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**BLOG TOUR** The Forgotten Gift by Kathleen McGurl

1861

When George first sets eyes on Lucy, one of his household’s servants, he is smitten and is soon making plans for his future. After being rejected, however, his hopes are further thwarted when Lucy dies, seemingly the victim of a poisoning. Distraught, George knows that someone at home must have killed her, but who?


Present

Cassie is quite content with her life: a job she loves, friends she can rely on and doting parents who would do anything for her. All this is turned upside down, however, as research into her family history makes her question everything she thought she knew about her life.

I am a huge fan of Kathleen McGurl’s dual timeline novels, my favourite being The Daughters of Red Hill Hall. I was thrilled, therefore to see that the author has revisited my favourite era of historical fiction, the Victorian period, in her latest book, The Forgotten Gift.

As with her other books, we have two different plots set in two different time frames with a common theme running through them. The issue of family secrets is very much at the forefront here and the lengths some people will go to in order to stop these secrets from being revealed. I had great sympathy for George, who came across as a lovely young man, shunned by his family through no fault of his own. By starting the book with George’s will, I immediately became invested in his story, and was desperate to know what had happened in his life. This also provided a good link between the two time frames as Cassie tried to discover the same things.

As a fellow genealogist, I could relate a lot to the character of Cassie and loved how an enjoyable evening for her was one sat reading old documents, trying to make sense of the past. The discovery of scandal is an occupational hazard for a family historian, but Cassie manages to open up several cans of worms that have a profound effect on her life. I won’t give any spoilers, but I felt that this was sensitively handled, showing very real reactions from all involved parties.

I have, recently, been struggling to read books at my usual pace and I knew that a Kathleen McGurl book would help me out of my slump. I was so right as I raced through The Forgotten Gift, desperate to know what had happened in George’s life and how had overcome his problems. (Although I loved Cassie’s story, it was George who tugged at the heart strings for me!)

This is a wonderful read which, although fiction, gives a real insight into aspects of Victorian life. I have sung the praises of this author many times and I will continue to do so. If you haven’t read any of her work before, then please do – you won’t be disappointed!

With thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources, Kathleen McGurl, Net Galley ad HQ Digital for my copy of The Forgotten Gift.

Take a look at my reviews of other books by Kathleen McGurl:

   The Emerald Comb 
   The Pearl Locket
   The Daughters Of Red Hill Hall
   The Girl from Ballymor 
   The Drowned Village
   The Forgotten Secret
   The Stationmaster’s Daughter
   The Secret of the Chateau

**Blog Tour** The Smuggler’s Daughter by Kerry Barrett

1799

One night, young Emily Moon witnesses the brutal murder of her father. Unable to tell anyone what she has seen, her mother thinks that he has simply disappeared, leaving her to find solace in the alcohol that she sells at their clifftop inn in Cornwall. Knowing that the smugglers that operate nearby are the ones responsible for the murder, Emily is not happy that the killers are seemingly getting away with this horrific crime.

Present Day

After a tragic case, police officer Phoebe Bellingham decides that a break in Cornwall would be the ideal way to get some respite. Staying with her friend at The Moon Girl pub, she comes across the story of Emily and is immediately intrigued. Just what did happen to Emily Moon and are we about to see history repeat itself over 200 years later?

As a fan of dual timeline books, The Smuggler’s Daughter ticked all of the boxes for me. The author successfully transported me back to Georgian England, painting a very descriptive picture of the Cornwall coastline, something straight out of du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. I could almost smell the sea air and hear the wind whistling across the cliffs.

Although the time frames are two very different eras, we get to see a parallel in the plots due to the place the story is set, with smuggling being the common link. We also see some similarities between the two lead characters, both of them with an eye for justice and a desire to do the right thing. My heart went out to Phoebe who is torturing herself due to what she perceives as a failure on her part to do her job properly on her last case. It was easy to see why she needed something to occupy her mind, her investigation into Emily Moon being the perfect distraction.

Emily Moon is a fantastic character. Dismissed by locals as a simple young girl, she was actually an incredibly strong young woman, brave beyond her years. I loved every scene she was in and had my fingers crossed throughout the book that she would go on to live a happy life. I admired her tenacity, even when faced with extreme danger, and understood her need to revenge the death of her father, whatever the cost.

The Smuggler’s Daughter is one of those books that draws you in straight away and I found it difficult to put down, reading it in a few sittings. This is the perfect book for someone wanting a mix of history and mystery and I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author.

With thanks to HQ and Net Galley for my ARC and to Sian Baldwin for organising the blog tour.

