Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

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Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman Banner

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

On Tour August 8 – September 2

Synopsis:

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

The tortured spirits of the dead haunt a Regency-era English manor—but the true danger lies in the land of the living in the third installment in the Lily Adler mysteries, perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn.

Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to spending the autumn away from the social whirl of London. When she arrives in Hampshire with her friends, the Carroways, she doesn’t expect much more than a quiet country visit and the chance to spend time with her charming new acquaintance, Matthew Spencer.

But something odd is afoot in the small country village. A ghost has taken up residence in the Belleford manor, a lady in grey who wanders the halls at night, weeping and wailing. Half the servants have left in terror, but the family seems delighted with the notoriety that their ghost provides. Intrigued by this spectral guest, Lily and her party immediately make plans to visit Belleford.

They arrive at the manor the next morning ready to be entertained—only to find that tragedy has struck. The matriarch of the family has just been found killed in her bed.

The dead woman’s family is convinced that the ghost is responsible. Lily is determined to learn the truth before another victim turns up—but could she be next in line for the Great Beyond?

My Thoughts

Schellman’s second in the Lily Adler series places her firmly atop the collection of authors currently writing Regency mysteries. Lily is an admirable protagonist – intelligent, resilient, curious, and determined. The mystery here includes a “ghost” which adds a Gothic element to the story; in true Gothic form, this becomes more a tale of raw human emotion than supernatural in conclusion. I read a lot of these kinds of mysteries but what stands out for me in Schellman’s books is the attention paid to building tension through the emotions and experiences of her characters. I know that’s the authors job, but some are less successful at understanding, capturing, and presenting real emotion seamlessly. When I read the first Lily Adler book, I was reminded of the first time I read Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters who was, IMHO, arguably one of the best historical mystery writers. That sense was repeated in Death at the Manor, making me think Katharine Schellman is definitely a writer to watch as she develops the Lily Adler series. I’ll be recommending this to my readers and patrons at the library.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2022
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 1639100784 (ISBN13: 9781639100781)
Series: Lily Adler Mystery #3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Bookshop.org

Read an excerpt:

As they walked, Mr. Wright fell in step next to Ofelia. “Have you ever seen a ghost before, Lady Carroway?”

“I have not,” she replied, as polite as ever in spite of the hint of skepticism in her voice. “Pray, what does it look like?”

“Like a lady in white and gray,” he said, and Lily was surprised to see how serious his expression was. His frivolous, unctuous manner had dropped away, and he shivered a little as he gestured toward the windows. “No one has seen her face. The first time I saw her she was standing right there, bathed in moonlight, when I was returning from a late night in the village. And my sister saw her in the early morning only two days ago. Some nights, we have heard her wails echoing through the halls, even when she is nowhere to be seen.”

Lily exchanged a look with her aunt, who seemed surprised by the detail in Thomas Wright’s story and the quaver in his voice. Either he believed wholeheartedly in his ghost, or he was putting on a very convincing performance for his audience.

“And what does she do?” Ofelia asked, sounding a little more somber now, as they drew

to a halt in front of the windows. The small party looked around the corner of the hall. It was unremarkable enough, with several large paintings, and a tall, handsome curio cabinet standing in an alcove. An old-fashioned tapestry hung across one wall, though it was worn and faded enough that it was hard to tell exactly what picture it had originally presented.

“Nothing, so far,” Mr. Wright said, a sort of forced theatricality in his voice that left Lily puzzled.

She had expected, based on what Mr. Spencer had said the night before, to find an eager showman in Thomas Wright, ready to bask in the attention of curious neighbors, not a true believer in the supernatural. Glancing at Mr. Spencer out of the corner of her eye, she thought he looked equally puzzled.

“She stands and weeps, or floats around the hall and wails. Usually, if someone tries to draw close, she vanishes. But last month—” Mr. Wright’s voice dropped a little. He still glanced

uneasily toward the other end of the hall, as if momentarily distracted or looking for someone, before quickly returning his attention to his audience. “Last month she became angry when one of our housemaids came upon her unexpectedly. The lady in gray pursued her down the hall, wailing. Poor Etta was so scared that she fell down the stairs in her haste to get away. That

was when our servants started leaving.”

