The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul – A Spotlight on an historical novel

The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul – a Spotlight Post

A young woman who grew up in the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, with every advantage, Lady Evelyn Herbert wanted something very different. This novel is a fictionalised account of her life, from her ambition to be an archeologist and work with her father Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter, through to her later life in the 1970s as she fights to remember the most exciting of moments. For in 1922, a small young woman of five foot one, she was the first to enter the tomb of Tutankhamun for three thousand years. This book is an intensely researched and yet brilliantly imagined novel in which the real characters involved, Eve and her husband Brograve among others, are depicted in all their doubts and emotions. At least two eras are evoked – the 1920s when people, especially many of the men are recovering from the trauma of the First World War, and the 1970s as Eve is troubled by ill health and the presence of the past. It is the sort of novel that pulls the reader in, and maintains their interest as secrets of the past emerge into a very different world. 

Today I am posting a spotlight on this novel which is so tempting, with a full review to come in October. The author, Gill Paul, is obviously a writer of skill and experience and has tackled other blends of history and fiction successfully. I am greatly looking forward to reviewing this book, and am pleased to offer my initial thoughts on it today. 

Book Shop Tour on Four Wheels – High Peak Bookstore, Brierlow Bar, Buxton

High Peak Bookstore – Book Tour on Four Wheels 

Brierlow Bar, Buxton, SK17 9PY

One of the most local accessible bookshops to where we live is almost a barn (I think it may have been called a bookbarn originally) which is packed with books. The car park (the advantage of being in the middle of the countryside) is gravel covered, with a few spaces being reserved for disabled customers. The entrance is wide and flat with a slope. All of the areas are accessible within the shop, including the lower room, the children’s room and the excellent cafe. 

The books are remaindered and all new, which means that there are many surprises to be found within the huge selection of fiction, non fiction and everything else. There are huge art books, local books (which are full price), craft books, history, literature , politics, travel as well as fiction which includes a large selection of crime novels. Most are paperbacks, but there are also some hardbacks and even audio books to be found, as well as classics. It is best to go with an open mind, but as virtually all the books are at discounted prices I would be confident that you would find many things to buy. It is well worth a visit!

The website is and it says:

High Peak Bookstore & Café is the perfect place to spend a relaxing few hours, browsing an extensive and eclectic selection of books, choosing a card or gift and enjoying homemade food with locally roasted coffee. The majority of our books are less than half their original price, all are brand new and offer excellent value for money.

The opening times are Monday – Saturday 9.30 – 5.30, Sunday 10.30 – 5.00

Call 01298 71017

It’s a great way to spend a few hours!

The Duchess by Wendy Holden – Wallis in Wonderland or a Love that changed history?

The Duchess by Wendy Holden

The story of Wallis Simpson is probably well known. An ambitious woman sets out to win the affections of the Prince of Wales. When he wants to marry her there is such a wave of disapproval and uproar that he abdicates from his recently inherited throne, and their exile begins. This clever novel upsets the usual view of Wallis as an ice cold adventuress by simply making her human. This is subtly done by working in two time periods, one beginning in 1928 with Wallis’ marriage to Ernest Simpson, and the other in June, 1972 at the time of David’s, the Duke of Windsor’s, funeral. While one period runs from the last months of the 1920s to 1936, the other looks at the hours and days of a funeral in which Wallis cannot publicly grieve while surrounded by a royal family who have rejected her. This book concentrates on the progress of a woman who did have ambitions to belong, but who was perhaps too good at fulfilling that ambition. It is moving, fascinating which offers a revealing version of events propelled by people with their own agendas.

The Prologue sets the tone of the funeral journey that Wallis has to make after David’s death. She is broken by grief, by the struggle to accept the death, by the fact that he is only now being accepted back in Britain “In coffin of English oak”. The story then reverts to Wallis on her honeymoon in 1928, unable to fully embrace married life after the trauma of life with her first abusive husband

The research behind this novel is impressive; it describes the clothes that a woman like Wallis, wife of a not very successful businessman would have actually worn, how maybe she would have tried to improve them by subtle alterations. It also describes the clothes that she would have aspired to wear, believing that they would convey something of their social success. She is seen as a woman looking in on a life that she desperately wants to be part of, the later Bright Young Things whose seemingly charmed lives are in sharp contrast with her need to stretch every penny. An accidental meeting means an introduction to the glorious Fort, home to the rebellious and in her eyes, wonderful Prince of Wales. While Ernest is unhappily nervous about the whole situation, she revels in the luxurious surroundings and the chance to feel at the heart of an exclusive circle. As time progresses she knows that she is becoming embroiled in a tricky world where she walks a narrow line between acceptance and rejection. 

