Red Corona by Tim Glister – a Space Race thriller with a twist as three people find challenges at every turn

Red Corona by Tim Glister

This is a spy thriller set in 1961, when the Corona programme was the American’s attempt to establish a surveillance programme as part of the “Space Race” with the Russians. While pushing the edges of knowledge and experiment, this was still a very basic race of people fighting for information, and it is through the eyes of three people Glister has chosen to demonstrate how very delicate the balance was. This is a powerful story of three people, two women and one man, who embody much about the Cold War battle of scientists and spies. Set mainly in a battle scarred London of buildings damaged and destroyed in the recent blitz, three people battle for their freedom and lives against forces that are seemingly one step ahead. Richard Knox is an agent of MI5 forced out by a recent mysterious incident, but he is keen to discover what is really going on. Irina Valera is a brilliant scientist with a breakthrough idea – and little left to lose. Abey Bennett is a rare CIA recruit who is fighting a system which has dismissed her for her entire life, but who has a determination to discover the truth. This taut and powerful novel twists and turns as three people discover that trust is a rare thing, and that knowledge can be power. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this brilliant debut novel.

  As the novel opens, Knox is in a London pub, struggling to come to terms with his effective dismissal from MI5 as his immediate boss and chief supporter, Holland, has disappeared from the scene. He is thrown a case to investigate amidst his gloom, and soon discovers that the implications of two dead bodies may well exceed a double murder, and points to a bigger conspiracy. Meanwhile in a Russian village Valera and her young son struggle for a bare existence in a town almost run on prison camp lines. Her work on communications in space may well be on the cutting edge of changing the world, but her son attends a school next to a power station, and food is only available to those in favour with the man in charge of the area. A grim existence is destroyed at the moment of her discovery of a new idea, and her next actions will mean a change into more danger. Bennett knows that her parentage and gender has always worked against her despite her determination and talent, and has discovered that her work in the American Embassy in London has not meant new opportunities for more meaningful challenges unless she seeks them out for herself. 

None of the three characters are prepared for the dangers that they are running in this superb thriller as the twists and turns mean everything is threatened. The scientific research represented by this novel is tremendous; the early sixties was a time of immense breakthroughs in many ways, but also a time of the jealous guarding of knowledge and those who possessed it. As the various agencies and forces in play in this genuinely gripping book collide, I found it a very human and understandable thriller that held my interest throughout. This is a very well written, paced and plotted book, and I thoroughly recommend it as an exciting read.

The Garden of Forgotten Wishes by Trisha Ashley – Marnie finds a new life in an overgrown garden in this escapist treat with real edge

The Garden of Forgotten Wishes: The heartwarming and uplifting new rom-com  from the Sunday Times bestseller: Ashley, Trisha:  9781787632332: Books

The Garden of Forgotten Wishes by Trisha Ashley

This is a deeply satisfying book, with a garden to cut back and transform, a secret or two, and some threats to contend with. It is laced with Ashley’s usual brand of humour, attention to detail and features a distinctive cat. This novel is a faithful and realistic story of a young woman who has to overcome a difficult past and is trying to rebuild her life in a garden that is in desperate need of rescue. It is lively, funny and anyone with the slightest interest in gardening – even as an observer- will find much to enjoy in this story of Marnie getting to grips with an overgrown rose garden. The element of romance is well introduced by the character of Ned, an old friend who has also endured a damaging relationship and is wary of any involvement with someone whose exit from gardening in the UK was much discussed. The setting in this book is typically charming, a large garden attached to a country house, and a bonus in terms of a waterfall considered to be a tourist attraction, if only because of the ambiguous appearances at various times of a winged creature. This is a book which includes some of the challenges of life, both contemporary and in the past, and is a deeply satisfying read. 

