Lady Lydia Barton cannot seem to avoid Owen Wolfe since he’s returned after being wrongly transported for stealing her family’s jewels! But Lydia has more pressing problems, like her impending arranged marriage. Until Owen makes her father a counteroffer for her hand. Is Owen purely after her society connections, or dare Lydia hope that the charming stable boy she once loved is still within her ruthless, wealthy new husband?
I don’t tend to agree to read historical romance books for book tours because I’m so picky. I’m glad that this one worked out well for me.
There is a little bit of suspension of disbelief that I had to do to make this story work though. If someone’s family had had me arrested, sentenced, and transported across the globe to a penal colony for a crime I didn’t commit, I’m not so sure I would care what happened to her. For that reason I would have loved to see a little more anger from Owen towards Lydia’s family. He seemed to agree to help her (although it was against her will) a little too easily to be readily believable.
Setting that aside, I did enjoy the story. I agree with other reviewers that Owen was much easily to like and root for than Lydia. She held onto her hurt feelings for way too long considering that she wasn’t the one that had had her whole life ruined.
I will definitely check out more books by this author.
This series actually starts with a novella called Soupcon of Poison but Death Below Stairs is listed as the first book. It is confusing. I didn’t read the novella that introduces all the characters and that was fine. You can start right in with Death Below Stairs if you like.
Kat Holloway is a Victorian-age cook. She’s young for the job since she isn’t yet 30 but she is very good. She knows her worth and is willing to fight for her rights as a working woman.
She has just started at a new position as a cook in the household of Lord Rankin. The household consists of Lord and Lady Rankin and Lady Rankin’s unmarried older sister, Cynthia. There are a few rules she is going to have to lay down but overall she thinks it will be a good position until the next morning when she finds her young assistant dead in the larder.
I’m forever going on about hating mysteries where some busy body interferes in the police investigation. I can’t appreciate a mystery book unless there is a legitimate reason for the main character to investigate. The reason here comes in the form of Daniel McAdam. He is some sort of undercover investigator. Kat doesn’t know who he actually works for. (SPOILERS FOR THE NOVELLA – They met in the first novella when Kat was accused of murder. He helped her get free and they are tip toeing around the fact that they are attracted to each other.) He is able to find place himself in the household as a stable helper and together they start investigating what happened.
The series is interesting because it is very much focused on the people in service’s perspective on the aristocracy. Lady Cynthia is a spinster who loves to be outrageous by wearing men’s clothes in public and spending a lot of time with the servants. She gets tapped to help with the investigation also because she can go places and question people who Kat can’t.
It is clear that the author did her research about how Victorian kitchens ran. No matter what is going on with the plot Kat has to get all the meals on the table at the exact time every day. The books describe how it was done every day and what meals were prepared. It is a fascinating look at how these households actually ran.
In the second book Lady Cynthia recruits Kat to help her try to solve a mystery of some missing artwork. One of her friends is being accused by her husband of stealing to cover her gambling debts. Things get complicated when guests get ill and some die after a dinner party that Kat helped cook. They can quickly prove that it wasn’t the food that killed them but who wanted to murder these people?
Kat is enlisted to help out with a neighbor’s household when the master of the house dies suddenly. Suspicion falls on a Chinese man who was seen in the area. Kat has talked to him and is convinced that he was not involved. She vows to prove his innocence as soon as anyone can find him.
I believe this series will be continuing. There are a lot of overarching mysteries that haven’t been solved yet, such as Who exactly is Mr. McAdam and who does he work for? What is going to happen to Lady Cynthia? Is she going to have to marry to appease her relatives or does she have options?
This is an unusual series. It uses the tropes of Regency Romance but places them in a world where some people have Talents. I would describe these more as historical fantasies with romantic plots.
In Burning Bright, you find out about the world as a woman wakes up in a burning bed. She has just manifested her ability as a Sorcher – she can set fires. However, she is also able to put out fires which earns her the title on Extraordinar Sorcher. She is the only one in England.
In this world, women with talents are awarded more freedom than ordinary women. To escape her domineering father, Elinor offers herself for service in the Navy. Her job is set enemy boats on fire. Sorchers are common in naval battles but she is more powerful and she can also protect her ship from enemy fires.
Obviously, pirates and romance follow quickly.
Sophia is an Extraordinary Seer. She can see the past, present, and future. She was high in the War Office until a Lord that she accused of a crime convinces the powers that be that she falsely charged him. She is dismissed but is determined to prove that he is a criminal and restore her reputation.
“Sophia’s allies are few, but loyal. Cecy, her best friend, supports Sophia in her quest, while her cousin Lady Daphne, an irrepressible Extraordinary Bounder, is always ready for a challenge. And always watching her is the mysterious Mr. Rutledge, who claims to be interested in Sophia’s friendship—and possibly more than that—but who has an agenda of his own.
But as Sophia delves deeper into prophetic Dreams, Cecy and Daphne begin to fear for Sophia’s health and sanity. Driven to collapse by her frequent Dreaming, Sophia is forced to reevaluate her motives: does she want Lord Endicott brought to justice, or is it revenge she seeks? Sophia’s Dreams and Visions are leading her to just one place: the destruction of Lord Endicott. But the cost of her vengeance may be too high—and may demand the sacrifice of her own life.”
This book had a wonderful villian but didn’t really have a strong romance. There is a romantic plot but it seems a bit tacked onto a good thriller/crime story. The book didn’t really need it but I guess if these are being advertised as romances it had to be there.
