Spotlight on: The Fey and the Factory Girl by Nadine Galinsky Feldman

 Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Giveaway

Enter to win a paperback copy of The Factory Girl and the Fey by Nadine Galinsky Feldman! The giveaway is open to US addresses only and ends on October 28th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Pages: 360

Publisher: Self

Publication date: October 14, 2021

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

19th century Scottish Fantasy

From the publisher: Jane Thorburn straddles two worlds: her life as a “factory girl” in Scotland’s mills, and her birthright as fairy royalty. Abandoned by her parents as an infant, and uncertain about the true motives of the Fey, she learns to depend only on herself. All she wants is to be a great weaver and to maintain her independence.

The Fair Folk, fighting for their very survival, have other plans for her, as does the handsome and charismatic Robert Stein. What life will she choose? And will she even have a choice?

A historical fantasy inspired by the author’s ancestors, The Factory Girl and the Fey is an affectionate tribute to the women who helped fuel Scotland’s Industrial Age, from the workers to the poets…and to the Fey who remind us that magic is real when we believe in it.

Excerpt

Beitris continued to heat the poker. In the calm voice of one who spent many, many years calming nervous young mothers, she said, “This is nae yer bairn. This is a changeling. Whit ye’ll see will look strange, cruel even, but you must trust me. Set it in the cradle noo.” 

Still doubtful, Elizabeth placed the changeling in Jane’s cradle with the same care she would have given her own child. Stepping back to give the old howdiewife room was one of the hardest things she’d ever done. 

Beitris grabbed the now-hot poker in both hands, wielding it like a sword between her weathered arms as she moved toward the cradle.

“Dinna hurt her!” Elizabeth cried. 

Ellen grabbed hold of Elizabeth. “This isnae Jane, remember. Beitris will bring the real Jane back.” 

As she held on to Elizabeth, Ellen squeezed her eyes shut in anticipation of disaster. This was all her fault. She had caused this to happen, back on the day of the baptism. Until now she had managed to shut away the memories, but now they rushed forward to taunt her. 

That day dawned bright with sun and promise. Ellen arrived early to help. They dressed wee Jane in a white lace gown that had once been Elizabeth’s. Jane, tiny as a doll, swam in the dress, her head nearly disappearing amidst the layers of fabric. Ellen wished for more time to alter it, as Elizabeth was too fatigued and sad to do it herself. This would have to do, though. The town would likely gossip about the child’s ill-fitting gown, but that mattered less than giving her God’s protection as soon as possible.

Tradition called for someone to offer a gift of bread and cheese to the first person she met on the path to the church. Ellen volunteered, honored to play a role in this special ritual. Carrying Jane in one arm, light as a cloud, and the basket with the food offerings in the other, Ellen headed toward the kirk, with Elizabeth and Robert to follow a few minutes later. 

Ellen didn’t have to wait long before an old man, listing to the right and hunched over a too-short walking stick, ambled toward her. His clothes were rumpled and torn, and they hung on his gaunt frame. Poor man, she thought. Apoplexy had robbed him of his dignity. As she neared him, his face twisted in a grimace. Perhaps the news of a new, precious babe would help to cheer him.

Holding the basket out toward him she said, “Good sir, we offer ye a gift from this new bairn.” 

He stopped without speaking, looked at her, then at the baby, his face twisting even further into a sneer. “Pah!” He spat on the ground and walked away, leaving her standing with the basket still outstretched. Jane started to whimper and squirm. 

“Sir?” Ellen pleaded to his back. “Please, sir, dinna curse the bairn this way.” 

Yet he kept moving, ignoring her completely.  

“Whit shall we do?” she asked Jane, her knees shaking from the encounter. Jane responded only with sleepy sucking sounds. “Well, I see ye dinna want tae help me. I’ll have tae fix this myself.”  

Normally the streets bustled with activity as townspeople prepared for morning service, but today they were oddly empty. Ellen continued to murmur loving words to Jane as they walked, praying for someone else to cross their path. She walked to within a block of the kirk when a young couple appeared. The woman, not more than eighteen, was ripe with her own child. 

Ellen nearly dropped to her knees in gratitude and relief. Holding out the food offering with trembling hands, she said, “Good folks, this is a gift from a new bairn that we offer ye.” She hoped she didn’t look too desperate.

“Aye, of course,” the young woman said, patting her own belly. “May I see the lass?”

Ellen held Jane up and the woman drew in a sharp breath, her eyes alight with the sight of the young beauty. Her mouth twisted and turned, not in bitterness, but rather in protection. To express a child’s beauty aloud would invite evil influences.