This is a book which I found fascinating, presenting as it does an explanation for events which probably shaped some of the twentieth century in Britain through the point of view of a woman on the edge. The author has taken a particular view of a woman who became and to an extent still is a matter of debate, and this is a novelist’s version of her life. It flows well and presents the two men in Wallis’ life, Ernest and David, as people with their own agenda. This is historical fiction in relation to the Windsors just as many writers would tackle other dynasties such as the Tudors, though obviously with people who remember some of the events described still available for comment. It presents a picture of a woman as a real person caught up in dreams which suddenly become reality in the full view of the public and eventually history.  

To All the Living by Monica Felton – The story of a munitions factory in 1941 as republished in the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series

To All the Living by Monica Felton

“And even here, at Blimpton, we’re getting to understand – some of us – what it is that we are after”. It is a brave statement about a wartime munitions factory which has been beset with difficulties from its first establishment at the beginning of the Second World War. This is a remarkable novel which was first published in 1945 which looks at the day to day running of a factory dedicated to the filling of shells and other weapons of war. It is a big book, which really examines the details of those drawn together with a common purpose, to produce the military hardware for the British Forces who are the only major opposition which is holding up Hitler’s ambitions in 1941. Not that all the workers and management work together at all times; there are those working to further their own interests, those whose civil service experience and pride mean they do things their way whatever the need, those who are desperate for work and a place to live. 

One of the main problems is the lack of women workers, and the novel goes into a lot of detail via certain characters why this should be so. Monica Felton worked for the Ministry of Supply during the War, so had first hand knowledge of the bureaucratic nonsense that was prevalent even at a time of national emergency. This is a book which flows well and introduces some very realistic characters as well as representing the ongoing sense of frustration which was involved in so many organisations. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special and memorable book which is so well written. 

The book opens with a description of Blimpton, a place which is “so far away from anywhere as to be, for all practical purposes, nowhere.” At a railway station a young woman arrives to search for a way of getting to Blimpton, who evidently rejoices in the name of Griselda Green. She is self – possessed, but it is a small place and the weather is bleak. She discovers another young woman, Kitty Baldwin, who introduces herself as a recent widow. These two form part of a larger group who turn up at Blimpton, a vast, nearly invisible complex of half completed, half invisible factory spaces. They are a tiny part of the women who are needed for the essential processes that are demanded by the Ministry, still a voluntary and underpaid group who are seen as numbers by the management, reluctant to turn up, actually work and stay. The processes are poorly supported in terms of essential materials, working set up and in the danger of injury and disease from explosive ingredients. The work is not always there to be done, due to shortages and unpredictable demand for certain weapons. It is at best dull and repetitive, and must be carried out in a ‘clean’ setting where uniforms must be worn and personal items such as lipsticks are strictly forbidden. Travelling to and around the various departments is arduous and often difficult. The living arrangements are in local ‘billits’ or lodgings, where conditions vary. 

The management of the establishment is made of those who are less than able, including an inefficient and unsuitable Superintendent and a career civil servant who always has his own agenda. There are those who make real efforts to improve production via improved conditions, but they are up against those too keen to safeguard their own interests to take a broader view. 

This book is brought to life by its sparky and realistic characters. Many of the women who are depicted have a real spark about them, even those who are easily led or suffer as a result of the work are individuals. Dan Morgan is a memorable character whose own relatively poor background has led him to achieve great things, but he is ambitious for more, to make Blimpton an effective place for production and those who work there. His vulnerability is well drawn, as well as those who work around him. I recommend this book which had slipped into obscurity but is now made available once more as part of the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series.      

The Widow of Bath by Margot Bennett – a classic crime novel from 1952 reprinted in the British Library Crime Classics series

The Widow of Bath by Margot Bennett

If you like your mysteries with a shoal of red herrings, this classic novel of 1952 now reprinted in the wonderful British Library Crime Classics series is definitely one for you. Martin Edwards, in his fascinating Introduction, appreciates the book as one of the talented Margot Bennett’s novels. He quotes Julian Symons “She uses as mere incidents tricks that would serve other writers as material for a plot.” Bennett lays out so many ideas that would normally dominate an entire mystery, her characters have got back stories, she throws in possible solutions as fast as she introduces new questions. There is the impossible murder without a body, unshakable alibis, the non-functioning telephone and the dog that may have barked in the night. There are many suspects, known and unknown to the main character, who himself has a significant record. There are cultural references to the 1950s, such as the after effects of War on a small coastal town, the self-satisfaction those who campaign to keep it ‘unspoilt’, ignoring the growth of housing and the dubious supply of workers to the town’s amenities. This is a novel of so many possibilities all held expertly together with a firm hand, while the central mystery of an infamous murder plays out. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent mystery.