“Calcutta, 1813. Lady Daphne St. Clair, who as an Extraordinary Bounder is capable of transporting herself anywhere in the world with a thought, has longed to serve in the Army for years. But an unexpected weakness at the sight of blood makes her responsible for a good man’s death in battle. Unable to serve on the battlefield, Daphne is sent to India to be transportation for the Governor-General’s wife and children. In disgrace, Daphne fears she will never achieve the fame and glory she has worked so hard for.
A chance encounter with Captain Phineas Fletcher, attached to the Honourable East India Company as a troubleshooter and investigator, leads to Daphne being given a new opportunity: help Captain Fletcher discover the truth behind a series of strange occurrences in the town of Madhyapatnam. Daphne is willing to do anything to restore her reputation, even something as small as Captain Fletcher’s investigation. As the days progress, her attachment to the members of the team grows deeper, as does her growing attraction to the captain.”
I would like this talent. She can jump anywhere in the world as long as she can visualize the room where she is going to end up. They are used a bit like evac helicopters. They grab wounded people and jump them back to the hospital. Her career falls apart when she faints that the sight of blood and isn’t able to transport a man who dies because of it. She is sent to India to be a servant/transporter instead.
Anytime you get get books set in the British Raj featuring British characters you are going to get some touchy storytelling. Characters either feel superior to the Indian people or they are so excited to find out everything about them while objectifying them for being so different from British people. That’s probably historically correct but can still feel off when reading it today. Having more fully realized Indian characters might have helped.
The story between the British characters was well done. The romance was sweet and believable. The logistics of a world where some people can teleport was well thought out.
Three elderly ladies have been friends for decades. They all married men who traveled around the world. They were left home. Now they are all widows who would like to make a little bit of money. They founded the Lady Travelers Society to encourage women to go abroad. They take a monthly membership fee in exchange for holding lectures about travel for women and for arranging trips for their members. None of them have actually every traveled anywhere except for one trip to Paris as a girl but what could go wrong….
I’m a huge fan of older ladies in books. The three ladies of the travel society aren’t the protagonists of this series but they are the main troublemakers in the background.
In the first book, the one and only lady who has taken up their offer to arrange her travel has gone missing. Her niece has been writing increasingly concerned letters to the ladies (which they’ve ignored). Now she is coming to the society to investigate. The nephew of one of the ladies has also found out that they are scamming people and is trying to put a stop to it. They team up to try to trace her aunt’s journey across Europe and find out what went wrong.
In the second book of the series, the Lady Travelers Society sponsors a tour to Italy for a group of American mother and daughters. Leading the tour is a widow who needs to get to Italy to get back a painting. Her husband pawned it. She doesn’t know that the painting that was gifted to her grandmother is considered stolen property. She isn’t the only one trying to get it back.
She’s never been to Europe so is totally unprepared to be a guide but she has memorized all the guidebooks and hotels have been booked in advanced. Her clients will be fine when she leaves them in Italy and disappears after finding her painting.
Harry has spent the last 20 years in Egypt. Now he is back in England and is horrified to find out that the most popular writer about Egypt is a woman who writes adventure stories. He writes letters to the newspaper deriding her work and challenging her to prove that she knows anything about Egypt.
Sidney has never been to Egypt. It isn’t her fault that people think her stories are true. She never claimed that. She has based them off of her grandmother’s journals and extensive study. Now she has to lead a tour to Egypt that will prove the she knows what she is talking about.
Viola and James married three years ago. Since then they have led separate lives. She has been traveling all over Europe. Now James’ uncle has died. His will states that Viola and James have to live together as a happy couple for three years in order for James to inherit the money needed to run the estates. Viola’s money is untouched. Will she work with him to help?
This novella is considered #0.5 in the series but I read it last. This one features the elderly ladies more prominently.
A chance meeting made a big impression on Celia and Henry. However, they never met again until some time later when he is supposed to marry her half-sister. The ladies know this is a horrible mistake and make it their mission to stop the wedding.
Why I liked these:
The travel aspect gave opportunities for different plots than books just set at house parties in England.
Independent heroines trying to make their way in a world that is fighting them.
Gripping drama as Pennington's department store prepares for a glittering Christmas in 1911, but a killer stalks the women of Bath.
Christmas sees Pennington's at its most glorious, thronged with shoppers, its grand staircase and balcony adorned with holly, mistletoe, tinsel and lights. It should be the happiest time, but dramas are seething beneath the surface.
For Cornelia Culford, in charge of jewellery, a divorce hearing looms, where she could lose custody of her young sons to her overbearing and unfaithful husband.
For Stephen Gower, being head of security at Pennington's is the perfect refuge from a tragic past at Scotland Yard. But soon the past will call him back, as Joseph Carter and Elizabeth Pennington beg him to help solve the murder of Joseph's first wife, now that it seems as if the killer has struck again.
For Joseph and Elizabeth, their marriage depends on exorcising the past. But can it ever be laid to rest?
This is the third book that I’ve read in this series set in an English department store. Each of the books focuses on a particular couple but because there is a larger mystery that moves through all of them, it is best to read them in order.
Cornelia is a soon to be divorced woman who is working at the jewelry counter. Stephen is a policeman on leave pending an investigation into his role in a case that went horribly wrong. He’s working security at the store. Several people find out that he is from Scotland Yard and decide to enlist him in solving problems of their own. He doesn’t want to be involved in anyone’s affairs but he finds himself being drawn in.
I like the setting of the books. It is 1911. That’s isn’t a time period I see represented a lot in historical fiction. The backbone of this series is women who are trying to move themselves out of the domestic sphere that they have been pigeonholed in. One is trying to run a business. One is active in trying to get the vote. One is trying to get away from an abusive husband. I like seeing those perspectives.
