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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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

 

An interview with Colt McCall from “An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy”

My heart is pounding with excitement at the chance to interview the irresistible Colt McCall from June Kearn’s book.

Cowboy

What were your first impressions of Miss Annie Haddon?

First off? As if a scruffy dog had suddenly appeared and attached itself to me. Yeah, someone’s stray, a pampered pet – one that wasn’t particularly biddable, either. For such a small fry though, she seemed to have a pretty big mouth. A talker, too – mite too fond of her own opinions to my mind, at the time. No idea what she’d landed herself into, either. Not … a … single, solitary clue.

Annie called you intimidating and you certainly don’t suffer fools readily.  Would your life be easier if you were more diplomatic?

Let’s face it, shall we? Annie was white, English, opinionated. Not a hope in hell of understanding someone like me. As for diplomacy! Well, the West belongs to the meat-eaters, always has, always will. The meek don’t inherit much west of Chicago. Anyway, a man needs to show he can defend himself. If people think he can’t, he’s in trouble.

You seem to have a very bad opinion of the English.  What have they ever done to you?

Ha, tried to wipe out all rotten traces of Indian for starters. At Mission School, I was taught by an Englishwoman. She thought I was barely house-trained and had the idea that a daily dose of British poets and Shakespeare was the best way to civilise little hell-raisers like me. Along with not letting me speak my mother’s language, of course – shaving my head and beating manners and the Bible into me.

Yeah, one thing I’ve learned about the English: You don’t tell them, they tell you.

You don’t seem to be a typical Texan and yet you seem to have some good friends.  What do these friends have in common?

I guess they’re all … outsiders? Yeah, every damn one, when I come to think about it. The displaced, the hunted, the ignored. Mostly fighters for their own rights, of course, their own land. For years, we’ve been killing off their food, stealing their hunting grounds, robbing them blind.

Are the divisions of the Civil War still causing problems in Texas?

Well, what do you think? Draw a line down the middle of any country – you’re asking for trouble. Somehow, it makes some folk feel more entitled to boss others around. Take Southerners, for example. Robert E. Lee still adorns many a parlour wall round here. Oh, yeah. Plenty haven’t been too keen on freeing their slaves, either.

You seem to find Miss Haddon just a little too talkative, but do you think she has changed her feelings about Texas since you first met her?

Well, I guess when we first met, Annie was just trying to make sense of everything – questions, questions, questions. Her main concern, first off – if you’d care to believe it – was about losing those bound copies of Dickens in her trunk! While I was just hell-bent on getting us as far away as possible from the Comanche.

Even from her first arrival though, she seemed to love the landscape. Nothing had prepared her, she once told me – for that vast open space, the wide, wide vista. Fluted rock on the horizon soaring to meet limitless blue sky. The throat-catching beauty, the loneliness.
You can’t just pass through this landscape, y’know. It reaches out and draws you in, every time.

And now? Guess Annie knows that she belongs here.

And have you changed your opinion of her?

Oh, yeah. My opinion probably started to shift when she teamed up with two outlaws, swallowed a quart and a half of whisky and started a bar-room brawl – after trying to stare down that Comanche brave, of course.

It was her first ever time away from the protection of her relatives. I’d expected fear, silence, trepidation. Instead, she showed intelligence and courage, plus a real delight at being able to truly be herself.

Thank you, Colt, it’s been a privilege to hear your view of Texas both from your own opinions and those of  “the Englishwoman.”

You can read my review of June Kearn’s book here

#amreading The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman #FridayReads

“He smiled at Bradamant dazzlingly.  Irene felt a little of the overspill of it, the burning surge of slavish desire and passionate adoration, and felt the brand across her back burn like raw ice in reaction.  She also felt a quick burst of relief that apparently Silver hadn’t recognised her as a Library agent.  She was still incognito for the moment.”

Invisible Library

My current read is tremendous fun, a steampunk romp through an alternative world with Irene, a strong-minded, intelligent Librarian solving a crime while on a mission to take a precious Fairy Tale book back to the Invisible Library.  While mentoring a handsome, but troubling assistant she finds she also has to deal with her bitterest personal enemy and a dangerous foe who is trying to kill her.  It is a fascinating novel, filled with humour, danger, adventure and mystery -all the right ingredients.  And there are three more books to follow!

Genevieve

Genevieve Cogman

Genevieve Cogman got started on Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes at an early age, and has never looked back. But on a perhaps more prosaic note, she has an MSC in Statistics with Medical Applications and has wielded this in an assortment of jobs: clinical coder, data analyst and classifications specialist. Although The Invisible Library is her debut novel, she has also previously worked as a freelance roleplaying game writer. Genevieve Cogman’s hobbies include patchwork, beading, knitting and gaming, and she lives in the north of England.

Girl in the Castle by Lizzie Lamb #BookReview #Scotland #Highlands

Castle

Having discovered when I read Scotch on the Rocks what a talented writer Lizzie Lamb is, I was happy to begin reading about Dr Henriette Bruar, the Girl in the Castle.  Leaving behind a disastrous event at St Guthlac’s University, which has ruined her academic reputation, Henri is travelling to a remote Highland castle to catalogue and value the Laird’s books and begin writing her thesis on the Highland clearances.

