It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

Last week I finished The Sparks Fly Upward, thus completing Diana Norman's Makepeace Hedley Trilogy. Though I enjoyed all three books, Taking Liberties, the second in the series, still comes out as my favourite.

Today I have three books started. I'm enjoying Helen Dunmore's books at the moment and am slowly working through her back catalogue. Next up is A Spell of Winter. I've also added a classic to the mix, Moonfleet. I'm not sure if I read this one as a child. As yet I have no recollection of the characters or story. However, it remains to be seen which one of the three books grabs my attention overall. I suspect it will be South of Darkness. Somebody actually wants to be transported to Australia? What a wonderful idea for a story.

Then, if all goes to plan, I hope to take up The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins. I've only read one of his novels, The Woman in White, and that was years ago. Another of his books, No Name, is in my reading pile, but I thought I'd reacquaint myself with this author by reading one of his earlier works.

What I Read Last Week

The Sparks Fly Upward by Diana Norman

Few of those Philippa loves in London return her affection. Not the love of her life, who has a new bride. Not even her widowed mother, Makepeace Burke. So Philippa decides on a marriage of convenience to a prudish, if kind, man. Across the Channel in France, the Reign of Terror is causing the beheading of thousands from the French nobility. Among those in danger is Philippa's friend, the Marquis de Condorcet. Not only has Philippa the means of rescuing him from the guillotine, she's got the courage. And as fate would have it, Philippa will find love where she least expects it-while staring death in the face.

What I'm Reading Today

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

Catherine and her brother Rob do not understand why they have been abandoned by both their parents, or know where their mother has gone. They are brought up by servants in the house of their grandfather, an Irishman who made his fortune somehow and is known in the neighbourhood as ‘the man from nowhere’. The children cling to each other because they have no-one else, but when they grow up their sibling love becomes incestuous. As the world outside moves towards war, Catherine and Rob are trapped in their own conflict. But little by little, the spell of winter that has held Catherine begins to break, and she starts to free herself from the weight of the past. 

South of Darkness by John Marsden

Thirteen-year-old Barnaby Fletch is a bag-and-bones orphan in London in the late 1700s.Barnaby lives on his wits and ill-gotten gains, on streets seething with the press of the throng and shadowed by sinister figures. Life is a precarious business. When he hears of a paradise on the other side of the world a place called Botany Bay he decides to commit a crime and get himself transported to a new life, a better life. To succeed, he must survive the trials of Newgate Prison, the stinking hull of a prison ship and the unknown terrors of a journey across the world. And Botany Bay is far from the paradise Barnaby has imagined. When his past and present suddenly collide, he is soon fleeing for his life once again. A riveting story of courage, hope, and extraordinary adventure.

Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner

Growing up the quiet coastal village of Moonfleet in Dorset, John Trenchard is fascinated by stories of the notorious Colonel John Mohune, whose restless ghost is said to stalk the churchyard at night, and his treasure: a great diamond stolen when he betrayed the King a hundred years before. John's life changes dramatically when he discovers a secret passage leading from the churchyard to the Mohune family vault beneath Moonfleet church. When he explores it in the hope of finding the treasure, he instead falls in with a gang of smugglers and joins the local contraband trade. Forced into hiding with a price on his head, little does John guess the adventures and misfortunes he will face before he sees Moonfleet again.

What I Hope to Read Next

The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins was the first great detective novelist. His dark and complex mysteries influenced the work of other writers, such as Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens, with whom he developed a close personal friendship. Swinburne found his work worthy of serious criticism, and T. S. Eliot credits him even more than Poe with the invention of the modern detective novel and the popular thriller. Before such works as "The Woman in White," "The Moonstone," "Armadale," and "No Name," Collins demonstrates the full range of his talents for intricate plot and dramatic suspense in "The Dead Secret," one of his earliest novels. Like much of Collins's work, "The Dead Secret" explores the consequences of a single, hidden act. The Cornish mansion Porthgenna harbors the secret of such an act, one that has ruined the life of the servant girl Sarah Leeson. This same secret lies hidden for fifteen years until the heiress to Porthgenna, Rosamund Treverton, returns and exposes it. Her detective work may reveal the truth, but her revelation of a long-forgotten crime could mean disaster for her and the entire estate. Wilkie Collins's brilliant characters, suspenseful plots, and piercing look into Victorian-era society are on full display in "The Dead Secret."

Book Review: Scapegallows by Carol Birch

Scapegallows is the fictionalised story of Margaret Catchpole, a horse thief, who escaped the hangman's noose twice and was eventually transported to Australia in 1801, for life.

