Book Review: A MURDER AT ROSAMUND’S GATE by Susanna Calkins

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Publisher: Minotaur Books
Released: April 23, 2013
Source: Review copy from the publisher

For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone close to Lucy falls under suspicion. Lucy can’t believe it, but in a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn’t kill the suspect first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never find out what really happened. Unless, that is, she can uncover the truth herself.

Determined to do just that, Lucy finds herself venturing out of her expected station and into raucous printers’ shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and even the bowels of Newgate prison on a trail that might lead her straight into the arms of the killer.

———

Lucy Campion is a maid for Magistrate Hargrave and his family. When another household servant is murdered, the blame falls on someone very dear to Lucy. She quickly learns how difficult it is to prove one’s innocence in the English courts of her time. Since it appears the law is not interested in discovering the truth, Lucy sets out to find it on her own.

Likes: For me, this book was more than a mystery. It was an eye-opening look at what London was like in the mid-1660s, including the plague and fire that ravaged London, class struggle, the plight of women, and the laws of the time. The author’s engaging writing style made it easy to slip back into the past and experience these things with Lucy.

I loved Lucy’s character. She was smart, dedicated, and strong, and despite her station in life as a woman and a servant, she dreamed of something more for herself than society deemed acceptable. I had to grin at her hesitance to get married someday, because she would have to leave the magistrate’s book collection behind.

The mystery was good, definitely piqued my interest. I changed my mind about who I thought the culprit was several times throughout the book. It was interesting how murder ballads and broadsides (cheap, sensational stories sold to the masses) played into the mystery.

Dislikes: Personally, I don’t have any complaints about this book. However, die-hard mystery fans may feel cheated that the actually mystery doesn’t always take center stage. The story is just as much a vivid portrayal of life in 17th century London, oftentimes uncertain and unjust.

A MURDER AT ROSAMUND’S GATE is an entertaining historical mystery with a touch of forbidden romance. I enjoyed Ms. Calkins’ debut novel, the first of a planned series, and I’m ready for Lucy Campion’s next adventure!

Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: BLOOD BETWEEN QUEENS by Barbara Kyle

Blood Between Queens

 

Series: Thornleigh, #5
Publisher: Kensington
Released: April 30, 2013
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Following her perilous fall from a throne she’d scarcely owned to begin with, Mary, Queen of Scots, has fled to England, hoping her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, will grant her asylum. But now Mary has her sights on the English crown, and Elizabeth enlists her most trusted subjects to protect it.

Justine Thornleigh is delighting in the thrill of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to her family’s estate when the festivities are cut short by Mary’s arrival. To Justine’s surprise, the Thornleighs appoint her to serve as a spy in Mary’s court. But bearing the guise of a lady-in-waiting is not Justine’s only secret. The weight of her task is doubled by fears of revealing to her fiancé that she is in truth the daughter of his family’s greatest rival. Duty-bound, Justine must sacrifice love as she navigates a deadly labyrinth of betrayal that could lead to the end of Elizabeth’s fledgling reign…

Compelling and inventive, Blood Between Queens artfully blends history’s most intriguing figures with unforgettable characters, bringing to dazzling life the fascinating Tudor era.

———

When I saw the blurb for BLOOD BETWEEN QUEENS, I knew I had to read it. Elizabeth I is my favorite monarch, a legend in her own time, and I’m particularly interested in her complicated relationship with her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. This book pulls readers into the conflict, giving us a first hand account of the schemes, lies and betrayal going on just after Mary fled to England and became Elizabeth’s “captive” guest.

The political intrigue caused by the feuding royal cousins was only part of the story. The author blended historical facts with fascinating fiction, creating a deadly family rivalry between the Thornleighs and Grenvilles, Elizabeth supporters versus those loyal to Mary, Protestants versus Catholics. And caught in the crossfire are two innocents – Justine, a young woman harboring a terrible secret, forced to spy on Mary at the queen’s insistence, and Will, Justine’s true love who would be devastated to learn the truth about her.

I really enjoyed BLOOD BETWEEN QUEENS. The author had an engaging writing style that made reading this book a joy. It’s the fifth release in the Thornleigh series, though it can easily be read stand alone. (This was my first Barbara Kyle novel.) Though there was a big cast of characters, each one was memorable in his or her own way. I see that some of them appeared in earlier books in the series, and I’m eager to hear their stories.

I would recommend this book to readers who love riveting historical fiction, page-turning suspense, exciting adventure and a little romance.

Rating: 4½ Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: LADY OF ASHES by Christine Trent

Lady of Ashes

 

Publisher: Kensington
Released: February 26, 2013
Source: Review copy from the publisher

In 1861 London, Violet Morgan is struggling to establish a good reputation for the undertaking business that her husband has largely abandoned. She provides comfort for the grieving, advises them on funeral fashion and etiquette, and arranges funerals.

Unbeknownst to his wife, Graham, who has nursed a hatred of America since his grandfather soldiered for Great Britain in the War of 1812, becomes involved in a scheme to sell arms to the South. Meanwhile, Violet receives the commission of a lifetime: undertaking the funeral for a friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But her position remains precarious, especially when Graham disappears and she begins investigating a series of deaths among the poor. And the closer she gets to the truth, the greater the danger for them both…

———

I thoroughly enjoyed LADY OF ASHES, the first book in an original new series featuring Victorian undertakers. This book first caught my eye many months ago, and I was intrigued that the protagonist was a 19th century female undertaker. Though her career choice was odd for a woman of her time, Violet Morgan’s character was likable and easy to connect with, and she drew me into the story. She was a compassionate person and savvy businesswoman, able to keep Morgan Undertaking thriving while her husband’s shady dealings kept him otherwise occupied.

LADY OF ASHES was well-researched historical fiction, giving readers a detailed look at funeral practices and mourning customs during the Victorian Era, as well as British opinions about Americans and the Civil War, and the plight of the London poor.

The plot moved slowly at first, but my morbid fascination with the subject matter (early embalming techniques!) easily held my interest. The pacing picked up considerably after Violet suspects foul play in the deaths of two seemingly unrelated people. I loved how the mystery played out – very exciting!

A macabre murder mystery, a touch of political intrigue, and a vivid glimpse of life in 1860s London made LADY OF ASHES an engrossing read.

Rating: 4½ Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Morton

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Publisher: Atria
Released: October 9, 2012
Source: Review copy from NetGalley

During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

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THE SECRET KEEPER is my first Kate Morton book, and I was completely wowed! I’m so intrigued by stories with family secrets, and the one revealed in this book is a doozy. It’s still at the forefront of my mind days after finishing the book.

THE SECRET KEEPER begins on an English farm in 1961 when Laurel is a teenager, and she witnesses a violent crime involving her mother Dorothy. The story jumps ahead to 2011, as Laurel and her siblings are gathering for Dorothy’s 90th birthday.

The incident 50 years earlier has always haunted Laurel, and she knows with her mother’s failing health, time is short to find out why it happened. From there, the story takes readers back and forth between 1941 London during the Blitz when Dorothy and her beau Jimmy meet Vivian, and 2011 as Laurel searches for clues about her mother’s past.

Not only was this book a gripping mystery, it was also compelling historical fiction, painting a vivid picture of life in WWII London as bombs were dropped on the city. Heartrending!

THE SECRET KEEPER has a complex plot full of twists and turns that leads to a jaw-dropping conclusion. Kate Morton is an amazing storyteller, and I’m eager to read the rest of her novels.

Rating: 5 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: THE KING’S DAMSEL by Kate Emerson

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Series: Secrets of the Tudor Court, #5
Publisher: Gallery Books
Released: August 7, 2012
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Handmaid. Spy. Mistress. Anxious to secure his own success at the glittering court of Henry VIII, heiress Tamsin Lodge’s ambitious guardian obtains her a position as maid of honor to young Princess Mary Tudor. Tamsin soon comes to love the neglected child, but in the Tudor court, not even a princess is secure. Mary’s father is besotted with the lovely Anne Boleyn, and the girl’s future has grown perilous. Plotting to be Mary’s eyes and ears, Tamsin joins Anne’s service, but the handsome silk worker who is her co-conspirator may be her undoing. While marriage with a merchant is unthinkable, she cannot resist Rafe Pinckney’s embraces. When Tamsin also attracts the lusty Henry, she must choose between loyalty and desire…

With Anne’s jealousy growing dangerous, can Tamsin survive the schemes and seductions that surround her?

———

This is the fifth book in the Secrets of the Tudor Court series, but it can easily be read stand-alone. The main character is Tamsin Lodge, who is orphaned at 13 years old. Her guardianship is purchased by a slimy individual named Sir Lionel Daggett. Sir Lionel wants to worm his way into the Royal Court, and he tries to use young Tamsin to do so. Against her will, she is sent to be a maid of honor for Princess Mary, though Tamsin quickly becomes loyal to King Henry’s daughter. Tamsin goes to great lengths to protect the princess from the very jealous Anne Boleyn, even joining Anne’s household to spy for Mary.

While many characters in this book are historical figures, Tamsin is a fictional character based on the “king’s damsel” mentioned in an actual letter from the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. I liked Tamsin and her fierce loyalty to Mary. I felt like a lot of this book was Tamsin observing things happening to the other characters, which was what she was supposed to do as a spy. It really wasn’t until the last quarter of the book that Tamsin was in the center of the action.

I wish that Rafe Pinckney’s character and his relationship with Tamsin had been developed more. Rafe needed a bigger presence in the book.

For me, the most memorable character in this book is Princess Mary. This is the first book I’ve read with Mary as a child, and it was interesting to see how her life was as Henry VIII’s daughter and hear her thoughts, especially after Anne Boleyn takes a hold of the king’s attention.

Overall, I thought THE KING’S DAMSEL was an enjoyable read that just wrapped up too quickly. Tudor history buffs should read this book for its portrayal of young Princess Mary.

Rating: 3½ Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.