“Thank ye,” the woman said. “We would be honored.” 

Her husband, who stood next to his wife, silent until now, accepted the basket of food, then tipped his hat and bowed to Jane. “Welcome tae the world, lass,” he said. Then the young couple continued on their way.

The baptism occurred as planned, and Ellen breathed easier, telling herself that no harm would come from tucking away the unfortunate details of the first encounter. Surely the goodwill of the young couple would render the old man’s bitterness moot and bring good fortune to the child. They would put the incident behind them, and no one needed to know. 

Yet the scene unfolding in front of Ellen in the tiny flat, with a new mother numb with fright and a howdiewife wielding a hot poker, was no mere bad dream. She moved her mouth in prayer, begging for forgiveness and hoping Beitris could bring Jane back home. Then she remembered her children were present, stunned silent but wide-eyed and open-mouthed. “Go back tae the flat,” she said. “We will protect wee Jane.”

About the Author

Nadine Galinsky Feldman is an author of women’s and historical fiction. Her novel What She Knew was a finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book awards. The Foreign Language of Friends was a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Chick Lit category. It was also named a Gold Medal Winner, Women’s Issues, in the 2011 eLit Book Awards.

As an editor, Nadine produced Patchwork and Ornament: A Woman’s Journey of Life, Love, and Art by Jeanette Feldman, which won the 2010 Indie Excellence Award for Best Memoir.

Her first book, When a Grandchild Dies: What to Do, What to Say, How to Cope, provided grief support to an underserved population.

When not working on her many writing projects, Nadine loves traveling, gardening, genealogy, and yoga. She lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York state.


AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | INDIEBOUND

Nurses, spies, romance, and the Sinai and Palestine campaign

Windswept by Annabelle McCormack

 Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

r/suggestmeabook: I want a romance between an endearingly plucky nurse and a man who could ruin her set in Palestine and Egypt during WWI.

Movie rating: R

Pages: 440

Publisher: Self

Series: Windswept Saga

ARC provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

WWI British Middle East Romance

From the publisher: May, 1917. Ginger Whitman left a life of wealth and privilege in England to train as a battlefield nurse and serve in the Great War. Working on the brutal frontlines in Palestine, she finds a wounded soldier hiding in her camp. The soldier claims to carry intelligence unmasking a secret plot against the British—and that traitors within British intelligence are searching for him. Desperate and dying, the soldier entrusts a coded message to her care.

Giveaway

Enter to win a paperback copy of Windswept by Annabelle McCormack! The giveaway is open to US addresses only and ends on October 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.


This action-packed romance set among British troops in Palestine and Egypt is a ripping tale. The well-bred lady becoming a nurse is fairly common, but Ginger’s ambition to be a doctor, the Middle Eastern setting, and the addition of the spy world makes this anything but a run-of-the-mill WWI romance.

Rules for good reasons. Rules that, when broken, incurred a father’s wrath for dismissing a wealthy “well-matched” marriage proposal in favor of a doctor who couldn’t help bolster her family’s estate. Rules that stopped her from entertaining thoughts of the London School of Medicine for Women in favor of a much more “sensible” nursing education.

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

The characters are vivid and likable or hate-able (shouldn’t that be a word?) as applies. My only quibble is that the heroine, Ginger Whitman, despite both being described as and demonstrating intelligence and independence, manages to not figure out whom to distrust for a good portion of the book, even though it’s obvious to the reader about 15% into the story. Usually that uncharacteristic obliviousness drives me nuts, but Ginger is charming enough that it didn’t bother me as much.

Death made equals of cowards and heroes, friend or foe.

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

Ginger’s inability to see what is evident to readers is explained, to some extent, by the facts of her upbringing: privileged, denied any opportunity to assert herself until the war gave her the option of nursing, and conditioned to put The Family over all. She’s often unnecessarily consumed by guilt, but that’s really not uncommon for women raised in a role of subservience (or anyone in a patriarchy).

The bleak horror of her work had numbed her to the idea of a merciful God. Why would he listen to prayers for the mundane and ignore the cries of humanity slaughtering itself?

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

As for the looming British Mandate (1918-1948) issues, Annabelle McCormack lets the facts stand without the patriotic protagonists doing much but some questions and a sense of duty to country. After all, the conflict was a result of the Ottoman Empire’s actions, right? However, McCormack does hint at the trouble in the future as the mentioned, but not actually in the book, T.E. Lawrence is making promises to the Arabs he’s courting while the British are simultaneously making the same kinds of promises to the Zionists. (I’m slightly disappointed Gertrude Bell earned no mention, though.) It’s hard to ignore, though, as a person of our era, well aware of the bloodshed that the former colonial power wreaked on the region.

