Friday Bookshare #AmReading

This week I’m reading Harry Leslie Smith’s account of his early life. I was prompted to do so by Terry Tyler who reviewed his three autobiographies on her blog

A great depression

Harry Leslie Smith died on 28th November 2018 at the age of 95. He grew up in Yorkshire in great poverty and found wartime an escape from a life of hardship. After he retired he began to write about 20th century British social history and contributed many newspaper articles. In the last few years of his life his public appearances, such as his speech at the Labour party Conference have brought him to the attention of the wider public.

Reading this moving story about the sad childhood of Harry and his sister reminded me of another true story from the same era which I read many years ago.

Twopence

Helen Forrester came from a prosperous family, but after her father lost everything, the family moved to Liverpool, where her experiences of starvation and growing out of her clothes mirror that of Harry Leslie Smith.

Both these books are essential reading for anyone who thinks that hardship ended in the Victorian age.  Despite their dreadful experiences, both books are compelling and take you into their world.

Advertisements

The Foundling’s Daughter by Ann Bennett #New Release #TuesdayBookBlog

Foundling

This is the story of three distinctive women from different generations. In 2010, Sarah Jennings, a successful restauranteur, is fleeing her husband of 15 years who has betrayed her trust, while back in the 1930s, through the words of her diary entries, we meet Anna Foster, a naïve bride of convenience in British India. Bridging these two characters is Connie Burroughs, an old lady in a nursing home who is concealing a terrible secret.

A mysterious tragedy is gradually revealed as a result of Sarah’s wish to buy Cedar Lodge which was part of the orphanage where her father started his life. Here Rev. Ezra Burrows, Connie’s father, commanded great respect from the local community and awe from the children, but he had left his previous career as a missionary in India, in disgrace. As Sarah copes with the rapid deterioration of her father’s death and the disintegration of her marriage, she becomes determined to discover more about her father’s early life. Helping out in a local restaurant she finds new happiness, but she is determined to help Connie who seems unable to escape the influence of Ezra Burrows, long after his death.

As Connie reads Anna’s diary entries, I found myself identifying with her plight and the impossible situation in which she found herself. All three women are vividly described, making this a compelling story to read. The suffocating colonial environment in which Anna suffers a loveless marriage contrasts clearly with the colour and vibrance of India and the threads of the plot are gradually drawn together in a very satisfying, believable conclusion which is both sad and fulfilling.

The Foundling’s Daughter is now available at Amazon UK

My interview with Ann Bennett about her Bamboo trilogy

The Hollow Heart: Love will find a way by Adrienne Vaughan #BookReview

The Heartfelt Series Book 1

Hollow Heart

This heartrending mystery thriller is the story of Marianne Coltrane a feisty, award-winning journalist who uncovers a devastating travesty of justice involving the sale of babies by the church in Ireland. Fighting her corner in the male-dominated world of newspapers she witnesses a terrorist attack that changes how she thinks about her future and what she really wants. Taking herself off to the wilds of the west of Ireland to re-evaluate her life, she encounters the soon to be world-famous actor Ryan O’Gorman, to her mind the most conceited, infuriating man in the world. He in turn loathes journalists, especially female ones. One thing they do have in common is they both think their chance of true love has passed them by. As they both begin to fall in love with Innishmahon, their spiritual home, they discover the very fabric of the island is threatened and as the islanders find themselves in grave danger, Marianne and Ryan join forces to save that which they hold most dear. But the road is rocky for this fiery, opinionated pair … and when Ryan discovers his ex-fiance is carrying his child, things take a turn for the worst. Can he talk his way out of this one? And will Marianne even care, when she unwittingly reveals the most devastating secret of all, the truth behind her past and her own parentage.
Sexy, moving and funny, this heart-warming duo and cast of colourful characters will stay with you, long after the last page leaves you smiling.

