Camilla Alvarez refuses to abandon her beloved horses when formidable tycoon Matias Navarro acquires her family’s renowned rancho. Instead, she disguises herself as his stable-boy! But when Camilla’s charade is discovered Matias offers her an even more shocking role—as his wife! Innocent Camilla is transformed into a bride deserving of his diamonds, but their convenient marriage is transformed by the scalding heat of their wedding night…
What if you lost everything you loved, you’d fight to get it back, wouldn’t you?
That’s exactly what Cam does, even if it means pretending to be a boy to get to be with her beloved horses. An unfortunate event brings her into close proximity with the owner Matias and then she’s really in trouble. Matias is used to being pursued but he is completely floored when he finds out Cam’s secret. He offers a marriage of convenience but their bodies and emotions have other ideas.
This is an emotional romance using well-loved tropes of mistaken identity and marriage of convenience. The characters are believable and likeable. The story has plenty of heat, fun and a rollercoaster of conflicts and emotions, which threaten the chance of a happy ever after.
I enjoyed this romance but felt it should have been more detailed, lots of issues are alluded to but not fully explored, despite their importance to the characters’ emotional development.
I received a copy of this book from Mills&Boon via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Leningrad, Russia, 1968. Alexander Karpenko is no ordinary child, and from an early age, it is clear he is destined to lead his countrymen. But when his father is assassinated by the KGB for defying the state, he and his mother will have to escape from Russia if they hope to survive. At the docks, they are confronted with an irreversible choice: should they board a container ship bound for America or Great Britain? Alexander leaves that choice to the toss of a coin . . .
In a single moment, a double twist decides Alexander’s future.
During an epic tale of fate and fortune, spanning two continents and thirty years, we follow his triumphs and defeats as he struggles as an immigrant to conquer his new world. As this unique story unfolds, Alexander comes to realize where his destiny lies and accepts that he must face the past he left behind in Russia.
If you enjoy political sagas with a twist, you’re in for a treat with this book. The storytelling and characters are believable and polished. The serendipitous storyline adds an interesting twist to a well researched, historically based political thriller.
Alexander a young man in the USSR in the late 1960’s is clever but his father isn’t a party member and wishes for a less totalitarian state. His father’s ‘accident’, and the circumstances that follow mean Alexander and his mother need to leave to survive. Escaping in a crate on a merchant ship is risky, but when there is a choice of two, fate takes over and the story splits into a ‘what if ‘scenario as Alexander’s life is explored with two possible outcomes.
Both stories are engaging, with strong characters and many plot twists, once you accept how the story will progress it is an enjoyable read, the ending has its surprises, but I did guess the main one. The moral of this being, I think whatever path you take the outcome is already decided.
An enjoyable read for those who enjoy political thrillers and family sagas with a twist of fate.
I received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Nova is 32 years old and she is about to see the world for the very first time.
Jillian Safinova, Nova to her friends, can do many things. She can speak five languages. She can always find a silver lining. And she can even tell when someone is lying just from the sound of their voice.
But there’s one thing Nova can’t do. She can’t see.
When her brother convinces her to have an operation that will restore her sight, Nova wakes up to a world she no longer understands. Until she meets Kate.
As Kate comes into focus, her past threatens to throw them into a different kind of darkness. Can they each learn to see the world in a different … and open their eyes to the lives they could have been living all along?
An original plot with authentic characters provides the essential ingredients for an excellent, poignant and thought-provoking story.
The book’s two main characters, the enigmatic Nova and long-suffering Kate lead separate lives. Two unconnected events lead to a serendipitous, life-altering meeting between the two women.
There is a chance of a bright future or a tragic end for the women, depending on how they interpret what is possible. The multi-layered plot explores the ‘rules of seeing’ as Nova learns to accept her new sight. Kate’s injury, also makes her look at things differently but is she brave enough to make a change?
A tender love story, the horror of domestic abuse and a menacing evil that threatens their new life are all experienced by Nova and Kate, which makes their story absorbing and courageous and definitely worth seeing through to the end.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – Harper Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Even though I only read the Kindle version of this book, the beauty of the illustrations is evident. This is the story of a mischievous little girl who is kidnapped by bandits, who make her their queen. She has lots of opportunity for rebellion but finds out that belonging is more important. There are dark themes to this story but ultimately the bandit queen learns what is really important and that family is found in many forms.