The leadership in London had never dressed wounds or held soldiers’ hands as they wept over lost limbs.

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

However, in the context of the book, there appear to be no alternatives to those living in those times, which is a reasonable position. Even now it’s hard to come up with a solution for resisting the Germans in the Middle East during WWI without using the local interests to British advantage. It’s tempting to say that the powers that be should have done something different, as it should have been clear from the beginning that going back on promises would probably create longterm animosity, but it’s difficult to predict how different choices during WWI would have lead to better outcomes for more people. The rule of unintended consequences is a bitch.

[P]eople who feel betrayed and mistreated have a tendency to act irrationally.

Annabelle McCormack, Windswept

Windswept’s blooming romance in the midst of machinations of so many parties is a great read with characters you’ll love and hate well.


AMAZON | APPLE | BARNES AND NOBLE | BOOKS2READ | KOBO

To investigate, or not to investigate?

Death on the Lake by Jo Allen

 Rachel’s Random Resources Book Tours

r/suggestmeabook: I want to watch how detectives balance competing cases as well as their personal/work lives in the context of a well-crafted mystery.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 392

Publisher: Self

Series: DCI Satterthwaite Mysteries

ARC provided by Rachel’s Random Resources

Contemporary traditional mystery

From the publisher: When a young woman, Summer Raine, is found drowned, apparently accidentally, after an afternoon spent drinking on a boat on Ullswater, DCI Jude Satterthwaite is deeply concerned — more so when his boss refuses to let him investigate the matter any further to avoid compromising a fraud case.

This is the sixth of Jo Allen’s DCI Satterthwaite Mysteries, and the second I’ve read, and she does not disappoint—this one is just as good as the last one I reviewed, Death at Rainbow Cottage. Allen has a talent for keeping you guessing, and, just like last time, I was constantly sure I had the riddle solved and then realized, nope, I hadn’t. In this case, there was one key fact that wasn’t disclosed that would have made the difference, but I’m okay with that, as that disclosure also would have made the whole thing rather obvious (or at least it seems that way to me in retrospect).

Shared secrets allowed you to love someone for what they were, just as confession cleared your conscience.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

I particularly enjoyed that Allen talked about the use of resources in this book, something I don’t know I’ve ever seen before. My retired cop husband’s constant bitch about TV shows involving police investigation (and one of many, many reasons we don’t watch them) is that they act like the full resources of the police are available for every case, and that every department has all of the latest scientific testing available. So having the prickly Detective Superintendent Faye Scanlon set some very difficult parameters for DCI Jude Satterthwaite’s investigation of Summer Raine’s death was quite rewarding.

Thirty-six years of insatiable curiosity had matured into a store of rock-solid local knowledge.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

I also really like the way Allen is investigating the romantic relationships of the recurring characters. Ashleigh and Jude are so much more honest about their relationship than most people are, and both understand how much a career in law enforcement complicates everything, particularly in a situation like theirs, where overtime is expected and required.

But he knew and she knew he knew, and the resulting tension was always there between them.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

Another lovely feature was grappling with the relative importance of various crimes. Police officers have a great deal of discretion, so when is it appropriate to bust someone for marijuana and when should you let it go? Which is worse, murder or money-laundering/fraud? Satterthwaite comes down firmly on the side that murder is worse, but money-laundering/fraud can, depending on the particular scam, ruin far more lives than a single murder, so which really is more important to stop? (If you’ve read anything on recidivism, you’ll know that most studies show that murderers tend to have a lower recidivism rate; my old criminal law prof joked it was because “you only have one mother-in-law.”)

There must have been a reason why everyone disliked him, but for all that he was her family.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

And then there are the characters who are around (presumably) for just this installment. The family at the center of the murder, fraud, and money-laundering questions, the Neilsons, are fascinating: a young wife trying to help raise privileged-as-hell twins of 18 with an oft-absent wealthy husband who came from the area and made his fortune after leaving. There are so many levels to explore in this family, and Allen does a good job of covering the waterfront.

It was rare she coveted anything, but the Neilsons’ summer mansion brought out the worst in her.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

And then there’s the setting. More so than the last book, the Lake District’s geography comes into play in this novel. I took some time to look at some of the landmarks Allen discusses in the book, and the difficulties the lay of the land create for observation and security become quite obvious.

Because fear, like loyalty and friendship, made you do terrible, terrible things.

Jo Allen, Death on the Lake

All-in-all, Death on the Lake is a triumphant installment of this engaging murder mystery series, marked both for the clever puzzle and the layers of depth in its treatment of the crimes and characters.