If you hale from Suffolk, U.K., you will probably be familiar with Margaret Catchpole's legendary status. In Ipswich there is a Grade 2 listed public house bearing her name, which reflects her connection to the brewing family, the Cobbolds.

In Australia, she is venerated as one of the country's first midwives and her letters are a great source for historians due to their descriptions of early nineteenth century life in the colony. A maternity ward at the Hawkesbury Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, is aptly named in her honour.

Margaret Catchpole was born into a family of Suffolk tenant farmers in Nacton, a village on the banks of the River Orwell. Her life had its share of hardship and family tragedy. Some of her misfortunes were the result of her own impetuous decisions and the company she kept.

Uneducated, Margaret found work as a servant, but her life improved greatly when she was employed by the Cobbold family as a children's nurse and then cook. Here, she learned to read and write and became a valued member of the household. Even when imprisoned and transported, she still remained in the family's affections and kept up a correspondence with Mrs. Cobbold.

Margaret's greatest weakness was her love for Will Laud, a boat builder and sailor turned smuggler. Will Laud is in and out of Margaret's life for various reasons, sometimes for years, but she remained loyal to him. As romantic as this sounds, this devotion proved to be her downfall.

For a novel described as "a wonderful adventure story", I'd expected a much faster pace than the slow, ambling read it was. My interest did wane three-quarters through, but I persevered to the end. While my emotions weren't totally engaged, I did enjoy this novel for its historical value: the social history of 18th century Suffolk and the life of one of Australia's convict pioneers.

Book Review: The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

A novel with a World War II setting grabs my attention instantly, especially if it involves the R.A.F.  I also like well-crafted ghost stories. This novel fit the bill perfectly.

The Greatcoat is set in the early 1950s. Britain is slowly recovering from the war, rationing is still in force and the landscape bears crumbling reminders of the recent upheaval.

The novel opens with a prologue: a Lancaster bomber crew are embarking on their 27th mission to Germany, edging closer to the 30 required to complete a tour of duty. The strain is beginning to show and superstitions abound. A crewman sings a song, one that he sings before every mission and the pilot has lucky silk gloves with which he touches the cockpit before each flight.
 
Jump forward a few years to the 1950s. Isabel and Philip Carey, newlyweds, move to a Yorkshire town when Philip accepts the position as the town’s new doctor. They rent a downstairs flat from the creepy Mrs. Atkinson, to whom Isabel takes an instant dislike, and try to adapt to life as a married couple.

Isabel struggles with her new role as home maker, rationing and what is expected of a doctor’s wife. Lonely, and discouraged from seeking employment by Philip, she takes to wandering the countryside and discovers an abandoned airfield. 


One night, suffering from the cold, Isabel takes an R.A.F. greatcoat found at the back of a cupboard and uses it as a blanket. A few nights later when Philip is out on call, Isabel wakes to the sound of knocking. Assuming it is Philip, she is surprised and a little afraid to see an R.A.F. officer at the window.  But he knows her name and she knows his. She soon realises that it is the greatcoat that connects her to Alec's past life. As Philip becomes more involved with his work, Isabel finds her attachment to the greatcoat and Alec growing stronger, to the point where she finds it difficult to separate the past from the present and fears for her sanity.

The visitations become more intense as Alec snatches moments between missions and aborted missions to be with Isabel. When Isabel witnesses a meeting between Alec and Mrs. Atkinson, she is sufficiently disturbed to question what is happening and soon uncovers the tragic truth.

The Greatcoat is a very quick read. I read it in an afternoon. I like Helen Dunmore’s writing style. It is simple and direct. She drew me into the story completely, allowing my own imagination to work its magic. Isabel's two worlds blended so smoothly that at times I forgot that Alec was a ghost and the constant pacing of the landlady in the flat above the one Isabel and Philip rent added a sense of foreboding and anticipation. There are excellent descriptions of the Lancaster bombers leaving and returning from missions and Dunmore paints a very sad and melancholy picture of the abandoned airfield and of a population dealing with the aftermath of war, the memories of which are still painful.

For those expecting a chilling and scary ghost story, this novel will probably disappoint, but if, like me, you prefer your ghost stories more subtle, with endings open to interpretation, then you will enjoy this novel as much as I did.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

A slow reading week for me, but things are still on track from last week. I finished the second book of Diana Norman's Makepeace Hedley Trilogy and am well into the third. My intention is to read Spellbound by Helen Dunmore next, but sorting through my reading pile I've pulled out books by two authors I've not read before, South of Darkness by John Marsden and Return to Fourwinds by Elisabeth Gifford.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë, a classic I began to read months ago, is crying out to be finished. I admit I'm having difficulty with this one. A novel I thought would grab my interest straight away has turned out quite the opposite and I'm thinking of abandoning it. Many have read and enjoyed this novel so it may be a case of persevering in the hope it will get better.

