I know, I know, not everyone is into Valentine’s Day. Call it Singles Awareness Day, Galentine’s Day, Aro Awareness Day, whatever, I love a little romance in my life. Not always, not in everything, but once a year, what’s wrong with the hearts and flowers? What’s wrong with sending the message that true love does exist, that it endures and grows stronger over time? It’s not about the instant attraction, in my experience. It’s about the kind that survives challenges and keeps you together though thick and thin. My sweetheart and I are at 27 years together, and he still sends me sweet text messages and buys me flowers. My favorite part of every day is when he’s home.
Enough mush! You want to know about the books, amirite? Here is my list of 5 romances swoon-worthy enough for the most desperate romantic.
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. Love AND the French Revolution! The movie version even has pre-Gandalf Ian McKellen and a fabulous Jane Seymour. The costumes are to die for! The hats alone – seriously, wow!
Sir Percy Blakeney is a fantastic hero, although if you’re watching the movie, the disguises need a little modern updating, and the lovely Marguerite St. Just is a great heroine. The movie and the book have different final scenes, but both are very exciting. And even though this one is over 100 years old, it’s still easy to read.
2. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. Another old-style romance. And by old style, I mean 1865! Molly is our main character and her new stepsister Cynthia is her new best friend. Her new stepmom, on the other hand, is well, not. Fear not, because true love awaits Molly and Cynthia. Hold on, you may be saying, I heard this book didn’t have an ending.
Well, you’re right. It doesn’t, not exactly. The author died before she got that far. But the movie – it has the perfect melt your heart ending. Should I just watch the movie Bite your tongue! There’s plenty here to love. It’s not as quick a read, but it’s so well written it draws you right in.
3. Mrs. Mike by Nancy and Benedict Freeman. Wow, Cindy, I hear you saying, what’s with all this period drama? How about something modern? Fine, try this one, which is set in 1907, which practically happened yesterday. Katherine Mary O’Fallon falls in love – hard – with a dashing young Mountie. He wants to marry immediately and set off north. She doesn’t know what she’s getting into when she says yes. This one will rip your heart right out, but put it back in and you’ll be so freaking inspired you’ll want to read it all over again. I think there’s a movie of this one too, but I haven’t seen it so you can just imagine your Mountie looking like, well, this:
Sorry, I couldn’t find a better photo without adding “hot Canadian mountie” and I just didn’t want to deal with what I’d find. So use your imagination. But seriously, read this book!
4. The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer. These are great suggestions, I think some of you are saying (really, you’re all so chatty!), but I like a little humor with my romance! And maybe some mystery too. Got ya covered! It was hard to pick just one by Georgette Heyer, who is admittedly, my favorite romance author of all time, but this one has not one, but two heroines, one saved from the guillotine and one with a bit of sarcasm to match her beauty. The mystery is more of an adventure than truly mysterious, but dashing all the same. No movie here, or pictures either, so imagine whatever you like.
5. Persuasion by Jane Austen. You knew she was going to make it on the list eventually, didn’t you? I tried to include some more modern books, I really did, but I guess when it comes to true love I like it old school. Anne Elliot is the heroine I really want to be. Sure, Jane Bennett is wittier, and Emma Woodhouse is richer, but Anne is patient and loyal and she gets her man in the end. And what a man!
There is a movie of this one, and it’s perfect for your Valentine’s Day. Hooray for true love! Tomorrow we can go back to every day life, but once year, believe in Happily Ever After.
I was give a copy of this book by the writer in exchange for an honest review. My opinions remain my own.
Title: The Lost Spy, Slim Moran #1
Author: Kate Moira Ryan
It is Paris, 1949. 27-year-old American detective and heiress, Slim Moran, is hired by a British spymistress to find Marie-Claire, a spy long presumed dead. Slim soon realizes that scores from the last war have not been settled. She races to find out what happened to this deeply troubled lost spy because if Marie-Claire is not dead, she will be soon.
World War II is over. Slim Moran isn’t ready to return to the US or to England. She’s happy to stay with her lover in Paris, and opens an agency to find displaced persons. She hasn’t had many cases when she is contacted by someone from the SOE looking for a missing radio operator, believed to be captured and killed by the Nazis. But there’s just a possibility that she might be alive. Will Slim be able to get to the truth of what happened to Marie-Claire?
I wasn’t really crazy about this book. It started off with an interesting premise, a good strong setting, but then I got turned off by the number of times people would just sit around and talk and Slim would do nothing at all to verify their stories, to press them, to look for clues. There was a whole lot of nothing happening. I feel like maybe that’s not fair, but something about the actual detection part of mystery just didn’t work. There were too many times Slim just accepted things at face value.
