Review: The Last Daughter of York by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Last Daughter of York by Nicola CornickThe Last Daughter of York by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical fiction, historical mystery, timeslip fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“An engaging, fast-paced read for fans of Philippa Gregory and of dual-timeline historical fiction." —Library Journal
In the winter of 1483, Francis Lovell is Richard III’s Lord Chamberlain and confidant, but the threat of Henry Tudor’s rebels has the king entrusting to Francis and his wife, Anne, his most crucial mission: protecting the young Richard of York, his brother’s surviving son and a threat to Henry’s claims to the throne.
Two years later, Richard III is dead, and Anne hides the young prince of York while Francis is hunted by agents of the new king, Henry VII. Running out of options to keep her husband and the boy safe, Anne uses the power of an ancient family relic to send them away, knowing that in doing so she will never see Francis again.
In the present day, Serena Warren has been haunted by her past ever since her twin sister, Caitlin, disappeared. But when Caitlin’s bones are discovered interred in a church vault that hasn’t been opened since the eighteenth century, the police are baffled. Piecing together local folklore that speaks of a magical relic with her own hazy memories of the day Caitlin vanished, Serena begins to uncover an impossible secret that her grandfather has kept hidden, one that connects her to Anne, Francis and the young Duke of York.
Inspired by the enduring mystery of the Princes in the Tower, Nicola Cornick cleverly interprets the events into a dazzling novel set between a present-day mystery and a country on the brink of Tudor rule.  

My Review:

Once upon a time (in 1951) there was a mystery titled The Daughter of Time written by Josephine Tey (which was named as the greatest crime novel of all time by the Crime Writers’ Association). In at least some versions of causality, that book is most likely responsible for this book, either directly or indirectly. It’s certainly directly responsible for my personal interest in Richard III and the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, every bit as much as it was for the 21st century protagonist of the story.

And thereby hangs this tale – which actually does reference that earlier book.

The mystery of the “Princes in the Tower” has never been solved. What is known is that, as is related in the 15th century sections of this book, the two young sons of Edward IV were taken to the Tower of London – which at that time was still a royal residence in addition to being a prison – for “safekeeping”. Their father was dead and the older boy should have become Edward V. Instead their uncle Richard of Gloucester became Richard III and eventually one of Shakespeare’s more memorable villains.

It’s Richard III’s body that was discovered under a car park in Leicester in 2012.

The two boys disappeared from the Tower during Richard’s brief and tumultuous reign. Shakespeare’s account portrays Richard as a tyrant and the murderer of his nephews. Tey’s book, with its armchair investigation of the historical mystery, rather convincingly gives a different accounting of the events.

Including a persuasive reminder that history is written by the victors, and that Shakespeare’s play was based on accounts written by those victors and under the rule of a monarch who was the direct inheritor of those victors. He was hardly an authoritative historical source even if he was a memorable one.

The mystery has never been solved, and unlike that of their infamous uncle, the bodies of the two missing princes have not been verifiably found. The bodies of two boys who were purported to have been the princes were discovered in the Tower in the 17th century. But, unlike the more recent discovery of Richard III’s body, no DNA tests have ever been conducted and the identity of the bodies is in dispute.

The reason why all of this long ago history matters in this time slip story is that the slip in time takes the reader back to the last years of Edward IV’s reign and the events that followed. In that past, we follow Anne Fitzhugh and her husband Francis Lovell, a staunch supporter of Richard of Gloucester. While her life is fictionalized, the key events of her part of the story match recorded history – particularly the version of that history that Tey popularized in her novel.

Except for one singular part – the link between Anne and Francis Lovell’s past and Serena Warren and Jack Lovell’s present. A link that may remind readers a tiny bit of Outlander.

Just a tiny bit.

What was utterly fascinating about this story was the way that the historical events lead to the mystery in the present. That Serena’s twin sister Caitlin disappeared without a trace 11 years before, and that her body has just turned up in an archeological dig on the grounds of Lovell Minster.

In a tomb that has not been disturbed since 1708.

The police are baffled. Serena’s parents are not holding up at all well, but that’s neither new nor unexpected. Serena is the stalwart one in the family. But she’s had dissociative amnesia since her twin disappeared. Now she needs to remember what she forgot, in the hopes that those lost memories hold the key to her sister’s murder.

Escape Rating A+: Obviously, I loved this one for the history. Reading The Last Daughter of York made me want to go back and re-read The Daughter of Time yet again. When I read it the first time, I was convinced that Richard III was not the villain that Shakespeare painted him to be, and I remain convinced.

What fascinated me about the historical aspects of this story is the way that the author made the fiction fit the known facts while still managing to add more than a touch of magic and mystery.

While there is a bit of paranormal “woo-woo” in the way that Caitlin’s body ended up in that tomb, the 21st century part of this story, the mystery of her disappearance, was also resolved more than satisfactorily. Serena’s entire family needs closure and the story does an excellent job of making that happen while adding just a bit of something extra into the mix.

I’m far from an unbiased reviewer this time around. If the history hadn’t worked for me, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the rest. Studying this particular era was a big part of my intellectual life for a very long time. Because this did work, and beautifully so, I was all in.

One final note. In the case of The Daughter of Time, the title was a bit of a pun. As Leonardo da Vinci said in his notebooks,, “Truth alone is the daughter of time.” The title of this book is both a play on that title and, I think, a prophecy – or a legacy. The story, in the end, is literally the story of the last daughter of the House of York.

I’ll leave it to you to discover just how that happens, and I wish you joy of this excellent read.

Review: The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea Cooper

Review: The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea CooperThe Cartographer's Secret by Tea Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 400
Published by Harper Muse on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A map into the past. A long-lost young woman. And a thirty-year family mystery.
The Hunter Valley, 1880. Evie Ludgrove loves to chart the landscape around her home—hardly surprising since she grew up in the shadow of her father’s obsession with the great Australian explorer Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt. So when an advertisement appears in The Bulletin magazine offering a thousand-pound reward for proof of where Leichhardt met his fate, Evie is determined to use her father’s papers to unravel the secret. But when Evie sets out to prove her theory, she vanishes without a trace, leaving behind a mystery that haunts her family for thirty years.
Letitia Rawlings arrives at the family estate in her Ford Model T to inform her great-aunt Olivia of a loss in their family. But Letitia is also escaping her own problems—her brother’s sudden death, her mother’s scheming, and her dissatisfaction with the life planned out for her. So when Letitia discovers a beautifully illustrated map that might hold a clue to the fate of her missing aunt, Evie Ludgrove, she sets out to discover the truth. But all is not as it seems, and Letitia begins to realize that solving the mystery of her family’s past could offer as much peril as redemption.
A gripping historical mystery for fans of Kate Morton and Natasha Lester’s The Paris Seamstress, The Cartographer’s Secret follows a young woman’s quest to heal a family rift as she becomes entangled in one of Australia’s greatest historical puzzles.
“A galvanizing, immersive adventure . . . forcing the characters to reckon with the choice found at the crux of passion and loyalty and the power of shared blood that can either destroy or heal.” —Joy Callaway, international bestselling author of The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Daphne du Maurier Award Winner, 2021Historical story with both romance and mysteryFull-length, stand-alone novel (c. 104,000 words)Includes discussion questions for book clubs

My Review:

I picked this up because I loved not one but two of the author’s previous books, The Woman in the Green Dress and The Girl in the Painting. At the time I finished The Girl in the Painting, The Cartographer’s Secret had already been published in the author’s native Australia, so the reviews were already out. Once I read them I couldn’t wait for this book to appear, as we seem to get her books a year later.