My Review

The Hollow Heart is a tempestuous, erotic love story about a complicated couple.  Marianne’s previous relationships have resulted in disaster and tragedy and her own upbringing has made her the caring, campaigning journalist who has no truck with unethical, obtrusive probing into private lives. Thus this story is more than a simple romance.  Other characters, such as Oonagh, a flamboyant, fun-loving landlady desperate to have a child, capture our heart and the Irish village of Innishmahon becomes as important to us as Marianne’s happiness. Alongside many heartbreaking events we come to love Monty the cute Westie who is her constant companion and we laugh at the eccentric Miss MacReady with her extraordinary wardrobe.  Film star Ryan probably doesn’t deserve Marianne but his struggle to prove his love and commitment enrich the story.

This is a book of layers and substance. It deals with the important qualities of life but also takes us on a breathtaking, erotic romp. Adrienne Vaughan is an incomparable romantic author and I am lucky that I still haven’t read all her books.

The Hollow Heart is currently on offer at Amazon UK

My review of The Summer at the Seahorse Hotel by Adrienne Vaughan.

An Unconventional Officer by Lynn Bryant #BookReview

Unconventional

A story of love and war in Wellington’s army 

In 1802 Europe is going back to war, General Arthur Wellesley is commanding troops in India and the officers and men of the 110th infantry are about to get the shock of their lives as a new officer arrives in barracks.

Paul van Daan is young, wealthy, arrogant and ready to take on the Maratha, the French and whole of the British army. A talented and charismatic leader of men, he needs to learn to curb his temper and adjust to the rigid army hierarchy in order to rise in his chosen profession. On the way he makes enduring friendships forged on the battlefields of India and Europe and builds an unexpected bond with the difficult, unemotional commander of the Peninsular army, Sir Arthur Wellesley.

There are many women in Paul’s life but only two who touch his heart.

Rowena Summers, a shy young governess straight from a charity school. Serene and gentle, her love and companionship give Paul a stability he had not known he lacked.

Anne Howard the extraordinary daughter of a wealthy manufacturer who marries a fellow officer and changes everything Paul thought he knew about women.

Amidst the violence and tragedy of the war against Napoleon an unforgettable love story unfolds which affects the lives of everybody it touches and changes the 110th forever.

This is the first book in the Peninsular War series which tells the story of the men and women of the 110th infantry, a regiment like no other in Wellington’s army.

My Review

I have always been fascinated by the long years of battles and skirmishes in the Iberian Peninsular at the beginning of the 19th century. Here men from all backgrounds were thrown together to fight alongside Spanish and Portuguese soldiers against Napoleon’s army. The extra interest was the presence of many women, officers’ wives enjoying social interaction and soldiers’ wives surviving in camp in horrendous conditions by doing laundry and cooking.

But this book is no boring account of warfare, for the tension, jealousy, romance and passion of the main characters make it a real page turner. There’s a sprinkling of Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe stories, the eroticism of an Outlander book and a totally original take on the role of women in this isolated community so distant from life at home in England.  In addition, there are terrifying incidents of danger and violence which keep you on the edge of your seat.

Paul Van Daan is an irresistible, irritating hero, who doesn’t obey the conventions or stick to military rules, but he has survived two and a half years in Nelson’s navy and his strict but fair way of treating the men of the 110th Light company keeps their loyalty and determination.  Though Paul finds it difficult to resist an attractive woman, he always treats them with respect and within this novel, he finds in his loyal wife, Rowena and in the forthright, stunning Anne, reason to live and to fight for justice.  The situation the trio find themselves in, is absurd and cannot have a happy outcome and yet they remain steadfast to each other.  It a very unusual plot but it works in a time when men lived by their wits and good and evil were more pronounced.

I loved this novel for its historical accuracy and its imaginative storyline. Highly recommended.

An Unconventional Officer can be purchased at Amazon UK

The Christmas Ghosts by G. Lawrence #RBRT #BookReview

 

The Christmas Ghosts

“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.” Salman Rushdie

“The muses are ghosts, and sometimes they come uninvited.”  Stephen King

 

This book of 5 short stories is a surprise. Yes, each story has a ghost, who appears at Christmas, but they are not horrifying. The protagonist may feel fear or confusion, but the reader feels curiosity.  Why is the ghost returning?