At the beginning of the novel Marnie loses her mother who has dominated her life to this point, having been rejected by her own family. The main novel is about the adult Marnie, who has spent the previous few years in France working on refurbishing chateaux gardens. She had once had a promising career in British heritage gardens, but that was ruined by her controlling ex husband Mike, who had sent an inflammatory resignation email to her employers. During their brief time together he had systematically controlled her life, and as her adoptive family were in France, nearly succeeded in cutting her off from all support. Having escaped to France, Marnie has returned to Britain having found a strange live-in gardener job near her adopted sister Treena. She has heard of Jericho’s End from her mother, but she is not prepared for the discoveries she makes when she arrives, including a family run ice cream cafe, a memorable site on which to work, and the well known gardener Ned. Not that everything is straightforward, as she discovers that the people she works for are friendly and welcoming, including a rescue cat , Casper, who moves into her small flat. She soon learns something about the history of the village, and realises that a warning from her mother may finally make sense. The brooding figure of Ned also worries her, as he is wary of anyone who may cause him problems as he battles to rescue his garden as a tourist attraction.  It becomes obvious that Marnie will have to take on more than overgrown roses as she tries to build a new life in the shadow of the past.

This is a lovely read as Marnie cuts back the roses and plants that cover a very special garden, and helps to make a visitor attraction out of a wilderness. By including characters from previous novels, Ashley has succeeded in rooting this novel firmly in her wonderful world of communities that help a woman to survive and thrive. The humour which emerges from the dialogue is natural and unforced, always enjoyable and adding a definite bonus to the novel. Not that this is a completely light read; the controlling relationship that is in the background is brilliantly described as abuse that is not necessarily physical but still life changing. Overall I recommend this novel as an escapist joy with a firm base in contemporary life.

A Waltz with the Outspoken Governess by Catherine Tinley – an historical romance featuring a free thinking woman

A Waltz with the Outspoken Governess by Catherine Tinley

Set in 1810, this historical romance features a “woman with no plan to ever marry” at the age of twenty, sent to school by her loving father who has spent her childhood talking to her about books. I found this a lovely read, full of details about a difficult household situation. Moreover, Mary is a realistic, determined character who tries so hard to fit in for the sake of her father, but is compelled to address the assumptions about women being interested in books and having an opinion. Sir Nicholas is a well rounded character who is not immediately smitten by Mary; indeed thinking that she is a little dull, and is merely grateful that she is deflecting some of the difficulties of his sister’s visit. He is full of pride and somewhat unapproachable because he assumes it is his right to dominate the household, area, and especially his servants who he struggles to see as people. As is common in this sort of intelligent historical romance, it takes a woman who challenges his view of life to attract him. He has had his adventures in London, but he now feels able to merely follow obscure academic pursuits while others take the strain of life. Altogether this is an escapist read which I really enjoyed, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

The book opens with Mary getting into trouble with her teacher as she does not want to conform to expectations of ladylike behaviour. A sudden letter from her father’s housekeeper leads to Mary seeking a position near to where he is being held. Fortunately she encounters a remarkable agency with a business woman willing to take a risk on placing her in the right area. Meanwhile the very private Sir Nicholas is disturbed to hear that his sister is intending to bring her five children for an extended stay at his house. Adopting the policy of employing a full set of servants to distract them, Mary arrives with his Secretary, Bramber, to be an additional governess. She soon discovers that Nicholas’ sister, Mrs Susan Fenhurst, has an elderly governess who is desperate not to be replaced by a younger, more capable woman, despite the fact that she can no longer cope with the boisterous children. Keenly aware that she must retain her employment at the Hall in order to help her father, she tries to teach the children without openly challenging anyone. The second daughter, Beatrice, is actually attracted by more scholarly material, and it is in revealing this that compels Mary to announce that women can be clever “I believe it to be a myth when people say that women’s brains are less capable than men’s”. It is this sort of outburst that arouses Nicholas to take notice of the young woman in his household, and that notice soon goes beyond an admiration for her bravery.

