Friday, December 30, 2016

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Drawing on Queen Victoria’s diaries, which she first started reading when she was a student at Cambridge University, Daisy Goodwin―creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria and author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter―brings the young nineteenth-century monarch, who would go on to reign for 63 years, richly to life in this magnificent novel.
Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world.
Despite her age, however, the young queen is no puppet. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.
“I do not like the name Alexandrina,” she proclaims. “From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria.”
Next, people say she must choose a husband. Everyone keeps telling her she’s destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously.
On June 19th, 1837, she was a teenager. On June 20th, 1837, she was a queen. Daisy Goodwin’s impeccably researched and vividly imagined new book brings readers Queen Victoria as they have never seen her before.


I have yet to watch the PBS Series Victoria, but after reading this novel, I am intrigued and eager to see it. The author wrote both the screenplay and this book.

The novel spans the early life of Victoria, from becoming queen to her marriage to Prince Albert. The author did an exceptional job at portraying Victoria as young and impressionable, sometimes naive, too. I enjoyed the interaction and affection she shared with the Prime Minister who proved to be a strong ally and mentor, guiding and easing her into the political arena. 

I loved this book from start to finish. It is a coming of age story, one of perseverance and triumph, and one that portrays Victoria with all her imperfections and courage. For those who are fascinated with England's Royal Family or those who simply enjoy historical biographical tales, there is much within this book's pages to entertain. It definitely left me eager to read the next installment.

Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Ornatrix by Kate Howard

The passionate and elegantly dark tale of desire, obsession, and deceit by a talented new author
In this exquisitely dark debut, Kate Howard delivers a stirring tale on the cost of beauty, packed with suspense and period detail worthy of Kate Mosse, Jessie Burton, and Tracy Chevalier.
Cursed from birth by the bird-shaped blemish across her face, Flavia spends much of her life hidden from the outside world. Lonely and alienated even from her family, she sabotages her sister’s wedding in a fit of jealous rage and is exiled to serve in the convent of Santa Giuliana. Soon she finds that another exile dwells in the convent: a former Venetian courtesan named Ghostanza whose ostentatious appearance clashes with the otherwise austere convent and sparks gossip throughout the town. When Ghostanza claims Flavia as her ornatrix―her personal hairdresser and handmaid―Flavia is pulled into a world of glamor and concealment where admiration is everything and perfection is the ultimate, elusive goal. And she soon finds that with beauty in her grasp, in the form of the poisonous but stunning white lead cerussa, Flavia will do anything to leave her marked face behind.
Rich in description and character, Kate Howard’s stunning novel is painted against a vivid historical landscape with themes and characters relevant today, tackling issues of belonging, female identity, and the perception of beauty.

My Opinion
For those who follow me on my blog or social media, they know that I love Italian Historical Fiction. It is my favorite genre. But when it is on the dark side, with plenty of intrigue and grit, there can be no better story. I loved every element, every page, and every word of this well-plotted book.

First, there is an appealing protagonist who struggles to gain acceptance because of a large birthmark on her face. It ostracizes her from society. She lives in a convent and encounters the protagonist, a Venetian courtesan named Ghostanza who is obsessed with beauty and her secret recipe for cosmetics where the ingredients are sent to her via an apothecary in Venice. Flavia becomes Ghostanza's Ornatrix (maker of cosmetics). Of course, the make-up is mostly made of lead as was typical of the time, and Flavia soon notices how it ravages the face of her benefactor. Despite the risks, Flavia yearns to use the cosmetic on herself to hide her birthmark. 

This novel is a tale about the lengths and risks a woman will take order to be beautiful.  

I especially enjoyed the start of each new chapter or section that highlighted a quote or recipe about an old beauty trick or cosmetic. This fictional story taught me much about the beauty procedures of the past - hair styles, depilatory processes, plucking of hair above the forehead, face creams, lotions, and more including the cerussa paste for the face.

