HFVB Tour Review: DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN by Tessa Arlen

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I’m so happy to take part in the Historical Fiction Virtual Book tour of this fun Edwardian mystery: DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN by Tessa Arlen.

In this story, the lady of the manor, Lady Monfort, is having a summer ball and she’s enjoying all the planning that goes in to this yearly event. However, her husband’s nephew, Teddy, a slightly nefarious young man, is found dead, and the guests all become suspects. Unfortunately, Lady Monfort had heard her own beloved son arguing with Teddy shortly before his death. She is worried that suspicion will fall on him, so she joins forces with her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to figure out who might be the killer.

I loved the fact that Lady Monfort didn’t do the sleuthing herself — as that would have been fairly impossible given the social conventions of her time. It was far more believable that her housekeeper was the one finding out facts. They always say that staff is “invisible” – though perhaps “inconspicuous” is a better term. I also loved that it was two women doing the work here, and not Lady Monfort relying on a relationship/friendship with the local constable, etc. to get the mystery solved (an oft-used device for mysteries). I also really enjoyed how Ms. Arlen included some of the social issues of the day in the plot: women’s suffrage, for instance, and the use and abuse of household staff.

I had been needing a “Downton” fix, and this book was a perfect read for me during December. That said, it is NOT a take on Downton Abbey in any way, but stands on its own merit. The second book in the series will be out next January (I’m available for the book blog tour – hint hint!).

Thank you for my review copy!

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You can find this book at a local bookstore near you — I am an Indie Bound Affiliate:


Find it at an Indie!

Here is some info on Ms. Arlen from HFVBT:

TESSA ARLEN, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN is Tessa’s first novel. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Review: VANESSA AND HER SISTER by Priya Parmar

I saw this come up on Net Galley and realized how little I knew about Virginia Woolf so I requested it. This was a truly fascinating account of Virginia and her sister Vanessa and their lives in London in the early 20th century, along with their highly gifted friends. This group came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group.

Please note the following may have some plot SPOILERS.

Parmar does an excellent job of portraying Virginia’s genius intellect, coupled with her extreme emotional neediness and her mental instability. Both women had suffered severe loss in their family and were quite devoted to each other. However, Virginia’s connection to her sister bordered on the unhealthy and was almost obsessive. At times reading this novel, I felt so sorry for Vanessa. Virginia pretty much worked to take over anything she had, and then she usually destroyed it (including Vanessa’s marriage). Vanessa herself was a gifted artist, but her life and relationships and talents were hindered, in my opinion, by her sister’s overpossessiveness.

Throughout the book we are treated to glimpses into the social interactions of their partners in the group of intellectuals (writers and artists mostly) that became the Bloomsbury Group. The story is told from Vanessa’s point of view but also through telegrams, letters, diary entries, etc. I really enjoyed this book, though it was a bit depressing. I could have kept reading for about another 10-15 years of their lives! Kudos to Ms. Parmar on what I believe is her debut novel.


Find Vanessa and Her Sister at an Indie (I am an Indie Bound Affiliate)

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HFV Blog Tour: SELDOM COME BY by Sherryl Caulfield with GIVEAWAY link!

I’m thrilled today to be taking part in the Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tour of SELDOM COME BY – Book One in the Iceberg Trilogy – by Sherryl Caulfield.

SELDOM COME BY tells the story of Rebeca Crowe, a teen living in Newfoundland in 1914, and Samuel Dalton, the nineteen-year-old shipwrecked boy she saves and comes to love. This beautifully written story covers almost thirty years, starting with Rebeca and Samuel and their burgeoning love. Rebeca’s family is harsh (particularly her father) and she fears that her sister Rachel loves Samuel, too. When she realizes that he does indeed care for her, they then have to face her authoritarian and strictly religious father, who does not support them. Samuel is actually from Toronto and his family is there; eventually he leaves to go home. Then the war intervenes as he joins the forces for WWI. WIll their love survive the forces pulling them apart?

As I already mentioned, this book covers about thirty years in their lives (in over 500 pages), and with it comes all the tragedies and joys of real lives lived. These characters are drawn so clearly and seem so believable. You get wrapped up in their story! Yet, this book was so realistic that you knew while reading it that you couldn’t count on it being all happiness and light.

Beautifully written, and just the first in a series about these people and their families, this is a beautifully written story that captures the imagination.

Thank you for my copy and for making me part of this blog tour!

Here’s a bit of info on Sherryl and how she came to write this novel:

Australian-born Sherryl Caulfield is a marketer, writer and traveller. After twenty years working for some of the world’s leading technology brands and a stint with Outward Bound, she longed to write about the human experience and the redemptive qualities of nature.

In 2006, haunted by an encounter with a woman she met in Canada, Sherryl started what has now become known as The Iceberg Trilogy. From her home in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand, she distilled the lives of three generations of women – Rebecca, Evangeline and Lindsay – over the course of a century. In the telling of their stories she crafted a series rich in landscapes – of sea, land and the human soul.