I’m not a fan of the men in these books. I really learned to despise the man who was the romantic lead of book one. He’s obsessed with finding out who murdered his first wife. That’s fine but it is turning him increasingly nasty which is an interesting story arc for a person who was supposed to be a hero. He keeps saying that his first wife won’t be able to rest in peace if he doesn’t find her murderer. I don’t think that is how it works. She doesn’t care because she is dead. You care, sir.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the resolution of that story line either. For the buildup it was over pretty quickly. There was a connection between several victims that I have a hard time believing no one noticed. “Oh, 50% of our group has been murdered? Is that why we don’t need as many refreshments at meetings?”
But if you are willing to let that go, it is an interesting look at a time and place.
Author Bio – Rachel lives with her husband and their two daughters in a small town near Bath, England. Since 2007, she has had several novels published by small US presses, eight books published by Harlequin Superromance (Templeton Cove Stories) and four Victorian romances with eKensington/Lyrical. In January 2018, she signed a four-book deal with Aria Fiction for a new Edwardian series set in Bath’s finest department store. The Mistress of Pennington’s released July 2018, A Rebel At Pennington’s February 2019 and Christmas At Pennington’s September 2019. Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and Romance Writers of America and has thousands of social media followers all over the world. To sign up for her quarterly and new release newsletter, click here to go to her website: https://rachelbrimble.com/
Widowed society matchmaker Mrs. Clara Sommersby thinks handsome, self-made businessman Mr. William Lane is just the man for her neighbor’s overlooked daughter. He’s successful and confident, if somewhat emotionally distant, until suddenly—shockingly—his attention turns to Clara herself! She thought her days of romance were over, but is this younger man intent on giving her a second chance?
I’m an absolute sucker for older female protagonists in fiction. As soon as I saw the description of this book, I was all in even though she is only in her 40s. Bring me all the older ladies!
Clara entertains herself but selecting a young woman each season in Bath and working as her matchmaker. She’s not looking for romance for herself. She is a widow and honestly, she’s doing quite fine on her own, thank you very much. Her husband wasn’t much of a business man. He never listened to her ideas. When he died she bought a hotel for gentleman that she had had her eyes on. She set up a male relative as the supposed owner but she actually runs the business.
She meets a man in the pump room and gently flirts with him. What she doesn’t know is that he just bought the property next door to her hotel and is looking to buy her property also if he can just figure out who owns it.
I loved this book for its description of all the locations in Bath. I visited there a few years ago and could visualize most of the places they discuss. It added to the story to have all these famous places as background.
This was a great storyline that you don’t often see in romances. This woman isn’t pinning all her hopes on finding the right man. She is living an independent life and she needs to consider the real risks to her freedom of allowing another man in her life. She will lose all her legal rights if she remarries. Is it worth it?
I’d been low key wanting to read the Robert Galbraith mystery books ever since it was revealed that they were written by J.K. Rowling. I finally started them and then I couldn’t stop. I’ve listened to the four books on audio one after the other. Here’s why I think you should read them.
Cormoran is an ex-Army investigator who lost a leg in an IED explosion. He is now a private investigator whose firm is failing. When the first book starts he is breaking up with his toxic on again off again girlfriend of 16 years. He’s also the illegitimate (and unrecognized) son of a major rock star and a famous groupie. He grew up shuttling between a stable life with his aunt and uncle and a peripatetic life with his drug addicted mother.
Robin is new to London and newly engaged. She is working at a temp agency who sends her to Cormoran’s firm for a week. He forgot he signed up for a temp and can’t afford her but she makes herself too useful to get rid of.
Rowling is also still great at secondary characters. Each person is unique and has a well thought out backstory. They aren’t just a stock bad guy or witness.
Much like the Harry Potter books there is way more detail in these books than you actually need. I think this is a good thing but I’ve seen some people complain about it. I think if you are used to very spare mystery writing this will seem excessive. There are definitely lots of red herrings and clues that never develop into anything just like it would be in real life. Not everything is important to the story line. That makes these books pretty long but I like that. I like exploring the world that she is making and I don’t want them to be over quickly.
There is a TV show (if you like that sort of thing)
There is a film adaptation of the first three books. The first book is three one hour episodes and the rest are two episodes. I find them frustrating. I think the main characters are well done but everything is so condensed. Secondary characters are dropped. Secrets that are hours in the teasing out on the audiobook are dropped casually in exposition.
I watched The Cuckoo’s Calling and the first hour of The Silkworm.
Everything you ever wanted to know about London transportation
Transportation is a major consideration in these stories. That amuses me for some reason. They are always running around the city but instead of just saying they went here and suddenly they are there, transportation problems are factored in. The Underground is always used because they can’t afford cabs. The time it takes to get anywhere is always discussed. Having to walk far between public transit stops is a problem because Cormoran’s stump hurts and he has multiple untreated injuries during the series that make walking more and more problematic.
What I’d like to see next
I’d love to see his father need his help. Cormoran has met his famous father twice and neither time went well. He has a little bit of a relationship with his father’s other children. I want to see someone in the family get into trouble and need to come to him to sort it out. Then he’d have to dive into all the family secrets and relationships whether they want him to or not.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?
Solicitor Tom Finchley has spent his life using his devious intellect to solve the problems of others. As for his own problems, they’re nothing that a bit of calculated vengeance can’t remedy. But that’s all over now. He’s finally ready to put the past behind him and settle down to a quiet, uncomplicated life. If only he could find an equally uncomplicated woman.
She Wanted Adventure…
Former lady’s companion Jenny Holloway has just been given a modest independence. Now, all she wants is a bit of adventure. A chance to see the world and experience life far outside the restrictive limits of Victorian England. If she can discover the fate of the missing Earl of Castleton while she’s at it, so much the better.
