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Carnegie’s Maid, Marie Benedict

Carnegie’s Maid, Marie Benedict

Carnegie's Maid: A Novel by [Benedict, Marie]

Genre:  Historical fiction

I like to read historical novels from time to time, usually with a romantic theme but not always. I saw this and it appealed, Marie has written a fictional account of what might have been….and it reads very true.

The 1800’s were a time of great poverty for so many, the divide between have and have not was vast, and whole families died of starvation, cold, illness for which they had little resistance. TBH for many at the top it was just considered part of Nature’s Order, a weeding out of the weakest. That sounds awful doesn’t it, but those who’ve never known poverty have no comprehension of what life is like that way.
Andrew Carnegie though has known poverty, but now as a man of wealth he’s in danger of losing that feeling of empathy, or the desire to help those in need which so motivated him.

I loved Andrew and Clara. She’s fiercely intelligent, and so loyal to her family, putting their needs before here’s always. she’s a rarity, and educated woman and Andrew is fascinated by her grasp of business matters.
Slowly they come to mean more to each other, though the book hold true to the period, there is nothing more than glances, occasional fingertip touches, and meetings which skirt, but only just, convention so could be explained away.
I loved the account of how Andrew grew his wealth, loved seeing how “new money” was still looked down upon by certain classes, that attitude still prevails in part here in UK!!
I loved how Andrew had the initial desire for wealth, to ensure his family were always secure but how he became seduced by it, wanting things he formerly scorned. Without Clara – or someone like her – what sort of man would he have become.

The ending is sad, so sad, and I had tears. If only…..but its not classed as a romance, so the ending fits perfectly even if I did want a HEA.
Its a lovely read, slow paced, so tragic in what we see of the families suffering, so difficult to get out of the trap of poverty.

Stars: 4.5, I really did want that HEA but the book is still a moving, interesting read despite that 😉
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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Mischance, Carla Susan Smith (Corsets and Carriages 1)

Mischance, Carla Susan Smith (Corsets and Carriages 1)

Mischance (Corsets and Carriages) by [Smith, Carla Susan]

Genre:  Romance, Historical.

I love Susan’s Vampire’s Promise series, and when I saw this I thought I’d like to read these books.

A historical trilogy its a very big departure from the supernatural world!

I’ve really enjoyed the first part and I’m looking forward to reading the next ones. Luckily there’s not too long to wait, book one is Jan 9th, book two Jan 31st and book three is scheduled for Feb 18, so not one of those where by the time the end part is released you’ve forgotten how it started.

I did find the beginning a bit slow, but it becomes relevant later and made sense once I got to that section, and TBH I can’t see any other way it could have been done 😉

Some great characters here, Rian makes a terrific lead, just that bit of tragedy and mystique about his past, and he’s a real swoon Hero. Charming, good looking ladies man but with honour and ethics, rich, courteous and polite and its clear he’s taken with Catherine from the start.

Catherine has been through such a lot, lost her father in a tragedy, which left her homeless, passed off to a cousin who was horrific to her. That kind of thing was very real in the past, when ladies were considered property of the nearest male relative. Short of actual murder most treatment was accepted, everyone turned a blind eye. Men were never in the wrong, always the ladies. Gah!! She hits lucky being found by Rian, it could so easily have ended another way.

Rian’s housekeeper ( who’s name I’ve forgotten ) and Tilly, one of the maids are good characters and fit well in the story.

And the real gem of the story, the deliciously immoral, selfish, ambitious Lady Isobel. A widow determined to be the next Mrs Connor, she’s not going to let someone stand in her way. She doesn’t care about Catherine, doesn’t give thought to Rian’s feelings, she’s just determined to get her own way. She’s got the funds through her marriage to do plenty of harm too.
Oh part two, come on, I really want to see what she’s planning!! Catherine has already shown she’s got backbone but Isobel is one determined lady. Let battle commence.

I’m not a great historical reader but I do love to occasionally dip into the genre, and this was one perfect read for me.

