Author Spotlight – Kate Morton


mortonDo you like secrets? Author Kate Morton is a master at telling tales that revolve around secrets. I found my way to Morton’s work with her second novel, The Forgotten Garden, which is one of those books that just transfixes you and everything else fades to gray while you read. After that, I went back and read her debut, The House at Riverton, and was just as enthralled; that experience has been repeated with each new book she’s published. Morton is set to publish her sixth book this year – September/October in Australia & New Zealand, and October in the U.S. I just got my hands on an advanced reading copy of that new book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, and thought I’d share my fondness for the author here.

On her website, Morton writes:

“I started writing because I wanted to recapture the joy of reading as a child. As soon as I learned that the black marks on white pages were doorways, and that it was within my power to go through them (and the back of a wardrobe) whenever I chose to, I was hooked. I read everything that I could get my hands on and could usually be found hiding in the bough of one of the avocado trees in our garden, book in hand. I’m still chasing that feeling of complete immersion, which makes the real world disappear.”

It seems Morton’s reading experiences as a child have informed her writing as an adult, given the addictive nature of her books. Storytelling is an art, and Kate Morton’s work is a masterful example of the art form at its best. Much of her work reminds me, in its basest form, of the Gothic novels I read when I was a child – Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, for example – but Morton has taken the form to a new level. Her stories are typically told across time and in multiple voices, with meticulously researched history, and memorable character development. I encourage you to add one of Morton’s books to your summer reading list.

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The House at Riverton – Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy this debut novel set in England after the First World War. The “war to end all wars” signaled a major change in the lives of England’s aristocracy, and Morton chronicles the trials and tribulations of one family buffeted and bound by secrets, tragedy, and misunderstanding.

 

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The Forgotten Garden – The first Morton book that hooked me on the author. A young woman comes into an unexpected and shocking inheritance from her beloved grandmother, and travels across the world to discover long-buried secrets that will change her life forever.

 

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The Distant Hours – A compelling story featuring a decaying manor in the English countryside, the trio of odd sisters who live there, and (of course) secrets from the past better left buried. This includes a fascinating look into the era when children were sent to the country from London to keep them safe from bombings during World War II.

 

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The Secret Keeper
– A young girl witness an unexplained act of violence involving her mother, which becomes a distant memory as she grows up. As an adult, that memory begins to haunt her as the family celebrates her mother’s 90th birthday.

 

 
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The Lake House
– Heartbreak and tragedy destroy a family in the early 1930s, then 70 years later, a burned out police inspector on a forced holiday picks up on a cold case and re-opens old wounds.

 

 

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The Clockmaker’s Daughter
– Scheduled for publication in the U.S. in October 2018. Murder, intrigue, art, tragedy – all these things coalesce during a heady summer in 1862, observed by the clockmaker’s daughter, whose voice carries over the decades to be heard once again by an archivist.

May Micro-Reviews


28A02E25-07BA-4CBD-B1E0-6AEE24541D0DThe Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser – The Vanderbeeker kids are back in another charming story about generosity, being a good neighbor, and growing up. This is one of those gentle, feel-good stories where nothing much happens, except real life. The kids witness a beloved neighbor having a stroke, they struggle with their own emotions, and they learn that even kids who appear to have it all often don’t. The Vanderbeekers are definitely “free range” kids, and their adventures in their Harlem neighborhood are the stuff of dreams. The kids are all written beautifully and the family dynamics are definitely something to emulate. This is not a particularly special story in that it’s something “new” but it will be enjoyed by early to middle grade readers who just like to read about other kids.

Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

657A0259-7343-412B-A674-DF6D9DD31EA2In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey – Bailey checks all the boxes in this supernatural, psychological thriller of a book: a couple whose marriage is in trouble, a dead child, a mysterious English manor house, a spooky forest, intimidating & creepy manor staff, a past tragedy…and more. Charles, Erin & Lissa are the seemingly perfect family whose life is turned upside down by a truly horrible accident. The psychological strain of that experience coupled with the gothic-horror experience of Hollow House makes for a top-notch, nail-biting, check-under-the-bed thrilling novel. For fans of English folklore, horror, and suspense. Recommended.

Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

994C1041-BFDE-4E07-9D99-917BC0590A95Bluecrowne by Kate Milford – As a diehard Greenglass House fan, I eagerly anticipated this prequel to the series, and I am not disappointed. Kate Milford introduces us to a whole new cast of colorful characters who are every bit as entertaining, clever, and quirky as Milo and company. Lucy Bluecrowne is a character for the ages, and I look forward to following her adventures as she grows up. Liao and Xianming are also so intriguing that they deserve another book as well. Milford is well on her way to creating a world in Nagspeake that is every bit as magical and real as J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts. Her writing is full of lovely descriptions, clever and thoughtful dialogue, and plenty of mystery, suspense, action, adventure, and magic. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Childrens Books Group; Clarion Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

97EB1610-2008-4809-8637-BEB706E2DBEF Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster by Brian Regan – It seems that creating monsters to distract people from real issues is not something unique to 21st century politics. As a longtime but amateur student of cryptozoology, I am always open to reading new accounts of legends and monsters, so I was eager to learn more about the infamous Jersey Devil. The origin story of Mother Leeds giving birth to an evil, horrifying “monster” that flew up the chimney certainly has its roots in European folklore and fairytales. Those tales were often created to make people do things – e.g. Peg Powler and Jenny Greenteeth were invented to keep children away from rivers and streams, thereby keeping them safe from drowning. In this book, Regal and Esposito take the Jersey Devil out of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and link it to political intrigue and opinion-shaping. What better way to get people to do what you want than to scare the crap out of them? I suppose it’s somewhat comforting to know that such political maneuvering has been going on for hundreds of years without the world ending, which suggests that the current version of the Jersey Devil (immigrants/Muslims) will eventually be replaced with something else. This is not light reading, however, so I will recommend for those who enjoy non-fiction related to politics and history.

Publication Date: March 1, 2018
Published by: Johns Hopkins University Press
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

06FD49B1-679B-46B2-80F7-D50D936D72F1Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson – Leonardo da Vinci has always fascinated me, so this new biography of possibly one of the greatest humans ever to live was something I had to read.  Isaacson delivers a well-crafted look not only into da Vinci’s life but into the culture of the time which certainly shaped his world view and supported his curiosity. It was da Vinci’s insatiable curiosity about everything that first attracted me to him so many years ago, and Isaacson provides a laser view into the mind that envisioned flight, surgery, and so much more. Highly readable, well written, and meticulously researched, this is very much recommended.

Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

 

 

 

 

Alice & the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

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Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto On tour April 1-30, 2018

In 1902 New York, Alice Roosevelt, the bright, passionate, and wildly unconventional daughter of newly sworn-in President Theodore Roosevelt, is placed under the supervision of Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, ex-cowboy and veteran of the Rough Riders. St. Clair quickly learns that half his job is helping Alice roll cigarettes and escorting her to bookies, but matters grow even more difficult when Alice takes it upon herself to investigate a recent political killing–the assassination of former president William McKinley.

Concerned for her father’s safety, Alice seeks explanations for the many unanswered questions about the avowed anarchist responsible for McKinley’s death. In her quest, Alice drags St. Clair from grim Bowery bars to the elegant parlors of New York’s ruling class, from the haunts of the Chinese secret societies to the magnificent new University Club. Meanwhile, St. Clair has to come to terms with his hard and violent past, as Alice struggles with her growing feelings for him.

Like the author, I have a fondness for stories set in old New York and I fully appreciate attention to detail and an ability to evoke the opulence and the squalor of the city in the early days of the 20th century and beyond. R.J. Koreto delivers on both levels, moving his characters seamlessly from the splendor of the University Club and the Roosevelt mansion to smoke-filled bars, betting parlors, and dockyards. His two primary characters here – Alice and St. Clair – show tremendous promise for development in future adventures.