“I trust the housemaid has recovered?” Mr. Spencer asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

“She has,” Mr. Wright replied. “But no one has tried to approach the lady in gray again. We think she wishes to be left alone.”

“Well,” Lily said, attempting a return to lightness, “as far as ghosts go, that sounds reasonable enough. I confess I feel that way often enough myself, especially after too many busy nights in a row.”

Ofelia, who had been looking a little wide-eyed, giggled, and Mr. Spencer quickly covered a cough that might have been a chuckle.

Mr. Wright scowled, his expression halfway between unease and displeasure. “I take it you are not a woman who believes in ghosts, Mrs. Adler?”

“I have never had the opportunity to find out whether or not I am,” Lily replied. “The homes I have lived in have all been stubbornly unhaunted.”

“For your sake, madam, I hope they remain that way,” Mr. Wright said. There was an unexpected note of resignation in his voice as he added, “It is not a comfortable thing to live with.”

“I would have thought you to be fond of yours, sir,” Lily said. “If you dislike her so, why go to the trouble of showing visitors around and telling them the story?”

Mr. Wright smiled, some of the showman creeping back into his manner. “Because you are here, dear ladies. And how could I resist such a beautiful audience?”

“Tell me, has your family any idea who this lady in gray might be?” Lily’s aunt asked politely.

He nodded, his voice dropping even further, and they all reflexively drew closer to hear what he was saying. “We each have our own theory, of course,” he said. “I believe it is my father’s great-aunt, Tabitha, whose bedroom was just this way. If you would care to see the spot?” He held out his arm to Ofelia, who took it. Mr. Wright, engrossed in his story once more, turned to lead them down the closest passage. “Tabitha died there some fifty years ago, of a broken heart, they say, after news arrived of the death of her betrothed in the colonies—”

His story was suddenly cut off by screaming. Not a single shriek of surprise or dismay, but a cry that seemed to go on without ceasing. Thomas Wright froze, the genial smile dropping from his face in shock. “Selina?” he called.

The screaming continued, growing more hysterical. Dropping Ofelia’s arm, he ran toward the sound, which was coming from the far hallway, past the stairs. The others, stunned into stillness, stared at each other, unsure what to do.

“I think it’s Miss Wright,” Mr. Spencer said, all traces of merriment gone from his face. “Wait here—I shall see if they need any assistance.” He made to go after, but Thomas Wright was already returning, rushing down the hall next to another man, who was carrying the screaming woman.

“The parlor, just next to you, Spencer!” Mr. Wright called. “Open the door!”

Mr. Spencer, the closest to the door, flung it open, and the hysterical woman was carried in. She was laid on a chaise longue in the middle of the dim little room, Mr. Spencer stepping forward to help settle her as the man who had carried her stepped back. Lily, glancing

around as she and the other ladies crowded through the door, thought it looked like a space reserved for the family’s private use, which made sense on an upper floor. Thomas Wright knelt next to the hysterical woman for a moment, clasping her hands.

“Selina?” he said loudly. But she kept screaming, her eyes wide and darting about the room without seeing anything. Judging by the round cheeks and dark hair they both shared, Lily thought she must be his sister. Whether they had other features in common was hard to tell when Selina Wright was in the middle of hysterics.

“Miss Wright?” Matthew Spencer tried giving her shoulders a shake. “You must stop this at once!”

But she clearly could not hear either of them. Thomas Wright took a deep breath and looked grim as, with a surprising degree of practicality, he slapped her across the face.

The screams stopped abruptly, her blank expression resolving into one of terror before her eyes latched on her brother. Her face crumpled in misery. “Oh, Thomas!” she sobbed, gasping for breath.

He gave her shoulders a little shake. “Selina, stop this—you must tell me what happened.” But she only shook her head, clutching at his coat with desperate fists and dropping her head against his shoulder, her weeping shaking them both. Mr. Wright turned to the servant who had carried his sister. “Isaiah, what happened to her?”

