A French Trio: Mediterranean Summer; Eugenie; A Week in Paris

Coincidentally, three of my recent reads have been set in France, so I thought I would combine my thoughts on them into one French-themed post. It’s a good way for me to get through my review backlog too!

Mediterranean Summer by Jane MacKenzie was a nice surprise; a book I knew nothing about, by an author I’d never come across before, but one that I ended up really enjoying. It tells the story of Laure, a young art student who finds herself caught up in the excitement of the 1968 student demonstrations at her university in Paris. When the rebellion is over, with her future as an artist in doubt due to her involvement in the protests, Laure returns home for the summer to her parents’ house in the Mediterranean village of Vermeilla. Here, in the small Catalan community of her childhood, she is reacquainted with old friends as well as making new ones – and with the help of Robert, a lawyer, she begins to search for a way to rescue her career.

This is a lovely summer read; the descriptions of the fictional Vermeilla and the surrounding area are so beautiful I wished I could go and spend the rest of the summer there myself! There’s an interesting selection of characters to get to know too, mostly very likeable, but with one or two who could be considered villains. As for the historical background, I knew almost nothing about the Paris student protests in the 1960s, so I learned something new there, and I was also interested to read about the Nobel dynamite factory in Paulilles and the shocking lack of regard for the health and safety of the employees. I loved Mediterranean Summer and would be happy to try Jane MacKenzie’s previous novels.

The next book I want to talk about takes us further back in time, to the French Revolution. Published in 1917 (originally titled The Third Estate), Eugenie by Marjorie Bowen introduces us to two sisters, Eugenie and Pélagie Haultpenne. Pélagie, the eldest, is heiress to a fortune and, at the beginning of the book, is engaged to a handsome young nobleman, the Marquis de Sarcey. As soon as the Marquis sees her beautiful sister Eugenie, however, Pélagie is forgotten. Can he find a way to be with Eugenie without giving up his claim to the Haultpenne fortune?

I have read a few of Marjorie Bowen’s other historical novels and have found them to vary widely in style and quality. This is not one of the better ones, but despite the off-putting cover, it’s still an entertaining read. The historical aspect of the story is interesting; it focuses less on the Revolution itself than on the factors leading to it, such as the Estates General and the role of the Comte de Mirabeau. This is a novel that you would read more for the plot than because you wanted to learn some history, though. It reminded me slightly of Louisa May Alcott’s A Long Fatal Love Chase; it’s fun, as long as you don’t mind lots of melodrama, swooning heroines and an anti-hero who is “a creature expert in every vice, used to every dishonour, useless, arrogant, a parasite on the labour of others!”

Finally, I read A Week in Paris by Rachel Hore, a dual timeline novel. One thread of the story is set in 1961 and follows music student Fay Knox who is in Paris for a week with her orchestra. Fay has grown up knowing very little about her early childhood as her mother refuses to talk about it or to tell her what happened to her father, other than that he was killed during the war. However, when memories start coming back to her, she has reason to believe that the first years of her life may have been spent in France. Over the course of her week in Paris, Fay decides to find out the truth about her past – and is shocked by what she discovers. Meanwhile, she is reacquainted with an old friend, Adam, but could he also be hiding secrets?

The other storyline is written from the perspective of Fay’s mother, Kitty, who falls in love with Gene, an American doctor, during World War II. The two end up trapped in occupied Paris – and their actions during this period will have consequences that live on into the next generation.

I found this an enjoyable novel, after a slow start, though not as good as similar books by other authors such as Lucinda Riley or Susanna Kearsley. The 1940s storyline is much more engaging than the 1960s one, not just because of the drama of the war itself, but also because the romance between Kitty and Gene is more convincing than the one between Fay and Adam (and less reliant on coincidence and chance meetings). I really cared about what happened to the wartime characters and was gripped by the details of life in a city under Nazi occupation, but I wouldn’t have minded if the framing story involving Fay had been left out altogether.

Three very different books, but I found different things to like about all of them!

Thanks to Jane MacKenzie for the copy of Mediterranean Summer; the other two were both taken from the outstanding titles on my NetGalley shelf.

A trio of books: London Roses; The Hurlyburly’s Husband; The King’s Favourite

I’ve been struggling to keep up to date with my reviews recently – I seem to go into each new month with at least four or five books still to write about from the month before – so I thought I would try putting together the occasional multi-book post with slightly shorter reviews than normal.

