My Review – A Lady In Disguise +GIVEAWAY!

My Review - A Lady In Disguise

Today’s review comes with a bonus GIVEAWAY! So be sure to read to the bottom and enter to win!

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In this intriguing novel of romance, mystery, and clever disguise set in Victorian England, a young woman investigates the murder of her own father.

After the mysterious death of her father, Miss Gillian Young takes a new job as the principal costume designer at the renowned Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. But while she remembers her father as a kind, well-respected man of the Police Force, clues she uncovers indicate he’d been living a double life: a haunting photograph of a young woman; train stubs for secret trips just before his death; and a receipt for a large sum of money. Are these items evidence of her father’s guilty secrets? His longtime police partner thinks so.

Then Gillian meets the dashing Viscount Thomas Lockwood. Their attraction is instant and inescapable. As their romantic involvement grows, Gillian begins to suspect even Lockwood’s motives. Does Lord Lockwood truly love her? Or is his interest a front for the desire to own her newly inherited property? And what should she make of her friend’s suggestion that Lockwood or men like him were involved in the murder of her father?

Soon Gillian is convinced that her father has left evidence somewhere that can prove his innocence and reveal the guilty party. But someone wants to stop her from discovering it. The closer she comes to uncovering it, the more menacing her opposition grows. With her life on the line, Gillian takes on an ingenious disguise and takes on the role of a lifetime to reveal the true killer—before it’s too late both for her and for those that she loves.

Why This Book:

It is far too easy to allow oneself to become stuck in a reading rut, so I make it a point to read outside of my genre on occasion. Granted, A Lady In Disguise is not too far outside my genre – it is still historical fiction – but it is definitely beyond my usual choice in novels due to its heavy emphasis on the mystery portion of the plot, leaving the romance as a secondary part of the story.

Additionally, Sandra Byrd was not an author I had read in recent years and I had never read one of her historical novels, so when I saw the opportunity to be part of a group who would have the privilege of reading the book prior to its release, I applied and was accepted. I did receive a free copy of this book, but was under no obligation to review it favorably. As always, the review below is entirely my own and an honest opinion of the novel I read.

Opening Line:

“I stood, that bleak day, in the graveyard in the village near Winton Park. The chapel’s stone gargoyles, pitted and blinded by the elements, nonetheless mocked our mortality with their jeering grins.”

First Impressions:

I think I was tired when I started this book, because despite the well-done first line it failed to intrigue me. The other explanation might be that the romantic interest is only briefly (and unconvincingly) hinted at in the first chapter and then not seen or really even mentioned again until chapter seven. So perhaps the romantic in me was feeling a bit impatient. Either way, the first few chapters, though beautifully written and filled with a mystery which engaged my curiosity, failed to engage my emotions.

Additionally, the first few chapters left me a bit frustrated by the lack of clarity regarding Mrs. W’s role in Gillian’s life. However, this was clarified in later chapters.

Characters:

Miss Gillian Young – The heroine. She is a self-confident, brave young woman determined to not only provide for herself, but also for those close to her as well as for those in need. Her sense of reason and caution are strong enough to make her a believable character in this story without making her bolder choices outside the realm of plausibility.

Inspector Young – Miss Gillian’s father is deceased prior to the start of the novel, yet he remains a character through Miss Gillian’s memories; and certainly, the mystery surrounding his actions prior to his death are what drive most of the plot forward.

Mrs. W. – Though no title is given, that I recall, Mrs. W. is clearly a long-time employee of the family. Not quite a servant, but paid nonetheless, Mrs. W. has difficulty accepting Gillian’s transition from child to adult.

Viscount Thomas Lockwood – Neighbor to Miss Young’s newly inherited country estate, he is apparently eager to be of assistance to Miss Young, though his motivations are unclear throughout most of the novel.

Sergeant Roberts – The young policeman who’d been training with Inspector Young prior to his mysterious death, now claims to be investigating his mentor’s actions.

Inspector Collingsworth – A long-time colleague of Inspector Young and friend of the family, he is seemingly the head of the Chelsea Police Division.

Francis Collingsworth – Inspector Collingsworth’s son, he is following in his father’s footsteps as a police officer. He is a childhood friend of Gillian with hopes of becoming more. (As they were most frequently – and appropriately – referred to by their last names, I had trouble keeping Francis separate from his father until I noted that he was a constable while his father was an inspector.)