Isaiah was a young Black man with very short, curly hair and broad shoulders. His plain, dark clothing marked him clearly as a servant, though it was nothing so formal as the livery that

would have been worn in a great house. His wide stance spoke of confidence, and the easy way that Thomas Wright addressed him indicated long service and familiarity.

But there was no confidence on the manservant’s face as he hesitated, gulping visibly and shaking his head. His eyes were wide, and he stumbled over his words as he tried to answer, either unsure how to respond or not wanting to. “It’s . . . it’s Mrs. Wright, sir. She didn’t open her door when we knocked, and Miss Wright . . . she asked me to open it, since no one has the key . . . and she was there, sir—Mrs. Wright. She was there but she wasn’t moving. There was nothing we could do, but there was no one else there what could have done it. She’s dead, sir,” he finished in a rush. “Mrs. Wright is dead. She was killed in the night.”

Beside her, Lily heard Ofelia gasp, though she didn’t turn to look at her friend. Mr. Spencer looked up, his dark eyes wide as he met Lily’s from across the room. She stared back at him, frozen in shock, unable to believe what she had just heard.

“Killed?” Thomas Wright demanded, his voice rising with his own disbelief and his arms tightening around his sister.

“It killed her, Thomas,” Selina Wright said, raising her head at last. Now that her hysterics had faded, her cheeks had gone ashen with fear. “There was no one else who could have entered that room. The lady in gray killed our mother.”

***

Excerpt from Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman. Copyright 2022 by Katharine Schellman. Reproduced with permission from Katharine Schellman. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Katharine Schellman

Katharine Schellman is a former actor, one-time political consultant, and now the author of the Lily Adler Mysteries and the Nightingale Mysteries. Her debut novel, The Body in the Garden, was one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2020 and led to her being named one of BookPage’s 16 Women to Watch in 2020. Her second novel, Silence in the Library, was praised as “worthy of Agatha Christie or Rex Stout.” (Library Journal, starred review) Katharine lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia in the company of her husband, children, and the many houseplants she keeps accidentally murdering.

Catch Up With Katharine Schellman:
KatharineSchellman.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @katharineschellman
Instagram – @katharinewrites
Twitter – @katharinewrites
Facebook – @katharineschellman

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A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear


Description

In the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series, a series of possible attacks on British pilots leads Jacqueline Winspear’s beloved heroine Maisie Dobbs into a mystery involving First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

 October 1942. Jo Hardy, a 22-year-old ferry pilot, is delivering a Supermarine Spitfire—the fastest fighter aircraft in the world—to Biggin Hill Aerodrome, when she realizes someone is shooting at her aircraft from the ground. Returning to the location on foot, she finds an American serviceman in a barn, bound and gagged. She rescues the man, who is handed over to the American military police; it quickly emerges that he is considered a suspect in the disappearance of a fellow soldier who is missing. 

 Tragedy strikes two days later, when another ferry pilot crashes in the same area where Jo’s plane was attacked. At the suggestion of one of her colleagues, Jo seeks the help of psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs.  Meanwhile, Maisie’s husband, a high-ranking political attaché based at the American embassy, is in the thick of ensuring security is tight for the first lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, during her visit to the Britain. There’s already evidence that German agents have been circling: the wife of a president represents a high value target. Mrs. Roosevelt is clearly in danger, and there may well be a direct connection to the death of the woman ferry pilot and the recent activities of two American servicemen.

 To guarantee the safety of the First Lady—and of the soldier being held in police custody—Maisie must uncover that connection. At the same time, she faces difficulties of an entirely different nature with her young daughter, Anna, who is experiencing wartime struggles of her own. 

My Thoughts

I have so enjoyed following Maisie Dobbs through this wonderful series by Jacqueline Winspear. This entry gives us a supremely adult Maisie who is settling in to a comfortable if somewhat dangerous life during World War II. She’s busy with her investigative work, still in love with her American husband, and learning how to be a loving and effective mother to Anna, her adopted daughter. There’s not much to say about Winspear’s writing that hasn’t already been said. She is one of the best authors of historical mysteries out there today. Her plots are well-constructed, her characters written with depth and attention, and her historical research impeccable. Here, she treats us to an inside look at the work of women pilots in England during World War II, something of which I was not familiar prior to reading this book. I spent several enjoyable hours afterwards researching the female pilots, an activity which for me demonstrates the effects of a great historical novel.