London Roses by Dora Greenwell McChesney, first published in 1903, follows the stories of a group of people who meet in the Manuscript Room at the British Museum. Rhoda Comstock is a young American woman who has come to London to stay with her English cousin, Una Thorpe, and the two strike up a friendship one day with journalist Stephen Fulford and his brother Thomas, getting together to discuss their research and to engage in lighthearted debate about the differences between life in Britain and America. When Stephen makes the sudden decision to go to South Africa to report on the Boer War, he leaves behind a scandal which puts Thomas in a difficult position and poses a threat not only to the bond between the two brothers but also to their newly formed relationships with Rhoda and Una.

London Roses is packed with interesting ideas and themes – loyalty and friendship; the importance of trust; adjusting to life in a different country – although none of these things are explored in as much depth as they could have been. The characters also had the potential to be a lot more complex and well-developed than they actually were. None of the main four ever came fully to life and I was much more intrigued by the character of Anthony Pettigrew, an old man Rhoda nicknames the Moth, who has spent thirty years coming to the British Museum to research books that he’s never written.

Far too much of the novel is spent discussing the English Civil War, which is apparently a passion of several of the characters (and also of the author – as I know, having read her historical novels Rupert, by the Grace of God and Cornet Strong of Ireton’s Horse), but which felt a bit strange as it had very little to do with the rest of the plot. On a more positive note, there are some nice descriptions of London and the Museum, but overall I was disappointed by this book and was thankful that it was such a short one!

The Hurlyburly’s Husband is an English translation by Alison Anderson of Jean Teulé’s 2008 French novel. Set in 17th century France, it tells the story of the often forgotten husband of Madame de Montespan (mistress of the Sun King, Louis XIV). Louis-Henri, Marquis de Montespan, marries Athénaïs, as she becomes known, after her fiancé flees following a duel. He loves his new wife and believes that she loves him, but it’s not long before Athénaïs goes to court as a lady-in-waiting and takes the place of Louise de la Valliere in the king’s affections. Unlike many cuckolded husbands of the period, Montespan is not interested in using his wife’s position to gain money and titles at court; instead, when it becomes obvious that Athénaïs is lost to him, he chooses to defy the king and take revenge in any small way he can.

A lot has been written about Madame de Montespan, her relationship with the king and her involvement in the Affair of the Poisons, but her husband is usually ignored. It was good to have the chance to read his side of the story and to see how he may have felt about all of this. As Athénaïs is absent from her husband’s life for most of the novel, the focus is always on Montespan himself: his attempts at winning glory on the battlefield, his relationships with his children, and his acts of defiance against the king (adding horns to his coat of arms, for example).

This is an entertaining little novel, as lively, colourful and scandalous as the French court it describes. There are even some illustrations, which are always a nice addition to any book. And in case you’re wondering, the hurlyburly of the title refers to the hairstyle popular in the 17th century known as the hurluberlu.

The final book I want to talk about here is The King’s Favourite by Marjorie Bowen (originally published in 1938 under the pseudonym George R Preedy). The King of the title is King James I of England and VI of Scotland – and the Favourite is Robin Carr, a young man who catches the King’s eye when he falls and breaks his leg in the tilt yard. Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, sees his chance to gain influence at court by pushing his pretty, seventeen-year-old great-niece Frances into an affair with Robin. But Howard is not the only one who is plotting and scheming; Robin’s friend, Tom Overbury, is also keen to encourage the romance between Robin and Frances in the hope of gaining more power for himself.

Nobody expected the two to actually fall in love, but that is what happens. With his plans thrown into disarray, Overbury finds himself caught in the middle of another plot – but this one is directed at himself. The King’s Favourite is based on real events from history, but I was unfamiliar with the details of this particular story. My lack of knowledge meant I had no idea what was going to happen and could enjoy this as a suspenseful true crime novel before looking up the facts after I’d finished and comparing them with Marjorie Bowen’s version.

While the plot (after a slow start) is an exciting, dramatic one, the characters are not particularly strong and not at all sympathetic either! I can’t say that I liked any of them – although I was interested to see that the astrologer and physician Simon Forman plays a prominent part in the story. I remember being intrigued by his appearances in Sally O’Reilly’s Dark Aemilia, so it was good to learn more about him here.

I see that there have been several other novels written over the years that also deal with the Overbury case, including one by Rafael Sabatini (The Minion) which I’m now very interested in reading. The TBR continues to grow!