The Cartographer’s Secret was most definitely worth the wait!

This is kind of a “lost and found” story, slipped in time between 1880 and 1911, set in Australia’s Hunter Valley. But it really starts earlier, in 1848. That’s really, really starts, with the very real disappearance of the German explorer and naturalist, Ludwig Leichhardt.  Leichhardt disappeared in 1848 while exploring the Swan River. Or at least while intending to explore the Swan River. He disappeared somewhere along the way, and was never seen again – or at least not that anyone was able to verify, in spite of an awful lot of people spending an awful lot of time AND money looking very, very hard.

The search for Leichhardt is the real historical hook that kicks off this story. Where the fiction comes in is in the involvement of William Ludgrove, a fictional explorer who ran across Leichhardt on one of his much earlier explorations of the Hunter Valley – and helped the explorer safely reach his destination – at least that time.

Ludgrove, severely injured in a later expedition, maintained his fascination with his old colleague long after the man he referred to as the “Prince of Explorers” disappeared without a trace. Ludgrove’s obsession over the fate of the explorer was such that he invested entirely too much of his own capital in funding later searches. It’s an obsession he also passed on to his younger daughter Evie, much to his family’s despair.

Evie herself disappeared at the age of 18, and the devastation wrought by this second disappearance sent Ludgrove into a tailspin from which he never recovered. It also left the family broken in two, with his sister Olivia barely hanging on to the family horse stud in the Hunter Valley while his remaining daughter was living the high life in Sydney.

When tragedy strikes again in 1911, William’s granddaughter Lettie runs away from home. To home. Her brother has just been killed in a tragic accident, Lettie can no longer cope with her socially ambitious steamroller of a mother. So she flees. To the Hunter Valley, to her Great-Aunt Olivia and the land that her family once called home. And all the secrets that land and its surroundings conceal.

At Olivia’s behest, Lettie takes up the search for the lost and the missing by following the trail of the missing Evie as she followed the trail of documentation for the lost Leichhardt. Lettie has no idea just how much her Great-Aunt has put her own life on hold out of grief and guilt, all she knows is that the search gives her purpose and the lands at Yellow Rock have given her a place where she can belong.

If only she can manage to stand up to her mother.

Escape Rating A-: This is a “truth sets people free” story, even if the original mystery never does get solved – and hasn’t yet. Maybe someday. It only took five centuries to find the remains of Richard III, so there’s still PLENTY of time.

But this story really isn’t about Leichhardt’s disappearance. It’s about the shared family obsession over Leichhardt’s disappearance and the tragic consequences for that family. Not that everything that happened to the Ludgrove/Maynard family is directly related to William’s unwillingness to just “let it go”. By the time Lettie comes to Yellow Rock, a good bit of what’s still wrong is wrapped around Olivia’s inability to let go of William’s – and Evie’s – inability to let go. It’s a vicious cycle that just keeps on turning.

What I loved about this story was Lettie’s journey of discovery and exploration. I always like a well done research story, and this definitely was that, even if it wasn’t research in a traditional way. Lettie has a riddle to solve. Actually she has many riddles to solve, including some that she’s not aware of or not willing to admit need solving.

She thinks she’s sorting through her grandfather’s papers to find out what Evie was working on when she disappeared. She’s trying to follow Evie’s trail in the hopes of either finding evidence of Leichhardt’s long-ago journey or more possibly, finding evidence of Evie’s slightly less long-ago journey..

What she’s unconsciously looking for is closure, even if she doesn’t know just how many losses her great-aunt needs closure for. It may be about Evie but it isn’t all about Evie.

One of the recurring threads of this story is the way that so many people protect themselves or believe they are protecting someone else by concealing truths that should be revealed. So many of the reasons for Olivia’s losses in particular are wrapped in the secrets she hid from others – particularly Evie – because she didn’t want to deal with them herself.

In sorting through her family’s past, Lettie is also forced to face the truths that she’s been hiding from herself about who she is, who she wants to be, and how much she needs to find her own path. Lettie is afraid that if she lets herself know her own truths, she’ll lose even more of her family. So she’s been hiding from herself. Following Evie’s journey lets her finally be who she is meant to be instead of who and what her mother has tried to force her to be.

For this reader, it was the journey that I loved. The destination was cathartic, but what kept me glued to this book was the way that Lettie kept searching – even when the discoveries were painful.

And speaking of painful, the author’s next book, The Fossil Hunter, also set in the Hunter Valley, is wrapped around an Australian nurse in the aftermath of World War I who goes searching for a surcease of pain from her wartime experiences and losses and discovers a link to the past that she never expected. And I can’t wait to see what she finds.

TLC

Review: The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper

Review: The Girl in the Painting by Tea CooperThe Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Thomas Nelson on March 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young prodigy in need of family.
A painting that shatters a woman’s peace.
And a decades-old mystery demanding to be solved.
Australia, 1906
Orphan Jane Piper is nine years old when philanthropist siblings Michael and Elizabeth Quinn take her into their home to further her schooling. The Quinns are no strangers to hardship. Having arrived in Australia as penniless immigrants, they now care for others as lost as they once were.
Despite Jane’s mysterious past, her remarkable aptitude for mathematics takes her far over the next seven years, and her relationship with Elizabeth and Michael flourishes as she plays an increasingly prominent part in their business.
But when Elizabeth reacts in terror to an exhibition at the local gallery, Jane realizes no one knows Elizabeth after all—not even Elizabeth herself. As the past and present converge and Elizabeth’s grasp on reality loosens, Jane sets out to unravel her story before it’s too late.
From the gritty reality of the Australian goldfields to the grand institutions of Sydney, this compelling novel presents a mystery that spans continents and decades as both women finally discover a place to call home.
“Combining characters that are wonderfully complex with a story spanning decades of their lives, The Girl in the Painting is a triumph of family, faith, and long-awaited forgiveness. I was swept away!” —Kristy Cambron, bestselling author of The Paris Dressmaker and the Hidden Masterpiece novels
Stand-alone novel with rich historical detailsBook length: 102,000 wordsIncludes discussion questions for book clubs and historical note from the authorAlso by this author: The Woman in the Green Dress

My Review:

Who are we, really? Are we who we think we are, or are we the person we were born to be? It’s an age-old question about nature vs. nurture, and it plays out in this timeslip story powered by the wing-flap of not the butterfly of chaos theory but rather by the wingbeats of a swarm of almost-forgotten doves.

