Tag Archives: literature

THE SECOND MRS. HOCKADAY by Susan Rivers (2017)


Historical Fiction

Mrs. Placidia Hockaday is barely a teenager when she comes to live with her new husband, Major Gryffith Hockaday, on his farm in rural South Carolina.  They spend two days and two nights together until the Major receives the news that he must immediately return to his regiment.  The American Civil war has already been raging for around two years when the Major leaves his inexperienced young bride in charge of his 300 acre farm, his young son, and the few slaves and workers still attached to the farm.  Two years later he returns.  The gossip mongers are anxious to share some news with him; during his absence his young wife conceived and bore a child.  Yet there is no evidence of a baby and she is unwilling to share any information with her husband or the authorities.

This novel is told through a series of letters, journal entries, and legal documents and the narrative that emerges is a harrowing tale of abuse, deprivation, loss and even some heroics.  The truth is unveiled  to the reader slowly until the full story is exposed – with its many tragedies and a few triumphs.  This book would never be classified as “a mystery”,  yet there is a profound mystery at its core that must be unravelled by the reader.

This novel highlights the strength of one woman, forced  to overcome an almost impossible situation.  It also broached the topic of future generations and how they are affected by the circumstances of a war.  I think an interesting thing about this novel for me was how I actually changed my mind about certain characters as the novel progressed.

The epistolary novel was common until the beginning of the 20th century but there has been a resurgence in its popularity.  Some novels that come to mind –

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer (2008)

Letters From Skye by Jesssica Brockmole (2013)

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (2015)

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers Algonquin Books (2017)



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GOOD TIME COMING … by C.S. Harris (2016)


Historical Fiction … A Novel of the American Civil War

I killed a man the summer I turned thirteen.  Sometimes I still see him in my dreams, his eyes as blue  as the Gulf on a clear spring morning, his cheeks reddened by the hot Louisiana sun. ”  page 1.

This is a powerful and harrowing story about a young girl named Armie coming-of -age in Louisiana during the American Civil War.  While almost every able-bodied man from the area is north fighting for the confederates, the women and children remain at home trying to maintain their dwellings, families and businesses. Almost every family has already lost a son, father, or relative, and the ones who haven’t, live in fear of that awful news.  Armie’s situation is unusual because, although her father is a physician with the confederate army,  her parents were staunch abolitionists before the war.  This earns them the mistrust of several of their neighbours at a time when  mutual  support is a lifeline.  In the spring of 1862,  the union troops were beginning to steam up the Mississippi River and the citizens were besieged  by army raiding parties; stealing and killing their livestock, burning their properties, and violating the women.  The population was starving and disease was rampant while the union soldiers helped themselves to anything and everything they could find.  Some women choose not to live with the repercussions of rape,  they would rather die.

And young Armie tries to make sense of a situation that is senseless, to understand a world that is in chaos, to recognise and adapt to the villainy and evil that she sees in men’s souls through their actions.  Not always successfully.  She asks lots of questions about God and she doesn’t get answers that satisfy her.  The two wisest people in her life are her own mother and an old former slave and they are only partially able to answer her questions.

“Life is unfair” is a quote from John Kennedy…and probably every teenager that ever lived.  But there is unfair  (my parents won’t buy me a new bike like all my friends have) and there is unfair ( I live in fear everyday over the new atrocities tomorrow could bring, and I wonder if I will survive.)

The truth is a little sickening and certainly not unique to this particular war; that the murdering, pillaging  and rape of women and children IS a weapon of war. It is demoralizing for the citizens and their fighting soldiers.

At one point in this novel young Armie is put in a position that no 13-year- old should ever have to face.  There are strong women in her family and she has some good role models. In fact the village women’s’ strength can be a revelation at times especially since some of them had been Southern Belles in their former life.   

I never like to give away too much with a plot but this novel had me riveted to every page. It was engrossing, interesting and thought-provoking.  It was also heartbreaking, agonizing and tragic.  