I found this a really engaging read, with Nicholas a far from perfect hero, but who can be persuaded to go beyond humourous asides to actually take action. The romance element is well handled, and would not offend any delicate sensibilities. Mary is an interesting character, of necessity attractive, but confident in her beliefs. This is an intelligent, sometimes funny, always interesting historical romance, and is to be recommended to all those who enjoy this genre.       

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry – a powerful novel of medicine, murder and more in Victorian Edinburgh

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry

This is one of the most vivid and atmospheric historical novels I have ever read. Set in Edinburgh, 1949, it mainly concerns the progress, challenges and downright dangers of practicing medicine in a city where early death was frequent and often unavoidable. It continues the story of the real pioneer of medical chloroform, Doctor James Simpson, and his fictional assistants Doctor Will Raven and former housemaid, the determined Sarah Fisher. In a city where professional jealousy and uncertainty about medical breakthroughs are rife, even a brilliant discovery helps fuel suspicion of a doctor who does not conform to the rules. The book follows the brilliant “The Way of All Flesh” by the same writing team of writer Chris Brookmyre and anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman, but it is written in a way to stand alone as a novel which brings to life the world of respectable people with their own agendas and the poor who struggle with the basics of life. Will Raven is a recently qualified doctor who has fought his way out of a difficult background and aspires to make a name for himself, but fights with a certain wildness and people who make dangerous demands on him. My favourite character is the impressive feminist Sarah, elevated from a purely domestic role to an undefined associate with a desperate desire to learn, despite being held back at every turn by her gender. Enveloped by the consequences of a decision made in Will’s absence, she has much to cope with, but her ambition still motivates her, along with her loyalty to her supporter, Dr Simpson. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special, vividly written book.

The novel begins with Raven and some of his friends fighting off a street attack in Berlin, where he has travelled as part of his tour of medical establishments. Typically he has to remove a bullet from his friend’s leg, but it is only later that he considers his other actions. He returns to Edinburgh to take up his new post with Dr Simpson, moving into his house and reintroducing himself to the rather chaotic household. Keen to begin his new role, he soon discovers the elements of his past will still seek to claim him. His greatest shock, however, is the change in Sarah’s condition which extend beyond her promotion from domestic servant. She maintains her ambition to be a doctor in her own right, but acknowledges that she will not be accepted for formal study. Inspired by a tragic patient, she nonetheless struggles with the knowledge that she may never be able to pursue her dreams. More immediately, she realizes that her mentor. Dr Simpson, is being unfairly blamed for a death within the medical world, and is keen to clear his name. Raven also wants to help in the investigation, but is distracted by thoughts of a new form of disease. As the narrative is interspersed with accounts of a woman with a unique history, it begins to be urgent to track down the truth at whatever the risk.

This is a powerful and effective novel which deserves to do well as its intensity lingers in the memory. It successfully evokes a setting and time of medical treatments which are not always effective despite the practitioner’s best efforts, and this book will be of great interest to those interested in the social history of medicine. The characters’ thoughts and fears are well recorded, and the world of Victorian Edinburgh vividly created in this memorable and powerful book.  

Hand in Glove by Ngaio Marsh – an excellent novel of twentieth century detective fiction

Hand in Glove (Roderick Alleyn, #22) by Ngaio Marsh

Hand in Glove by Ngaio Marsh

A 1962 novel of family squabbles, muddled letters and an unusual murder is an enjoyable read from an experienced writer of careful, if lively, detection. Featuring Superintendent Roderick Alleyn and the reliable Inspector Fox, this murder mystery of clashing lifestyles and a household under strain represents a well balanced, plotted and well written detective story of a solid type. Marsh is excellent at evoking an atmosphere of a detective carefully weighing up the facts while various characters range around him. The characters are so well drawn as to evoke real reactions in the reader, such as the snobbish Mr. Percival Pyke Period, so keen on family connections and condolences, and the detestable Leonard Leiss, who almost believes himself to be in American films with his slang and dress. The women are also well drawn, as the wonderful, much married Desiree, Lady Bantling attempts to waft her way through family quarrels, and Mary Ralston or Moppett alternates between dubious behaviour with her ‘friend’ Leonard and being a vulnerable young woman. Thus Marsh has skillfully assembled a cast of characters who argue, agree and number amongst them a murderer. Alleyn’s masterly assembling of evidence and characters in a limited number of settings reveals something of her theatrical skills, allowing the detection to proceed in an orderly manner. This is an engaging and enjoyable mystery which marks a satisfying progress via stolen items, small but significant clues and much more to a revealing denouement.