The novel begins in the restaurant of a hotel.  Hugh Everton is a young man who is obviously compiling some sort of report on the establishment as he scribbles notes to himself. Having asked for a chicken pie he is served a substitute “He ate his veal-and-ham pie without tasting it; this was easy enough, as it had no taste.” Moving onto the bar he encounters a young woman he knows, Jan, and enquires after her uncle, a retired judge, named Bath. When the older man enters in the company of his younger wife, Lucy, Everton exchanges some barbed comments with her, as well as being introduced to their companions, Atkinson and Gerald Cady. Everton obviously has history with Lucy and is convinced that Atkinson is in fact an imposter, as he has bad memories of a man who resembles him in so many ways. It is when the party retires to the judge’s house that a murder occurs that is remarkable in many ways, not least the speedy disappearance of the body. Thus, Lucy becomes the Widow of Bath, and a complex and multi–layered mystery evolves in which Everton is not the only one in danger.

This is an admirable book in which the reader is drawn along by sheer momentum. There are so many ways in which the author draws attention to other possibilities without diverging too much from the central questions that it is extremely skillfully written. As Everton tries to investigate a murder, he encounters those who think they know something, as well as those who make themselves scarce at the thought of involvement. There are important social elements of the time thrown in to reflect the time; the public obsession with true crime, the appearance and disappearance of those who struggle to cope, the urge to follow ambitions to do more. I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys classic mysteries as well as those who enjoy a book with real insight into times past, as it was written in an age similar to our own in some ways, but radically different in others.

Starstruck by Beth Miller – two women, a swap and the search for real life in a very funny novel

Starstruck by Beth Miller

A whole new life is on offer in this book, but perhaps the reality of celebrity in the twenty-first century is not always easy to live with for anyone unused to stardom. This is a very funny novel with sparky dialogue and humorous characters, as well as a sprinkle of the stardust which some people seem to be born with. It tells the story of Sally Marshall , who is reasonably happy with her life with Paul and her job as a tribute act for the global superstar Epiphanie. While it involves working in some fairly dodgy pubs and places, it means that she can be on stage and keep her dreams of being a performer alive. One day, out of the blue, Epiphanie in all her enhanced flesh turns up in the kitchen and makes Sally and Paul an offer that they cannot refuse; for two weeks Sally will become Epiphanie and perform at some eye wateringly huge concerts in America while Epiphanie pretends to be Sally pretending to be her.While it could be a straightforward and well rewarded swap, Sally has little idea of what is to come, as being a star is so much more than entertaining thousands of people. 

This is an immensely entertaining book which is based around a simple idea. If someone physically resembles a star, or can be made to do so, it must be easy to imitate them. In this case Sally proves to have a struggle on her hands, which half the chapters describe in her voice. The logistics of immense wealth and fame are difficult to cope with, what makes this harder is that no one must suspect that a swap has been made. They are very different people; Sally is naturally friendly and generous, Epiphanie has been isolated from “normal” life for decades and has developed very different expectations and demands when there are thousands if not millions of people fascinated by her every move. The characters are amazing; apart from the two main protagonists there is the hapless Paul who has certain problems sharing a small house with officially the sexiest woman in the world, the icy Charmaine and the memorable Indigo. When even neighbours, security men and others get involved, life gets complicated, and especially as a bodyguard develops an addiction to tea and the local Lidl. For anyone who has ever wondered about what it must be like to live the life of the immensely wealthy, even for a short time, this is a funny and very human book which I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review.

Sally is soon whisked away to a new life in a plane where the entirety of the First Class area is bought up to give her privacy, especially as she discovers that it is a steep learning curve to become a star. She does refuse surgery to enhance her likeness to Epiphanie, but is told that the transformation of walking, talking, moving and generally behaving like the star is going to take many hours. Sally also generally enjoys her food, and is now forced to accept small portions of anything except carbohydrates, and can only beg for sweet treats. Meanwhile Paul is coping with entertainment venues that are confused by the real Epiphanie having far more star quality than Sally, and having to tell the world’s greatest star to tone it down and cover her most visible assets. 

This story works on many levels; a comedy of confusion and surprises of how the other half live, a complex comparison of how wealth and fame can limit a life, and a realisation of what is important in life. Sally’s descriptions of what it feels like to really find oneself in a dream of performing to thousands of people and finding a reality are wonderful as well as her frustrations and missing her real life. This is a really entertaining and uplifting book in so many ways, and is genuinely funny throughout.   