What I Read Last Week

Taking Liberties by Diana Norman

Makepeace Hedley is frantic when she learns that her young daughter, sailing home to England from the rebelling American colonies, has been taken prisoner by the British. With her usual determination, Makepeace sets out for Plymouth to rescue her child. And when Countess Diana Stacpoole is asked by an American friend to help her son, also a British prisoner, Diana responds quickly and leaves her genteel past behind. In the chaos of wartime Plymouth the two women face social outrage, public scandal, and even arrest. Amidst docks and prisons, government bureaucracy and brothels, they forge an unlikely and unshakable friendship. And in freeing others, they discover their own splendid liberty.

Though I enjoyed A Catch of Consequence, Taking Liberties was the better of the two. It was a great adventure story from start to finish.

What I'm Reading Today

The Sparks Fly Upward by Diana Norman

Few of those Philippa loves in London return her affection. Not the love of her life, who has a new bride. Not even her widowed mother, Makepeace Burke. So Philippa decides on a marriage of convenience to a prudish, if kind, man. Across the Channel in France, the Reign of Terror is causing the beheading of thousands from the French nobility. Among those in danger is Philippa's friend, the Marquis de Condorcet. Not only has Philippa the means of rescuing him from the guillotine, she's got the courage. And as fate would have it, Philippa will find love where she least expects it-while staring death in the face.

What I Hope to Read Next

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

Catherine and her brother Rob do not understand why they have been abandoned by both their parents, or know where their mother has gone. They are brought up by servants in the house of their grandfather, an Irishman who made his fortune somehow and is known in the neighbourhood as ‘the man from nowhere’. The children cling to each other because they have no-one else, but when they grow up their sibling love becomes incestuous. As the world outside moves towards war, Catherine and Rob are trapped in their own conflict. But little by little, the spell of winter that has held Catherine begins to break, and she starts to free herself from the weight of the past. 

South of Darkness by John Marsden

Thirteen-year-old Barnaby Fletch is a bag-and-bones orphan in London in the late 1700s.Barnaby lives on his wits and ill-gotten gains, on streets seething with the press of the throng and shadowed by sinister figures. Life is a precarious business. When he hears of a paradise on the other side of the world a place called Botany Bay he decides to commit a crime and get himself transported to a new life, a better life. To succeed, he must survive the trials of Newgate Prison, the stinking hull of a prison ship and the unknown terrors of a journey across the world. And Botany Bay is far from the paradise Barnaby has imagined. When his past and present suddenly collide, he is soon fleeing for his life once again. A riveting story of courage, hope, and extraordinary adventure.

Return to Fourwinds by Elisabeth Gifford

One house. Two families. A lifetime of secrets. At Fourwinds they gather: Alice and Ralph, Patricia and Peter, to celebrate the marriage of their children. The marquee is on the lawn, breathing in and out in the summer heat. But the bride is nowhere to be seen. As both families are drawn together, the past floods through the corridors of the old house. What secret has Ralph been keeping from his wife? What is it about Alice's wartime encounter with Peter that has haunted her ever since? And what could have caused Sarah to vanish without a word to any of the people she loves? Moving from the orange groves of Valencia and the spacious houses of the British countryside to the post-war slums in the north, Return to Fourwinds is a sweeping, lyrical story of the things we tell and the things we keep to ourselves. Is Sarah's disappearance a culmination of the pressures that have kept the two families apart? Or can they work together to bring her back to Fourwinds?"

Book Review: After Flodden by Rosemary Goring

Louise Brenier seeks news of her brother, Benoit, who is missing after the horrific defeat of the Scots at Flodden. She appeals for aid from Patrick Paniter, James IV’s Secretary,  who also survived the battle. He agrees to assist Louise due to the ties the Brenier family had to the King and to assuage his own guilt at his part in the defeat. The news is that Benoit may be a prisoner of the English or dead.  Clinging to the belief that her brother is still alive, Louise sets off to find him. She meets  Hob, a young boy who carried his mortally wounded father from the battlefield, and Gabriel Torrance, a courtier she has met before in the company of Paniter. While crossing the dangerous borderlands the trio encounter the Crozier clan, who are involved in a feud of their own against the English. They also become involved in Louise’s search for Benoit.

Interspersed through the story is the revelation of what happened prior to and during the battle of Flodden. This is told in flashbacks through the eyes of various characters and has the effect of slowing down the narrative and confusing the reader as it jumps backwards and forwards in time, particularly if the dates heading each chapter are overlooked. However, I felt this background was necessary for me to understand why James IV instigated this battle and the utter devastation it caused the population of Scotland. The deaths of their King and many Scottish nobles left an infant king on the throne, which history tells us never bodes well for any country. This background information also helps to put into perspective Paniter's state of mind and the need to appoint blame for the defeat.