If you haven’t read the series before, start at the beginning and savor every one. I also recommend the audiobook versions, which are extremely well-done.

Published By: Harper
Publication Date: 3/22/2022
Thanks to Netgalley for the the review copy

A Game of Fear by Charles Todd


Description

In this newest installment of the acclaimed New York Times bestselling series, Scotland Yard’s Ian Rutledge is faced with his most perplexing case yet: a murder with no body, and a killer who can only be a ghost.

Spring, 1921. Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Rutledge to the sea-battered village of Walmer on the coast of Essex, where amongst the salt flats and a military airfield lies Benton Abbey, a grand manor with a storied past. The lady of the house may prove his most bewildering witness yet. She claims she saw a violent murder—but there is no body, no blood. She also insists she recognized the killer: Captain Nelson. Only it could not have been Nelson because he died during the war.

Everyone in the village believes that Lady Benton’s losses have turned her mind—she is, after all, a grieving widow and mother—but the woman Rutledge interviews is rational and self-possessed. And then there is Captain Nelson: what really happened to him in the war? The more Rutledge delves into this baffling case, the more suspicious tragedies he uncovers. The Abbey and the airfield hold their secrets tightly. Until Rutledge arrives, and a new trail of death follows… 

My Thoughts

Another solid entry in the Ian Rutledge series positions the reader in Essex as Rutledge investigates a “murder” witnessed by Lady Benton and committed by the “ghost” of a man she knows to be dead.

Charles Todd has created a relatable, vulnerable, but very capable character in Ian Rutledge, who struggles with PTSD from WWI as he conducts his business as a Scotland Yard detective. There are nods to previous Rutledge adventures but a reader new to the series can follow along with ease.

The plot was a little slow to start, but picked up and kept me going well past my bedtime to a satisfying conclusion.

Recommended for historical mystery fans.

Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: 2/1/2022
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Deadliest Sin by Jeri Westerson


Description

Crispin Guest is summoned to a London priory to unmask a merciless killer. Can he discover who is committing the deadliest of sins? 

1399, London. A drink at the Boar’s Tusk takes an unexpected turn for Crispin Guest, Tracker of London, and his apprentice, Jack Tucker, when a messenger claims the prioress at St. Frideswide wants to hire him to investigate murders at the priory. Two of Prioress Drueta’s nuns have been killed in a way that signifies two of the Seven Deadly Sins, and she’s at her wits end.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing outside of London when the exiled Henry Bolingbroke, the new Duke of Lancaster, returns to England’s shores with an army to take back his inheritance. Crispin is caught between solving the crimes at St. Frideswide’s Priory, and making a choice once more whether to stand with King Richard or commit treason again.

My Thoughts

The final Crispin Guest story?!? I was crushed when I read the author’s introduction to The Deadliest Sin because I have enjoyed this series very much. Here, we find Crispin’s past returning with a vengeance when his former Lord and Master John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, dies in the first chapter, foreshadowing radical historical events that will change Guest’s life.

At the same time, he is called in as The Tracker of London to unravel a series of brutal murders happening in a a Priory where nuns are being killed according to the Seven Deadly Sins. This part of the story is a tricky mystery which Guest handles with his usual aplomb, discovering the truth behind the murders about halfway through the books, leaving the remaining chapters to deal with the brewing battle between Henry and Richard for the English throne.

Fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this series. I would recommending starting the series from the beginning, although this one can be read on its own.