Koreto has captured the spirit and independence of Alice, who was known for her eccentricities and willful behavior in real life, in a portrait that seems fairly accurate and is certainly appealing in a heroine. She is on the brink of adulthood – still just 17 and with many of the mannerisms of a child, but also a highly intelligent, creative, fearless, and determined woman. She is a creature of the Gilded Age – raised in tremendous wealth and privilege – but also a child of tragedy, having lost her mother at an early age. Koreto handles Alice’s contradictory nature beautifully, giving us a heroine who is fierce yet vulnerable at the same time. I am excited to see where Koreto takes her next!

Juxtaposing the wealth and privilege of the Roosevelt family is Joseph St. Clair. A true cowboy who served as one of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and now a Secret Service man, he has been tapped by the President himself to guard Alice. Much older than his charge and with much more worldly experience, St. Clair is also a pussycat. He is supremely respectful of the “gentler sex” but finds himself in the awkward position of being the object of Alice’s affection. What unfolds is truly a schoolgirl crush, which Koreto handles with great reserve and care. Joseph is gentle and respectful to Alice but definitely keeps her at arms’ length. He is fully aware of his position and comports himself as a truly good man, until it’s time to not be a good man, meaning he can handle himself in a fight.

St. Clair and Alice make an odd couple for sure, but they fit together nicely. Simply put, Alice is the “brains” and St. Clair the “brawn” but they both give and take across those boundaries. St Clair is the friend who always has Alice’s back, but is also the protector who will tell her “no” when the situation calls for it, and has the intelligence to understand when that occurs. Alice is never short on ideas, but sometimes gets ahead of herself. Her life experience is terribly limited, so she acknowledges St. Clair’s broader experience when necessary. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a new series that has two better matched protagonists.

This is the beginning of a new and exciting historical mystery series that will appeal to many readers. The writing is simple enough that this hovers just between YA and Adult literature. I would have devoured this when I was 13, but I still enjoyed it immensely at 55! Highly recommended.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery

Published by: Crooked Lane Books

Publication Date: April 11th 2017

Number of Pages: 280

ISBN: 1683311124 (ISBN13: 9781683311126)

Series: Alice Roosevelt Mystery #1

Get Your Own Copy of Alice and the Assassin on Amazon & Barnes & Noble & add it to your Goodreads list!!

Read an excerpt:

I had a nice little runabout parked around the corner, and Alice certainly enjoyed it. It belonged to the Roosevelt family, but I was the only one who drove it. Still, the thing about driving a car is that you can’t easily get to your gun, and I didn’t like the look of the downtown crowds, so I removed it from its holster and placed it on the seat between us.

“Don’t touch it,” I said.

“I wasn’t going to,” said Alice.

“Yes, you were.”

I had learned something the first time I had met her. I was sent to meet Mr. Wilkie, the Secret Service director, in the White House, and we met on the top floor. He was there, shaking his head and cleaning his glasses with his handkerchief. “Mr. St. Clair, welcome to Washington. Your charge is on the roof smoking a cigarette. The staircase is right behind me. Best of luck.” He put his glasses back on, shook my hand, and left.

It had taken me about five minutes to pluck the badly rolled cigarette out of Alice’s mouth, flick it over the edge of the building, and then talk her down.

“Any chance we could come to some sort of a working relationship?” I had asked. She had looked me up and down.

“A small one,” she had said. “You were one of the Rough Riders, with my father on San Juan Hill, weren’t you?” I nodded. “Let’s see if you can show me how to properly roll a cigarette. Cowboys know these things, I’ve heard.”

“Maybe I can help—if you can learn when and where to smoke them,” I had responded.

