New Read: The Mistress of Blackstairs

Midway through my glorious holiday to Rome, and having finished Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor, I found the historical mystery The Mistress of Blackstairs by Catherine Curzon calling to me – I dived in hoping for another light and fun read to enjoy in the sun.

Back in 18th century Covent Garden, we meet Madam Moineau, the mysterious and alluring, masked mistress of Blackstairs, an establishment offering a good time and beautiful companions for some of the finest clients in London. Beneath the fine dresses, make up and masks though, Moineau hides a dark past that she wishes to remain hidden. This is all to be threatened in the winter of 1785 by the appearance of two men: first, the charming rogue artist Anthony Lake and second, the cold Viscount Edmund Polmear. Finding themselves both up against the fearsome Polmear, Lake and Moineau’s lives are to become inextricably entwined for good or ill.

Moineau, or Georgie as we learn her true identity is, has been through a terrible ordeal after which she has worked hard to build a new, safe life at Blackstairs. Now ferociously protective and independent, she finds it hard to let anyone close and with the return of Polmear, the instigator of her ordeal, she raises her defences even higher – when she first sees him again the fear was palpable. But could her heart also be under threat from the handsome Anthony Lake? Anthony has recently returned from Europe on a mission to find his daughter and revenge the murder of her mother. Feckless in the past, he is now determined to put things right. I really liked Georgie and Anthony, and I was totally invested in them and their struggles.

Catherine Curzon is a new author for me and my request of this book was a bit of a whim, purely based on the sound of the premise – boy am I pleased I followed my whim. I thought Curzon did a wonderful job of bringing alive 18th century London, with well rounded characters, a dark, twisting mystery and a will they/won’t they romance. While the romance was a larger part of the book than I had expected, I was enjoying the mystery and the characters so much I was happy to go with it. In the future, I would be interested in reading more by Catherine Curzon.

Overall, The Mistress of Blackstairs was exactly what I hoped it would be: a light historical mystery that was a real, easy page turner for my holiday and flight home. Good read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Catherine Curzon?

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New Read: Class of ’59

Earlier this year, I really enjoyed nostalgic mystery Indiana Belle by John A. Heldt. So much so I didn’t wait long to pick up this, Class of ’59, the next book in his American Journey series. Which also nicely ticks off the ‘title with a number in numbers’ for the What’s in a Name 2017 challenge.

In summer 2017, Mary Beth settles down for a quiet morning on her vacation in a family friend’s old mansion house in Southern California. Her peace is broken when she discovers a 1950’s attired trespasser in the garden, who seemingly appears and disappears into thin air. That trespasser is in fact Mark, the resident of the same house but in 1959, who had unwittingly time travelled through a tunnel in the basement. Before long they realise the miraculous opportunity they have, so Mary Beth and her sister Piper travel back to Mark for a journey of love, danger and adventure in the age of sock hops, poodle skirts, drive-ins and jukeboxes.

Heldt has chosen to split the narration of this book between four characters, rather than just one or two which I have experienced in his previous books. We see the more adult perspective of the 1950s through the point-of-views of the brokenhearted Mary Beth and all-round good guy Mark. I found both likeable characters and they suited each other well, although for me their relationship did have a slight insta-love feel to it. At the same time we experience the more exciting teenage scene of the 1950s, through the on/off angsty teen relationship between Piper and Mark’s brother Ben. I found these two less endearing but no less interesting.

Again I thought the author, Heldt, brought alive the time and place really well, with the school prom, lovers’ lane, college dinners, fashion, music and a touching encounter with an iconic, blonde bombshell. However even though I enjoyed seeing both aspects of this nostalgic age, I found myself less attached to the characters as I had to spread my attention between four of them and two blossoming relationships, in what is a relatively short novel. For that reason, I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as the previous, Indiana Belle.

That said though, overall, I found the Class of ’59 was an enjoyable time travel romance, which was a light escapist read for my overworked brain. I still look forward to reading more of Heldt’s novels Okay read.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any recommendations of other books set in the 1950s?

What’s in a Name 2017 – 4/6 (a title with a number in numbers)

New Read: My Cousin Rachel

I have been meaning to read more by Daphne du Maurier for some time (my last was Jamaica Inn back in 2015!), and after getting some feedback from other bloggers, it was pretty conclusive that I should read My Cousin Rachel next. Started back in March, it wasn’t till the sun emerged in May that I found myself really in the mood for it.

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised solely by his older cousin, Ambrose; a resolutely single man that delights in Philip as an heir. But as a young man, his cosy world is shattered when Ambrose is forced by ill health to leave Cornwall for the warmth of Florence. While there he falls deeply in love and marries – and then dies suddenly. Leaving Philip grief-stricken at his loss, and racked by jealousy and suspicion of his cousin’s widow, Rachel. Despite himself, on meeting each other, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet… might she have had a hand in his beloved Ambrose’s death?