As Louise continues her search, rumours circulate that a spy is responsible for the defeat at Flodden. Suspicion falls on Benoit and the need to find him becomes more desperate as she realises someone else is looking for Benoit.

Though this novel has a scattering of historical figures, the story belongs to the fictional characters. Louise is a very likeable heroine: honest, loyal and courageous. The ambitious Gabriel Torrance is also likeable, but not quite what he seems. Benoit, despite his dislike of the King, is still prepared to do his duty for Scotland. Madam Brenier was my least favourite character: cold and selfish. And the plucky little dog,“the vixen”, was a great addition to the cast.

I enjoyed this debut novel from Rosemary Goring. A little slow to start After Flodden went on to be a great adventure story and gave me a glimpse into a period of history I knew very little about.

I'm looking forward to Louise's story continuing in Rosemary Goring's next novel, Dacre's War, which is out this month.

Dacre's War is a story of personal and political vengeance. Ten years after the battle of Flodden, Adam Crozier, head of his clan and of an increasingly powerful alliance of Borderers, learns for sure that it was Lord Thomas Dacre - now the most powerful man in the north of England - who ordered his father's murder. He determines to take his revenge. As a fighting man, Crozier would like nothing better than to bring Dacre down face to face but his wife Louise advises him that he must use more subtle methods. So he sets out to engineer Dacre's downfall by turning the machinery of the English court against him. A vivid and fast-moving tale of political intrigue and heartache, Dacre's War is set against the backdrop of the Scottish and English borders, a land where there is never any chance of peace.

An Australian at Waterloo: Lieutenant Andrew Douglas White

The Battle of Waterloo, 1815
William Sadler II [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

June 18th, 2015, is the bicentennary of The Battle of Waterloo. Unfortunately circumstances and “the tyranny of distance” prevent me from attending any of the events being held in Europe and England to mark this day, though there is an event being held closer to home tonight at the aptly named The Hero of Waterloo, the oldest existing public house (pub) in Sydney.

However, I thought I would make my own personal commemoration of this day in history by way of a Waterloo post and went searching for an Australian connection to this battle. I’d expected the usual ones: veterans of Waterloo transported as convicts or arriving as free settlers; serving soldiers being posted to the colony; suburbs, streets, landmarks and buildings named for the battle, such as the aforementioned pub, but I wasn’t expecting to find an Australian who was actually there on the battlefield. Imagine my excitement when I found that a Lieutenant Andrew Douglas White fought at Waterloo and came through unscathed.

Andrew Douglas White was born in Sydney Town in 1793. He was the illegitimate son of convict, Rachel Turner, and First Fleet naval surgeon, John White, who later became Surgeon-General for the whole colony of New South Wales.

While some sources say that John White took his fifteen month old son with him when he returned to England in 1794, other sources quote that Andrew was sent to England when he was six years old.

In 1812 Andrew joined the army as a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers and was promoted to first lieutenant in 1813, the same year he was posted to the Continent with the British Army.

At Waterloo Andrew served as the junior officer of the Royal Engineer staff and afterwards continued to serve as part of the Army of Occupation until 1818.

In 1822, Andrew returned to Sydney to be reunited with his mother whom he hadn’t seen since childhood. He remained in Australia for the next two years, then returned to England. He received another promotion in 1826 to second captain and was put on half-pay in 1831.
 

Andrew returned to Sydney in 1833, married in 1835, but sadly died in November, 1837. His Waterloo medal, which he received in 1816, was willed to his mother, who only outlived him by a year.

Andrew Douglas White is buried in the Liverpool Pioneer Cemetery, New South Wales. His chest tomb bears the following inscription:


SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
CAPTAIN A.D. WHITE
OF THE ROYAL ENGINEERS
WHO DIED 27TH NOV. 1837
AGED 44 YEARS

The only Australian at Waterloo, he is also considered to be Australia's first returned serviceman. I'm sure a few glasses will be raised to his memory at The Hero of Waterloo tonight!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey


Last week I managed to stick to my plan and not be distracted by new additions to my reading pile.

What I Read Last Week

A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman

Makepeace Burke serves Patriots at her late father's tavern on the Boston waterfront in 1765 and hates the redcoats with a vengeance. But even she can't watch an angry mob drown an Englishman. She rescues him and nurses him back to health-and falls in love. In Patriot Boston, hers is an unforgivable sin-made worse by the fact that her Englishman turns out be the aristocratic Sir Philip Dapifer. Philip must smuggle Makepeace aboard a ship bound for London and save her life at the expense of the world she knows. Rich in period detail, bringing the years of colonial rebellion to vivid life, "A Catch of Consequence" is a stylish novel of Boston and England, and of a woman who defies convention in both worlds.