And it’s the story of two lost girls who are found, in the end, one by the other. Or maybe three lost girls.

The story opens, rather than begins, in Australia in 1906, when math-whiz Jane Piper is rescued from the local orphanage by the equally gifted Elizabeth Quinn and her brother Michael. The Quinns have made a great success of their many businesses in Maitland, New South Wales. Australia has been very, very good to the Quinns, who have never forgotten their roots as desperate Irish immigrants in the 1860s. Jane is the latest in a very long line of young people that the Quinns have taken into their home and businesses from the orphanage.

But Jane’s mathematical talent makes her special. The Quinns, now well into middle age, have expanded their original business enterprises, stores and auction houses, into philanthropy on Elizabeth’s part and politics on Michael’s. Neither has ever married, and in Jane’s mathematical talents they see someone they can train to help them in their many endeavors.

And Jane is more than willing. She’s a math prodigy but not very cognizant of social cues. In today’s terms we’d probably say that she was somewhere on the part of the autism spectrum that includes Asperger’s. Her unofficial adoption into the Quinn’s household turns out to be a boon for not just Jane but also Michael and Elizabeth, as she becomes both their quasi-niece and a valued assistant to both of the Quinns.

It is in that capacity that Jane finds herself in the midst of the Quinns’ greatest secret, as the long-buried past interferes in the suddenly fraught present.

Escape Rating A-: I originally picked this up because I really enjoyed one of the author’s previous books, The Woman in the Green Dress, and was hoping for more of the same. Which I definitely got with The Girl in the Painting.

Both stories are set in Australia, and both feature dual timelines, the historical past and then the past of the main characters, and both are centered around old and nearly-forgotten mysteries, although the stories don’t relate to each other. So if you like the sound of The Girl in the Painting, you’ll love The Woman in the Green Dress and very much vice-versa.

At the top I said this was a story about nature vs. nurture, and that turns out to be what lies at the heart of the mystery as well. A mystery that neither the readers nor the characters are aware of as the story begins.

When we first peer into Michael and Elizabeth Quinn’s past, we see the brother and sister on the gangplank at Liverpool, waiting to board a ship for Australia to reconnect with their parents. It’s only as the story continues that we discover that what we assumed about that initial scene, and what Elizabeth remembers of it – after all, she was only 4 years old at the time – are not quite what actually happened.

It’s a secret that Michael has been keeping from his sister for 50 years at this point, and it’s highly likely he intended to go right on keeping it. At least until Elizabeth has a “turn” or a psychological break, or a breakthrough of suppressed memory, at an art exhibit, and all of his secrets start to unravel.

And even though I guessed what one of those secrets was fairly early on, the story, both in their past and in their present, it still made for a compelling read. Just because I’d managed to fill in one corner of the jigsaw did not mean I had much of an inkling about the rest of the puzzle. Pulling the remaining pieces out of their box and figuring out how they fit – or perhaps didn’t fit – was part of what made this story so compelling for me as a reader.

In order to reconcile the past with the present, it’s up to Jane Piper, now a full-fledged partner in the business, to poke and prod her way into those mysteries that refuse to lie dormant in the past. Not because Jane is any kind of detective, but because she loves the Quinns, is grateful to them, and simply can’t resist her own compulsion to resolve the unresolved, as that’s part of her mathematical gift and her social awkwardness. She has to know, and she can’t rest until she does.

While I found Jane herself to be a bit of an unresolved character, more of a vehicle for the story to be told than an integral part of it, the story of Michael and Elizabeth Quinn’s rise from hardworking poverty to wealth and influence was fascinating in its portrayal of two people who lived a lie that was also the utter and absolute truth.

As much as I enjoyed the Quinns’ story, I have to say that I’m finding this author’s portrayal of Australian history wrapped in fiction to be lovely and absorbing and I’m looking forward to her next book (it looks like it will be The Cartographer’s Secret) whenever it appears.

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Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola CornickThe Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the tradition of the spellbinding historical novels of Philippa Gregory and Kate Morton comes a stunning story based on a real-life Tudor mystery, and of a curse that echoes through the centuries and shapes two women’s destinies…
1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape—one with devastating consequences that will echo through the centuries…
Present Day: When Lizzie Kingdom is forced to withdraw from the public eye in a blaze of scandal, it seems her life is over. But she’s about to encounter a young man, Johnny Robsart, whose fate will interlace with hers in the most unexpected of ways. For Johnny is certain that Lizzie is linked to a terrible secret dating back to Tudor times. If Lizzie is brave enough to go in search of the truth, then what she discovers will change the course of their lives forever.

My Review:

The fate of Amy Robsart has been one of those long-standing historical questions, to the point where the mystery of whether it was accident, suicide or murder was one of the historical mysteries presented to Inspector Alan Grant at the beginning of The Daughter of Time. While he decided to investigate the “Princes in the Tower”, the question of Amy Robsart is still an interesting one, because of the way that it ties back to a towering figure of English history, Queen Elizabeth I.

Whether the “Virgin Queen” really wanted to marry her Master of Horse, Robert Dudley, or not, the questions that surrounded his wife’s death pushed that possibility forever out of reach. But it’s easy to get caught up in the alternate paths of history. If Dudley and Elizabeth had married, would she still have managed to become the legendary Gloriana? Would they have had children? How much different would history be if Elizabeth had a child of her own to follow her on the throne, instead of the endless plots of Mary, Queen of Scots and the English throne passing to HER son, James VI of Scotland who became James I of England.

There might have been no King James’ Bible. The Stuarts would never have come to the throne, which means that the Hanovers would never have followed them. If there was no George III, there would have been no American Revolution.

Now there’s a fascinating idea, and just the kind of rabbit hole that alternate history stories love to go down. But that’s not what happens in this story.

The story of The Forgotten Sister is kind of a time slip story that provides illumination on that long-ago mystery but doesn’t change the outcome.

