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Orchard View by Deborah J Miles

After purchasing the once grand Orchard View, builder, Bill Maynard, has his heart set on making a profit by converting it into bedsits. What he doesn’t bargain on is the discovery of human bones under the patio. After being told that the area was a burial site during the time of the Black Death, he has a decision to make – inform the police of his findings and risk losing money or cover the remains up and pretend they were never there. Whatever he decides to do, the discovery has set in motion a chain of events that will change the lives of many…

Recently, on the BBC, there was a television series detailing the history of 62 Falkner Street in Liverpool. This programme traced the people who had lived at the house from when it was built, telling their stories and linking them to the local and national events of the time. It was this programme I thought of while reading Orchard View, which tells the story of the house and its various residents. Although much of the tale is told from the perspective of the inhabitants, it was also a novel concept to give the house itself a voice. Like any reader, the house had its favourite characters and it was fascinating to see what it thought of the people who lived within it.

The story could have become very disjointed due to the different people living there over the years, so it was a clever to idea to have a constant character, a neighbour, who would remain there throughout. This provided a link between each of the stories and also gave the book a definite edge. You will have to read Orchard View to find out more about this though!

It is hard to say too much about the plot without giving too much away, but what I will say is that it is an intriguing look into the private lives of people and definitely a case of how we don’t always know what goes on behind closed doors. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading, but I found that I soon couldn’t put Orchard View down as I was desperate to see what tragedy would befall each resident. There was certainly a lot of death and misery for one house!

I would like to thank the author for giving me the opportunity to read this book and I thoroughly recommend it. A super read!

Buy Orchard View here: Amazon

 

 

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The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

Feeling troubled by the events in the previous book, Dr. Ruth Galloway is pleased when a face from her past, Dr. Angelo Morelli, contacts her, seeking her assistance on bones that have been discovered in a small Italian village. Accompanied by her friend Shona and their children, they head off to the continent, where they find a village still clinging on to memories of the Second World War and the Resistance. The past and present collide however, when the body of a local is found in the church. What secrets lurk that would make someone kill to protect?

I was very late in discovering the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths but since reading my first one two years ago, I have devoured the books and was eagerly anticipating this one. Taking Ruth out of her comfort zone is a big gamble but is one that’s has definitely paid off and it has enabled us to take a peek into her past whilst also exploring more of her relationship with best friend, Shona. Although Ruth is brought to Italy on the premise of assisting with recently discovered bones, the archaeology takes a bit of a back seat as she realises that there are more pressing matters that threaten their idyllic break. Somebody clearly doesn’t want Ruth there and she begins to fear, rightly so, that her life may be in danger.

I had feared that with the story being set in Italy, we would see less of the other characters we have come to know and love, but this was not to be the case. Running alongside the main plot, is a sub-plot about a released prisoner who bears a grudge against DCI Harry Nelson. Despite having this and huge upheaval in his personal life to contend with, Nelson finds his way out to Italy, accompanied by Cathbad, when news of a disaster reaches him. Throughout the books, we have seen Nelson struggle with his feelings for Ruth and this becomes even more heightened due to everything that is currently going on in his life. He is becoming more and more of a tortured soul and, depending upon the climax of a particular storyline, we could soon see him being tipped firmly over the edge!

The most shocking part of the book is reserved for the final chapters when a major event occurs that will have repercussions for several of the characters. Without going into too much detail, I was genuinely upset by what happened but, at the same time, can’t wait to see what the consequences will be.

If you have never read any of the Ruth Galloway series, please do as I don’t feel you will be disappointed. For anyone who is already a fan, The Dark Angel is a welcome addition to an already brilliant series.

With thanks to Quercus and Net Galley for my ARC.