Mr. Wilhelm – Miss Young’s employer at the Drury Lane Theater in London.

I did not wish to sound tediously repetitious. Otherwise, I could have added to literally every character listed (minus the heroine, of course): “his/her motivations are unclear throughout most of the novel.” For it seems that at one point or another each of the characters, outside of Miss Gillian Young herself, did or said something which might warrant suspicion.

There are additional important characters, but to mention them here would give away certain surprises, so I will end my list here.

A Lady In Disguise - Quote Photo

Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:

As I mentioned, the first few chapters did not engage my emotions, although they did engage my curiosity. However, the book felt a bit like a snowball rolling downhill. The momentum gradually, but continuously built until it was at such a pace I could not make myself put the book down.

Elements I especially liked/disliked:

I enjoyed reading about life from the perspective of a primarily middle-class woman who had connections to nearly every level of the various classes in London 1883. I particularly enjoyed the glimpses into the lives of the pantomimes of the time. As a special bonus, there is an author’s note at the back of the book which shares some of the relative bits of history upon which the book is based, which I found fascinating.

I also enjoyed this references to Little Women sprinkled throughout the book.

Themes:

The primary themes are that no one is perfect, reputations are fragile, relationships are key to survival, and trust must be earned. Yet none of these themes are presented quite so clearly in the novel, which plays with these ideas in a way which causes you consider both sides of every story.

Ending:

Perhaps others saw the answers before I, but I will admit that this mystery kept me guessing until the very end. While the essence of the ending did not surprise me, how the author got us to it, did. Yet when it all concluded, everything made sense and fit together perfectly, as any well-written mystery should. I will also add for my fellow romance lovers, that in the end, I was quite satisfied with the conclusion of the romance portion of this novel.

Overall Rating:

3.75 out of 5 stars

(Although bigger mystery fans may rate it higher, this is a reflection of my own enjoyment of the novel.)

One last note:

While this is Book 3 in the Daughters of Hampshire series, I have not read either of the prior two and did not feel this impacted my enjoyment or understanding of this novel in any way. Therefore, I will say this book is clearly able to be read as a stand alone. The other two books in the series are:

Bride of a Distant IsleMist of Midnight

Have you read any of Sandra’s books? Are you a big mystery fan?

TWEETABLES:

“The momentum continuously built until I could not make myself put the book down.” 

Looking for a great mystery? Check out @KathleenDenly’s review of this historical fiction by @SandraByrd

Psst! Feel free to borrow any of the photos in this post for sharing on social media and remember to tag me @KathleenDenly !

A Lady In Disguise - Giveaway Image

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The short version

  1. Share this post on FB/Twitter & tag me!
  2. Comment with Twitter/FB account & favorite historical fiction novel.
  3. Follow the rules.
  4. Check back on Monday, March 27th to see who wins!

The long version

GIVEAWAY Instructions:

Okay, for those of you who enjoy a strong historical mystery with a little romance to sweeten the deal, here’s your chance to win a FREE copy of this book! I’m giving away my advance copy of A Lady In Disguise to one lucky reader! All you have to do to enter is:

  1. Share this post on either Twitter or Facebook and tag me in it using @KathleenDenly! (I’ve made it SUPER easy with those Tweetables above & the FB share button below.)
  2. THEN leave a comment on this post with the title of your favorite historical fiction novel and the Twitter/Facebook account you used to share this post. For example:  If I entered using my Twitter account, I would comment with, “Hey Kathleen! You write the best book reviews on the planet! My favorite historical fiction novel is ___. I shared this post on Twitter via @KathleenDenly“… or you know, something like that 😉

The Rules:

You MUST complete BOTH steps to enter. Only one entry per person is allowed. If you forget to add your Twitter/FB info in your original comment, just reply to your own comment and both your reply and original comment will count as one combined entry. All entries must be complete by midnight on Sunday, March 26th. Winner will be announced on http://www.KathleenDenly.com and contacted directly within 24 hours via the social media account (Twitter/Facebook) they used to share this post. Winner must email their shipping address to writeKathleenDenly@gmail.com within 48 hours, otherwise an alternate winner will be chosen. Unfortunately, due to the cost of international shipping, I must limit this contest to U.S. Residents ONLY. Void where prohibited.

