Gaslight by Eloise Williams #MiddleGrade #VictorianHistory

Last year I was blown away by the beautifully written contemporary story of a 13 year old girl in Seaglass by Eloise Williams, so this year I have read her earlier historical novel, Gaslight.

gaslight

Gaslight is a short book which is difficult to put down. Set in late Victorian Cardiff, the heroine, Nansi, survives by working and thieving for Sid, owner of the Empire Theatre, who “took her in” after she was fished out of the sea. But he is not a kind guardian; Nansi is physically and mentally abused by him and yet she stays. Her strength comes from her determination to find her missing mother and she finds peace in night-time swimming. The story portrays all the social ills of the time but also friendship and comradeship. The environment of the theatre and its surroundings are clearly created, and the book includes several Dickensian characters. The title reflects the atmosphere of the theatre but also reminds us of the term “gaslighting”. If I was still teaching this would be the perfect book for my Year 6 book club.

Find Gaslight at Amazon UK

My review of Seaglass by Eloise Williams

eloise williams

Eloise Williams

Eloise Williams was born in Cardiff in 1972. Her second book GASLIGHT won the Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year Award 2017, the YBB Book Award 2018 and was shortlisted for the Tir na nOg awards 2018.
SEAGLASS was chosen in the Top 10 Books for Young People of 2018 by Wales Arts Review:
“The queen of children’s writing in Wales goes from strength to strength, and her third novel does not disappoint. A continuation of her unique brand of scary and page-turning story-telling skills, her latest book has already gone down a storm in classrooms…”

Eloise lives in a tiny cottage by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, with her artist husband, Guy Manning, and her cairn terrier, Watson Jones. She collects sea glass, sagely pretends to know about the tides and accidentally sings Welsh songs out loud on the beach.

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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

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 Letter by Mimi Matthews #amreading #BookReview

 

Lost Letter

Here is a classic tale of love lost and ensuing misfortune. Paralleling the situation in the tale of Beauty and the Beast, the heroine, Sylvia Stafford finds herself in a stately manor house where the Earl of Radcliffe, badly injured in the Indian rebellion, hides himself away from society so no-one can see his facial scars.

But Miss Stafford had originally met the Earl 3 years earlier in London, when he was Colonel Sebastian Conrad. There had been flirtation, the exchange of kisses and he had taken a lock of her hair as a keepsake. Since then, her circumstances had changed dramatically. Her father, losing all his money at the gaming tables, committed suicide. Penniless and alone, Sylvia had accepted a position as Governess with a family in Cheapside and Sebastian had not contacted her.

Sylvia Stafford is a determined, proud, young lady of 25. She carries out her teaching duties enthusiastically and will not demean herself for the sake of money. Sebastian now believes that she is a fortune hunter, despite the efforts of his sister, Lady Julia Harker, to bring the two together.

Mimi Matthews writing reflects her deep academic knowledge of Victorian social history, subtly making every action and speech believable. Much of the story is told through conversations between the two protagonists and this engages the reader with their personalities and a wish for their happiness. The essence of this thwarted romance was deceit and misunderstanding and they extricate themselves from this in a credible way. I found myself rooting for Sylvia and enjoying every moment of this delightful novel.

The Lost Letter will be published on September 19th and can be preordered on Amazon

Mimi Matthews

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017) and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in 2018).  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.

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 Romance Writers of America, The Beau Monde, Savvy Authors, and English Historical Fiction Authors, and is currently represented by Serendipity Literary Agency in New York. Her debut Victorian romance The Lost Letter will be 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/

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Who Killed Constable Cock?: A Victorian True Crime Murder Case by Angela Buckley #BookRelease

Who Killed

 The mystery of who killed Constable Cock is Angela Buckley’s second Victorian Supersleuth Investigation. It describes a murder which occurred on the night of August 1st 1876 in the Manchester suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy. While patrolling his beat, Constable Cock was suddenly shot in the chest and although there were witnesses close by no-one could tell where the bullet came from.