 

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths

The year is 1953 and the coronation of the new queen is imminent. When the murder of Colonel Cartwright, the former wartime commander of DI Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto, is discovered, they begin to wonder if this is another link to the shadowy Magic Men after a playbill containing the name of another deceased comrade is found amongst his possessions. With investigations into the death of fortune teller, Madame Zabini, and Max’s forthcoming TV appearance, Stephens has his work cut out when he fears an anarchist group is plotting to make the coronation go off with a bang…

The Blood Card is the third of the Stephens and Mephisto series and sees the pairing being forced to embrace the moving times. The invention and growth in popularity of the television has been worrying Max for a while, fearing that it will put an end to his career on the stage. He finally agrees to take part in a show and it is amusing to watch his distrust of the medium compared to the way Edgar’s mother has welcomed it into her home. Edgar, meanwhile, is experiencing something new himself by travelling to New York on an aeroplane. The huge chasm between England and America is revealed as the detective feels like a fish out of water in this strange, huge place.

The mystery is a complicated one as there are numerous characters who you know are going to be interlinked in some way or other. As in the style of a good magician, there is a lot of misdirection so that you are never quite sure which character is good and which is involved with one of the crimes. It was pleasing to read a book where I was still wondering who the criminals were towards the end.

I am still not taken with Edgar’s choice of fiancée, Ruby. Edgar seems to have a lot more invested in the relationship, whereas it feels as though Ruby sees him as a stopgap until fame and fortune comes beckoning. I think it would also suit Max if the  couple were to split up!

The Blood Card is another great read and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

The Malice of Angels by Wendy Percival

When Max Rainsford, a former journalist colleague of her late husband, Tim, arrives to quiz Esme about a story he was working on thirty-five years ago, the genealogist is reluctantly forced to revisit her troubled past. Meanwhile, Esme’s friend, Ruth, is desperate to know the story behind her aunt, Vivienne, a nurse during the Second World War who never returned home. As Esme starts her investigation, she soon realises that the two cases are linked and is forced to come face to face with the devastating truth about her husband’s death.

The Malice of Angels is the third full-length Esme Quentin mystery and is by far the most complex. At the start of the book, we see Esme preparing to relocate to Devon where she will be nearer some of her old friends. The appearance of Max Rainsford, however, makes her return to a particularly dark period in her life when her husband was killed whilst pursuing a story. Initially reluctant to help Max with his task, she is soon drawn in after looking at her late-husband’s notebooks from the time of his death. Ever since being introduced to Esme, it was inevitable that her past would, one day, be explored and Wendy Percival has done this with style. I really felt for Esme as she was forced to confront her past and finally discover the true circumstances behind Tim’s death.

The way the two stories intertwined was very clever and I particularly enjoyed reading about a part of World War Two that I didn’t really know too much about – the Special Operations Executive. The story of Vivienne, Ruth’s aunt, was a particularly harrowing one and was one that was filled with subterfuge and cover-ups. It was clear to see how much research the author had done in order to make this complicated plot into a story that was easy to follow. I also liked the short chapters, making you want to read ‘just one more’ before putting it down.

Lately, for fans of Esme, we have been spoilt with The Malice of Angels and, also, the short story Death of a Cuckoo. I hope it won’t be too long before we find out what Devon life holds in store for the genealogist.

The Malice of Angels is available now: The Malice of Angels 

 

Blood’s Game by Angus Donald

IMG_1162Close to poverty, young Holcroft Blood can’t believe his luck when he begins working for the Duke of Buckingham, one of the most powerful men in England. Noticed almost immediately for his ability to decode ciphers, Holcroft is soon promoted to a position that enables him to betray his master. Meanwhile, Holcroft’s father, Colonel Thomas Blood, has fallen on hard times and makes a living by any means necessary so when he is tasked to steal the Crown Jewels, he knows he is putting the lives of himself and his family in danger.

Charles II is my favourite king (yes, I have a mental list of favourite monarchs!) so when I saw the premise of this book, I knew that this would be right up my street. Although he does not appear much in the book, the first time we encounter the king is certainly a memorable experience with him attempting to evacuate his bowels! He certainly lives up to his ‘Merry Monarch’ nickname, and I was happy to find that although some of his antics are definitely questionable, Blood’s Game does not besmirch his memory in any way!

