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**BLOG TOUR** The Room in the Attic by Louise Douglas

In 1903, a woman is found by some fisherman, badly beaten, accompanied by her young daughter. They are taken to All Hallows, an asylum on Dartmoor where the woman falls into a coma, but her young daughter, Harriet, is taken to an attic room in the care of Nurse Emma Everdeen.

Ninety years later, in 1993, after the death of his mother, young Lewis Tyler is sent to All Hallows, which is now a boarding school. Finding a kindred spirit in Isak, they find out about Nurse Everdeen and her charge and soon they are determined to find out what happened back in 1903.

The introduction to the book grabbed me instantly as we see Lewis Tyler, in the present day, visiting All Hallows as part of his work. It is clear to see that he has a past with this building and we are left with a hint as to what it may be. This took us nicely to the two timeframes that form the majority of the book, Lewis featuring in the events of 1993.

I liked the character of Lewis immediately and had great sympathy towards his plight. An outsider, it was good to see him find a friend in Isak, another boy with a troubled life. I enjoyed the scenes they shared as they tried to discover the mystery behind the strange noises coming from the room above theirs – was it their imagination or something a bit more ghostly?

The part of the story set in 1903 had a huge sense of foreboding. Nurse Everdeen was a character who grew on me as the book progressed, her story tugging at the heartstrings on more than one occasion. Louise Douglas paints a very damning picture of life at the asylum and I almost felt relieved that Nurse Everdeen was in her claustrophobic room in the attic.

There were numerous shocks along the way, the denouement being a very pleasant surprise. I like it when a book suddenly takes you somewhere you were not expecting and The Room in the Attic definitely does this! This is an engrossing multi-genre read that kept me gripped right until the end.

With thanks to Boldwood Books and Rachel’s Random Resources.


The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

The year is 1603 and the reign of the Tudors has come to an end. The Scottish king James, now James I of England, has taken the throne, much to the anger of those who believe that there is another rightful monarch residing in the country. Back in the present day, Dr Perdita Rivers and her sister Piper are still taken aback at the changes that have happened in the past year, but know that even more is ahead. If they can find the one thing that has been eluding them, could they have the evidence that could alter the course of British history forever? With old enemies set to resurface, how much more blood will be shed to prevent secrets from emerging?

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy is the final book of the Marquess House trilogy and I would advise that you read the previous two (The Catherine Howard Conspiracy and The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy) before starting this one in order to develop a full understanding of the plot. Briefly, and without spoilers, in the previous books we discover that the sisters have inherited their family home, Marquess House, an impressive building containing a wealth of history. They soon discover that the house is hiding numerous secrets that could potentially change everything we thought we knew about Tudor history, and that there are people who would happily kill to keep us all in the dark. 

As someone interested in this era of British history, I’ve loved the journey that Alexandra Walsh has taken me on, merging fact with fiction to the point where it is impossible to see the joins! I enjoy books that challenge my thinking and, as I read this, I found myself researching characters and aspects of the plot in order to get a better understanding of this turbulent time in Britain’s past. By referencing real events such as the Main and Gunpowder Plots, there is an air of authenticity about the book, and the amount of research undertaken by the author is apparent. I admit to not knowing a great deal about Arbella Stuart, but after reading this, I will definitely be finding out more about her.

In the present day part of the story, there are plenty of loose ends left from previous books that I hoped would be tied up by the end and I was pleased to see that they were. I must say that I am very envious of Perdita’s life: living in such a historic building with access to all of that research material sounds like my idea of heaven! 

While I have thoroughly enjoyed the Marquess House trilogy, I am sad that it has come to an end. I hope that Alexandra Walsh has a similar idea in the pipeline as I’d love to read her take on another aspect of history – I’m sure there is plenty of scope for a few more conspiracy theories!

With thanks to Sapere Books for my copy of The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy. 

The Penmaker’s Wife by Steve Robinson

In 1880, young mother Angelica Chastain has fled her old life in London in the hope of starting again in Birmingham with her son, William. After successfully moving up the social ladder, she soon has the life she dreams of, and the hope of a comfortable future for her son. The past has a habit of catching up with you, however, and it is not long before faces she had hoped she had left behind resurface. When people close to her begin to question what her motives are, we begin to wonder just what Angelica will do to preserve the life she has become accustomed to.

