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Victorian

The Music Makers by Alexandra Walsh

Pembrokeshire, 2020

Eleanor Wilder has been forced to return to her parents’ home in Wales after a devastating illness has made it difficult for her to carry on with the life she was used to. A set of old family photos has given her a new lease of life, however, especially a photo of someone called Esme Blood, a name Eleanor is already familiar with. She soon embarks on a research project to find out all she can about this intriguing woman.

London, 1875

Esme Blood lives with her adoptive parents, Cornelius and Rosie Hardy, spending her time performing as part of a theatrical troupe. When her close friend Aaron leaves, Esme feels that one day they will reunite and will be able to live as man and wife. Fate has the habit of dealing a cruel hand, however, and soon Esmefinds herself in a loveless marriage, one that threatens the safety of those around her.

I have really enjoyed Alexandra Walsh’s previous books and this one, The Music Makers, is the second in her Victorian timeshift series. Although it is the second book, it is very much a standalone as it features a brand new story and different characters from the previous book, The Wind Chime. I do like how the author weaves in characters from previous books in little cameo appearances however, a sort of Easter Egg for those of us who have read the previous book and also the Marquess House series.

Both time frames are very readable and, although I had great sympathy for Eleanor and willed her to get what she wanted by the end of the book, it was the story of Esme Blood that was the standout plot for me. Esme was a wonderful character and I loved how her strength carried her through some quite dangerous situations. Alexandra Walsh’s superb writing meant that I could visualise the various aspects of Esme’s life from her life on stage to her marriage and beyond. I enjoyed the connections made between the two time frames and could totally understand Eleanor’s need to find out more about this mysterious woman from her past.

Alexandra Walsh has become one of the authors whose books I look forward to reading and I am eagerly anticipating the next in the Marquess House series, The Jane Seymour Conspiracy.

With thanks to Sapere Books and Net Galley.

The Wind Chime by Alexandra Walsh

After the death of her mother, Amelia Prentice is clearing out her attic when she finds a box of Victorian photographs. Depicting the Attwater family who resided at a Pembrokeshire estate called Cliffside, Amelia sets out to discover who they were. When she finds the diaries of Osyth Attwater, she finds her interest piqued even more.

Back in 1883, young Osyth overhears a conversation which shatters her world and leaves her wondering what other secrets her family has kept from her. What exactly did happen to Osyth’s mother and is there any link in the present day to Amelia?

I am a huge fan of the Marquess House series by Alexandra Walsh and was pleased to see that she had written another timeshift book, this time set in my favoured period of historical fiction, the Victorian age. The author captures the era perfectly and I particularly liked how it deals with some of the subjects that would have been taboo in that age such as mental illness and relationships outside of marriage.

Initially, I found myself favouring the sections written in the present day due to my love of all things genealogical but as the book progressed and I found myself understanding the complex family relationships of the family in 1883, I began to enjoy both eras equally. Osyth soon became a firm favourite and I admired her tenacity despite her reputation for being a bit of a dreamer.

The Wind Chime is a beautiful, poignant book written with sensitivity. I have already downloaded the next in the series, The Music Makers.

Take a look at my reviews of the Marquess House series by the same author:

The Catherine Howard Conspiracy

The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy

The Weeping Lady Conspiracy

People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield

In London in 1888, former nurse Susannah thinks that she is about to start a new, secure life with her doctor husband Thomas. The honeymoon period is short, however, as Thomas begins to stay out late returning home covered in blood and with a temper that makes his new wife fear for her life. When a woman is murdered in Whitechapel, Susannah begins to take an interest in the newspaper reports, reading everything she can. When other women are killed in horrific circumstances, Susannah begins to realise that the deaths coincide with her husband being away from home. Could Thomas be the one they call Jack the Ripper?

I am always looking for a a different take on the Jack the Ripper story, whether it be fiction or non-fiction and so People of Abandoned Character piqued my interest immediately. What I found was that, although the premise of the book is that the protagonist suspects her husband of being the notorious killer, this is only the backdrop to what is a wonderful take on life for the poorer classes in London, in particular the plight of women who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in the slums of Whitechapel.

