Review: Bacon’s Dozen by Anna Castle

This collection of thirteen stories is a must-read for fans of the Francis Bacon mysteries. Some of the short works are mysteries featuring Bacon. Others star major characters from the series, and one features the woman who does his laundry. My favorite series-linked short is All Englishmen Look Alike, not only for the colorful adventure, but for what it reveals that the main characters in the books don’t know. Yet.

The short works not related to the Bacon series are also historical with one exception. They range from the tale of a Mayan beekeeper coping with the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico to a Western caper set in northern New Mexico on Jicarilla Apache land. There’s also a sample Moriarty mystery, a chance to discover Castle’s other historical series. The non-historical exception is Extinction, a mystery with a subtle paranormal touch set in modern Austin TX. The Sneeze is a hybrid of modern Texas and Elizabethan England. If you’ve ever experienced the pollen of the Southwest in early spring, you’ll appreciate this one. Or if you’ve ever gotten lost in your research.

I strongly recommend this collection for an intelligent, original escape from 2020.

 

Books from Four Authors #Free and #99cents

I hope you’re all well and safe and getting through as well as possible in the strange and stressful new normal. Should you need more books to read …

The Calling is still free, Shaman’s Blues is 99 cents, and the other books in the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery series are $2.99 each. No murder, just mystery. Three other authors—Jean Gill, Kristin Gleeson, and Virginia King—are also offering one book free and another for 99 cents. We’re an international group and can take you to other times and many places. Gill writes historical fiction and fantasy; Gleeson’s books are also historical; and King’s books are women’s fiction with a touch of mystery and mythology. Enjoy the escape.

Sending positive energy,

Amber

Laying Ghosts

The First Lie

When an urgent text message from a long-lost friend lures Selkie Moon to a deserted beach house, chilling events from the past wrap her in ghostly fingers and herald a journey of self-discovery that takes her around the world.

 

Selkie Dreams

The Hostage of Glenorchy

 

 

 

Song at Dawn 

Set in 1150 in Provence… On the run from abuse, Estela wakes in a ditch with only her lute, her amazing voice, and a dagger hidden in her underskirt.

Queen of the Warrior Bees

YA eco-fantasy. A current finalist in The Wishing Shelf Awards.

Review: School of Hard Knocks by Theresa Crater

Crater tells hard truths with beautiful language, in voices unique to each of the two narrators: Maggie, a black woman who came of age in the late nineteenth century, and Caroline, a white woman who was a child in the 1950s. The reader is given Maggie’s spoken voice as heard by Caroline in spirit and memory, and Caroline’s written voice, her story told for a very personal audience.

This is not light reading, but there’s no heavy-handed message, either. Just the truth. Without a shred of nostalgic illusion about the Old South or about the fifties, Crater explores the reality of women’s lives in those times. This book travels through history on the inside, from the post-slavery years when its shadow hung heavy on society and the Klan could rampage through the night, to the civil rights years, when it took courage to confront the segregationist norms, and when women’s rights were barely on the horizon. Caroline is speaking of delusions about love when she says, “We still sleepwalked under the sway of romantic myths, even though we were the victims of them.” But this line also speaks to me about the way Americans sometimes cling to romanticized views of the “good old days” and underestimate their legacy.

The unpleasant things in the back of our country’s closet are aired out in this book, but so are the strengths of ordinary people. I never found the story depressing. The darker events the characters endure are woven through with a sustaining breath of love and occasional flashes of humor. Communities and friendships keep the women going when life hits them with the unbearable.

If you’re in a book club, your book club should read this. The discussions will be deep. And despite the serious subject matter, it’s fluid, effortless reading, hard to put down. Some people might class this as “women’s fiction” since it is about women’s experience, but a male audience will find it just as profound with its insights into the traumas some women survive, and the historical context of being an American woman.

An image that stayed with me was Caroline’s fascinated childhood observation of the outfits her mother wore to work—once her mother managed to convince her husband and in-laws that she should be allowed to work: the armor of undergarments, the layer of make-up, and the high-heeled shoes that constituted looking properly feminine. The author doesn’t say anything critical about this, simply describes it through a child’s eyes, but I couldn’t help seeing all this uncomfortable accoutrement as a symbolic little prison a woman carried with her, right next to her skin.