 

In the first story, Guardian, we meet the most traditional ghost-like figure, but this is also the story about relationships, good and bad. Occurring on Bodmin Moor late on Christmas Eve, there is a gradual build up of tension and we fear for Henry, just as his mother did.  Hot Toddy is a more reassuring story of enduring love, while Roger Reed and the Road Kill Rabbit is an amusing tale of an unpleasant man receiving his just reward.

 

My favourites are the last two stories. Old Man Symmonds echoes “A Christmas Carol”.  There are two unjust bosses in different eras, mistreating their employees, but the heroine, Hayley, regains her confidence, realising her worth as a consequence of her encounter with the ghost. In this story and also in the final tale the main character deals with relationships and gains maturity. Eloise in The Christmas Ghost is struggling to become an author, but she already knows that her occupation as a house-sitter suits her disposition and her aspiration. Failing in her attempt to become closer to her critical mother, whose glass is always half-full, she returns to the Victorian cottage she is minding, to find a ghost whose fate is far worse than hers. The house has inspired her writing, will it help her to heal her family too?

I highly recommend this delightful volume of unusual ghost stories and hope that there will be a second volume to follow next Christmas.

The Christmas Ghosts can be purchased on Amazon UK

Black As She’s Painted by William Savage #FridayReads #BookReview

An Ashmole Foxe Georgian Mystery

Black as she is

This is the fifth Ashmole Foxe Georgian mystery but only the second I have read.  William Savage is the authentic voice of Georgian Norfolk and the reader soon feels quite at home wandering the streets of Norwich with the finely dressed, eccentric, Ashmole Foxe. My personal fondness is for Dr Adam Bascom from Mr Savage’s other series, but I am beginning to warm to the wealthy, intelligent Mr Foxe. Although a womaniser who loves the best clothes and hates bad weather, he has a need to be busy and is well respected by the community for his ability to investigate crimes and bring the culprits to justice.

The story commences with a hideous murder, shortly after the mysterious departure of the victim’s husband, goldsmith and banker, Samuel Melanus.  The Mayor and important businessmen wish Foxe to discover the whereabouts of Melanus before rumour causes a run on the bank.  Aided by the group of street children who consider Foxe to be their friend, he is able to shadow the activities of the criminal underworld and find the connection between the murder and the strange behaviour of the goldsmith.

As usual, this is a slow process, intermixed with Foxe’s relationships with his friends, including Mistress Tabby, the Cunning Woman, and Captain Brock, newly returned from his honeymoon in Europe. A dalliance with Maria, a personal maid to the murder victim, is followed by an interesting new friendship with the intriguing Lady Cockerham. It was difficult to leave this intriguing, slower paced world and I am tempted to read earlier adventures in the life of Ashmole Foxe.

Black As She is Painted can be found on Amazon UK

A Holiday By Gaslight: A Victorian Christmas Novella by Mimi Matthews #NewRelease #RBRT

Holiday by Gaslight

A Courtship of Convenience

Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion—or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things.

A Last Chance for Love

But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are.

My Review

Sophie Appersett, the heroine of A Holiday by Gaslight, is the kind of girl I would love to have as a friend. Frank and honest, she speaks her mind and is determined to find the best in other people.  Accepting that she will have no love match, she is prepared to make a marriage of convenience to a man beneath her in rank but possessing a fortune, in order to save her family from ruin. Her profligate father has spent her dowry on modern gas lighting and has further expensive plans.

Ned Sharpe may be presentable, but he fails to converse properly. His stiff, abrupt approach is at odds with Sophie’s loquacious chat, so she finally decides that, they “don’t suit.”  However, his response to her termination of their potential betrothal, surprises her so she decides to give him one last chance at the Christmas party at Appersett House deep in the countryside.

Although set 50 years after the world of Jane Austen, Sophie reminds me of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, prepared to put her family first but feeling affection for a man who seems unable to communicate with her.  But here we are in a mid-Victorian world looking to the future, where love matches can be achieved, and modern technology is embraced. A wonderful feel good read for the Christmas holiday.

A Holiday by Gaslight is available at Amazon UK

My Review of The Matrimonial Advertisemenby Mimi Matthews

Book Reviews