Beauty, murder, intrigue, vengeance, and a cast of fascinating and unpredictable characters along with a scintillating plot made this one of my favorite reads of 2016!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A sensational, eye-opening account of Emma Jung’s complex marriage to Carl Gustav Jung and the hitherto unknown role she played in the early years of the psychoanalytic movement.
Clever and ambitious, Emma Jung yearned to study the natural sciences at the University of Zurich. But the strict rules of proper Swiss society at the beginning of the twentieth century dictated that a woman of Emma’s stature—one of the richest heiresses in Switzerland—travel to Paris to "finish" her education, to prepare for marriage to a suitable man.
Engaged to the son of one of her father’s wealthy business colleagues, Emma’s conventional and predictable life was upended when she met Carl Jung. The son of a penniless pastor working as an assistant physician in an insane asylum, Jung dazzled Emma with his intelligence, confidence, and good looks. More important, he offered her freedom from the confines of a traditional haute-bourgeois life. But Emma did not know that Jung’s charisma masked a dark interior—fostered by a strange, isolated childhood and the sexual abuse he’d suffered as a boy—as well as a compulsive philandering that would threaten their marriage.
Using letters, family interviews, and rich, never-before-published archival material, Catrine Clay illuminates the Jungs’ unorthodox marriage and explores how it shaped—and was shaped by—the scandalous new movement of psychoanalysis. Most important, Clay reveals how Carl Jung could never have achieved what he did without Emma supporting him through his private torments. The Emma that emerges in the pages of Labyrinths is a strong, brilliant woman, who, with her husband’s encouragement, becomes a successful analyst in her own right.


I don't normally read non-fiction. I prefer fictionalized biographies, but Labyrinths by Catrine Clay was entirely entertaining and well worth reading. It is obvious the author conducted in-depth research into Emma's life, drawing from personal letters, diaries, and articles of the time. Together, she gives us an intimate glimpse into the turbulent life of this famous couple. I also learned a great deal about psychoanalysis and the interpretation of dreams, a subject that has always fascinated me. 

If you adore reading about stoic, intelligent, and courageous women, despite facing numerous adversities, then this book is sure to keep you as entertained as it did me. Well worth reading! Highly recommended!  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey by Anita Davison

Even the most glamorous stately houses hide secrets and lies from the past...

For fans of Downton Abbey, a thrilling and romantic mystery set in the glorious Cotswolds landscape.

Flora Maguire is now happily married to Bunny Harrington and living in Richmond when she receives an alarming telegram informing her of her father's tragic death in a riding accident at Cleeve Abbey.

Heartbroken, she and Bunny return to her former home, where she was Governess to Eddy, Viscount Trent, and her father was Butler to Earl Trent.

Flora’s intention was to bury him next to Lily, her mother, who sadly passed away when Flora was a small child.

Mystery surrounds the final resting place of Lily. No-one is willing to talk and, with her father now dead in a suspicious accident, Flora must once again strive alone to uncover hidden family secrets.


I am a great admirer of cozy mysteries, especially those that are easy to read but complex in plot, with wonderfully quirky characters that puzzle the reader, and that leaves the reader guessing until the very end. BETRAYAL AT CLEEVE ABBEY is one of those such books! I love, love, love this series!

Flora and her husband, Ptolemy, aka "Bunny" rush to Cleeve Abbey upon learning of her father's death. Cleeve Abbey is where Flora grew up under the love and guidance of her father who was the butler there. But when they arrive, they become perplexed with the circumstances of her father's death. At the same time, they learn of another strange mystery at the abbey - that of a missing young woman, whose absence is hauntingly reminiscent of what happened to Flora's mother decades earlier. 

Through encounters with other character, and the asking of many questions, Flora and Bunny encounter more puzzlement as they unearth new suspicions and dark secrets that ultimately unleash danger upon them. This charming cozy mystery has several subplots which spin at the same time as the investigation into Flora's father's death. Page by page, connections are revealed, tantalizing the reader to keep turning pages. The climax is intense as dark secrets are revealed which I never saw coming. 

I loved both Flora Maguire mysteries. Flora is a nicely developed character and her relationship with Bunny is oftentimes humorous as well as intense. The intricate plot with its many odd characters kept me turning the pages until the stunning end. I highly recommend this to everyone who loves historical fiction and who would like to venture into the cozy mystery genre. Highly recommended!    

This book follows close on the heals of author, Anita Davison's first book in the Flora Maguire series FLORA'S SECRET. Although I recommend you read both books, each one can be read independent of the other, and they do not have to be read in order. 



Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, August 1902

The town coach rumbled through countryside Flora had once found achingly familiar, but which now she barely recognized. How had her whole world become so distorted in a single day?

The telegram in her pocket crackled as Bunny’s arm encircled her hip, her cheek pressed against the rough fabric of his jacket.

‘How can Father be dead?’ she asked for the tenth time since they had set out from Richmond that morning. ‘He was only in his forties and was never ill. What could have taken him so suddenly?’

‘Has Lady Vaughn said nothing about how it happened?’ Bunny rested his lips against her forehead, his breath warm on her skin.

I can’t bear to look at it again, here please you read it.’ She withdrew the paper from her pocket and thrust it into his free hand and huddled closer, drawing comfort from the fresh linen and sandalwood smell on her husband’s clothes, her eyes squeezed shut to prevent welling tears.