Stars: Five, some fabulous characters, and the promise of lots of drama to come. I adore books with lots of jealousy and dramatics.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

 

The Rose in Winter, Sarah Harrison

The Rose in Winter, Sarah Harrison

Genre: Romance

I remember reading Sarah’s Flowers of the Field maybe 35 years ago. I had three children under four and reading was a welcome escape from toddler-world.
It was my favourite book for a long while and got very dog eared from rereading.
I’ve read a couple more from Sarah since then, but not for a long while, and when i saw this is took me back to Flowers.

In many ways this story feels like my memories of that book, a story told in both past and present, Barbara reminds me of Thea, Molly of Thea’s sister – can’t recall her name, and Johnny feels so much like Jack, charismatic, always on the edge of excitement and danger.
Its a story that’s solid, dense, not a light, fluffy tale but one that’s full of intensity, full of characters that we’ve all met in life.
Its not fast paced, but moves forward slowly, bringing the reader along with the characters as we see events unfold.

I loved Barbara but at times wanted to say “take a chance, go for it”, and yet she’s a product of a different age, a time when choices were not so rich for women as they are now.
Johnny, well, I do so love the bad boys….and he’s a terrific one. you just know that behind the easy smile there’s so much going on, that he’s full of secrets. Its seems simple at first, Barbara likes him he likes her and they begin a romance, but of course things happen, and it made me wonder why? What was the reason behind the actions? Habit? Fear? Self sabotage?
Just when I thought the story was winding to a gentle happy close Sarah threw in a few more revelations, secrets long held, and an ending that – well, it’s not what I expected but given the way the story played out perhaps I should have.

Its not going to be a Flowers, constant re-reader for me, but it was a story I really enjoyed even if I would have liked some parts to go differently!
Its a book to lose yourself in a different age.

Stars: five, a solid story that I really enjoyed reading, but I’d have liked a slightly different ending 😉

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

A Marchioness Below Stairs, Alissa Baxter

A Marchioness Below Stairs,  Alissa Baxter

A Marchioness Below Stairs by [Baxter, Alissa]

Genre:  Romance, historical
Poor Isobel, married off to an elderly man, forced to break her engagement because her father wanted the money. Now she’s widowed and still holds Lord Fenmore in her heart. She’s hoping that maybe he could still have feelings for her, that if she can explain he may forgive her and they could have a fresh start. She’s in for a shock though, he’s just become betrothed to Miss Hamilton.
She’s with her mother when they visit cousin George, and everything goes wrong. Snow hits, staff are ill or can’t get in, Lord Fenmore and his fiancee arrive having had their journey curtailed by the weather and Mr Bateman seems determined to poke at her needling her constantly. She’s aware of his reputation, and yet as she comes to know the man she sees that maybe he’s been misjudged.

Its a typical Regency romance, all manners and front, hiding anything that could cause scandal, but with the added extra of Isobel not being a simpering miss, but someone determined to use her position and finances to help stop the slave trade.
There are some interesting discussions about how she can do this, why she can’t just wade in and distribute pamphlets, and the politics of the day added some gravitas to what could have been just a flippant, sweet romance.

The authors notes at the end are well worth reading, giving some interesting facts about the events in the book, and I really enjoyed learning more about them. Its easy to dismiss things as “just fiction” but good to remember they had their roots grounded in true events, which should still shock, should force us to ensure we treat everyone with respect.

Stars: four, a fun read with a serious side adding some depth to the story.

ARC supplied for review purposes by author.

Her Frozen Heart, Lulu Taylor

  #HerFrozenHeart  @panmacmillan

Her Frozen Heart, Lulu Taylor

Her Frozen Heart by [Taylor, Lulu]

Genre: Women’s fiction, Romance

My first read from Lulu Taylor and though the writing style was perfect for me I did think to begin that I wasn’t going to enjoy this story.
It seemed each time I got into what was happening in the life of Caitlyn or Tommy the chapter would leave them and go to the other one. It took a while before the two stories seemed to gel for me, I couldn’t see the connection and frustrated myself trying to work it out.

