Book Bingo Seventeen: A book with a mystery – The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes

Book bingo take 2

 

Wow, it’s book bingo week again – these weeks roll around fast and for this reason, I quite enjoy using the scheduling tool to schedule posts weeks in advance in case something prevents me from posting one week on the day. Anyway, this week I’m ticking off the a book with a mystery square with a book I have been meaning to read for many months, that I have managed to get to now.

mitford 1

Filling out the final square in row three across and row five, square three down, is the first in a series by Jessica Fellowes, The Mitford Murders – a historical crime fiction centred around the Mitford sisters – in particular, Nancy the oldest, and their nursery maid, Louisa Cannon. Using the real-life crime – the death of nurse Florence Nightingale Shore, a real life mystery that in reality remains unsolved but on the page, comes to a fulfilling conclusion – encapsulates a post-war England trying to heal from four years of what was then known as The Great War, the War to End All Wars.

 

It is historical fiction and mystery all rolled into one, and it is fabulously written, and an intriguing introduction to a new series that I hope will continue and allow us to see the rest of the Mitford girls grow up and become the women that history tells us they became.

Book bingo take 2

It is quite possibly one of my favourite books of the year, and the full review is linked to this post.

 

 Booktopia

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Australian Women Writer’s Check-in three: thirty-one to forty-five

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My next fifteen takes me to book 45 of the challenge – The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell. In this set, I read a wide array of fiction – all by authors I had never read before, from contemporary fiction, to historical fiction, literary fiction, and kids’ books that delved into the world of spies, and one of my favourite periods of antiquity, the Minoans and the explosion of Akrotiri on Thera. I read a non-fiction book by Kitty Flanagan, which was more like an extended comedy routine, to mysteries and family legacies.

From World War Two seen through the lens of Jewish refugees in Shanghai, to book illumination in the middle ages, and the melding of various mythologies and histories to create unique characters and voices that stretch out across the decades and centuries to tell stories of war, family, fear and mystery, and the fun of child spies and wildlife adventures.

These next fifteen were recently completed and, the last fifteen will take me to the start of August. Just over half way done for the year, I have read four times what I pledged, and hope to read many more in the months to come, adding to my ever growing list.

Books thirty-one to forty-five

  1. The Jady Lily by Kirsty Manning
  2. The Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
  3. Burning Bridges and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan
  4. Bluebottle by Belinda Castles
  5. The Upside of Over by J.D. Barrett and Interview
  6. P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones
  7. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey
  8. The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady
  9. Ella and Olivia: A Wild Adventure by Yvette Poshoglian
  10. Kensy and Max: Breaking News by Jacqueline Harvey
  11. Swallow’s Dance by Wendy Orr
  12. We See the Stars by Kate van Hooft.
  13. The Far Back Country by Kate Lyons
  14. Beneath the Mother Tree by D.M. Cameron
  15. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

So far I haven’t mentioned favourites on any lists, because there have been so many on the others, but on this one, The Jade Lily, Kensy and Max, Swallow’s Dance and The Peacock Summer are the ones that stood out for me and that I enjoyed the most for various reasons, all stated in my reviews on these books.

Blog Tour Part #2: Interview with Kayte Nunn, author of The Botanist’s Daughter – 12th August 2018

the botanists daughter

Hi Kayte, and welcome to The Book Muse.

First, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about your latest book, The Botanist’s Daughter, which I reviewed here on the 4th of August for the blog tour. I hope you can answer the following questions in as much depth as you would like to.

  1. What was your initial inspiration for this story, and where were you when it came to you?

About three years ago, I took my young daughter to the Sydney Botanic Gardens for a picnic as it was not long before she was due to start school. It was a sultry late-January day and we were looking for fairies (there is a fairy trail there) and ended up at the Herb Garden. In the middle is a wonderful cast bronze sundial on which is a raised relief of herbs. I put my hand on the warm metal and instantly knew there was a story there – it was like a bolt of lightning. I had a vision of a young, headstrong girl in a similar garden in England and I spent the rest of the afternoon in a daze as I thought more about who she was and what her story might be. I fully believe that stories come and tap you on the shoulder and it is the writer’s job to try and do justice to them.

  1. Gardens, and in particular botanic gardens such as the one in Kew, and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, as well as Anna’s landscaping business play an important role in the story. Following on from where you got the idea, what is it specifically about gardens that you are the most attracted to? Did this attraction help to formulate your plot and characters?