In the 21st century, Lizzie Kingdom and Dudley Lester have been friends since childhood. They are also A-List celebrities. What they aren’t is married to each other. Nor do they seem to have any desire to be. Rather, Dudley is married to Amelia Robsart, while he spends a great deal of time palling around London and partying with his best friend Lizzie.

To the point where Amelia Lester feels neglected, only because she is – gets depressed, only because her life is depressing – and falls down a flight of marble stairs. At her home, Oakhanger, which was constructed using the stones from Cunmor, where, guess what? Amy Robsart fell down a marble staircase and died in 1560, neglected and depressed because everyone knew her husband was off cavorting with Elizabeth Tudor while she was forced to rusticate in the country.

The parallels between Amelia Robsart’s fate in the 21st century and Amy Robsart’s fate in the 16th are filled with similarities and congruences to the point where we think we know what happened both times around – and that the same things happened both times around. And we kind of do.

But we kind of don’t.

Because the 16th century part of this story may be told from Amy Robsart’s point of view, but the 21st century perspective is not Amelia’s. Instead, we see the events in the 21st century through the eyes of Lizzie Kingdom. A woman who, like her 16th century avatar, is determined to finally seize the reins of her own life, but someone who has an entirely different set of options.

If she can just get out from under the accessory to murder charge she’s currently saddled with – along with the fleet of managers and assistants and toadies who are determined to keep her under glass and under their control – so they can continue to drain her dry.

Escape Rating B+: One of the things I wondered about as I read this was whether it worked better if you knew the history – or if it worked better if you didn’t and everything was a revelation. This was history I knew and knew well, so the parallels were easy to spot – although the way the author twisted Amy/Amelia’s story was fascinating. Historically perhaps not plausible, but not completely implausible either.

The one problem with knowing the history was that while the name parallels mostly worked pretty well, the idea that anyone had named their child Letty Knollys in the late 20th century was almost a bridge too far. The congruences didn’t need to be THAT on the nose to work.

That being said, what makes this story work is that the 21st century protagonist isn’t Amelia but rather Lizzie. And that the similarities between Lizzie’s life – and especially Lizzie’s choices – and those of OMG Elizabeth I are less direct equivalences and more of a looser connection. Although it was inspired to think that the closest match to the life of a royal in the 16th century was that of an A-Lister in the 21st. And it so works.

But the story works because as much as the Amy/Amelia Robsart deaths turn out to be history repeating itself, what we see in Lizzie is her breaking out of the bubble she’s been living in, breaking away from the sycophants who are actually controlling her, and finally making a life of her own and making her own choices and taking her own chances. She’s in her late 20s, money seems to be no object, she can afford to take a chance – at least once the murder is solved – and search for a life that has meaning for her rather than a life that makes money for everybody else.

The bits of paranormal woo-woo that serve as kind of the glue between the two time streams are done once-over-lightly in a way that makes them part of Lizzie’s taking charge of her own life as well as part of the ultimate resolution to the timestream. It was just right and just enough and made the ending just lovely.

Review: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

Review: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona DavisThe Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Dutton Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A Good Morning America Book Club Pick!
“A page-turner for booklovers everywhere! . . . A story of family ties, their lost dreams, and the redemption that comes from discovering truth.”—Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of The Shoemaker's Wife

In nationally bestselling author Fiona Davis's latest historical novel, a series of book thefts roils the iconic New York Public Library, leaving two generations of strong-willed women to pick up the pieces.
It's 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn't ask for more out of life--her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she finds herself drawn to Greenwich Village's new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club--a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women's rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. But when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she's forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.
Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she's wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie's running begin disappearing from the library's famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-adverse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage--truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library's history.

My Review:

Once upon a time, there really were apartments built into at least some of the branches of the New York Public Library, including the branch on 5th Avenue – the one with the lions. So the apartment that Laura Lyons and her family live in really did exist, and was occupied by the real-life family of the first Superintendent, John Fedeler, who had an interesting history but thankfully no stories of stolen books – not that THAT doesn’t happen in plenty of libraries in real life. As the source material the author lists at the end demonstrates all too clearly.

While NYPL’s iconic Schwarzman Building is nearly as much of a character in the story as Laura Lyons and her granddaughter Sadie Donovan, the heart of this timeslip story revolves around the ways that family legacies and family stories shape our lives for both good and ill.

The story runs on two parallel tracks, both wrapped around the enigma of a series of thefts of rare, collectible books from NYPL’s rare book collection. And the way that both series of thefts implicate the Lyons family, past and present, and call into question their honor, their honesty and their service to a beloved institution.

Laura Lyons story is both the most difficult, and the most dynamic, as she starts her story in 1913 as a traditional wife and mother, albeit with a rather unusual address, an apartment on the Mezzanine level of the 5th Avenue branch of NYPL. Her journey is the longest and the hardest, as she struggles to make her own place in a world that expects her to stand quietly and respectfully behind and not beside her husband, the first Superintendent of the grand, new, library building.

But Laura wants to be more than a wife and mother. She wants to be a full participant in the rapidly changing world around her, and even more, she wants to help lead those changes. In her quest to become a journalist, she steps out of her husband’s shadow and away from her traditional role to find her own voice and her own life.

The gap left by her frequent absences causes a rift in her family, a rift that leaves a crack through which her son falls – into the clutches of an unscrupulous young thief and conman. Someone who gives the boy the attention and direction that is missing from his own family. Leading to the destruction of her husband’s career and his legacy – but to the making of Laura’s own.

In parallel, we see her granddaughter Sadie Donovan in 1993, the new and temporary curator of the now-famous Berg Collection – a collection that includes a walking stick that once belonged to her grandmother, the famous, and occasionally infamous feminist essayist Laura Lyons. When Sadie’s new position is threatened by another series of thefts from the Berg Collection, thefts that strikingly parallel the events that destroyed her grandmother’s family, history repeats as the granddaughter is under exactly the same suspicion that her grandfather was so long ago – that she is the insider responsible for the thefts.

In her quest to exonerate herself by finding the thief, Sadie investigates the events of the past – a past that her mother refused to discuss – ever. But in that search Sadie finds the link between her now and Laura’s then, and a truth that gives her all the answers she never knew she needed.

Escape Rating A: I have to say that this story had me at library. The idea of living in a big library like NYPL is probably every booklover’s dream. So the story of Laura and her family being fortunate enough to live inside that iconic building would have captured me if the story had been all sweetness and light. Which it isn’t, and that’s what made it so good.

I also have to say at this point that I am a librarian, and have to say that the description of Sadie’s career and day-to-day working life rang a lot of bells for me. What she did, how she got there, how she felt were all very reminiscent of my own working life. I was a working librarian in 1993 just as Sadie was, and her experiences were similar enough to my own that she was easy to identify with.