So things had rolled along like that for a while, and then one day in New York, some man who looked a little odd wanted—rather forcefully—to make Alice’s acquaintance on Fifth Avenue, and it took me all of three seconds to tie him into a knot on the sidewalk while we waited for the police.

“That was very impressive, Mr. St. Clair,” she had said, and I don’t think her eyes could’ve gotten any bigger. “I believe that was the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen.” She looked at me differently from then on, and things went a little more smoothly after that. Not perfect, but better.

Anyway, that afternoon I pulled into traffic. It was one of those damp winter days, not too cold. Workingmen were heading home, and women were still making a few last purchases from peddlers before everyone packed up for the day.

“Can we stop at a little barbershop off of Houston?” she asked. I ran my hand over my chin. “Is that a hint I need a shave?” I’m used to doing it myself.

“Don’t be an idiot,” she said, with a grin. “That’s where my bookie has set up shop. I’ve had a very good week.”

***

Excerpt from Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto. Copyright © 2018 by R.J. Koreto. Reproduced with permission from R.J. Koreto. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

R.J. Koreto

R.J. Koreto has been fascinated by turn-of-the-century New York ever since listening to his grandfather’s stories as a boy.

In his day job, he works as a business and financial journalist. Over the years, he’s been a magazine writer and editor, website manager, PR consultant, book author, and seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine. He’s a graduate of Vassar College, and like Alice Roosevelt, he was born and raised in New York.

He is the author of the Lady Frances Ffolkes and Alice Roosevelt mysteries. He has been published in both Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He also published a book on practice management for financial professionals.

With his wife and daughters, he divides his time between Rockland County, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Catch Up With R.J. Koreto On his Website, Goodreads Page, Twitter @RJKoreto, & on Facebook @ ladyfrancesffolkes!

Tour Participants:

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for R.J. Koreto. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift card. The giveaway begins on April 1, 2018 and runs through May 1, 2018. Void where prohibited.

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January Micro-Reviews


956CB410-2B16-4E46-A846-46296A0499F1The Black Painting by Neil Olson – Can paintings be possessed? The family at the center of this story thinks so. They’ve been haunted by a Goya painting for years, and blame it for the horrible things that have happened in their lives. Goya’s work *is* startling in its rawness (Saturn Devouring His Son is pictured here) but it’s the evil perpetrated by the living that startles me the most. Good book….

Published by Harlequin/Hanover Square, January 2018. Mysteries & Thrillers. Literary Fiction.

93103035-7177-40E3-B1F7-E4CFC9654173Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell – Juliet Blackwell’s Lily Ivory is back in another delightfully witchy adventure, along with all the colorful characters we have come to expect from this series. Blackwell’s breezy, engaging writing and twisted, intriguing plotting create the atmosphere fans have fallen in love with in previous entries. Here, we learn more about Lily’s past, get to meet her amazing grandmother, and wring our hands over her “will they/won’t they” relationship with Sailor. If you haven’t read the Lily Ivory books, get them all out of the library and binge-read them on a cold, snowy day. It will be the best day of the year, I bet! Highly recommended.

Published by Berkley, May 2018. Mysteries & Thrillers.

90FCB44E-B2B9-47F5-ADF1-5706EF2330E3Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross by Lisa Tuttle – Tuttle offers a new adventure featuring Jesperson & Lane, the crackerjack investigation team that includes a well-heeled young man and an outspoken young woman. They are dropped headfirst into their new case when a man pounds on their door in the middle of the night, proclaims he is pursued by witches, and drops dead in their front hall. Their investigation takes them from London to the country, where they encounter an unusual collection of “cunning” men and women, pious preachers, curious scholars, and even “little people.”