The novel opens with a peaceful start to the day in Mr Pyke Period’s establishment, as his manservant Alfred brings him morning tea. A luncheon is planned, to include a new secretary, Nicola Maitland – Maine, among others, but the peace is soon disturbed by Harold Cartell and his ill trained dog, Pixie, known to Alfred and Mrs Mitchell, the cook, as a particular nuisance. Nicola arrives in the company of a young man, Andrew, who has a request to make to Harold, who is one of the trustees of his late father’s estate. Andrew is also Desiree’s son, who was unhappily married to Harold at one point. A fairly disastrous luncheon occurs, which includes Constance Cartell, Harold’s sister and adoptive aunt to Moppett, who has invited herself and Leonard to lunch. No one is impressed with the young couple’s behaviour, especially when a valuable cigarette case goes missing. A fashionable treasure hunt and other unusual events means that when murder is discovered and Scotland Yard, in the persons of Alleyn, Fox and others arrive, they have a lot to investigate with several potential suspects.

I found this murder mystery very engaging and entertaining, with a limited geographical area to concentrate on and a satisfactory cast of characters. Leonard and to a lesser extent Moppett are genuinely annoying, and Harold with his dog upsetting to the household. Alleyn’s careful investigation takes in several background discoveries which add a great deal to the overall effect. The introduction of his artist wife Troy is well done, and removes him for the list of morose single male detectives. This book has been successfully adapted for television, but having seen that does not remove the pleasure to found in reading this excellent novel which I recommend to all fans of twentieth century detective fiction.

In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O’Shaughnessy – A Novel of a Woman Writer

In Love with George Eliot eBook: O'Shaughnessy, Kathy: Kindle  Store

In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O’Shaughnessy

A writer with many needs, mainly for love, is forced to hide her real name, her authorship and her own real love for a married man. A contemporary academic struggles with her own relationships. A series of characters walk through the rooms of a couple known for their stimulating conversation. This is George Eliot’s story, the story of a real woman called Marian Evans, in love with a married man, disgraced in the eyes of society, deeply wounded by the effective loss of her family, but discovering the strength to become the author of the sublime Middlemarch. Once ignored by polite society, her fame means that she is sought out by writers, artists and those desperate to attach themselves to one of the greatest authors. This is not the story of writing best sellers, even though she achieved that, but of the love of a woman who researched relentlessly, who sought approval, who loved and lived with a man despite all the criticism, who loved her friends, her house and so much, but remains something of an enigma.  This is a complex book, as befits a complex person, and traces the sad withdrawal from society of a frequently hesitant women, her joy when friends supported her, her overwhelming love for George Lewes which extended to his sons. It is the story of a life in which passions are deeply felt, there is strength to shock, and it introduces a variety of characters such as Johnny Cross and the writer Edith Simcox. A memorable book of impressive depth, it provides a real insight into a much examined but still shadowy life.

