The Music of the Spheres by Elizabeth Redfern #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Music of the Spheres

Book Blurb

London, the summer of 1795: a season of revolutionary fervour, scientific discovery and vicious murders. The British government is in disarray, unable to stem the flood of secrets to Paris; betrayals that doom her war efforts to failure. In rural Kensington a group of French emigr-s are pursuing a scientific dream, the discovery of a planet they call Selene. The group has fallen under the spell of a beautiful and amoral woman – Auguste de Montpellier who is at once their muse and dark angel. Meanwhile a killer lurks in the back streets of the capital: the victims are all prostitutes and have been paid in French Louis d’Or, the currency of France’s spies. Jonathan Absey is a Home Office clerk whose official task is to smash the French spy ring. Privately however, he has become obsessed with the murders. These interests intersect when he finds himself drawn into the Montpellier circle, yet his pursuit for truth remains obscured through coded letters, opium and conspiracy. Absey must uncover the mystery before the summer dies; an invasion fleet is being prepared to set sail across the channel and the lives of those on board now rest on his discoveries.

My Review

The end of the 18th century is a fascinating era, when French spies mixed with the aristocratic emigres in London, who had fled to save their heads. The city was a dangerous place for the underclass and Jonathan Absey becomes obsessed with solving the murders of several prostitutes because he believes his daughter was the first victim.

Suspicion falls upon the household of Auguste de Montpellier and her sick brother Guy. Aided by Doctor Raultier, Guy fights his illness to prove the existence of a new planet which he calls Selene, which he believes must exist after the discovery of Uranus by Herschel in 1781. Jonathan persuades his half-brother Alexander Wilmot, a gifted musician and amateur astronomer to make contact with the Montpelliers so that he can discover their secrets, but Alexander is unwilling to betray his new friends and walks into a perilous situation.

There is a gothic quality to this novel, several characters implying languorous evil and sexual deviance.  The historical content is sound, and the suspense increases with each new murder, but only Alexander earns our empathy and for this reason was the only character I could believe in.  Choose this novel for revelations about post-revolutionary Europe and an insight into scientific interests at that time but do not expect to become emotionally involved with people you meet within its pages.

The Music of the Spheres can be purchased on Amazon UK

E Redfern

Elizabeth Redfern

Elizabeth Redfern was born on October 29, 1950 in Cheshire, England and attended the University of Nottingham, where she earned a BA in English. She then earned a post graduate degree as a Chartered Librarian at Ealing College and a post-graduate certificate in teaching at the University of Derby.

Redfern trained and worked as a chartered librarian, first in London and then in Nottingham. She moved to Derbyshire with her husband, a solicitor. And after her daughter was born, Redfern re-trained as a teacher and began work as an adult education lecturer – main subject, English – with the Derbyshire County Council.

Since then, she’s been involved in various projects in nearby towns, including working with the unemployed and skills training in the workplace. She lives with her husband and her daughter, who attends a local school, in a village in the Derbyshire Peak District. In her spare time Redfern plays the violin with a local orchestra, the Chesterfield Symphony Orchestra.

 

 

 

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Island in the East by Jenny Ashcroft #FridayReads #BookReview

Island in the East

This is a book of two stories 44 years apart, both telling of romance and tragedy on the island of Singapore.  In 1941, Ivy Harcourt, a brave young servicewoman, arriving in Singapore a year before the Japanese invasion, meets Kit, the love of her life, but she discovers that her grandmother Mae has been keeping a secret.  She too had lived on the island as a young woman, with her twin sister, Harriet, but what has happened to her sister since then?

 

The stories are gradually revealed in parallel, Mae’s predicament intensifying as danger approaches Ivy and Kit.  This is a thrilling and intriguing book with authentic characters such as Alma, Ivy’s lively American friend and Alex, a warm elderly gentleman who knew her grandmother so many years earlier.  It is difficult to put down as there are so many questions to be answered, unscrupulous characters harming our heroines and the Japanese occupation to be endured.