Another enjoyable read from Diana Norman.  She creates such memorable characters, especially the females. American history is not my strong point, but after reading this novel I'm more aware of what led to the War of Independence.

Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Crispin Guest is a disgraced knight, stripped of his rank and his honor - but left with his life - for plotting against Richard II.  Having lost his bethrothed, his friends, his patrons and his position in society.  With no trade to support him and no family willing to acknowledge him, Crispin has turned to the one thing he still has - his wits - to scrape a living together on the mean streets of London.  In 1383, Guest is called to the compound of a merchant - a reclusive mercer who suspects that his wife is being unfaithful and wants Guest to look into the matter.  Not wishing to sully himself in such disgraceful, dishonorable business but in dire need of money, Guest agrees and discovers that the wife is indeed up to something, presumably nothing good.  But when he comes to inform his client, he is found dead - murdered in a sealed room, locked from the inside.  Now Guest has come to the unwanted attention of the Lord Sheriff of London and most recent client was murdered while he was working for him.  And everything seems to turn on a  religious relic - a veil reported to have wiped the brow of Christ - that is now missing.  

Veil of Lies is the first book in a series. This was a very interesting read. Crispin Guest believes rank is very important. A belief which makes life difficult for him at times as he now works and lives among the lower classes. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

What I'm Reading Today

Taking Liberties by Diana Norman

Makepeace Hedley is frantic when she learns that her young daughter, sailing home to England from the rebelling American colonies, has been taken prisoner by the British. With her usual determination, Makepeace sets out for Plymouth to rescue her child. And when Countess Diana Stacpoole is asked by an American friend to help his son, also a British prisoner, Diana responds quickly and leaves her genteel past behind. In the chaos of wartime Plymouth the two women face social outrage, public scandal, and even arrest. Amidst docks and prisons, government bureaucracy and brothels, they forge an unlikely and unshakable friendship. And in freeing others, they discover their own splendid liberty.

What I Hope to Read Next

The Sparks Fly Upward by Diana Norman

Few of those Philippa loves in London return her affection. Not the love of her life, who has a new bride. Not even her widowed mother, Makepeace Burke. So Philippa decides on a marriage of convenience to a prudish, if kind, man. Across the Channel in France, the Reign of Terror is causing the beheading of thousands from the French nobility. Among those in danger is Philippa's friend, the Marquis de Condorcet. Not only has Philippa the means of rescuing him from the guillotine, she's got the courage. And as fate would have it, Philippa will find love where she least expects it-while staring death in the face.

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

Catherine and her brother Rob do not understand why they have been abandoned by both their parents, or know where their mother has gone. They are brought up by servants in the house of their grandfather, an Irishman who made his fortune somehow and is known in the neighbourhood as ‘the man from nowhere’. The children cling to each other because they have no-one else, but when they grow up their sibling love becomes incestuous. As the world outside moves towards war, Catherine and Rob are trapped in their own conflict. But little by little, the spell of winter that has held Catherine begins to break, and she starts to free herself from the weight of the past.  

Saturday Sleuthing: Debuts, Sequels, Second Novels and Random Discoveries

My finds today range in time from the 14th century to World War I. Amongst them are eagerly awaited sequels and second novels, recently released or due out later this year, as well as debut novels. I also discovered some interesting titles that I'd missed when they were first released.

Plague Land by S. D. Sykes

This medieval mystery is Sarah Sykes' debut novel. It was first published in 2014 and received some great reviews. Plague Land is recommended to readers who enjoy C.C. Humphreys and Ellis Peters. I'm a fan of both, so added this novel to my reading pile without any hesitation.

Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somerhill Manor. Despatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by thePlague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants. Yet some things never change. Oswald's mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried. Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it - by finding the real murderer - is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife. And then the body of another girl is found. SD Sykes brilliantly evokes the landscape and people of medieval Kent in this thrillingly suspenseful debut.

The Butcher Bird by S. D. Sykes

To be released in October, 2015, comes the continuing story of Oswald de Lacy.

Oswald de Lacey is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. The Black Death changed many things, and just as it took away his father and elder brothers, leaving Oswald to be recalled from the monastery where he expected to spend his life, so it has taken many of his villagers and servants. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more - something the King himself has forbidden. Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear. Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumour, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters. From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the thief-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a bewitching lady, Oswald's journey is full of danger, dark intrigue and shocking revelations.

Dacre's War by Rosemary Goring

I loved Rosemary Goring's novel, After Flodden. So pleased there wasn't a long wait for her second. Dacre's War was released this month.