The tangled relationships made it difficult to care about these characters as well. I liked the introduction of Edith Piaf as a performer and Marlene Dietrich – little touches like that really helped with the setting. But it honestly wasn’t enough to save the book for me. I would say if you are interested in the setting, to give it a try. It might also be that it’s just suffering from first book blues.
I’ve been reading a lot lately, but kind of in a slump. I’ve had a hard time finding something that would keep my interest. But I wanted to share my thoughts, so here’s my list of what I’ve read lately in order of least enjoyed to most enjoyed.
Buried or A Buried Tale (both titles listed on Goodreads, so I don’t know which is right) by C J Carmichael. This is the first in a series about a small town attacked by a serial killer. A writer gets a tip about some old cases that were never solved. I found it kind of boring at the beginning and as I got into it, I didn’t like any of the characters. The MC was a jerk and everyone had secrets that make it hard to trust them. The book was free on Kindle but I just didn’t want to finish it.
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell. This one sounded more interesting, sort of a YA noir thing about a teenager post WWII, a coming of age story. But it’s hard to remember ever being so naive. Again, I didn’t like the MC who can’t wait to smoke real cigarettes and be glamorous! It was obvious the big reveal was going to be around parental infidelity and maybe murder and I just wasn’t interested in sticking with it. Another disappointment. It won some award, but I really don’t see why. Other books have told similar stories and done it better. Great cover though.
Chimera Catalyst by Susan Kuchinskas, Finder #1 This one was given to be for an honest review by the author, and it sounded pretty different. It’s set in the near future with climate change and gene splicing creating some strange consequences for most. The MC is a private detective asked to find a missing woman. Turns out the missing woman is a ‘chimera’ – mix of human and animal genes designed to be a rich man’s plaything. I liked the deeper issues this brought up, the questions of morality of how these technologies will change society, but while I was interested in the outcome of the story, I found it hard to follow the complicated storyline and sort out who was whom. I think this one needed a little more editing.
Here you go. None that I really loved, but all new authors to me and maybe to you too. I’m currently rereading The Alloy of Law and that’s a good one and a new book by Peter Lovesey that has me guessing at where he’s going. Maybe those will pull me out of my slump.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My open remains my own.
Title: Not From the Stars (His Majesty’s Theatre, book 1)
Author: Christina Britton Conroy
Synopsis: Filled with the history of the British theatre and allusions to Shakespeare, Not From the Starsis the first in the His Majesty’s Theatre series about the lives of the actors and academics who lived in the repressive days of Edwardian England, but refused to be stifled.
Even though I’m not an actor myself and haven’t been On stage since high school, for some reason I have a soft spot for books about the theater. Add an historical setting, and I’m there! So this book set in the world of English theatre 1885 sounded really interesting.
Established actor Jerry O’Connell is attracting attention – and not the good kind. Rumors fly that he and his make co-star are a little too close, and the police are taking notice. He tries to be discreet, but when he meets a desperate young ingenue he realizes that they can help each other. She needs a place to live, he needs a cover. Together they set up house and both are their careers take off.
Meanwhile young Elisa Roundtree is torn between an uncaring father and a cruel fiance. She finds a brief happiness at school, but things soon grow more complicated.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I was more interested in the actors and their lives than in Elisa. I didn’t agree with some of the choices she made. But it was really an eye opener to read about the laws regarding homosexuality. For some reason I didn’t realize that this was the first in a series and I expected things to be more resolved at the end of this book. It’s not a cliffhanger exactly, but just the first installment of a longer story.
If you like historical fiction, I would a definitely recommend this one. It’s available on Kindle Unlimited right now so you should check it out.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions, however, remain my own.
Title: Paving the New Road (Rowland Sinclair mysteries #4)
Author: Sulari Gentill
Setting: Australia then Germany 1933
It’s 1933, and the political landscape of Europe is darkening.
Eric Campbell, the man who would be Australia’s Führer, is on a fascist tour of the Continent, meeting dictators over cocktails and seeking allegiances in a common cause. Yet the Australian way of life is not undefended. Old enemies have united to undermine Campbell’s ambitions. The clandestine armies of the Establishment have once again mobilised to thwart any friendship with the Third Reich.
But when their man in Munich is killed, desperate measures are necessary.
Now Rowland Sinclair must travel to Germany to defend Australian democracy from the relentless march of Fascism. Amidst the goosestepping euphoria of a rising Nazi movement, Rowland encounters those who will change the course of history. In a world of spies, murderers and despotic madmen, he can trust no-one but an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress.
Plots thicken, loyalties are tested and bedfellows become strange indeed.
