Friday, December 27, 2013

The Ghost Writer and The Seance by John Harwood Reviewed!

Gerard Freeman, at age ten, sneaks into his mother's room and unlocks a secret drawer, only to find a picture of a woman he has never seen before, but one that he will find again and again. His mother discovers him and gives him the beating of his life. Why this excessive reaction? She is a worried, paranoid, thin, and fretful type with an "anxious, haunted look." By tale's end, we know why.

Phyllis Freeman, Gerard's mother, was happiest when speaking fondly of Staplefield, her childhood home, where there were things they "didn't have in Mawson [Australia], chaffinches and mayflies and foxgloves and hawthorn, coopers and farriers and old Mr. Bartholomew who delivered fresh milk and eggs to their house with his horse and cart." It's the sort of childhood idyll that the timid and lonely Gerard believes in and longs for. He strikes up a correspondence with an English "penfriend," Alice Jessel, when he is 13 and a half, living in a desolate place with a frantic mother and a silent father. She is his age, her parents were killed in an accident and she has been crippled by it. She now lives in an institution, whose grounds she describes as much the way Staplefield looked. They go through young adulthood together, in letters only, thousands of miles apart, eventually declaring their love for one another.

I enjoyed 'The Ghost Writer' so very much. It is a charming ghost story, a wonderful pre-pubescent beginnings of puppy love and a friendship that develops and sparks into a possible love story later on. There are twists, turns, and much talk of their favorite books and paintings which I really loved. A nod and mention of Pre-Raphaelite art and Alfred Tennyson's poetry always guaranteed to put a smile on my face. Although, Gerard's mother is  a true tyrant as he and Alice peel back the layers to her sub-plot story, Harwood truly surprised me!  I highly recommend this different type of ghost story to anyone who loves an old fashioned and refreshing ghost story that we just don't find very much anymore! 
A haunting tale of apparitions, a cursed manor house, and two generations of women determined to discover the truth. "Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plow the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there . . .” Constance Langton grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for Constance’s sister, the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance takes her to a séance: perhaps she will find comfort from beyond the grave. But the meeting has tragic consequences. Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest that will blight her life.

It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains—and murder. For Constance’s bequest comes in two parts: a house and a mystery. Years before, a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a decaying mansion in the English countryside with a sinister reputation.Now the Hall belongs to Constance. And she must descend into the darkness at the heart of theWraxford Mystery to find the truth, even at the cost of her life.
Now, this is exactly the type of dark Victorian Gothic novel I can fall into…
In order to solve this ghostly mystery you must meet five characters beginning with protagonist, Constance Langton, John Montague (in two parts), Nell Wraxford, and Eleanor Unwin. They will appear in all six parts of The Séance where you will find yourself asking why the ghost of a monk on the grounds of Wraxford Hall results in death to those who see it? Why previous owners of Wraxford Hall disappear in thunderstorms? What role does the suit of armor play in it all?

The Séance deals with orphan, Constance Langton who has suspicions that there is more to her family history than she believes. With the inheritance of a crumbling mansion, Wraxford Hall, which is central to the plot and premise, she discovers the truth behind her ancestry and the mysterious events that take place in and around Wraxford Hall.

The Séance provides Victorian chills and a sense of eeriness and forboding that has come to be expected in these novels. John Harwood writes a delicious and creepy tale; not really scary to myself but it is filled with twists and turns, mysterious deaths and disappearances, ghostly apparitions, and I loved it all. One glaring flaw might have been the predictability of a love interest for one of the characters. He appears late in the story and nothing very surprising comes of it but there must be a love angle I suppose!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Most Memorable Reads of 2013!

At the end of every year, I post a list of my favorite novels published in that year that I loved and or stand out in my memory. For 2013, I have chosen mostly historical fiction. However, I added one which is a mystery and trust me they are unforgettable for various reasons. I hope you will read them for yourselves at some point. I guarantee you will not be disappointed...and if you are, feel free to email me :)

Eleanor of Aquitaine is a 12th century icon who has fascinated readers for 800 years. But the real Eleanor remains elusive.

This stunning novel introduces an Eleanor that all other writers have missed. Based on the most up-to-date research, it is the first novel to show Eleanor beginning her married life at 13. Barely out of childhood, this gives an entirely new slant to how Eleanor is treated bv those around her. She was often the victim and her first marriage was horribly abusive.

Overflowing with scandal, passion, triumph and tragedy, Eleanor's legendary story begins when her beloved father dies in the summer of 1137, and she is made to marry the young prince Louis of France. A week after the marriage she becomes a queen and her life will change beyond recognition. 

To buy it, Amazon UK

River of Destiny, whose epic story spans Anglo Saxon Britain, Victorian Suffolk and the present day. On the banks of the River Deben in Suffolk lies a set of barns dating back to the Anglo Saxons, within their walls secrets have laid buried for centuries. Zoe and Ken have just moved into one of the barns, ready to start a new life away from the hustle and bustle of the city. To the outside world they seem like an ordinary couple, but underneath they are growing more distant by the day. And when Zoe becomes close to local recluse, Leo, she finds her attraction to him undeniable. Whilst farmers are ploughing the land surrounding the barns, sets of human bones are found and when the police arrive it becomes clear that the bones are much older than first suspected! From an ancient burial ground to a Victorian murder, Erskine will have you gripped as the mystery unfolds across the ages!