I initially thought that this would be mainly about Colonel Blood and his attempt to steal the Crown Jewels and, although this is one of the plots in the book, the main character is his son, Holcroft. I really enjoyed reading the rise of Holcroft from the boy who was bullied on the streets of London to the trusted helper of the Duke of Buckingham. Nowadays, he would definitely be classed as being on the autistic spectrum, but back in the Stuart times, his ability to remember card sequences and decode complicated ciphers would have made him an oddity. I was pleased to see that, rather than ridiculing him, Holcroft’s talents were recognised and used to advance his career.

Although this is a piece of historical fiction, the author has stayed close to the facts of the stealing of the Crown Jewels by Blood, embellishing where it is needed. As a direct contrast to his son, Colonel Blood is a thoroughly unlikeable character although, even though I already knew the outcome of his crime, by the end of the book, I was willing him to get away with it! The writing of the characters in Blood’s Game is one of its biggest strengths and Angus Donald has created realistic portrayals of some of the most interesting people in British history.

I am pleased to see that this book is now going to be part of a series – something I will definitely be awaiting with interest!

With thanks to Readers First for my copy of Blood’s Game.

 

The Suffragette’s Secret by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

With the imminent arrival of his first child, genealogist Morton Farrier has set himself the task of researching the family tree of his wife. During the course of his investigation, Morton finds himself fascinated by one ancestor in particular, his wife’s great-grandmother, Grace Emmerson, a militant suffragette. With his mother-in-law convinced that Grace was a respectable woman, Morton must try to discover the secrets that have been hidden deep in the past.

I am a big fan of the Morton Farrier series so I was pleased to discover that Nathan Dylan Goodwin had written a new installment, albeit in the form of a short story. For anyone who is already acquainted with Morton, this book sees a departure from his normal investigations in that, for once, there is no element of danger! Instead, we see him researching the life of a suffragette, mixing fact with fiction to create a well-researched snapshot of the campaign to give women equal voting rights.

During the course of the books, we have seen Morton change from a confirmed bachelor to a married father but this is not the most surprising transformation. It was amusing to see his least favourite archivist have a complete personality transplant upon finding out the news of his new child! This was a very funny aside and I am assuming that she will back to her old cantankerous self by the next book!

If you have not read any of this series, then I would advise you go back and start from the beginning in order to build up the full story of Morton’s life but for existing fans, this will certainly whet the appetite for a new book!

The Girl From Ballymor by Kathleen McGurl

510u-LpbteLIn Ballymor, Ireland in 1847, Kitty McCarthy is struggling to keep her family alive due to the potato famine that has already killed all but two of her children. In the present day, Maria has arrived in Ballymor to research the life of her ancestor, the Victorian artist Michael McCarthy. Will she be able to discover the circumstances surrounding his early life and also what became of his beloved mother, Kitty?

I have loved all of Kathleen McGurl’s previous books and The Daughters of Red Hill Hall was one of my favourites of last year.  I had, therefore, been eagerly anticipating The Girl From Ballymor, and am pleased to say that it is just as good as the rest!

One of the things I like most about Kathleen McGurl’s books is how she seamlessly merges past with present and this is evident here. Speaking as somebody who has ancestors who left Ireland during the potato famine, I found Kitty’s plight highly emotive and could understand her desire to ensure that her son escaped to a better life. Despite living in horrendous conditions, Kitty was an incredibly strong woman and, like Maria, I too became engrossed in the mystery surrounding what became of her. Inevitably, her story was never going to end well, and when her fate was finally revealed it was tinged with more than a touch of sadness.

Sometimes in a dual-timeline story, I find myself liking one of the timelines more than the other but this is not the case in The Girl From Ballymor. Both parts of the story were equally as engaging and were interlinked in a way that moved the plot on. I felt that Maria was a very real character and could sense her trepidation as major changes were about to affect her life in a huge way.