From the gaslit streets of London to the lush tea gardens of colonial India, Jenny and Tom embark on an epic quest—and an equally epic romance. But even at the farthest edges of the British Empire, the past has a way of catching up with you…
I loved the first book in this series that is centered around four men who lived in the same brutal orphanage as children. One went into the Army. One became a lawyer. One is living with the effects of a debilitating head injury. The last one disappeared. Book one was about the soldier. This book is about the lawyer.
The book heavily references events in book one. I am horrible at remembering what happened in romance novels but it started to come back to me. I think if you read this book without reading the first one you could understand this story but would be lost at some of the events in the larger story.
Jenny was the distant relative-companion to the heroine in book 1. She is given a sum of money to live on. Control of it is held by Thomas Finchley the lawyer because of course it is. Can’t have ladies running around with their own money. She plans to go to India for an adventure and to see if she can find out what really happened to her cousin in a battle there. She and Thomas had met before and had a bit of flirting. Now he decides that he really likes her and so he is going to accompany her to India. Yeah, he decides this and doesn’t tell her.
This is a bit of a pattern in this book. She clearly expresses her wishes and then he runs right over them because he feels that he knows better and he wants to help her. She calls him out on it. The book is about him trying to learn how to deal with a woman who wants adventure and romance but doesn’t want marriage because of the restrictions that it will place on her in that time and place.
I thought this was a believable conflict between the protagonists. They fall in love with each other but want very different lives. How much should each person give up? Will it lead to resentment over time?
I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews (A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty, The Matrimonial Advertisement) writes both historical non-fiction and traditional historical romances set in Victorian England. Her articles on nineteenth century history have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture, and are also syndicated weekly at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats.
Mrs. Bertrice Martin—a widow, some seventy-three years young—has kept her youthful-ish appearance with the most powerful of home remedies: daily doses of spite, regular baths in man-tears, and refusing to give so much as a single damn about her Terrible Nephew.
Then proper, correct Miss Violetta Beauchamps, a sprightly young thing of nine and sixty, crashes into her life. The Terrible Nephew is living in her rooming house, and Violetta wants him gone.
Mrs. Martin isn’t about to start giving damns, not even for someone as intriguing as Miss Violetta. But she hatches another plan—to make her nephew sorry, to make Miss Violetta smile, and to have the finest adventure of all time.
If she makes Terrible Men angry and wins the hand of a lovely lady in the process? Those are just added bonuses.
Author’s Note: Sometimes I write villains who are subtle and nuanced. This is not one of those times. The Terrible Nephew is terrible, and terrible things happen to him. Sometime villains really are bad and wrong, and sometimes, we want them to suffer a lot of consequences.
Any Courtney Milan book is going to be a delight but I was especially excited to hear that this novella was going to feature older women. I’m a huge fan of stories that feature older heroines. Why should we stop getting stories when we are over 30?
Miss Violetta Beauchamps has been fired by her employer just prior to being able to collect her pension. He used her inability to collect rent from a boarder as an excuse even though he told her not to try because the boarder had a surety signed by his wealthy aunt. Violetta needs money to live on so she decides to go collect the rent from the aunt herself. She isn’t going to give it to her ex-employer. It is going to fund her modest lifestyle through her old age. It is just a little lie.
Mrs. Bertrice Martin was not what she was expecting. She hates her Terrible Nephew. She won’t even utter his name. She isn’t going to pay his debts – not when he couldn’t even bother to spell her name right on the surety he forged. She will pay Miss Beauchamps to help her make the Terrible Nephew’s life miserable though.
There is a time for well characterized, morally ambiguous villains and there is a time for just letting the world burn to annoy a horrible person. This story is the latter and it is a glorious romp. Bertrice knows that everything wrong in the world is the fault of men. Even if she can’t really do anything systemically about it, she isn’t going to make it easy for them. Sometimes you just need to hire a group of off-key carolers to follow a fellow around all day to make yourself feel better.
Bertrice appears to hold all the power with her wealth but it doesn’t make her safe. Men still have all the legal power and her nephew can get her declared insane. Her recent antics might just make his case for him. Violetta can’t fight back against her unfair firing in a society that doesn’t give women any legal rights.
I highlighted so many amazing bits of dialogue.
“Fear at seventy years of age was different than fear at seventeen. At seventeen, Bertrice had been walking down the so-called correct path, trying not to stray with all her might. Her fears had not been her own; they had been gifts from her elders. They won’t think you’re proper if you do that. You might never find a match. Do you want to live in a garret alone for the rest of your life?“
This might be my favorite.
“My husband, God rot his soul, used to bring prostitutes home all the time. After he’d finished with them, I’d serve them tea and double whatever he was paying them.”
“But why would you do that?”
“Why not? It’s good sense to be kind to people who are doing work for you.” Bertrice didn’t think that was so strange a proposition. “It was hard work fucking my husband. Trust me, I should know. I certainly didn’t want to do it.”
Bertrice respects the neighborhood prostitutes all through the story. (I really want to read a story about Molly, the lace-worker turned prostitute turned philanthropist.)
This story is an absolute delight for anyone who has ever wanted to rage against the privilege given to men in society just for being born. It is cathartic and will bring a smile to your face long after you finish reading.
About Courtney Milan
“C ourtney Milan’s debut novel was published in 2010. Since then, her books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. She’s been a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller, a RITA® finalist and an RT Reviewer’s Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance. Her second book was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010.
Courtney lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat.
Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships with some really important people who are way too dignified to be named here. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.” from her website
One woman's journey to find herself and help secure the vote. Perfect for the fans of the TV series Mr Selfridge and The Paradise.
1911 Bath. Banished from her ancestral home, passionate suffrage campaigner, Esther Stanbury works as a window dresser in Pennington's Department Store. She has hopes and dreams for women's progression and will do anything to help secure the vote. Owner of the prestigious Phoenix Hotel, Lawrence Culford has what most would view as a successful life. But Lawrence is harbouring shame, resentment and an anger that threatens his future happiness.
When Esther and Lawrence meet their mutual understanding of life's challenges unites them and they are drawn to the possibility of a life of love that neither thought existed. With the Coronation of King-Emperor George V looming, the atmosphere in Bath is building to fever pitch, as is the suffragists' determination to secure the vote.
Will Esther's rebellious nature lead her to ruin or can they overcome their pasts and look to build a future together?
This is the second book in an historical fiction series about a department store in Bath in the early 1900s. The story from the first book continues in the background of this book so while it may not be absolutely necessary to read them in order, it will add to your understanding.
Esther is a young woman who is focusing on her career and her political activism. She feels strongly that she is going to be unable to do this and have a marriage because she can’t conceive of a marriage where her activities would be well tolerated, let alone encouraged. She meets a widower with two young children who has his own hang ups about introducing a new woman in his life. How do these two stubborn and emotionally damaged people work out their issues?
I am enjoying this series. It is interesting to see what is considered the height of modernity at this time period. This book especially deals with the fallout of the suffrage movement in England which became much more violent than it did in the United States. How did people choose how to align themselves? How did it affect businesses?
This is a great book for people who love historical fiction because it covers a lot on the suffrage movement as well as the excitement over the coronation of a new King.
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Author Bio – Rachel lives with her husband and their two daughters in a small town near Bath in the UK. Since 2007, she has had several novels published by small US presses, eight books published by Harlequin Superromance (Templeton Cove Stories) and four Victorian romances with eKensington/Lyrical. In January 2018, she signed a four-book deal with Aria Fiction for a new Edwardian series set in Bath’s finest department store. The first book, The Mistress of Pennington’s released July 2018. Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and Romance Writers of America, and was selected to mentor the Superromance finalist of So You Think You Can Write 2014 contest. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find Rachel with her head in a book or walking the beautiful English countryside with her family. Her dream place to live is Bourton-on-the-Water in South West England. She likes nothing more than connecting and chatting with her readers and fellow romance writers. Rachel would love to hear from you!
Lord Alexander Pyne-ffoulkes is the younger son of the Duke of Ilvar, with a bitter grudge against his wealthy father. The Duke intends to give his Duchess a priceless diamond parure on their wedding anniversary—so Alec hires a pair of jewel thieves to steal it.
The Duke's remote castle is a difficult target, and Alec needs a way to get the thieves in. Soldier-turned-criminal Jerry Crozier has the answer: he'll pose as a Society gentleman and become Alec's new best friend.
But Jerry is a dangerous man: controlling, remote, and devastating. He effortlessly teases out the lonely young nobleman’s most secret desires, and soon he’s got Alec in his bed—and the palm of his hand.
Or maybe not. Because as the plot thickens, betrayals, secrets, new loves, and old evils come to light. Now the jewel thief and the aristocrat must keep up the pretence, find their way through a maze of privilege and deceit, and confront the truth of what's between them...all without getting caught.
K.J. Charles is one of the romance authors that I found out about on Twitter and now is an autobuy for me. I was thrilled when she offered ARCs of this book to readers.
A lot of her books that I’ve read previously have focused on people who aren’t part of the gentry. That has been a major part of the appeal for me. This one crosses class lines into upper crust society and I think that wasn’t as enjoyable for me as her previous books. Still, the premise is inventive.
An upper class man has abandoned his children because they vocally opposed his second marriage. The children are adults and they are living in poverty with some terrible consequences. Alec decides to get back at his father by hiring thieves to steal the showy anniversary present that his father plans to give his wife. However, to get close to his father he’ll have to pretend to abandon his principles to get back to a life of leisure. This is going to alienate him from his siblings who don’t know that he has another motive.
This conflict between what he believes and the pretense that he needs to keep up tears at him. He has no practice or talent at being underhanded at all. For help he’s reliant on the con man he hired to coach him and who he is very drawn to.
I like more slow burn and not much sex on the page in my romance books. That’s definitely not what you get in these books. This relationship has a dominance-submission aspect to it. It is handled well and respectfully to both parties. I would recommend this book if you like historical romances that aren’t just ladies looking for dukes.
From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it.
“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding
London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.
Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?
With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.
I love historical fiction that pulls you in from the beginning. This is the story of two women from very different backgrounds who meet in the embroidery workshop of a dress designer in London immediately after World War II.
Ann is English. She lost her parents before the war and her brother during the Blitz. She lives with her sister-in-law, trying to scrape by.
Miriam is a French Jew who was in a concentration camp for part of the war. No one in England knows about this part of her life. All they know is that she is a skilled embroiderer who worked in a design house in Paris.
Fast forward to 2016 and a woman in Toronto gets a box of pictures and embroidery from her recently deceased grandmother. She knew her grandmother was from England but she never talked about her life there. She also didn’t know how to sew as far as her granddaughter knew. Why does she have all this?
This is a great story of female friendship and support. It also shows you the amazing amount of handwork that goes into couture dresses. I like stories based on unknown women who have had a part, however small, in historical events.