Dacre's War is a story of personal and political vengeance. Ten years after the battle of Flodden, Adam Crozier, head of his clan and of an increasingly powerful alliance of Borderers, learns for sure that it was Lord Thomas Dacre - now the most powerful man in the north of England - who ordered his father's murder. He determines to take his revenge. As a fighting man, Crozier would like nothing better than to bring Dacre down face to face but his wife Louise advises him that he must use more subtle methods. So he sets out to engineer Dacre's downfall by turning the machinery of the English court against him. A vivid and fast-moving tale of political intrigue and heartache, Dacre's War is set against the backdrop of the Scottish and English borders, a land where there is never any chance of peace.

The Last Confession of Tom Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson

Antonia Hodgson is another author whose debut novel I loved. The Devil in the Marshalsea was a gripping story, well received by readers, and I have no doubt that her latest novel will be too.

Spring, 1728. A young, well-dressed man is dragged through the streets of London to the gallows at Tyburn. The crowds jeer and curse as he passes, calling him a murderer. He tries to remain calm. His name is Tom Hawkins and he is innocent. Somehow he has to prove it, before the rope squeezes the life out of him. It is, of course, all his own fault. He was happy with Kitty Sparks. Life was good. He should never have told the most dangerous criminal in London that he was 'bored and looking for adventure'. He should never have offered to help Henrietta Howard, the king's mistress, in her desperate struggles with a brutal husband. And most of all, he should never have trusted the witty, calculating Queen Caroline. She has promised him a royal pardon if he holds his tongue but then again, there is nothing more silent than a hanged man. Based loosely on actual events, Antonia Hodgson's new novel is both a sequel to The Devil in the Marshalsea and a standalone historical mystery. From the gilded cage of the Court to the wicked freedoms of the slums, it reveals a world both seductive and deadly. And it continues the rake's progress of Tom Hawkins - assuming he can find a way to survive the noose...

Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle

I've not read any of Elizabeth Fremantle's Tudor novels. This one caught my eye because it is the story of Penelope Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex, a figure from history I know nothing about. Watch the Lady is out now in the U.S.A and the hardback edition will be released in the U.K. on June 18th.

The Queen's GodDaughter. Her Most Trusted Maid. Adultress. Enemy of The State. Who is The Real Penelope Devereux? Penelope Devereux is a legendary beauty in the court of Elizabeth I, with a smile that would light up the shadows of hell. But it's not just her looks which have won her favour with the Queen wing; her canny instinct for being in the right place at the right time, and her skilled political manoeuvrings under the guise of diplomacy, have rendered her a formidable adversary to anyone who stands in her path. Including Elizabeth. For Penelope must secure the future of the Devereux dynasty at whatever cost. Even treason. And the Queen, a woman she holds responsible for the death of her father, the exile of her mother and her failure to marry the one man she ever truly loved, is just one more pawn in a deadly game. Walking the knife-edge of court, whilst ensuring that her reckless brother Essex remains the only star in the Queen's firmament - and out of the Tower - Penelope must plan for the inevitable succession of an ailing monarch. But her secret letters of friendship to a foreign King - one who has a strong claim to the English throne - could see her illustrious family in the gutter and her own head on the block. It would only take a single mistake, a slip of the tongue, an intercepted message for Penelope to become the architect of her downfall. In a world where sister is turned against brother, husband against wife, courtier against queen, the rules of the game are forever changing. Discover the truth in Elizabeth Fremantle's stunning new novel about an extraordinary woman who helped change the course of England's history forever. 

The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young

This is the sequel to My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, a novel that has been sitting in my reading pile for a while. The Heroes' Welcome was released last year, with a new paperback edition out in April, 2015.

LONDON, 1919 Two couples, both in love, both in tatters, come home to a changed world. When childhood sweethearts Riley and Nadine marry, it is a blessing on the peace that now reigns. But the newlyweds and their old friends Peter and Julia Locke wear the ravages of the Great War in very different ways. Where Nadine and Riley do their best to forge ahead and muster hope, Peter retreats into drink and nightmares, unable to bear the domestic life for which Julia pines.


Havisham by Ronald Frame

I love the cover, but I'm in two minds about this novel even though I've added it to my reading pile. Charles Dickens' Great Expectations is one of my favourite novels. Will reading Miss Havisham's back story change my perception of her and ruin a favourite classic forever?