On my third hand, there are parts of Laura’s story that feel like they are in dialog with yesterday’s book, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, in spite of the stories taking place on opposite sides of the Atlantic and nearly a century apart. Both Laura and Agatha were women who straddled the line between being traditional wives and mothers and wanting more for themselves and more from their partners. That so little had changed about traditional women’s roles and how much censure women received when they deviated from those roles makes the century that separates them seem much shorter than the 80 years that separates Laura from her granddaughter. Laura’s messages about women’s lives and women’s labor and women’s need for both true partners and real independence has resonance because there’s still so far to go. There was in 1993 and there still is today.

But the heart of this story is the secret. The secret of how to steal from the locked cages of the Berg Collection. It’s a secret that is discovered by one generation and taught to another. A secret that breaks Laura Lyons’ family. A secret that reaches down through the generations. A secret that taints the life of her daughter and very nearly ruins the life of her granddaughter, just as it did her husband’s life.

The investigation of that secret, an investigation that fails in the past but finally succeeds at the end is so simple that you’re surprised no one figured it out sooner – including the reader. It’s also complicated by the weight of the secrets and lies that accreted around it, and so devastating that it nearly claims another generation of victims.

Sadie doesn’t so much uncover the secret as stumble over it, but the way that her stumbling takes her through her family’s history is absolutely captivating every step of the way.

Review: The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper

Review: The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea CooperThe Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on June 16, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A cursed opal, a gnarled family tree, and a sinister woman in a green dress emerge in the aftermath of World War I.
After a whirlwind romance, London teashop waitress Fleur Richards can’t wait for her new husband, Hugh, to return from the Great War. But when word of his death arrives on Armistice Day, Fleur learns he has left her a sizable family fortune. Refusing to accept the inheritance, she heads to his beloved home country of Australia in search of the relatives who deserve it more.
In spite of her reluctance, she soon finds herself the sole owner of a remote farm and a dilapidated curio shop full of long-forgotten artifacts, remarkable preserved creatures, and a mystery that began more than sixty-five years ago. With the help of Kip, a repatriated soldier dealing with the sobering aftereffects of war, Fleur finds herself unable to resist pulling on the threads of the past. What she finds is a shocking story surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress. . . a story that, nevertheless, offers hope and healing for the future.
This romantic mystery from award-winning Australian novelist Tea Cooper will keep readers guessing until the astonishing conclusion.
“Readers of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams will be dazzled. The Woman in the Green Dress spins readers into an evocative world of mystery and romance in this deeply researched book by Tea Cooper. There is a Dickensian flair to Cooper’s carefully constructed world of lost inheritances and found treasures as two indomitable women stretched across centuries work to reconcile their pasts while reclaiming love, identity and belonging against two richly moving historical settings. As soon as you turn the last page you want to start again just to see how every last thread is sewn in anticipation of its thrilling conclusion. One of the most intelligent, visceral and vibrant historical reads I have had the privilege of visiting in an age.” —Rachel McMillan, author of The London Restoration 
“Refreshing and unique, The Woman in the Green Dress sweeps you across the wild lands of Australia in a thrilling whirl of mystery, romance, and danger. This magical tale weaves together two storylines with a heart-pounding finish that is drop-dead gorgeous.” —J’nell Ciesielski, author of The Socialite
Full-length historical story with both romance and mysteryStand-alone novelIncludes Discussion Questions for Book Clubs

My Review:

Particularly large and/or valuable gems often have legends attached to them. Or curses. Or both. Generally both. Based on its history, the Hope Diamond is probably safest in the Smithsonian, rather than around the neck of someone who might be the victim of its curse. Although its owner during the 1920s seems to have made a habit of letting her Great Dane wear it!

The gem at the heart of this intricate work of timeslip fiction would have been a magnet for myths, curses and thieves had it ever existed; a great, big, beautiful opal, the first of its kind to be discovered in Australia, at a time when Queen Victoria had made the wearing of opals all the rage. In spite of their previous reputation as unlucky.

Or cursed.

But the opal, cursed or otherwise, kind of acts like a brooch that pins this story together. A story that takes place in two separate time periods, 1853 and 1919. This is, after all, a timeslip story, so it’s the past that is unveiled in the 1853 timeline that needs to be resolved in the 1919 “present”.

And it’s a doozy.

Australia in 1853 is not too distant from its penal colony roots. Just distant enough that the emancipationists – the deported convicts, while still looked down upon, do have a chance of making a new life for themselves. Equally, they have a chance of getting up to their old tricks. Or perhaps a bit of both.

Australia is also a vast country much like the American West, where the white “settlers” were doing their level best – or should that be absolute worst – to push the continent’s original owners out of their ancestral lands – and even to the brink of extinction if it can be managed. But at the same time, it’s a big place and there are still, at least in 1853, places where the whites have not encroached much – at least not yet – and where the unique native flora and fauna still thrive. Although all are under threat.

And that’s where the earlier portions of this story begin. With a young woman who does her best to protect the native people she views as friends and fellow stewards of the lands around her. A woman whose job, whose art, is to preserve the native fauna at least through expert taxidermy, as her father did before her.

At least until her home and her life are invaded by a young man from Austria, on a journey to visit the sites that his mentor visited 20 years before. Together they find themselves caught up in a search for that fabulous missing opal, only to dig up way more than they bargained for in family secrets – and murder.

In 1919, Fleur Richards learns that her husband of just a few months has been killed in action in the closing days of the Great War, and that he has left his grief-stricken wife an inheritance she never knew he had. She thought that the dashing Australian soldier, Hugh Richards, was a young man with an eye to the future, but no more or greater financial prospects than her orphaned and impoverished self.

But the inheritance she does not want spurs her to travel halfway around the world to discover just who her husband really was, in the hopes of finding someone more deserving of his fortune than she believes herself to be.

She finds more than she bargained for. A cursed gem, a locked and abandoned shop of curios and wonders, the solution to a long-ago mystery. And a home.

Escape Rating A-: I have to say that The Woman in the Green Dress gets off to a bit of a slow start, hence the A- rating. Somewhere past the first third of the book the story takes off and develops all sorts of lovely twisty-turny plot threads that keep the story zipping along from there to the end.

But it takes a while to get there, approximately the amount of story it takes for Fleur to get to Australia and get fed up with the runaround she’s getting in Sydney. And on the historic side, the amount of time for Della to meet Stefan and decide to take her life back in her own hands by returning to Sydney to discover what changes her Aunt Cordelia has made in the shop that Della owns.