In People of Abandoned Character, we see Susannah, a product of Whitechapel, managing to secure herself a position as a nurse, providing her with a way out of the misfortune that befell her own mother. Despite this, the life of an unmarried woman in Victorian Britain was a precarious one and so it was easy to see why her head was turned by Thomas, a doctor several years her junior and why she felt compelled to marry him. The marriage was by no means a happy one and Clare Whitfield paints a terrifying picture of what Susannah had to endure at the hands of her husband and his housekeeper, Mrs Wiggs.

The descriptions of life in Whitechapel were incredibly clear and I could visualise the desperation of the people who lived there as they tried to survive. Although, as I wrote earlier, the murders are a backdrop to the rest of the plot, I was pleased to read about the victims when they were alive, the author giving them a voice instead of just portraying them as dead prostitutes.

As the book reached its exciting conclusion, I couldn’t wait to see if Susannah’s fears would be realised. The ending was full of shocks and was particularly macabre and gruesome. You will have to read the book to see if Thomas was Jack however…

People of Abandoned Character is a fantastic debut and I shall look forward to reading more of Clare Whitfield’s work.

With thanks to Head of Zeus and Net Galley for my copy.

**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

The Redemption Murders by J C Briggs

The year is 1851 and the police have been called to London’s Blackwall Reach where a death has been reported on the ship The Redemption. The captain, Louis Valentine, has been brutally stabbed to death, the only clue left behind being a  copy of The Old Curiosity Shop, one of Charles Dickens’ books. The book has been inscribed to someone called ‘Kit’ who Dickens immediately recognises as his friend Kit Penney. With his friend now a murder suspect, Dickens sets out to find him, only to discover that he is missing. Is he involved or is he in fear for his own life? As the death toll rises, Superintendent Jones and the famous writer find themselves uncovering a series of dark secrets…

This, the sixth in the series is possibly the most complex plot to date, with a great deal going on, all linking together to create a huge web of intrigue. If you haven’t read any of this series yet, you may wonder how Charles Dickens finds himself involved in this shady underworld and, although this is explained in previous books, you don’t need to have read them to enjoy The Redemption Murders. Each book in the series can be read as a standalone.

One of the things I enjoy most about this series is the descriptions of Victorian London. Although we do get to experience the richer part of society, I particularly like reading about the lower classes and the environment they are forced to live in. J C Briggs writes this extremely well and you can easily picture these downtrodden people, living in squalid conditions through no fault of their own. Dickens has great sympathy for these people and there several links made to the author’s own life which, as many people will know, was not a bed of roses.

Children feature quite strongly in this series and there was one moment with a particular child in this book that was truly heart-wrenching. Throughout the book, we see how these children have to grow up fast, often doing things that they should not be doing at their age.

If you are a fan of historical mystery or are someone who enjoys the books of Charles Dickens, then this is a great series. A superb atmospheric read.

With thanks to Sapere Books and Net Galley for my copy.

Poisoned at the Priory by Antony M Brown

In 1876, disaster struck the London area of Balham when Charles Bravo, a newly-married lawyer, was found to have ingested an unknown poison, ultimately killing him. Initial evidence seemed to show that it was a case of suicide, an inquest ending with an open verdict. Such was the interest in the case, however, a second inquest returned a verdict of willful murder, with no guilty party ever brought to justice. Poisoned at the Priory, the fourth in the Cold Case Jury series, examines the evidence, inviting the reader to draw their own conclusions – was it suicide and, if not, who did kill Charles Bravo?

I really enjoyed the previous Cold Case Jury book, Move to Murder, and so I was delighted to see that the author had decided to tackle an unsolved crime that I have, for a long time, been intrigued by. The main players in the story are like characters straight out of a Victorian crime novel: the young, wealthy wife with a dubious past, the controlling husband, reliant upon his wife’s fortune and the lady’s companion, keen to keep her position, whatever the cost. In Poisoned at the Priory, Antony M Brown gives a complete picture of the lives of these characters, his extensive research being apparent.

