The Slave City: Book 3 of The Viper and the Urchin series by Celine Jeanjean #NewRelease #SteamPunk #TuesdayBookBlog

 A complicated mission.
A team of misfits that just don’t get along.
What could possibly go wrong?

slave city

Longinus
“Everything about Longinus was conspicuous, from the way he spoke to the way he dressed. He stuck out like a whore in a convent, with his teal silk shirt, burnt-orange trousers and hat with an elaborate teal-and-orange feather arrangement. He wore his hair almost down to his shoulders and it always looked as though he had just stepped out of the barber’s. With his thin moustache and elegant, jewel-encrusted sword at his hip, he looked as though he belonged in a bygone era.”

Rory
“She was so slight that she looked as though a breath of wind might knock her over. She had put some weight on since her days as a scrawny street urchin, but she didn’t seem to get any bigger. Her small frame looked all the smaller for the masses of hair that dwarfed her. It was matted and clumped in thick segments more like rope than hair, trailing down her back. But Rory’s eyes were blue. Damsians were a dark people- dark of skin, dark of eye and black of hair. She had the dark skin of a Damsian, and at a glance, she could pass for one. But her blue eyes marked her out as having foreign blood too.”

My Review

I was excited to hear of a new book in the story of former street urchin, Rory and her friend, Longinus the assassin. This time they leave Damsport to travel with Cruikshank, the Machinist, who has been sent on a covert mission to the city of Azyr. Believing they will help Raheeme, a Reformist, to bring slavery to an end and provide water for the poorest of the city, they set out on the smuggling ship of Adelma, a massive, powerful woman they will be glad to have on their side. But they soon discover they are pawns in a power struggle in a hot, dangerous city and Rory is glad to have brave Varanguard, Rafe, accompanying them, even though her feelings for him are still complicated.

The larger than life characters in the Viper and the Urchin series are vivid, extraordinary, yet so real. I cannot help feeling affection for Rory, and Longinus may be a peacock, but his heart is definitely in the right place. In contrast, The Slave City contains a worthy villain in the evil Seneschal who manipulates the obese Prelate, a mere figurehead. Rory and her companions must discover who is trustworthy and who will deceive them, while Cruikshank suffers greatly.

The City of Azyr with its magnificent palace atop a steep hill and dust-covered, ramshackle huts for the poor at the lowest level spells out the structure of society so different to the mishmash of ethnicity and wealth in Damsport. Like a story from the Arabian Nights the vision of Palanquins and mechanised elephants, with richly dressed people served by slaves, is beautifully described, as is the horrific scene in the bloodstained arena. This is a thrilling, frightening adventure.

You can find Slave City on Amazon.com  and Amazon.co.uk

My Review of The Bloodless Assassin

celine

Celine Jeanjean

Celine Jeanjean is French, grew up in the UK and now lives in Hong Kong. That makes her a tad confused about where she is from. During her time in Asia she’s watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, lost her shoes in Vietnam, and fallen off a bamboo raft in China.

Celine writes stories that feature quirky characters and misfits, and her books are a mixture of steampunk, fantasy and humour.

You can get a free novella by signing up to her mailing list here: http://celinejeanjean.com/the-pickpocket-free/

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

transcription

 Transcription opens in 1981 when Juliet Armstrong is involved in an accident. As she lies on the ground, injured, her mind goes back to 1940 when she started work in the offices of MI5 and then to 1950 when she was a BBC schools programmes producer. A witty but unemotional protagonist she seems to be recounting events as they happened, but there are omissions, and can we really trust her testimony?

I loved this book, much preferring it to Life After Life. The story of how MI5 monitored Nazi sympathisers and the account of  the amoral social life of 1940 are fascinating. Juliet’s observations on a woman’s role, always making the tea but also sent out to risk her life on potentially dangerous missions without any training, reflect reality. At times, this novel made me laugh out loud, at others, it is tense and thrilling and always slightly puzzling. There are so many intriguing characters, from Peregrine Gibbons, so dapper but resisting her charms (Juliet’s naivety is believable) to Godfrey Talbot, the likeable double agent, via delightful Cyril, her hard-working companion in Dolphin Square and the tactless Daisy who is supposed to assist Juliet at the BBC.

As Juliet listens in to meetings between Godfrey and a group of fascist sympathisers her transcriptions are sketchy. Words are missing when the dog barks and we don’t have a complete picture of what is happening. This reflects Juliet’s story. She has the ability to lie easily, making her an effective spy and yet she cares deeply about the fate of a young maid who briefly helps her and who, like Juliet, is an orphan.

This is a deep novel with a light tone. It is interesting to read from the context of today’s politics and society. And if you are wondering, the flamingo on the cover is explained towards the end of the story. There has been criticism by some reviewers of the denouement in which we are told in a rapid summary how threads in the story linked and we learn more about Juliet’s motivation, but I am on the fence on this. It satisfied my queries but possibly could have been revealed more subtly. However, the texture and quality of the writing is so delightful I could happily read it all over again next week.