Before she became the immortal and haunting Miss Havisham of "Great Expectations," she was Catherine, a young woman with all of her dreams ahead of her. Spry, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer. But she is never far from the smell of hops and the arresting letters on the brewhouse wall--HAVISHAM--a reminder of all she owes to the family name and the family business.Sent by her father to stay with the Chadwycks, Catherine discovers elegant pastimes to remove the taint of her family's new money. But for all her growing sophistication, Catherine is anything but worldly, and when a charismatic stranger pays her attention, everything--her heart, her future, the very Havisham name--is vulnerable.In "Havisham," Ronald Frame unfurls the psychological trauma that made young Catherine into Miss Havisham and cursed her to a life alone, roaming the halls of the mansion in the tatters of the dress she wore for the wedding she was never to have.

Knight by Ian Anderson

This debut novel from Ian Anderson was released in 2013. It is readily available as an ebook from Amazon where I read an excerpt.  Print copies are harder to find, though the author's website says they are available directly from Troubador U.K.

Ian Anderson is a mature and beautiful new voice on the literary scene. Knight is breathtaking in its scope, exquisite in its tenderness, and uplifting in its refusal to succumb to the despair which fate sometimes prepares for us. It is a story of love and valour; a story of one man’s refusal to capitulate, when all the world seemed to conspire against him. Set in the early fifteenth century, in the last days of the Age of Chivalry, this is the story of a king’s champion, who, robbed of the love and beauty of the woman who had made his life complete, and stripped of all he had worked for and achieved, still, somehow, found the will and the strength to pick himself up, and move forward again, and, in the process, carry a king to victory on the battlefields of France.

This gripping work of historical fiction, weaving together strands of romance, tragedy and drama, reflects the real pain and suffering associated with loss. It exemplifies the ongoing struggle of the grieving process; between the need to retreat into the memories of the world which has been lost, and the need to find a way to move forward again. It is ultimately a book of hope, written by an author who has made the journey.



It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

I didn't post last week as I hadn't progressed on any of the books I was reading, but what a difference a week makes. I finished three books! I'm still behind in my Goodreads Reading Challenge by three, but hope to remedy that very quickly now that my reading motivation has returned.

What I Read Last Week

In an attempt to overcome the reading slump I was in I decided to abandon the 18th century and set aside what I was currently reading, Scapegallows and A Catch of Consquence,  in favour of  another book with a different time frame. This usually works for me. My reading pile, including the bag of books from the library, offered lots of great choices. However, rather than go with a favourite author I  selected a post World War I novel by Simone St. James, an author new to me. Reading this novel had the desired result and I returned to finish off  Scapegallows, which was quickly followed by Colours of Gold by Kaye Dobbie.

Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

"Portis House emerged from the fog as we approached, showing itself slowly as a long, low shadow.... " In 1919, Kitty Weekes, pretty, resourceful, and on the run, falsifies her background to obtain a nursing position at Portis House, a remote hospital for soldiers left shell-shocked by the horrors of the Great War. Hiding the shame of their mental instability in what was once a magnificent private estate, the patients suffer from nervous attacks and tormenting dreams. But something more is going on at Portis House its plaster is crumbling, its plumbing makes eerie noises, and strange breaths of cold waft through the empty rooms. It s known that the former occupants left abruptly, but where did they go? And why do the patients all seem to share the same nightmare, one so horrific that they dare not speak of it? Kitty finds a dangerous ally in Jack Yates, an inmate who may be a war hero, a madman or maybe both. But even as Kitty and Jack create a secret, intimate alliance to uncover the truth, disturbing revelations suggest the presence of powerful spectral forces. And when a medical catastrophe leaves them even more isolated, they must battle the menace on their own, caught in the heart of a mystery that could destroy them both.

This book was exactly what I needed: history, romance, mystery and a touch of the supernatural, set in an isolated, crumbling manor. I'm eager to read another by Simone St. James.

Scapegallows by Carol Birch

This is the story of Margaret Catchpole, born into a smugglers' world in Suffolk in the late 1700s. As the valued servant of a wealthy family and a friend of criminals, Margaret leads a double life that inevitably brings about her downfall, and she is sentenced to hang not once, but twice. But she escapes the gallows and is transported with other convicts to Australia. A wonderful adventure story, Scapegallows takes inspiration from the life of the real Margaret Catchpole. A woman who lived by her wits, she was a slip-gibbet, a scapegallows.

My original thoughts on this novel still stand: Margaret Catchpole's story is interesting, but the pace is slow and lacks drama for a novel touted as "a wonderful adventure story".

However, despite its lack of pace, I did enjoy this novel and am glad I read it all. Margaret Catchpole is an engaging character and I felt she was unfairly treated at times, but honest enough to admit that she alone was responsible for many of her misfortunes. This book is also a glimpse into life in 18th century Suffolk and one of the reasons this book was in my reading pile.

Colours of Gold by Kaye Dobbie

A beautiful novel of a young girl’s life and adventures in the Australian goldfields — and how a painting revealed her story to the next generation of her family.

