Today I have a guest post from historical fiction writer Karen Charlton. An English graduate and a former teacher, she now writes full-time and lives in a remote fishing village on the North East coast of England. She is a stalwart of the village pub quiz and her team once won the BBC quiz show ‘Eggheads.’ Her other claim to fame is that she won a Yorkshire Tourist Board award for writing Murder Mystery Weekends. Her series featuring Inspector Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods are available through Amazon here. Her books are available on audio, in print, and on Kindle Unlimited.
My Detective Lavender Mysteries, published by Thomas & Mercer, are the fictional adventures of Stephen Lavender, who was a real-life Principal Officer with the Bow Street Police Office in London.
By the early 19th century, Principal Officers had a variety of different and important roles although they were still nicknamed ‘Bow Street Runners’ as if they were messenger boys. Apart from supporting their colleagues solve crime in the capital, they were often sent out to help magistrates in the provinces with difficult cases. They also took part in undercover work in periods of insurrection, for example, during the Luddite riots in the Midlands and were available for hire by wealthy landowners.
They were Britain’s earliest private detectives and they were famous throughout London. The exploits of Stephen Lavender in particular filled many column inches in The Times. He was a Regency celebrity.
They were the only policemen allowed into Buckingham House (the forerunner of the palace) and did security work for the Bank of England. On some occasions, they were even sent abroad to help with crimes and criminals who had spilled out over our borders onto the continent.
Unlike modern crime fighters, the Bow Street officers usually worked alone. However, successful crime fiction novels normally have a pair of heroes – or heroines – resolving the mysteries. So, I decided to change history and gave Lavender a side-kick, Constable Ned Woods, in keeping with this modern literary convention. Woods brings down-to-earth humour and kindness to the novels and is a great foil to Lavender’s slightly-introverted, bookish intelligence. Many readers tell me he is their favourite character.
I frequently find records of Lavender’s cases in the newspapers and often use them as the basis for the plots of my novels. For example, the third book in the series, The Sculthorpe Murder, is based around one of Lavender’s most famous cases which was extensively reported. In 1818, a gang of thugs burst into the home of an elderly man called William Sculthorpe who lived in rural Northamptonshire. They viciously attacked and robbed the eighty-seven-year-old and his son.
The newspapers are always vague about how Lavender actually solved his cases. They tend to be rather gory publications and prefer to dwell more on the horror; the size of the pool of blood and ‘the large quantity of clotted blood that had settled in the victim’s mouth.’ This lack of detail about the police procedure of the time gives me plenty of opportunity to flex my imagination and use artistic license. This is how I prefer to work. I take the bare bones of a real case and then make up the rest. My latest mystery, Plague Pits & River Bones (to be published: 11th January 2018) is a mixture of one of Lavender’s real cases and several other fictional sub-plots.
Inevitably, other real characters do occasionally appear in my books. These have ranged from William, Duke of Clarence and his mistress, the famous actress, Dorothy Jordan; to the artist, William Turner, other Bow Street officers and a range of British Politicians. However, Magdalena, Lavender’s spirited and exotic love-interest, is a figment of my imagination.
My favourite part of writing is usually the first 50,000 words. I tend to think about my books for over a year and when I start writing the words flow over the page with the smoothness of silk. By the time I’m at 50,000 words, it usually gets more difficult. I’ve often got three or four sub-plots running at the same time and dozens of loose ends to tie-up. At this point, I usually take a little break. I hate the cold, dark British winters and last year I flew south to the sunshine of the Canary Islands for a month to finish Plague Pits and River Bones.
But I normally spend this ‘break’ time pottering around my beloved garden, or reading a historical fiction novel by another author (my favourite genre.) Then I come back to my desk refreshed, and race towards the dramatic conclusion. The best two words when writing a novel are always: ‘The End.’
But it’s usually not long before the voices of Lavender and Woods are clamouring in my head, demanding another outing.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Title: Monsters I Have Known: A Collection of Short Stories
Author: Jess Hartley
Genre: paranormal, thriller, and horror short stories
Come take a walk in the shadows alongside award-winning writer/editor/novelist, Jess Hartley, as she leads you through 13 intriguing tales of monstrous beings – supernatural or otherwise. In this, Hartley’s first solo anthology, readers will find a broad offering of genres – horror, romance, steampunk, fantasy and more – including her never-before-published murder mystery novella – Love Never Dies. Monsters I Have Known collects both well-loved favorites from previously published anthologies and never-before-seen fiction, presenting them with insightful introductions to share with readers some of the circumstances surrounding each story’s creation. A must-have introduction for those new to Hartley’s work.
Wow, what a great collection of stories. I’m not normally a fan of horror, but I love a good spooky ghost story. When I was approached to review this book, I wasn’t sure I would like it. I’m glad I took a chance.
It’s hard to pick which story I liked best, but the first one, Love Never Dies, was the longest. In this one, the main character finds herself walking up the beach to her house. Nothing feels right, but it’s only her and her husband. What could be wrong?
