It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This weekly meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

I didn't post last week as I hadn't progressed on any of the books I was reading, but what a difference a week makes. I finished three books! I'm still behind in my Goodreads Reading Challenge by three, but hope to remedy that very quickly now that my reading motivation has returned.

What I Read Last Week

In an attempt to overcome the reading slump I was in I decided to abandon the 18th century and set aside what I was currently reading, Scapegallows and A Catch of Consquence,  in favour of  another book with a different time frame. This usually works for me. My reading pile, including the bag of books from the library, offered lots of great choices. However, rather than go with a favourite author I  selected a post World War I novel by Simone St. James, an author new to me. Reading this novel had the desired result and I returned to finish off  Scapegallows, which was quickly followed by Colours of Gold by Kaye Dobbie.

Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

"Portis House emerged from the fog as we approached, showing itself slowly as a long, low shadow.... " In 1919, Kitty Weekes, pretty, resourceful, and on the run, falsifies her background to obtain a nursing position at Portis House, a remote hospital for soldiers left shell-shocked by the horrors of the Great War. Hiding the shame of their mental instability in what was once a magnificent private estate, the patients suffer from nervous attacks and tormenting dreams. But something more is going on at Portis House its plaster is crumbling, its plumbing makes eerie noises, and strange breaths of cold waft through the empty rooms. It s known that the former occupants left abruptly, but where did they go? And why do the patients all seem to share the same nightmare, one so horrific that they dare not speak of it? Kitty finds a dangerous ally in Jack Yates, an inmate who may be a war hero, a madman or maybe both. But even as Kitty and Jack create a secret, intimate alliance to uncover the truth, disturbing revelations suggest the presence of powerful spectral forces. And when a medical catastrophe leaves them even more isolated, they must battle the menace on their own, caught in the heart of a mystery that could destroy them both.

This book was exactly what I needed: history, romance, mystery and a touch of the supernatural, set in an isolated, crumbling manor. I'm eager to read another by Simone St. James.

Scapegallows by Carol Birch

This is the story of Margaret Catchpole, born into a smugglers' world in Suffolk in the late 1700s. As the valued servant of a wealthy family and a friend of criminals, Margaret leads a double life that inevitably brings about her downfall, and she is sentenced to hang not once, but twice. But she escapes the gallows and is transported with other convicts to Australia. A wonderful adventure story, Scapegallows takes inspiration from the life of the real Margaret Catchpole. A woman who lived by her wits, she was a slip-gibbet, a scapegallows.

My original thoughts on this novel still stand: Margaret Catchpole's story is interesting, but the pace is slow and lacks drama for a novel touted as "a wonderful adventure story".

However, despite its lack of pace, I did enjoy this novel and am glad I read it all. Margaret Catchpole is an engaging character and I felt she was unfairly treated at times, but honest enough to admit that she alone was responsible for many of her misfortunes. This book is also a glimpse into life in 18th century Suffolk and one of the reasons this book was in my reading pile.

Colours of Gold by Kaye Dobbie

A beautiful novel of a young girl’s life and adventures in the Australian goldfields — and how a painting revealed her story to the next generation of her family.

Annie Reuben is an art restorer in her father’s business, but times are tough. After being given a long-lost painting found in the basement of a condemned hotel, Annie becomes intrigued by the two girls who stare out at her from the ruined canvas. All she has are two names: Alice and Rosey...and a landscape from a century before.

1867: Named by the wife of the paddle steamer captain who finds her half drowned in the Murray River, Alice has a gift — she can see an aura of colours around the people she meets, but sometimes the colours tell her of impending doom. Learning to survive in a world which misunderstands her, Alice eventually runs away to the goldfields with her friend Rosey and joins a troupe of entertainers. While her fame and fortunes increase as people pay to hear her predictions, Alice can never escape her past...along with the frightening man in the dark coat who follows her wherever she goes.