I’ve always loved gardens, and the mystery and magic of growing things (though sadly I have a rather brown thumb, not a green one!). I also love the names of plants and flowers, that often sound like poetry, and have fond memories of listening to my grandmother tell me the names of all those that bloomed in her garden. The scent of tomato plants and greenhouses takes me straight back there.

  1. On the theme of gardens and plants, do you have any favourite literary gardens or plants? When I think of this, The Secret Garden and the plants in Herbology in Harry Potter immediately spring to mind – are there any characters linked to gardens and botany that you like?

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Secret Garden is a book I have re-read many times. Dickon is one of my all-time favourite fictional characters – a gentle and wise boy who was so in touch with nature. More recently, I loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowersand Garden Spellsby Sarah Addison Allen, which combine two of my favourite things – gardens and magic.

  1. Are you a plotter or a pantser when it comes to writing?

I’m mainly a plotter – I actually have a whiteboard where I map out the main beats of the story – usually once I am a little way in and know where it might go. That really helps me get the emotional structure of the narrative clear. However, I still leave plenty of room for the detours my subconscious might take me on.

  1. The dual timeline is fascinating, and I found it very effective to tell your story – as it has been for several other historical fiction novels I have read over the years. What made you choose this format to tell Anna and Elizabeth’s stories?

My favourite thing about history is when it becomes tangible in the present – an object from the past that still exists today provides a very clear link to that time.

I also wanted to have two characters that could almost have been better placed in each other’s era – Elizabeth is modern, confident and headstrong, whereas Anna is cautious. calm and quiet. I liked having the ability to contrast and compare events in both of the stories.

  1. What challenges did you face when writing the dual timeline, and what were they? Is there any advice you received or something you found out about writing a dual timeline that could help writers who want to use this format?

Near the beginning, I contacted the novelist Kate Forsyth, as I had read and loved her book, Bitter Greens, which has a dual timeline that works really well. She was generous enough to give me the advice to write each one separately, to keep my head in the world of each story, and that is what I did. When I came to stitch the narrative together, though it was mostly surprisingly seamless, it required great concentration not to give away the mystery of the past in the present narrative until close to the end, and to try and remember what the reader did and didn’t know at any given point.

  1. What sort of research did you do, and how intense was the process? What strategies did you use to ensure the process was smooth and accurate?

I’m not certain I used any particular strategies – I looked for as many reference books, both on Victorian everyday life, and Chile in the 1880s, as I could find, from my local library and the State Library of NSW, and read, made notes of points of interest, before starting to write. I spent several months doing this.

During the writing process, when I found myself wanting to know certain facts and details, I stopped to find them out – for example I found a very helpful online community of ship enthusiasts who helped with the type of vessel Elizabeth would have sailed on and from which port; I found photographs of Valparaiso in the 1880s and so could see what the town looked like, which buildings existed then.

I also found a wonderful diary written by a sea-captain’s wife who lived in Valparaiso in the 1830s. This was fifty years before the time of my story, but her descriptions of the landscape and the plants that grew there was an invaluable primary source. I also visited several exhibitions of botanical art and about 19th-century plant hunters in both Sydney and London during the course of writing, and read many letters written by plant hunters when they were on their expeditions.

  1. I love that the novel is distinctly female driven in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries by Elizabeth, Daisy and Anna and her family. These relationships were key to the story – what kind of sacrifices did you make in terms of character for Daisy and Elizabeth for the time you set them in, if any, and why?

One of the books I came across in my research told the stories of a number of extraordinarily adventurous women in previous centuries, and when I visited Kew, I discovered the Marianne North Gallery, which houses the paintings of this Victorian adventuress and botanist. So, I knew that I could faithfully create characters who were equally single-minded and brave, even though this was not generally expected of women in those times.

  1. Daisy’s sacrifice after a significant and heartbreaking event in the novel was crucial to the plot and uncovering the secrets that link Anna to Trebithick. The impact these had on me as a reader was profound – i was shocked and saddened but knew I had to keep reading on to find out what happened. Were these scenes and revelations hard to write, emotionally, and how so?

Yes, I remember writing the scene where Daisy discovers Elizabeth and Tomas with my heart in my mouth!

  1. What more can you tell us about the Devil’s Trumpet, its history and what it does? Does it still exist in the world, or is it a mystery plant to many still?

One of the clues in writing the story was a newspaper article I came across online about a rare, poisonous plant (actually a class B drug and illegal to cultivate in England) that had mysteriously sprung up in an English suburban garden. The owners eventually realised that it must have grown from seed imported from Chile that they had been putting out for the birds. That plant is the Devil’s Trumpet – datura.