Many readers will be familiar with  C. S. Harris, since she is the author of the very successful   “Sebastien St. Cyr” mystery series with eleven entries so far. I have read them all (love them) and I suppose that is how I found this novel. I am glad I did because this is a powerhouse.

I am not a huge fan of the title although I can understand why it was chosen. GOOD TIME COMING  is a line from a song poular before the war and it certainly speaks of hope. And sometimes hope is all you have to get through. It just doesn’t seem strong enough for this powerful novel.—just my opinion.


C. S. Harris

Severn House Publishers










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Amateur Sleuths …… some thoughts



I recently read and reviewed a mystery novel I enjoyed called “Murder at the Brightwell”,(Ashley Weaver,Minotaur 2014) featuring a spirited socialite named Amory Ames. It was set primarily in an upscale  seaside resort hotel in 1930’s England and the dialogue was cracking …sort of Nick and Nora Charles–witty. The reason I am writing this post is because I am actually quite confused with a review I read in Publishers Weekly–“….the affable Amory could carry a series, though plausibly involving her in future murder cases will require some imagination.” Wait–huh? Somebody should have spoken to Madame Christie before she wrote twelve novels featuring a elderly spinster with a hankering for solving murders…and knitting. This has sent me pondering on the nature of the amateur sleuth ( not including the P.I. or police consultant ) The book stores are full of them; bakers, knitters, cake makers, Jane Eyre, librarians, cat lovers, cats, basket weavers (okay, not really sure about that one) decorators,dog lovers, dogs , etc.—all solving murders!  I am not saying I am a fan of all these books but I am saying that the idea of any amateur sleuth is probably a stretch. I sincerely hope I never come across a single murder in my life,  to say nothing of double digits. I am thinking now of Alan Bradley’s brilliant series featuring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce; a child who has solved at least six murders (did I mention she’s eleven-years-old). Bradley writes so well she is almost  believable.

So what is my point?  How about this….Amateur sleuth series…you like them or you don’t, they’re good or they’re not, but plausible, credible, believable—-probably not most of the time.

And don’t have dinner with Jessica Fletcher.

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MY DEAR I WANTED TO TELL YOU….by Louisa Young (2011)

Historical Fiction, WWl  Fiction

In  my last blog entry I vowed  that my next blog entries would be about novels set during World War l. The first in this series is a terrific novel called “My Dear I Wanted to Tell You” by Louisa Young. It is, indeed, a strange title (and a long one) but I heard the author explain her choice of title on an internet interview. When a soldier was wounded it could take ages for their family to hear news of the injury because the mail had to go through the censors.  The medical stations had little postcards available to the soldiers where they could tick off little boxes regarding their injury and send them on the way without going through the censors. Some of these postcards had a first line that said—My dear I wanted to tell you. Hence the title.

Riley Purefoy is a bright, agreeable young lad from a working class family in London. He is sponsored and educated by a wealthy family and he develops a close bond with the daughter Nadine. As the children get older, this family (who had thought themselves quite progressive) decide they must discourage this relationship since this working class boy is unsuitable for their daughter. As soon as the war breaks out Riley enlists.

Riley’s commanding officer, a man name Peter, has his own marital problem as he endures life in the trenches.  These two relationships develop in different ways as the result of the war. The novel moves between the hell of life in the trenches and the difficulties experienced by the friends and families at home. The novel is painfully honest about the injuries and wounds suffered by the soldiers.  It also addresses the recuperation of the soldiers. One of the characters requires major facial reconstruction–a fairly new art during this time.

This is a WWI novel that is more about the relationships during the war than the battles.  I have seen in many novels during this time period that it was during this war that the social class divisions began to blur.   I read this novel about six months ago but it has stayed with me–a sign of a good read.