This is the question that Philip, the narrator, and so in turn us, the reader, comes back to again and again. It a rollercoaster ride for us, as Philip tries to grapple with the prejudices he holds; the damning rumours he has heard and the changing opinions around him, while trying to tally that with how different Rachel seems in the flesh. Is she a money grabbing, man-eater? Or is she the wronged widow? Personally I always felt there was something not quite right about her.

However we, the readers, only ever get to see Rachel through the eyes of Philip, but is he a reliable narrator? He clearly loved his cousin Ambrose very much, and vice versa, however the secluded, privileged bubble that they lived in has allowed Philip to grow up naïve, impulsive and spoilt. Do his suspicions simply come from his jealousy of having to share Ambrose’s love? On the other hand, does Rachel’s strong, emotional affect on him stem from the fact he is uneducated in love and women? I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him! Especially when the advice and opinion of his trusted godfather on Rachel does a full 360 in a matter of weeks too.

Around these two imperfect characters and their intense relationship, Daphne du Maurier has beautifully weaved another captivating, gothic mystery, which is full of secrets, rumours, tension and passion. All set  against the stark, atmospheric coast of Cornwall, that du Maurier loved so much and which she can describe in such vivid, realistic detail. I may have taken a while to be the mood for this book; once I was though I was swept away, gripped firm and finished reading it in a matter of a few days! Might have been quicker if I didn’t need to eat and sleep!

Overall, I thought My Cousin Rachel was a wonderfully atmospheric read, right up there with the pure quality of Rebecca, which is a very strong contender for my top ten reads of the year. I look forward to reading even more from du Maurier – I already have Frenchman’s Creek and The House on the Strand on my to-be-read pile. Great read.

Have you read this? What do you think I should read next?

New Read: Monstrous Little Voices

After hearing such wonderful things from my blogging friend Lynn, I simply had to get my hands on a copy of Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World, a short story collection edited by David Thomas Moore. And during a particularly busy time for me, I picked this up hoping it would be a good escape when I got a free minute.

This collection is made up of five Shakespearian-inspired short stories written by Jonathan Barnes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Emma Newman, Foz Meadows and Kate Heartfield. While each story is written by a different author with its own style, focus and characters, they are all linked by the same setting and an over arching story. The Mediterranean is being torn apart by war as every lord from Navarre to Illyria is embroiled in the fray for the throne of Tuscany. This human trouble has even boiled over into other worlds bringing witches; the fairy court; a bewitched Scottish knife; Prospero, the feared Sorcerer, and William Shakespeare himself into the fight too.

The first story, Coral Bones by Foz Meadows reunites us with Miranda from The Tempest. She has found no happiness in her new life in Ferdinand’s palace and hatches a plan with her childhood friend Ariel to escape forever. The second, The Course of True Love by Kate Heartfield sees Pomona, a witch, and Vertumnus, a fairy, united as pawns in the strife between Duke Orsino and Oberon, King of the Fairies. The third, The Unkindest Cut by Emma Newman follows Lucia de Medici as she tries to fulfil the prophecy that she will marry her cousin Francesco and together bring peace to the land, however the sorcery Prospero seems to have other ideas.

The fourth, Even in the Cannon’s Mouth by Adrian Tchaikovsky is a magical farce that brings together characters from All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Twelfth Night and As You Like It in a disastrous mission to bring an end to the war. Then the fifth and final story, On the Twelfth Night by Jonathan Barnes sees things come to head and start to bleed over into other worlds, including one where William Shakespeare didn’t even become a playwright. Seen through the eyes of his wife Anne. I wasn’t a huge fan of the second person narrative of the last story, but otherwise I thought style, plot and characters were brilliant in all these stories.

Overall, I thought Monstrous Little Voices was a wonderful collection of stories with elements of war, romance, magic and deception, and although they were written by different, modern authors all these stories (bar the last perhaps) did feel like they could have been Shakespearian tales. This was also a perfect read to squeeze in when I had a moment or two. Great read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any recommendations for other great Shakespearian inspired stories or books?

New Read: Indiana Belle

Back in 2014, I read nostalgic romance The Mine from John A. Heldt’s Northwest Passage series. Being at the end of a long, tiring term, I was in the mood for another cosy, easy read, so I picked up Heldt’s Indiana Belle; a novel from his American Journey series.

In this book we meet a doctoral student Cameron Coelho, from Rhode Island, just as he opens a life-changing package from Indiana. Within he finds more than the private papers of society editor Candice Bell, that he hoped would help him with his dissertation on the roaring twenties, but he also finds enclosed a photograph of the beautiful Candice and clues to a century-old mystery. With the help of Geoffrey Bell, the “time-travel professor,” Cameron steps back to 1925 to the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz in search of love and answers.

Unlike Joel from The Mine, Cameron is an instantly likeable character as he is a kind, honest and down-to-earth chap (although he perhaps chuckles a little too much). However he is also a lonely soul. He has a few friends but no close family, after being orphaned very young and the recent deaths of his grandparents who raised him. This leaves him free of responsibility and ties to travel back in time on a mission of importance for Professor Bell, as well as a taking chance to meet the bewitching figure in the photograph. So charmed is Cameron with Candice that he desperately grapples with his conscience on whether to right a terrible wrong, when it could have dire implications for the future.