Spotlight: The Walls of Rome by Robert M. Kidd

Rachel’s Random Resources

Giveaway, Summary, and Author Bio

Pages: 322

Publisher: Self-published

Series: The Histories of Sphax

ARC provided by Rachel’s Random Resources

Second Punic War

Giveaway to win a signed and dedicated copy of A Hostage of Rome (Book 3).

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

From the publisher

218 BC. Sphax is seventeen and haunted by the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of Rome. After ten years of miserable slavery he will make his last bid for freedom and go in search of Hannibal’s army and his birthright. He will have his revenge on the stinking cesspit that is Rome!

Destiny will see him taken under the wing of Maharbal, Hannibal’s brilliant general, and groomed to lead the finest horsemen in the world – the feared Numidian cavalry that would become the scourge of Rome.

From the crossing of the great Rhodanus River, Sphax’s epic journey takes him through the lands of the Gaul to the highest pass in the Alps. This is the story of the most famous march in history. A march against impossible odds, against savage mountain Gauls, a brutal winter and Sphax’s own demons. 

This is more than a struggle for empire. This is the last great war to save the beauty of the old world, the civilized world of Carthage, Greece and Gaul. The world of art and philosophy – before it is ground into dust by the upstart barbarity of Rome.

AMAZON (US)AMAZON (UK)

From the Author

When Cato the Censor demanded that ‘Carthage must be destroyed,’ Rome did just that. In 146 BC, after a three year siege, Carthage was raised to the ground, its surviving citizens sold into slavery and the fields where this once magnificent city had stood, ploughed by oxen. Carthage was erased from history.

That’s why I’m a novelist on a mission! I want to set the historical record straight. Our entire history of Hannibal’s wars with Rome is nothing short of propaganda, written by Greeks and Romans for their Roman clients. It intrigues me that Hannibal took two Greek scholars and historians with him on campaign, yet their histories of Rome’s deadliest war have never seen the light of day. 

My hero, Sphax the Numidian, tells a different story!

When I’m not waging war with my pen, I like to indulge my passion for travel and hill walking, and like my hero, I too love horses. I live in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOKTWITTER 

Mastering gifts, politics and relationships

The Shadow of Water by Jacquelyn Benson

r/suggestmeabook: I want to follow the adventures of a precog learning to master her talent and her gifted friends in the shadow of the beginning of WWI.

Movie rating: PG

Pages: 494

Publisher: Vaughn Woods Publishing

Series: The Charismatics

ARC provided by Book Sirens

From the publisher: In an England on the brink of war, Lily is plagued by psychic visions of the cataclysmic destruction of London. An ancient prophecy is coming to fruition, and it starts with the gruesome discovery of a corpse in the sewers.

Jacquelyn Benson’s writing style is lovely, and I love the characters. It’s always hard reviewing a sequel, as it’s hard to avoid comparing it to the preceding book. “The Shadow of Water” would not have stood up well on its own, as my feelings about the characters is derived more from the relationships built in the first book in the series, “The Fire in the Glass,” than in this one. In particular, the relationship between Strangford and Lily was less evoked by Strangford’s actions than by Lily’s summary comments. And for some reason I was having more difficulty keeping Ash and Cairncross straight, although that could be more my issue than that of the author.

Fear the pain of grief. Fear neglecting to embrace life with both your arms and draw all the joy of it that you can. Fear being stingy with your love or your compassion. But do not fear Death.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Shadow of Water

Also, since much of the tension in the first book was derived from the question of whether her precognition showed an unalterable future, that tension was lost and there wasn’t as much to replace it. I felt less on-the-edge-of-my-seat about how things would turn out than in the first book.

Alone. Such a small word for such an enormous burden. It had driven her to poor choices in the past.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Shadow of Water

This installment felt less layered and complex, although the mystery of Sam’s past was a great subplot, and I felt like Sam was developed much more in this book, which I enjoyed, although the characterization of his relationship with Ash was a bit repetitive and not really resolved.

Progress is like water. It will always find a way.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Shadow of Water

The other thing I missed was the inclusion of someone you love to hate. Viscount Deveral was perfectly nasty and Joseph Hartwell creepy in the last book, but there wasn’t a concrete baddie to hate in this book. At best, there were people taking actions that were murky or unpleasant, such as Ash and Strangford’s mother, but those actors weren’t personally reprehensible.

The debutante caught the gaze of another young woman tied to a dour chaperone. She flashed her a flirtatious smile.