Publication Date: December 7, 2021
Published By: Canongate Books; Severn House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Spanish Daughter by Lorena Hughes


Description

Set against the lush backdrop of early twentieth century Ecuador and inspired by the real-life history of the coastal town known as the birthplace of cacao, this captivating #OwnVoices novel from the award-winning author of The Sisters of Alameda Street tells the story of a resourceful young chocolatier who must impersonate a man in order to survive…

Puri inherited two things from her father: a passion for chocolate, and a cacao plantation located in Ecuador. After learning the art of chocolate-making from her grandmother, Puri opened a chocolate shop in her native Spain. But the Great War that devastated Europe has also ruined her business. Eager to learn more about the source of her beloved chocolate, Puri sets out across the ocean with her husband,
Cristóbal. But someone is angered by Puri’s claim to the plantation…

When a mercenary sent to murder her aboard the ship accidentally kills Cristóbal instead, Puri dons her husband’s clothes and assumes his identity, hoping to stay safe while she learns the truth. Though freed from the rules that women are expected to follow, Puri confronts other challenges at the plantation—newfound siblings, hidden affairs, and her father’s dark secrets. Then there are the dangers awakened by her attraction to an enigmatic man as she tries to learn the identity of an enemy who is still at large, threatening the future she is determined to claim…

My Thoughts

The story is just outright captivating. Puri’s disguise – will she or won’t she be discovered?? — had me turning pages as quickly as possible. Her budding relationships with her newly found siblings also add to the tension, and all of this human emotion and action set against the gorgeous backdrop of early 20th century Ecuador’s chocolate plantations make this a winner.

I am an impatient reader at times, so I appreciated that the story begins right away. There is no tedious backstory build-up; the author reveals details of the past throughout the book which complement the action taking place.

I have also come to appreciate beautifully descriptive writing that makes the setting pop off the page. This is the second book set in Ecuador I’ve read recently, and I am now captivated by this lush and beautiful country. It’s the landscape that is just as important to this story as the cast of characters., reminding me a bit of the descriptive landscape chapters in Grapes of Wrath.

At its heart, this is a story about family and how choices can build or break a family unit, no matter how tight or loosely connected the individuals. I can see this one making the rounds of 2022 book discussion groups. So well done.

Publication Date: December 28, 2021
Published by: Kensington Books
Thanks to the Publisher for the review copy

The Undertakers by Nicole Glover


Description

Nicole Glover delivers the second book in her exciting Murder & Magic series of historical fantasy novels featuring Hetty Rhodes and her husband, Benjy, magic practitioners and detectives living in post–Civil War Philadelphia.

Nothing bothers Hetty and Benjy Rhodes more than a case where the answers, motives, and the murder itself feel a bit too neat. Raimond Duval, a victim of one of the many fires that have erupted recently in Philadelphia, is officially declared dead after the accident, but Hetty and Benjy’s investigation points to a powerful Fire Company known to let homes in the Black community burn to the ground. Before long, another death breathes new life into the Duval investigation: Raimond’s son, Valentine, is also found dead.

Finding themselves with the dubious honor of taking on Valentine Duval as their first major funeral, it becomes clear that his passing was intentional. Valentine and his father’s deaths are connected, and the recent fires plaguing the city might be more linked to recent community events than Hetty and Benji originally thought.

The Undertakers continues the adventures of murder and magic, where even the most powerful enchantments can’t always protect you from the ghosts of the past . . .

Review

Nicole Glover’s series debut, The Conductors, is one of the most fascinating and unique stories I’ve read in a long time, and the stars of the series, Benjamin and Henrietta Rhodes, are two of the most engaging characters put to page. Glover’s second in the series, The Undertakers, drops the reader back into the Rhodes’ Philadelphia just a few months after the conclusion of The Conductors.

Ben and Hetty are trying to get their funeral home business off the ground when a new mystery is dropped in their laps. Mysterious fires and the even more mysterious deaths of a prominent businessman and his son set Hetty and Ben on a new case. An old enemy from the past re-surfaces and raises complicated feelings and memories for Hetty, who manages to tie them all back up into a neat conclusion.

Glover does a remarkable job of interweaving stories and experiences from the past into the current lives of the Rhodes and their circle of friends. She also introduces the reader to bits of African-American history that add a depth and dimension to the plot. Here, I was prompted to research the role of early fire companies in Philadelphia and other early American cities. Fire departments today are noble organizations committed to public safety, but they weren’t always so egalitarian. Glover uses that history to depict a slice of African-American life, post-enslavement.