 

Having lived in Singapore during the 1960s I am fascinated by its history, especially during the second world war, but I was also impressed by the familiar feeling of the heat, the lush vegetation and the colonial style buildings described in the text.  A perfect setting for a mystery, a story of wartime heroism and two enduring romances.

Island in the East is available at Amazon UK

Jenny Ashcroft

Jenny Ashcroft

Jenny Ashcroft is a British author of historical fiction. Having spent many years living, working and exploring in Australia and Asia – a time which gave her an enduring passion for stories set in exotic places – she is now based in Brighton where she lives with her family by the sea. She
has a degree in history, and has always been fascinated by the past – in particular the way that extraordinary events can transform the lives of normal people.

Her first book, Beneath a Burning Sky, was a 2017 kindle bestseller, and Island in the East is her second novel. She is currently working on her third, set in 1920s India.

The Women of Heachley Hall by Rachel Walkley #BookReview #NewRelease

Heachley

When book illustrator, Miriam Chambers inherits Great Aunt Felicity’s Victorian mansion in the Norfolk countryside, she discovers it is a poisoned chalice.  Either she must live in the run-down, cold building for a year and a day, or it will be auctioned for charity.  Since she is able to work at home she decides to accept the challenge and she employs some local tradesmen to improve the facilities a little.  But it is a lonely house set in overgrown woodland and Miriam is grateful when a strange-looking young man comes to the door offering to chop wood and do odd jobs.  As the creaks and bangs around the house alarm her, she is pleased when Charles, the reticent young man, provides company.

 

Increasingly Miriam tries to find the reason for the conditions imposed in her Great Aunt’s will.  Was there foul play when she had her accident and what happened years before when part of the house burnt down?  This beautifully written mystery weaves a spell around the house and the people connected to it.  It is easy to empathise with Miriam but there is a surprising conclusion which you are unlikely to predict.  Reminding me of the books of Kate Morton, this is a story for lovers of ghost stories, history and romance.  The introductory quote.

“One lives in hope of becoming a memory”

Is an apt description of this haunting story, about the nature of love.

You will find The Women of Heachley Hall on Amazon UK or on Amazon US

Rachel Walkley’s delightful description of herself:-

Aspiring writer who pens Women’s Fiction and magical tales about family secrets.

What else?

An East Anglian turned Northerner – ish.

Information professional, always.

Biologist, in my memories.

Archivist, when required.

Amateur pianist and flautist.

Reluctant gardener.

Scribbler of pictures.

And forever…. a mother and wife.

Oh, not forgetting, cat lover!

Painting Ruby Tuesday by Jane Yardley #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

Ruby Tuesday

Thanks to the introduction to the books of Jane Yardley by my friend Hilary I decided to read this book, mainly because of the intriguing nostagic title.

My Review

It is summer 1965 and ten-year-old Annie is whiling away the holiday in her Essex village with best friend Babette, trying to keep out of the way of her parents who run the village school.  But as she practises for her grade 5 piano exam and escapes into the latest Beatles or Rolling Stone song, the local community is shocked by a spate of murders.

 

At first, Annie continues to visit her favourite adult, Mrs Clitheroe, who shares her synaesthesia, the tendency to see music, days of the week etc as colours, absorbed in conversation with her while Babette leafs through an old photo album. But then the murders come closer to home.  Annie is a witness, but she has no intention of helping the police to find the culprit.

 

In tandem with the story of her childhood we meet Annie thirty years later, a musician and teacher with one failed marriage and another cooling.  She is offered a chance to move to New York, a place that has always been significant to her, but she needs to work on improving the relationship with her American husband, Alan.  But memories of her creative, chaotic first marriage to sculptor, Daniel are getting in the way.

 

This is a complex book about only children who live in a world of their own (I identify with this!) of the traumatic effect of discovering a murder scene and the way some people stay with you all of your life, even if you only knew them as a child.  It is amusing, mystifying and reveals the world of a sixties village very well.  It is a stimulating read which makes you think but it is also a great page turner.