  1. In Kew, Ed tells Anna that he believes the plant is extinct, or at least, that they have no samples available. Is there any truth in this, or did you take a bit of creative licence with Ann’s cultivation of the seeds in Sydney?

I invented a sub-species of daturaas the plant that Elizabeth went looking for, but when I researched if it was possible to germinate very old seeds I was delighted to find that scientists have successfully grown seeds up to 32,000 years old.

  1. Who was the most challenging character to write, and in what way did you find this to be so?

Damien Chegwidden – I had to rewrite him several times to make him truly villainous, but also not a one-dimensional baddie. I wanted the reader to understand what motivated him – I kept the adage ‘everyone is the hero of his or her own story’ very much in mind.

  1. Damien Chegwidden is of course, the villain in this novel – against anyone who is trying to beat him in finding the Devil’s Trumpet – were there people and situations like this in real life, do you think, of botanists competing to see who could find plants first?

According to accounts I read, early plant hunters were sometimes cooperative and collaborative, although several (particularly orchid hunters in the late nineteenth century) were unscrupulous – or worked for unscrupulous men – and would strip an area of the desired plant, urinate on a competitor’s haul to kill them, or even pull a gun on a rival!

  1. Finally, the ending left things quite open to the imagination – does this mean there is potential for a follow-up, or are you leaving this to the imagination of your readers?

I love stories that leave a question for the reader’s imagination to decide on, and help the story and characters live on in their mind. I hope, in some small way, I managed to achieve this, while still providing a satisfying conclusion.

Any further comments, or anything I may have missed?

The book is ultimately, I hope, about courage: Elizabeth’s is bold and obvious, and Anna’s more subtle, but both have to summon inner strength, albeit in different ways.

Again, thank you Kayte for agreeing to appear on my blog as part of the blog tour for your novel.

Booktopia

Blog Tour #1: Review of The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

the botanists daughter.jpgTitle: The Botanist’s Daughter

Author: Kayte Nunn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 388

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

‘I loved The Botanist’s Daughter. I was transported to the 1880s and Chile, to contemporary Sydney and Kew. A gripping, warm-hearted read’
JOY RHOADES, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion

‘The riveting story of two women, divided by a century in time, but united by their quest to discover a rare and dangerous flower said to have the power to heal as well as kill. Fast-moving and full of surprises, The Botanist’s Daughter brings the exotic world of 19th-century Chile thrillingly to life’ KATE FORSYTH

~*~

This review and upcoming Q and A with the author are part of a blog tour with Hachette during August.

AWW-2018-badge-roseElizabeth Trebithick lives in Victorian England, in an old house, alone after the death of her father and sister’s marriage. Headstrong and determined to make her own way in the world and not be confined to the female universe that society, her sister and brother in law seem bent on setting out for her, Elizabeth sets out on a quest presented to her by her father before his death – to Chile to find a rare plant with miraculous qualities, that might have the answers and cures to many ailments, but getting it from Chile to England will be the challenge. But so will life aboard a ship for many months, and then life in South America: falling in love, making enemies and the consequences that come with hiding secrets and secret missions.

In Australia in 2017, Anna’s discovery of a tightly sealed box containing a diary, sketches and watercolours, as well as a hidden secret that draws Anna into the mystery of the diary of Elizabeth, known at first as ‘E’ – it ruptures her ordered life of work, and routine, and beings to force her to face her own demons, the memories of her past still haunting her as she tries to let go and move on with her life – which is why she has created such a well-ordered schedule, so life doesn’t overwhelm her. When the box she finds triggers a mystery that potentially involves her family, Anna leaves to go to England to trace the story of Elizabeth and the flower she was searching for – the Devil’s Trumpet. Keen to find out more about Elizabeth, and the diary, Anna’s trip takes her to London, Kew and Cornwall – to meet a descendant of Elizabeth’s father whom she hopes will be able to help her solve the mystery of the diary and paintings. With the help of her sister, Vanessa and friends who also work with plants, Anna’s interest is caught: and it is a mystery that had me turning each page diligently and eagerly as she met botanists in England at Kew, and found a kinship with them, and a shared interest in botany that Anna will soon learn hits much closer to home than she, her mother or her sister ever realised.

Elizabeth and Anna are strong, wilful characters whose driven presence gives the book its strength. It is through these characters that the world of botany comes to life, the smells and sounds of both centuries and cities, and the scent of flowers wafts around as you read – even the unfamiliar plants and scents filter through, and come to life in the imagination. The characters in both timelines were so full of life and complexities, both linked by a love of botany, which shines through, as does their determination not to let families, times or other people define what they do and who they are – they are allowed to be themselves and – particularly Elizabeth – work within the confines of what is expected of them whilst maintaining a sense of self and individuality that springs in a lively form from the page.

