Thursday, December 1, 2016

Penhaligon's Attic by Terri Nixon

Available from Piatkus 1st December 2016


1910. Anna Garvey arrives in Caernoweth, Cornwall with her daughter and a secret. Having come from Ireland to take up an inheritance of the local pub, she and her eighteen year-old daughter Mairead are initially viewed with suspicion by the close-knit community.
Anna soon becomes acquainted with Freya Penhaligon, a vulnerable girl struggling to keep her family business afloat in the wake of her grandmother's death, and starts to gain the trust of the locals. As their friendship deepens, and Freya is brought out of her shell by the clever and lively Mairead, even Freya's protective father Matthew begins to thaw.
But when a part of Anna's past she'd long tried to escape turns up in the town, she is forced to confront the life she left behind - for her sake and her daughter's too . . .


This story begins with Freya Penhaligon, beloved child of Isabel, her Spanish mother accustomed to a more affluent life, and her alcoholic father, Matthew. Freya chooses to see the best of her parents and adores them equally, but matters come to a head one night on a stormy beach and Isabel takes Freya away.
The reader isn’t told exactly what happens to Freya during her years in London, but she returns to Cornwall in her later teens to live with her reformed father, and widowed grandfather, Robert, in his second-hand bookshop with the charming name of Penhaligon’s Attic.
Terri Nixon is an expert at portraying human emotions, from the guilt-ridden agony of past actions to requited affection and mutual attraction. There are plenty of all these in this story, which takes another path with the arrival of Anna Garvey and her daughter Mairead from Ireland. Gossip in the closed Cornish community paints an unflattering picture of this stranger in their midst, maybe because her reclaiming the local pub puts several noses out of joint.
To reveal more would tell too much of the story which I feel readers need to experience for themselves, however, I will add that although many things improve for some people in this coastal village, there are further tragedies which descend on others when the details about Anna are revealed.
Again, Ms Nixon, whose social and  idiomatic knowledge is very impressive, has brought into vivid perspective how a small Cornish community in the early 20th Century struggled to love and survive, with all the character, prejudices and secrets that make people so fascinating. A very satisfactory read.

Murder by Ghostlight by J C Briggs

1850: When Charles Dickens discovers the corpse of an actor on the empty stage of a Manchester theatre, the renowned author himself becomes the number one suspect. But with the help of colleague and trusted friend Superintendent Jones of Bow Street, the two set out to find the identity of the real murderer. The search takes them into the slums of Manchester and to the fog-bound streets of London, where some startling discoveries are made and Dickens's life is threatened before this unusual case reaches its ultimate and thrilling climax.  


Charles Dickens is portrayed in this unusual murder mystery as a man tortured by the deprivations of his past and the continuing struggles of those in the present. He is deeply affected by his first night in the police cells, described by his friend, Elizabeth who sees him as being always alone, walking off into the distance as he waves his hat.

Dickens is portrayed as famous and widely read, but also a mild, unassuming man falsely accused of the murder of someone he didn’t much like, but about whom he feels he has to be open and honest from the beginning.  He’s also less worried about himself, than with a young actress who went missing at the same time.

The descriptions of late Victorian Manchester are interspersed with anecdotal examples of the tragedy of life in the slums. These give an authentic atmosphere of the time, however I found these were a distraction form the main plot, as were the many references to Dicken’s books, as well as literary works of the time as the two men vied with each other as to how many quotes they could come up with.

Dickens himself is a quiet, serious character determined to find out the truth whom readers cannot help but empathise with. An interesting detective novel with an unusual slant and worth sticking with. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Secrets of Westborough Hall by Felicity Knight

Book Summary 

In 1936, Thea Cavendish has a rude awakening when she discovers the death of her father in the newspaper and the double life he led. Banned from his funeral, she secretly attends his internment, where she meets her half-brother, the new Earl of Westborough, Piers Devine. She is welcomed into the Devine Family by Piers but is shunned by the Dowager Countess Clarissa Devine. Over time a series of events lead her into the unravelling of her past origins, all played out against the backdrop of World War II. Thea's happiness will be ultimately defined by what she discovers when her own family give up their secrets...


From the moment I opened this book, I was hopelessly hooked. It is a wonderfully written family saga in the vein of Downtown Abbey, but in this case, it truly is as good or better than the award winning television series. 