Once I really got into it though I loved it and slowly I found myself drawn into the main characters lives.
Loved Caitlyn, and so felt for her when her so called friend Sara began to stir up her memories of the past. she really was a first class bitch, and she was very true to type – I’ve met people like her, emotional vampires, always desperate for approbation and attention from their freinds, but never really happy, ready to use, discard, seduce anyone who can get them on the next rung of what they see as their right, regardless of who gets hurt.
Poor Tommy found someone like that intruding in her life, not by choice but foisted upon her, when her good nature made it impossible to say No.
I loved Tommy, she’d been through so much. I wanted to know Why was her mother so sniping, so sneering of Tommy’s past.
I admired her so much for her determination, her hard work in protecting those she saw as hers, her family and close freinds, she had a very hard job keeping things run during the war when everyone was facing shortages.

Its like another world reading about how they lived during the war and yet it happened, and that’s exactly how people managed to get by.
Talking to my grandkids recently we touched on the 3 day week, electricity rationing, petrol rationing during the 70s and they were astonished. Seems incredible to think of it now but that’s how it was, and like Tommy and family we just got on with life, managed as best we can.
I think its hard for those who haven’t experienced that kind of mass shortages, the time when flicking a switch doesn’t bring lights on, TV on etc.

Its a great read, not a heart stopping must-keep-reading book, but one where you can put it to one side, pick up a day later and within a few lines you’re back immersed in the world of the characters within the book. Now I know the story I don’t think its one I’d reread but its definately a five star read.
I loved the way the stories got closer to the end and then the surprises revealed when everything comes to a head.

Stars: five, a really enjoyable, satisfying read.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

The Curious Affair of the Witch of Wayside Cross, Lisa Tuttle

The Curious Affair of the Witch of Wayside Cross, Lisa Tuttle

Genre: Mystery & Thrillers,Sci Fi & Fantasy

This caught my eye as its set in Norfolk, my home county. I love a dip into a historical novel sometimes so asked for this.
It proved to be a fun read, fascinating mystery involving local legends.
What surprised me further was the main action takes place in a little village just outside Cromer, called Aylmerton.
Why the surprise? Well, I live in that village and so much of it is exactly as it is now, the shrieking pit legends, the Lions Mouth, the local church. It’s clearly an area the author is familiar with and that reality made it really fun to read.
There are lots of local legends here, the village is set on an area when the Romans used to stay – called of course – Roman Camp, and the whole Holt – Cromer ridge was formed during the ice age, so fascinating fossils and artifacts frequently turn up in fields and on the beaches. The West Runton mammoth was found here a few years back, its the largest almost complete skeleton found.
I’ve often wondered about the Shrieking pits, I’ve a few old books about Norfolk and they’re mentioned. I love Lisa’s explanation.
I love too the Jesperson and Lane duo, a great pair who complement each other well. I do think that maybe Miss Lane might have found life a tad more restrictive though….and I so wish the trains run as well now as they did then. Post too. I’ve a few old family letters and postcards, one always fascinated me, its from a great aunt telling my gran she’ll visit that afternoon. Can you imagine doing that now 🙂
On the whole though the historical setting worked really well, made me feel as though I was with them back in time. The little details really make a difference to the feeling of history found in novels.
I enjoyed the way what seem like disparate plots end up being linked, tied up neatly in an ending I didn’t foresee. I love being surprised like that! Its a gentle read, but very cleverly done, very accurate historically and well researched. The plants and poisons section was very interesting, I’m very interested in plants and natural remedies, and again this showed that Lisa had done her homework.
I think that’s what give novels an edge, when its clear that the details have been checked, not simply invented or left to chance as to accuracy.

It’s a story I really enjoyed, not a heart stopping suspense but a more gentle meander through history with a fascinating couple.

Stars: four, an interesting and fun read, with a special connection for me with where I live.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

By the Currawong’s Call, Welton B. Marsland

By the Currawong’s Call, Welton B. Marsland

By The Currawong's Call by [Marsland, Welton B.]

Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance

I loved this book. Amazingly moving, so very realistic.
When I read a romance I want something different, not just a cookie cutter A loves B story but something that creates emotion in me. this book delivers that.