How it works:

I will assign a number to each person who enters.  I will then enter those numbers into Random.org‘s Random Sequence Generator. Whichever number comes up at the top of the list will be the winner. I will then verify that that person has completed both steps and has not made multiple (rule-breaking) entries. If they have not completed both steps or have made multiple entries, they will be disqualified and the process will be repeated until a valid winner is found.

Remember: Check back March 27th to see who won! Or just subscribe to receive my blog updates by email and have the announcement delivered to your inbox! 

My Review – The Scarlet Coat

My Review - The Scarlet Coat

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Surrounded by the musket fire of the American Revolution, Rachel Garnet prays for her family to be safe. When the British invade the Mohawk Valley and her father and brother don’t return from the battle, she goes in pursuit of them. She finds her brother alive but her father has been killed at the hand of the enemy. Amidst the death, how can she ignore a cry for help? Rachel reluctantly takes in a badly wounded British officer. But how long can her sense of Christian duty repress her hatred for his scarlet coat?

Passages of Scripture and fleeting images of society are all Andrew Wyndham recalls after he awakens to the log walls of his gentle prison. Even his name eludes him. Rachel Garnet insists he is a captain in the British army. He mourns the loss of his memory, but how can he hope to remember war when his “enemy” is capturing his heart?

Andrew’s injuries are severe, his memory slow to return, and the secret of his existence too perilous to ignore. As Rachel nurses him back to health, his hidden scarlet coat threatens to expose the deeds of her merciful heart, and Andrew is forced to face a harrowing decision—Stay hidden and risk losing the woman he loves or turn himself in and risk losing his life.

Why This Book:

Last month I won a copy of this book over at Mary Manners & Friends. (Thank you, Mary & Angela!) There was no obligation to provide a review at all, but I was hooked from the first line and after reading the first chapter, I knew I had to share this book.

Opening Line:

“The last rays of sun faded into twilight, and the wind whispered through the trees, as if warning Rachel to turn back.”

First Impressions:

The entire first chapter of this book was compelling. Who am I kidding? The whole book was compelling! Reading the first chapter, though, I felt like a fish on a line being reeled in. And it just kept going. I did not want to put this book down.

Characters:

Rachel Garnet – This heroine has a quiet strength and realistic internal struggles which make her a pleasure to read about.

Joseph Garnet – Rachel’s brother isn’t just an ancillary character. He has depth and undergoes an emotional journey of his own.

Andrew Wyndham – The soldier spared from a slow, agonizing death by Rachel’s unexpected compassion has an interesting backstory which is revealed in pieces as he recovers. I dare not say more lest I reveal too much.

Daniel Reid – A neighbor and family friend whose loyalty is put to the test.

Fannie Reid – A neighbor and family friend just coming into womanhood and the interests that come with it.

Rodney Cowden – The neighbor most vocal about his hatred of the British.

Each of these characters are well-developed, as revealed by the believable choices they make in the circumstances that face them throughout the book.

The Scarlet Coat - Quote Image

Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:

This story drew me in. I could clearly picture the world of these characters and I cared deeply about the choices they were making. The pacing was not so intense that I wanted to skim paragraphs in an eagerness to reach the next event, but it definitely kept me reading page after page. There were twists in the story which I did not see coming and that is always a great comment to be able to make about a book.

Elements I especially liked/disliked:

This book felt like a journey back in time. Instead of viewing the Revolutionary War from the distant, almost omniscient and impersonal perspective we were taught in school, this story takes us into the home and personal lives of just one family. We get a sense of what it might have been like to live through that time of war and be called upon at any moment to take up arms and fight. To know what it was like to kiss your loved ones goodbye, never knowing if they would return home alive or be carted home as a corpse in a wagon.

Themes:

The primary themes are compassion, forgiveness, loyalty, and the ethics of war from a biblical perspective.

Ending:

Just when you think it’s all over, there’s a twist. Rachel and Andrew are certainly sent through the wringer, but the ending the author creates is all the better for it. The Scarlet Coat provides a thoroughly satisfying conclusion, but I must admit I am eagerly anticipating the release of the second book in this series:

the patriot and the loyalist cover image

 The Patriot and The Loyalist, coming April 7, 2017.