The story is in rhyme and will hold children’s interest. The moral of the story is clear but delivered in a story like way making it understandable to children of this age group. For maximum enjoyment, I suggest you read the hardback picture book to really enjoy the colourful illustrations.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Children’s UK – Puffin via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
London, 1936. Inside the spectacular Grand Ballroom of the exclusive Buckingham Hotel the rich and powerful, politicians, film stars, even royalty, rub shoulders with Raymond de Guise and his troupe of talented dancers from all around the world, who must enchant them, captivate them, and sweep away their cares.
Accustomed to waltzing with the highest of society, Raymond knows a secret from his past could threaten all he holds dear.
Nancy Nettleton, new chambermaid at the Buckingham, finds hotel life a struggle after leaving her small hometown. She dreams of joining the dancers on the ballroom floor as she watches, unseen, from behind plush curtains and hidden doorways. She soon discovers everyone at the Buckingham – guests and staff alike – has something to hide…
The storm clouds of war are gathering, and beneath the glitz and glamour of the ballroom lurks an irresistible world of scandal and secrets.
A delicious, detailed, dance orientated novel, which unfolds against a background of class division, an unprecedented threat to the monarchy and a cosmopolitan hotel whose outward glamour hides a web of secrets.
The characters are believable and vividly depicted, they draw the reader into the story and engender empathy and dislike according to their behaviour. The setting epitomises polite London society in the 1930s. The ballroom’s importance, as a place to see and be seen, is a core theme of this story and is the focal point for the action and dialogue between the main characters.
Like ‘Upstairs Downstairs ‘ and ‘Downtown Abbey’, society’s class division is marked. The ‘lower class’ characters’lives are difficult and provide a thought-provoking reminder of poverty and hardship.
The political unrest in Europe and England make living life the limit a given, for those able to do so. When secrets unfold and people’s livelihood and reputations are in danger, the true heroes and villains emerge.
I received a copy of this book from Zaffre via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This is a well-written thriller, with authentic courtroom drama and a nightmare scenario for the family of characters.
It’s a story of two sisters and how their lives are irrevocably changed by a tragic event. Accident or intentional act is what the jury has to decide, but the effect on the two sisters their spouses’, parents and children is devastating.
For me, this was more family drama than thriller, although there is a mystery to solve. I guessed the outcome before the end, but there are plenty of twists and lies to explore. The ending makes the story so poignant, but ties up all the clues in a satisfactory way.
I received a copy of this from Penguin UK – Michael Joseph via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Cassie Beresford has recently landed her dream job as deputy headteacher at her local, idyllic village primary school, Little Acorns. So, the last thing she needs is her husband of twenty years being ‘outed’ at a village charity auction – he has been having an affair with one of her closest friends.
As if it weren’t enough to cope with, Cassie suddenly finds herself catapulted into the head teacher position, and at the front of a fight to ward off developers determined to concrete over the beautiful landscape.
But through it all, the irresistible joy of her pupils, the reality of keeping her teenage children on the straight and narrow, her irrepressible family and friends, and the possibility of new love, mean what could have been the worst year ever, actually might be the best yet…
I’ve spent a good part of the last hour searching through albums for this particular photo. What is perhaps strange is that, as a prolific reader and writer myself, this is the only photograph I have of my offspring reading. And this is the reason: now twenty-four and twenty-one, my children have never, as far as I know, read a book in its entirety in their whole life. Which brings me to the conclusion that one is either born with – or without – the reading gene.
I think it’s fair to say my makeup is almost entirely made up of the reading gene. While my parents were both readers, I don’t actually ever remember them reading to me but, by the time I was four, I was more than happy to read to myself, head stuck in a book and totally engrossed. I can still see the black and white front covers of the reading books at infant school and the utter joy of immersing myself in a world of Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel.
Comics played a big part in my life and the excitement of waiting for my first copy of Bimbo, aged five was almost palpable.
I’m not making this up – by the age of five I had a subscription to Bimbo! I’m also not making up that I have every copy of Bunty ever read, up in my loft. Every time I’ve moved house, Bunty and Petticoat and Romeo have come with me, despite my husband’s protestations that one night we’ll drown in a sea of girly stories when the ceiling caves in on top of us. I had a tendency towards bronchitis as a child and craved comics to read when I was ill in bed. What I really wanted was a box of comics that I didn’t have to wait until the following week to know what the Four Marys – Mary Cotter, Mary Field, Mary Radleigh and Mary Simpson (I promise you, those names have just rolled out without any Googling) – were up to. Thus, the thinking behind this hoarding was that if ever I had a daughter – with or without bronchitis – she would be delighted when I presented her with my cache of comics.
Wrong. She showed no interest whatsoever.
I empathise totally with children I teach who are totally swept away into a different world through their reading book and have to be brought back, almost blinking against reality, because it’s now Maths or Science and we have to ‘get on.’ They have the reading gene and almost definitely will remain readers throughout their life. They will get a thrill as they go into bookshops and come to recognise and love the smell of the library. They will hover around friends’ bookshelves and stroke new editions that have never been read. They will be found behind the sofa at parties – as I still am – excited by the find of an unknown title by a favourite author.
I read to my children when they were still bumps, lovingly stroking my abdomen as I read my favourite childhood books to them in the womb. They were going to love reading like I did, be readers before they went to school. Well, yes, they could both mechanically read at the age of four and adored being read to, but neither had any inclination to pick up a book and immerse themselves in it. The rugby, hockey, skiing, deep-sea diving and watching TV gene firmly entrenched in my husband’s gene pool trounced any reading gene of mine.
Both my offspring were bright children who did well at school and are now intelligent young adults with excellent degrees from a top university, and yet will cheerfully admit to never having read a book in its entirety. For them, reading is a necessary evil to be got through in order to filter required information before leaping down slippery slopes, scuba-diving or pre-lashing (drinking copious amounts for the uninitiated) and socialising, and certainly not the wonderful pleasure that it affords me.
There may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. My daughter asked to read one of my books while we were away in the summer.
‘Gosh, Mum, I can’t stop reading this. It’s good isn’t it…?’
A lovely mix of humour and romance set in a vibrant English village.
Cassie’s world crumbles when she finds out her husband and best friend are having an affair, starting a new job as a Deputy Headteacher seems impossible, how will she survive the gossip. Cassie’s life takes on the appearance of a roller coaster, but she discovers she likes who she has become.
The plot is pacy and full of twists and the characters bring the setting to life, and you feel part of the community. Cassie is a great character, easy to empathise, and the story has so many laugh-out-loud moments that it’s guaranteed to brighten up a dull day.
The romance is gentle and unexpected and the not without its challenges but the ending is worth the angst and makes you want more of Westenbury and its inhabitants.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
‘She’s Right Off My Christmas Card List…
At 1 a.m. on the Monday morning – the morning when I was apparently supposed to breeze into Little Acorns and take over at the helm, steering both staff and pupils in the direction demanded by the local authority, the governors and, more pertinently, bloody Ofsted, my husband slunk back home. I say ‘slunk’ but to be honest I didn’t have a clue as to the speed or mode of his arrival, being dead to the world as a result of a couple of Fiona’s little helpers.
Totally shattered from lack of sleep and the shock, as well as the bombshell of my sudden promotion, I was in a pretty catatonic state by the time Fiona and Clare left, late in the afternoon, to sort out their weeks ahead.
Clare, who was in the process of expanding her rather successful stag do business, Last Stagger, to incorporate hen dos, had been given a lift by Fiona to get her own car and laptop and, on her return, set herself up at my breakfast bar dealing with emails and the many enquiries for new business. Fiona, who believed any problem could be solved through food, and lots of it, found my pinny, ingredients in the fridge and freezer and set to rustling up a meal in order to have some semblance of normality for the kids. At least when Freya and Tom finally got around to realising this particular Sunday was shaping up to be rather different from the usual Sunday in the Beresford household, I had the excuse of being in shock and terror at suddenly finding myself headteacher instead of deputy. Having said that, while there might be a shepherd’s pie in the oven, I still didn’t know how I was going to explain Mark’s absence.
Before Fiona left to feed her own brood, she’d nipped down to Sainsbury’s, returning with an enormous chocolate cake, concealer and a pack of Nytol.
‘The cake’s for pud to stop your two talking,’ she announced drily. ‘If their mouths are full, they can’t be asking too many questions. You’ll need the concealer to cover up those red eyes in the morning and the Nytol…’
‘I’m not taking sleeping tablets,’ I protested. ‘I don’t believe in them…’
‘They’re just antihistamine,’ Fiona said calmly. ‘Far better that you actually get some sleep to face tomorrow than have another night like last night. You probably won’t need them, you’ll be so exhausted. I usually drop a couple when Matthew is snoring horrendously and doesn’t respond to my clapping.’
‘Clapping?’ Clare looked up from her laptop, bemused. ‘You applaud him for bloody snoring. God, I’d be kicking him, not encouraging him. Clapping?’
Fiona laughed. ‘Honestly, it works. Try it next time one of your men happens to be a snorer. You just gently clap two or three times and they turn over and sleep without another sound. It doesn’t always work.’ Fiona started giggling. ‘The other night I was so fed up with him I clapped really angrily – staccato – in his left ear, and he shot out of bed shouting, “What is it, what is it, wassamatter…?” fell over his bloody great size-fifteen boots – that I’m always telling him to shift from the bedroom – and landed in a naked heap on the carpet.’ Fiona carried on chortling. ‘Great entertainment,’ she added.
‘I think you need to get out more,’ Clare said. ‘Why don’t you go into the spare room when the snorer from hell kicks off?’
‘Haven’t got one any more. Now that the girls are horrible adolescents and can’t stand sharing a bedroom – or each other, come to that – Bea has purloined the spare room for herself. Moved all her stuff in there a couple of months ago and refuses to move.’
‘I’d smack her bottom,’ Clare said.
‘Not when she’s almost six foot and her hockey stick’s a constant accessory, you wouldn’t,’ Fiona said mildly. ‘Anyway, enough of my lot. How are you feeling now, Cassie?’
‘Like I’m in a dream,’ I shrugged. ‘Totally not with it. Even if Mark hadn’t done what he’d done, if he was here now with me instead of you two, I’d still be in a state about tomorrow.’
‘But why?’ Clare looked up again. ‘I thought you wanted to be in charge?’
I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself as terrifying thoughts of the next day replaced incredulous thoughts of Mark’s recalcitrant behaviour. ‘I know you two – particularly you, Clare, not having any kids in the system – don’t know much about what’s going on in education at the moment, but being a deputy head in a primary school is totally different from being the head. I have a class of my own to teach, albeit on a slightly, and I emphasise the word slightly, reduced timetable. I’m given two afternoons off to perform my deputy’s role.’
‘Sounds much better now then,’ Clare said, draining her cup of coffee. ‘As head, you won’t have a class to teach and you can shut yourself away in your office and swivel round on your chair, pressing those red and green lights that say, “Come In” or “Bugger Off”.’
I actually laughed at that. ‘You don’t know the half. I’m still going to have to deal with my new class tomorrow; someone will have to teach them and I can’t see David Henderson having sorted out any supply.’
‘David Henderson.’ Fiona whistled. ‘I’m still amazed that the man they call “the Richard Branson of the North” is actually your Chair of Governors. What’s he like? Rather attractive, isn’t he?’
‘Rather?’ Clare snorted. ‘Very, you mean. He’s gorgeous…’
‘With a very attractive wife,’ I smiled.
‘Since when’s that stopped Clare?’ Fiona sniffed, giving me an anxious look. ‘Look, Cassie, you can’t do everything. You can’t be expected to teach a class of thirty ten-year-olds and be deputy head and now head as well. What did David Henderson say? What’s likely to happen?’
‘Well, in cases like this, where the head is suddenly no more if the deputy has been in situ for years then they will be acting head and another member of staff will be acting deputy until the post of head is advertised and filled. In my case, where I’m brand new, a new acting head is usually brought in from the authority. You know, someone who’s been a deputy for years in their own school and is actively looking for a headship. They’ll ship them in to take over temporarily.’
Clare looked disappointed. ‘Oh, so you’re not going to be head after all? Well, that’s all your problems halved in one fell swoop. You just need to sort Mark out and you’ll be back to square one, job done.’
‘Clare!’ Fiona frowned as she saw my face. ‘I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that. You get back to sorting your rampant stags and don’t be so damned flippant.’
I smiled at Fiona but realised my stomach was churning and I wanted to throw up. ‘I’m sure they will bring someone in to take over as head but, according to David Henderson, it won’t be tomorrow. He said he’d be on hand in the morning to help me. Shit,’ I said, suddenly realising. ‘I’m going to have to do a new-term, new-year, new-beginning assembly and I’ll have to explain to the children that Mrs Theobold is dead. Or do I say she’s with Jesus? No, I can’t; what about the Muslim children? OK, Mrs Theobold is with Jesus or Mohammed – take your pick, kids.’
‘Calm down,’ Clare said as she realised panic was mounting in every fibre of my being once more. ‘Sit yourself down, pen and paper in front of you, and we’ll help you compose your very first assembly as head. How hard can it be?’’
Julie Houston is the author of The One Saving Grace, Goodness, Grace and Me and Looking for Lucy, a Kindle bestseller top100 general, and a Kindle bestseller Number1. She is married, with the two teenage children and a mad cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate.
A perfect town set against the picturesque Alps. Four girls dead. One man willing to untangle a web of deceit and lies…
Marzio Santoni left behind the brutal crimes of the big city long ago. Valdiluce is a quiet ski resort, where all he needs is the peace, quiet and his trusty Vespa. At first glance, the town inhabitants are as perfect as their postcard scenery. But under the surface, nothing is as it seems… So when four women are discovered dead, seemingly by their own hand, Marzio can sense that something isn’t right. Fighting against his police chief, his own emotions and the evidence stacked against him, Marzio is caught up in a race against time to discover what truly happened.
‘The scooter roared along. Too slowly for the haste, he felt inside. Inspector Marzio Santoni, known to all as White Wolf, saw himself frozen, almost motionless, in the landscape. He could get to the Bucaneve quicker on foot by taking shortcuts, so he leaned the Vespa against a wall and ran ferociously. The soles of his shoes threw up earth and leaves. His blonde hair flew across a sky that was growing bluer. An animal. He calculated the fastest route, the distances, the slope, the slippery ground, the undergrowth, the low firs: obstacles that he avoided. The images glistened inside him as though a navigator was marking out his path. Arrows, angles, curves, straight stretches. The excited words of Agostino Uberti, the Bucaneve’s caretaker, echoed in his head.
“Hurry, hurry, it’s a tragedy!”
Elisabetta was in an apartment at the Bucaneve with her three friends. Considering that, what with the lack of snow, there were very few guests, it was all very predictable. There was no point him fooling himself. Did the excessive happiness of those days, the principle of love, have to be punished?
Under the sun, the scent of resin spread through the air wrapped in a light mist. A smell that could kill, the old people said: they had sometimes found foxes dead for no apparent reason.
Marzio Santoni was able to smell odours whatever condition he was in – to separate them, distinguish them. The rot of the leaves, the mossy ground. It was a gift. He came out of the beech forest. With its grey stone, green copper roof and turret, the Bucaneve looked like some cursed castle. Reflected in the blue pupils of White Wolf’s eyes, a gnat-sized fragment appeared, swooping through the sky. Far away, like a semicolon. Trogolo the falcon – the ‘ghost ship’, the curse of Valdiluce, a chain swinging from his leg.
It was an old story: Leopoldo the butcher had displayed a falcon in front of his shop. It had been a great success. The people of the town came to see the bird of prey, they enjoyed baiting him. Trogolo spent the day tearing at his leg to try and escape; in the silence of the night he recovered his strength, and then at dawn, his torments resumed. And even with the limited range, the chain allowed him, when he opened his wings he sent up a cloud of dust and blood. Until one day, the chain broke. Incredible. The falcon flew into the sky with that remnant of his prison attached to his leg. With each wing stroke, he sounded like a ramshackle cart. Trogolo the falcon. A bad omen.
Marzio increased his pace, uphill, leaning forward to counter the force of gravity; it almost looked as though it was he who was making planet Earth rotate. From his mouth came heavy breathing. With his nose, he sniffed out odours. One, in particular, grew stronger the closer he got. Treacherous and subtle. Methane gas. Enough of it to make you sick. His fear erupted.
Agostino, his eyes crazed, coughed out the words.
“Inspector, there’s been a gas leak, something terrible has happened!”
“The four girls.”
Marzio put the red neckerchief he always wore over his mouth. Dazed, crying, sobbing and beating his fists against the wall, Agostino followed him.
“Hurry up, turn off the electricity.”
“I have done.”
Apartment twelve was locked. Agostino tried to open the door using his key, but his hands were shaking and he couldn’t get it into the lock. Marzio charged the door with his shoulder and knocked it down. Darkness. He moved through the gas mixed with a suffocating heat. He wanted to whisper Elisabetta’s name, hear her voice, discover her still alive, but he did not. With a hint of hope, he opened the window, and the light splashed into the room, illuminating a pitiless scene: on the beds lay, Stefania, Flaminia, Angela: composed, sleeping dolls. Elisabetta was trapped in a position that didn’t do her justice. A grimace, eyes appalled, hair betrayed by a messiness she wouldn’t have tolerated. Marzio stared at her in agony. Nothing remained of her beauty. It had flown away. All that was left was a motionless bundle.
Inspector Santoni tried to look at her with professional detachment, as though he must suddenly deny his emotions. It was impossible. Mortally wounded, trapped. Hunted by dogs. A poisoned arrow traversed his veins, pierced the petrified muscles and finally reached his groin. Rage violent enough to drive a man insane. Marzio clenched in his fist the memory of those days. Elisabetta’s sweet, smiling face. Their meetings. Their last harmonious kiss. On his lips, he gathered the magic of her body. Marzio crushed the story between his fingers. Madness. Perhaps it was because of the gas that continued to fill the room. He was losing consciousness. On his hands and knees, he went into the kitchen. He checked the knobs on the cooker – they were all open. He didn’t turn them off for fear of damaging fingerprints – the crime scene must be kept intact. He looked for the gas stopcock. It was open. From there came the poisonous hiss, the mouth of the dragon, the breath of death. He took the red scarf from his mouth and wrapped it around one hand so as to leave no traces. He turned the iron knob firmly, as though by that gesture he could return the four women to life. A bead of sweat, perhaps a tear, escaped him and flew into the light. He caught it and wiped it on his corduroy trousers.
“Inspector. Do you feel alright?”
Agostino stared at him with morbid eyes, as though trying to strip Marzio’s confusion naked. He returned to being an inspector. Abruptly, he bustled him out of the apartment.
“Get out of here immediately. Wait outside.”’
Franco Marks is a writer and television director who lives and works in Rome. He has written the novels La neve Rossa, Il visionario (shortlisted for the 2003 Strega Prize), Festa al blu di Prussia (winner of the Procida Isola di Arturo – Elsa Morante Prize 2005), Il profumo della neve (shortlisted for the 2007 Strega Prize), Lo show della farfalla(shortlisted for the 2010 Viareggio-Repaci Prize), Il suicidio perfetto, La mossa del cartomante, Tre cadaveri sotto la neve, Lo strano caso dell’orso ucciso nel bosco, Delitto con inganno and Giallo di mezzanotte. His books have been translated in several countries.
Kristin is on the run. From her life. From herself.
When two murders take place in Chicago, Kristin quickly finds herself a prime suspect. The problem is she can’t be sure of what she did or didn’t do.
DID THEY MAKE ME DO IT… In fear for her life, Kristin flees abroad to start her life over. But it’s not that easy to escape the past. And whatever she’s done, someone is on her tail, wanting her to pay. The question is: could she be a killer and not even remember?
Born in Sweden, Jessica moved to London at the age of 18 to obtain a BSc Hons degree in Publishing and Business. She worked in publishing in the UK for a number of years before heading to Chicago where she edited a magazine for expats. Back in Sweden, she completed a Masters in Creative Writing. Since 2010, Jessica has taught journalism and media at a local university and has spent the last five years as the marketing and PR manager for a British firm. Last year, she was one of the winners in the Montegrappa Prize for First Fiction at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Jessica is married with three spirited children, and although she’s known for her positivity, her writing tends to be rather dark!
1905 London is a heady mix of unimaginable wealth and simmering political tensions, and with war looming Flora Maguire wants to keep her family safe.
So when her beloved charge Viscount Edward Trent is accused of murder, she’s determined not to leave the investigation to the police. Flora has trodden the path of amateur sleuth before, but with so much at stake, this time it’s personal.
Slowly the body of the victim found stabbed on a train bound for Paddington starts giving up its secrets, and Flora and her husband Bunny become mired in a murky world of spies, communists and fraudsters. And with the police more sure than ever that Edward is their murderer, Flora must work fast to keep him safe.
Guest Post – Is Flora Maguire a Suffragist or a Suffragette? – Anita Davison
Book 3, A Knightsbridge Scandal is set in London in 1903 which was the year Emmeline Pankhurst broke away from the National Union of Women’s Social Societies and formed the controversial Women’s Social and Political Union.
My knowledge of Suffragettes was restricted to the scandal of the hunger strikes and Glynis John’s wearing a ‘Votes For Women’ banner in Mary Poppins – well perhaps not quite as simplistic as that, but my facts were sketchy so some serious research was called for.
As an intelligent, forward-thinking woman, it would be odd for me not to give Flora at least a passing interest in the movement. She treads carefully because as a former governess given entry into the middle class, she isn’t secure enough to make waves. By the time Flora gets involved, Millicent Garrett Fawcett had been campaigning to instigate change in Parliament for women forty years before Emmeline Pankhurst threw her first brick through a window.
I imagine Mrs Fawcett, the sister of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson – England’s first female doctor, must have been dismayed by the ‘Deeds Not Words’ policy of the Pankhurst’s, whose methods would surely paint the movement as dangerous and uncontrolled. Many, and Flora is one of them, felt the Pankhurst’s put the movement back years by vandalism, arson attacks and dangerous stunts.
In 1908, one in three of the male population over 21 did not qualify for the ballot unless they owned property or paid a minimum rent of £10 a year. Younger men were happily conscripted to fight Britain’s wars, but had no vote, nor were they old enough to have a pint of beer in a pub. It was certainly a time of responsibility over rights.
That the ‘Votes For Women’ was aimed, initially at least, for women over thirty who owned property and personally paid taxes while domestic workers, shop girls, office staff and even teachers were excluded from their manifesto. The poor and indigent, men as well as women, weren’t seen as worthy of a vote in their own government.
The 1918 Representation of the People Act brought more than five million men over the age of 21 into the electorate without regard to property or class as well as over eight million women over 30; although the majority of these did not qualify for reasons of property ownership. It wasn’t until the 1928 Act that this changed.
Flora is a modern young woman who sees the need for change, but she isn’t the type to vandalise a work of art or chain herself to railings to make her point. She admires Mrs Garrett Fawcett’s principles as the way forward, but regards Mrs Pankhurst’s strategy will become a self-fulfilling prophesy in that women are what men believed all along; irresponsible, flighty creatures in need of guidance and control, incapable of choosing a government.
Also, with so many young men about to be killed in WWI, suppose the remaining women voters outnumbered the men? A prospect which must have terrified the Government of the day.
Flora is also keenly aware that had she remained a governess and not married a solicitor who owned property, she too would have been excluded from any legislation achieved by these women.
While in search of a murderer, Flora attends a National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society meeting and hears Miss Evelyn Sharp expound the new Women’s Social and Political Union formed in Manchester who advocates a campaign of civil disobedience.
As a result, Flora becomes a passive Suffragist, as opposed to a Suffragette. She believes society needs to be more equal, not just for wealthy, upper-class ladies who preside over tea tables in drawing rooms. That progress will be made naturally and organically, not by slashing paintings or setting fire to post boxes.
Millicent Fawcett worked tirelessly until her seventies for international women’s suffrage, the opening up university education to women, raising the age of consent, making horticulture a possible employment for women, criminalising incest, providing homes for middle-class working women, and even for offering a German ‘open-air treatment’ to tuberculosis sufferers.
An excellent Blog which provided me with facts and interesting stories on the Women’s Suffrage Movement is Elizabeth Crawford’s Women and Their Sphere: https://womanandhersphere.com/
Historical fiction with a murder mystery brings together two of my favourite genres. This is a later book in the ‘Flora Maguire series’, but it reads as a standalone. The mystery is created and solved within the book, and any backstory for the characters and their interrelationships is provided in the early chapters.
England in 1905 was characterised by political intrigue and a shifting in the social and gender class systems. This story uses the ethos of unrest to dramatise and authenticate the mystery Flora sets out to investigate. There are lots of historical facts, so the reader is able to step back in time as the story progresses.
Flora’s social conscience and independent spirit, make her an intriguing and believable protagonist. Her husband Bunny is an excellent sidekick and the long-suffering Inspector, the essential final ingredient for this type of mystery.
Like all murder mysteries, the plot is twisty and full of false starts, with numerous suspects. The motive behind the mystery is well concealed and trying to decide what really happened is a satisfying experience.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Flora tugged her shawl tighter around her exposed shoulders and shivered in the cool wind gusting across the porch. It had been a warm day for April, but as night drew in, splatters of rain-streaked the windows from air cooled to a wintry chill. She raised a hand to wave at Alice who occupied the seat beside William in his two-seater Spyker motor car.
‘She’s a real beauty, isn’t she?’ Bunny sighed.
‘Indeed, she is.’ Flora leaned into her husband’s one-armed hug. ‘I hope I’ll look as good when I reach Alice’s age.’
‘I meant William’s motor car.’
Flora tutted, nudging him. ‘Our Berliet is perfectly adequate and far more practical. Besides, there would be no need for a chauffeur and you would have to discharge Timms.’
‘Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that.’ He followed the gleaming green vehicle with his eyes until it disappeared around the corner.
Flora knew the prospect of losing Timms would not appeal. The chauffeur’s previous employer, a former client of the firm of solicitors Bunny worked for had been jailed for fraud. On learning that the man’s out-of-work valet was also a keen amateur mechanic, Bunny installed him in the mews behind the house. The pair spent hours tinkering with the engine of Bunny’s beloved motor car; more like friends than employer and chauffeur. In their brown coveralls and with their heads ducked beneath the metal hood, even Flora was hard put to tell them apart.
‘Well, despite the host’s unexplained absence, I think the evening was a success.’ Flora returned to the relative warmth of the hallway.
‘I’ve already apologized for that.’ Bunny tightened his arm around her and nuzzled her hair just above her ear before guiding her back into the sitting room, where Stokes was clearing away the coffee cups and empty brandy glasses. ‘You do realize bringing them together without warning like that could have gone horribly wrong? Suppose they had harboured some long-buried resentment in the intervening years, or worse, didn’t like the person they had each become?’
‘That didn’t occur to me,’ Flora lied. ‘I was confident they would behave as if the last twenty years had never happened.’
‘William couldn’t keep the smile off his face, and all those long looks.’ Bunny chuckled.
‘He was like a young boy with his first tendre.’
‘Except this particular tendre had already produced a grown-up daughter.’ Flora summoned a distracted smile, her thoughts still on William and whether or not he might be recalled to Russia if the situation there worsened.
‘Stokes,’ Bunny halted the butler on his way out with a loaded tray. ‘Before you retire, would you kindly bring us some fresh coffee?’
‘Of course, sir.’ Stokes bowed and left.
‘None for me, thank you.’ Flora frowned. ‘I shan’t be able to sleep. After such a long day, I would have thought cocoa would have been more appropriate’
‘Coffee.’ Bunny’s eyes hardened and he caressed her shoulder. ‘I have a feeling we might need it.’
‘You’ve been very distracted tonight,’ Flora dragged her thoughts back to the present. ‘Are you sure something isn’t bothering you?’
‘Don’t change the subject. We were talking about your parents.’ Bunny took the place beside Flora on the sofa. ‘I sensed at some point during the evening you became somewhat tense.’
‘Did I?’ She sighed having hoped he had not noticed. ‘You might think I’m being selfish, but in all the drama of getting them together again, the past – my past has been overlooked. I still don’t understand why Riordan told everyone that Alice, or Lily as she was known then, had died.’
‘She left him, Flora. Did it occur to you that might have hurt his pride? Pretending to be a widower meant no one would whisper about him behind his back.’
Flora silently acknowledged he was probably right. Her mother had married the head butler at Cleeve Abbey when she had fallen pregnant by William. The family had made it clear a marriage between Lily and William was out of the question and sent him abroad. Too young and overawed by their respective families to fight back, they had both obeyed. However William pined in America and Lily was miserable at home, until she could stand no more and ran away leaving Flora behind to be raised by the man she married to preserve her reputation.
Riordan Maguire had adored Flora and despite Lily’s urging, had refused to let her see Flora again, preferring to explain away her absence by spinning a story acceptable for a child.
‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if William and Alice found happiness together after all this time? It’s just—’ she broke off, smothering a yawn at the reappearance of Stokes who set down a tray in front of them, wished them both goodnight and withdrew.
‘I’m going up to bed. Enjoy your coffee.’ As she rose to leave, he grasped her hand and tugged her gently onto the squab.
‘Could you give me a moment, Flora? There’s something I need to tell you. Well, more show you actually.’
‘Something which explains why you were late for dinner?’ she asked, yawning again.
‘In a way.’ He stood, one hand held palm downwards in a command for her to stay. ‘Wait here. I’ll be back in a moment.’
‘Can’t whatever it is keep until morn—’ she broke off with a sigh as she addressed an empty room.
More for something to do than a desire for some coffee, she poured herself a cup and stirred in milk, the gentle tinkling of silver against china the only sound in the room as the hot, aromatic coffee triggered her senses.
The evening she had anticipated with such pleasure should have been one for celebration, but as she had observed her parents smile at each other across her dining table, all her unresolved feelings had resurfaced.
The knowledge that Lily Maguire had cared for other people’s children in a London hospital while her own daughter grew up without her remained a cruel irony. That Alice had instigated contact again went some way to compensating for the past, although a deep-seated antipathy persisted for all the lost years in between.
Flora’s childhood had been far from unhappy with Riordan Maguire, who had always been a loving parent if an uncompromising one. His halo had slipped slightly when she discovered he had known Lily had been alive all this time. He had even destroyed the letters she sent him pleading for forgiveness. Letters Flora had known nothing about, but which Alice had told her she had written in an effort to see her again. That he had been killed protecting Flora made it impossible to harbour bitterness against him, but also meant he could never explain.
At the sound of the rear hall door closing, she returned her cup to its saucer. The smile she had summoned in anticipation of Bunny’s return faded instantly when she realized he was not alone. A young man with light brown hair hovered a pace behind him, his head down and shoulders hunched as if unsure of his welcome. He lifted his head, his eyes meeting Flora’s for a second before he ducked away, his cheeks flushed red.
‘Eddy!’ A shaft of delighted recognition ran through her and she leapt to her feet, crossed the room in two strides. ‘How lovely to see you. But why are you here this late? Has something happened?’
Born in London, Anita has always had a penchant for all things historical. She now lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, the backdrop for her Flora Maguire mysteries. Twitter Website