With a few twists and turns, the mystery of the diary, sketches and forgotten stories and family are solved, and brought together in a riveting ending that has whispers of the past potentially coming through on the very last page.

A well written novel, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. My Q and A with Kayte will appear on the blog on the 12th of August as part of the blog tour with Hachettte.

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The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

the honourable thief.jpgTitle: The Honourable Thief

Author: Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 31/7/2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘Achilles? Because…?’
‘Obsession of mine. Half man, half god – and his own worst enemy. 
My kind of man.’ He laughed.

Istanbul, Turkey 1955

Benedict Hitchens, once a world-renowned archaeologist, is now a discredited – but still rather charming – shell of his former self.

Once full of optimism and adventure, his determination to prove that Achilles was a real historical figure led him to his greatest love, Karina, on the island of Crete and to his greatest downfall, following the disappearance of an enigmatic stranger, Eris.

He has one last chance to restore his reputation, solve the mystery of Eris and prove his Achilles theory. But it is full of risk, and possibly fatal consequences…

In her breakout novel, Meaghan Wilson Anastasios weaves an action-packed tale of honour, passion, heroes and thieves across an epic backdrop of history.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1955, archaeologist Benedict Hitchens is searching for proof that Achilles, a hero from the Trojan War legends, was a real person, and not just a myth in Homer’s Iliad and other interpretations of the Trojan War myth cycle. This is the main crux for the novel, despite there being no evidence to suggest Achilles existed, and it makes for a very compelling story about the intersection of mythology, history and archaeology, especially given that in ancient history, archaeological remains are perhaps what tell us the most about a society where written records may be mythology based or fragmented. But there is more to Benedict (Ben) than discovering the burial place and shield of Achilles. It’s been ten years since World War Two ended, and he is living with the scars and memories of loss, and tragedy that will never leave him. Living a lonely existence on archaeological digs across the peninsular that was home to the Trojans and the islands of Greece, such as Crete, where the Minoan and Mycenean civilisations thrived, Ben has become obsessed with proving the existence of Achilles.

This obsession deepens when he stumbles across the mysterious Eris, travelling to a home in Turkey where she reveals a cache of hidden treasures and archaeological finds that are linked to the period of history he is obsessed with, that he hopes will lead him to Achilles and in the aftermath of his fall from grace as an archaeologist, he hopes the discovery will restore his reputation.

But Eris has secrets, secrets she’s not willing to share with Ben, and throughout the novel, his encounters with Eris, Ilhan, a shady figure whose dealings helped bring about Ben’s downfall, and many other nefarious people, weave a mystery through the novel – the disappearance of Eris and the treasures, thieves, and forgery in the archaeological and ancient art community comes to light, and Ben is caught up in this web, finding items in unconventional ways, where he doesn’t realise whom it is for, and where secret upon secret is layered on to ensure he does not find out the truth.

The end was quite the surprise – equal parts unexpected and something I thought might happen, and as the novel moved back and forth between Ben’s present and his past, his motivations and reasons for feeling what he felt at times became clear, though there was always a sense that a Big Bad Thing had happened and happened to someone Ben cared about very deeply.

As a student of ancient history, the references to Crete, the Minoans, Homer and his lliad were some of my favourite things about the book – they instantly fell into a timeline in my head of this period and imagined him traipsing around the various sites such as Knossos and Troy in Turkey, where Schliemann excavated during the nineteenth century. It was an aspect of the novel I really enjoyed and found engaging, just as much as the mystery was, which mainly took place in Turley and Greece, but occasionally went back to England and America. It is a gripping novel, where action and adventure, history and mythology intersect to create a chase to solve a question and obsession that has plagued Ben, and that he will do anything to ensure finds its rightful place in history.

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Book Bingo fifteen – A Book Set More Than 100 Years Ago

Book bingo take 2

Kate Forsyth’s Chain of Charms series has been sitting on my shelf for a few years. Between university up until eighteen months ago, reviewing for publishers and most recently, writing quizzes for Scholastic Australia, I’ve been trying to squeeze them in, and have found time lately, so that’s what I have done.