My favorite story was Immaterial Witness. Liz gives tours in Bisbee, Arizona, the most haunted town in America. She gets a chance to be on a podcast, but the slimy host has plans of his own. He wants all the dirt, but Liz has a big secret. She can see ghosts, and she’s not about to expose them to a third-rate journalist looking to exploit the dead. Really good story.
This month is a perfect time for this collection. You should totally check this one out. It’s available on Amazon.
Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell—the thick silver cuffs he’s worn since birth. They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.
One day, Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.
Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She’s just returned to court after three years of freedom in the mountains—riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her—including marriage to a suitor who goes against everything the queendom stands for.
The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Hans and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.
If that description sounds like a classic fantasy trope, the Farm Boy made good and the Ruler in Exile, well, it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, this book takes a lot of the tried and true and makes them interesting.
Han also goes by Hunts Alone or Cuffs, depending on whether he’s up the mountains with the clans or down the hill in the city. Either way, he’s a tough, independent guy who’s used to looking over his shoulder. But now, with what seems like half the queendom looking for his blood, it’s time for him to put his childhood behind him and grow up. If he can survive that long.
Princess Raisa also needs to grow up, but this time, I mean she needs to stop being such a spoiled brat. I really wanted to shake her and tell her to quit making such stupid decisions. But then, I’m an adult and she’s only 15. She’s allowed – expected, even – to make a few mistakes like kissing the wrong boy. And wow, does she ever make mistakes.
Both Han and Raisa are caught in political maneuvering beyond their control. Wizards are tired of the tight controls that have been placed on their power. Sure, a wizard nearly caused the end of the world 1000 years ago, but times have changed and they want to be in charge again. Raisa’s mother, the Queen Marianna, is weak and easily influenced, just when a weak ruler would cause the most trouble for the land. Stubborn as Raisa is, no one could call her easily influenced.
Chima has a talent for writing realistic YA characters and relationships you care about. That’s not to say the writing is bad. It’s not. But it’s the plot and the characters that shine. I think she could have done a better job with the setting, at least with the clan. But the city is easy to imagine.
I would definitely recommend this series. I started it on audio and got so aggravated at not being able to follow the story fast enough that I got it on ebook as well. So that should tell you how much I liked it! A little bit predictable at the end, but I’m looking forward to the next book.
If you like a little humor with your mysteries, Donna Andrews has got a series for you. Meg Langslow is a blacksmith whose family has a tendency to get involved in stuff that leads to murder. She has discovered a wide array of murder victims over the years, but she keeps her head and always manages to figure out who done it.
I love funny books, so I took a break from my Off the Shelf challenge this month and read two of Andrews’ latest books, Lord of the Wings and Die Like an Eagle. All of them have birds and bird-related puns in the title.
Lord of the Wings revolves around the mythical town of Caerphilly, Virginia where they’ve begun a new Halloween Festival. Things were going pretty smoothly until someone started a strange scavenger hunt. It started at the zoo and ended in a murder. The next book in the series, Die Like an Eagle, centers around Meg’s twins and their first baseball team. The books are #18 & 19 in the series, but you can start anywhere really and give it a go. My favorite is probably We’ll Always Have Parrots which involves a fan convention. It is just hilarious. Great reads for curling up with a good book.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions, however, are my own.
Title: Forgotten Reflections
Author: Young-Im Lee
Setting: Korea 1950s
I must admit that I haven’t read much modern Asian fiction, and even less Asian historical fiction, so when I was offered this book, I was excited to read it. When I got a look at how long it was, I admit to second thoughts. I’m glad I stuck with it because it was a great read.
This is two stories in one, the story of Iseul as a girl, and the one of her as a grandmother now suffering from Alzheimer’s and living in assisted care. Her granddaughter starts digging into her grandma’s past when they move her into the care facility. Meanwhile, Iseul herself is remembering her past.
Iseul grew up in a small village in Korea. She barely remembers the Japanese soldiers who roared through her town, killing her mother and many of the villagers. Now Iseul is old enough to help her father with his paper-making business. She attracts the notice of Jung-Soo, son of the local bigwig, and that relationship will shape the rest of her life. She and Jung-Soo become aware that the village has a secret Communist cell and soon war breaks out.
I won’t spoil the rest of the book, but I can say that their paths part, but neither can forget the other one. When they are reunited, everything has changed. Several times with this book, I thought it was so long I was never going to finish, but I just couldn’t give up on it.
Like I said, I’m not familiar with Korean books, and the author says that she was only born in Korea and grew up in the Philippines. But the writing is very different from what I’m used to. Sometimes the narrator (the granddaughter) addresses the reader directly. The way Iseul talked made me laugh too. She’s not like any other MC I’ve read this year, that’s for sure.
I definitely recommend this one. If you’re in the mood for a good long book, this one should be on your list.
I’d whispered the entire thing. Every detail that fit into words. It sounded so much more civilized when I whispered it, when I turned down the volume of the fear and disgust. But horrible things whispered are still horrible.