Falling in Florence by Joy Skye – a novel of finding Sublime Retreats in beautiful Florence

Falling in Florence by Joy Skye

Sofia Marino loves her large Italian family and their restaurant, but wants to get her own job. Her interview with Peter at Sublime Retreats has an interesting beginning, but she soon lands the job as his P.A. which means helping to track down select apartments in various cities. Adam is a young man who has been traumatized by the lost of his mother, and he is close to his retired police officer father. He always wants to be in control, so meeting his boss’ new P.A. is disturbing on several levels, not least because there seems to be a connection between them. Sofia’s family is complicated, but they broadly welcome her bid for independence. Unfortunately, Adam’s father Jack has a theory about the Marino family and an alleged involvement with a crime years before. When an accident means that Sofia must accompany Adam on a working trip to Florence, their relationship is tested in many ways despite the beauty of the city.

This is the second book which I have read which is loosely based on the idea of Sublime Retreats, but both novels are very much standalone. It is a lovely concept for novels, as describing apartments for the wealthy gives a good reason for describing some immense and impressive settings. The beauty of Florence is well described in this book, especially restaurants with balconies and terraces that afford good views of the scenery. The characters of Sophia and her family, featuring her rather bulky brothers and traditional parents are well drawn, especially when contrasted with the rather austere Adam and his father’s quiet relationship. The mix of character and setting is a good one in this novel, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

Sophia is described as a small young woman, with a prodigious appetite for food. Her family is very important to her, and her track record for romantic relationships has been limited by the understandable fear that no one would come up to her brothers’ standards. When she travels to Florence her genuine charm and her knowledge of the language and culture means that she copes so much better than Adam. He has high hopes for the trip, to make his mark within the business, but having denied himself enjoyable food and drink for so long he finds it difficult to allow himself to enjoy the amazing food and relax into the experience. Sofia’s spontaneity is difficult for him to cope with on many levels, and the trip seems to be out of his control as well as his feelings.

This is an entertaining and engaging book which enjoyed reading on many levels. It has a real sense of place even for those of us who are not so familiar with the city of Florence, and it luxuriates in the descriptions of the sights and landmarks. The descriptions of the food alone makes it a memorable read! The character of Sofia is lovely, as she encompasses some clumsiness with genuine charm and her ability to influence people at first meeting as well as family links. I recommend this book as a satisfying read for its characters, sense of place and genuine interest in how people react to opportunities.  

A Precious Daughter by Diane Allen – as the twentieth century begins, can Amy find her true home?

A Precious Daughter by Diane Allen

In 1896, Amy is fourteen years old. She lives in Dentdale on a small farm with her parents and grandparents. As peaceful and lovely as her life is, wandering the dales with her friend Joshua, it looks like she will soon be forced to discover a whole new life. Her father Ethan wants Amy and her mother Grace to go with him to the goldfields of the Klondike, to make their fortunes. Her grandparents are appalled – to leave the security of a home that Grace and Amy have always known to a whole new world with the unreliable ex navvy Ethan for a distant chance of making a fortune seems such a bad idea. Certainly the unbelievable challenges of a long voyage and the near impossible journey to overworked land proves to be an overwhelming experience for the little family; and not everyone will survive.

This is a fascinating and emotional read of a young woman’s progress through various places in search of what she really wants from life. Its themes include the sheer hard work expected of those prospecting for gold in the nearly unsurvivable world of harsh winters and slender living conditions. It also provides a many layered picture of Liverpool, a port city of poverty and hope, of daily challenges and memorable characters. Throughout this well researched and interesting book the story of Amy flows through, a self possessed young woman who wants to find her way in a world with many challenges. The historical setting is so well realised that the sights, sounds and even smells of the places seem to come alive. This is an author who has developed a real sense of place in her writing, and yet the central element is the characters, those who reappear and those who inhabit the pages for a short time. This is an entertaining and engaging book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

As the book begins Amy is walking in the countryside with Josuha, bitter and apprehensive about her father’s plans. Joshua says that he will always be there, but they both know that her journey will not be easy. Amy’s grandfather George knows that Ethan is not making a sensible decision, and that even the comparatively easy job of being a station porter as he is supposed to be at the moment is often beyond him. The older man is furious that Ethan has claimed money from the local charitable funds, and sees it as further evidence of his underhand cunning. When the narrative goes on to describe how awful the journey for Grace, Amy and Ethan is, how dangerous and reckless, there is a sense of anger that Ethan is willing to risk the women’s lives for a dream. The harshness of the conditions of their destination is only slightly alleviated by Amy’s willingness to make the best of their situation, and the relative kindness of some strangers. When the worst happens there is real trauma for the young woman, but her resilience carries her through, so that when she is placed in an entirely different situation back in Britain, she must readjust again. Her ability to make the best of her circumstances is remarkable, especially as others around her are struggling. 