A book set more than 100 years ago: The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1) – AWW2018

Book bingo take 2

UnknownWhen the family of Emilia and Luka Finch are taken to jail by Coldham, a representative of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, they are sent on a quest by their grandmother to reunite the six charms that were scattered between six gypsy/traveller families many years ago. With only a bear, a dog, a monkey and a horse to keep them company, Emilia and Luka must first evade capture and ending up in jail with their family – and then go in search of the five other families who hold the charms and bring all six together.

I loved this start – and am hoping to have the rest of the series read very soon – in fact, I have just started book two. Set in the late 1650s, this comes into the book set more than 100 years ago by A LOT. Kate often uses history as a backdrop to her novels and she has done it exceptionally well again, right down to the author notes that go through her research and the times that her novel is set in.Kate_Forsyth

My longer review is much more in depth, and I look forward to seeing where the rest of the series takes Emilia and Luka as they seek to help their family.

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The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1) by Jessica Fellowes

mitford 1.jpgTitle: The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1)

Author: Jessica Fellowes

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Sphere

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 422

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A Golden Age-style mystery bursting with period detail and set amid the Mitford household, THE MITFORD MURDERS is the glittering start to a thrilling and sumptuous new series written by Jessica Fellowes, author of the number one bestselling Downton Abbey books.

‘A lively, well-written, entertaining whodunit’ THE TIMES

***You can now preorder Bright Young Dead, the thrilling second book in The Mitford Murders series*** Lose yourself in the sumptuous first novel in a new series of Golden Age mysteries set amid the lives of the glamorous Mitford sisters.

It’s 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.

Louisa’s salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy – an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.

But when a nurse – Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake – is killed on a train in broad daylight, Nancy and amateur sleuth Louisa find that in postwar England, everyone has something to hide . . .

~*~

The first in what I am sure will be a gripping and enthralling series, The Mitford Murders takes place in 1919-1921, the years immediately following the end of World War One, with soldiers and nurses still returning from the front and various theatres of war. During late December 1919, Louisa Cannon has escaped London, and her uncle. She’s on her way to take up the position of nursery maid in the Mitford household at Asthall Manor – but an incident on the train she’s one delays her. This incident delays her arrival – and almost jeopardises her job, had it not been for the oldest Mitford daughter, Nancy’s intervention and excitement at a confidant other than her younger sisters and brother. As Nancy and Louisa become friends, they become involved in the murder investigation – helping a police officer – Guy – find out what happened and who the killer was, and looking into people who are not quite who they say they are, introducing another mystery to the story as Louisa does her best to protect Nancy and remain her friend amidst the societal conventions they must live and work within.

These side characters add flavour to the novel, and the premise of the novel, the murder of Florence Nightingale Shore on the train heading towards Sussex that Louisa was on, is based on a real case, a real murder that remains unsolved in reality, but in fiction, is given a resolution, and in true murder mystery style, a murderer caught and brought to justice, and the other strands and characters brought together to conclude the plot and lead into the next book, out later this year.

Taking real life people, historical figures, ad placing them in a fictional context is always interesting and always has potential to go really wrong, or really right. Jessica Fellowes has done an exceptional job – taking historical figures who would later become well known in various circles – Nancy for her writing, Unity for her Nazi tendencies – and created a world where we can see what might have triggered these choices for the girls, and we get to know the Mitford sisters as children and humans and also get to know the ones whose names might not instantly come to mind such as Pamela, and Deborah.

Using an unsolved mystery from history and giving it a potential resolution in its own time and place in fiction worked wonderfully – it was a case that captured the imaginations of the characters and gave them a drive to find out what had happened. Louisa is cleverly written, as is Nancy – both confined by what society wants them to do, yet at the same time, rebellious and eager to step outside these boundaries, Louisa perhaps less so as she wants to remain in the safety of the job and away from her uncle – a plot point that swims through the narrative as well, and at times, these little shifts outside of what they’re expected to do take the plot in an unforeseen yet useful and intriguing direction that helps to bring the many strands together to solve the mysteries that surround the murder, Louisa herself, and Roland Lucknor, a young man who served with Nancy’s father in war and whose suspicious behaviour triggers alarm bells in Louisa and Guy’s minds. Like all good mysteries, it of course has the initial crime and investigators but also red herrings and conflicts between characters that show their flaws and humanity, but it also encapsulates a period in history where class and gender could dictate what one could do and say, and how to present oneself – and I felt this was dealt with really well, and in a way that is believable and accessible to a modern audience, as well as dealing with the hints at rebellion Nancy showed, whilst ensuring she still fit into the mould her parents wanted her to.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of these novels go, and what will happen next with Louisa and the Mitford sisters.

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