Sales links

Author’s web site

Review: Deadly Occupation: A Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mystery

AdairDeadlyOccupationEBookCoverLarge

A Different Angle on History and Mystery

 I’m a fan of in-depth, accurate history, with a particular interest in the eighteenth century American South, therefore I had high expectations for this book. I’m happy to say it met all of my history buff needs. I didn’t find a single anachronism or inaccuracy—even things I thought had to be wrong turned out to be right. (Did you know that the use of the word “lousy” to describe feeling poorly dates back earlier than the 1780s?) Adair uses her knowledge smoothly, never slowing the story while still effectively setting every scene with the right touches of period detail.

A novel set in North Carolina during the American Revolution with a young British lieutenant as the protagonist gives American readers a new slant on our history. Shortly after British troops occupy Wilmington, Michael Stoddard’s commanding officer asks him to look into the disappearance of a local woman. From that first inquiry, Stoddard begins to trace weapons smuggling and possibly kidnapping and murder. He is not a stereotypical hero. I liked his physical ordinariness, his persistence, and his dedication to his work as a special investigator for the British occupying forces. He’s open-minded for his times, but not so much so as to seem modern. He struck me as too forceful at times, and he misses a few things he should have seen. This mix of flaws and goodness makes him human. He’s not a genius or a saint. He’s a hard-working man in a difficult situation, someone I think most readers will be able to identify with and root for.

The plot is complex and fascinating. The main and supporting characters are fully developed. I especially liked Private Spry, Stoddard’s assistant in the investigations. I also found the romantic subplot realistic and enjoyable. There are a number of strong female characters in this book.

The intertwining mysteries were more than enough to keep me interested. I would have liked the book better without the flashbacks and backstory about Stoddard’s unfinished dealings with a very disturbing fellow officer. I’m a first-class wimp when it comes to reading about that kind of villain, and I’m not fond of long flashbacks, so this material briefly took me out of the story. It looks like it’s a continuing plot thread weaving through the whole series, and I expect other readers may like the idea of an ongoing conflict with a nemesis Stoddard seeks to finally defeat. The book was otherwise a compelling page-turner, and this one shortcoming in my view is due entirely to my personal tastes, not the author’s skill in telling a story. She has mastered that art, and history buffs should get hooked on this series.

Buy links:

Nook http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deadly-occupation-suzanne-adair/1122780410

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1048353039

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/deadly-occupation

Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0988912937

Kindle UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B016FJNWA4

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B016FJNWA4

Author’s blog and web site: http://www.SuzanneAdair.net

Review: Death by Disputation, by Anna Castle

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This second book in the Francis Bacon mystery series is a strong as the first. At times bawdy and rowdy, at times thought-provoking, it centers around outgoing and adventurous Thomas Clarady, student and first-time spy, but the scholarly Bacon plays a key role as Tom’s spymaster. The contrast in their characters and lifestyles gives depth and texture to the story. Castle weaves religious-political intrigue, murder mystery, and Tom’s colorful friendships and love life into a tightly-paced plot. The murder mystery and the spy story mix, and though the latter often takes the upper hand, the author keeps track of all the threads. Christopher Marlowe, who is portrayed with quite a flair, plays a role in both plot lines.

The writing is never pedantic, yet each scene is crafted with well-chosen historical details that gives the reader a full sense of the times—the smells, the sounds, the clothes and furnishings, and the beliefs and customs of Elizabethan England. Some historical novelists feel the need to dump all of their research into a book, smothering the story. Castle knows better. She has such a grasp of the times she can use settings, props and costumes as needed, to reveal and enhance characters and events, but never clutter the story. And speaking of costumes, there is a Shakespearian feel to various layers of disguises employed by some of the characters.