The book opens with a Prologue set in 1851, when a young, impressionable Marian lives in the house of a Mr Chapman, publisher, who represents so much to her. Their relationship becomes physical as his voracious behaviour includes her for a brief time before she is dismissed, blamed and yet still ambitious for a literary career. In the twenty first century Kate and Ann examine a diary which can open up their own academic careers, as Kate especially wants, needs to find the truth. The novel begins in 1857, when Marian and Lewes come together in a relationship which cannot legally be marriage, but in every other way is a life long love. It comes at a cost, especially to Marian, as it is seen as a scandal, she loses acquaintances, but more seriously for her, Isaac, a beloved brother, refuses any communication with her. Seeking out temporary and permanent homes, Marian and Lewes seek to establish themselves as a couple, walking, writing, researching. Lewes fears for her obsessions, as she seems determined to immense herself in the obscure learning and languages which she wants to capture in her writing. With his loving care and encouragement she produces the best sellers, The Mill on the Floss, Adam Bede and other novels, against his shielding of her from certain reviews. Despite their unconventional relationship in the eyes of society, her adoption of the name George Eliot keeps eager readers in the dark about her identity. As they come to terms with a son’s illness, they also attract a group of admirers who include the artists and writers of the day, such  Henry James, as well as those drawn by Marian’s personality such as Edith, who tries to capture her  attraction in a passionately written diary.

This is in some respects a somber story, of a woman who loved deeply but whose loves were deemed shocking. It is the story a woman whose writings excited admiration and brought her fame that she struggled to deal with throughout her life. It is full of the little details that bring Marian and those around her. A big read, it succeeds in giving the impression of a writer coming to terms with life and love in a unique way.

One of the reasons I read this book is because next Monday I begin an online course about the “Literary Landscapes” of some of Eliot’s books – but I don’t think even I have time to Middlemarch (again) in that time!

The Art of Creativity by Susie Pearl – a book to help explore our creative personality in everyday life

The Art of Creativity by Susie Pearl

This is a self help book and more, as it confidently seeks to help the reader to look at their lives and discover time, space and impetus to become the creative person they want to be in new ways. This book goes far beyond encouraging the reader to paint, sing, write or many other forms of personal creativity; it encourages finding the mental space to relax and explore forms of creating which may be new or long abandoned. Thus it is not a book of how to draw, write music or other creative outlets, instead it encourages the reader to find the mental space to attempt something that they may have only dreamed of doing, and to accept when their attempts are not perfect. It encourages playfulness in creativity, discovery and exploration. The author is able to point to a wealth of life experience to inform her advice. She has also got a track record of working with highly successful creative people and lateral thinkers who have included her writing in their output. This is an unusual book in some ways, but immensely encouraging. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

This is a well presented little book which encourages the reader to set up a journal with space to write on a daily basis, a practice which it urges in terms of allocating time and space.  This is to be attempted by hand in an actual book, and Pearl suggests five exercises which will help in setting up the journal, such as intentions of what is be achieved and recording creative successes. It also records the benefits of writing in a journal, such as personal healing, better self discipline and improved memory. This is not an appointment diary, but an opportunity to consider intentions for the day. The book itself includes pages in which to record impressions and responses, as well as encouraging writing in the journal itself.  It also looks at the benefits of Mind- Mapping with examples to be followed in drawing a sort of illustration of a project such as writing a novel which may be of particular benefit to writers trying to work out how to begin. The section on Self – Care has interesting points on exercise and napping as well as eating healthily. There is also a useful introduction to meditation, which outlines a basic method which can be attempted. It also provides a useful list of the various types of meditation which would allow further investigation.

The subtitle of this book “7 Powerful Habits to Unlock Your Full Potential” highlights how the various topics included are helpfully set out, though it would also be possible to simply work through this book, absorbing its message that being creative does not require perfection in the eyes of others, but to enable exploration and experimentation by the individual for their own satisfaction and feeling of self worth. It also includes a Further Reading Section which suggests other books which would help the reader to explore particular topics introduced in this helpful book. This is a book of inspiration to explore the creative in all of us in whatever form that may take in a vivid and dedicated way.