Two books by Marjorie Bowen…or should that be Joseph Shearing?

marjorie_bowenMargaret Gabrielle Vere Campbell Long (1885-1952) was a British author who wrote many different types of book – ranging from crime and horror to historical fiction and biography – under several different pseudonyms, the most popular being Marjorie Bowen. In December, in an attempt to get up to date with my NetGalley review copies, I read two of her recently reissued books which were originally published under the name Joseph Shearing. Apparently the true identity of Joseph Shearing was unknown for a long time and there was speculation that it might have been another female author, F Tennyson Jesse. The Shearing novels, which it seems were usually inspired by true crimes, do have a different feel from Bowen’s straightforward historical novels (I’ve read a few of those over the last year or so) and I can see why readers at the time might not have made the connection.

nights-dark-secretsNight’s Dark Secrets (first published in 1936 as The Golden Violet, The Story of a Lady Novelist) was the first of the two books that I read. The novel opens with the marriage of Angel Cowley, an author of romance novels, to Thomas Thicknesse, the owner of a sugar plantation in Jamaica. Angel has been busy preparing her latest novel, The Golden Violet, for serialisation in a magazine, but this has to be postponed when Thomas insists that the newly married couple leave England and return to his plantation, Venables Penn.

As soon as they arrive in Jamaica, Angel discovers her husband’s true nature and begins to wonder whether she has made a terrible mistake. Struggling to adapt to life in an unfamiliar country, with a husband she can’t trust and barely sees, and with trouble brewing in the island’s slave community, Angel turns to her neighbour, John Gordon, for the love and friendship she longs for. But is John really all he appears to be or is he also hiding secrets?

Night’s Dark Secrets could have been a great book. The descriptions of the island are wonderful and the historical setting – around the time slavery was abolished in Jamaica in the early 19th century – is an interesting one. However, the level of racism, even for a book from the 1930s, made me feel quite uncomfortable. I’m aware, of course, that it wasn’t necessarily Marjorie Bowen who was racist, but rather the characters, and that the way Angel and other Europeans reacted to the sight of the black slaves on the island would have been consistent with the reactions of many white women who had never seen or spoken to someone with a different skin colour before. Still, Angel’s sheer nastiness, in addition to her general silliness, made it impossible for me to have any sympathy with her situation.

forget-me-notHaving said all of that, I did still find the story itself compelling and kept reading to the end. And I was happy to go on to try a second Shearing novel, Forget-Me-Not. This novel, published in 1932, also appeared under the title The Strange Case of Lucile Clery, and Bowen claimed it was based on true events which led to the downfall of Louis Philippe I, King of the French, in the revolution of 1848.

The novel is set in France and follows the story of Lucille Debelleyme, a young woman who takes a position as governess in an aristocratic Parisian household. Lucille has never lasted long in any job, but she’s determined that this time things will be different. Unfortunately, although she quickly wins over her new employer, the Duc du Boccage, she is less successful with his wife, Fanny. As the governess and the Duc find themselves falling in love, Fanny’s jealousy intensifies and she makes plans to have Lucille removed from her position. Lucille, though, will not go without a fight. As a Bonapartist who was opposed to the return of the monarchy, she longs to see Louis Philippe toppled from his throne – and the events which occur during Lucille’s stay in the du Boccage household play a part in the eventual revolution.

Forget-Me-Not is an unusual story – part romance, part suspense, part historical fiction and part crime. Again, the main character is not very likeable, but she’s obviously not supposed to be. I found her intriguing as I was never really sure exactly what she wanted or what she was trying to do. I’m not very familiar with the period of French history covered in the novel so I didn’t fully understand how Lucille’s actions affected the monarchy, but that didn’t matter too much as the real focus of the story is on her relationship with Fanny and her husband.

Of these two books, I definitely preferred Forget-Me-Not. I’m not sure whether I would want to read any more of Joseph Shearing’s work, though – if I do read more novels by this author, I think I’ll stick to the ones that were published under the name of Marjorie Bowen or George R Preedy (I loved one of her Preedy books, The Poisoners).

Have you ever found that where an author has used pseudonyms, you’ve liked the books written under one name more than another?

My Commonplace Book: December 2016

It’s time for my last Commonplace Book post of 2016. I now have twelve lovely collections of quotations and images to look back on from my year’s reading, so I think I’ll be doing this again – or something very similar – in 2017!

A summary of this month’s reading, in words and pictures.

commonplace book
Definition:
noun
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary

~

Looking back on the past six months, Margaret realised the chaotic nature of our daily life, and its difference from the orderly sequence that has been fabricated by historians. Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere. With infinite effort we nerve ourselves for a crisis that never comes. The most successful career must show a waste of strength that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful is not that of the man who is taken unprepared, but of him who has prepared and is never taken.