 

Legacy of Guilt by Wendy Percival

As someone who researches their family history, I have been so pleased to see the rise of genealogical mystery as a genre. Perfect for anyone who likes to solve a puzzle while they are reading, these books also often contain a murder for those of us who like a good fictional killing! If this is a genre you have not yet experienced, can I recommend you start with one of the several short stories that are available, such as this one, Legacy of Guilt, by Wendy Percival. This short story is available as a free download on Wendy’s website, https://www.wendypercival.co.uk/.

Wendy’s books feature genealogist Esme Quentin, and in this prequel Legacy of Guilt, we discover how she embarked on her new career. Widowed and still coming to terms with her loss, Esme has a new house and is at a crossroads in her life. A chance encounter with her long-lost cousin leads her into using her genealogical skills to uncover a hidden past and deeply buried family secrets. Here, we see Esme at the very beginning of her new job, learning her trade with the help from a friend. From reading the other books, and knowing that she is now a successful genealogist, it was interesting to see her relying on the advice of others, something all of us researchers have done at one time or another.

If you are after a quick read and an introduction to this author or genre, then Legacy of Guilt is a great place to start. The other books in the series are:

Blood Tied

The Indelible Stain

The Malice of Angels

Death of a Cuckoo

With thanks to Wendy Percival for generously providing The Legacy of Guilt.

 

 

**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 Last by Hanna Jameson

Historian Jon Keller is on a work trip to Switzerland when the unimaginable happens – nuclear bombs start dropping on the major global cities, signifying the end of the world. Holed up in a hotel with other survivors, Jon has no way of knowing whether his family back in the United States are still alive. Then, the body of a young girl is found at the hotel – one of the residents is a killer. As he investigates, paranoia begins to surface – just who, if anyone, can he trust and is he putting his own life in danger by trying to uncover the truth in a strange new world?

I had heard so many good things about this book so was ecstatic to be given the opportunity to read it as part of the blog tour and was equally pleased to find that it certainly lives up to the hype. I admit that dystopian novels have never been something that have interested me, but I loved the premise of the book and was so glad that I decided to expand my horizons (even if it was the crime element that pulled me towards it!).

One of my favourite books is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, where a group of people being murdered one-by-one realise that the killer is one of their number. It was for this reason that I wanted to read The Last, as there seemed to be echoes of this plot. This was not the case, however, and although there are certainly deaths in the book, I would not say that this is the main focus. Instead what we have is a thought-provoking tale of ‘what ifs’ – especially scary given the instability in the world at the moment. In an age where we are so heavily reliant upon the internet and other media sources, it was easy to imagine the panic of the people at the hotel, not knowing what was happening or whether their loved ones had made it to safety.

I liked the mix of characters and felt that the slow pace of the book gave the author chance to develop them fully. It was fascinating to read how personalities changed and that, faced with such extreme circumstances, some people stepped up to take control whilst others were keen to survive at all costs, no matter who they hurt in the process. There were some genuinely tense moments when they left the confinement of the hotel in search of supplies, not knowing if there were other survivors out there and whether they would make it back alive.

The Last is a very tense, claustrophobic read and one that certainly makes you question what you would do should you be faced with that situation. It is a very clever book that grabs your attention and holds onto it until the very last page. This looks like being one of the books of the year and one that could be easily be imagined as a TV mini-series. Highly recommended.

With thanks to Emily Burns at Brand Hive and Viking / Penguin for giving me the opportunity to review The Last.

 

 

The Asylum by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

After seemingly completing one of his research cases, forensic genealogist, Morton Farrier feels that there is more to this story than meets the eye. Further investigation leads him to the suspicious death of a woman in an asylum many, many years ago. Morton must now ensure that all of his facts are right before revealing the awful and life-changing truth to his client.

The Asylum is a prequel to Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s Morton Farrier series and as it is only 93 pages long, is an excellent introduction to anyone who has not yet come across this brilliant series. For regular readers, like me, you will be pleased to know that as well as the mystery being investigated, we also get a chance to discover how Morton met his partner, Juliette.

The mystery is an emotive one, dealing with the controversial issue of asylums and the reason women could find themselves incarcerated. Again, we see the steps Morton took to solve the mystery, using the sources that would have been available at that time. There were also some light-hearted moments, though, and I particularly enjoyed reading about his solo trip to the asylum and his realisation when studying a photograph in more detail.

The Asylum is another great addition to the series and I hope it won’t be too long before we get to read the next one.

