If You Like….
July 25th, 2016

Today we have a special treat– a guest If You Like from Sheila!

As Sheila points out below, when we dip our toes into the past, we tend to focus on the propertied and privileged– because, let’s face it, they had better clothes. (Although not necessarily better teeth. But I digress.) But what about the maid who pulled those laces for her mistress? Or the tweeny carting up all that coal? We often see them as shadowy figures at the back of the picture, but very seldom brought to the fore.

So now over to Sheila, for a list of books that bring the “downstairs” upstairs. If you like books that focus on the servants’ side of the story, you’ll probably like….

Lovers of historical novels often play the game of “Gee, I would love to live then. Beautiful clothes, horses, mansions, unspoiled countryside. Yet I know I would certainly come back as the tweeny, and would soon miss mod cons like plumbing, antibiotics and anesthesia.

— Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly was a big bestseller several years ago, desevredly so. Mary is Dr Jekyll’s housemaid, and she endeavors to help him in his struggles with Mr. Hyde.

— Lauren and her writer buds have given us serving girl Olive Van Alan in The Forgotten Room, who tries to find why her father killed himself. A wonderful book, as most of you know.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker, is thank goodness, not a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Rather, it is the tale of what is happening in the lives of the Bennett servants, coincidentally at the same time as P&P.

— Lastly I would mention a traditional Regency series, A House for the Season, by Marion Chesney. If you like MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth, you like her, as they are one and the same, complete with acerbic wit. The series is typical: young girl comes to London, meets rich guy, moany obstacles, etc. The ongoing story of the servants is what makes it really interesting. The butler Rainbird is a true hero. This is the first time I read about the doings of the many people who make possible the doings of our beloved characters.

Thanks, Sheila! You’ve got me thinking…. It’s harder than I would have imagined to think of books that focus on the downstairs rather than the upstairs. Governesses, yes. There are governesses in fiction by the thousands, from Jane Eyre on up. But housemaids? Not so much.

Leading the list is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, a butler’s reminiscences of his days serving in a grand household. Focusing on the butler and the housekeeper, this is a look at the upper end of the downstairs world, the royalty of the servants’ hall.

There’s Eva Ibbotson’s A Countess Below Stairs, in which a Russian noblewoman winds up hiring herself out as domestic staff in England after the Revolution. (Although, of course, that’s part of the “noblewoman in rags whose true quality will be recognized by the end of the book” tradition, which is distinct from a true “downstairs” story.)

Perhaps more to the point, there’s Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance, which paints a very vivid picture of the life of an underhousemaid in an Edwardian great house.

Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, in which the narrator is a former housemaid, also jumps to mind.

For non-fiction, there’s Lucy Lethbridge’s Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times.

But other than that, I’m coming up blank! Can you think of any good novels set more downstairs than upstairs?


Weekly Reading Round-Up
July 22nd, 2016

Now that the draft of the next stand alone is in the hands of my editor, I’ve been catching up on reading the large pile of ARCs (advance review copies) that accumulated next to my desk over the past few months. It’s been an eclectic and fascinating mix of reads, including:

The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo. This debut novel (coming out in January 2017) is hands down one of the best books I’ve read in a while– even though it will make you cry, possibly in public places. A vivid and heart-wrenching look into the lives of two nurses during World War II, one in Europe, one in the Pacific, each enduring the unendurable. Brilliant, heart-breaking, and redemptive.

Becoming Bonnie by Jenni Walsh (coming out May 2017). Did you know anything about Bonnie and Clyde? I didn’t. But I still found this tale of a young woman’s transformation from church-going future teacher to gangster’s moll compelling and convincing. What really caught me about it was the way a person can be tugged by circumstances into a life entirely different from the one she imagined.

The Wife’s Tale by Christine Wells. This one is currently out in Australia, but not yet in the U.S. (Although it looks like it might be available stateside on audio?) Pure candy for anyone who likes 18th century courtroom drama or books about secrets in great houses with attractive but brooding owners. The story goes back and forth between the present day, an Australian lawyer who finds herself helping to prop up a fading mansion on the Isle of Wight, and the 18th century, when a marriage of convenience goes very, very wrong.

Christmas in Paris, by Anita Hughes (coming out in October). Paris seen through a snow globe: a modern fairy tale romance set in Paris at Christmas, complete with haute couture, fancy hotels, and a light dusting of happily ever after.

I also seized the chance to sample from a pile of books a friend had sent, including:

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets a cocktail menu, with frightening paranormal creatures, magical drink mixes, and a whole arcane history of booze.

What have you been reading this week?


Happy (paperback) birthday, OTHER DAUGHTER!
July 12th, 2016

The Other Daughter is out in trade paperback today!

Flapper girl: Retro party invitation design. Vector illustration.

Booklist called The Other Daughter “vibrant and thrilling”.

RT Book Reviews writes, “… the complexity of the story-line and the characters draws readers deeply into the story until they are completely invested and hooked until the end. Readers will find themselves looking into their hearts and relationships, comparing their reactions to the characters.”

And now you can read it and see what you think….