(not an affiliate link)

Overall Rating:

5 out of 5 stars

Have you read any of Angela’s books? What do you think?

TWEETABLES:

“Just when you think it’s all over, there’s a twist.” Click to Tweet!

“Reading the first chapter, I felt like a fish on a line being reeled in. And it just kept going.” Click to Tweet!

Psst! Feel free to borrow any of the photos in this post for sharing on social media and remember to tag me @KathleenDenly !

My Review – The Thorn Healer

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Jessica Ross’ scars run much deeper than the wounds of war. Determined to escape the ghosts of her past and the German influence on her nightmares, she returns home to the sleepy Appalachian town of Hot Springs, NC, only to find the renowned Mountain Park Hotel has been converted into a ‘prison’ for displaced Germans. To Jessica’s dismay, her grandparents have befriended one of the treacherous internees.

August Reinhold has not only found kinship with Jessica’s grandparents but as they share their granddaughter’s letters from the Front, he discovers a surprising bond drawing him toward the independent and beautiful woman. Displaced by a war and a painful history, he finds Hot Springs and the intriguing Jessica Ross a tempting place to start over. Determined to scale the heights of her bitterness and show her the power of love, August faces more than just Jessica’s resistance but a more devious design to harm the civilian sailors housed in Hot Springs.

Will August’s tender pursuit bring Jessica the healing and hope she needs, or will bitterness force her into the hands of a “true” enemy waiting to destroy much more than her heart?

Why This Book:

Well, if you have read either of my reviews for the first two books in this series, you’ll know exactly why I wanted to read and review The Thorn Healer, the third installment in the Penned in Time series by the talented Pepper D. Basham.

Opening Line:

Wounded soldiers returned from war as heroes. Wounded nurses returned as old maids.

First Impressions:

I’ll be honest. While I love the opening line, the beginning of this book didn’t wow me nearly as much as the openings for the first two books did. I just didn’t feel hooked by the first chapter. That’s not to say the writing was dull by any means. It simply didn’t invoke the compulsion to turn pages which I have come to expect from a Pepper Basham novel.

Nevertheless, I kept reading because 1) the story truly was an interesting one and 2) I knew Pepper wouldn’t let me down. Sure enough, by the fifth chapter I was having trouble making myself put the book down to sleep at night.book-quotes-thorn-healer-empty-hand

Characters:

Jessica Ross has been a star on the sidelines in each of the first two books and it is wonderful to see her take center stage in this book. She is, of course, a well-rounded and compelling character who truly engages your heart as she struggles to overcome the wounds, both physical and emotional, which have followed her home from the war.

August Reinhold is a character new to the series. He is German and an internee in a camp in Jessica’s hometown nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains. How he handles the challenges he faces as a German stuck in America during the first World War can’t help but endear him to the reader and you find yourself rooting for him.

Additional characters include:

Dr. and Mrs. Carter – Jessica’s grandparents

Cliff Carter – Jessica’s cousin and a guard at the camp

Eliza Larson – war widow, mother of 7-year-old Jude Larson, & pregnant

Jasper Little – a wounded newcomer who arrives in town with anger to spare

As well as several other townspeople who all add to the story in their own way. Including some important characters which I won’t name here or it would give away surprises. No one character blends into another. They each stand out as unique and authentic.

For those of you who have enjoyed the previous two books in the Penned In Time series, you’ll be pleased to know that some of the characters from those books make an appearance in this one and you do get updates on their lives.book-quotes-thorn-healer-steadfast

Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:

Once this story got ahold of your heart, it didn’t let go. It made me laugh out loud, audibly gasp, and even cry. Real. Tears. I can’t remember the last time I actually cried over a book. Choked up? Sure. But I don’t remember actually crying. This book made me cry. I had to wipe my face because my tears were going to drip on my Kindle. And I loved it! I was crying because I was so wrapped up in what the characters were going through. It was so real.

Elements I especially liked/disliked:

This book had several elements which served as an introduction to the unique culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains during the first World War. I enjoyed feeling like a visitor with a backstage pass in the small, remote town of Hot Springs. The elements of history introduced by the author, whether Blue Ridge, World War, or medically related,  all felt very well researched and authentic.