And I’ve just realized the juxtaposition, that Della’s story takes off when she gets to Sydney, and Fleur’s gets its wings when she leaves it. Not that Fleur doesn’t return fairly quickly, but as the two heroines start moving – so does the story.

Both the past and the present stories are wrapped around secrets. Della has to uncover the secrets that her Aunt is keeping – before those secrets get her killed. Not that they haven’t already left a trail of bodies in their wake. Fleur needs to uncover the secret of who her husband really was, and to learn the truth about the legacy he left behind for her to unravel and resolve.

In the end, it’s a story about the truth setting them both free. And about a beautiful, captivating opal that was both lost and found.

But that woman in the green dress – she’s pure poison. Her story, however, is as delicious as her tonic is deadly.

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Review: The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz Williams

Review: The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz WilliamsThe Wicked Redhead: A Wicked City Novel by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Wicked City #2
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on December 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this follow-up to The Wicked City, New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams combines past and present in this delicious Jazz Age adventure featuring a saucy redheaded flapper, the square-jawed Prohibition agent who loves her, and a beautiful divorcee trying to remake her life in contemporary New York.

New York City, 1998: When Ella Gilbert discovers her banker husband is cheating on her, she loses both her marriage and the life she knew. In her new apartment in an old Greenwich Village building, she’s found unexpected second love with Hector, a musician who lives upstairs. And she’s discovered something else, just as surprising—a connection to the mesmerizing woman scandalously posed in a vintage photograph titled Redhead Beside Herself.

Florida, 1924: Geneva “Gin” Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from Appalachia, barely survived a run-in with her notorious bootlegger stepfather. She and Oliver Anson, a Prohibition agent she has inconveniently fallen in love with, take shelter in Cocoa Beach, a rum-running haven. But the turmoil she tried to leave behind won’t be so easily outrun. Anson’s mother, the formidable Mrs. Marshall, descends on Florida with a proposition that propels Gin back to the family’s opulent New York home, and into a reluctant alliance. Then Anson disappears during an investigation, and Gin must use all her guile and courage to find him.

Two very different women, separated by decades. Yet as Ella tries to free herself from her ex, she is also hunting down the truth about the captivating, wicked Redhead in her photograph—a woman who loved and lived fearlessly. And as their link grows, she feels Gin urging her on, daring her to forge her own path, wherever it leads.

My Review:

I picked up The Wicked Redhead because I absolutely loved this author’s A Certain Age, and liked the predecessor to this, The Wicked City well enough. So I signed up to see what happened next.

Unlike most of this author’s books, which are loosely connected with some of the same people slipping in and out of the story, The Wicked Redhead is a direct sequel to The Wicked City. The action in this book picks up immediately where the other left off – broken bones, bruises and all.

Meaning that while most of this author’s books seem to stand well alone – the connections between them are quite loose – it feels really necessary to have read The Wicked City before The Wicked Redhead – and possibly recently at that – otherwise the story feels very much like it starts in the middle. It took me a bit to feel like I had caught up – or back – to where this story begins as I read The Wicked City almost three years ago..

But one of the other differences between the Wicked City series and the author’s other books is that the connection all the others share – along with these two, is a setting among the glitterati of New York City during the Roaring 20s. A period that roared because of all the illegal booze coming into the city and being fought over both in and out of it.

In other words, during Prohibition. (BTW there is an absolutely fantastic Prohibition Museum in Savannah – but I seriously digress.)

What makes this series different is that unlike the author’s other works, this is a time slip story. In both books, the framing story revolves around Ella in the late 1990s, about to divorce her seriously slimy soon-to-be-ex and living in the building next door to the Speakeasy where the 1920s action of that first book takes place.

As Ella can hear the music of the past – literally – her story frames that of Geneva Kelly, the redhead of the title. Also the step-daughter of one of those rumrunner kingpins and the lover of an FBI agent out to fight the trade in illicit booze – albeit mostly because of the even worse crime that surrounds it.

At the end of The Wicked City, Geneva, now former FBI agent Anson Marshall, and Geneva’s little sister Patsy are on the run after the death of her stepfather at their hands. (The two adults’ hands, not little Patsy!)

They run to Cocoa, Florida, straight to Anson’s friends Simon and Virginia, the protagonists of Cocoa Beach.

And that’s where the story really begins, as the FBI reaches out its rather dirty – at least in this instance – hands to grab Anson back again. And then proceeds to lose him.

Gin Kelly isn’t a woman for sitting around and waiting for other people to take care of her business for her. With the help of, of all people, Anson’s mother – a woman who hates Gin’s from the top of her redhead to the bottom of her low-class (at least according to Mrs. Marshall) feet, Gin sets out to find and rescue the man she loves.

While back in the 1990s, Ella works to discover who Gin really was and why the rare, beautiful and quite salacious “art” photos of “The Redhead” have landed in her lap.

Escape Rating B-: The difficulty with time slip fiction usually revolves around how to handle the two separate timelines. When the slip in time revolves around the main character moving back and forth – as in Outlander – focusing on that character takes care of the dilemma. But in most timeslip fiction the story slips between two interconnected time periods – with separate casts in each.

That’s the case here as Ella’s story in 1998 connects to Gin’s story in 1924 through that photograph of “The Redhead” and Ella’s residence in the NYC apartment building that Gin used to own, as well as a connection through a whole lot of people in 1998 whose past back in the 1920s is connected one way or another to Gin Kelly – connections that Ella uncovers – or that they uncover to her – in the course of this story.

And that’s where this one fell down for me. I found Gin’s story absolutely fascinating – as I did in The Wicked City. But Ella’s story was much less interesting – but with all of those discoveries it  was more of it than just a framing story. If we had stayed back in 1924 with Gin and her lovers, friends and enemies – as we did in the marvelous A Certain Age with Anson’s mother! – I’d have been a happy reader.

But Ella’s story – which I found unnecessary in The Wicked City – I just didn’t care for at all this time around. Having her discover that she was pregnant by the ex-husband she left in the first book seemed like just a way of screwing up her life – a life which had plenty of problems already without adding a very untimely pregnancy into the mix. Your reading mileage may vary.

Gin’s story on the other hand was a wild thrill ride complete with epic betrayals, high highs, low lows, boat chases, pirates and a desperate race against the odds. I could have followed her story all day – or at least most of a night of good reading. And I wish this story had stuck with her – because, as one of the characters says – Gin draws all eyes to her the instant she steps into the room and keeps them focused there until after she’s left.

So read this one for Gin and the rumrunners. Her story is worth a book all of its own.