Howards End by E.M. Forster (1910)

~

Time is the tricksiest of all tricksters, and I should know. I was a jester by profession, but I never had the skills of Mistress Time. She can stretch herself into a shadow that reaches so far you think it’ll never come to an end or she can shrink to the shortest of mouse-tails.

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland (2016)

~

john-wilmot

Talk, inevitably, turned to the projected portrait, and he was able to describe what he wanted. “I have it all quite plain in my mind’s eye: I stand by a table, so, and I’m holding out a laurel wreath over Strephon’s head, while turning to look out of the picture, and Strephon sits on a pile of books on a table, preferably eating them.”

“All highly symbolic. Are you sure you don’t want, say, a dwarf or a blind fiddler or any other accessory? Just yourself, and the monkey?”

Alathea by Pamela Belle (1985)

~

Angel thought: What is this errand I am going on? Perhaps all this girl has told me is false; how do I know? Perhaps all I have heard of her is a lie, too. What is it that I have in common with her? Why do I like and trust her? For the same reason as I was hurt by the death of the manatee – we’re all females, slaves, helpless.

Night’s Dark Secrets by Marjorie Bowen (1936)

~

henry-vii

Somehow, he’d thought that as he got older he would achieve a measure of free will. When he was a man, he had often told himself after being chastised or set some complicated task of learning that no one would tell him what to do. Now he lay on his back in the dense forest, aware of the mist rising from the damp earth, the murmuring of men settling in for the night, and knew he was part of a story that had started long before he was born and would continue long after his death.

Accession by Livi Michael (2016)

~

“Nice!” Stella’s anger overflowed suddenly. “And this is a nice bus, and what a lot of nice people we are, this nice morning.”

Marian managed a laugh. “You’re quite right. It’s a terrible word. I used it in an essay once, and my tutor made me read Northanger Abbey before I wrote another one.”

“Oh God, Jane Austen,” said Stella.

Strangers in Company by Jane Aiken Hodge (1973)

~

There are misfortunes in life that no one will accept; people would rather believe in the supernatural and the impossible.

The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas (1850)

~

full-moon

The moon was full and, urged by a restless excitement, she had been unable to remain in her room. She walked without conscious direction through a grove of oleanders and came out on the shore, pale gold sands silvered by the moonlight, a line of slowly curling surf white as ivory, and a sea of violet blue. Above her the Southern moon seemed huge and very near and she felt as if she could catch it in her hand.

Forget Me Not by Marjorie Bowen (1932)

~

“First his secretary, seated in his master’s chair, was shot,” he said slowly. “Then his butler, who was apparently after his master’s Scotch, got poisoned. Then his chauffeur met with a very mysterious accident, and finally a man walking with him down the street got a coping stone on his head.” He sat back and regarded his companion almost triumphantly. “What do you say to that?” he demanded.

“Shocking,” said the young man. “Very bad taste on someone’s part. Rotten marksmanship, too,” he added, after some consideration. “I suppose he’s travelling for health now, like me?”

Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham (1930)

~

jane_shore_-_weir_collection

She raised her eyes – they lighted on the masquer. The pressure of the people had forced him so close to her that their hands touched. Shore lent forward to speak to his father. The mysterious personage seized the occasion, pressed that gloved hand with ardour, and whispered in her ear.

“You have done unwisely – you might have been the beloved of a king.”

Jane Shore by Mary Bennett (1869)

~

“There are many forms of love, Violet. One can love a parent in one way, a sibling in another, a lover, a friend, an animal…each in different ways.”

Flora watched Violet’s face as everything it contained seemed to soften and a veil fell from her eyes.

“Yes, yes! But Flora, how can we possibly choose whom we love when society dictates it?”

“Well, even though outwardly we must do as society dictates, the feelings we hold inside us may contradict that completely.”

The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley (2016)

~

Favourite books this month: Alathea, The Man in the Iron Mask and The Shadow Sister.

As you can see, I’m very behind with my reviews, which isn’t ideal at the start of a new year. However, I do have most of them written and scheduled to be posted throughout January. For now, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year!

The Poisoners by Marjorie Bowen

The Poisoners I have read several novels by Marjorie Bowen this year and this is one of my favourites so far. First published in 1936, The Poisoners originally appeared under one of her other pseudonyms, George Preedy, and now that I’ve read it I can see why she chose to use a different name for this one. Although this book, like the others I’ve read, is set in the past, it is more of a mystery/thriller which should appeal to readers of vintage crime as well as to fans of historical fiction.

