sapphire Widow by #DinahJefferies #amreading #BookReview

Sappire

Of all the exotic Eastern settings in colonial times selected by Dinah Jefferies for her books, Ceylon in the 1930s is perhaps the most beautiful. Here we meet Louisa Reeve, living in a pleasant house with a handsome husband and her father living nearby. Having grown up on the island, she is happy to cycle round the 300 year old walled town of Galle, talking to the locals or to play with her three beautiful dogs but there is great sadness in her life; her daughter Julia was stillborn, and she has suffered two miscarriages. Husband, Elliot, is frequently away on business or out sailing and as a reader I instantly mistrusted him.  Soon tragedy strikes and we learn of Elliot’s treachery.  In contrast to the detailed description of the tropical landscape; the colourful hibiscus plants, the perfumed frangipani trees, the aroma of cinnamon bark, the cool waves of the Indian ocean, we also read of Louisa’s struggle to cope with suspicious men demanding money, an unkind mother-in-law and a revelation that causes her to doubt whether Elliot really loved her.

In order to survive, Louisa plans to open an emporium in an old print house and she approaches Leo McNairn, owner of a cinnamon plantation to offer a contract exporting his crop through her spice agency in Colombo.  She finds Leo, a strong but rather sad man, unsettling, and she feels sure he knew more about her husband’s past.  Circumstances throw them together, but an orphaned boy may separate them.

Many previous fans of Dinah Jefferies’ books seem disappointed by this novel, but I particularly enjoyed it, perhaps because I could identify with the lonely but independent, Louisa and the stories of other characters added interest and context to her tale.

The Sapphire Widow is available to purchase on Amazon UK

My review of The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies

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Marked for Revenge: An Art Heist Thriller by Jennifer S. Alderson #NewRelease #FridayReads

Marked

An adrenaline-fueled adventure set in the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, and Turkey about stolen art, the mafia, and a father’s vengeance.

This is the third of Zelda Richardson’s adventures in the art world. While working on her Master’s thesis she had been an unpaid intern. Now in her first paid job as a museum researcher she is anxious to make her mark, but little does she realise that she will soon be a suspect in a daring multiple art theft. This thrilling tale also allows us to view the situation from the viewpoint of the thieves and observe a bitter feud between Luka, a Croatian gangster and Ivan an embittered ex-collaborator, determined to get revenge for the tragic death of his daughter.

While Zelda’s boyfriend, Jacob, is working in Cologne, she spends her free time in Amsterdam, socialising with colleagues at the Amstel Modern Museum and getting to know her neighbour, Gabriella, a talented artist. Shortly after three sketches by famous artists are stolen from the Amstel Museum, Zelda stumbles into trouble when she inadvertently sees a copy of one of the sketches in Gabriella’s studio.  After Gabriella disappears, Zelda’s admission that she has seen a copied painting puts her under suspicion. Zelda is desperate to find Gabriella and clear her name, so she is relieved when noted art recovery investigator, Vincent de Graaf, takes on the case, allowing Zelda to assist him.

This series of daring art thefts are especially intriguing because at each location a card is left by “Robber Hood,” criticising the gallery for lack of fool proof security.  I took great pleasure in the delightful chapter titles, such as, “Balkan Bandits Strike Again”  and “The Audacity of Art Thieves,”  The authors descriptions of action and adventure in Venice and Marmaris bring each site vividly to life and made me keep turning the pages long after I should have turned off the light.

For an illustrated account by Jennifer S Alderson of the locations in her book look here

My review of Zelda’s first escapade in the art world The Lover’s Portrait

Marked for Revenge on Amazon UK

The Lost Empress by Steve Robinson (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery 4) #FridayReads

Empress

On a foggy night in 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank en route between Canada and England. The disaster saw a loss of life comparable to the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet her tragedy has been forgotten.

When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is shown a locket belonging to one of the Empress’s victims, a British admiral’s daughter named Alice Stilwell, he must travel to England to understand the course of events that led to her death.

Tayte is expert in tracking killers across centuries. In The Lost Empress, his unique talents draw him to one of the greatest tragedies in maritime history as he unravels the truth behind Alice’s death amidst a backdrop of pre-WWI espionage.