I must admit to knowing little or nothing about Australian politics, but I know a good thriller when I read one. Rowland Sinclair and his group of friends have been sent into the very heart of Nazi Germany to put a stop to an Australian politician’s nascent friendship with Adolf Hitler. While there, Rowland want to discover who murdered the last guy sent on the same errand. Along the way he meets lots of historical figures caught up in the same pre-war frenzy. Famous names aside, the real thrill was in seeing whether they would all escape Germany alive. A real page-turner.
This was the first book I read by this author and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I had been more familiar with the characters and their backstory. However I was able to jump in and sort things out, so I’m glad I got chosen for it. I can say it won’t be the last I read by this author! Recommended.
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’m very excited to offer you another author interview. This time I’m featuring the author of the historical drama, Forgotten Reflections. Young-Im Lee lives in South Korea and this is her first book. I really enjoyed it and I’m so happy to speak with her.
Young-Im Lee was born in Mokpo, South Korea and relocated to Manila, Philippines at the age of one where she grew up in an international setting. She graduated with a BA in English Language and Literature from Seoul National University and an MA in English Literary Studies from the University of York (UK). She currently resides in Seoul, South Korea.
DARE TO DREAM IN THE MIDST OF WAR.
1945. Rice fields seem endless in a quaint farming village of South Korea, yet Iseul and the villagers have been on the verge of starvation for as long as they can remember; the last of their Japanese colonizers have taken every last grain with them. In the newly independent Korea, Iseul dreams of what her future might bring. Yet, war is on the horizon, and the boy she has fallen for is an alleged North Korean communist spy.
Amidst war, Jung-Soo and Iseul embark on a comic journey of self-discovery across the mountainous peninsula, as they are aided by the occasional appearances of long forgotten legendary figures. Music helps them pass the time, as does the radio and the crafty carpentry skills of Iseul who would eventually make history with her handcrafted hanji paper. Unexpected friendships are forged, love burgeons and betrayal taints their elusive dreams.
What research did you do for your book?
Researching for this book seemed to have no end. I visited one of the many museums here in Seoul and found that much of the relevant information could be found online. I tried to channel this feeling of being overwhelmed into the book where we see Jia, the granddaughter, feeling quite helpless in her own search for the truth of her grandmother’s past. After watching a few more documentaries about the Korean War, I did what I could to focus on letters and accounts of day-to-day occurrences in the lives of the soldiers coming from such a multi-national background.
In particular, I found an account of a Korean woman who remembered how grateful she felt as a young girl when the war had broken out. She explained how, for the first time, people focused on men dying, instead of her being a disgrace for having been born a daughter. As shocking as this statement was, it was somewhat understandable considering the status of women at the time. From this interview, the character “Mi-Jung” came into focus who can be found sharing the same sentiment as this woman from the interview since Mi-Jung is born as a daughter to a single mom who was pitied for having a daughter instead of a son.
As for the events/plot that transpires in the story, I was particularly taken by the battle of Chosin Reservoir where UN troops were surrounded by over 120,000 Chinese troops who were hiding in the mountains before mounting an attack in a strategic location that trapped UN forces in the Northern Territory. A task force was created to rescue those trapped, though so few survived that those who did were later nicknamed “The Chosin Few.”
While my story is not located in Chosin, I was inspired by this battle that highlighted the mountainous landscape of the Korean Peninsula, the international scale of this war and the heroism displayed by those who risked their lives to save those trapped in by the mountains.
This is a really long, detailed book. How long did it take you to write? Can you describe your writing process?
Yes, it is certainly long! I had been living with my grandmother when the idea first struck and that was over two years ago! While I had written a rough screenplay of this story soon after, I eventually abandoned the project for over a year before finally returning to it, this time opting to write the story in the novel form instead. It took eight months of full-time writing to complete this project.
Writing the screenplay first was helpful since it made me focus on scenes that pushed the plot forward. It made transcribing the story into the novel form somewhat easier, although it took a while to seamlessly integrate the thoughts of each character into prose. I had a notebook dedicated to scribbling my way towards a novel. It was certainly non-linear and possibly the most round-about way of writing, but it somehow resulted in a novel. Honestly, I don’t think I remember it being a “process” at all.
Is this your first book you wrote? What are you working on right now?
Yes, this is my first book. I am currently doing research on post-colonial orientalism. I am grateful for this novel since it inspired a new academic topic of interest. I would love to continue writing fiction, but at the moment, I have been consumed with my research and a part-time job (I teach English here in Korea, which was one major inspiration for the character, Jia).
Part of your book centers around an elderly woman suffering from dementia. Do you have any experience with relatives in nursing homes?
While living with my grandmother, I had visited her sister in the hospice center who was also suffering from some form of dementia. Likewise, my late grandfather showed symptoms while I was living with my grandparents. It was certainly an eye-opening experience and one that was quite scary. Nursing homes have become quite common in Korea and I think I am at that age where I see my parents, aunts, and uncles seriously consider the possibilities of how best to care for our grandparents.