The story takes place in 17th century Paris during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and revolves around a famous murder scandal known as L’affaire des poisons (Affair of the poisons). Our hero is Charles Desgrez, newly arrived in Paris with his wife, Solange, to take up a position as Lieutenant of Police and keen to make a name for himself. At the beginning of the novel, the couple are attending a party for Solange’s birthday, when one of the guests – the Widow Bosse, a supplier of perfumes – drunkenly boasts of becoming rich by helping wives to become widows. “I’ve only got three more poisonings to do and I shall be a very wealthy woman,” she says.

To satisfy his curiosity, Desgrez asks Solange to visit the Widow in disguise, posing as a wife unhappy with her husband – and he is shocked by what he learns. Reporting his findings to the Chief of Police, M. de la Reynie, the two begin to investigate and gradually discover that the network of poisoners operating in Paris is much larger and more sophisticated than they could ever have imagined. To complicate things further, some of the people involved are closely connected to the Sun King himself – so Desgrez and de la Reynie must find a way to bring the criminals to justice while avoiding the publicity the King would prefer to avoid.

The Affair of the Poisons is a dark and fascinating episode in Parisian history. I’ve read about it before, in The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley, and it was good to revisit the same subject from a different angle. As far as I can tell, Bowen’s novel sticks to the basic historical facts of The Affair, with the addition of a few fictional characters and plot developments. The result is an atmospheric and suspenseful crime novel featuring fortune tellers and spies, counterfeiters and apothecaries, an empty house which hides sinister secrets, mysterious letters marked with the sign of a pink carnation, and a society thought to be involved in black magic.

The plot is excellent – fast-paced and exciting – but there’s not a lot to say about the characters in The Poisoners. Many of them are based on real historical figures, such as the king’s mistress, Madame de Montespan, and the notorious poisoner, La Voisin. Although they are all interesting to read about, none of them are developed in any great depth. I enjoyed reading about the work of the police officers in the novel (I hadn’t realised the French police were so well organised in the 17th century, which is something Bowen talks about in her author’s note) and I did like Charles and Solange Desgrez, but they are not the sort of characters who stay in your thoughts after finishing the book. This is a novel you would read for the plot rather than the characters, and maybe this is one of the differences between the books which were originally published under the Marjorie Bowen and George Preedy names.

If you’ve read anything by Marjorie Bowen (or any of Margaret Gabrielle Vere Campbell’s other pseudonyms) I’d love to hear what you thought!

My Commonplace Book: July 2016

A summary of this month’s reading, in words and pictures.

commonplace book
Definition:
noun
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary

***

He turned his head to smile at her, apologetically; and his face was haggard in the firelight, so that suddenly she cared nothing for kings and wars, nor bishops nor the soul of man, nor for what Thomas did, only for what Thomas was; and she longed to fling her arms round him and hold him close because he was like a lute that was strung too tight.

The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff (1959)

***

Princes in the Tower

No banners were raised above the company and they wore no livery, anonymity as well as haste their ally this April morning. Where Watling Street cut its blade-straight course towards the Great Ouse, the last of the sentries who had ridden on ahead to silence any word of their coming joined the company and, together, the horsemen thundered towards the small market town of Stony Stratford and the object of their race: the boy who had become king.

Sons of the Blood by Robyn Young (2016)

***

Nash is a follower of the playwrights and knows their best bons mots by heart, but I am fascinated by the actors themselves. I wonder about the life behind the stage and the precariousness of it. The thought of it gives me a shiver. Perhaps my interest stems from the apprehension that actors, whose calling depends on looks and voices and bodies that cannot last, must confront the same hard laws of life that women do. When the brightness of our beauty dies, we are plunged into the dark.

The Revelations of Carey Ravine by Debra Daley (2016)

***

Lizzie Burns

And is it any different with love? Isn’t love the reverse side of the same medal? To love is to have, but rare does it happen that what we have is what we love. Love buys cheap and seeks to sell at a higher price; our greed is for gain that lies outside our reach. We desire those who don’t desire us in return.

Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea (2015)

***

Before him lay the well-kept grounds, the clipped rose trees already beginning to put forth their glossy leaves, the panes of the glass-house gleaming like ice in the moonlight, the fountain where the water splashed in silver threads, hollow-eyed termini set between yew trees. The windows in the side of the pleasure house facing Desgrez were shuttered; he crept along, however, most warily; he did not know who was posted in the gardens nor what sentries might be placed about the house and grounds.