Using newspaper reports and evidence presented in court, Angela has pieced together what happened. Although only 21, Nicholas Cock had already lived a varied life and was an extremely conscientious police officer. This had caused to him have enemies and Superintendent Brent of the Manchester Constabulary believed he knew the culprit. But proving guilt was not so easy. Reading this book gives us a window into Victorian life, meeting respectable people, burglars and the unfortunate. The availability of firearms made a policeman, bearing only a staff, vulnerable but provided clues as to whom the perpetrator might be.

The delight of Angela Buckley’s books are the aptly worded chapter titles, such as “A Murder of a Dastardly Character,” and each are followed by well-chosen quotes as in Chapter 4:

“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.” from Great Expectations.

Every aspect of the investigation is described and once the case is complete using thorough, though mainly circumstantial evidence, it would seem there was nothing more to report but there is an incredible twist in the tale. In a revelation which would be difficult to believe in fiction, we meet the colourful character of Charlie Peace and the case is turned upon its head.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in social history but also those who enjoy a good detective story with a fascinating conclusion.

Murder once more on the streets of Victorian London

I’m reviewing another Victorian murder mystery today. It’s written in an entirely different style but is another 5 star book.

Seamstress

The Pre-Raphaelite Seamstress by Amita Murray

The prologue of this Victorian mystery describes the bloody scene within a gentleman’s carriage on the streets of London through the eyes of his murderer but we must wait until the denouement of the story for all to be revealed.

We meet instead, seamstress Rachel Faraday, not surprisingly often mistaken for a whore, on her way to the house of a new client, Mrs March and her handsome, but annoying brother Harry Twyfold. It would seem to be the introduction to a conventional romance but it is not so simple. Rachel is compelled to investigating the murder which has occurred, to prevent injustice and free an innocent man.

Rachel is not only a seamstress, but also an artist who paints her own fabrics. She meets Dante Gabriel Rosetti who gives her lessons while she tries to resist his charms. Her life becomes complicated and at times unbearable and she puts herself in great danger by risking a tête-à-tête with the lecherous George Norland and then by following a suspect through the squalor of the Southwark lanes.

This unpredictable story sweeps us through Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions, Rosetti’s studio, Rachel’s lower middle class home shared with friends and the abject poverty among the wharves lining the Thames. Rachel has a complicated personality; an independent, artistic lady of 27 who at times is driven to despair. But when all seems impossible and she has risked all, there is a solution with the aid of loyal friends and a suggestion of future happiness and a further book.

This unusual book rewards any reader who enjoys a Victorian setting and its constant twists of plot increase the mystery of the murderer’s identity.

Diamonds and Dust by Carol Hedges

Diamonds

“Diamonds and Dust” plunges straight in to the murky night of Victorian London and a dastardly murder. The early descriptive paragraphs of the misty dark river and alleyways, written in the present tense, take you straight to the London of, “Bleak House,” and you are quickly caught up in the mystery and fear.

Eighteen year old Josephine King is left with the task of solving the murder of her recently discovered guardian and uncle in an inhospitable environment, summoning the strength of character she acquired from years living in an orphanage. Her unlikely allies are a brothel-keeper and a ragged crossing sweeper called Oi.

As the police make no progress, Josephine discovers that the murder may be connected to a collection of valuable jewels. There are incredible headlines in the newspapers of, “A Fearful monstrous Hound striking terror,” and no-one feels safe on the streets at night.

While Josephine puts herself at risk, striving to discover the murderer, Isabella Thorpe, a tragic acquaintance, fights to maintain her sanity, destined to be given in marriage to a depraved bully.

Every scene is filled with period detail, painting a picture of the surroundings without detracting from the fast-moving plot. In one delightful vignette Josephine even meets Charles Dickens though she is not impressed by him!

The characters, such as Pennyworth Candy and Trafalgar Moggs, have such perfect names and in this moral tale all receive their just deserts as the result of two determined women, even if the police take all the credit.

Read my Review of Carol’s follow up novel Honour and Obey here