This is the fourth book in the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery series but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story.

Once again I have returned to read about professional genealogist, Jefferson Tate or JT as he likes to be called. Hailing from the States he frequently finds his investigations take him to England, even though he hates flying.  He is a very human character, who loves chocolate, has few social skills but is prepared to put himself in danger, in order to solve the mysteries which his clients present him with.

The Lost Empress is a dual time novel, leading up to the tragic sinking of the ocean liner.  We join young mother and Admiral’s daughter Alice Sitwell who is driven to engaging in espionage against her country, to protect her husband and young children. The more she tries to extricate herself, the tighter the noose tightens and we wonder whether Jefferson will solve the mystery of her death or disappearance.

Both Alice and JT are at risk of losing their lives but both act bravely if rather foolishly.  This is a particularly thrilling episode of this series which I seem to be reading in random order but that has not spoilt my enjoyment due to the clear characterisation. A novel which will entertain those who enjoy family history, thrillers or historical novels.

The Lost Empress is available on Amazon UK

My review of Steve Robinson’s Letters from the Dead

The Inheritance (The Guernsey Novels 7) by Anne Allen #BookReview

Inheritence

This is the second Guernsey novel I have read so I was pleased to recognise some familiar places and people, but previous knowledge is not needed to read this stand-alone story.  Heroine, Tessa is completing her training as a doctor in Exeter and hopes to move into general practice when she is surprised to hear that she has inherited a large house in Guernsey from her Great-Aunt Doris. Returning to the place where she grew up, fills Tess with pleasure but what she should she do with this crumbling old house?  Looking up an old friend gives her a contact which could lead to a new job, so Tess considers returning to Guernsey.

In parallel to the contemporary story, we read the diary of Eugénie written in the 1860s.  A recently widowed French woman, she is Tess’s ancestor.  More tragedy follows when she loses her baby, but she is taken care of by Madame Drouet who is the long-term mistress of Victor Hugo and her life becomes closely linked to the famous couple.

As Tess works out what she wants from life, she meets Jack who supervises the restoration of the house where Eugénie once lived.  Both women have to make decisions about their futures, but Tess has more freedom than her ancestor had in Victorian times.  It is fascinating to read of Victor Hugo’s long sojourn in Guernsey and his magnetic personality.  In contrast, the modern problems encountered by Tess, as a doctor and her growing awareness of her genealogy add great depth to this unusual novel.

The Inheritance is available at Amazon UK

My review of The Betrayal by Anne Allen

A Bittersweet Garden by Caren J Werlinger #FridayReads #RBRT

Bittersweet

A Bittersweet Garden is a mystery story set in Ireland, which also describes a romance between American Librarian, Nora McNeil and Briana Devlin, a groom and horse trainer in the village of Cong in County Mayo.  After a failed relationship and the death of her long-loved cat, Nora has come to see the home village of her grandparents. Intending to stay for several weeks she has rented Sióg cottage, a run-down property in the woods, reputed to be haunted.  After a disastrous first meeting with Briana, Nora begins to come closer to this reserved young woman and she enjoys helping her cousin, Sheila in her garden nursery.  She is even able to start writing a novel, but the subject matter is dark. Frequent dreams of a tragic family, who once lived in the cottage, begin to obsess her and she sleep walks into the woods in search of Rowan, a young girl who disappeared mysteriously in the 1840s.

Nora needs to value her own worth and a relationship with Briana might give her happiness, but she must return to Virginia.  The sad story of Móirin and Donell, who once lived in the cottage, needs resolution but this may endanger Nora’s life. The warm community in this picturesque Irish village rally round but only Nora and Brianna can solve the past in order to give themselves a future.

Caren J Werlinger has created two complex characters with whom the reader can identify and I was intrigued to discover what had happened to the little girl in the yellow dress over 170 years earlier.

