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

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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

Q is for Ramona Quimby #AtoZChallenge #FridayReads

Ramona pest    Ramona 8

Ramona Quimby is an ordinary little girl with normal parents and a well-behaved older sister.  Although set in America, this family could easily be a typical British middle-class family where times are sometimes hard. My favourite book is Ramona the Pest when she anxiously starts nursery school alongside her neighbour, Howie.  Her kind teacher, Miss Binney, tells her to, “sit there for the present,” so she patiently waits to be given the present.  She is fascinated by her classmates corkscrew curls so she pulls them to see them ping which, rather harshly I thought, causes her to be suspended from school. Her vivid imagination makes her a joy to encounter but constantly gets her into trouble. As the series continues we see Ramona longing to grow up quickly, dealing with school bullies and trying to help her family when her father loses his job.

“Come on, Mama!” urged Ramona, “We don’t want to be late for school.”

“Don’t pester, Ramona. I’ll get you there in time.”

“I’m not pestering,” protested Ramona who never meant to pester. She was not a slow-poke grown-up. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happens next.

Perhaps you watched Ramona on the TV programme which was pretty true to the books.  I would be proud to have Ramona as a member of my family.

Theodore and Eliza by Susan Harvard #FridayReads #RBRT

Theodore

Book Description

Theodore & Eliza is the first and only account of the eight-year marriage 1812-20 of the mixed-race couple, from whom Princess Diana was directly descended.

The story is threaded through an extensively researched background of places and people in Yemen, Bombay and Scotland during the Napoleonic era. It is an unusually intimate account drawn from a rarely-accessed private archive of the couple’s personal correspondence.

Rapidly changing attitudes to biracial marriages mean that Theodore has to choose between his family and a lucrative career. Though he still loves her, he decides to leave his wife and their three children.

My Review

This true story of the marriage of Theodore Forbes, a rich Scottish merchant, and Eliza Kewark, an Armenian from the city of Surat shines a light on the complex relationships and social niceties of early 19th century British India.  Having fallen passionately in love, the 23-year-old Aberdonian had married his teenage bride rapidly so that he could take up his post as British Resident in Mocha, which at that time was the chief port of the Yemen.  For 3 years the couple lived a happy life there. Responsible for buying and shipping the East India company’s entire annual consignment of coffee, Theodore found his multi-lingual wife a great asset and they rejoiced in the birth of Kitty and her younger brother Aleck.  In 1815 they were ordered to return to Bombay.  While Theodore lodged with friends and attended society parties, Eliza and the children lived in a house in the country, a short ride away, but they were both glad to return to Surat.  Now Eliza lived in one of the grandest houses, a great improvement on her original status in the city. Sadly, when the family returned to Bombay in 1816, Theodore was to discover that society was less liberal than it had been in the past as “respectable” British wives disapproved of “mixed” marriages.  His “dear Betsey” was not accepted at balls or dinner parties.

Many will be fascinated to read that these are the ancestors of Princess Diana and the careful research and detailed descriptions in Susan Harvard’s book reveal the fascinating multi-racial life and the difficulty of balancing ambition against love and duty.  There are stunning pictures from those times included in the book.  The author has followed the history of many of Theodore’s friends, family and colleagues, but at times movement back and forth through time can be confusing.  This is a book for the keen historian, but it will also appeal to those who wonder about the life of those who sought their fortune in the East and left a legacy to the present generation.

Theodore and Eliza is available at Amazon UK

Susan Harvard

Susan Harvard

Susan Harvard was born in London and educated in Scotland and England. She has a BA in French, English and History of Art. After a career researching and restoring pictures, she now lives on a smallholding in rural Somerset where her focus is on writing and conservation.

She has always been interested in History and its relevance to the modern world. Research into the time that Theodore and Eliza lived in Yemen from 1812 – 1815, has thrown up many fascinating parallels with our own time.

One by Jennifer L Cahill #FridayReads #RBRT

One

 

One” is a light hearted, easy read, set in 2005. The first of a trilogy, this retro contemporary novel will remind you of the simpler life of work, friends and relationships in the “noughties.” Focused on Penelope, a 28-year-old investment banker, we share her search for a significant relationship while maintaining a high-powered job and enjoying time with her friends. In parallel we meet Zara, her young house-mate, newly arrived from the country and struggling with London life.