Here’s the scoop on the GIVEAWAY!

Giveaway

To enter to win an Autographed copy of Seldom Come By, please follow the link and complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below.

Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on December 13th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Three for Christmas — from the Ho Ho Ho Readathon

I had a great time reading and participating in the Ho Ho Ho Holiday Readathon this past week! I set a goal of three books for myself, and I easily reached it (I also finished two more to review and started a third – guess I had time to read!).

The first book I read was A NEW YORK CHRISTMAS by Anne Perry. In this novel (and apparently Anne Perry writes a Christmas novel every year) it is 1904 and Jemima Pitt has accompanied her friend Phinny to New York from England for Phinny’s marriage. Poor Phinny doesn’t have much family and her mother left her while she was quite young under what seems to be mysterious and unfavorable circumstances. Jemima is hardly there when a dead body shows up – Phinny’s long-lost mother – and Jemima appears to be the main suspect in her killing (though with little motive). Determined to prove her innocence, Jemima joins forces with local policeman Patrick Flannery to figure out who the real killer is.

This was a fun read – and very quick for me (a few hours – less than 200 pages). Call me stupid but I never could figure out exactly WHY the murder took place and what it served. It seemed to stir up a lot of trouble, that’s for sure.

This was my first Anne Perry book, but she has a legion of fans and several other Christmas stories.

Thanks, Net Galley, for my copy!

Next I read CHRISTMAS TRUCE by Aaron Shepard. This was a children’s picture book that I got a pdf of from Net Galley. It tells the story of the WWI Christmas truce in fighting between the front lines of British and German men. This was a beautiful (and true) tale, with lovely illustrations by Wendy Edelson. Great for a read aloud to children!

Finally, from Blogging for Books, I got The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle by Joanne Huist Smith. I just loved this book. This author lost her husband unexpectedly in the fall of 1999. They had three children, aged 10 to 17. That Christmas was incredibly painful and difficult for them. This true story tells how some unknown “true friends” delivered to them small surprise gifts each day leading up to Christmas and, in essence, helped them to feel the spirit of Christmas again. Not only was this a heart-wrenching read, especially because the grief was so poignant on these pages, but it was so inspiring to read the end and how the whole 13 gifts tradition got started, why, and how. What a beautiful and inspiring story — truly a favorite Christmas read for me.

Audiobook Review: THE DRESSMAKER by Kate Alcott

I had heard of the novel THE DRESSMAKER but never read it, so I took it from the audiobook shelf at the library. In this book, set in 1912, Tess is a young seamstress who wants to make her way in the world. She has a wonderful opportunity when she signs on to be part of the famous designer, Lady Duff Gordon’s, household.They sail for America, but unfortunately on the Titanic! Well, of course we all know what happens, but Tess and Lady Duff Gordon and her husband survive, though there is a question about The Duff Gordons’ actions and if she and her husband kept people out of their lifeboat. Tess is thrown into the spotlight of the hearings after they reach New York (which are based on the actual trials and evidence given by Titanic survivors). She must decide what is the truth and how she can be true to herself even if it means not being faithful to her employer (and there’s a little romance thrown in there, too!)

Interestingly, there really was a designer named Lady Lucile Duff Gordon whose experiences were like those of the book, and she was the inspiration for this novel. Susan Duerden is the narrator and she does a nice job with the different and has a lovely English accent. That said, the one voice I didn’t care for was Tess’ as she sounded to high-pitched and a little vapid, when the character was actually quite smart and strong.

I enjoyed listening to this one (kid-friendly as well for those drives to school!).

Review: CITY OF DARKNESS AND LIGHT by Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen recently came out with a new Molly Murphy mystery. If you read me, you know I’ve read them all. I really enjoy historical cozies and Molly is one of my favorite female sleuths (though I have to admit to an even greater fondness for Georgie of Bowen’s Royal Spyness mysteries!).

In this installment, Molly is headed to Paris to stay with friends Sid and Gus after a horrible bombing of her home in New York by an Italian gang. She and Daniel and the baby weren’t hurt, but sadly their young maid was killed. Molly has barely gotten her feet on solid ground when she’s landed in to the middle of a murder mystery. Where are Gus and Sid and why did they leave so suddenly? Who murdered the painter Reynold Bryce? And will Molly ever find her friends or have to go back to NYC?

Once again, Ms. Bowen has written a lively and well-crafted mystery, this time in a unique location. Paris at the turn of the century was a vibrant and beautiful place (it still is, but you know what I mean!). The art culture is explored here, and I was delighted to see many well-known real characters brought to life: Picasso, Degas, Monet, Mary Cassatt, Gertrude Stein. Molly interacts with all parts of the city, but especially the Montmartre district in her quest to find and then help her friends. I did not guess the murderer (kudos to Ms. Bowen!) and enjoyed reading this right up to the last page. This might be my favorite Molly mystery yet.

Another home run for the Molly Murphy series!

I got mine on Amazon.

