Fear and Phantoms by Carol Hedges #NewRelease #RBRT #BookReview

Hedges CJ

I always look forward to another volume in Carol Hedges’ Victorian mystery series.  Once again, she has created an effective picture of the grime and poverty of 1860s London, filled with vivid characters, good, evil, peculiar and captivating.  In Fear & Phantoms, we face the very real horror of murder and fraud as well as a mysterious vision of the Madonna in the tunnel of the Metropolitan Underground railway.

An intelligent young woman, Helena Trigg, who works as a book-keeper, is baffled when her twin brother, Lambert, a senior bank clerk, disappears and comes under suspicion of fraud.  Luckily, she seeks help from reliable Detective Inspector Stride and kindly Inspector Greig, who wonder if there might be a connection to their current murder investigation. But nothing is that simple.  With wit and humour intermingled with suspense, Carol Hedges leads us through the parallel plot strands.

My favourite characters in this novel are the delightful journalist and author Lucy Landseer and the hard-working, irrepressible young cleaner, Pin.  Lucy is ahead of her time, determined to have a successful career, studying to improve her mind and certainly not intending to be dependent on a man. Pin is poor and downtrodden, but she takes care of “the boy, Muggly,” who has no-one else, and she will not tolerate unfairness or cruelty.  Both these young ladies participate actively in solving the mysteries.

There are so many delicious titbits to discover within this novel, such as names like the Hon. Tom Scallywagg MP and a creepy landlord called Mr Mutesius.  A must within a Victorian novel is a detailed description of the many exhibits in the taxidermists where we recoil in horror at the shelves, “of glass cases, full of birds and beasts in a variety of strange and unlikely poses,” but Pin loves to talk affectionately to “the tiny kittens in frilled bibs and tuckers… having a tea-party in their minute prison.”

This exciting tale can easily be read as a stand-alone or as an introduction to the wonderful series but those of you already familiar with thee Victorian murder mystery books will find all their expectations well-rewarded.

To buy Fear and Phantoms in the UK

To read my review of Diamonds & Dust, the first story about The Victorian Detectives

 

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The Matrimonial Advertisement (Parish Orphans of Devon Book 1) by Mimi Matthews #NewRelease #RBRT #BookReview

 

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Helena Reynolds needs sanctuary and, even more than that, a protector. She has travelled to Greyfriar’s Abbey, a remote estate in Devon, to enter into a marriage contract with a stranger. Captain Justin Thornhill is a brave, attractive man, so why is he advertising for a bride? Tortured in India during the mutiny at Cawnpore, he bears scars, and a scarred personality. He needs a business arrangement which will provide contentment and household management, but why has this beautiful, refined lady offered to marry him? They both conceal secrets which may drive them apart. Helena has a vulnerability which makes Justin protective and soon the couple become close, despite fate dictating that they have no future together.

This is an irresistible romance with the added frisson of gothic fear. At a time in Victorian Britain when a woman belonged entirely to her father, guardian or husband, could Helena ever be free to love and live as she wishes? Mimi’s writing style is engaging, and we are plunged immediately into Helena’s predicament. Secrets are gradually revealed, adding depth to our understanding of the main characters. This is Miss Matthews’ best book so far and it is only the first in a new series!

To buy The Matrimonial Advertisement in the UK

To read my review of The Lost Letter by Mimi Matthews

Mimi Matthews

Mimi

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law. Her scrupulously cited articles have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture, and are also syndicated weekly at BUST Magazine.

Mimi’s writing and research have been referenced in such diverse web and print publications as Smithsonian MagazineThe Paris Review, The Journal of Civil War MedicineApartment Therapy, and USA Today’s Happy-Ever-After blog. Her work is frequently used in high school and college classrooms as part of an English or History curriculum.

When not writing historical non-fiction, Mimi authors exquisitely proper Victorian romance novels with dark, brooding heroes and intelligent, pragmatic heroines. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America, and English Historical Fiction Authors. Her debut Victorian romance The Lost Letter was released in September 2017.