 Transcription is available atAmazon UK

A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty By Mimi Matthews #TuesdayBookBlog

Victorian

Book Description 

What did a Victorian lady wear for a walk in the park? How did she style her hair for an evening at the theatre? And what products might she have used to soothe a sunburn or treat an unsightly blemish? Mimi Matthews answers these questions and more as she takes readers on a decade-by-decade journey through Victorian fashion and beauty history.

Women’s clothing changed dramatically during the course of the Victorian era. Necklines rose, waistlines dropped, and Gothic severity gave way to flounces, frills, and an abundance of trimmings. Sleeves ballooned up and skirts billowed out. The crinoline morphed into the bustle and steam-moulded corsets cinched women’s waists ever tighter.

As fashion was evolving, so too were trends in ladies’ hair care and cosmetics. An era which began by prizing natural, barefaced beauty ended with women purchasing lip and cheek rouge, false hairpieces and pomades, and fashionable perfumes made with expensive spice oils and animal essences.

Using research from nineteenth century beauty books, fashion magazines, and lady’s journals, Mimi Matthews brings the intricacies of a Victorian lady’s toilette into modern day focus. In the process, she gives readers a glimpse of the social issues that influenced women’s clothing and the societal outrage that was an all too frequent response to those bold females who used fashion and beauty as a means of asserting their individuality and independence.

My Review

Having read many of Mimi’s online blog articles I know she has a prodigious knowledge of 19th century customs, art and fashion so I looked forward to learning a great deal from this book.  Well annotated and sourced, the first part takes the reader through each decade from the 1840s to the 1890s. Looking at clothing, underwear, millinery and jewellery, Miss Matthews describes the changing female silhouette, illustrated with beautiful plates of the particular decade. But in no way is this a pedestrian account; the vocabulary of Victorian fashion; spoon busks, crinolettes, paletots etc are intriguingly poetic and yet we also read of the tragic death of a Regent Street seamstress, who worked from 6.30 in the morning till 11 pm plus occasionally working all night to complete a commission.

The section on fashion etiquette describes how clothing for specific circumstances, such as mourning, were strictly dictated. Middle and upper class ladies needed to change their dress several times a day, from a comfortable morning dress, to a walking dress and then a splendid evening dress.  Other activities, such as sport, riding and visiting the seaside required different styles just as today. Finally the section on beauty, hair care and cosmetics is particularly fascinating. I love the suggestion that to avoid wrinkles one should, “endeavour to acquire plumpness.” This is a superb book to peruse during the festive season.

You can purchase A Victorian Guide to Fashion and Beauty at Amazon UK

My review of A Holiday by Gaslight, a Christmas novella by Mimi Matthews

Blood Reckoning by Dan Wadell #TuesdayBook Blog #BookReview

Blood Reckoning

Blood Reckoning is the third book about DCI Grant Foster and his occasional working relationship with genealogist, Nigel Barnes.  The two are also linked by Grant’s colleague DS Heather Jenkins, who is Nigel’s girlfriend.  On this occasion the two men are working on separate cases. Nigel is straying away from his usual family research, as he investigates relationships and location for the causes of a young girl’s terrible nightmares.

Foster’s horrifying murder investigations take him back to his early career as a young police officer in Newcastle.  In 1992, a well-respected 73-year-old man had been murdered by two young boys.  On their release, they were given new identities but now Foster must revisit the scene and the circumstances of the murder.  This major part of the novel is a gripping detective investigation by a policeman determined to find the truth without favour. An intense fast-moving plot reveals the far-reaching repercussions of the original case and in an unusual twist Nigel Barnes becomes personally entangled with the latest events.

Unlike the earlier books, crime features more prominently than genealogy, so this novel may have a wider audience, but personally I have enjoyed each of the three books.  The characterisation of the two men is believable and each book stands on its own. A solid contemporary murder mystery.

Blood Reckoning can be purchased at Amazon UK

Dan Wadell

Dan Waddell is a journalist and author of more than a twenty works of fiction and non-fiction. His first crime novel, The Blood Detective, was nominated for three debut awards, included the celebrated CWA New Blood Dagger, and has been published in five countries. He is also the author of the bestselling guide that accompanied the award-winning BBC TV series, Who Do You Think You Are?

An exiled Yorkshireman, Dan has been a cricket fanatic since he witnessed his first England batting collapse aged six. He was a talented junior batsman, played representative cricket for Yorkshire and was even once, briefly, on the payroll of the county club itself. After being lost to journalism for several years, he made a misguided comeback and now captains Acton 2nd XI in the Middlesex County League where, in between taking painkillers, he tries and fails to pass on sage advice to young players. He covered two seasons of county cricket for The Daily Telegraph and his first ever published work was the history of BBC TV’s cricket coverage, And Welcome to the Highlights, where he got to interview David Gower, Richie Benaud and his boyhood hero, Geoffrey Boycott. It has been downhill ever since…

The Foundling’s Daughter by Ann Bennett #New Release #TuesdayBookBlog

Foundling

This is the story of three distinctive women from different generations. In 2010, Sarah Jennings, a successful restauranteur, is fleeing her husband of 15 years who has betrayed her trust, while back in the 1930s, through the words of her diary entries, we meet Anna Foster, a naïve bride of convenience in British India. Bridging these two characters is Connie Burroughs, an old lady in a nursing home who is concealing a terrible secret.