Bunny retrieved his arm and repositioned his horn-rimmed spectacles. ‘Brief and to the point. I expect all our questions will be answered when we get there.’

He handed the slip of paper back, then smoothed her damp hair back from her brow, squashing the rim of the unflattering black hat Flora hated on sight but had hurriedly purchased to complete an outfit suitable for deep mourning.

‘I imagine so, although this reads more like an instruction than an invitation.’ She thrust the crumpled page back into her pocket. ‘Father’s twenty-five-years of loyal service as their butler reduced to a smattering of words on a sheet of cheap paper.’

‘That’s a little harsh, Flora. By their very nature telegrams do that.’ Bunny stretched his legs in the space between the buttoned seats. ‘It’s a pity we have no telephone, or we might have discovered more. Instead, you’ve allowed your imagination to make everything worse overnight.’

‘How could it be worse?’ she snapped, then clamped her lips shut. ‘I’m sorry, Bunny. None of this is your fault and I’ve been snappy ever since that telegram arrived. Besides, Lord Vaughn has yet to install electric lights at Cleeve Abbey, let alone a telephone.’

‘When the National Telephone Company installs an exchange in Richmond,’ Bunny pointed a finger at his chest, ‘I shall be among the first to subscribe. No more relying on boot boys being fast runners to deal with future crisis.’

‘I don’t doubt it.’ Flora hoped there wouldn’t be any more crises but chose not to voice the thought. She angled her head and smiled at him with bemused affection. ‘Modern innovations don’t move fast enough for my husband, do they?’

Bunny’s chuckle vibrated against her forehead, making her smile, though the ache in her chest remained as Lord Vaughn’s hot and airless carriage, which he had sent to collect them from the station, moved through the Gloucestershire landscape, where straggly grass-covered verges dotted with blood-red wild poppies rushed by. Fields of wheat stretched into the distance and rippled in a heat haze beneath the late afternoon sun.

‘It will be harvest time soon,’ Flora murmured into his shoulder. A trickle of perspiration slid between her shoulder blades beneath her gown as images of her childhood returned. In weather too hot for stockings and encumbered by earthenware pitchers of lemonade and sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, she had run through waist-high wheat stalks to where the harvesters worked. Her hair had always frizzed in the moist, heavy air, while wheat grains rubbed the skin raw between her toes. Endless days that seemed utter perfection now.

The weight of Bunny’s look made her fidget. ‘You’re staring at me again. Do I have soot smuts on my cheek? Not that it would surprise me, it was stifling in that train.’

‘You’re lovely as always.’ Bunny pushed his spectacles further up his nose with a middle finger. ‘I like to remind myself on occasion that you’re mine, though I knew we would be married the first moment I saw you on the deck of the SS Minneapolis.’

‘Did you really?’ Flora asked, enjoying their physical closeness. In the train they had shared a carriage with a sour-faced couple and their miserably silent brood of children, unable to exchange more than a brief handclasp, leaving Flora to endure her raw misery in solitude.

‘Really,’ Bunny insisted. ‘When you stroked Matilda’s engine, cowling as if it were a favourite dog, I took one look and everything slotted into place.’

‘I still cannot believe you named your motor car.’ Flora nudged him gently with an elbow. ‘We hadn’t spoken at that point.’

‘When I finally plucked up the courage to speak, you were so startled you banged your head on a support.’

‘You required courage in order to approach me? Surely not?’ she teased. ‘It was your motor car after all and I presumed to examine it without permission.’

‘Then you chastised me like a schoolmarm and laughed at my name. From that second, I was lost.’ He laced the fingers of his free hand into hers and squeezed. ‘I still am.’

Flora recalled her first sight of the handsome, blond young man with the devastating smile, so eager to show off his horseless carriage. She hardly listened to what he was saying, fearful that he would discover she was a governess whose employer had bought her a ticket on a first-class ship as guardian to her thirteen-year old son. That would have been enough for most young men of his class to avoid her for the rest of the voyage, but it had not taken long for her to discover Bunny was not like that at all.

‘I didn’t want you to take fright and leave,’ he continued. ‘That would have given me no excuse to engage you in conversation.’

‘You’re trying to make me feel better about Father, aren’t you?’ His ability to fill awkward silences with fascinating snippets was one of the endearing qualities she loved about him.

‘Yes, but every word is true. I hope I’ve distracted you slightly. I cannot bear to see you so distressed.’