The magical aspect of this story continues to engage me. Celestial magic versus sorcery is such an unusual view of how different cultures approach magic. Glover creates an intricate and deep relationship between African-Americans and the elements of earth, air, fire, and water and spins that into a captivating narrative sure to appeal to fans of fantasy and magic.

If you haven’t read The Conductors, go do that between now and November when this one comes out. I am definitely looking forward to the next installment in this series!

Published by: Mariner Books
Publication Date: November 9, 2021
Thanks to Edelweiss.Plus for the review copy

When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen


Description*

A haunting novel about a black woman who returns to her hometown for a plantation wedding and the horror that ensues as she reconnects with the blood-soaked history of the land and the best friends she left behind.

More than a decade ago, Mira fled her small, segregated hometown in the south to forget. With every mile she traveled, she distanced herself from her past: from her best friend Celine, mocked by their town as the only white girl with black friends; from her old neighborhood; from the eerie Woodsman plantation rumored to be haunted by the spirits of slaves; from the terrifying memory of a ghost she saw that terrible day when a dare-gone-wrong almost got Jesse—the boy she secretly loved—arrested for murder. But now Mira is back in Kipsen to attend Celine’s wedding at the plantation, which has been transformed into a lush vacation resort. Mira hopes to reconnect with her friends, and especially, Jesse, to finally tell him the truth about her feelings and the events of that devastating long-ago day.

But for all its fancy renovations, the Woodsman remains a monument to its oppressive racist history. The bar serves antebellum drinks, entertainments include horrifying reenactments, and the service staff is nearly all black. Yet the darkest elements of the plantation’s past have been carefully erased—rumors that slaves were tortured mercilessly and that ghosts roam the lands, seeking vengeance on the descendants of those who tormented them, which includes most of the wedding guests. As the weekend unfolds, Mira, Jesse, and Celine are forced to acknowledge their history together, and to save themselves from what is to come.

About the Author

Dr. LaTanya McQueen has an MFA from Emerson College, a PhD from the University of Missouri, and was the Robert P. Dana Emerging Writer Fellow at Cornell College. She is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Coe College in Iowa. Check out her website at https://latanyamcqueen.com

This is one of the few books I’ve read this year that I absolutely could not put down. There’s everything here – a mysterious backstory that is slowly revealed, characters who experienced trauma in the past and are now thrown together again after years apart, an old nightmare re-emerging, and the uber-spooky setting of an old South plantation haunted by the spirits of enslaved people.

McQueen is skilled at building tension by introducing just enough information to keep you turning pages. Her storytelling is electric and spine-tingling, with excellent character development and vivid descriptions of people, things, and places. Her use of the shameful past of the torture, murder, and degradation of enslaved people is horrifying enough, but the concept she introduces here about the spirits of those same people is terrifying (hence the title).

Fans of atmospheric horror will swallow this one whole. Check the libraries & bookstores for it this summer.

Highly recommended.

Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Published By: Harper Perennial
Thanks to Netgalley* for the review copy

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker


Description

In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I— the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.

Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, who can hear the thoughts and longings of those around her and feels compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a restless creature of fire, once free to roam the desert but now imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and try to pass as human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Brought together under calamitous circumstances, their lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.

The Golem and the Jinni was one of my top reads in 2013 and I still recommend it to readers in my library. I was excited to discover this sequel and dove in right away.

That was a couple months ago.

As with Golem, Wecker takes her time introducing characters and floats the various storylines along a gently running river. Normally, I would find this a lovely and welcome difference to the suspense stories I usually read; in March 2021, I found it impossible to keep my attention on the story and had to put it down. This had nothing to do with the book – it was everything going on in both the world at large and my own little corner of it.

Fast forward to May and a slightly calmer environment. I picked this up again and spent a wonderful weekend immersed in the world of Chava and Ahmad. It was my time to read this.

I thoroughly enjoyed the stories of Chava, Ahmad, and all the people who touch their lives, as well as the way Wecker ties in the significant historic events of the times, To be sure, there are lots of stories here, but Wecker keeps them all bound together, much in the way that people interact in real life. She presents a view of community and caring among people who are very different and shows that human decency can transcend differences – a message we all need right now.