New York-Harper 2011

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Death Was the Other Woman…by Linda L. Richards (2007)

Mystery, Historical Mystery                                                                                                                                                                                 

This is a book that sat on my for later shelf for a long time because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. I thought it was a hard-boiled detective novel and I didn’t want to read an entire book as seen through the eyes of a boozy,weary and cynical Private Investigator . But this book has a twist. The narrator is a gently raised young lady who works for a boozy,weary and cynical P.I. 

 On October 29, 1929 Katherine  Pangborn is yanked out of Miss Beeson’s Finishing School for Young Ladies and told her father has committed suicide and  she is poor. Good-bye. She needs to find a job but her skills include  flower arranging and planning dinner parties.  She meets a man named Mustard, while pawning her late mother’s jewelry, and he sets her up as a secretary for P.I. Dexter Theroux.

Two years later she is Still working for Dex, clacking the typewriter to look busy, when a Client walks through the door.  And then the adventure begins.

Katherine is just the right mix of Finishing school proper and street smarts. And she is more of a baby-sitter than a secretary since her boss’s alcoholism leaves him unreliable.  Yet he is  sympathetic and likable character even though he is trying to drown his memories of WWI in a bottle. The demons he must face from the trenches in France are unimaginable.

This is so NOT a hard-boiled detective story that I think fans of traditional crime noir would be disappointed.  This isn’t gritty and there is no sex (explicit or implied). It would probably be more appropriate for fans of the cozy mysteries.

I loved it and hope to read the sequel soon.

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The Dry Grass of Autumn ……by Anna Jean Mayhew (2011)

HISTORICAL FICTION    This is a book about racism, cruelty and prejudice as seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old white girl. At times difficult to read (due to the subject matter) but definitely an eye-opening and important novel.

It is 1954 and our narrator is 13-year-old Jubie Watts.  Her family is about to take a road trip from North Carolina to Florida and in the big family car is Jubie, her mother, two sisters, little brother and the beloved African-American  maid Mary. Mary is the anchor of Jubie’s life-her strength and comfort when her father beats her or her mother ignores her. The farther south this family travels-the greater the signs of racial discrimination and unrest.  Jubie sees this but it leaves her feeling confused and helpless.  Eventually the travellers are involved in a tragedy and their lives are changed for ever.

The author does a good job of relaying Jubie’s denial and shock and we see this young lass eventually act with courage and compassion.  This is an excellent book that has the power to stay with the reader long after it is finished. This would make an excellent book club choice.

This book would probably appeal to fans of THE HELP

Kensington books 2011.


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The Crossing Places…….by Elly Griffiths (2009)

Mystery——First in a series, the fourth book is set to be released in February 2012

I have loved this series since I read the first book  (THE CROSSING  PLACES) and I believe the series has improved with each book. Ruth Galloway is a university lecturer and a forensic archeologist.  She is almost forty, a wee bit overweight, and she lives at the edge  of a salt marsh in Norfolk U.K.–a lonely existence that she believes suits her just fine.  She is called in by the police to investigate when the bones of a child are uncovered. The police are sure that they will belong to a young girl who went missing almost ten years earlier. But no; Ruth determines that the bones belong to a child from the iron age, 2000 years earlier.

I love historical mysteries but this is a contemporary mystery that  still gives me some historical enlightenment. And the characters are great. DCI Harry Nelson is more complex than he seems at first and there is also a Pagan priest and Ruth’s Nordic mentor.The characters develop with each installment. This novel  is the perfect cross between a thriller and a who-done-it.

The other books presently available are THE JANUS STONE—-(2009)   and THE HOUSE AT SEA’S END  (2010)

This is a mystery series that I highly recommend!