Jacquelyn Benson, The Shadow of Water

So although I love Benson’s writing, and I’ll still read the next installment in the series, “The Shadow of Water” was a little bit of a let down.


Fiery Girls by Heather Wardell

A book blast from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Progressive Era Historical Fiction

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, the publisher is giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card! The giveaway is open internationally and ends on April 9th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

From the publisher

Two young immigrant women. One historic strike. And the fire that changed America.

In 1909, shy sixteen-year-old Rosie Lehrer is sent to New York City to earn money for her family’s emigration from Russia. She will, but she also longs to make her mark on the world before her parents arrive and marry her to a suitable Jewish man. Could she somehow become one of the passionate and articulate “fiery girls” of her garment workers’ union?

Maria Cirrito, spoiled and confident, lands at Ellis Island a few weeks later. She’s supposed to spend four years earning American wages then return home to Italy with her new-found wealth to make her family’s lives better. But the boy she loves has promised, with only a little coaxing, to follow her to America and marry her. So she plans to stay forever. With him.

Rosie and Maria meet and become friends during the “Uprising of the 20,000” garment workers’ strike, and they’re working together at the Triangle Waist Company on March 25, 1911 when a discarded cigarette sets the factory ablaze. 146 people die that day, and even those who survive will be changed forever.

Carefully researched and full of historic detail, Fiery Girls is a novel of hope: for a better life, for turning tragedy into progress, and for becoming who you’re meant to be.

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | INDIEBOUND


About the Author

Heather is a natural 1200 wpm speed reader and the author of twenty-one self-published novels. She came to writing after careers as a software developer and elementary school computer teacher and can’t imagine ever leaving it. In her spare time, she reads, swims, walks, lifts weights, crochets, changes her hair colour, and plays drums and clarinet. Generally not all at once.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | PINTEREST | GOODREADS

Finding freedom in British Guiana

A Review of Song by Michelle Jana Chan

 Random Things Tours

r/suggestmeabook: I want to experience British colonialism from the perspective of a Chinese boy trapped in a racist system. And lots of birds.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 480

Publisher: Unbound

ARC provided by Random Things Tours

British West Indies Colonial Fiction

From the publisher: Song is just a boy when he sets out from Lishui village in China. Brimming with courage and ambition, he leaves behind his impoverished broken family, hoping he’ll make his fortune and return home. Chasing tales of sugarcane, rubber and gold, Song embarks upon a perilous voyage across the oceans to the British colony of Guiana, but once there he discovers riches are not so easy to come by and he is forced into labouring as an indentured plantation worker. 

Michelle Jana Chan has delivered a world that I was not familiar with, British Guiana (Guyana since 1966), a colony where power resided in the planters. The British Empire outlawed the slave trade in 1807, but emancipation didn’t occur until 1838, and the sugar cane planters replaced their slaves with what were nominally indentured servants. They might have well have been slaves, given that they were often transported under deceptive term with the cost of the transportation supposedly to be worked off, but it was a goal that moved ever away as the planters charged the indentured servants’ cost of living to their remaining debt.

Song is a boy who endures the cost of that deception as well as the racism that fuels a system dependent on a powerless labor class. British Guiana used Chinese and then Indian workers after the former enslaved persons of African descent wanted nothing to do with the plantations.

The character of Song is well realized, as well as the rest of the cast: the despicable Mr. Cameron, the progressive Father Holmes, the hearts-of-gold ladies, the ruffians of Bartica, the friendly Amerinds, and the snobbish “civilized” folk of Georgetown. There are some heart-tearing moments of racism and violence, and the questions of what will you do to be safe and how to combat the status quo are reckoned with.

The pacing is a little uneven. It took me a little while to get into it, then I was completely absorbed in the story until, even though it’s a sad commentary on how my attention works, things got better for Song for a while and there seemed to be little conflict. This oasis for him was sweet and helped build for the next push of crap to be thrown at him, but it was much slower reading. However, I cared enough about Song by that point that I stuck with it.

In addition to the themes of power and privilege, racism and activism, Chan explores some other very interesting ideas in this novel: how much property does one need, what dreams are worthy, how do we deal with repeated losses, and how much does education remediate class differences? She doesn’t necessarily provide answers, but she illuminates portions of the spectrums.

A fascinating study in the book is that comparing Bartica, a rough frontier town, to Georgetown, the heart of colonial government. The overt premise is that the evils of the former are all on the outside, and less in aggregate, than those of the latter, hidden, insidious, and greater. There may not be stabbings on the street or whores every few blocks in Georgetown, but Song is assailed more frequently and pointedly in Georgetown than Bartica. And therein lies what seems to be the implicit story: that racism is more pronounced in “civilized” areas where power congregates and evil is disguised than in a rough place where most are scrabbling to survive.