I love an occasional dip into a historical novel and it really suits this genre, with the draconian laws against homosexuality. ( Sadly in many areas laws like this still exist, and even when areas are more enlightened its still a battle against some people ).
The setting was perfect, had that small town feel, the way religion and priests were so respected. the snippet when one of the ladies mentions here suspicions about Jonah’s sexuality to Matthew, and then apologises for talking about such matters to a man of the faith…..In little towns back then, as now, everyone knows everybody and rumours and gossip are what keeps life flowing.

Jonah and Matthew are both such great characters, Matthew so very innocent, shamed of how he feels towards men so he’s subjugated it for so long, ignored anything he feels, wrapped himself up in his work and God. He really is a staunch Believer, not someone I felt was paying lip service to religion, but God totally shaped his life. I loved his naivety, it was part of the person he was.
Jonah too has a calling, he’s been a policeman for a long time, worked his way up from the bottom and is so well respected by all the locals. He’s a part of the community, not just the man who upholds the law.

For a small community they’ve had a few issues, Jonah was shot a few years back, and in this book he deals with a serious fire, assaults, runaway horse and a murder….a real Hero. And yet he can’t be openly with the man he wants, they have to hide so carefully. If caught they face loss of both jobs, loss of standing in the community and not just that but a long spell of imprisonment. The way homosexuals were treated then they’d probably both get killed. Serious stuff.
It amazes me how people can forget all the good others do in their judgmental views. Even if they didn’t do anything particularly good, so long as they’re not harming any one so what if they want to be together?

Its a book that made me so sad, so angry, but which was so tender in the way the romance grew out of the blue. Jonah had spent time with lots of ladies but never really considered men sexually, though he knew a few from his police work and had a view that he’d turn a blind eye where he could. He had a good argument about the Bible and how we understand what’s written. It IS very conflicting, it Is subjective and interpretive.
Meeting Matthew and how he felt towards him came as a shock, and the relationship grew at a very natural for the time rate.
Sometimes that’s more tender, more romantic, more erotic even, that the more contemporary reads where it’s lust at first sight, and they’re hot and heavy before even getting to know each others names. A tiny touch, a careful glance can be so very sensual written properly, and this book is full of that.

Stars: five, Its a story to savour, a book to re-read later and had an epilogue I loved.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

The Last Hours, Minette Walters

The Last Hours, Minette Walters

The Last Hours by [Walters, Minette]

Genre: General fiction (adult), Historical fiction

I’ve read a few of Minette’s books, some I loved, some not so much, but i do love a Good historical novel and she writes settings and characters, that whether I enjoyed the story or not, feel so very real.
This one was just perfect, a real escape into the past, at times horribly sad, graphically real, and reminding me of just how unfair life was for the largest section of the population.

I’ve read a few books set in the Era of the Plague, the Black Death, a terrible time that decimated the population.
At that time disease was rife anyway, subject to poor nutrition people succumbed to what would be minor illnesses now, as they had so little resistance . Hygiene was poor too, making it easy for viruses and diseases to spread.

Lady Anne has turned around life on her husband’s estate, with measures such introducing dug out latrines rather than throwing excrement into the moat and urinating wherever they wanted. She introduced practices such as washing too, bodies and clothes, and slowly she introduced education. As they learned the villagers began to understand what she was practising, saw results in less sickness, better health.
Of course all her husband cared about was yields and taxes, and as the population became healthier those increased. Had he bothered to take note of her actions he would have fiercely disapproved and stopped them, but luckily he was typical in that he didn’t take not of how serfs lived, felt they were beneath his notice.

Sir Richard is a sorry reflection of how so many Lords were then (sadly how many would be now if they could get away with it!) Self important, cared for nothing and no-one beyond himself, and felt he was above reproach so long as his pet priest gave him absolution. He was paying him, the guy’s living depended on his goodwill so why wouldn’t he?
Its one of those things that’s always amazed me, that absolution wipes away all sins, leaving the perpetrator free to do them all over again, knowing the priest will remove them. That buying of “indulgences ” too is something that always made me cross.
People were so focused on God, and yet made his words fit the lives they wanted to live rather than vice versa. There have been some real atrocities perpetrated because of, and in the name of God.