Caren

Caren J Werlinger

Caren was raised in Ohio, the oldest of four children. Much of her childhood was spent reading every book she could get her hands on, and crafting her own stories. She was influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather, and the Brontë sisters. She has lived in Virginia for over twenty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy and lives with her partner and their canine fur-children. She began writing creatively again several years ago. Her first novel, Looking Through Windows, won a Debut Author award from the Golden Crown Literary Society in 2009. Since then, she has published several more novels, winning multiple Rainbow Awards and a 2014 GCLS Award for In This Small Spot. She recently published her first fantasy novel. Rising From the Ashes: The Chronicles of Caymin, is the first volume in The Dragonmage Saga.

A Bittersweet Garden is available on Amazon UK

The Doll Maker (The Viper and the Urchin Book 4) by Celine Jeanjean #NewRelease #TuesdayBookBlog

Doll

Revolution in the streets.

A deadly weapon stolen.

A wardrobe too wide to fit up the stairs.

All is most definitely not well back in Damsport…

For Rory and her companion Longinus, this is an exciting time, a new beginning.  No longer is Rory a waif, a defiant pick-pocket given a place to sleep and guidance by the wise but eccentric assassin.   They are moving into a new home as equals. Rory believes she is paying her way, an independent young woman who helps the Marchioness when Damsport is under threat.  Longinus is in his element, decorating their new home stylishly and employing Tess, a maid, to take care of them.  But their happiness is soon disturbed when Rory discovers their friend Cruikshank, the skilled machinist, critically injured by brutes who have broken into her workshop.  A dangerous weapon containing a lethal explosive has been stolen and the whole city could be destroyed.

Rory must work with Varanguard, Raif, once more and this time she has come of age. She is prepared to recognise her feelings for the strong handsome young man. Together with Longinus they face terrifying events.  Rory participates in a thrilling duel on board Crazy Willy’s steamcoach and Longinus faces up to fears from his past when he enters the eerie rooms in Arthur’s Automaton Emporium.  He found,

“himself facing rows and rows of beady black eyes, all looking at him.  The eyes belonged to dolls. Rows and rows of dolls….

The doll’s eyes were as black and gleaming as beetle wings and so shiny they looked wet….

One had hair but no face so that its black eyes looked out from metal sockets above an articulated metal jaw, its joints held in place by vicious-looking screws.”

Will the Old Girl maintain her position as ruler of Damsport or will a popular rising, funded by bribery and lies, replace her with a corrupt, power-seeking aristocrat who only cares for himself?  Rory’s links to the underworld in the Rookery are essential if the city is to survive.

This is the best of all these exciting steampunk adventures.  The plot turns from one frightening situation to another problem which must be solved.  The characters the reader now knows so well, are courageous, loyal and enterprising and their personal development is believable and heartening.  A must read!

The Doll Maker on Amazon UK

 

T is for Dido Twite from Black Hearts in Battersea #AtoZChallenge #TuesdayBookBlog

Hearts  Black Hearts

Joan Aiken was an amazing writer of children’s fiction about the supernatural or alternative history. The long series of fat books which begin with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase are set in Britain in a version of late 17th century history where James II was never deposed in the Glorious Revolution, but supporters of the House of Hanover are active enemies of the monarchy. Wolves have invaded the country from Europe via the newly built Channel Tunnel. The child hero or heroine varies from one book to another, but my favourite appears first in book 2, Black Hearts in Battersea. Here I met Dido Twite, a poor ragamuffin girl who helps young apprentice painter, Simon and the wealthy, Sophie. Dido Twite speaks appallingly, dresses scruffily and is defiantly independent. She also proves to be loyal and brave.  The children deal with wolves, kidnapping and shipwreck.

Part of Dido’s endearing quality is her personal vocabulary.  In distress she exclaims, “Croopus!” Her friendly greeting is, “Wotcher my cully,” and we understand her meaning when she says, “betwaddled,” or “havey-cavey.” It is such a relief when this extraordinary girl reappears in Night Birds in Nantucket and other books in series.

Dido Twite

This will be the last of my #AtoZChallenges for two reasons. Firstly, because I am travelling for several days with limited Internet connection but secondly because I am uninspired by the last few letters of the alphabet.  Perhaps you can suggest suitable book characters you might have included in your list of favourites.

My A to Z favourite Book Characters