It opens with Thea who live alone with her mother. One morning, she opens the newspaper to see a picture of the man she has always known as her father. It is a death announcement. What is even more shocking, the obituary lists him as the Earl of Westborough! It is then she learns that her father had been living a double life with two different families - her mother his mistress, and she a bastard child.  
The family lawyer reveals the truth and Thea and her mother are well provided for, but she secretly is intrigued by her father's other family. It is then she goes to the funeral and meets her half-brother, the new Earl, Piers. What follows is a tale of love, forgiveness, and acceptance, with many more secrets and difficulties yet to come. 

This was beautifully written, captivating in all its aspects, with larger than life characters who are so real, I felt I had known them for years. Each character has their own journey, their own difficulties to overcome, and this is what makes the story such a page turner. 

Bar none - this is one of the best historical family sagas I have ever read!  Read it and see for yourself.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Warrior of the People by Joe Starita

On March 14, 1889, Susan La Flesche received her medical degree―becoming the first Native American doctor in U.S. history. She earned her degree thirty-one years before women could vote and thirty-five years before Indians could become citizens in their own country.
By age twenty-six, this fragile but indomitable Indian woman became the doctor to her tribe. Overnight, she acquired 1,244 patients scattered across 1,350 square miles of rolling countryside with few roads. Her patients often were desperately poor and desperately sick―tuberculosis, small pox, measles, influenza―families scattered miles apart, whose last hope was a young woman who spoke their language and knew their customs.
This is the story of an Indian woman who effectively became the chief of an entrenched patriarchal tribe, the story of a woman who crashed through thick walls of ethnic, racial and gender prejudice, then spent the rest of her life using a unique bicultural identity to improve the lot of her people―physically, emotionally, politically, and spiritually. 

A Warrior of the People is the moving biography of Susan La Flesche’s inspirational life, and it will finally shine a light on her numerous accomplishments.

The author will donate all royalties from this book to a college scholarship fund he has established for Native American high school graduates.


I am always thrilled to discover a woman of history who broke barriers and rose above insurmountable odds to achieve a lofty goal even in today's terms. Susan La Flesche did just that. Despite all her amazing achievements, little is known about the details of her life. 

Author Joe Starita has conducted intricate research to recreate the path of this wonderous woman's life. He portrayed her honorably, in a way that showed off her fortitude and determined intelligence. She was a woman dedicated to her people and to improving their lives. Teacher, healer, scholar, wife, mother, and physician, she forged through barriers to become the first American Native woman to become a doctor. 

Definitely worth reading - it will inspire and motivate you! 

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Witches of New York by Ami Mckay

In the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, comes a new novel from historical fiction maven Ami McKay that transports readers to the heart of Victorian New York, where three witches practice their craft—to the delight of some—but at their own peril.
Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply.
New York in the spring of 1880 is a place alive with wonder and curiosity. Determined to learn the truth about the world, its residents enthusiastically engage in both scientific experimentation and spiritualist pursuits. Séances are the entertainment of choice in exclusive social circles, and many enterprising women—some possessed of true intuitive powers, and some gifted with the art of performance—find work as mediums.

Enter Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair. At their humble teashop, Tea and Sympathy, they provide a place for whispered confessions, secret cures, and spiritual assignations for a select society of ladies, who speak the right words and ask the right questions. But the profile of Tea and Sympathy is about to change with the fortuitous arrival of Beatrice Dunn.

When seventeen-year-old Beatrice leaves the safety of her village to answer an ad that reads "Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply," she has little inclination of what the job will demand of her. Beatrice doesn't know it yet, but she is no ordinary small-town girl; she has great spiritual gifts—ones that will serve as her greatest asset and also place her in grave danger. Under the tutelage of Adelaide and Eleanor, Beatrice comes to harness many of her powers, but not even they can prepare her for the evils lurking in the darkest corners of the city or the courage it will take to face them.


The Witches of New York is a novel about three mystical women who practice the art of witchcraft in a small teashop in the city of New York during Victorian period in the late 1800's. Between the three they offer seances, tarot card readings, midwifery, love spells, and herbal cures, as was popular during the era. There are also ghosts and magic sprinkled throughout.  

There is a strong magical element to this story, which may push historical fiction purists beyond their comfort zone. But if you can allow your imagination to believe, then I promise you will be charmed! Along with the white/good magic, there is also some darkness and evil in the form of a jealous husband and a religious zealot bent on making their lives miserable. The middle portion of the book was a little slow, but at the 2/3rd mark, the story definitely picks up. The author truly did a marvelous job at recreating the New York of the times with its culture, norms, and sights and sounds.

Ami McKay is a lovely writer. Her heroines are always strong and assertive. The storyline is both dark and pleasant with a touch of mystery and paranormal. Definitely a charming, fun read!