Annie Reuben is an art restorer in her father’s business, but times are tough. After being given a long-lost painting found in the basement of a condemned hotel, Annie becomes intrigued by the two girls who stare out at her from the ruined canvas. All she has are two names: Alice and Rosey...and a landscape from a century before.

1867: Named by the wife of the paddle steamer captain who finds her half drowned in the Murray River, Alice has a gift — she can see an aura of colours around the people she meets, but sometimes the colours tell her of impending doom. Learning to survive in a world which misunderstands her, Alice eventually runs away to the goldfields with her friend Rosey and joins a troupe of entertainers. While her fame and fortunes increase as people pay to hear her predictions, Alice can never escape her past...along with the frightening man in the dark coat who follows her wherever she goes.

Who were Alice and Rosey? And why does Annie find their lives so important? As Annie becomes caught up with seeking answers from the past, she finds herself seeing the same man in the dark coat who follows her wherever she goes. What is his connection to the painting?

Another great read from Kaye Dobbie. She never disappoints me. I love the dual time frame with the supernatural thread and that many of the places mentioned in the novel are familiar to me.

What I'm Reading Today

I'm pleased to say that I'm totally immersed in this novel.

A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman

Makepeace Burke serves Patriots at her late father's tavern on the Boston waterfront in 1765 and hates the redcoats with a vengeance. But even she can't watch an angry mob drown an Englishman. She rescues him and nurses him back to health-and falls in love. In Patriot Boston, hers is an unforgivable sin-made worse by the fact that her Englishman turns out be the aristocratic Sir Philip Dapifer. Philip must smuggle Makepeace aboard a ship bound for London and save her life at the expense of the world she knows. Rich in period detail, bringing the years of colonial rebellion to vivid life, "A Catch of Consequence" is a stylish novel of Boston and England, and of a woman who defies convention in both worlds.


What I Hope to Read Next

Hopefully, I'll read the next two novels of the Makepeace Headley trilogy, but there are a couple of others in my reading pile that have caught my interest: A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore (she is fast becoming one of my favourite authors) and Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson.

Taking Liberties by Diana Norman

Makepeace Hedley is frantic when she learns that her young daughter, sailing home to England from the rebelling American colonies, has been taken prisoner by the British. With her usual determination, Makepeace sets out for Plymouth to rescue her child. And when Countess Diana Stacpoole is asked by an American friend to help his son, also a British prisoner, Diana responds quickly and leaves her genteel past behind. In the chaos of wartime Plymouth the two women face social outrage, public scandal, and even arrest. Amidst docks and prisons, government bureaucracy and brothels, they forge an unlikely and unshakable friendship. And in freeing others, they discover their own splendid liberty.

The Sparks Fly Upward by Diana Norman

Few of those Philippa loves in London return her affection. Not the love of her life, who has a new bride. Not even her widowed mother, Makepeace Burke. So Philippa decides on a marriage of convenience to a prudish, if kind, man. Across the Channel in France, the Reign of Terror is causing the beheading of thousands from the French nobility. Among those in danger is Philippa's friend, the Marquis de Condorcet. Not only has Philippa the means of rescuing him from the guillotine, she's got the courage. And as fate would have it, Philippa will find love where she least expects it-while staring death in the face.

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

Catherine and her brother Rob do not understand why they have been abandoned by both their parents, or know where their mother has gone. They are brought up by servants in the house of their grandfather, an Irishman who made his fortune somehow and is known in the neighbourhood as ‘the man from nowhere’. The children cling to each other because they have no-one else, but when they grow up their sibling love becomes incestuous. As the world outside moves towards war, Catherine and Rob are trapped in their own conflict. But little by little, the spell of winter that has held Catherine begins to break, and she starts to free herself from the weight of the past.  

Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Crispin Guest is a disgraced knight, stripped of his rank and his honor - but left with his life - for plotting against Richard II.  Having lost his bethrothed, his friends, his patrons and his position in society.  With no trade to support him and no family willing to acknowledge him, Crispin has turned to the one thing he still has - his wits - to scrape a living together on the mean streets of London.  In 1383, Guest is called to the compound of a merchant - a reclusive mercer who suspects that his wife is being unfaithful and wants Guest to look into the matter.  Not wishing to sully himself in such disgraceful, dishonorable business but in dire need of money, Guest agrees and discovers that the wife is indeed up to something, presumably nothing good.  But when he comes to inform his client, he is found dead - murdered in a sealed room, locked from the inside.  Now Guest has come to the unwanted attention of the Lord Sheriff of London and most recent client was murdered while he was working for him.  And everything seems to turn on a  religious relic - a veil reported to have wiped the brow of Christ - that is now missing.