The Body on the Train by Frances Brody – A Kate Shackleton Mystery of murder and more in 1929

The Body on the Train: A Kate Shackleton Mystery: 11: Brody,  Frances: 9781643851600: Books

The Body on the Train by Frances Brody

Kate Shackleton investigates many unusual things, but in this novel she has to push to the edge of friendship and a way of life that dominates parts of the north of England. When a body is found on a train bringing rhubarb to London she is contacted by Scotland Yard, not just because of the fact of an evident murder, but also because it came from a politically sensitive area of industrial unrest. This book is a worthy addition to the Kate Shackleton Mystery series, but also stands up well as a murder mystery on its own with shared characters and setting with previous books. As ever, it is an intense read with brilliant setting and a real feel for the atmosphere of the time; in 1929 Kate is a war widow with a depth of experience in nursing, detection and most importantly emotional intelligence where those around her are concerned. The research into the running of special trains is a worthy part of the novel, but Brody’s research is never intrusive or at the expense of the narrative. As ever the supporting cast of characters adds greatly to the story, as Sykes and Mrs Sugden use their own skills to discover different elements of the case. Kate manages to benefit from both of her family backgrounds, her adoptive influential parents with her father’s role in the local police and her birth family, here providing support when investigations take the trio into a different area. This is an entertaining read which never loses sight of the people involved in any murder case, and is an excellent piece of historical fiction.

The novel opens with Kate’s summons to London to discuss a case of a man’s body being discovered on the train. His identity is a mystery, and given the particular nature of the mining area from which the train has arrived, Scotland Yard is keen to keep a low profile and use more subtle forms of investigation which they believe Kate is able to undertake. She soon decides to go and stay with a childhood friend whose husband’s estate encompasses the area that could be the origin of the mysterious murder. While being confronted with some family secrets, Kate also learns of a second murder, which is causing a lot of local disquiet. Fortunately Sykes is also able to ask questions of those who may be able to shed some light on the original murder, while Mrs Sugden is aided and abetted by two young and enthusiastic helpers.

As usual for these novels, the chapters are mainly narrated by Kate herself, which allows her to explore her feelings about the people involved. A third person narration of the progress of the other investigators is also threaded throughout the book, with details that enlarge the reader’s understanding of the situation. In both cases the narrative flows well with effective hints about the developing storylines, allowing the reader to feel as if they can guess the outcomes. This is a well researched and written book which goes beyond a straightforward murder mystery, as it reveals a lot about the time in which it is set, and the people involved. There are flashes of humour which I enjoyed, as well as threats to safety and subtle changes of mood. As with the other books in this series, I recommend this as a fascinating read concerning the role of women in the interwar period, offering real insights into the period, and providing a satisfying mystery read.

A Cornish Betrothal by Nicola Pryce – An historical novel led by strong women

A Cornish Betrothal: 5 (Cornish Saga): Pryce, Nicola:  9781838950903: Books

A Cornish Betrothal by Nicola Pryce

Amelia Carew is celebrating her twenty fifth birthday in Cornwall, 1798. She is wondering if her new love, Dr Luke Bohenna, will propose marriage, after some time of courtship. There is one consideration; she was in love with another young man until she was told of his death. This historical romance is steep in the atmosphere of a locality familiar with life at sea, with naval officers, sailors of all sorts, a community involved with the insuring ships, receiving goods and helping with those affected by war. This powerful novel has much to say about the place of women in society and the importance of marriage in their lives, but also depicts some women who are unusual in their interests. Amelia is a woman who is very knowledgeable about the healing power of plants, especially herbs. In that respect this book overlaps with another by Pryce,  who has obviously gained a wide knowledge of historic medical uses for plants as well poisonous possibilities. A solid knowledge of the area is eident, as well as the transport favoured by the genteel classes of the times. Not that research ever intrudes on the narrative in a negative way, but Pryce has obviously immersed herself in the small details of life in the late eighteenth century. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating book.