Then along came the plague. Was it cast by God onto those who had sinned? For a largely ignorant populace its easier to believe that than to think they have nothing to fight it.

Lady Anne feels differently though, when it comes her husband is away, and she refused him entrance back to the place on his return. She had walled it off and brought the villagers inside the castle grounds to keep everyone safe.
He’s been to a demesne where the Plague is rife, many of the men who went with him are dead, and the few who have returned are ill. She knows if he’s allowed in the plague will spread fast. She asks tells him they have left stores for the men, and after a period without illness they can come in.
I’ve read real life accounts where villages closed themselves off like this, some because they wanted to keep the plague out, some because they wanted to keep the infection contained, knowing it was too late to save themselves, they either were going to get it or survive regardless.

There are some incredible characters here, from the courageous and intelligent Lady Anne, her horrible daughter Eleanor, the sly french steward Hugh, and some of the key characters among the villagers. Thaddeus is one of those, born a bastard, he has managed to stay free by way of some tacit advice from lady Anne. He’s wise enough to keep that quiet, and Sir Richard hasn’t yet noticed he has not sworn allegiance as the others all have to.

I enjoyed reading the day to day life, how they dealt with the threat from outside, managed the food, and later, how they had to decide what to do about the future, how long stores would last, whether it was safe to go outside and search for more, and of course what would happen to a country ravaged by plague, or whether it was just their corner of England that was infected.
Given only the top people ever traveled, with perhaps a steward and a few guards, most had no knowledge of the world outside their village. One five miles away could have easily been five hundred for most of them, they never left the estate of Devilish.

Its a story that shows characters in their true light, who is lazy, who is opportunist, who had the foresight to plan ahead. It also has some pretty graphic cruelty that was sadly so very real. The villagers were regarded as property, disposable to their Lords, they would be beaten and whipped at whim, the young girls subject to abuse and there was nothing they could do.

As the novel continues there are secrets to be revealed that put a different light on some things from the past, and of course affect the possible future.
Its a fabulous read, made me feel i was there with the characters. I liked too Lady Anne’s journal, her dilemma of just how much she could include, whether it would help others in the future if they did all die, or if it would put them in danger if they survived. After all with Sir Richard dead and no sons from their marriage, she was once more a Lady with no power, no say in her life, and likely to be married off elsewhere, with Devilish turned over to someone new.

The only thing I didn’t like was the end, its very, very abrupt, and until I reached the end I hadn’t realised there was another book to come. And not til next autumn….oh, I so hate waiting when I’ve got so engrossed in these peoples lives.

Stars: five,  a very worthy five star read, but i so wish the next book was here now…

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

An Unsuitable Heir, KJ Charles

An Unsuitable Heir, KJ Charles

An Unsuitable Heir (Sins of the Cities) by [Charles, KJ]

Genre:LGBTQIA, Romance

KJ Charles is my favourite m/m author, and I love taking a dip back in time with her books.
This trilogy has been another fun read, and what amazes me is when in this final book little clues and things I recall from the previous two make sense now, plot lines that were secondary now fit in as major ones.

I love reading and am always in awe of just how cleverly authors wrap up a story, tie in lose ends, put everyone in the place I want them to end, when halfway through the final book I still can’t see how it can be done. This trilogy has been like that with each book.