Review: ECHOES OF MERCY by Kim Vogel Sawyer

I received a copy of this book through Blogging for Books, a Christian media outlet. In this story, which is part historical and part romance, Carrie Lang goes undercover to investigate a suspicious death at Dinsmore ‘s Chocolate Factory. Carrie is an ardent advocate of child labor laws, and she is concerned as well about the welfare of the child workers at the factory. She befriends a co-worker (the owner’s son in disguise) and also takes on the care of three orphaned siblings. Carrie is a devout Christian and a strong personality. Her determination and faith will see her through this mystery!

I enjoyed reading this novel. Ms. Sawyer is a new author to me, but it seems she has several published and popular works in the Christian genre. I find reading Christian romances very refreshing and light. They always end on a positive note and they give a hopeful and faith-filled message. This one was extra fun as it was historical as well.

Thank you, Water Brook Multnomah, for my copy!

Review: THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT by Amy Tan

Amy Tan has done it again.

I believe I’ve read all of her books, so I made sure to purchase THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT last fall when it came out. I was a little backlogged with due reviews, so I read it in pieces over time (plus it is over 600 pages!). I loved this historical fiction, set in the past and also tied to the present, of turn of the 20th century Shanghai.

In the early 1900’s, Violet is the spoiled, young, half-American/half-Asian daughter of Lulu, the owner of a popular courtesan house in Shanghai. Violet is in the middle of everything, and though young, has a keen eye to the ways of courting done by the girls and her mother’s sharp business practices. A terrible event separates them, however, and Lulu goes to America thinking Violet is dead, while Violet is sold to a courtesan house and her virginity auctioned off when she is fifteen. The bulk of the story is Violet’s telling of her life and loves, from her childhood to her time as a courtesan, to her first love, her beloved husband and child (who is taken from her), and her disastrous second marriage. Violet is a smart woman and strives to maintain her dignity and her independence. Along with her lifelong friend, they struggle to break free of their oppression, and Violet dreams of being reunited with both her mother and her child.

While some of this story is also told from Lulu’s point of view, particularly the story line of how she met Violet’s father, most is told through Violet. I loved the character of Violet, who was plucky and fierce and courageous. I found the details of life as a courtesan quite interesting – I had always considered courtesan and prostitute as synonymous, but this story showed the subtle intricacies of being a courtesan, as well as the cultural differences and expectations of Chinese versus American experiences. I also learned of the political climate of the time (which I knew little about). One thing I would have preferred, though, was to have Lulu’s back story earlier in the book (it came in the last third and thus felt anachronistic to me). Also, after so much story, the ending seemed to wrap up rather quickly.

If you like Amy Tan’s writing, and have some time, then I recommend THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT.

I got mine from Amazon, where you can get yours, too!

Review: “Fever” by Mary Beth Keane

Through Net Galley I received an ARC of “Fever”, the biography of “Typhoid Mary” by Mary Beth Keane. I had heard of Typhoid Mary, but didn’t know her true story. This novel, appropriate for YA or adults, gave an interesting and sensitive account of Mary Mallon’s life and experience as a healthy carrier of typhoid in New York in the early 1900’s.

Mary Mallon came to America from Ireland and worked her way from being a laundress to being a cook. She loved cooking and had a talent for it. At times she cooked for wealthy and prestigious families in New York and New England, but death followed Mary and she was accused of being a healthy carrier of typhoid fever. “Fever” follows Mary’s journey from New York to her confinement on North Brother Island in New York. Mary fights for her life back and her job and reputation. A large part of the story is Mary’s relationship with her significant other, Alfred, with whom she had lived for over twenty years before she was taken away.

I really enjoyed reading this historical biography. Turn of the century New York comes alive as Keane creates a compelling and sympathetic protagonist  in Mary Mallon.

Quick Children’s Review: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

I recently got this book through Net Galley to review, and let me say right off: it was not what I was expecting. I figured a Lois Lenski book from the 1940’s would be pretty happy and light, telling the story of a little girl who loves/eats/picks strawberries. Instead this book was a fascinating (at least to me) look at life a hundred years ago in Florida, centering on two very different farming families who are trying to survive. The Boyers have just moved to Florida and are trying to make a living farming, including growing strawberries. The Slaters have lived there for generations and are rough and tough. The two families clash and come together throughout the book. Birdie Boyer, the ten-year-old narrator, tells most of the story through her voice. We come to sympathize with Birdie and her family, but grow a sympathy for the Slaters as well.

I can imagine this book being used in the classroom, but, as an educator, I would strongly suggest that teachers be very familiar with it in advance. There are lots of teachable moments in this book; however, there are also some disturbing scenes, too (drunken neighbor, slaughtered animals, beaten schoolteacher, etc.). It reminded me a bit of the Little House books, where you might be reading along and then strangely fascinated by something horrifyingly true, but in my opinion  it was harsher. Some of the book is written in dialect which can be challenging for young readers, too.  I would recommend this book for those in 4th grade and up. I’d be curious about others’ thoughts on it, too.

Thanks, Net Galley, for my preview copy!