The elements of history introduced by the author, whether Blue Ridge, World War, or medically related,  all felt very well researched and authentic.

Themes:

The primary themes are prejudice, forgiveness, and the cost of hate.

book-quotes-thorn-healer-thoughts-write-lettersEnding (mild spoiler):

If the idea that this book made me cry has you worried, do not fear. This book has the happy ending requisite of its genre. And it is perfect. I am completely satisfied with how the book ended. And yeah. I closed the book with a smile on my face.

Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 stars

Have you read any of Pepper’s books? What do you think?

TWEETABLES:

Once this story got ahold of your heart, it didn’t let go.#bookreview – Click to Tweet!

Check out this #bookreview of The Thorn Healer! – Click to Tweet!

Psst! Feel free to borrow any of the photos in this post for sharing on social media and remember to tag me @KathleenDenly !

Davis-Horton House Part 1

Davis-Horton House

Have you ever read a story so enthralling you wanted to step into the world of the characters? Perhaps you’ve imagined visiting Anne Shirley’s attic bedroom at Green Gables, munching your way through Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, or wandering the forests of Narnia. For history buffs, visiting a genuine historical site is a bit like that.

In the course of doing research for my manuscript, Waltz With Me, I came across the names William Heath Davis and Alonzo E. Horton numerous times. After a while, it almost seemed as though I knew them. So when I had the opportunity to stop by the Davis-Horton House in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego’s Downtown, how could I pass it up?

Davis-Horton House Antique Crock Pot
The slow cooker in the kitchen is about the size of a small coffee table. Suddenly my 7 quart crock pot seems puny.

Davis was the first visionary to take steps toward creating what would eventually become Downtown San Diego.  After purchasing property southwest of what we now know as “Old Town” San Diego, Davis ordered pre-fabricated houses from Maine and set them up in his “New Town.” For reasons beyond Davis’ control, New Town was not a success and became known as “Davis’ Folly.”

Davis-Horton House Bathroom sink
Hygiene awareness increased in the 1860s after the typhoid death of Prince Albert in England, changing the look of bathrooms around the world. Among other changes, plumbing was purposely exposed for easy cleaning. Despite its fairly modern appearance, this sink dates to 1892.

Already the father of a town in Wisconsin, Horton came to San Diego to succeed where Davis had failed, and succeed he did. He began his town just south of where Davis had begun (where we now have the Gaslamp Quarter) and purchased 960 acres of land. He also purchased half-interest in, and lived in, the Davis-Horton House with his wife, Sarah.

Davis-Horton House Victrolla
The sign behind this beautiful Victrola reads “Davis House Oldest House In New San Diego Built By William Heath Davis in 1850.” See the blue curtain to the left? It’s hiding a secret room discovered after George Deyo passed away. Inside they found a working whiskey still and $5000 in gold!

In 1873 the house was purchased by Anna Scheper and moved a few blocks to its present location where it became the County Hospital. Anna Scheper earned $1.00 per patient per day.

Davis-Horton House Hospital Room
This room represents the County Hospital era of the house, depicting a pre-1900 hospital room. Rather homier than the hospital rooms we have today, isn’t it?

In the 1890s it became a boarding house. The owners of the boarding house adopted a 6 year old boy named George Deyo who, as an adult, began the efforts to preserve the house. This is one of my favorite parts of this house’s story.

You never know how a single choice may shape the future. Tweet this!

As an added bonus there is a traditional museum in the basement of the house, complete with a costume area where they encourage you to dress up and take selfies.

Davis-Horton House Playing Dress Up 1
What do you think? Would I pass? 😉
Davis-Horton House Playing Dress Up 2
Fresh face? Check. Long hair? Umm…. 😛

If you happen to be in the San Diego area, I highly recommend stopping in to visit the Davis-Horton House. As you can see, it’s loads of fun! 🙂 And don’t forget to tag me @KathleenDenly if you take any selfies so we can laugh together!

Pssst! Insider’s tip:  If you have a QR code reader on your phone, be sure to stop by the dog statues in the courtyard outside the house. They’ll talk to you!