Recommended.

Publication Date: June 8, 2021
Published By: Harper
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan


Description

From the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir comes an unforgettable novel of a BBC-sponsored wartime cooking competition and the four women who enter for a chance to better their lives.

Two years into World War II, Britain is feeling her losses: The Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is holding a cooking contest—and the grand prize is a job as the program’s first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the competition would present a crucial chance to change their lives.

For a young widow, it’s a chance to pay off her husband’s debts and keep a roof over her children’s heads. For a kitchen maid, it’s a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For a lady of the manor, it’s a chance to escape her wealthy husband’s increasingly hostile behavior. And for a trained chef, it’s a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.

These four women are giving the competition their all—even if that sometimes means bending the rules. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together only serve to break it apart?

Any book about cooking is one I’m probably going to pick up and in The Kitchen Front I found a delightful examination of the relationships of 4 women in a small English village during World War II. There are the usual colorful village characters but it’s the four women – sisters Audrey & Gwendoline, Nell, and Zelda – who are the beating heart of this story.

Ryan does an exceptional job of untangling and renewing the relationships between the women but also of dissecting the patriarchal culture of mid-century Britain where an accomplished female chef is given no respect, an ambitious woman is cast as a bitch because she has a logical mind, a woman who chose a chaotic family life is looked at with derision, and a woman having a child out of wedlock worries her entire life is ruined. Ryan explores the fear and frustration each woman experiences, but also dips into the joy and sisterhood they find through the Kitchen Front contest.

Fans of Ryan’s earlier work and of Tracy Chevalier and Mary Ann Shaffer will enjoy this.

Off the Wild Coast of Brittany by Juliet Blackwell


Description

An unforgettable story of resilience and resistance set during WWII and present-day France on a secluded island off the coast of Brittany

Natalie Morgen made a name for herself with a memoir about overcoming her harsh childhood after finding a new life in Paris. After falling in love with a classically trained chef, they moved together to his ancestral home, a tiny fishing village off the coast of Brittany.

But then Francois-Xavier breaks things off with her without warning, leaving her flat broke and in the middle of renovating the guesthouse they planned to open for business. Natalie’s already struggling when her sister, Alex, shows up unannounced. The sisters form an unlikely partnership to save the guesthouse, reluctantly admitting their secrets to each other as they begin to heal the scars of their shared past.

But the property harbors hidden stories of its own. During World War II, every man of fighting age on the island fled to England to join the Free French forces. The women and children were left on their own…until three hundred German troops took up residence, living side-by-side with the French women on the tiny island for the next several years.

When Natalie and Alex unearth an old cookbook in a hidden cupboard, they find handwritten recipes that reveal old secrets. With the help of locals, the Morgen sisters begin to unravel the relationship between Violette, a young islander whose family ran the guesthouse during WWII, and Rainier, a German military customs official with a devastating secret of his own.

This gentle exploration of the relationships between sisters and friends provided a lovely interlude on a gray, rainy Sunday for this reader. I’ve long been a fan of Blackwell’s Lily Ivory series which is hip and witchy, but have come to appreciate her novels set in France for their relatable characters and clever plots.

Here the story flips between the present day and World War II. Each era features a female protagonist who struggles with love, ambition, and curiosity about life outside the small worlds in which they grew up. Our present day heroine, Nat, is an influencer who has made a career out of traveling the world and asking “Porquois Pas?” However, she finds that the lifestyle that landed her on a remote island off the coast of France is no longer fulfilling. Having her sister show up unannounced leads her down a different path, one that ends in truth for both of them.

The World War II era story features a previous tenant of the guest house Nat runs in the present time. Violette longs for something more than the primitive and remote island life, but the influx of German soldiers flips her reality upside down. The story of how these island women channeled the magic of earlier inhabitants and used their own imaginations and determination to trick the Nazis is one of the most enjoyable tales I’ve read in a long time.

Blackwell does a nice job of knitting the past and present together, leaving me feeling sad the story ended. Fans of Blackwell’s previous work will not be disappointed; fans of Jenny Colgan will also find this an enjoyable read.