One particular scene I found fascinating and revealing was the Rogation Day event. It illustrates the contrast between the Anglicans and the Puritans and the tensions between them. While the issue of religious fanaticism in politics is serious, and the insights Tom gains into how it feels to be a member of such a zealous community are also serious, there are comic touches such as the conflict between two young ladies of opposing views, and Tom’s delightful response to it. I’m sure my neighbors heard me laugh. The balance between comedy and food for thought is just right—and suited to a story told primarily in Tom’s point of view.

The final chapter, amusingly, shows Tom from Bacon’s point of view, so different from how Tom experiences himself. At first the ending seemed a bit dry as the conclusion of such a vivid and juicy book, but then it struck me a sort of “after the ecstasy, the laundry” realism, as Francis Bacon gets on with getting on in the world.

Note: I recommend reading the series in order, starting with Murder by Misrule.

Sales links to buy from all e-book retailers can be found on

http://www.annacastle.com/francis-bacon-series/death-by-disputation

 

More Historical Mystery: Guest Post from Carmen Stevens

Stevensanne

Amber Foxx: Since I’ve been in historical mystery mode, I asked Carmen Stevens to share some background on how she came to write her novel, Anne.

Carmen Stevens: I published my debut novel, Anne, in July of 2013. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and as I grew up, I wrote novellas and short, autobiographical stories. But I felt like I needed to write a substantial novel like Anne. With its themes of love, life, finding happiness, and treating everyone with respect, it is my hope that everyone who reads this book will learn something from it. I like to think that my protagonist, Anne, possesses traits that stem from my own dark side.

Let’s go back in time to the slums of eighteenth century London, England. Filth and disease were prevalent, as were rats and other disgusting creatures. Epidemics of illnesses such as cholera, which resulted from consuming contaminated water, were a common happenstance. Needless to say, such horrid areas in large cities like London in those days certainly weren’t the happiest. But let’s take a look at the psychological makeup of one of the many orphaned children who lived in those slums.

Anne’s life was cursed from the moment she was born. Her fragile mother died giving birth to her, and because of this, her father’s mind snapped. He became an alcoholic, hated his daughter, and abused her. Often Anne ran away from home in order to. Had she not, when she reached twelve years of age, she would have perished along with her father in the fire that he set for himself within their home. After that, Anne became truly homeless, and had to endure living on the worst side of London, begging for food, sipping the filthy water, and learning to do nothing more than to take care of herself. Is it no wonder, then, that her personality becomes rough, self-centered, and narcissistic as she struggles to survive? Anne looks out for no one but herself, yet she dreams of attaining a much happier, better life, no matter the cost.

Reviews: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18245315-anne

Sales link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/372253

Blog: http://bubblymissy16.wordpress.com

Genres: historical fiction, suspense, mystery, thriller, romance, young adult, new adult, women’s fiction, literary fiction, tragedy

Review: Murder by Misrule, by Anna Castle

History, Mystery, and Mastery of Both

 CastleMurderbyMisruleElizabethan England comes to life in this colorful, tightly plotted murder mystery. It follows the classic conventions of the genre creatively. When the plot takes a surprise turn—it’s a big surprise. The characters are three-dimensional and original. The middle-class working women give depth to what could have been told as a man’s story and still worked well enough. The young lawyers-in-training are complex, lively characters, and their tutor Francis Bacon is the perfect historical personage to cast as a detective, with his knowledge of law, his scientific thinking, and his strong, somewhat quirky personality. It was fascinating to meet the great thinker at twenty-five years of age, early in his career.

Anna Castle did her research. Her dialog feels true to the times without being stilted or archaic. She portrays the clothing, the social customs, the law, law school and the manners of the queen’s court, as well as the details of life for the working people, without being pedantic, integrating the details into active, suspenseful scenes. I double-checked the one thing I thought might be an anachronism—a song—and found that it actually is that old. I should have trusted her. An author this good wouldn’t mess up a little thing like that. From the brightest and wittiest scenes to the darkest, every page rings true. The dances and the masque and the scenery were wonderful. The scenes in Newgate prison were grimly accurate. If you’ve ever doubted that an indie book could be as polished as a traditionally published work, give Murder by Misrule a try. I think it could change your mind.