My biggest complaint is about the ending, which is always a tricky thing to complain about without some spoilers. Let me simply say that it felt like it trailed off rather than ended, which is often a choice on the part of the author, but part of what I enjoy about fiction (as opposed to real life) is the possibility of closure, of a sense of completion. I’ve heard some critics talk about the need to meet the expectations that have been set, but those expectations are set by Western storytelling conventions, so I’m not saying this is wrong or bad, just that it’s a type of ending I don’t care for.

However, it’s largely a compelling read and an intriguing slice of life in a part of world history that many Americans have probably never heard of, and I appreciate the guided tour.


Inferences, or why what you show isn’t what you want to tell

a note to indie authors

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

For most people, “infer” is usually something you only talk about in contrast to “imply.” In one of my previous lives I was a civil litigator, and inferences can be a consideration in trying and appealing a case.

When you try a case, you present a bunch of pieces of evidence (witness testimony, photos, other documents) and then you try to convince the jury of your side of the story. [Sidebar: Drives me nuts when TV shows et al say “It’s just circumstantial evidence.” It’s almost always only circumstantial evidence!] Sometimes the type of evidence you have becomes an issue because the jury doesn’t have enough to make a “reasonable inference,” or judges will decide that the inference wasn’t reasonable.

In other words, the jury came up with an answer that wasn’t warranted based on the evidence before them. Given that the standard advice for fiction writers is “Show, don’t tell,” it seemed a parallel situation: sometimes readers come up with an answer you didn’t mean for them to when you “show” them the story.

Let’s take a concrete example: Here’s a letter sent home from an elementary school. Before the letter, Teacher A and Teacher B split the school day between them, with Teacher A taking the morning and and Teacher B taking the afternoon:

We want to notify you of a staffing change that will affect your child. Effective Tuesday…[Teacher B] will be your child’s…virtual teacher in all subjects. Your assistance in making this a smooth transition is deeply appreciated. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to call. You may also set up a meeting time at 8:30 am. We are confident that this will be a successful school year for your family.

What did the recipients “see” from this?

  • Teacher A was fired.
  • Teacher A quit.
  • Teacher A was taking all the kids attending in person, while Teacher B was taking the virtual classes.

There wasn’t enough evidence from the letter to decide, so inferences were made. The way you would make those inferences would depend on what you thought of Teacher A–her competence, her satisfaction with work; how you would be reacting to the situation; and what you thought or knew about how the school works with staff.

The more you want to control those inferences, the more you have to either “show” more or tell the audience directly. In this case, if you’d seen Teacher A make many mistakes, then you might think she’d been fired—unless your experience leads you to believe that schools never fire anyone that isn’t convicted of a crime.

On the other hand, if you knew Teacher A was immuno-compromised and was really worried about the recent reports that some other staff members had contracted Covid-19, you might think she quit—unless you didn’t know what her insurance situation was and she’s a “Miss,” and you’d never quit a job without having health insurance.

Or, on a foot, if you knew they were having to rearrange staffing because there were more students returning to in-person classes, you might think it’s just a change in terms of how they staff for virtual versus in-person students—unless you know that Teacher A has always done only math and Teacher B has never taught math and you thought they always split classes by subject.

In this case, it would probably have been easiest for the school to simply state that they were rearranging the class loads because more students were returning to in-person classes. But if this were a story, you’d want to give the reader more of the types of information as illustrated by the sorts of things that would fill in the blank.

The more “evidence” you give the reader, the more likely they are to read the story the way you want them to. On the other hand, there are intangibles, like whether the reader liked the character of Teacher A—if not, the reader would be more likely to want the first scenario than if they would if they did like Teacher A.

So if you’re getting feedback about how readers are perceiving a particular situation that’s different than you’d meant for it to be, consider the evidence you’ve given them so far. You have the choice to leave it ambiguous (“Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.”) or to make it clearer. You can’t control all the inferences, as illustrated above, because of preconceived ideas the reader brings with them to the reading, but, unlike a trial, you can manufacture any evidence you need to get the jury to come to the verdict you want.

A little love, a little tolerance, and a little murder

Death at Rainbow Cottage by Jo Allen

 Rachel’s Random Resources Book Tours

r/suggestmeabook: I want a well-crafted murder problem nestled into a tight-knit community of well-developed characters.