Painting Ruby Tuesday is available at Amazon UK or at Amazon US

 

The Likeness by Bill Kirton #RBRT #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

Likeness

In this sequel to Bill Kirton’s “The Figurehead,” we meet wood carver, John Grant, once again, showing his strength and resolute character as he heads out of Aberdeen harbour with his fellow oarsmen in the Lifeboat.  Meanwhile, Helen Anderson, frequently in John’s thoughts, is trying to persuade her father to allow her active participation in his business.  Her parents know that she has grown close to John Grant, although he is not her social equal, but she does not follow the normal accepted behaviour of a young woman in 1841.  She is keen to travel on one of her father’s ships, on part of its journey to the colonies, to see how accommodation might be improved.

Imminent separation begins to drive John and Helen apart, as his new project to carve a figurehead for part of a ship on stage, brings him into frequent contact with an actress in the touring company.  The discovery of the original star of the play, dead behind the fishing sheds, has made him determined to solve the possible murder and there are several likely suspects.

The details of the shipping business and the life of a touring group of actors enrich this distinctive historical mystery and misunderstandings in the relationship between Helen and John are solved in an unusual manner, based on their love and respect for each other. A wonderful opportunity to discover the people and hardships of this thriving 19th century port.

The Likeness can be found on Amazon UK   and Amazon US

My review of The Figurehead.

Bill Kirton

Bill Kirton

Bill Kirton was a university lecturer in French before taking early retirement to become a full-time writer. He’s won two 2011 Forward National Literature Awards – ‘The Sparrow Conundrum’ was the overall winner of the Humor category and ‘The Darkness’ was runner up in the Mystery category. ‘The Sparrow Conundrum’ also won the Readers’ Choice Award for satire/humor on the Big Al’s Books and Pals website in 2012. His historical mystery, ‘The Figurehead’, was long-listed for the 2012 Rubery Book Awards.
He’s produced material in many different media. His radio plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4 and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. His stage plays have been performed in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the USA and he’s been the visiting artist to the Theatre Department of the University of Rhode Island on four separate occasions. There, he directed stage plays, gave classes on creative writing and theatre, performed in revues and translated three plays by Molière for public performance, one of which won a BCLA prize. Material from his Edinburgh Festival revues was broadcast on the BBC, ITV and French television.
He’s also been a TV presenter and a voice-over artist and his scripts for corporate and educational DVDs and videos have won awards in the UK and USA. He’s been a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and the universities of Dundee and St Andrews.
Most of his novels are set in the north east of Scotland. ‘Material Evidence’, ‘Rough Justice’, the award-winning ‘The Darkness’, ‘Shadow Selves’ and ‘Unsafe Acts’ all feature DCI Jack Carston. ‘The Figurehead’ is a historical novel set in Aberdeen in 1840. The award-winning ‘The Sparrow Conundrum’, is a spoof spy/crime novel also set in Scotland. His comic fantasy novella, ‘Alternative Dimension’ satirises online role-playing games.
His short stories have appeared in the Crime Writers’ Association annual anthology in 1999, 2005 and 2006. IN 2010, one was also chosen for the ‘Best British Crime Stories, Vol. 7’ anthology edited by Maxim Jacubowski.

 

 

The Figurehead by Bill Kirton #FridayReads #BookReview

Figurehead

ABERDEEN, Scotland – 1840

Return to an age where sail was being challenged by steam, new continents were opening, and the world was full of opportunities for people to be as good—or as evil—as they chose. When the body of a local shipwright is found on the beach, neither the customers and suppliers he cheated nor the women he molested are surprised. But the mystery intrigues woodcarver John Grant, who determines to seek out the truth of the killing. His work and his investigations bring him into contact with William Anderson, a rich merchant—and his daughter Elizabeth. Commissioned to create a figurehead that combines the features of two women, John eventually uncovers a sordid tale of blackmail and death as, simultaneously, he struggles to resist the pangs of unexpected love.