But Henri is not welcomed.  Almost abandoned by the side of the loch in the gathering Autumn dusk by Lachlan, a small old retainer who wants no “wee lassie going over” to the castle, it appears that even Alice Dougal, the housekeeper wants her to leave the next day.  But the Laird, Sir Malcolm MacKenzie is hoping she will find valuable books to restore his dwindling funds and Henri is determined to prove her worth.  Unfortunately, she makes a bad impression on Keir, the handsome son and heir, who believes she is one of his father’s lady-friends.

As Henriette becomes accepted as part of the unhappy household, she begins to bring light into their sad lives, never recovered from a tragedy during Keir’s childhood.  But when she meets Ciorstaidh, Keir’s cousin, she is told in no uncertain terms that Keir is already promised to her.

But like Lizzie’s other books this is a complex story of magic, mystery and fascinating history.  An exciting team game of shinty is described in detail and on October 31st, the Celtic customs of Samhain are re-enacted.  The social repercussions of arranged marriages and debt and the need for an heir and a spare make fascinating reading, contrasting with the beliefs of a 21st century woman.

This convincing romance, beginning in conflict and distrust, is set in stunning scenery which comes to life through Henri’s experiences and Keir’s enthusiasm for his birthright.   A great read!

You can find Girl in the Castle on Amazon UK

and on Amazon US

 

An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns #Fridayread

Cowboy

This was a book I didn’t want to finish.  A romantic adventure set in the American wild west in 1867, in which the dignity and etiquette of an English lady is contrasted dramatically with the frank, masculine power of a half-breed cowboy.  But this is an oversimplification.  Annie Haddon is no simpering socialite.  Tolerated and put upon by her harsh Aunt Bea and treated abominably by her spoilt cousin Charlotte, she is the poor spinster expected to respond to all their whims, even when crammed into a stifling, hot stage-coach.

 

But everything changes when Annie finds herself trapped under the crashed coach, abandoned by her family.  Enter her saviour, Colt McCall, half Sioux, half Irish, who hates English women.  The dialogue-driven plot reveals much about Annie’s sad life and also her determination, but McCall keeps most of his secrets.  At times these two disparate characters argue bitterly, as Annie tries to keep her respectable clothes and behaviour, but they find they have more in common than they expected.

 

The witty conversation and obvious blossoming attraction between the two, take place against the prejudice and arrogance of cavalry officers, English visitors and land-grabbers.  Annie struggles to stand up for herself, unaware that she is being manipulated.  Can she trust Colt when another more attractive woman is close to him?  This is a recipe for misunderstanding and tragedy, but Annie has native magic on her side.

 

There is great humour in the story, each chapter beginning with a delightful quote from “The Gentlewoman’s Guide to Good Travel,” but there is also a moral to the tale which I found in a native American proverb.

“Listen to the wind, it talks.

Listen to the silence, it speaks.

Listen to your heart, it knows.”

I do urge you to read this unusual love story.

An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy can be purchased on Amazon UK

June Kearns

June Kearns lives in Leicestershire with her family, and writes in a warm corner next to the airing cupboard, a bit like a mouse’s nest.

When she left teaching, June won a national magazine competition for the first chapter of an historical novel. After many, many more hours watching cowboy heroes bring order west of the Pecos, this became her first novel, An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy.

Her next book The 20’s Girl, was inspired by the fabulous style and fashion of the 1920s, and that time in England after the Great War, of crumbling country houses and very few marriageable men.

June is now writing another period romantic comedy set in London in the 1960s.

Dead Man’s Chest: A Phryne Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood

Phryne

In this episode of Phryne Fisher’s mysteries, set in 1920s Australia, she has decided to take her assistant Dot and her two adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, for a quiet seaside holiday in Queenscliff.  An acquaintance, Mr Thomas, has lent his substantial house to Miss Fisher, including his staff, Mr and Mrs Johnson, to take care of their domestic needs.  However, there is no sign of the couple, their furniture is missing and the back door is wide open.

 

Soon there are other mysteries to solve.  Who is the phantom pigtail stealer and why is Mrs Macmaster, who lives next door, with her son-in-law Dr Green, so nasty and so nosy?  As usual in these stories, there are many other characters participating in the plot.  Their other neighbour has two idle sons, with a particularly nasty friend, called Fraser, staying with them.  A film company is producing a silent movie on the beach and soon Phryne’s hopeless kitchen maid, Lily is starring in the film.

 

Kerry Greenwood spices her stories with rich description of the clothes worn by Phryne and Dot and of the delicious food they eat.  She also indulges herself with the pleasure of including aspects of 1920s life which she has researched.  On this occasion she describes a party at the house of Madame Sélary, where the local surrealist club act as one might expect or perhaps as you might not expect.

 

A delightful new addition to Phryne’s household is poor young lad, Tinker.   Hero worshipping Miss Fisher, he becomes a gem, assisted by stray dog, Gaston, in carrying out her orders and acting undercover to solve the mysteries in the style of Sexton Blake.

 

As always, this book is a pleasure to read and great escapism.

 

You can buy  Dead Man’s Chest on Amazon UK

My review of The Redoubtable Miss Fisher Mysteries is here