To buy it, Amazon UK

Harriet Heron's life is almost over before it has even begun. At just twenty-three years of age, she is an invalid, over-protected and reclusive. Before it is too late, she must escape the fog of Victorian London for a place where she can breathe. Together with her devoted mother, Louisa, her god-fearing aunt, Yael, and a book of her own spells inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Harriet travels to a land where the air is tinged with rose and gold and for the first time begins to experience what it is to live. But a chance meeting on the voyage to Alexandria results in a dangerous friendship as Louisa's long-buried past returns, in the form of someone determined to destroy her by preying upon her daughter. As Harriet journeys towards a destiny no one could have foreseen, her aunt Yael is caught up in an Egypt on the brink of revolt and her mother must confront the spectres of her own youth.

To read my review, The Sacred River

Uprooted from her home in India, Alice is raised by her aunt, a spiritualist medium in Windsor. When the mysterious Mr Tilsbury enters their lives, Alice is drawn into a plot to steal the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond, claimed by the British Empire at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars.

Said to be both blessed and cursed, the sacred Indian stone exerts its power over all who encounter it: a handsome deposed maharajah determined to claim his rightful throne, a man hell-bent on discovering the secrets of eternity, and a widowed queen who hopes the jewel can draw her husband's spirit back. In the midst of all this madness, Alice must discover a way to regain control of her life and fate...

To read my review, The Goddess and the Thief

Landscape artist Josie MacDonald is coming to the end of her stay in Scotland. Whilst out on a painting trip early one morning she witnesses a horrific murder. Mr Mac, the deranged killer, is aware that she has seen him at work and sets out to kill her but Josie manages to escape by plunging desperately into the North Sea. Mr Mac, convinced that she has perished, discovers a few days later that she has survived and sets out to track her down. He follows her to London where he subjects her to terrible psychological torment as one by one her friends are drawn into the nightmare. Josie returns to Scotland in order to discover the truth where her worst fears are realised. With time running out and a killer on the loose she must survive long enough to bring their horrifying ordeal to an end.

To buy it, Amazon UK

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy Holidays! Christmas the illustrated way...

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas surrounded by your loved ones, good food, good wine, and lots of love and laughter always.  Thank you all for bringing so much joy and laughter into my heart all year long; whether you've read any of my articles, posts and whether you left comments or not. To everyone who has found my little nook, I will be thinking of you all and sending you the biggest of hugs.  xxx

Hello Mr. Dickens in a gorgeous advertisement for soap! 

Here's Queen Victoria as well! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Tennyson Family photographs taken by Julia Margaret Cameron

I have come across some wonderful photographs of Alfred Tennyson, his brothers, his son Lionel, his nieces, and one of his father-in-law that I just wanted to share with you all.  I hope you enjoy them...Let's start with two of Julia Margaret Cameron herself...

 Unknown photographer. Julia Margaret Cameron holding a watch on a chain. Note her beautiful Celtic brooch atop her lace trimmed collar. Albumen print, private collection, about 1856.

Julia Margaret Cameron with her two sons Charles and Henry Cameron, 1856, Stephen White Collection II, Albumen print. Unknown photographer

I just love this one! 

Alfred Tennyson's brothers:  Charles Turner Tennyson, Frederick Tennyson and Horatio Tennyson
Charles Tennyson (1808-1879)
A writer, like his brother Alfred Tennyson, Charles received a B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1832 and changed his name to Charles Turner Tennyson in 1835 on succeeding to his great uncle’s property. He published sonnets in 1830, 1864, 1868, and 1873.

Frederick Tennyson (1807-1898)
The eldest brother of Alfred Tennyson, Frederick quarreled with their father and in 1835 left for Italy, where he lived for twenty-three years. In Florence he met Robert Browning and became his close friend. After returning to England, he found his brother’s fame hard to accept and thought Emily Tennyson snobbish and overly ambitious.

Horatio Tennyson (1819-1899)
The youngest Tennyson brother seems to have been unworldly. Apart from a failed attempt to be a farmer in Tasmania, he never took up a profession.

Cecelia Tennyson ‘Cecy’ (1859-1918)
Cecelia Tennyson was Alfred Tennyson's niece and one of the five children of Horatio Tennyson. Cecelia and her siblings lost their mother in 1868. Emily Tennyson arranged for the children to rent one of Cameron’s cottages and found them a nurse and governess. Cecelia became Mrs.Pope upon her marriage.

Violet and Maud Tennyson were sisters of Cecelia Tennyson, daughters of Horatio Tennyson and nieces of Alfred Tennyson

Lionel Tennyson (1854-1886)
The second son of Alfred Tennyson, Lionel was a childhood friend of the younger Cameron boys, joined the India Office in 1877, and married Eleanor Locker, daughter of Frederick Locker in Westminster Abbey the following year. He contracted malaria in India and never recovered, dying at sea just a month after his thirty-second birthday.

Julia Margaret Cameron photographs of Lionel Tennyson, age 21 when these photographs were taken in 1875 with Emily Peacock. I have never seen these before! So glad I found them. 

Lastly, Julia Margaret Cameron's photograph of Emily Tennyson's father, Henry Sellwood; grandfather to Hallam and Lionel Tennyson on their mother's side.  I've never seen this before, only a portrait painting of him with a very good likeness!  

Henry Sellwood (1782-1867)
Father of Emily Tennyson. Born in Berkshire, he moved to Horncastle, Lincolnshire, where he worked as an attorney. He was an influential member of the town who also acted as a banker and helped to establish the town’s first National School.

Sadly, I found no photographs of Emily Tennyson and just one of their eldest son, Hallam Tennyson which has been seen before. 


A book review of The Ghost Ship by Kate Mosse

New York Times  bestselling author Kate Mosse returns with  The Ghost Ship , a sweeping historical epic of adventure on the high seas. The B...