With its cross-genre approach, The Girl From Ballymor will appeal to fans of historical and genealogical fiction and also anyone who enjoys a gentle mystery. This is another great book from Kathleen McGurl and I hope there isn’t too much of a wait before the next one!

With thanks to HQ and Net Galley for the ARC.

 

The Silk Weaver’s Wife by Debbie Rix

517jii+ZhdLIn the year 1704, Anastasia is planning to marry her sweetheart in secret in an attempt to escape her violent father. After her attempt is thwarted, however, she is forced to marry an older silk weaver and begin a new life, against her wishes, in Venice. Not content with swapping one abusive life for another, she plots her escape.  In 2017, another woman, Millie, is also experiencing relationship problems. When her affair with married boss Max is abruptly ended, she is happy to travel to Italy to write an article for work, where she meets, and falls in love, with Lorenzo. She soon becomes fascinated by the silk making process and is determined to identify the mysterious woman in a portrait she has seen.

I admit that I did not know what to expect when I started to read this book as romantic fiction is a genre out of my comfort zone. I do enjoy dual time-frame books, however, and I was intrigued by the mystery concerning the subject of the painting. When I began to read, I started to have reservations as Millie’s story did not really grab me. A soon as Anastasia’s story kicked in, though, I found myself reading at a much quicker pace, desperate to know how she would escape from her husband. As the book progressed, and there began to be cross-overs between the two time-frames, I started to enjoy Millie’s story much more and was keen to know how their respective stories would end.

Of the two main characters, Anastasia was, by far, my favourite: a strong woman who overcame her fears and tragedies to achieve a fulfilling and rewarding life. Millie, on the other hand, I wanted to shake at times for allowing Max to railroad her into decisions that she did not really want to make. I found it interesting that the more independent woman was the one from the eighteenth century, a time when women had fewer rights than their twenty-first century counterparts.

It is obvious that the author has done a tremendous amount of research to merge fact with fiction, providing a fantastic historical account of the silk trade in eighteenth century Italy. Debbie Rix has painted an evocative picture of the book’s locations, whether it be Venice, Amsterdam or Spitalfields and truly transports you back to the eighteenth century.

For any fans of historical fiction or, indeed, any Italophiles, The Silk Weaver’s Wife is a great read.

With thanks to Bookouture and Net Galley for my copy.

On Copper Street by Chris Nickson

51zeLbgjVpLThe day after he is released from prison, in March 1895, Henry White is found stabbed to death at his home in Copper Street, Leeds. Local people are reluctant to speak to the police so DI Tom Harper knows that he will have a hard time trying to solve the case. Meanwhile, in a seemingly unprovoked incident, a young boy and girl find themselves victims of a serious acid attack. As the death toll rises, Harper knows that unless he gets a big break, the culprits will remain at large for ever.

On Copper Street is the fifth of Chris Nickson’s books to feature the main protagonist, Tom Harper, and is arguably his most complex to date, dealing with issues that wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary crime novel. His descriptions of late-Victorian Leeds, however, place this book firmly in the past and it is this imagery that I love the most about this author’s books. Chris Nickson always succeeds in putting a clear picture in my mind of where the story is set, whether it be the police station, the public house of the crime scene. It is clear how much the author knows about the places he talks about in his books.

The mystery is a fascinating one and gives us a chance to see how most of Victorian police work came down to the legwork of the detectives. It was also interesting to see a new role being undertaken by Harper and poses a conundrum for future books – will he be content with being based, mainly, in the office, or will he find himself longing to be back out on the streets?

I have always loved the prominence the author gives to women in this series of books, and Harper’s wife, Annabelle, continues to be a strong character, largely due to her work with the Suffragettes. In an era where a lot of men controlled their wives’ lives, it is refreshing to see a fictional Victorian marriage where the couple appear to be equals.

Another excellent addition to the series.

With thanks to NetGalley and Severn House Publishers for the ARC.

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