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Review: The Painted Castle by Kristy Cambron

Review: The Painted Castle by Kristy CambronThe Painted Castle (Lost Castle #3) by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Lost Castle #3
Pages: 400
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Bestselling author Kristy Cambron concludes the Lost Castle novels with this sweeping tale of art and secrets long buried in England.

It was supposed to be a one-week job: survey an art find, collect a hefty fee, and use that to settle historian Kiera Foley’s life back into balance. But from the moment she sets foot in the East Suffolk countryside, the mysteries surrounding the old English manor and the enigmatic art thief who’s employed her stir more questions than answers. Then, Kiera finds the existence of a portrait captivating enough to upend all of her expectations. This one could be a twin—a painting so close in composition to a known masterpiece, it may be rendered priceless if it truly captured the likeness of a young Queen named Victoria.

Set in three time periods—the rapid change of Victorian England, the tumultuous skies over England’s eastern shores in WWII, and modern day—The Painted Castle unfolds a legacy of faith, family, and stories that are generations in the making.

My Review:

The Painted Castle is a charming and entrancing time slip story – and this reader was so completely entranced that I finished it on one single rainy afternoon.

Like the previous books in this series, The Lost Castle and Castle on the Rise, the story is set in three distinct time periods. In this particular castle, the 1840s, the 1940s and the present. What links the three time periods in this story is a portrait. And a secret. And a secret about the portrait.

In the present day, disgraced art expert Keira Foley is back in Dublin working in the family pub, after her disaster-at-love derailed her career. And it’s there that suspected art thief Emory Scott tracks her down. Scott has a project that he believes is right up her alley – and will provide her with professional vindication as well.

He’s in charge of the restoration of Parham Hill Estate in Suffolk, and he has a portrait that he needs Keira to identify and authenticate. It’s a portrait of Queen Victoria, and it looks like a companion piece to the famous “secret picture” painted by famed portrait artist Franz Xavier Winterhalter in the 1840s. The portrait shows a young, newly married Victoria, with her hair down, looking as if she is thinking rather wicked thoughts about her new husband.

Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Signed and dated 1843

Speculation about the existence of such a picture formed a piece of what crashed Keira’s professional career. The personal crash was something else altogether. But determining whether this portrait is what it appears to be is an inducement guaranteed to bring Keira to Parham Hill – where the long-shuttered estate casts its own spell on both Keira and Emory – whatever their initial thoughts on the matter – or each other.

As they research the history of the estate, the past they discover comes alive through chapters revolving around the actual painting of that portrait – and the circumstances that brought Winterhalter’s surprising apprentice to the notice of the Queen.

Alongside the chapters in the 1840s, the portrait of the artist as a young woman, readers are also treated to a later and much more recent chapter in the estate’s – and the portrait’s – history. In the 1940s, during WWII and the repeated German bombings of London and the English countryside, the young widow of the last owner of the Estate is doing her level best to keep body and soul together, not just for herself and the estate, but for a host of children sent to the country for safety – and two German-Jewish orphans smuggled out of their homeland after Kristallnacht.

When the nearby U.S. Airbase requisitions the use of Parham HIll for quarters for excess officers, Parham HIll and its lady, Amelia Wood, open their doors and their hearts. Particularly to one American officer who captures her heart – in spite of how deeply, painfully inadvisable it is to build even friendships that can be taken away in the blink of an eye – or the drop of a bomb.

It is in the 1840s that the portrait is painted, in the 1940s that it is hidden, and in the here and now that it is brought to light. Churning up secrets and lives every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I picked up The Painted Castle because I really enjoyed The Lost Castle – and was surprised by how much I did enjoy it. I was expecting more of the same with The Painted Castle and I was definitely NOT disappointed. At all.

That being said, I don’t think one absolutely HAS to read the first two books in order to get into the third. There are links, but they are all in the present and add depth without having the story dependent on having read the previous. Particularly as the link in the present is between Keira and her two brothers, while the important storyline in each book is the link between the women in the three separate time periods.

What makes the interlinked stories so interesting is that all the stories are impacted, in one way or another, by great change. In the 1840s it was the Industrial Revolution – which does impact that part of the story, although not in the way that the reader, or the heroine of that period, initially believes.

The upheaval of the World War II era is obvious, even on the home front.

And then there’s the now, where both Keira’s and Emory’s lives are more than a bit of a mess – as is the neglected estate they are investigating and renovating. And change always stirs up plenty of the elements that make a great story. In this particular case, not one but three.

I think it’s the World War II story that had the greatest depth – or at least it’s the one that pulled at my heartstrings the strongest. But all three have their tragedies – and their triumphs.

My rainy afternoon in The Painted Castle was VERY well spent. So well spent that the middle book in this series, Castle on the Rise, which I have not read – YET – has moved up a whole bunch of slots in the towering TBR piles. The first book in this trilogy, The Lost Castle, was lovely, and so is this entry in the series. I expect great things from that second book and am looking forward to the reading treat some rainy afternoon – soon.

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Review: The MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowell

Review: The MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowellThe MacInnes Affair by Blair McDowell
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, Romance, timeslip fiction
Pages: 318
Published by The Wild Rose Press on September 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

On holiday in Scotland, Lara MacInnes discovers the journals of a woman who loved Lara's own very-great grandfather, Lachlan MacInnes, in the mid-eighteen hundreds. With the help of Iain Glendenning, a handsome Highlander, Lara traces the path of this long-ago romance. Their research unearths mystery and murder. Uncovering the truth, a hundred and fifty years later, is a torturous and frustrating trail. Along the way, Lara and Iain in fall in love. Can they put an end forever to the feud between the MacInnes and Glendenning Clans that has persisted since the Battle of Culloden?

My Review:

The MacInnes Affair is the finest kind of time-slip romance, one where the dive into the past illuminates but does not overshadow the story in the present – and the other way around. It is a marvelous story every step of the way.

Lara MacInnes arrives at Athdara Castle during her summer break from teaching school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She’s come to the Scottish Highlands to visit her mother’s best friend, to research her own family history – and to put some time and distance between herself and her breakup with her overbearing ex-fiance.

She is first rescued by, and then falls in love with, Iain Glendenning, the son and heir of the Laird of Athdara – and also the son of her mother’s best friend. And who is also just about to break his engagement with his very own overbearing about-to-be-ex fiance.

That should be enough for the two of them to have in common, but that barely scratches the surface. And it’s what’s under that surface that makes this book so special.

The MacInnes and the Glendennings represent two sides of a bitter mid-18th century feud. At Culloden they fought on opposite sides, with the MacInnes part of the Jacobite cause, and the Glendennings on the side of “German Geordie”, the eventual King George I.