Letters from the Dead by Steve Robinson

When Jefferson Tayte is tasked to find the identity of his client’s long lost 4x great-grandfather, the genealogist finds himself drawn into the search for a ruby that has been missing for generations. What is already a challenging case takes a murderous turn when others with knowledge of the ruby suddenly start turning up dead. With letters from 150 years ago being left for Tayte after each murder, each providing more information about a horrendous event in the past, can he solve his client’s mystery before he, too, suffers the same fate?

For some years I have been a fan of Steve Robinson’s Jefferson Tayte books, and I look forward to each one with great anticipation. Once again, the author has managed to produce a tense story that will appeal to fans of mystery, historical and genealogical fiction and has definitely become one of my favourite Tayte novels.

If you thought events in previous books would have made Tayte consider the potential dangers of the cases he takes on, you’d be very wrong! Once again, he finds himself taking on a deranged killer in a story that, at times, had more than the touch of an Agatha Christie about it. There was certainly a hint of And Then There Were None as we see each family member getting bumped off one by one, and the gathering of all the suspects in one room was definitely classic Poirot!

Letters From the Dead, in addition to being set in modern Scotland, also takes place in colonial India. Steve Robinson has certainly done his research to paint a vivid picture of life at this controversial time in British history. The characters were realistic and managed to show the contrast between life at the Residency for the British and the Indians. I enjoyed the slow build-up as we finally discovered just what secrets had been covered up and how this continued to affect people today. This gradual retelling of the story complemented the high octane closing chapters as the plot drew to a close.

If you have not read any of Steve Robinson’s work and are a fan of historical and genealogical fiction or merely just love a good mystery story, then you won’t go wrong with this series which is going from strength to strength.

With thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for my advance copy.

The Dancer by John Nixon

When a woman is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, the only clue to her identity is a note found on her person detailing an appointment with genealogist, Madeleine Porter. After it is determined that this is no accident, the investigation stalls, prompting Madeleine to do some investigating of her own. Just what was it that the dead woman wanted help with and did this lead to her untimely death?

The Dancer is the latest installment in the Madeleine Porter mystery series and, although I wouldn’t say it is one of my favourites, it is still a good book, especially for anyone wanting a quick, easy read.

As in previous books, Madeleine uses her genealogical knowledge to help solve a mystery, in this case the identity of a woman suspected of being pushed off a cliff. As someone who researches my own family, I always like to predict the methods about to be used by fictional genealogists and am pleased when our strategies match! From a genealogy point of view, the author clearly knows what he is talking about and the sources he uses are spot on.

I enjoyed the mystery in The Dancer, and although it is easy to predict what is going to happen in parts, I loved how the different strands tied together to create a well-balanced story. I would have liked to have found out more about the dead woman but I suppose that was even beyond the great Madeleine Porter!

I look forward to Madeleine sinking her teeth into another case soon!

If He Wakes by Zoe Lea

51zNl-mP6eLWhen Rachel discovers a message on Twitter arranging an assignation, she comes to the conclusion that her husband is having an affair. Deciding to follow him, what she witnesses is something much worse: her husband’s car involved in a hit and run. Meanwhile, Suzie,  Rachel’s business partner and friend, has problems of her own. She has not heard from her fiance in days and on discovering that huge debts have been racked up in her name, she assumes that he has left her, taking the money with him. Her view changes, though, when threatening calls begin to arrive. Has something terrible happened to him? With both friends not knowing if they can trust their partners, will they also be able to trust each other?

How well do you really know your partner? This is a question that both of the main characters ask themselves as their lives slowly crumble around them. Rachel appears to have the perfect life with a loving husband and children and a business about to take off, All of this is turned on its head, however, when she reads the Twitter message and witnesses the hit and run. Her husband denies all knowledge, but is he telling the truth? I could really sympathize with Rachel as she struggled to come to terms with what she was discovering, and felt that Zoe Lea’s writing conveyed her trauma perfectly.

With regards to Suzie, the alarm bells were ringing right from the start. Her fiance, Adam, had apparently disappeared, taking all of their money with him. As soon as we realise that he’d managed to avoid any meetings with Suzie’s friend, Rachel, and worked away from home frequently, it was obvious that he was not the man she thought he was. Unlike Rachel, Suzie was prepared to give Adam the benefit of the doubt even though the evidence was screaming her in the face.

It was inevitable that the two stories would eventually collide and that there would be a connection. Whereas part of it was pretty easy to figure out, when I realised the full extent of one of the character’s wrongdoings, it was a huge shock. This was a great twist and not something I saw coming. I could also now understand the actions of another of the characters and my perception of them changed completely. I felt that the ending was realistic and very fitting to the plot.

If He Wakes definitely kept me entertained and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a quick, mysterious read.

With thanks to Canelo and Net Galley for the ARC.

 

 

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