The Poisoners by Marjorie Bowen (1936)

***

Gondola

They glided away through the spangled water, and he filled his lungs with the haunting sea air. Other gondolas slipped past with lovers or merrymakers. A delicious languor filled the night, lapping of water, wandering of music. He felt a longing, sweeter than possession, for the indescribable, the unattainable. He would return here someday with her; he would occupy one of these palaces; they would live in terms of color – sapphire and silver – in terms of a casement open on the sea-scented night.

Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger (1947)

***

“Oh, don’t worry, we’re still appalling know-it-alls. We dig things up, but then we photograph and catalogue, record and document, and as often as not we put things back. It’s not the finds so much as the findings. Not the objects but the stories they tell.”

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton (2016)

***

Magna Carta

Under the shade of the pavilion, he noted a table in readiness, stools around it, and parchment and pens and wax all ready, with clerks and knights waiting. They had at least the grace to stand when he entered and, without speaking, took the stool at the table-head. Before him lay the long charter. He knew it by heart, each clause of it had burned into him with rage while impotently he had listened to these rogues’ demands.

The Devil and King John by Philip Lindsay (1943)

***

Favourite books this month: Prince of Foxes and The Revelations of Carey Ravine.

My commonplace book: April 2016

commonplace book
Definition:
noun
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary

~

A summary of this month’s reading, in words and pictures.

~

“I want something to happen,” she said vaguely. “I want things happening all the time…”

“Then make them happen. Why not?”

“You don’t know my Uncle Arn,” said Cluny sombrely. “The minute anything happens, he stops it. I dare say it’s on account of being a plumber. The way he goes on, I might be a burst pipe.”

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp (1944)

~

Bust of Cicero

“Yes!” she cried with passion. “Yes! Absolutely! Haven’t you suffered enough for your opposition to Caesar? Is there another man in the world who has endured more? Why not let others take up the fight? Surely you’ve earned the right to some peace at last?” Then quietly she added, “I am sure that I have”.

Dictator by Robert Harris (2015)

~

And yet he was fond of quoting, and at times his language was almost biblical. Beyond, however, certain expressions that he loved, and a number of short sentences that he found means to make his own, he remembered nothing of the pages which had been read to him so often, and he always listened to them again with the same emotion as at first. It was a veritable pleasure to watch the effect of beautiful poetry on this powerful intellect.

Mauprat by George Sand (1837)

~

When I looked down I saw a pair of lady’s flintlock pistols nestled in an open velvet case – polished steel with mother-of-pearl handles. My breath caught in my throat. So these must be what my mistress used in her night-time raids. They were finely chiselled and engraved, quite beautiful. And probably deadly, I thought.

Shadow on the Highway by Deborah Swift (2014)

~

Eyam Church

He turned his tired eyes to the side cupboard on which stood a large hour-glass and watched, as if fascinated, the sands running through. And his faith wavered and almost sank as he thought of the death scattered abroad, and how any minute there might be a knock at the door and he be summoned to yet another who was stricken.

God and the Wedding Dress by Marjorie Bowen (1938)

~

The children went away and the painter sat listening with his eyes shut until the chiming of their voices had become an indistinguishable part of the music of the wood. The drawing of the one music into the other had been beautiful, as lovely as the fading of prismatic colours into the light, or of the morning star into the blue of day. It is when loveliness withdraws itself that one’s heart goes after it.

The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge (1958)

~

Jane Eyre insists, Human beings never enjoy complete happiness in this world, and I agree with her — but as Mrs Grizzlehurst slowly swelled with child, I thought what a lucky chance it was that humans do not often suffer complete unhappiness either.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (2016)

~

She looked very happy. Yet it struck Mary that it was strange to hear that the first thought of a newly-betrothed maiden was how to brace herself in endurance. She wondered, however, whether it was not a more truly happy and safe frame than that of most girls, looking forward to a life of unclouded happiness, such as could never be realized. At least, so it struck Mary, though she owned to herself that her experience of lovers was limited.

The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte M. Yonge (1853) – Review to follow

~

Rupert of the Rhine

Above all, it is the range of his experiences that is most startling. It is hard to believe that one man packed so much into a single lifetime.

Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier by Charles Spencer (2007) – Review to follow

~

Favourite books this month: Dictator and The White Witch