Iseul lives in a tiny village. Her granddaughter lives in a big town. Which one more closely relates to your experience? What are the advantages to where you grew up?
Contrary to what many readers may think, my background is quite far removed from that of Jia’s (the granddaughter). I did not strictly grow up in a city, nor did I grow up in Korea. I actually grew up in a somewhat suburban area in Manila, Philippines which was a cross between a big city and a smaller city. When I first moved to Seoul, I was both enthralled and overwhelmed. At eighteen, I was also living alone in the dormitory with my parents in a different country, which made Seoul seem even more vast. But during the course of my studies in Seoul, I moved to some of the rural areas of Korea for months at a time and found the contrast so shocking! Likewise, my grandfather lives in one of the smallest villages in Mokpo which had always been uncomfortable, to say the least! The toilet was outside and a truck would come and empty it only once a week or so. The house would reek of hay and manure from the barn that was attached to the living space. I was quite shocked to know that people still lived in old-fashioned hanok houses. It was only through research into the tradition of hanok homes was I able to appreciate the structure and utility of these homes that adapted so well to the bitter cold winters and hot summers.
Iseul’s granddaughter faces a lot of pressure about her education. What’s the difference between the American education system and the Korean one?
I grew up in the American-adapted international education system. I had always known about the so-called “horrors” of the Korean education system growing up, but it was never something I experienced first-hand. I now live vicariously through my students who are under the same pressure, and it makes my heart break. On the other hand, what I also see is the resilience of children, though honestly, I don’t think Korean students can imagine it any other way. It is a sobering thought and one that made me want to write about fostering the imagination in students. How else would things change if people can’t imagine a different future?
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? What writers do you admire?
Between my job teaching English and doing research, I feel like the day goes by so quickly!
Honestly, I love knitting! It does take up a lot of time so I’m trying to limit myself J I also enjoy playing the guitar and taking a long stroll around my neighborhood/ nearby Gwanak mountain. I’ve recently joined a writer’s group and it has been so nice to finally meet other aspiring authors.
If I had to pick a few of my favorite novels, it would be Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” Towle’s “A Gentleman in Moscow,” Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” and Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
If a reader wants to keep in touch with what you’re working on, where’s the best place to keep up with your work?
I currently have a facebook page and a website where I post a few blogs every once in a while, including upcoming writing projects and updates about this book. You can reach me through both of these channels.
What are your plans this weekend? I’m looking forward to some more sewing time. I’ve been going through my Netflix queue and watching some pretty good stuff. I discovered a new Amazon series, Medieval Deaths, which is like Historic CSI.
I’ve also been watching Rosewood, but I can’t decide if I like it. The main character is kind of a know it all, and I really want to smack both him and his partner detective. I like the secondary characters though. Crossing Jordan is the opposite – all about the MC, secondary characters not really engaging at all. But I’m not very far into either series.
I do like the Father Brown series. Have you read the books by GK Chesterton? Mostly short stories, and in this case, I think the TV show is better than the books, but the books are free through Kindle Unlimited.
I’ve also been sewing a lot. I have a denim quilt I’ve been working on while I watch TV or listen to my audiobook and it’s close to being done. Then I have another quilt top done and I just need the batting and the backing. It’s a camping/woods quilt.
Here’s my list of what I’m currently reading:
Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens
American Colonies: The Settling of North America (audio)
“On a cold February night in Regency London, a dark curtain falls on the Sans Pareil Theatre following the death of April Clare, a promising young actress, whose body is found in mysterious circumstances.
Detective Stephen Lavender and his dependable deputy, Constable Woods, quickly discover that nothing is quite as it seems. As successive mysteries unfold, they soon realise that it is not only the actors from the Sans Pareil who are playing a part.”
It’s funny how sometimes your books align. I just finished 2 books about Regency England and crime. I already reviewed Newt’s Emerald (verdict = good) and now this one. Unlike the first book, this one does not have a fantasy element. It’s strictly mystery, with a little romance.
Let me say that I rated this 7/10, but I’m still looking forward to the next book. The writing could be better – too much telling, too much exposition in parts. I swear the characters must be dumb to have to have things explained to them! But the characters and the world building make these rewarding books. Detective Lavender is not your conventional copper. He is a Bow Street Runner, but he’s also more of a gentleman. Then there’s his lady love, Dona Magdalena, recently escaped from Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. I love her, and she gets a big part in this book. Constable Woods and his family are great too.
I mostly listened to this, but if you get it on Kindle Unlimited, you can switch back and forth between book and audio, which is awesome. The narrator did a really good job with the men, not so hot with the women. I’d recommend this one if you enjoy historical mysteries. But start with the first book, The Heiress of Linn Hagh.
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.