It was good to catch up with Clem once more, I love him, so gentle and unassuming but so Right all the while. His character seems like he’d be background and yet he has an inner strength to him that others lean on. He’s a genuinely kind and caring man.
Julian from book two is here as well. Oh how I disliked him at the start of that but loved him by the finish, and here he’s the same slick character, incredibly clever, formed by his upbringing (or lack of it), but now with Nathaniel he can work at a living that doesn’t mean betraying the trust of others.
I love when that happens, he wasn’t happy at what he was doing, forced into it by circumstance and now with help he can find a way forward to be proud of. That past though, the skills he learned help him here, well, help him aid Mark, Pen and Greta anyway.
Pen and Greta, what a great pair, relied on each other for so long and have struggled so hard.
Life could be incredibly tough for people in the past, and in KJ’s books some of that comes over, making me look at why people do what they do, at the struggles they have, and for anyone like Pen who doesn’t fit the traditional roles society believes in, life gets really complicated. Greta understood him, few others did til Mark came along, and quiet, watchful Mark sees what Pen needs.
Mark, he’s been in earlier reads, and always seems the strong, silent type and slightly detached from issues. You get the feeling though that once his mind is set, once he decides to help he won’t stop till all avenues are exhausted. But for poor Pen the result Mark needs for his friends, what need to come out into the open to save them, is the one thing that will emotionally destroy Pen.
That tears Mark up, he can’t let more people die, and yet how can he condemn Pen to life in the public eye where his differences will be mocked, ridiculed and tear him apart?
I just couldn’t see how it could all work out, but luckily i’m just a reader and KJ has the perfect solution for everyone, wrapped up in a very neat way.

 

Stars:Five, a clever end to what seemed like an insurmountable problem and a trilogy that will join  the keepers.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

The Reunion, Sara Portman

The Reunion, Sara Portman

The Reunion (Brides of Beadwell) by [Portman, Sara]

Genre: Historical, Romance

I’ve read several contemporary and fantasy romances recently, so wanted something different to clear my mind. I’m not a huge historical reader but sometimes its nice to just dip back in time to a period with very different priorities not today’s ones.

This is Sara’s debut novel and its was a fun read. I look forward to the next one too, a snippet was at the end of this and its sounds another interesting read.

I like strong heroines, ones who have a mind of their own, and back then that wasn’t encouraged. Ladies were to sit prettily and be quiet, to take an interest in gentile pursuits like embroidery and afternoon teas…Emma isn’t like that and so far she’s avoided the need for a husband. She has a fiancee though, but after one disastrous meeting four years ago, following which he disappeared and was presumed dead, she’s content living with her aunt and uncle.
Then her fiancee turns up doing the rounds of the London Society circuit. Gossip has it he’s after a wife.
Emma is incensed, she doesn’t want to marry him anyway, doesn’t really want to marry anyone and after the scandal of him leaving their betrothal like that she’s been ignored by society anyway. Now after ruining her reputation he’s back, and ignoring the fact they are betrothed. Looks like he’s happy to heap more scandal n her head and she’s furious, she’s determined to meet him, give him a price of her mind and break the engagement.

John had reasons for leaving, is annoyed that he let his fury at his father blend over into rudeness to Emma, but remembers her as a mousy, quiet teen and assumes she’s married since he left. Now he wants someone with strength of character to marry, who can bring his sister into society and give her the kind of life she should have had if their father wasn’t such an a rse.
All he gets though are simpering, brainless misses, who want nothing more than to be his duchess and the prestige it will bring them. Then he meets someone who’s angry at him, answers him back, sparks off him and he’s intrigued. Even more so when he learns who she is. she’s perfect he thinks, but Emma has other ideas.

Its a fun read, typical Society gossip, where what you are seen to do is far more important than what you actually do. I loved Emma and John, although the man was blind with prejudice in his attempt to not be like his father…Gah, I wanted to smack him at times, shake him and say ” c’mon, what are you thinking Man!!”
I loved the other characters too, his friend Hugh, sharp wit on that man, and his sister Charlotte, who has such a massive transition in her life. She seems like an ungrateful, surly teen when we first meet her, but once we see things from her side – well, I had sympathy for her.
Then there’s Emma’s friend Lucy, vicars daughter who’d been Emma’s best friend since childhood. She’s the subject of the next book, and thats sounds another fun and spicy read. A great group, leading to a sweet fun romance with some surprising sensuality and erotic moments.
If you want a hot, sensual historical, with solid characters and a genuine period feeling you’ll enjoy this.

Stars: Five, its not a heart-stopping, pulse thumping romance, but a gentler period meander with some intensely sensual moments rarely found in the genre.

ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers

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