I had never really looked at the dress before. It is so detailed with both embroidery and applique. I can’t imagine doing that day in and day out. (I hurt my hands just trying to hand sew one quilt.) They only had a few weeks to get that all finished. It is amazing.
Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris. She holds a doctorate from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto with her husband and young children.
The first behind-the-scenes account of life with the legendary ravens at the world’s eeriest monument
The ravens at the Tower of London are of mighty importance: rumor has it that if a raven from the Tower should ever leave, the city will fall.
The title of Ravenmaster, therefore, is a serious title indeed, and after decades of serving the Queen, Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife took on the added responsibility of caring for the infamous ravens. In Ravenmaster, he lets us in on his life as he feeds his birds raw meat and biscuits soaked in blood, buys their food at Smithfield Market, and ensures that these unusual, misunderstood, and utterly brilliant corvids are healthy, happy, and ready to captivate the four million tourists who flock to the Tower every year.
A rewarding, intimate, and inspiring partnership has developed between the ravens and their charismatic and charming human, the Ravenmaster, who shares the folklore, history, and superstitions surrounding the ravens and the Tower. Shining a light on the behavior of the birds, their pecking order and social structure, and the tricks they play on us, Skaife shows who the Tower’s true guardians really are―and the result is a compelling and irreverent narrative that will surprise and enchant.
I’ve been following the author on Twitter for a while so I was familiar with his job and what it entails. Despite that, this is still a fascinating look at the care of the ravens at the Tower of London.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, there is a legend (which the author casts doubts on) that if the ravens leave the Tower of London, then England will fall. There are seven ravens who live in the Tower. They are free during the day to mingle with the tourists, steal food from the tourists, and observe the general hub bub. At night they have an enclosure to help protect them from the foxes who also live in the tower.
“In the past the Ravenmasters preferred to put the food out around the Tower, but the problem was that a seagull might take a nice juicy piece of ox liver, say, that was intended for a raven, have a little nibble on it and then casually drop it on a visitor from a great height.”
The ravens aren’t pets. They aren’t tame. They don’t work on your schedule. They don’t sit nicely on the bench when David Attenborough wants to film with them. They are prone to killing and eating pigeons (not always in that order) in front of the tourists. Most of the Ravenmaster’s time seems to be taken up with getting them where they are supposed to be and getting them out of places where they shouldn’t be.
“[m]ore than once I’ve seen a raven chasing the Tower’s many resident cats and dogs.”
Readers of this book will find out not only lots about ravens but about what it takes to be a Yeoman Warder. He discusses The Story – the official tour group talk that takes people about 6 months to learn perfectly before they can start to change it by adding in their own embellishments. The Story is standardized so any Yeoman Warder can step in and take over a tour if the original guide has to step away to help someone (like if they faint after watching ravens murder other birds.)
The book is written in short chapters in a very conversational style which makes it a very quick and entertaining read. I enjoyed this more since I have been to the Tower and could visualize most of the places that he is discussing. If you haven’t been there, looking at a map of the grounds would be helpful to understanding the story.
There are several stories of the deaths of some of the ravens from illness, accidents, and old age. They made me a little teary as did this last line of the acknowledgements about Munin, who hated him from day 1.
“A very special thank-you to Munin. During the publication of this book, sadly, Raven Munin passed away due to complications of old age. Her presence at the Tower will be greatly missed by her partner, Jubilee; by Team Raven; and by all staff at Historic Royal Palaces.”
When octogenarian Olive Turner is persuaded by her son to move into a retirement home, she congratulates herself on finding the secret to an easy life: no washing up, cooking or cleaning. But Olive isn’t one for mindless bingo with her fellow residents, and before the first day is over she's already hatching a plan to escape back to her beloved beach hut and indulge in her secret passion for a very good gin & tonic.
Before long Olive’s secret is out and turning into something wonderful and new. Only a select few are invited, but word spreads quickly about the weekly meetings of The Gin Shack Club. Soon everybody on the beach wants to become a gin connoisseur and join Olive on her journey to never being forced to grow older than you feel.
I picked up this book because it is precisely a genre that I don’t think we can ever have enough of – old lady chick lit!
Give me stories of older women in charge of their own lives; finding new passions; doing whatever they want! I’ll read them all. Give me more old ladies defying their fussy children and skinny dipping at the beach.
This book also made me really, really want a beach hut even though I don’t live by the beach and even if I did, they aren’t a thing here.
Olive moves into a home where everyone cares about safety to the point of not allowing the residents to live. This is actually a huge problem for older people. If you can’t do anything other than what is super-safe, you don’t get to do anything fun.
I was intrigued by the gin combinations that are discussed here. I wish there were some recipes for the cocktails discussed. I don’t drink so I have no idea if I like gin or not but this book made me want to try some. I feel like I wouldn’t like a gin and tonic at all but the gin with violet syrup that tasted like candied violets sounded interesting. I’m not sure if the rhubarb one sounded good or not but they were fans of it in the book.
I didn’t care much for the bit of mystery in the book. I was just here for the characters and their adventures!
Helena Reynolds will do anything to escape her life in London, even if that means traveling to a remote cliffside estate on the North Devon coast and marrying a complete stranger. But Greyfriar's Abbey isn't the sort of refuge she imagined. And ex-army captain Justin Thornhill--though he may be tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome--is anything but a romantic hero.
He Needed Redemption...
Justin has spent the last two decades making his fortune, settling scores, and suffering a prolonged period of torture in an Indian prison. Now, he needs someone to smooth the way for him with the villagers. Someone to manage his household--and warm his bed on occasion. What he needs, in short, is a wife and a matrimonial advertisement seems the perfect way to acquire one.