Movie rating: PG-13

Pages: 392

Publisher: Self

Series: DCI Satterthwaite Mysteries

ARC provided by Rachel’s Random Resources

Contemporary traditional mystery

From the publisher: The apparently motiveless murder of a man outside the home of controversial equalities activist Claud Blackwell and his neurotic wife, Natalie, is shocking enough for a peaceful local community. When it’s followed by another apparently random killing immediately outside Claud’s office, DCI Jude Satterthwaite has his work cut out.

This is the fifth of Jo Allen’s DCI Satterthwaite Mysteries, and as a first-time reader of her work, I can say I’m immensely pleased that this works as a standalone. I generally don’t review books that are several down a series unless I’m going to read the preceding books, but I apparently missed the part of the memo that this was number five, and I’m glad I did, or I’d have passed on this delightful mystery.

Because a murder in an isolated lane was one thing, but there was nothing to put the fear of God into the local population like a violent death on their own doorstep.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

I also generally skip police procedurals, because I’m married to a retired cop and I know enough by osmosis to get annoyed. But since this is set in the UK, not the US, and really fits more into the traditional mode than a mystery that is overly wrapped up in the CSI details, again, I’m glad I didn’t miss this one.

Allen does a marvelous job of the key ingredient that makes mysteries fun to me: she creates a deft puzzle, and I had different suspects pegged throughout the book, changing my mind with new information, but never guessed the actual killer until scant pages before the reveal. All the clues were there, and seem glaring in retrospect, but were laid with such skill that none clicked.

Claud had struck him as a man who never let anything go, who worked long hours and never respected anyone else’s time off and now, it seemed, he had the proof of that.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

As if that wasn’t enough, the book is dense with great characters, none of them overly simple, and she does a good job of avoiding most of the usual tropes. It’s clear there’s more to the story than what is covered within it, but it struck me not as though I’d missed something by not reading the first four (which are now on my TBR), but more like the windup for a larger story arc that had elements yet to be revealed.

Church and folk music were Doddsy’s interests, two things that suddenly made him feel older than he was. The shadow of a mid-life crisis lengthened behind him, stealing ever closer to his shoulder.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

Allen’s prose is straightforward and crisp, with the occasional infusion of dry wit, and the pace is as brisk as that sounds. The insulated world of the police department is well done, as officers do tend to flock together as much as the book implies, and there is a certain disconnect between those on the inside and those family members who just don’t quite get how running an investigation can interfere with your social and family commitments.

Jet lag was a brute at the best of times, bestowing all the privations of a hangover with none of the fun that might have preceded it.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

My quibble would be that I wasn’t sure that DCI Satterthwaite was actually the protagonist, despite the name, although I suppose the same could be said for Hercule Poirot—in the novels, usually someone else is the protagonist, with Poirot managing to confound them. But the shifts of POV took me a little work to figure out who’s story was being told, although in the end, it was effective.

Civil twilight, her father called it—daylight was done, darkness yet to come upon them. Only the glow over the Lake District fells and the light from the car headlights offered her any comfort.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

My other quibble was the representation of various mental health issues: anxiety disorder and OCD in particular. It’s not that the representation was unsympathetic; it just felt incomplete. However, the inclusion of characters with these issues doesn’t mean you have to show the total array of how those mental health issues may manifest; it just that these representations hewed a little closer to some stereotypical representations (which, in all fairness, exist as well as other versions) and may cause some discomfort for those who do have those syndromes.

She wasn’t so simple that she didn’t understand her new boyfriend’s driving passion was a slow-burning determination for revenge on the old.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

This book also is an intriguing look into all the ways people can love and mate. At the core of it, the Rainbow Cottage is what it sounds like—the home of a man devoted to promoting understanding among straight cisgendered people and the rainbow of other sexualities. These themes are brought up explicitly in the sensitivity sessions that are not particularly welcomed by the busy DCI nor the gay officer who feels like he’s being pressured to talk more than he’d like, as well as the murders themselves, which begin with a gay man and a lesbian woman.

Though even the metrosexual parents, the ones who thing they’re right up with it…even those ones are perfectly happy for everyone else to be gay but they can’t help questioning things a little bit when it’s their boy.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

Allen sensibly took the time to employ a sensitivity reader for the topics, because although the protagonists and tone of the book is clearly meant to be LGBTQIA+ friendly, it touches on homophobia, particularly as a motivation for the murders, and some of the statements of certain characters are a bit distasteful. As a cisgender straight woman, I can’t speak for the experience of someone in the community, but it felt like a lot of effort was made to avoid stereotypes or tropes.