While the plot is interesting, with a variety of twists & turns, it’s bloated. A bit more than halfway through, I found myself losing interest. Jesperson’s annoying habit of assuming Lane knows what he’s thinking, causing her to drag every bit of information out of him got old really fast. They never seemed to click for me as a pair of investigators, or as a couple, or whatever they are supposed to be to each other. I did enjoy Miss Lane’s character, however. She reminded me of a young Amelia Peabody. While this is far from the worst thing I’ve read lately, it’s also not nearly the best. The text needs editing, and I found the whole subplot around the stolen baby to be completely unnecessary. I will probably pick up another in this series when looking for a quick, easy read, just to see if Jesperson & Lane find success in their investigative business.

Published by Random House-Hydra, October 2017. Mysteries & Thrillers; Sci-Fi & Fantasy

6A72661D-37B9-4BB6-B5E5-643A21EBBD59Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano – This is a pleasant enough story. The lead character, Aurelie, is likable and plucky, the “leading man” is mysterious but kind-hearted, and the relatives are appropriately boorish. The basic story is familiar – disadvantaged girl gets shipped off to unknown wealthy relatives after father’s death, meets handsome but mysterious man, uncovers devastating family secret – all in a grand manor house in the English countryside. What makes this stand out is the action around Aurelie becoming a writer, which is wonderful. What made this less enjoyable for me was the heavy-handed religious overtones, making this highly reminiscent of 19th century gothic romance pedantic style. All in all, a pleasant enough story but not one that I will remember.

Published by Revell, October 2017. Historical fiction.

F097E807-9118-49E4-9788-ECF16AF22F57Ludlow Lost by Kate Robinson Dunne – What a refreshing change! A book about fairies that isn’t dripping with with wide-eyed sweetness! Ludlow and Harry make a dynamic duo for the ages. Their unexpected (and unwanted) friendship becomes the anchor in this witty tale of kidnapping, betrayal, and revenge. I was reminded a bit of the Artemis Fowl books, but just a bit. This is new, fresh, and just plain fun.

Published by Two Pigeons Press, March 2018. Middle grade fantasy.

3B06A232-5038-4D11-8FF4-E44BB31AE3FABook of Pearl by Timothee de Fombelle – I’m sorry to say, I did not get past the second chapter of this confusing, muddled story. The description intrigued me, but the two opening chapters were so unconnected and rambling that I could not connect. This is a translation of a French book that has received high praise, and Goodreads reviews are mixed.

Published by Candlewick Press, February 2018. YA fantasy.

Thanks to NetGalley for review copies of all these titles.

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn


63015F11-62D8-4D94-AF5D-84294F64F38EThe Veronica Speedwell I came to admire in A Curious Beginning is back and as fierce as ever! The semi-acknowledged, illegitimate daughter of the Prince of Wales, Veronica is an independent “modern” woman (or as independent and modern as one can be in 19th century England) who collects and studies butterflies, and has a healthy appetite for sex. She lives and works with Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, a rake of the highest order.

I was left a bit disappointed in the second book in this series, A Perilous Undertaking, and I wrote then that I felt the chemistry between Veronica and Stoker was missing. Well, no more. The sparks literally flew off the page in this one, and I was quite taken with the restraint with which Veronica comported herself during the most stressful scenes with Stoker. Raybourn has done a skillful job of slowly developing both main characters, revealing bits of their past lives in each entry in this series. Readers are kept waiting and anticipating how and when the author will achieve the coupling we are all hoping for in the future, although I am wondering if the Viscount Templeton-Vane will throw a wrench in the works of that happening.

All that speculation aside, A Treacherous Curse is a rollicking good adventure, riffing off the “Egyptian curse” trope so popular in fiction set in the late 19th and early 20th century, but not relying on the curse to move the action forward. Here, Veronica and Stoker are engaged to find the crown of an Egyptian princess which disappeared from a a dig in the Valley of Kings. Matters are complicated by the fact that a member of the dig has also disappeared, who just happens to be the man responsible for the break up of Stoker’s marriage. As usual, the author has introduced some colorful characters and trotted in old favorites from past stories (Lady Wellie is a favorite). The story is not a new one (you will find similar characters and plot elements in many of the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters), but this series is really all about Veronica and Stoker. Raybourn can set them down inside any story and have a successful novel if she keeps focused on their relationship. Recommended for fans of blended mystery-adventure-romance-historical-fiction. Well done!

Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

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IMG_0200The concept of women’s power being rooted in magic has become a regular theme in recent fiction, and The Secret History of Witches adds to that growing genre. Louisa Morgan has created a captivating tale of six generations of Romani witches, women whose talents include “simples” like healing potions, knowledge of the weather, affinity for animals or growing things, and, most importantly, seeing the future.

The story begins in Brittany in the early decades of the 19th century, where the Orchiere family is cornered in a ring of standing stones by an angry mob out to burn them. Matriarch Ursule, a powerful seer, uses her power to hide her family. This act takes her life, but not before she sees her family travel across the sea to a farm on a cliff, where they will live in peace. The family buries Ursule between the stones, and heads off across the sea, where they find the farm, just as Ursule predicted, on the Cornish coast. The sisters continue to perform the family rites in a hidden cave, but none of them possess Ursule’s magic until the youngest sister, Nanette, comes of age. Nanette is the only sister to whom Ursule’s scrying stone responds.

The stone becomes the thread tying the family together through subsequent generations. The stone is the indicator of magic – if it responds to you, you’ve got it. Each generation experiences its own heartaches and tragedies. At the same time, the belief in magic waxes and wanes, until we end up with Veronica, who has no mother or aunt to initiate her into the magic of the Orchiere witches. This is where the story stretches belief a bit, by introducing Veronica to a coven of aristocratic witches led by the Queen of England during World War II. The best part? The Queen is descended from the Glamis witches. If you know Shakespeare, you’ll get the reference. The Queen’s coven instructs Veronica in the magic of her ancestors and draws her into their work focused on defeating Hitler, including exhausting work meant to manipulate the weather to assist with the Normandy invasion.

Morgan has created a readable, entertaining story around women and how they acquire and wield power. The writing and character development is well done, with a strong thread binding each generation together. I found Morgan’s honest portrayals of each generation’s “witch” to be refreshing, meaning they were not all paragons. In fact, some were downright unlikable. She balances the stories of each generation skillfully to demonstrate the idea that magic and power can corrupt if not used properly, culminating in the decision by Morwen, the second-to-last witch, of putting it away altogether.

The introduction of the Queen’s coven was unexpected and rather delightful. This is the woman I’ve known as the Queen Mother – the dainty, perfectly coiffed woman off to the side of the current Queen Elizabeth. I found it interesting that the Queen laments that neither of her daughters has shown any inclination to the craft, although Margaret might still have a chance. I also appreciated the way in which the author brought the Orchiere line full circle by connecting Veronica with a young man of Romani descent from Brittany, where her family originated.

This joins The Witch’s Daughter and other books by Paula Brackston, the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, and the Waverly novels by Sarah Addison Allen as one of my favorite “witchy” books. Recommended.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Thanks to Edelweiss+ for the review copy

 

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick


IMG_0195Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662), daughter of James VI, wife of Frederick V, known as the Winter Queen due to her single winter as Queen of Bohemia. Not a familiar queen to most, but an engaging subject in this entertaining piece of semi-historical fiction from Nicola Cornick which blends history, mystery, mysticism, and romance.

The story opens at the close of Elizabeth’s life with a deathbed scene between her and William Craven, to whom she transfers ownership of the mysterious Sistrin Pearl. The pearl, we come to understand, is a powerful vessel for magic when combined with a particular crystal mirror. Elizabeth and Frederick, members of the clandestine order Knights of the Rosy Cross, use the pearl and mirror to foresee the outcome of battles and negotiations during their lifetime of effort to regain control of their Palatine lands. Craven, Frederick’s trusted advisor and defender, becomes the love of Elizabeth’s life, although hurt and betrayal abound throughout. Despite all the intrigue, or perhaps because of it, the pearl and mirror drive the actions of the 17th century characters through to Elizabeth’s final breaths.