Angelica was a very complex character. At the start of the book, when we read about why she is fleeing London, it is hard to have nothing but sympathy for her. Despite the peril of what she does, it is understandable that she is willing to do anything to save the life of her young son and I admired her for the risk she was prepared to take.

It was whilst on her journey to Birmingham that we first see a glimpse of the real woman behind the protective mother. Again, though, even though this is a shocking moment, I could see why she did what she did. Unfortunately for Angelica, she soon realises that there are far too many people who know about her past and that these unscrupulous characters are willing to exploit her in order to gain their silence. As the story progressed, I became more and more shocked by Angelica’s actions and began to fear for anyone she came into contact with!

There are several twists in the book as Angelica continues on her mission to give her, now grown up, son a good life. I did fear that one loose end would be left, but was pleased that the author had certainly not forgotten about it and that, despite what had happened, shocked that Angelica had not either!

I really enjoyed the late-Victorian setting and the contrast between the wealthy and the lower, criminal classes. Although Angelica wasn’t a nice character, she was certainly fascinating to read about!

With thanks to Net Galley and Amazon Publishing UK.

**BLOG TOUR** Death and the Harlot by Georgina Clarke

I’m really pleased to be the latest blog on the tour for Death and the Harlot, a historical mystery debut from Georgina Clarke, published by Canelo on 13th May 2019. I have a great extract to share, but first the blurb…

‘It’s strange, the way fortune deals her hand.’

The year is 1759 and London is shrouded in a cloak of fear. With the constables at the mercy of highwaymen, it’s a perilous time to work the already dangerous streets of Soho. Lizzie Hardwicke makes her living as a prostitute, somewhat protected from the fray as one of Mrs Farley’s girls. But then one of her wealthy customers is found brutally murdered… and Lizzie was the last person to see him alive.

Constable William Davenport has no hard evidence against Lizzie but his presence and questions make life increasingly difficult. Desperate to be rid of him and prove her innocence Lizzie turns amateur detective, determined to find the true killer, whatever the cost.

Yet as the body count rises Lizzie realises that, just like her, everyone has a secret they will do almost anything to keep buried…

 

Chapter Five

We sat in silence as we had been trained to do by Ma. We were elegant ladies, hands gently clasped in laps, backs straight, eyes demurely cast down until our friends from Mrs Hardy’s and our other evening guests arrived. Only the masks, the flimsy gowns cut so low that we spilled from them with very little exertion, and the thoughts racing around our heads would have betrayed us.

This was our best and largest room, filled with the sort of fashionable furniture that marked Mrs Farley as a woman of good taste. The fire blazed merrily and its golden flames, along with the smaller candle lights all about the room, made the place glow with warmth. The table was now piled with food: soups, jellies, a veal escalope girded with lemons, roast beef and stewed venison. The scent was delicious; making my stomach gurgle. Card tables waited for players. And here and there lay couches and comfortable chairs for reclining and conversation. It looked lovely; serene, even. I wondered how long it would take for the scene in front of my eyes to transform into the swaying, writhing mass of bodies that it inevitably would.

I heard Sydney answering the door and Ma taking entrance fees, and my heart began to knock inside my chest. The evening would bring her a substantial amount, but it would also confirm the reputation of our house as a place of delight for the more discerning. She had been planning for weeks and was anticipating that this party would be even livelier than the last one; it was little wonder that she had been so annoyed by Tommy Bridgewater’s presence earlier. Everything must be perfect for our guests. We must be perfect.

I was always anxious just before the gentlemen arrived. I knew what I would have to do tonight, and I had grown used to it, but that didn’t stop the tremor in my soul that preceded every encounter. We were the real delicacies of the evening, the meat, waiting to be selected and devoured. Lucy, Polly and Emily sat as still as I did. It was difficult to tell what they thought or felt at this moment.

We never spoke of the fear.

Our guests were, as they usually were, gentlemen of quality, ready for an evening of drinking, gambling and what they might politely describe as pretty company and entertainment. What they were really here to enjoy would not be spoken about in polite company, of course.