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the Kitchen House by—-Kathleen Grissom (2010 Simon and Schuster)


In 1810 a seven-year old white girl named Lavinia is brought to live (as an indentured servant)  at the plantation home of Captain Pyke in the old South.  She has barely survived the sea crossing from Ireland – a trip that claimed the lives of her parents. The Captain considers it an act of kindness to bring her into his household because there  is little hope that she will live and even if she survives she would be too weak to be of much help. She is sent to the kitchen house to be trained by  Captain Pyke’s illegitimate mixed-race daughter. At first she is barely alive but slowly  the house slaves nurture her back to life. She has no memory of her past life and the African-American  slaves become her family. Her years as a servant, living among the slaves are peaceful,( for the most part), and happy-(again  much of the time)

The Captain’s son is a brute who is sent away for his education.  He re-enters Lavinia’s life later  when Mrs. Pyke’s sister takes on Lavinia as a project—she wants to turn her into a lady– resulting in far-reaching consequences.  A cruel husband and an evil overseer and many other characters good and bad populate this tale. Lavinia never stops loving her slave family but sometimes that can work against them all.

This is a gripping novel that will , at times, make you want to shake your head at the cruelty of  some men and women.  It is , in my opinion, a very worthwhile read. 

This book was available at my library.

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Instruments of Darkness….by Imogene Robertson

Historical Mystery, Regency Mystery

(2011, Pamela Dorman Books, Viking)

I suppose it is probably pretty obvious that I am a fan of historical Mysteries, and if they are in a series-well that is even better.  INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS is the first book in a new series that now numbers three books.  The heroine is a ship captain’s wife; a woman who spent many years at sea with her husband but , since the arrival of children, she has been running the family estate; a stay at home mom circa 1780 with wet nurses and servants. She is a no-nonsense person who has run this estate profitably.  Her neighbour is a gentleman recluse, a man who has rejected his own noble title and instead he stays at home and studies human  anatomy among other things. His name is Gabriel Crowther and he is  more at home with the company of dead things.

The sea captain’s wife (Mrs. Harriet Westerman) discovers a dead body on her property and she immediately seeks the assistance of her reclusive neighbour. They become a team as they try to unravel this mystery. Along the way they encounter a misplaced heir. The American war of Independence figures in to the plot and the action moves between a country estate and London. Harriet and Gabriel make an interesting pair of amateur sleuths and the murder mystery is satisfying.  We see small glimpses into Gabriel’s past that hints at why he is such a hermit.

The second book in the series is called ANATOMY OF MURDER  and there is also a third book called ISLAND OF BONES. The third book is available at bookstores but it is not yet available at my library.  I am in queue and look forward to receiving it to read.

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A Crimson Warning……by Tasha Alexander (2011, St. Martins Press)

A book review….Historical Mystery…Victorian Fiction…..Series…

I love historical mysteries, I love Victorian fiction, and I love fiction featuring strong female characters. Bingo! This is the seventh book in the Lady Emily Series and the reader is rewarded with an engaging mystery while being reunited with many of the characters from previous books in the series.  At the beginning of the book it becomes clear that many members of  the “ton”   (aristocracy )  are   being targeted by some deranged individual, determined to  reveal deep dark secrets about the targets.  The upper echelon of society is in a tizzy as friends, neighbours and  acquaintance regard each other with mistrust.    Invitations to balls are withdrawn, betrothals are ended, and family members stop communicating. Red paint splashed on the front door at night is a signal  that a secret lies within the house.

Along with the red paint case,Emily’s husband is investigating the death of a fine and fair-minded businessman when someone starts to threaten his fiancée. The  fiancée ( Cordilia) is in deep mourning and has no idea what the blackmailer wants.   It is soon clear Colin and Lady Emily are working together on a murder (He is an agent of the crown)….yet sometimes he must work alone. These various threads come together as the book progresses.

Sometimes I find Lady Emily is a little too perfect–beyond the fact that she is usually instrumental in solving the case–she speaks many languages (studies Homer in the original greek), collects and then donates rare antiquities,works for women’s rights and the rights of the impoverished–oh yes , and she looks smashing in a Mr. Worth gown. But this is the seventh book I have read in the  series so I like the books and maybe I am just a little jealous of Emily.    Of course  she manages this all within a very confining Victoria society.  You go girl, Emily!

Enjoyable read and very worthwhile series.


Fans of this series should definitely try  the Lady Julia series by Deanna Raybourne.

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