Fast forward to present day, where Holly Ansell is woken in the middle of the night by a frantic phone call from her young niece, who reports that her Daddy, Holly’s brother Ben, is missing. Holly hotfoots to Ashdown Dean and the old mill where she and Ben grew up, only to find that no one seems to know much about why Ben was there and, more importantly, where he’s gone. As the days pass, Holly learns that Ben was researching family history, as well as Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen. As she digs deeper, she discovers that Ben was searching for the Sistrin Pearl and the Crystal Mirror and that the story of the Winter Queen and William Craven has more significance than she could possibly imagine, both for her and the magnetic and handsome Mark, a local developer to whom Holly is attracted. Past and present come crashing together as Holly uncovers the stories of Elizabeth, Craven, and their descendants, and finally discovers what happened to Ben.

It seems I’ve been reading a lot of multi-century, historical-mystery-romances lately. Some are good, some are not so good. House of Shadows, fortunately, is one of the good ones. The author moves seamlessly between the 17th and 21st centuries, and paces the chapters and action well. Often in stories like this, the chapters are too long and full of extraneous detail, making it difficult to remember what happened in the previous chapters/centuries. Cornick devotes just enough time to each story – Elizabeth/William and Holly/Mark – alternating between past and present but always managing to tie the two together. The mystery of Ben’s disappearance keeps the action flowing in the present day, while William and Elizabeth tie everything together in the past.

The stories are interesting, and the characters are appealing. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the history, but I am intrigued enough by the Winter Queen to do some research and learn more about her, Frederick of Bohemia, and the Rosicrucians (Order of the Rosy Cross). When a novel prompts me to do that, I count it as a winner. Recommended.

Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Thanks to Edelweiss+ for the review copy

The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack


IMG_0190Part mystery, part psychic adventure, part romance – The Fortune Teller has it all. The story opens with a death, that of Marcel Bossard, renowned collector of rare books and manuscripts. That disturbing scene is followed by our introduction to Semele Cavnow, an employee of the auction firm hired to sell the Bossard collection. As she begins her work, she feels an immediate, unusual attraction to Bossard’s son, Theo, which only intensifies as she spends more time in the Bossard home in Switzerland. Eventually, she finds a hidden book, very ancient and very mysterious, but not as mysterious as the handwritten note left in the book by Marcel Bossard, which is addressed specifically to her.

As Semele translates the book, the story splits in two – the present day story revolving around the book, and the ancient story which begins in 45 bc at the Library of Alexandria. The book, it turns out, was written by a powerful seer, selected by the Egyptian Goddess Wadjet to shape the future. Semele is stunned to discover that the seer wrote to her by name in the book, and that the book foretells what will happen to Semele and Theo in the present day. Typical action-adventure ensues, with Semele eventually coming face to face with the evil genius who put all the story-pieces in play for his own demented purpose.

With this second novel, Womack cements her place in the genre with authors such as M.J. Rose and Kate Mosse. Her writing is engaging and clever, the characters and their stories are interesting, and the action moves along at a decent pace. Blending two story arcs – one in the past and one in the present – can sometimes lead to a disjointed narrative, but Womack has paced her chapters perfectly. The story is fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time, and I loved the way Womack brought two strands of the story (Nettie and Lilyas) together at the end. The only dissonance for me is the way in which Semele’s adoption news is handled. (She found out she was adopted when looking through papers after her father died.) Her reaction seemed really extreme, although the scene where she confronts her mother over her father’s death rang true. Despite this one minor issue, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and was captivated to the very end.

The Fortune Teller joins favorites such as M.J. Rose’s Reincarnationist series, Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea, and Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth and Sepulchre on my bookshelves. I read and enjoyed Womack’s first book, Memory Painter, but this, her sophomore effort, is even better. Recommended.

