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

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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

The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell #BookReview #RBRT

Lost

 What if keeping your loved ones safe meant never seeing them again?

Norfolk, 1940: Sylvia’s husband Howard has gone off to war, and she is struggling to raise her two children alone. Her only solace is her beach hut in Wells-Next-The-Sea, and her friendship with Connie, a woman she meets on the beach. The two women form a bond that will last a lifetime, and Sylvia tells Connie something that no-one else knows: about a secret lover… and a child.

Canada, present day: When Martha’s beloved father dies, he leaves her two things: a mysterious stash of letters to an English woman called ‘Catkins’ and directions to a beach hut in the English seaside town of Wells. Martha is at a painful crossroads in her own life, and seizes this chance for a trip to England – to discover more about her family’s past, and the identity of her father’s secret correspondent.

The tragedy of war brought heartbreaking choices for Sylvia. And a promise made between her and Connie has echoed down the years. For Martha, if she uncovers the truth, it could change everything…

My Review

Martha, overcomes her terror of flying in order to discover more about her father’s past. Having written about his life in Canada, he was about to return to his roots in East Anglia when he suddenly died. Martha also wants to see her estranged daughter, Janey, who is studying at Cambridge, but first she must solve the mystery of the beach hut he father had rented and the file of letters on his computer to someone called Catkins.

The novel takes us back to World War Two and a friendship between two young women, Sylvie and Connie.  Each is hiding a secret and their unexpected friendship gives them courage to take a bold decision.  We are shown a vivid picture of life in wartime Britain, where women had important roles doing their best for their country in the Women’s Voluntary Service, against a background of bombing and fear.  Relationships between men sent off to fight and their worried wives at home are severely strained and they can easily grow apart.

Martha is an engaging character, whose story, written in the present tense, involves us actively in her compelling adventure, while Sylvie, distanced by the past tense, makes us fear for her future happiness.  Threads are gradually gathered, connecting the women together and enabling Martha to forge a more positive future where she is reunited with her daughter and finally understands her father’s past.

The Lost Letters can be purchased at Amazon UK

S Mitchell

Sarah Mitchell

THE LOST LETTERS in my first novel, inspired by a visit to Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, where there is a row of iconic beach huts. Some of them looked very old to me, and it made me wonder for how many generations they might have been in the same family and handed down over the years…

I didn’t become a writer until I was in my forties. I studied law and after that practised as a barrister in London for nearly 20 years. For a long while I wanted to write a novel – inspired by my mother who used to write children’s stories for a radio programme called ‘Listen with Mother’ – but it took me a long while to take the plunge and actually make the dream happen. As well as the beach huts, THE LOST LETTERS draws on the decision my grandparents almost made to evacuate my mother to Canada at the start of the Second World War. So much has changed since then, and yet so much – the bonds within a family – are the same. I wanted to explore that in my writing.

I now live back in Norfolk, where I grew up, with my husband and three almost-grown-up children. Norfolk is an extraordinary county and I feel incredibly lucky to live here. I hope THE LOST LETTERS captures a little bit of the beauty of Norfolk, as well as the horror and hardship of war.

You can follow Sarah Mitchell on Twitter at @SarahM_writer

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

 

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

 

The-Matrimonial-Advertisement-Web-Medium-with-Quote-e1530680720709

 

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