A mysterious tragedy is gradually revealed as a result of Sarah’s wish to buy Cedar Lodge which was part of the orphanage where her father started his life. Here Rev. Ezra Burrows, Connie’s father, commanded great respect from the local community and awe from the children, but he had left his previous career as a missionary in India, in disgrace. As Sarah copes with the rapid deterioration of her father’s death and the disintegration of her marriage, she becomes determined to discover more about her father’s early life. Helping out in a local restaurant she finds new happiness, but she is determined to help Connie who seems unable to escape the influence of Ezra Burrows, long after his death.

As Connie reads Anna’s diary entries, I found myself identifying with her plight and the impossible situation in which she found herself. All three women are vividly described, making this a compelling story to read. The suffocating colonial environment in which Anna suffers a loveless marriage contrasts clearly with the colour and vibrance of India and the threads of the plot are gradually drawn together in a very satisfying, believable conclusion which is both sad and fulfilling.

The Foundling’s Daughter is now available at Amazon UK

My interview with Ann Bennett about her Bamboo trilogy

The Christmas Ghosts by G. Lawrence #RBRT #BookReview

 

The Christmas Ghosts

“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.” Salman Rushdie

“The muses are ghosts, and sometimes they come uninvited.”  Stephen King

 

This book of 5 short stories is a surprise. Yes, each story has a ghost, who appears at Christmas, but they are not horrifying. The protagonist may feel fear or confusion, but the reader feels curiosity.  Why is the ghost returning?

 

In the first story, Guardian, we meet the most traditional ghost-like figure, but this is also the story about relationships, good and bad. Occurring on Bodmin Moor late on Christmas Eve, there is a gradual build up of tension and we fear for Henry, just as his mother did.  Hot Toddy is a more reassuring story of enduring love, while Roger Reed and the Road Kill Rabbit is an amusing tale of an unpleasant man receiving his just reward.

 

My favourites are the last two stories. Old Man Symmonds echoes “A Christmas Carol”.  There are two unjust bosses in different eras, mistreating their employees, but the heroine, Hayley, regains her confidence, realising her worth as a consequence of her encounter with the ghost. In this story and also in the final tale the main character deals with relationships and gains maturity. Eloise in The Christmas Ghost is struggling to become an author, but she already knows that her occupation as a house-sitter suits her disposition and her aspiration. Failing in her attempt to become closer to her critical mother, whose glass is always half-full, she returns to the Victorian cottage she is minding, to find a ghost whose fate is far worse than hers. The house has inspired her writing, will it help her to heal her family too?

I highly recommend this delightful volume of unusual ghost stories and hope that there will be a second volume to follow next Christmas.

The Christmas Ghosts can be purchased on Amazon UK

Summer at the Little French Guesthouse (La Cour des Roses Book 3) by Helen Pollard #TuesdayBookBlog

Summer at

 Summer sun, chilled, white wine, and a gorgeous fiancé. Nothing could upset pure bliss … Right?

Emmy Jamieson loves her new life in the gentle hills and sunflowers of the lush French countryside, managing La Cour des Roses, a beautiful, white stone guesthouse. With marriage to caramel-eyed Alain just round the corner, things couldn’t be more perfect.

The odd glass (gallon) of wine dulls the sound of Emmy’s mum in full motherzilla-of-the-bride mode, and the faint tinkling of alarm bells coming from Alain’s ex are definitely nothing to worry about. Guesthouse owner Rupert and a whole host of old and new friends are there to make sure nothing gets in the way of Emmy’s happiness.

But as Emmy gets close to the big day, a secret from the past throws everything decidedly off track. Will her idyllic French wedding go ahead as planned, or will Emmy run back home to England with a broken heart?

It was lovely to catch up with Emmy still working hard at Rupert’s idyllic guest house in the Loire valley while developing her own business.  Her marriage to gorgeous accountant Alain is fast approaching, but Emmy’s mother is driving her mad, phoning from England at all hours, to nag her about wedding preparations.

There are amusing escapades amongst the guests and Emmy’s friends, Sophie and Ellie, also appear to have found love, but Alain’s family worries and Emmy’s frustration with her mother cause friction between them.  Then disaster strikes; will Emmy’s happy life in France fall apart?

This third story of the little French guesthouse contains so many fascinating characters, French and English and an unexpected twist in the plot to keep you turning the pages. This is a feel-good novel which restores your faith in humanity and makes you wish you could book a holiday at this wonderful location.

Summer at the Little French Guesthouse can be purchased at Amazon UK

My review of the first book about La Cour des Roses