City of Masks by S.D. Sykes


IMG_0177What other city in the world is as associated with masks as Venice? Venice, where the stones are soaked with blood and history, and people are never what they seem. In City of Masks, we are transported to 14th century Venice, specifically 1358 when Venice was besieged by the Hungarians and lawlessness and treachery abounded.

Oswald de Lacy, also known as Lord Somershill, is on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land when he and his mother are stuck at the home of John Bearpark, an English merchant living in Venice. De Lacy is running from something, and has clearly lost the will to live when first we meet. His problems are exacerbated by a new love of gambling, which leaves him broke and in debt to a nasty character. In the midst of his misery, he discovers the murdered remains of Enrico Bearpark, the merchant’s grandson. The elder Bearpark hires de Lacy to find the murderer, setting him on a quest that reveals as much about himself as about Venice and the people who live there.

This is a dense story, slightly reminiscent of Donna Leon’s contemporary Commissario Brunetti series in style, but filled with rich historical detail. Sykes brings 14th century Venice alive, from the stench of the sewage in the canals, to the island of lepers and the convent/brothel, to gilded palazzos. The action moves fairly slowly, but the story is captivating enough to keep you engaged. De Lacy is a troublesome character at first. It’s hard to find sympathy for him since we don’t know what has caused his melancholy (unless you’ve read the first two in the Lord Somershill series, which I hadn’t). However, as he begins his investigation and untangles a mess of clues and false trails, the clever, confident Lord reveals himself. Determined to find Enrico’s killer, de Lacy is unprepared for where the trail ultimately leads him.

The writing is quite good, with just enough scene descriptions to convey a sense of time, place, and atmosphere but not so much that the reader skims ahead. De Lacy’s relationships are most interesting here – with his mother, with Enrico, with Bearpark’s wife Filomena, and with his own past. Clearly de Lacy has lost his way; by the end of the story he has found his way back. I enjoyed this one enough that I will likely go back and read books 1 and 2, and will look for new entries in the series. Recommended for fans of historical mysteries.

Gospel of Mary by Philip Freeman


gospelEver since I read The Deeper Song by Patricia Pfitsch I have been fascinated by the relatively unacknowledged influence of women on recorded history, especially that of the Bible. Combine that with my love of historical mysteries and old Ireland, and you’ll understand why I gravitated to The Gospel of Mary.

Second in a series about Sister Deirdre, The Gospel of Mary begins with a flurry as Deirdre comforts an old and dying nun from a faraway abbey who made her way to Deirdre on purpose to entrust her with a very special document. Deirdre, who specializes in books and scrolls, takes ownership of the fragile papyrus and promises to keep it safe. After translating the first line, she understands that she holds a previously unseen gospel written by Mary, the Mother of Jesus the Christ. Deirdre also immediately understands that men of the church will be looking for the document and will likely stop at nothing to get it. Realizing that her presence in the abbey puts everyone at risk, she travels to the stronghold of an old friend and former lover, who she trusts will keep her safe while she translates the document and tries to preserve it. What she doesn’t know is that a priest is already hunting her. As Deirdre struggles to know who to trust, she learns more about the woman who gave birth to a god and comes to understand that she must keep the document safe at all costs, leading up to a surprising ending.

Freeman is a Celtic scholar, and his knowledge of this historical era lends an authenticity to the story that is often missing in others like it. Stories about lost gospels are common, but Freeman has taken an old trope and transported it back in time, when people lived and died by the sword, and no one was safe from betrayal. He has created a smart, gutsy, brave character in Sister Deirdre who is confident in herself and in her faith. Freeman paints a vivid picture of an Ireland teetering between the old religion and new Christianity, and lends authority to the characters who live with a foot in each world.

While I have not read the first in this series, I plan to go back and do so, then will look forward to the next. Recommended for lovers of historical mysteries.