‘You have, honestly.’ She squeezed his hand again. ‘I appreciate your coming with me. It means so much to me to have you here when I know how busy you are with Mr Batson and your motorcycles. It’s a bad time for you with the opening of his new factory.’

‘Sam was very understanding, and most of my work is complete now. Besides, where else would I be?’

‘At The Coach and Horses in Kew with your mother, perhaps? You could have supervised the rebuilding work as she wanted.’ She slanted a look up at him, conscious her hair had slipped from its pins and sat in a heavy, damp bun at the back of her neck. ‘She was quite angry about you leaving her wasn’t she?’

‘Don’t underestimate her competence. She likes to play the helpless female in case I expect too much of her. In truth she’ll enjoy holding court at the hotel to every builder, decorator and furnishing emporium in West London.’

He planted a brief, warm kiss on her cheek, then straightened as something caught his eye through the window. ‘I think we’ve arrived.’

Easing upright, Flora looked past him to a grey stone Jacobean mansion squatted on a rise and surrounded by a bank of ancient hedgerows manicured into submission by generations of gardeners. Wide, undulating lawns dotted with oak and elm trees that had probably been saplings during the Civil War, stretched down a gentle incline to a brook.

The horses swept through a pair of wrought-iron gates and down a tree-lined drive onto a circular forecourt in front of the house where they rolled to a gentle halt. A series of bangs and thumps followed by a scrabbling above was followed by a tilt of the bodywork, and then the footman opened the door.

Bunny unwound from Flora’s side and alighted, then turned to help her down. ‘Are you ready?’

‘No, and I don’t think I ever will be.’ The tensions that had twisted Flora’s gut for the last twenty-four hours increased, and she fought an urge to turn and run.

She wanted to go home, forget the awful telegram and imagine her father as she always thought of him; issuing curt and half amused orders to saucy footmen and chivvying maids like a benevolent headmaster.

Her hand trembled as she placed it in Bunny’s firm one. They approached the familiar double front door with its row of studs big as half crowns, the long iron bell pull attached to the stonework on one side.

‘Whatever happens, I’ll be here,’ Bunny nodded to a solid fa├žade with its row of mullioned windows. ‘We’ll face it together.’

Unconvinced, though more confident, Flora allowed him to lead her up the short flight of worn steps, where one half of the double doors had swung open silently as if of its own accord.

A small, vestibule opened into a wide hall, its walls panelled with pale oak linen-fold. A curved, cantilevered staircase wound up two stories to where a glass lantern ceiling spread daylight onto a marble tiled floor. The Tudor solidity of the exterior gave way to pastel-painted walls favoured by the early nineteenth century.

‘Quite a mixture of architectural styles,’ Bunny whispered at her shoulder.

‘You ought to see the kitchens. I think they still roast whole oxen on the fire down there,’ Flora replied.

She caught sight of a man in Vaughn livery who stood in the hall and her breath hitched, unprepared for the sharp pang of disappointment that he was not her father.

This man was of about the same height, but at least twenty years younger, a lanky, soft eyed man with thick blond hair darkened by pomade. His eyes were set close together and his nose was asymmetrical, as if he had broken it at some point.

His unremarkable face held none of the stoic politeness concealing private amusement her father had mastered. This man returned her look with an almost sullen expression. His clothes were the standard black for a butler but did not quite fit him. The material at the shoulders wrinkled as if the jacket was designed for a larger man and his shoes were dull, the laces loose.

Had they bought him new ones, or did he quite literally occupy a dead man’s shoes?

‘Lord and Lady Vaughn are in the sitting room, sir, madam.’ He threw open a door to his right without looking at either her or Bunny.

Flora couldn’t bring herself to respond, though her practical side told her she was being unreasonable, yet her throat burned with emotion as she stepped into the room.

Venetia, Lady Vaughn rose slowly from a gold brocade sofa and glided forward on a whisper of silk. ‘I’m so dreadfully sorry about Maguire, my dear.’ She took both of Flora’s hands in hers, her head tilted on one side in sympathy. ‘I never imagined this would be the reason for your return to Cleeve Abbey.’

Book 1 – Flora's Secret is out now:

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Book 2 – Murder at Cleeve Abbey is out now:

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Author Bio

Anita’s earlier novels are set in 17th Century England, with a family saga set in Exeter during the Monmouth Rebellion and a biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray during the English Civil War in Surrey. Her fascination with the revival of cosy mysteries made her turn to the early 1900’s for inspiration where she found Flora Maguire lurking. The series of five novels was taken up for publication by Aria Fiction, a digital imprint of Head of Zeus Publishing.

Flora's Secret is available here ( and Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey can be pre-ordered here: (

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.