Back in 1925, Cameron travels to the rural town of Evansville, Indiana. Candice’s hometown where she is the well-known editor of the society column in the Evansville Post; she has ambitions for the crime desk though. I thought Heldt brought alive the time (one of my favourite periods) and place well – I liked the addition of the cloche hats and beaded dresses; the local drugstore selling ‘special elixirs’ and just over the river a thriving ‘speakeasy’. Under the friendly veneer though there is some tension brewing with Klan marches and an impending murder. I found myself very easily lost in it all.

Overall, I thought Indiana Belle was a highly readable, nostalgic mystery, that has nice touches of time travel and romance. In fact, I think it had all the elements I enjoyed about The Mine and none of the niggles. I look forward to reading more of Heldt’s novels. Good read.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any recommendations of other books set in the 1920s?

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Literary Couples

blog-top-ten-tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. If you love books and making lists, this is the meme for you! This week’s topic is:

All About Romance Tropes/Types

I am not a huge romance fan as a genre in its own right, but there are a fair few romances I have enjoyed within other genres. So here are my top ten favourite literary couples (listed alphabetically):

~ 1 ~

Bathsheba and Gabriel
Far From the Madding Crowd

I had to pick poor Gabriel who faithfully loves Bathsheba through out this harrowing tale and finally she wises up.

~ 2 ~

Daenerys and Drogo
A Song of Ice and Fire

In this bloody, fantasy epic these two show that even in an arranged marriage real affection can grow.

~ 4 ~

Eowyn and Faramir
The Lord of the Rings

I could have picked another more well known couple from this epic, however I have particular soft spot for these two and their overlooked romance.

~ 5 ~

Emma and Knightly
Emma

I had so many couples from Austen’s wonderful books to choose from – I went for these two as it is so funny and sweet when they finally realise they have loved each other all along!

~ 5 ~

Dracula and Mina
Dracula

How could I not choose these two when their love has outlasted hundreds of years and even death?!

~ 6 ~

Katniss and Peeta
The Hunger Games

While I am not all that keen on the love triangle in this series – I am of the firm belief it should always have been these two together.

~ 7 ~

Lupin and Tonks
Harry Potter

There are also many couples I could have picked from this long series, however I have a soft spot for these two as they had to overcome a lot to get together and then it all has such a bittersweet ending.

~ 8 ~

Roland and Susan
The Dark Tower

A young, innocent love affair that has heart breaking and lasting consequences. Roland would never have been the same without her.

~ 9 ~

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet

No literary couples list would be complete without Shakespeare’s infamous and ill-fated star-crossed lovers of Verona.

~ 10 ~

Tris and Four
Divergent

Refreshingly this young adult series doesn’t have a love triangle and these two are sweet together, even when they disagree.

Who are your favourite literary couples? Also, please link your post in the comments if you have taken part in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic too.

New Read: The Mine

The Mine

The days are dull and cold, and the nights are dark and frosty. Once my day of Christmas carols, buying presents, and cooking hot dinners is over. I am ready to tuck myself in bed with a comforting read. With this in mind I picked up The Mine by John A Heldt hoping for a cosy mystery.

The Mine introduces us to Joel Smith who in mere weeks from graduation takes a short road trip to Montana with a college friend. Curiosity gets the better of Joel while there and ignoring his friend’s protests Joel enters a deserted, old mine. After an encounter with a snake and a bump on the head Joel manages to find his way out of the mine only to find it is not 2000 anymore but instead he has been taken back to 1941. I must admit I was not expecting time travel when I started this but it was a pleasant surprise. Joel must now find a place within this strange time, handle the knowledge of the looming war and try to not alter the future.

Joel the protagonist of The Mine is not an instantly likeable character. He comes across as cocky and spoilt. The travel back in time does him some good though. As he encounters the simpler and more innocent 1940s his character softens. To reveal a kind and humble side to him. In the 1940s Joel is taken in by a kind couple and makes good friends with a group of college students. I liked meeting all these characters. My only issue would be that Joel seemed to come to terms with his situation and blend into his new life a little too easily. There was very little upset over the loss of his old life, friends and family which I thought would be a more natural reaction.

The Mine is the first novel I have read by John A Heldt. I was contacted by the author about this novel and decided to take a punt on it. I went into reading this thinking it was a mystery. While there is the mystery of how Joel time travels the novel felt more like a historical romance; albeit more recent history. I liked the setting though. Heldt has created a nostalgic and charming setting inhabited by interesting characters. The Mine might not have been a mystery but it was a cosy and slow paced read which was easy on a tired mind.

The Mine is a nostalgic romance with a pinch of mystery and time travel. You may enjoy this if you have an interest in 1940s America. Since finishing this I realised it is part of a series. I am not sure I will read more. Okay read.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Recommendations for other 1940s literature?