The thing I like most about these books is that all theories are presented to you, the evidence for each one being given to help you make up your own mind as to what actually happened. I think that this is a great idea as in other books of this genre, what you generally get is an overview of what happened, the presented evidence pushing you towards the author’s way of thinking. Instead, we are presented with four theories, some more plausible than others, and we are even treated to the opinion of the great mystery writer Agatha Christie. I have always had my own theory about this case and after reading Poisoned at the Priory, it has not changed. I will let you decide for yourself though!

Although this is the fourth in the series, you do not need to have read any of the previous books as each one is a self-contained case. If you have an interest in true crime, then this is a series I can highly recommend and you won’t go far wrong by starting with this one.

With thanks to Net Galley and Mirror Books for my copy.

 

 

The Death Certificate by Stephen Molyneux

When Peter Sefton discovers an inscribed metal disc on a farm, he becomes intrigued by its original owner, taking him on a journey to the dangerous streets of Victorian London. Over 150 years before, Moses Jupp finds himself orphaned at a young age, scavenging on the banks of the Thames being the only way to keep him alive. Through his research, Peter reveals a link to a Victorian antiquities scandal and the farm where he is undertaking his metal detecting, uncovering a tragic tale of death, forgery and unfortunate circumstances.

Ever since I read Stephen Molyneux’s debut, The Marriage Certificate, six years ago, I have been longing for a second book. I just didn’t think I would be waiting six long years! It has definitely been worth the wait, however, as the author has, once again, written a fascinating look into another era, mixing historical and genealogical fiction. Written in two time frames, the majority of The Death Certificate tells us about the life of Moses Jupp with timely chapters looking at Peter’s research, allowing the story to move on quickly.

Although he was not always strictly on the side of the law, I had great sympathy for the character of Moses. Losing his parents at such a young age and having to fend for himself, it was understandable that he was always going to have to do what he needed to do in order to survive. I enjoyed reading about his time as a scavenger and his experience at the ragged school and as a shoe-black. There was a definite feeling of, ‘what if…’, however, as if it were not for a constant thorn in his side, his life would probably have been a lot better, leading to a different outcome on the death certificate purchased by Peter.

If, like me, you enjoy historical fiction, especially that set in the Victorian era, then I am sure that this is a book you will enjoy. If you are a family historian, then this is also going to be right up your street. I really enjoy Stephen Molyneux’s writing and I hope that I do not have to wait the same length of time for his next book – we’ve had a death and marriage certificate, how about a birth certificate next?

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.

The Posing Playwright by David Field

The year is 1895 and Detective Inspector Percy Enright and his nephew Detective Sergeant Jack Enright find themselves investigating a highly sensitive case. Playwright Oscar Wilde stands accused of homosexuality and with the possibility of high profile names being mentioned in court, the detectives must work to suppress any scandal. Meanwhile, in a second case, which Percy believes is connected, a peer has vanished on a train, and the carriage he was travelling on has also disappeared! With both detectives clearly out of their comfort zones, they hope that, this time, there will be no element of danger for anyone connected to them…

Like the first in this series (The Gaslight Stalker), David Field has used a real historical event as the backdrop for this book, namely the trial of Oscar Wilde. When reading this book, it must be remembered that it is set at a time when homosexuality was illegal and people’s opinions were very much different to today. As a result, some other reviews I have read have commented on the highly inappropriate language used by some of the main characters. While it is correct to find this offensive today, it would have been common usage in the late Victorian era when attitudes, in general, were very different.

Although the title is The Posing Playwright, and the main plot is, indeed, about Wilde, it was sub-plot that interested me the most, and could have been something straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Not only has a man disappeared, but, somehow, so has the whole train carriage he was travelling on! I enjoyed Percy’s investigations on the railway as to how this seemingly impossible feat could have occurred and also learned a lot about the Victorian railway system in the process!

While this was not my favourite in the series, it was still an enjoyable read. I just hope that we see more of Esther in the next book as she only played a minor role in this one.

Take a look at my reviews for the rest of the series:

The Gaslight Stalker

The Night Caller

The Prodigal Sister

The Slum Reaper

 

 

 

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