Poor old Bessie Rennie found herself in great trouble as a result of stealing a watch from the dead body of Jimmie Crombie, the shipwright, on the Aberdeen beach. Had she murdered him, or did he drown? The local Watch are useless, but John Grant, figurehead maker and ship carver, is determined to find the murderer even if Jimmie deserved his fate.

William Anderson, wealthy ship owner and trader, had commissioned Crombie to build him a new ship, so he is concerned about completing the build, while his independently minded daughter, Helen, not a typical rich young lady of 1840, wants to help her father in his business as well as solve the murder. Inevitably, Helen and John Grant are drawn together as she models for the figurehead for her father’s ship and they begin to share their investigations.

Events slowly reveal which of Jimmie’s enemies might have wished him dead, as the author shows the comfortable gentrified life of the Anderson family contrasting with extreme poverty among the fisherman, thieves and prostitutes. While John is able to span the lives of both communities, Helen takes dangerous risks in seeking out the company of Jimmie’s widow, Jessie. The picture of 19th century Aberdeen is vivid and convincing, while John’s strong, calm personality is a good foil for the impetuous determination of Helen Anderson.

This is a story full of realistic characters, whom we grow to care for and a lifestyle full of passion and suffering. After an unpredictable twist, the mystery draws to a satisfactory, logical conclusion, but the relationship of Helen and John is still uncertain, leading us on to the following book. The well-researched background story of this busy port raises questions to be answered about the business practices of William Anderson and his provision of passages to the colonies so I look forward to reading “The Likeness.”

The Figurehead is available at Amazon UK

 

The American Boy by Andrew Taylor #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

American

 

Interweaving real and fictional elements, The American Boy is a literary historical crime novel in the tradition of Possession.

England 1819: Thomas Shield, a new master at a school just outside London, is tutor to a young American boy and the boy’s sensitive best friend, Charles Frant. Drawn to Frant’s beautiful, unhappy mother, Thomas becomes caught up in her family’s twisted intrigues. Then a brutal crime is committed, with consequences that threaten to destroy Thomas and all that he has come to hold dear. Despite his efforts, Shield is caught up in a deadly tangle of sex, money, murder and lies — a tangle that grips him tighter even as he tries to escape from it. And what of the strange American child, at the heart of these macabre events, yet mysterious — what is the secret of the boy named Edgar Allen Poe?

This historical murder mystery shows the extremes of poverty and wealth within a small area of 19th century London. “The American Boy” is well researched and, for me at least, a page-turner. It appears to be heavily influenced by Wilkie Collins writing. I enjoyed following the developing mystery although I found the final denouement a little disappointing.

The reticence Thomas Shield shows to reveal the details of his tête-à-tête with Sophia, do perhaps carry the assumption of 19th century good taste a little too far but the romance certainly kept my interest in the fate of both characters. His earlier confused attraction to two women was harder to believe but perhaps I don’t understand men well enough. It is certainly true that Miss Carswell is a tantalising, enigmatic character, while Sophia seems aloof & unapproachable.

I am not happy with the chosen title and although Andrew Taylor gives his interest in the youth of Edgar Allan Poe as the raison d’être for this book, the boy seems to me to be only an incidental character and if anything is a conceit of the author. Without great knowledge of Poe, I suspect I am missing nuances in the text.

The pictures painted of the three locations, London, Gloucester and Monkshill Park are clearly delineated and atmospheric and the machinations of the plot built up convincingly. Initially the novel adopts a leisurely pace, but this gradually heats up. In contrast to the interactions of the many characters involved in the story, there are also interludes of philosophical observation by Thomas Shield such as,

For the first time in my life, I was about to be a man of substance. The knowledge changed me. Wealth may not bring happiness, but at least it has the power to avert certain causes of sorrow. And it makes a man feel he has a place in the world,

which I particularly enjoyed.

I have read that Taylor initially wrote this story in the third person, but sensibly realised that Thomas Shield was an essential narrator to ensure the reader’s involvement. I found him a very sympathetic character, in spite of his tendency to act like a Dr.Who heroine.