Who were Alice and Rosey? And why does Annie find their lives so important? As Annie becomes caught up with seeking answers from the past, she finds herself seeing the same man in the dark coat who follows her wherever she goes. What is his connection to the painting?

Another great read from Kaye Dobbie. She never disappoints me. I love the dual time frame with the supernatural thread and that many of the places mentioned in the novel are familiar to me.

What I'm Reading Today

I'm pleased to say that I'm totally immersed in this novel.

A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman

Makepeace Burke serves Patriots at her late father's tavern on the Boston waterfront in 1765 and hates the redcoats with a vengeance. But even she can't watch an angry mob drown an Englishman. She rescues him and nurses him back to health-and falls in love. In Patriot Boston, hers is an unforgivable sin-made worse by the fact that her Englishman turns out be the aristocratic Sir Philip Dapifer. Philip must smuggle Makepeace aboard a ship bound for London and save her life at the expense of the world she knows. Rich in period detail, bringing the years of colonial rebellion to vivid life, "A Catch of Consequence" is a stylish novel of Boston and England, and of a woman who defies convention in both worlds.

What I Hope to Read Next

Hopefully, I'll read the next two novels of the Makepeace Headley trilogy, but there are a couple of others in my reading pile that have caught my interest: A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore (she is fast becoming one of my favourite authors) and Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson.

Taking Liberties by Diana Norman

Makepeace Hedley is frantic when she learns that her young daughter, sailing home to England from the rebelling American colonies, has been taken prisoner by the British. With her usual determination, Makepeace sets out for Plymouth to rescue her child. And when Countess Diana Stacpoole is asked by an American friend to help his son, also a British prisoner, Diana responds quickly and leaves her genteel past behind. In the chaos of wartime Plymouth the two women face social outrage, public scandal, and even arrest. Amidst docks and prisons, government bureaucracy and brothels, they forge an unlikely and unshakable friendship. And in freeing others, they discover their own splendid liberty.

The Sparks Fly Upward by Diana Norman

Few of those Philippa loves in London return her affection. Not the love of her life, who has a new bride. Not even her widowed mother, Makepeace Burke. So Philippa decides on a marriage of convenience to a prudish, if kind, man. Across the Channel in France, the Reign of Terror is causing the beheading of thousands from the French nobility. Among those in danger is Philippa's friend, the Marquis de Condorcet. Not only has Philippa the means of rescuing him from the guillotine, she's got the courage. And as fate would have it, Philippa will find love where she least expects it-while staring death in the face.

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

Catherine and her brother Rob do not understand why they have been abandoned by both their parents, or know where their mother has gone. They are brought up by servants in the house of their grandfather, an Irishman who made his fortune somehow and is known in the neighbourhood as ‘the man from nowhere’. The children cling to each other because they have no-one else, but when they grow up their sibling love becomes incestuous. As the world outside moves towards war, Catherine and Rob are trapped in their own conflict. But little by little, the spell of winter that has held Catherine begins to break, and she starts to free herself from the weight of the past.  

Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Crispin Guest is a disgraced knight, stripped of his rank and his honor - but left with his life - for plotting against Richard II.  Having lost his bethrothed, his friends, his patrons and his position in society.  With no trade to support him and no family willing to acknowledge him, Crispin has turned to the one thing he still has - his wits - to scrape a living together on the mean streets of London.  In 1383, Guest is called to the compound of a merchant - a reclusive mercer who suspects that his wife is being unfaithful and wants Guest to look into the matter.  Not wishing to sully himself in such disgraceful, dishonorable business but in dire need of money, Guest agrees and discovers that the wife is indeed up to something, presumably nothing good.  But when he comes to inform his client, he is found dead - murdered in a sealed room, locked from the inside.  Now Guest has come to the unwanted attention of the Lord Sheriff of London and most recent client was murdered while he was working for him.  And everything seems to turn on a  religious relic - a veil reported to have wiped the brow of Christ - that is now missing. 

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