 

We also encounter Charlie, a musician, who was at University with Penelope and also shares their house; Richard, an annoying ex-Uni friend of conspicuous wealth and Alyx, an irresistible, handsome young lawyer, who travels widely with a successful pop group.  The fact that both Alyx and Richard own castles in Scotland is hard to believe and it is no wonder that Zara feels out of her depth amongst such an affluent group.

 

Each of these young people are looking for good relationships and successful careers but juggling these is not easy and we see the possibility of Penelope being dragged into the life of a stay-at-home wife and mother. It is clear that in the last 14 years women’s roles have moved on.  It is easier to identify with Zara and encouraging to see her increased confidence as she learns to navigate the underground, finds a new job and gains friends.  The books conclusion is dramatic, leaving the reader longing to know how the next few years will pan out for this colourful group.

One is available on Amazon UK

JC

Jennifer Cahill was born in Dublin in Ireland and was educated at University College Dublin. She honed both her ability to write, and her love of writing, in UCD while studying Spanish, which was one half of her International Commerce degree. She went on to Business School in Dublin and moved to London after graduating, and life has never been quite the same for her since. When she is not writing she works with individuals and blue-chip clients to help them navigate and master change. She spent ten lovely years living in Clapham and now lives in Notting Hill in West London.

The Black House (Lewis Trilogy #1) by Peter May #FridayReads

blackhouse

I have recently discovered the delights of Tartan Noir and more specifically the mystery of unexplained deaths on the sparse vegetation of the windswept northern Isles.

In The Black House the preface shows us the body of an unpleasant murder victim hanging on the island of Lewis. DI Fin MacLeod is sent over from Edinburgh to liaise with the locals as he was brought up on Lewis, but there are reasons why he left the island as soon as he left school and some of his reunions bring back distressing memories.

While the present-day investigation continues in the 3rd person, Fin tells his own story from the past in alternate chapters.  There is a mystery to be solved which may link to a similar murder in Edinburgh, but the increasingly tortured Fin begins to realise that he is still part of the community and he must open up old wounds.

This is a beautifully written novel, with striking descriptive passages, of the beauty of Lewis in the sunshine, of the terrifying voyages out to the island of Ag Sgeir and the despair of young people who give up hope.  The description of the Guga hunters, men who risk danger to take gannet chicks from the rock once year, is not pleasant but is essential to the plot.

This exceptional book is a compelling read and I shall certainly be moving on to the sequel.

The Black House on Amazon UK

Brandon – Tudor Knight by Tony Riches #FridayReads #RBRT

brandon

From the author of the international best-selling Tudor Trilogy:

Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon is the epitome of a Tudor Knight. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without the king’s consent.

Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell.

Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen?

After reading Mary -Tudor Princess less than a year ago I was looking forward to seeing this love story from the point of view of Charles Brandon. Tony Riches has taken us into the mind of Brandon, a generous, clever man and undoubtedly a womaniser. An orphan whose father died fighting for Henry VII at Bosworth, Charles became the friend and mentor of Henry VIII when the latter was still a young prince. Frequently lacking funds, Brandon was a political animal latching on to the power and influence of first Wolsey and then Thomas Cromwell. He took on the wardship of two young heiresses during his life, but he abandoned his betrothed, Elizabeth Grey, so that he could marry Mary, sister of King Henry and widow of King Francis of France.

Mary had loved him since, at the age of 13, she gave him her favour when he was jousting. A stunningly beautiful princess with long red gold hair, she also appealed to him and he took a calculated gamble in secretly marrying her without Henry’s permission. This could have been seen as treason but his close friendship with the King saved the couple. We share Tudor history with Charles and Mary as they attend the Field of the Cloth of Gold, support their friend Catherine of Aragon and have to accept Anne Boleyn as her replacement.

I love the way the author tells the story simply, concentrating on Brandon himself but giving us a view of the exciting but dangerous world of the Tudor court and the way that the affable young prince Henry turned into an unpredictable, capricious King. At times there is a sudden jump of time and place from one paragraph to the next, but this is easy to forgive when you are transported so easily into another interesting situation. A great introduction into the Tudor world.

Brandon Tudor Knight can be found on Amazon UK

My Review of Mary Tudor- Princess