It wasn’t always self-doubt that held people back from being themselves, but doubt about the open-heartedness of their neighbors and friends, unspoken judgment behind a mask of tolerance.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

Not only that, there’s the romantic life—and its complications—of Jude and Ashleigh as well as the other members of their circle. The takeaway for me was that although we can be attracted to and love lots of different types of people, the problems we face in relationships seem to boil down to the same short list of problems.

Perhaps a lot of crimes took place behind just such a curtain of perfection, dramas playing out in the heart while the window on the world was one of false happiness.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

I particularly want to give a shoutout for the portrayal of the prickly Detective Superintendent Faye Scanlon. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve worked for this bitch before (although sometimes as a bastard)—and the paranoid, ambitious boss is a great person to love to hate. You just cringe every time she walks into a room.

Faye championed equality and fairness in the workplace but only for others. In personal matters ruthlessness and her own interests held sway.

Jo Allen, Death at Rainbow Cottage

Although I wouldn’t call this a cozy, I’d recommend it to cozy mystery fans who also like Agatha Christie and the like. I vastly enjoyed my time in Cumbria with DCI Satterthwaite and the gang, and look forward to reading more of this series from the talented Jo Allen.


A Harlem ghost story

A Little in Love with Death by Anna M. Taylor

r/suggestmeabook: I want a novella about a deadly haunted house that came between lovers.

Movie rating: R

Pages: 97

Publisher: Self

Series: Haunted Harlem

The woman in the banner photo is Hazel Scott, who doesn’t actually appear in the novel, but the photo is from the correct time period. She shouldn’t be erased, as she was a pioneer, the first black woman to host her own television show.

From the publisher: Ten years ago no one — not even the man who said he loved her — believed Sankofa Lawford’s claim she had been brutally attacked by a ghost. Ten years later an assault on a new victim brings her back to Harlem to a mother going mad, a brother at his wits’ end and a former love who wants a second chance. Sankofa longs for her family to be whole again, for love to be hers again, but not if she must relive the emotional pain created by memories of that night.

This is the story of a couple haunted by the past—more literally than most. Sankofa and Mitchell were the loves of each other’s lives until the incident in haunted Umoja, the house Sankofa grew up in. Reunited at Sankofa’s mother’s bedside, they have to decide how to confront the past, which includes confronting some ghosts.

The pain of the separated lovers provokes any pain of separation in your heart, as Anna M. Taylor’s skillful descriptions burrow in past your defenses. It’s hard not to root for the couple to reunite, even though you can feel the frustration of each side’s point of view. In many ways, this novella is more romance than ghost story, although the ghost story is intrinsic to the couple’s problems.

I didn’t believe you before, but I do now. Is that apology enough?

Apology enough for calling her loony when she tried to get him to see the spirits she saw? Apology enough for laughing when her mother and aunt alike tongue-lashed her for hearing voices, for repeating information she had no business knowing?

Ann M. Taylor, A Little in Love with Death

The shifts of point of view from Sankofa to Mitchell were occasionally a little abrupt, but overall served the story well. The atmosphere of the haunted house is evocative. However, despite the fact that the characters fear the house, I never was afraid; there’s more of a sense of uncovering mysteries than facing unknown terror.

Its gothic facade contrasted majestically with the soulless brick, glass, and steel make-up of the neighboring buildings. Umoja’s four-cornered tower looked between two four-story wings topped with crenellated walls. Arched windows framed in contrasting white keystones gave the gray-stone exterior a bejeweled aspect. However, unlike City College and Cannon Pres, no amount of sunlight dispelled the exterior bleakness Umoja retained.

Ann M. Taylor, A Little in Love with Death

Themes of faith and rationalism are deftly explored with an apparent attempt to reconcile them. I’m not convinced by the recitations of faith, but I can respect them. The notion of family secrets and who should be told the truth is more intriguing to me; a refrain through the book is the saying, “Them that tell don’t know, and them that know don’t tell.”

Mitchell dry scrubbed his face. Could he accept his answer wasn’t the truth? He studied his friend. A scientist and an evangelical believer, John Mortimer was Mitch’s bumblebee: the thing defied all the reasons it shouldn’t exist by its very existence.

Ann M. Taylor, A Little in Love with Death

Mental health issues are also explored, in particular the stigma it creates. Can someone who has mental health issues be trusted? The novella raises the question through the mouths of various characters, most notably Sankofa’s brother, but never quite resolves the question.

As always the memory of the attack thrust Sankofa into the wintriness of insanity. She shuddered, despite the sunshine bathing the spot where she stood.

Ann M. Taylor, A Little in Love with Death

Overall, this novella is an absorbing story demonstrating how ghosts, both figurative and literal, affect the people that live with them.