Amelia’s life in her happy family has been marked by her long time love for Edmund Melville, a young neighbour from a large house, son of a baronet. She grew up in the area in the company of Edmund and his cousin Francis. They were deeply in love, but for complicated family reasons Edmund joined the navy, and went away to sea . Since then Amelia was told of his death, which was confirmed by her godfather, and for the past eighteen months she has thrown herself into planting and caring for a herb garden. Distributing medicinal herbs and other charitable works has brought her into contact with a local doctor, and they have discovered a mutual attraction. Just at the point when everyone expects a declaration, Amelia receives a letter from Edmund, who has been a prisoner and very ill. In getting the letter translated Amelia makes another contact. Visiting Edmund’s childhood home she discovers that his mother is very ill and his sister Constance is threatened with an arranged marriage. Amelia becomes determined to keep her promises to Edmund and become his wife, but there is something very disturbing about him on his return beyond his scars and symptoms of trauma. As Amelia struggles to decide if she should honour her promises to Edmund, she cannot forget her love for the devoted Luke.

This is a powerful and emotional book which deals with romance in a realistic way as it portrays problems faced when more than one person is attractive. There are some fascinating historical details of naval life in the period, as well as family issues, commercial details and the political realities of French prisoners. The herbal recipes and knowledge are carefully inserted and made relevant as an important part of Amelia’s life.  I found this an exciting and fascinating book, full of twists and turns, which kept me guessing throughout. While characters from another book inhabit this story, this is very much Amelia’s narrative as supported by other memorable characters. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in well written historical fiction, especially with the focus on strong women, in an exciting setting. 

Unexpectedly Wed to the Officer by Jenni Fletcher – a Regency escapist treat with family and romance

Unexpectedly Wed to the Officer: A Historical Romance Award Winning Author  (Regency Belles of Bath, 2): Fletcher, Jenni: 9781335505958:  Books

Unexpectedly Wed to the Officer by Jenni Fletcher

Scandal, romance and more feature in this delightful Regency novel full of humour, realistic dialogue and biscuits. Featuring an independent heroine who is trying to do her best as a businesswoman, aunt and defender of her shop, this book also introduces a naval officer who makes several discoveries about a woman who hates compliments. When Henrietta attacks a mysterious intruder, she little suspects that he knows a lot about Belles, the biscuit shop she manages with the redoubtable Nancy. Sebastian is a hero who admits he has a lot to learn about people, especially a woman who is sensitive about her past. The responsibility for three boys is a sudden burden in this novel which looks at the complications of families in a different world, but one which has familiar echoes for many of us. This book is actually part of a series that tells the story of those women who work in Belles Biscuit shop, but there is no need to have read the previous book to enjoy this one; there are many references to characters in the previous novel, which are sufficient. This book is very much Henrietta and Sebastian’s story, full of the doubts, challenges and twists which make it truly entertaining throughout. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

The book opens with Sebastian, brother of Anna, the absent shop owner, discovering that during his absence at sea over several years much has changed in the shop that used to be run by his family. After nearly breaking his nose, Henrietta allows him to camp in the downstairs room, only to be woken by her assistant Nancy conducting a similar attack on him, not knowing of his existence. He notices Henrietta’s extreme attractiveness, despite her attempts to dress down and her coldness, and he thinks about hurrying to see his family. However, his attention is taken by Henrietta’s three nephews, who soon claim him as an important figure in their lives, as their father is struggling with grief for his late wife. Almost despite herself, Henrietta begins to relax in the company of such a thoughtful and helpful man, but has such overwhelmingly bad memories of previous relationships and the gossip that they attracted that she resolves to pull back from any further involvement. It is perhaps when other people get involved, and a mysterious stranger appears to need help, that they discover that significant action must be taken.

This book is truly a joy to read, especially as Regency stories hold a particular attraction at the moment. It is delightful escapism, and has some genuinely very funny elements, including Nancy who frequently lets fly with her observations and opinions concerning everything. The family theme works well, and there is much more to this book than a straightforward romance. It is well paced and flows well, as it represents many of the responses and actions of the two main characters. The dialogue is lively and well written, and strikes a contemporary tone, though it is never anachronistic. This is a lovely book for anyone who enjoys a gentle escapist read, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys romantic historical fiction.