Jennifer’s family is turned upside down when she discovers a photograph of a young girl – a girl who looks surprisingly like Jennifer. The trouble – the picture is 20 years old. Her mom has lied about her past. She’s not an only child. She has a sister. Jennifer wants to meet this aunt, get to know her, but her mother wants Jennifer to leave it alone. After some negotiations, Jennifer heads to Maine to discover her family’s past and along the way, discover herself.
I heard a little about this YA book, enough to add it to my list and then forget about it. But when I found it free on Kindle Unlimited, I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA. Most of what I read is fantasy, so this was a change of pace for me, but it turned out to be a good one.
The story kind of struck home for me. My mom also had a sister she didn’t talk about. Her sister wasn’t a secret or anything, but it was still a big shock when this woman called from out of the blue saying, “Hi, I’m your aunt.” I already had an aunt, and I knew this woman was not her. I guess I experienced this story from the other side.
Our relationship was still distant and things didn’t turn out quite the way they did for Jennifer, but I still felt it was worth getting to know something about this stranger who was my relative. Now my mom and my aunt have both passed away and I can only guess at what their relationship used to be.
I recommend this one to anyone who likes contemporary YA. There is some romance, but that wasn’t what stuck with me about the book. What I liked was the main character herself and her journey to figure out who she was and where she belonged. 3.5 stars/5
I’m running an encore review today as I have a family event all day today. I have several new reviews I want to post and a Mega Blitz post coming up for R & R Book Tours, but for today I hope you enjoy reading about this one.
Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Calpurnia, known as Callie Vee to her 6 brothers, is not one of those quiet, homemaking type of girls. She likes being outdoors, studying nature. The hot summer of 1899 marked a big change in her life. That was the year that she made friends with her Granddaddy and became a naturalist.
But Calpurnia’s mother is not giving up her only daughter without a fight. She’s forced into piano lessons, needlework lessons, cooking lessons, and knitting lessons. Knitting isn’t so bad, at least when it’s a wet and rainy day, but they all make her feel completely inadequate. Is she doomed to be nothing but a wife and mother? And what’s the rush? She’s only 11!
This story was set in the dawning of a new era, with the coming of the first telephone – and first FEMALE telephone operator, the first automobile, and yet the ties to the past, with Granddaddy and his stories of service in the Civil War. Then the excitement of New Year’s Eve, and a new century!
When I started reading this one, it made me think back to my own summers in Texas, with the heat reaching over 100 for days in a row, when we would turn our bathtub into a little swimming pool, and the heat would turn everything into a dead brown landscape, make my nosebleed, and then bake the blood right onto the sidewalk. At least we could occasionally escape to my Grandma’s air conditioned living room. But Calpurnia has no escape except her private swimming hole.
I loved this book. I was a little disappointed by the end, which is why I took off half a star. I hope this is the first in a series; otherwise, Calpurnia is just sort of hanging at the end of the story. While I am very happy being a wife and mother, I understand her feeling of being trapped into a narrow role she has no way to fight. It’s a choice between her mother’s way, or some unknown way, and Calpurnia really has no idea what else is out there for her. I have to hope that the coming years will reveal some new possibilities to her and give her the strength to choose her own life. 4.5 stars
Themes: love, family, medicine, addiction, revenge, politics, law
Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother are returning home after a miserable London Season only to be involved in a train wreck. Elizabeth has a minor concussion and her mother’s ankle is sprained, but she can’t manage anything without Elizabeth’s help. Only handsome Dr. Wilcox is able to provide the care her mother needs. Elizabeth is drawn to the young man, but such a match would never be permitted by Society. Elizabeth knows this, but her heart refuses to listen. She’s drawn into Dr. Wilcox’s life, his crusade for safer railway conditions, and the bitter struggle against his powerful enemies.
I found this one while browsing the titles my library had available for online audiobooks, and I have to say I was hooked. I love a good historical mystery and this one was very promising. Victorian setting, star-crossed lovers, class struggles, and a new author, it was lots of fun. Definitely recommended.
Title: The Treasure at Poldarrow Point (Angela Marchmont, #3)
Author: Clara Benson
After solving two cases in close succession, Angela Marchmont is struck with a nasty case of pneumonia. Her doctor has ordered a rest cure at the sea side, so she’s headed to Cornwall. She’s barely unpacked when her impulsive goddaughter has shown up and discovered a local story of buried treasure.
Naturally, young Barbara has decided that would be the perfect project for their summer holiday. Angela is reluctant at first, but she gets caught up in the lives of the local residents. There’s a sweet old lady and her nephew, a quarrelsome married couple, an odd scientist, and an attractive Scotland Yard detective all involved in the events nearby.
The lighthearted treasure hunt takes a deadly turn when someone takes a shot at Angela and Barbara goes missing.
This one was my favorite in the series so far. The others were rather predictable, but not in a terrible way. This one I was actually caught off guard more than once. I thought I had it figured it out, but there were several surprises in there. I have already downloaded the next one in this series. If you like the British mysteries, this series is so much fun.