THE OTHER DAUGHTER– in paperback on Tuesday!
July 8th, 2016

If you’re like me and tend to wait for the paperback… the paperback of The Other Daughter is heading your way!

My author’s copies arrived on the doorstep last week:

Other Daughter paperback copies

Don’t they look snazzy?

Here’s the official blurb:

Raised by her widowed mother in genteel poverty in an isolated English village, for the past six years Rachel Woodley has been working in France as a nursery governess. When her mother unexpectedly dies, she returns to England to clear out the cottage, and finds a scrapbook full of cuttings from London society pages—all pictures of her supposedly deceased father, very much alive. He’s an earl, socially prominent, with another daughter who is living a charmed life: a debutante, much photographed, and engaged to a rising Tory MP. Rachel’s cousin confirms the horrible truth: her father is alive, with a legitimate, acknowledged family. Which makes Rachel…not legitimate. Everything she thought she knew about herself and her past—even her very name—is a lie.

Still reeling from the death of her mother, and furious at this betrayal, Rachel enters into an uneasy alliance with a mysterious man-about-town, who promises her access to her father. With his help, Rachel sets herself up in London under a new identity and insinuates herself into the party-going crowd of Bright Young Things, with a steely determination to unveil her father’s perfidy and bring his—and her half-sister’s—charmed world crashing down. Very soon, however, Rachel faces two unexpected snags: she finds she genuinely likes her half-sister, Olivia, whose situation isn’t as simple it appears; and that Rachel herself might just be falling for her sister’s fiancé.

From Lauren Willig, author of the New York Times Best Selling novel The Ashford Affair, comes a page-turner full of deceit, passion, and revenge.

Just three days more!

Other Daughter Paperback 3

Once The Other Daughter paperback is out in the world, I’ll have more news to share about my next stand alone novel– and another collaboration with my end-of-the-alphabet besties, Karen White and Beatriz Williams.


Weekly Reading Round-Up
July 1st, 2016

Happy July! I’ve mostly been researching the next book– about which I’m staying mum for the moment– so much of what I’ve been reading won’t appear here just yet. On the fiction front, though, I’ve stumbled upon a few new to me books and authors, including:

— Chris Cleave, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, a novel of World War II, set back and forth between blitzed London and Malta, following the fortunes of Mary, a socialite turned teacher, and Alistair, a restorer at the Tate turned soldier, as well as several side characters along the way. The prose was brilliant, clever and snarky and bright; the characterizations were beautiful; the subject matter… so very, very hard. But, then, it’s probably good to be reminded, so vividly, of just how awful it was.

— Austin Clarke, The Polished Hoe. More wonderfully written but tough reading. Post-colonial “Bimshire”, aka Barbados, in the 1940s, where, over the course of a night, a woman relates her history to the police constable and sergeant, providing a painting of the darker sides of island life.

Between the Blitz and the legacy of slavery, I felt the need for something light after that and took refuge in Trisha Ashley’s A Winter’s Tale, in which the impoverished heroine unexpectedly inherits the family stately home and must protect it against the schemes of her property developer cousin. Because who doesn’t love an unexpected inheritance and a good stately home?

What have you been reading recently?


EMERALD RING en Français
June 27th, 2016

On 21 Juillet, The Deception of the Emerald Ring will be making its debut en français! You can find it under the title L’Imposture de l’Alliance Émeraude.

Emerald Ring French

When I got the news, I did some counting on my fingers and it dawned on me that, as of a few months from now, it will be ten years since Emerald Ring was first published in the U.S.

It really doesn’t feel like it should be quite that long, does it?

One thing I’ve noticed about Emerald Ring covers over the years: they tend to be very, very green….

Emerald Paperback Emeraldringengland Emerald Portugal Emerald Ring French


Library Donations!
June 13th, 2016

In the middle of a mystery bundle give away post on Facebook the other day, I included a side comment about books for libraries or other charities. The response was overwhelming. (Thanks, all!) So I’m making this post the Official Library Donation Spot.

I would be delighted to see all my author copies flutter away to libraries, hospices, and shelters since it’s silly for them to be mouldering on shelves when they could be read and enjoyed. The only caveat is that all of these places tend to have their own collection and donation policies. So:

— If you’re a librarian or work at one of these organizations and would like a book donation, email away! If you let me know where to send them (and if there are any particular needs), I’ll bundle up some books for you.

— If you think your library/organization might want them but you don’t work or volunteer there, it would be a great help if you could check with the relevant librarian/coordinator and have them contact me if they’re interested. As much as I’d love to send books to everyone, I need to make sure they’re really wanted and who the correct contact is before I can put them in the mail.

Here is the list I have so far (in no particular order):

— FMWR Fort Lee Community Library
— Hurricane Branch Library
— Opelousas Public Library
— Cleveland Bradley County Public Library
— Dayton Valley Branch Library
— Manna House and Safe Harbor, Brunswick, GA
— Rourk Branch Library
— Oak Park Public Library
— Bath Twp Library
— Sterling Municipal Library
— Lincolnville Community Library

Is there anyone I’ve left out? If you don’t see your library or organization here, just let me know!