Their marriage was meant to be a business arrangement and nothing more. A dispassionate union free from the entanglements of love and affection. But when Helena's past threatens, will Justin's burgeoning feelings for his new bride compel him to come to her rescue? Or will dark secrets of his own force him to let her go?
I have pretty strict rules about the historical romances that I will read. Generally they need to be recommended by some trusted sources on Twitter. When I pick them myself I tend to get horrible books that I DNF. That’s why I’m so excited about this book. I chose this one from the description on the book tour and I absolutely loved it!
Helena is on the run but she isn’t flighty or impetuous. Her escape from her family has been well planned. She needs to get married in order to wrest control of her inheritance from her relatives. She is unable to control it herself because she is a woman so she is in desperate need of a husband.
Justin returned from being a prisoner of war in India and in an act of pure spite, managed to seize control of the largest house from its impoverished gentleman owner. Now he is hated by the community and just wants to be left alone. His secretary and a lawyer friend though have advertised for a bride for him. He’s ignored them up to now when his friend in London sent him a woman who is obviously in trouble.
I loved that these were both sensible, no-nonsense people. There was a real threat that Helena was running from based on newspaper accounts of the time. This was a great way to get actual historical issues into the story.
This book felt comfortable from the opening pages. I was pulled directly into the story. This is the type of historical romance that I love and I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.
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Elizabeth Pennington should be the rightful heir of Bath's premier department store through her enterprising schemes and dogged hard work. Her father, Edward Pennington, believes his daughter lacks the business acumen to run his empire and is resolute a man will succeed him.
Determined to break from her father's iron-clad hold and prove she is worthy of inheriting the store, Elizabeth forms an unlikely alliance with ambitious and charismatic master glove-maker Joseph Carter. United they forge forward to bring Pennington's into a new decade, embracing woman's equality and progression whilst trying not to mix business and pleasure.
This book takes place in 1910 in Bath. I read a lot of historical fiction but I don’t see many books set in this time period. I was interested to read about a woman who is trying to take over her family business at a time when this was not an acceptable thing to do. This is also a time of great changes in retail. Ready to wear clothing is becoming more popular. Being able to touch the merchandise without a clerk helping you is a new idea.
I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book. In the beginning the writing was a bit clunky. There was a whole lot more description of what people were thinking than showing their actions on the page. I set the book aside for a while because of this. I don’t know if I would have picked it back up if it wasn’t a review book for me and if I wasn’t really interested in the premise.
I’m not sure if the writing improved as I got into the story or if I just accepted it as I went along but it didn’t bother me as much as I got deeper into the book. There are several conflicts here:
The heroine who wants to run the store versus her father who wants her to marry and live the life of a rich housewife.
The hero who wants to expand from a small family store to selling their merchandise in department stores over his father’s objections.
There was conflict between the heroine and hero’s families in the past.
Should department stores continue to cater to the wealthy or should they bring in lower price clothing for the new middle class customers? Would the wealthy continue to shop there if you let lower classes in the same stores?
It was interesting to see the ideas that were considered so progressive (and potentially alarming) that are commonplace now. The anti-woman rhetoric was as expected. Women aren’t smart enough to be in business. Suffragettes are just rabble-rousers causing the downfall of society.
This is a good book for anyone who loves historical fiction where you learn a lot about a topic.
When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.
Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.
Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together...
I read this book immediately after A Gentleman Never Keeps Score. The two fit together nicely because they share the theme of sexual abuse/exploitation of teenage boys due to poverty.
Gil is a bastard child of a rich family. When his father died, his older half-brother cut off his education and funds. In order to survive he was a prostitute. Now he runs a bookstore that sells pornography, which is illegal.
Vikram is a lawyer who takes some pro bono cases in London’s Indian community. He knew Gil at school where they bonded over being the only dark-skinned people. He has always wondered what happened to his friend when he suddenly left school but no one would answer his questions. Vikram is investigating the disappearance of an Indian teen who worked as a prostitute. The only clue is a studio photo that the boy’s parents had. There is no way he could afford to have bought it. Vikram guesses he may have been modeling for erotic photographers and was given the formal portrait as partial payment.
There is a bit of over the top serendipity in the main characters meeting. It is like, “I’m searching for this lost boy because it reminds me of my former best friend who went missing. I’ll go to this bookstore. Oh, look! There is my missing best friend. Imagine that!”
Vikram wants to renew his friendship with Gil but has a very hard time accepting the world Gil lives in. He is uncomfortable with the life his friend was forced to lead while he continued his comfortable life in school and university. Gil is cynical about Vikram’s desire to help people because in his life he hasn’t seen many people with that motivation.
This is a novella but there is a good amount of character growth in it. It was interesting to find out all about the Victorian pornography trade. I haven’t seen that as a basis for a romance before.
Every childhood lasts a lifetime. On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses to giving birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and placing him in a children’s home. Seven years later she went back but he had vanished. What happened to the child? Why did he disappear? Where did he go? Jayne Sinclair, genealogical investigator, is faced with lies, secrets and one of the most shameful episodes in recent British history. Can she find the vanished child?
This is the fourth book in this series of mysteries solved by a genealogical researcher. I hadn’t read the previous ones but I didn’t have any trouble following this book. I do think this is an interesting angle for a mystery. I love watching genealogy shows on TV and researching my own family history.
This book hits hard on one of my push button issues – the horrific treatment of unmarried women with children at the hands of Christian churches. I spent my whole time reading this book muttering to myself about how abusive the church is and how it always seems to be coming up with new ways to be awful. It was not unusual for unmarried women to be separated from their children because it was considered better for the children to be raised elsewhere away from their immoral mothers. This book looks at the practice of shipping English children to Australia to be trained as domestics and laborers. Yes, it was considered better for them to be raised as virtual slaves than to stay with their mothers. People were told they were orphans and they wanted to believe that so they dismissed the children when they talked about having mothers at home in England.