In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She resides in California with her family—which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.

https://www.mimimatthews.com/

The Story Collector by Evie Gaughan #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

story collector

The Story Collector is set in an Irish village in two time zones, a hundred years apart.  On a last-minute whim, Sarah Harper has boarded a plane from America to Ireland rather than face her family after the break up of her marriage.  Arriving with no place to stay she soon finds the kindness of strangers providing her with accommodation and companionship. And then she finds a diary written by Anna in 1910.  Between sketching and drowning her sorrows in drink, Sarah follows the young woman’s life story page by page.

 

Anna works hard helping her parents on their small farm while admiring from afar the wealthy Anglo-Irish twins in Thornwood House.  Her everyday life becomes more interesting when Harold Griffin-Krauss, an American academic, arrives in the district. Investigating Irish folklore for his book.  Anna is employed to translate the tales told to him, from Irish into English.  They soon become good companions, but she is unsure whether to admit her deepest secret to him.

 

Sarah is also intrigued by the stories of fairies and the beautiful setting. As an artist she appreciates the countryside, so well described by Evie Gaughan.  There is a touch of magic but also a feeling of sadness and menace.  Both Sarah and Anna have suffered loss, but both will finally have to make new beginnings.  This lovely novel is a great pleasure to read and definitely a page-turner.

The Story Collector is available on Amazon UK

The Long Journey Home by Wendy Robertson #BookReview

Long Journey

The arrival of the Japanese army in 1942 marked the end of colonial life in Singapore.  The pre-war round of parties, games of tennis and servants, disappeared overnight as the British women and children attempted to escape by ship, while their menfolk were unable to defend the island and were quickly imprisoned in Changi jail.  Meanwhile many of the Chinese population were murdered or tortured.

Ten-year-old Sylvie has had a privileged life despite her mother’s coldness.  Tutored by Virginia Chen, a Eurasian graduate in her late 20s, she is able to meet many other people in the multiracial city.  When her father takes his family to the docks to board one of the last ships, an aerial attack causes confusion and she is left behind.  Eventually finding Virginia, the two of them try to survive the rest of the war together.

This thrilling and very credible story relates the horror, comradeship and continuing racial tension.  The deep friendship between Virginia and Sylvie helps them to endure the hunger and cruelty but peace threatens to divide them forever.  There is a hint of romance for Virginia and we wonder whether Sylvie will ever see her beloved father again and there are some pleasing family connections to be discovered.

I have read many other books about the fall of Singapore, since so many true stories of endurance and suffering can be told, but this was a book I could not put down and the stratas of social behaviour and need for racial equality make it a novel worth reading in the 21st century.

Wendy Robertson

W Robertson

Scatty and disorganised about most things except my writing and reading I drift through life in search of the next idea, the wonderful next story. I have been living this life for the last twenty years after a career in teaching up to degree level. I embraced teaching as a creative enterprise but was always a writer who happened to teach, publishing three books while I was still working as well as some short stories and journalism. After that I surrendered to the writing goddess and published a range of novels and short stories as well as the occasional article.

Oh, and I have a Master’s Degree in Education. Some of those insights thread through the novels too, I suppose.

I have written spasmodically about my life in my short volume A Life In Short Pieces, and in The Romancer: A Writer’s Tale.

I’m fascinated by creativity history, identity, imagination, equality and myth. Recently, on looking through my novels I realise that – although not with any conscious purpose – these themes seem to be threaded through my writing.

In the middle of my writing career I spent five years as Writer in Residence in a women’s prison. This was a life-changing experience for me – broadening my view, deepening my empathy and my understanding of the whole of society. One outcome of that experience was my novel Paulie’s Web This, while fictional, tells some truths about the varied lives of many of the interesting and wise women I met in prison.

The Long Journey Home is available here

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.

 

 

 

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 #RBRT #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!