I was grateful to notice Charles Stanford as soon as he entered the room, distinguished by his vigorous manner as much as his looks – his face being partly obscured by a black mask. He had a fine figure, tall and neat with broad shoulders, encased in a coat of rich midnight blue embroidered with exquisite flowers. A freshly-powdered wig covered his light brown hair. He looked magnificent – and he undoubtedly knew it. It didn’t take him long to make his way over to me. He pulled me up from my seat and made a bow.

‘Miss Hardwicke, how lovely to see you.’

‘Mr Stanford.’

Brown eyes sparkled with mischief at the holes of his mask.

‘Well, I assume it’s you, Lizzie. It’s rather difficult to tell.’

‘It is certainly me, Mr Stanford. Rather diverting, though, don’t you think? Not being able to see people’s faces? And I do believe that the Hardy girls look prettier than usual.’

He tugged the ribbon at my cleavage to undo my gown, and his hand found a breast. He was quick this evening and, despite my veneer of reserve, I was excited by his directness.

‘I’m more interested in what’s under here,’ he said. ‘Damn it, Lizzie, I’m in great need of a fuck.’

He always was.

‘I think that Mrs Farley would like us to pretend restraint for a while longer.’ I giggled and removed his hand. ‘You’ve only just walked in and there’s so much food to eat.’

‘Don’t tease me, please. Oh, what I’m going to do to you tonight … shall I tell you?’

He didn’t have the opportunity. The all-seeing Mrs Farley moved across the room and bade him good evening, turning him away from me and steering him towards Lucy. That would cool him down for a while. I rearranged my dress a little and went to greet the other gentlemen.

Polly called me to meet Mr Herring and Mr Winchcombe, Charles’ friends. Both wore soft black masks, as all the gentlemen did this evening, making them seem like disorientated highwaymen who had found their way into Berwick Street by accident. John Herring was a little haughty for my taste, a man in his mid-twenties with pale skin, translucent eyelashes and a sharply-pointed nose. His plum-coloured coat was well-cut, and he wore an expensive scent. Joshua Winchcombe was more engaging; large-limbed, with dark eyes. A curl of black hair was trying to escape from under his wig. He was a similar age to Mr Herring, but he had none of the other man’s affected airs. I found his voice a little loud as he bellowed into my ear, but he had an energy about him that was attractive.

I heard the door open again downstairs. More guests were ushered in, men and women similarly masked and all in a jolly mood and I moved around to bid them welcome. Gradually, the room began to fill with people; flirtatious women wanting money, and wealthy men, happy to be flirted with. One man stood apart. Large and jowly – eyes flicking about under his mask in a mix of shock and wonder – it was George Reed. He moved towards Mr Herring and Mr Winchcombe, as if seeking out something, or someone, to ease his disorientation. The three men exchanged a few words before the younger two moved away towards Polly, leaving him quite alone.

I watched Emily swim across the room to greet him. She was always able to make a nervous gentleman feel welcome in our house: those who wore expensive clothing at least. She knew that I had relieved this one of several guineas. She could have him to herself, as far as I was concerned.

That was not Emily’s intention. Her aim became clear almost immediately. She ushered Mr Reed towards me and laid my hand on his arm. She wanted me to deal with him while she entertained the younger men. I knew that she didn’t much care for me, but this seemed like particular cruelty. Nevertheless, she pretended courtesy.

‘Here you are, Mr Reed, a familiar face for you beneath the mask. Miss Hardwicke was only telling us earlier how much she had enjoyed your company yesterday. I am sure that she will take care of you – for the whole evening, should you wish it.’

I did not wish it. I was looking forward to spending time with Charles. Even one of the other men might be preferable. Joshua Winchcombe, perhaps.

Mrs Farley was at the table ladling soup, encouraging the company to eat and Mr Reed, who hardly needed a meal, took me by the hand and led me to the table. I could see Charles in a dark corner of the room with his hands under someone’s skirts; one of the Hardy girls. He had no intention of sitting for dinner.

In the meantime, I had a job to do. Emily had unkindly made sure that I sat down with Mr Reed, which meant that I was unable to leave him easily. I kept my feelings to myself, tucking away my thoughts about Charles and, instead, attending to the man I was with, heaping beef on to his plate and pouring his burgundy in as bright a fashion as possible.