The whole book is pretty heartbreaking but it highlights some British history that isn’t well known. If you want to continue your outrage after this one, check out the movies Philomena or The Magdalene Sisters. The first one is sad but has funny moments. The second is just deeply horrifying.
Praise for Nicola May’s books
‘This book will twang your funny bone & your heartstrings’ – Milly Johnson‘A fun and flighty read’ the Sun‘A funny and fast-paced romp – thoroughly enjoyable!’ Rosa Larkin is down on her luck in London, so when she inherits a near-derelict corner shop in a quaint Devon village, her first thought is to sell it for cash and sort out her life. But nothing is straightforward about this legacy. While the identity of her benefactor remains a mystery, he - or she - has left one important legal proviso: that the shop cannot be sold, only passed on to somebody who really deserves it. Rosa makes up her mind to give it a go: to put everything she has into getting the shop up and running again in the small seaside community of Cockleberry Bay. But can she do it all on her own? And if not, who will help her succeed - and who among the following will work secretly to see her fail? There is a handsome rugby player, a sexy plumber, a charlatan reporter and a selection of meddling locals. Add in a hit and run incident and the disappearance of a valuable engraved necklace – and what you get is a journey of self-discovery and unpredictable events. With surprising and heartfelt results, Rosa, accompanied at all times by her little sausage dog Hot, will slowly unravel the shadowy secrets of the inheritance, and also bring her own, long-hidden heritage into the light.
It seems like I’m going with the unpopular opinion based on the reviews I’ve read from other people. From the description I expected a light-hearted, funny read typical of the chick lit genre. This book is not that. It is surprisingly dark especially considering how it is being marketed.
The main character is self-destructive. She drinks excessively and can’t keep a job. Her main human contact is a series of one night sexual encounters. She uses sex to help make up for the fact that she can’t always pay for the rent on her flat. The only thing she loves at all is her dog, Hot. Getting an inheritance is a way for her to get out of her current life and start fresh.
Usually in this type of book the small town the heroine goes to is full of lovely characters. Here that isn’t the case. In short order she is scammed, sexually assaulted, and her secret is outed against her express wishes. Then she is threatened to provide someone with an alibi for a hit and run.
She eventually finds some nicer people but they have secrets too. Then people keep breaking into her house, she ends up with a pregnant teenager living with her, she gets scammed a few more times, she finds out about a decades old affair, and her dog gets hurt (but he’s ok). This isn’t a bad book but I didn’t read it anything like the laugh a minute romp I’m seeing other people review it as. I read it more as a cautionary tale about trying to keep secrets and the need to have someone who you can confide in. Rosa is very damaged emotionally and trying to move past that in her own way isn’t easy. Trying to open up and let other people in when you have learned over and over not to trust is hard. When those people then repeatedly violate your tentative trust, what do you do?
I read an ARC so hopefully things have been cleaned up but there was an error in my copy. She was reading letters about a person who was only referred to by an initial. But when she thought about the person she thought of them by their full first name. She had no way of knowing that.
The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen's teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household. Victoria & Abdul examines how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire, and his influence over the queen at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen, a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.
The central mystery in this story is Who Was Abdul Karim? Was he a selfless aide and friend to Queen Victoria or was he an enterprising, self-promoting, dangerous con man like the people around her believed? I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.
There is no question that he was a devoted servant of the Queen. He gave her Urdu lessons every day for years. He helped her answer her correspondence. He did influence her to be very concerned about Muslims in India. He also liked the trappings that came along with high status in the Royal Household. He insisted on not being treated as just one of the nameless servants. He would storm out of public events if he felt he was being slighted. He would get newspapers to write articles about him. He did suggest to the Queen that she give him and his family more and more honors.
This book did a wonderful job of getting into the mind of Queen Victoria through her writings. You understand where she was coming from. She loved Karim and his family. She was hurt by her family’s and staff’s hatred of him.
I don’t think the book did as good of a job figuring out what was going on in Karim’s mind. There are letters from him but he still felt like an enigma at the end of the book. He was in a hard position. There were several Indian servants but he was the only one in the closest inner circle to the Queen. The Royal Family and the household were both incredibly racist and classist. They hated him not only for being Indian but for not being an upper-class Indian. How dare he assume he was their equal?
Put in that situation I can’t fault him for looking out for himself and his family. The Queen was elderly and he knew that he would be dealt with harshly after her death. He had to provide for his family while he could. Did he push too hard? Maybe. It doesn’t excuse how he was treated though.
This is an infuriating read. The racism is so overt. Many letters from high British officials are included that just drip with disdain.
My only complaint about this book is that it is perhaps too detailed. There are so many letters cited that they started to all run together. But, I’d rather get too much information than not enough.
The narrator did a great job with all the voices required in this book – male, female, English, Indian, and Scottish.
There is a movie version of this book out now. I’m interested to see what angle they take on this story. Is it going to be a feel-good “Queen Victoria had a friend!” or is going to dive into the hatred from the people around her? I’ll do a compare and contrast post after I get to see the movie.
Shrabani Basu graduated in History from St Stephen’s College, Delhi and completed her Masters from Delhi University. In 1983, she began her career as a trainee journalist in the bustling offices of The Times of India in Bombay.
Since 1987, Basu has been the London correspondent of Ananda Bazar Patrika group –writing for “Sunday, Ananda Bazar Patrika, “and “The Telegraph.”
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: