Book Review: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

"THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN" has all the right elements to be a good read  - a lost child, a devastating revelation, an unsuitable marriage, an old manor, a sinister uncle, a wicked aunt, a sick cousin, a poor orphan, an abandoned cottage, a walled garden. And it was. Once we got into the story proper -  what lead up to the events of 1913.

I did have difficulty with some aspects of the story:

I was angry at Nell's adopted father for revealing where Nell had come from at her party and thought this was very cruel, especially when his wife was against it. He caused Nell's estrangement from her family, an outcome he hadn't foreseen, as he was only interested in salving his guilty conscience. 

Nell's reaction of keeping "her family" at arms' length was understandable, but the  treatment of her daughter was not. In similar circumstances wouldn't you make an effort to ensure your child felt wanted?

I did not find Nell or Leslie endearing. Cassandra fared a little better. Too much time was spent developing their relationship at the start, but once we set off on the trail of Eliza Makepeace the story gained momentum.

Frances Hodgson Burnett's presence at  Rose's party distracted me as I began to make comparisons between "The Secret Garden" and "The Forgotten Garden". Totally different stories, I know, but it did have that effect.

Finally, why did Eliza and Nathaniel agree to the plan devised by Rose's mother so readily?   I think a little more inner turmoil would have been warranted. Sorry, you'll have to read the novel to find out what that plan was.

Despite these minor hurdles, I was eager to discover what had prevented "the Authoress" returning to the ship and did enjoy this story. I will certainly read more of Kate Morton's novels.

Another Redcoat Series

"THE SCARLET THIEF" is the first in a new series by Paul Fraser Collard introducing Jack Lark and his adventures in the Crimean War.

From the back cover:
"1854: The banks of the Alma River, Crimean Peninsular. The Redcoats stagger to a bloody halt. The men of the King's Royal Fusiliers are in terrible trouble, ducking and twisting as the storm of shot, shell and bullet tear through their ranks.

Officer Jack Lark has to act immediately and decisively. His life and the success of the campaign depend on it. But does he have the mettle, the officer qualities that are the life blood of the British Army? From a poor background Lark has risen through the ranks by stealth and guile and now he faces the ultimate test...

THE SCARLET THIEF introduces us to a formidable and compelling hero - brutally courageous, roguish, ambitious - in a historical novel as robust as it is thrillingly authentic by an author who brings history and battle vividly alive."

The sequel "THE MAHARAJAH'S GENERAL' is due for release in November, 2013.

Another two for my reading wish list.

Book Review: The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller

For my next read I decided to leave the medieval world behind for a while and move forward a few hundred years to the end of the First World War - the year 1920 to be exact - and a mystery.

This is an unusual detective story. It opens on a railway station platform, with a silent crowd waiting to pay their respects to the Unknown Warrior, whose coffin is aboard a train bound for burial in London, and a mysterious figure standing alone.

Dealing with his own personal loss and a life that has changed forever, ex-soldier, Laurence Bartram, receives a letter from the sister of a former school friend who is trying to make sense of why her brother, John Emmett, committed suicide after surviving the war.

Puzzled by the relevance of items in John Emmett's possession at the time of his death, Laurence sets off to find the answers and soon becomes embroiled in a mystery that brings back the recent horrors of World War I and its devastating effect on those that lived through it and its aftermath. I won't elaborate on the story further,  as that would spoil it  for those who haven't read it, only to say it is a tragic tale.

My interest was held to the very end of the novel. The image of that mysterious figure at the station was always in my mind. Who was he and  what connection, if any, did this person have to the unfortunate events  in the story? I had many theories, none of which were correct, and to me the essence of a good mystery novel is one that keeps me guessing until the author decides to reveal the solution.

I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading Elizabeth Speller's next entitled "The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton" also featuring Laurence Bartram.

If you want to know more about the aftermath of World War I, Aftermath is a great website to visit. There is a page devoted to the Unknown Warrior.

Book Review: Shakespeare's Rebel by C.C. Humphreys

The story opens with John Lawley, swordsman and ex-player,  awakening from a drunken stupor in  "the lowest tavern in Wapping". We soon learn what matters most to this man - his son, the mother of his son, the theatre,  his friends and his loyalty to the man he serves, "mad" Robert Deveraux, the Earl of Essex.

 All John Lawley wants is to make amends to his family and get back to what he loves doing - arranging sword fighting scenes for the theatre. To do this, he must avoid being drawn into the treasonous escapades of the Earl of Essex,  the clutches of Sir Robert Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I's feared minister and spy master, and alcohol.

One of John's friends is William Shakespeare, the playwright. Shakespeare is grieving the loss of his son, Hamnet, and  agonising over one of his greatest works,"The Tragedy of Hamlet".  While dealing with his own troubles, John must also try  to keep his friend and family safe. A wrong move in these dangerous times could have dire consequences.

This novel was my introduction to C.C. Humphreys and  I enjoyed every word . It has all the ingredients of a good read - romance, humour, action, intrigue, rivalry, tragedy - and a lovable character in John Lawley.

Rory Clements, Historical Crime Writer

My browsing has turned up another historical crime writer, Rory Clements. His novels, five to-date, feature an Elizabethan investigator, John Shakespeare.

Visit the author's site to read excerpts from his novels. He also has some interesting information about the Elizabethan world in which his novels are set.

Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman
Book Review


They were called "The Devil's Brood," though never to their faces. They were the four surviving sons of Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitaine. With two such extraordinary parents, much was expected of them. But the eldest-charming yet mercurial-would turn on his father and, like his brother Geoffrey, meet an early death.

When Henry died, Richard would take the throne and, almost immediately, set off for the Holy Land. This was the Third Crusade, and it would be characterized by internecine warfare among the Christians and extraordinary campaigns against the Saracens. And, back in England, by the

Also by Kate Sedley

My early morning browsing also uncovered another novel by Kate Sedley entitled "For King and Country". It is set during the English Civil war and has found its way onto my "Reading Wish List". Now to track down a copy ......

For Readers of Medieval Mysteries

Following my usual routine of having breakfast at the computer and dropping toast crumbs all over my keyboard, I stumbled across the name of another medieval mystery author,  Brenda Margaret Lilian Honeyman Clarke, who writes for this genre under the pen-name of  Kate Sedley.

There are fifteen books  featuring Roger the Chapman,  a crime solving peddlar, some of  which have recently been re-released.

This author also writes under the pen-name of Brenda Honeyman/Brenda Clarke. These novels are historical fiction and cover events mainly in the 14th and 15th centuries, i.e. Edward II, Henry V, the Wars of the Roses etc. Originally published in the 1970s, you may have to search second-hand bookshops and libraries to find copies.

Love a Man in Uniform - Especially a Redcoat

My bookshop browsing has unearthed more gems for my reading pile - the Captain Daniel Rawson series by Edward Marston.

From the dust jacket of the first book in the series, SOLDIER OF FORTUNE, comes the description of our hero:

"The dashing Captain Daniel Rawson - spy, linguist, duellist, ladies' man and career soldier - can charm a woman as well as he can parry a sword."

Book Review: The Cousins' War Series by Philippa Gregory

I recently finished reading the last of the five novels that make up this series .... absolutely loved them all.

My favourite, however, is The Lady of the Rivers, the story of Jacquetta, Countess of Luxembourg, mother to Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV.

Underlying all the historical fact and the turbulence of the era is a love story (yes, I'm a bit of a romantic) between Jacquetta and Richard Woodville. This is a real 'feel good' story and even though the ending of their tale is not a happy one, their relationship outshines all the bad and lingers well after the final page is read.

Philippa Gregory has done an excellent job of bringing the subjects of these five novels to life. Her interpretation of the facts and  the way she presents them to the reader is very well done. The main characters are strong, determined (some may say obsessed) women of a time when to be a high-born female was to be nothing more than trade goods; in some cases their lives  were barely mentioned in the chronicles of the time.

The beauty of this series is that all the novels are stand alone books, which to my mind is a positive. Many a time I've been to the library or bookshop to find that one of a series is missing (usually the first one).

In closing, I have to comment on the fate of the princes in the tower. The discovery in 2012 of Richard III's remains beneath a car park in Leicester, England, has raised the question again of what happened to them. In her novels, Philippa Gregory presents both sides of the argument, and one thing is evident, there were many others who had motive and access to the boys to blame their disappearance soley on Richard III. Besides I was born in Yorkshire and am a Ricardian at heart ....... and who knows? If the remains of a king lost for over 500 years can be found, there is still hope that one day this other mystery will be solved.

Other novels in the series: The White Queen, The Red Queen, The Kingmaker's Daughter and The White Princess.

The Jack Absolute Trilogy by C.C. Humphreys

I just came across a new author (to me anyway), C.C. Humphreys (also writing as Chris Humphreys), who has written a number of novels in the historical adventure and fantasy genres.

The 'Jack Absolute Trilogy' caught my eye as Jack Absolute is described as " the 007 of the 1770s".

This prompted a visit to my local library but unfortunately the three books - Jack Absolute, The Blooding of Jack Absolute and Absolute Honour were out on loan.

This series is a little unusual as the latter two novels are the prequel and sequel to the prequel respectively. Confusing, I know, but you can choose to read them in chronological order or in the order in which they were written.