In between mouthfuls of drink and food, George Reed decided to entertain me with stories of Norwich, of his business transactions from earlier that day in the city and of his journey to our home.

‘D’ you know, Miss Hardwicke, that it is possible to take a carriage all the way out to Kensington now? There are new houses being built far and away to the west. You ladies may yet need to move to keep up with the fashionable people.’

A good hostess, I confessed myself astonished by his information – as if it had never occurred to me that houses might be built as the population of London grew larger.

From the other side of the table, Polly threw me a sympathetic look as Reed leaned across to help himself to more food. Her own companion was Mr Herring, who sat stroking her delicate collarbone, entranced, as she nibbled a pastry.

Mr Reed, delving into a mountain of syllabub, was still talking loudly about house building an hour later, even as others were engaging themselves in more amorous adventures. Quarters of the room around us seemed to be shuddering and grunting. Polly had disappeared. I tried to ignore the sight of Charles’ backside heaving into a pile of petticoats.

Mrs Farley laid a hand on my shoulder. Putting her mouth to my ear she spoke quietly.

‘Why don’t you take Mr Reed to the side room, Lizzie? I think that his conversation would be better elsewhere.’

It was an instruction rather than a suggestion. He was out of place and she wished me to take him away. This was my punishment for inviting him in the first place. I guessed that Emily would have told her.

I nodded. I understood my duty to the other guests, as well as to Mr Reed. When he paused to take a breath, I took his sweaty hand and spoke urgently.

‘Mr Reed, dear sir, I made you a promise yesterday evening and I think that it’s time I honoured it.’

He looked at his hand and then up at me.

‘Miss Hardwicke, I would be delighted.’ He suddenly became aware of the rest of the room – and what was taking place in it. I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t noticed it before.

‘My goodness. All of this. My word.’ He wiped his mouth; a troubled look on his face. ‘Are we to exert ourselves here?’

I shook my head gently.

‘No Mr Reed, for our very special guests we have other rooms. Something more private. Come.’

With thanks to Canelo and Ellie Pilcher for organising the blog tour.  Death and the Harlot can be purchased here:

Amazon (UK)

Kobo (UK)

Google Books (UK)

Apple Books (UK)

**BLOG TOUR** The Peacock Bottle by Angela Rigley

I’m pleased to be one of the blogs taking part in the 5-day blog blitz for The Peacock Bottle, a historical dual timeline book by Angela Rigley. If you’d like to win a copy of this great book, then keep reading…

In the 1890s, Amelia Wise and her stepmother are overwhelmed by the task they have to undertake when they inherit a house in the Lake District. Having been left to fall into a state of disrepair, the house requires a great deal of work to make it inhabitable. After becoming determined to improve the long-forgotten, overgrown garden, Amelia’s interest is piqued when she finds a discarded perfume bottle. Why would someone throw away such a beautiful thing?

Moving back in time to several decades before, we meet two sisters, Daisy and Mary Jane, privileged young women whose aim in life appears to be to meet and marry a pair of eligible bachelors. With a middle-class life that appears to be going according to plan, what can possibly happen to destroy this happiness?

I really enjoy reading dual timeline stories and liked how The Peacock Bottle differed slightly to other books I have read, with both narratives being set in different years of the Victorian era. Even though they are a mere fifty years apart, it was interesting to see how the expectations for young women had changed, with Amelia being a lot more independent and feisty than her 1840s counterparts. Amelia was by far my favourite character, and although she had ‘gone down in the world’, I loved her interaction with the servants, showing what an empathetic, down-to-earth young lady she was.

It took a while for me to like Daisy and Mary Jane, finding them frivolous and rather self-important. When a particular incident occurs, however, we get to see a different side of these young women and I felt that we got to see their true personalities. The incident also provided a link between the two time frames, helping to explain why Amelia found the house in the state it was.

The Peacock Bottle is a gentle, easy read ideal for those interested in women’s fiction with a historical slant.

Would you like to win your own copy of The Peacock Bottle? Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources is hosting a giveaway for not one, but two copies! Details below:

Giveaway to Win 2 x Paperback copes of The Peacock Bottle (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494209/?

With thanks to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for organising the tour and for providing my copy of the book.

 

 

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