(If the name Culloden sounds familiar, you might be remembering Jamie Fraser from Outlander. The MacInnes Affair is nothing like Outlander, but Culloden and its aftermath cast a long and bloody shadow over the history of Scotland. It’s one of those fixed-points in time that ANY work of historical fiction dealing with 18th and 19th century Scotland has to touch upon.)

But Lara and Iain do not represent the first time that a MacInnes and a Glendenning have fallen in love across that bloody divide. The family history that Lara has come to investigate revolves around that first time, even though they are not aware of it when they begin their research.

Once upon a time, Lachlan MacInnes rescued Elspeth Glendenning, even more spectacularly than the 21st century event. That same Lachlan MacInnes emigrated to Canada to become Lara’s great-great-(and possibly a couple more greats)-grandfather. Very little seems to be known about him.

But Lara and Iain find Elspeth’s diaries. In her private writings she laid her own soul bare. And gives her 21st century descendants – and us – a heartbreaking story of love and duty, loss and redemption.

Escape Rating A-: There’s a lovely sense of history coming full circle in this story. Lara leaves home for Scotland to discover the truth about her ancestor, Lachlan MacInnes. And she returns home to discover that the truth was right there waiting for her all along.

But the journey along the way is what makes this one so good.

It’s interesting, looking back at the story, to think, on the one hand, that Lara and Iain’s story runs fairly smoothly. There are a couple of bumps in their road, but nothing that can’t be, and isn’t, overcome.

But when they get caught up in the search for Lachlan’s, and eventually Elspeth’s story, we do too. We read the diaries with them and feel both the heartbreak of Elspeth’s story as well as Lara and Iain’s compulsion to discover those hidden truths.

And even though Elspeth’s story is a “bigger” story, it’s tragic and heartbreaking at so many points, somehow it doesn’t overshadow Lara and Iain’s. That’s one of the things that this author does so very well, tell a story in two time frames and make them both equally compelling.

There are people who will see the synopsis for The MacInnes Affair with its time-slip storyline and its Scottish Highland setting and make an instant comparison to Outlander. That comparison is a mistake. Please don’t mistake me, I love the Outlander books and have read them all. But it’s a massive series that goes much more deeply into the 18th century and dives much farther into its history than a single-volume work could or should.

The MacInnes Affair is the story of one single pair of star-crossed lovers and their one small corner of history. And it’s lovely exactly as it is.

The way that their history wraps around and both influences the now and is in turn resolved in that now – well, that’s magic.

Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola CornickThe Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Gothic, historical fiction, horror, timeslip fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Graydon House on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of House of Shadows and The Phantom Tree comes a spellbinding tale of jealousy, greed, plotting and revenge—part history, part mystery—for fans of Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley and Barbara Erskine


London, 1765

Lady Isabella Gerard, a respectable member of Georgian society, orders her maid to take her new golden gown and destroy it, its shimmering beauty tainted by the actions of her brutal husband the night before.

Three months later, Lord Gerard stands at the shoreline of the lake, looking down at a woman wearing the golden gown. As the body slowly rolls over to reveal her face, it’s clear this was not his intended victim…

250 Years Later…

When a gown she stole from a historic home as a child is mysteriously returned to Fenella Brightwell, it begins to possess her in exactly the same way that it did as a girl. Soon the fragile new life Fen has created for herself away from her abusive ex-husband is threatened at its foundations by the gown’s power over her until she can't tell what is real and what is imaginary.

As Fen uncovers more about the gown and Isabella’s story, she begins to see the parallels with her own life. When each piece of history is revealed, the gown—and its past—seems to possess her more and more, culminating in a dramatic revelation set to destroy her sanity.

My Review:

After reading The Phantom Tree last year, I was expecting The Woman in the Lake to be yet another marvelous piece of timeslip fiction by this author. I loved The Phantom Tree and was looking forward to more.

That’s not quite what I got.

The Woman in the Lake is what I call horror-adjacent. It’s really creepy with a constant air of menacing danger. Although it does “slip time” between the 18th century and the 21st, those slips just add to the air of Gothic horror.

You’ve heard about “Say Yes to the Dress”? This is a story where all of the people touched by it should have not merely said “No” to the dress, but really should have screamed “Hell NO” and run far and fast.

The dress is pure evil. Also laced with arsenic. And yes, you really can kill someone that way. The Borgias did, after all.

How the dress came to both embody and emanate so much evil is something that we only find out part of. We do learn how it was made – we just don’t ever find out how it got to be so powerfully malevolent in its own right.

What we see in this story about all the lives that revolve around and are ruined by this one beautiful, deadly, golden dress is that in the way that time slips and history almost repeats – there is a path to freedom.

But the only way to reach it is through fear, and pain. And even more fear.

Escape Rating B: This story was well and truly creepy. A bit creepier than I generally like to go. It did make the cross country plane trip go very fast – but I’m really glad I read it with ALL the lights on – and with plenty of company.

It’s not really about the dress. Well, it is, but it isn’t. The dress can’t make anyone do anything they weren’t already inclined towards, but it does seem to remove the inhibitions of conscience. We all have nasty thoughts from time to time, but conscience, or fear of consequences, prevent most of us from acting on the worst of those thoughts.

The story begins, and circles back around to, a group of men who did not have to let their consciences be their guides. In fact, the opposite. The Moonrakers of Swindon were smugglers. Smuggling wasn’t romantic, it was organized crime. Led by a group of men who would do anything to protect their illicit trade – including murder. In other words, these were men who terrorized an entire region and explicitly told their consciences to STFU.

The plan was for the gang leader to aid and abet a local lord with the murder of his wife, only for the plot to go horribly awry. And for the dress that was intended to do the deed to go skipping through history, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Until it fetches up in the 21st century, in the hands of a woman who has no clue that she’s part of its long lost history, and a man who intends to reenact that long ago attempted murder.

One of the things that I loved about this book was the way that the story and the history came full circle in the end – and in a surprising way. Not just that history almost but not quite repeated, although it nearly does, but that everything that went around really did come around by the end.

One of the things that drove me a bit batty was the air of creeping menace that hangs over the entire story. It sucked me in. I kept looking for an exit, much as the heroine keeps looking for a way to escape her own past. As was certainly true for the heroine, the only way was through.

In the end, I’m left with mixed feelings. This is not the kind of book that I usually enjoy, but I was enthralled and couldn’t put it down until the end. And I’m still creeped out by the whole thing.

One final note, the ending of the blurb feels very wrong. The revelation at the end does not threaten the heroine’s sanity. Quite the opposite. Instead, the revelation at the end proves that she has been sane all along. It may also kill her.

I’ll be over here in the corner. Still shuddering…

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