Weekly Reading Round-Up
June 3rd, 2016

When I’m working on the end of a book, I need books like a diver needs his oxygen tank. And not just any books. Series work best. Series entirely unrelated to what I’m currently writing work best of all. I got through the end of That Summer with Laurie King’s Kate Martinelli mysteries, The Other Daughter with Elsie Lee’s vintage spy novels, and The Lure of the Moonflower with the help of Laura Resnick’s Esther Diamond books.

As I power towards the end of the current work in progress, I’ve been on a Rivers of London marathon, paced so they should last me just to the end of my book. For anyone who hasn’t read these yet, they’re British police procedurals with a paranormal twist– think Scotland Yard meets Hogwarts.

Once both my books and these books are done…. We’ll see. I have Sonali Dev’s The Bollywood Bride waiting to be read, and also a large pile of ARCs I’m eager to jump into. And, of course, a pile of research books for the next stand alone novel!

What have you been reading this week?


Happy 10th Anniversary to the Word Wenches!
June 1st, 2016

There’s been one drooping and one auspicious eye over at the Word Wenches…. As some of you may have heard, just as the Word Wenches were kicking off their tenth anniversary celebration last week, one of the Wenches, the incomparable Jo Beverley, shuffled off this mortal coil. Although “shuffle” is absolutely the wrong word here. I like to think of her dancing a quadrille with her usual inimitable style.

After a week of sharing memories of Jo, the Wenches have returned to their anniversary celebrations– with an even keener sense of just how much their community and their books mean to so many people. The world was richer for having Jo Beverley in it and is so much poorer for her absence.

Today on Word Wenches, Eloisa James and I are both raising our glasses to a decade of Word Wenches. Stop by to share your thoughts about historical romance and for a chance to win some books!


If You Like….
May 23rd, 2016

Since I’ve been deep in the writing cave, the wonderful Rachel very kindly offered to take up the slack by writing a brand new “If You Like” post– and may I just say how delighted I was when she offered and how even more delighted I was once I read it?

Here, without further preamble, is our latest guest If You Like: If You Like Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction. And now over to Rachel!

I don’t know about you all, but once in a while I get a taste for a certain genre/ trope/ character personality and go crazy with it. I’ll look up recommendations on Goodreads, talk to friends, and make a list of things to check out from the library. Lately, because of Laurie R King’s latest in her “Beekeeper’s Apprentice” series [which I know has been a big hit on this website before!] I’ve been on a “Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction,” kick. The latest installment is intriguingly titled “The Murder of Mary Russell” and actually alternates between the Mary/ Sherlock storyline and Mrs. Hudson’s early life, as the famous housekeeper has her own intrepid adventures. King’s series is intelligent, amusing, and fast paced while packed with incredible dialogue and character/ plot development. The lady does her research. In the past few weeks I have also delved into several new (to me) series that promised similar devices to King. So if you like Mary Russell/ Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction, you may also like…

The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, by Rachel McMillan- The “first” in a series (there is a prequel available also) about two friends, Merinda and Jem, who eschew the patriarchal norms of 1910 Toronto and form a detective agency. Merinda is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes stories and uses them as research to help in their own cases. Fun, fast paced, and full of colorful personalities. (And if you like the Canadian show “Murdoch Mysteries”, you will surely like this series!)

Sister Beneath the Sheet by Gillian Linscott- First in a series about Nell Bray, a suffragette working under Emmeline Pankhurst, who directs Nell to look into a suspicious death. Slightly darker in plot and detail, this story still contains a great deal of history and atmosphere of the early suffragette revolution. Male-female relations in the book also raise though provoking questions in the midst of the current political debate over gender in America.

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn- First in a series about protagonist Lady Julia Grey, a woman who becomes involved in detecting when her husband unexpectedly expires at a dinner party. (Think “Gosford Park” meets the “Lady Emily” series by Tasha Alexander.) She is joined in her investigation by her husband’s acquaintance Nicholas Brisbane, who does get get along with Lady Julia at the outset and causes much consternation for her and amusement for the reader. Steamier and, in parts, darker, this book contains elements of several adored genres.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear- I’m almost done with this one, and it is blowing my mind. My favorite so far for no particular reason other than I am connecting with the eponymous Maisie. Incredibly bright, she is born into a lower class but rises up with the help of her employer-turned-patron. I definitely see elements of Mary Russell in Maisie Dobbs, except that Maisie has struck out on her own to open a detective agency and does not work with a partner after leaving the tutelage of Dr. Maurice Blanche. Maisie is able to easy sympathize with her clientele, drawing on shared WWI experiences (Maisie served as a nurse).

On tap for me (because I over-indulged at the library) are: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart, The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, and This Dame for Hire by Sandra Scoppettone.

Thank you so much, Rachel! I’m busy scribbling notes to myself since while half of these are old favorites (am I the only one reading this who feels a strong need to re-read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice right about now?), the other half are new to me. Which is very exciting.

I’ve been racking my brains to think who else I would add to this list…. There’s Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mysteries (Scottish, 19th century), Jennifer Kincheloe’s The Secret Life of Anna Blanc (American, turn of the century), Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries (Australian, 1920s), and, of course, Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness (English, 1930s).

Who are your favorite historical lady detectives?