This is a big story of people’s lives at the end of the nineteenth century, as new opportunities and worlds open for some, while others struggle with their own set circumstances. The dialogue and characters are very well observed, while the author has a keen eye for the clothes and other objects that fill the settings of the story. This is a carefully written story which details some memorable characters and their pursuit of life and more. For those who enjoy female led dramas of the early twentieth century this will be a real treat, while everyone will find this a well written story. 

Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels – Bourne Bookshop in Lincolnshire (Number Six)

Bourne Bookshop

While in Lincolnshire, we decided to visit Bourne in search of a bookshop. To my delight we found Bourne Bookshop. As you can see from the photos above it is a small shop, but well stocked with fiction, non fiction and children’s books. I called in and had the second door opened so it was a wide and completely flat access. Once in you can see that there is plenty of room to move around. There are plenty of just published hardback fiction books on display as well as paperbacks to look at and choose from. The place is bright and inviting, as well as having a friendly member of staff. I could have spent even more money in there than I did!

The card I was handed does not mention a website, but they invite enquiries on , or by phone 01778 392777.  The address is

19 North Street, Bourne, Lincolnshire PE10 9AE.

Facebook: bournebookshop

Instagram: bournebookshop

Twitter @bournebookshop

The business owner is Karen Smith. I am not sure of the opening hours – I believe they were generous (9 – 5.30) so I think you should have a good chance of getting in!

I am trying to track down more accessible bookshops in the UK for visiting – so if you know of one, or even work in one, please let me know! ( My definition of accessible is one that I can get into with my trusty powerchair Morgan – see above!)

I Have Something to Tell You by Susan Lewis – a contemporary novel of crime and fractured relationships

I Have Something to Tell You by Susan Lewis

Jessica has an idyllic if busy life. Senior partner in a firm of solicitors in Bristol, she specializes in criminal defence, and meets with some interesting people. Married to Tom, a successful barrister, her two children are nearly launched into their adult lives, with only a few wobbles, or possibly more. Known as Jay, she has supportive friends, and has surrounded herself with other lawyers, investigators and secretarial help. Then one day she is asked to take on a new client, one Edward Blake, who is accused of murdering his wife. There is something about this case, among so many others, that stands out. Maybe it is the question of something hidden, a betrayal that is at the heart of the closest of relationships. When her husband utters the words “I have something to tell you”, she begins to realise that she may not only have to defend her client, but also tackle a problem with the person she most trusts – or does she?

This is a gripping novel of law, love and secrets. Jay’s story is the focus of this fascinating legal procedural as the truth of a brutal murder gradually comes to light in the context of contemporary investigation by both the legal team charged with the defence of a wealthy client who maintains his innocence, and the police. The case is placed squarely in the midst of the context of the difficult relationship between Jay and Tom from Jay’s point of view, as she tries to second guess what will happen in a relationship which is already cracked. I found both elements of the novel really engaging, as Lewis skillfully increases the tension on several fronts. She also creates a good sense of place, in the contrast between interview rooms and country homes, the backgrounds of the wealthy in sharp contrast to the isolation of imprisonment. The greatest achievement of this book is undoubtedly the characters, as they range from Jay’s outward control and inward doubts to the quiet stoicism of Edward Blake with an underlying desperation, with the temperamental Tom to the friends who offer support. I found myself totally engaged with this well written novel, with surprises and twists to maintain interest. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this enjoyable book.

The book opens with Jay engaged in a normal working day of papers, files and calls when she is alerted to a call from Detective Inspector Ken Bright. She has a lot of respect for this particular police officer as a result of previous encounters. The basic facts are that Edward Blake is thirty – nine and arrested on suspicion of killing his wife at their home. He does fit anyone’s expectations as he is a property developer and architect with substantial resources and a seemingly ideal life. As Jay meets Blake she discovers that he is a quietly charismatic man with secrets that go beyond his current situation. She is also suddenly afflicted with memories of a situation that she is still trying to process, to forgive as forgetting is impossible.

This is an intense and powerful read that makes the most of impressive research into how criminal defence lawyers work which is seamlessly woven into the narrative. It is a clever book which introduces information and surprises in a well-timed way. The relationship between Jay and her husband is brilliantly described as well as the context of family and friends. The central mystery is unraveled in such a clever way in the setting of the book that it marks this book out as a memorable read. I recommend this book to all those who enjoy reading about contemporary crime in very realistic settings.