#BookReview #Ad No Life for a Lady by Hannah Dolby

No Life for a LadyAbout the Book

Violet Hamilton is a woman who knows her own mind. Which, in 1896, can make things a little complicated…

At 28, Violet’s father is beginning to worry she will never find a husband. But every suitor he presents, Violet finds a new and inventive means of rebuffing. Because Violet does not want to marry. She wants to work, and make her own way in the world.

But more than anything, she wants to find her mother Lily, who disappeared from Hastings Pier 10 years earlier. Finding the missing is no job for a lady, but when Violet hires a seaside detective to help, she sets off a chain of events that will put more than just her reputation at risk.

Can Violet solve the mystery of Lily Hamilton’s vanishing before it’s too late?

Format: eARC (328 pages)                 Publisher: Aria
Publication date: 2nd March 2023 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Those looking for a light-hearted, cosy historical mystery will find they’ve come to the right place with No Life for a Lady. Violet is a sparky, likeable character who is determined to resist her father’s efforts to marry her off. There’s fun right from the beginning as Violet recalls the ways she’s managed to fend off potential suitors to date. This includes pushing one such unfortunate into a boating lake and inserting a hot teapot between herself and another.

It was unclear to me why Violet has waited ten years to make a serious attempt to investigate her mother’s disappearance but once she embarks upon it she has no intention of stopping. Except that her chosen detective turns out to be no ‘knight in shining armour’. (Violet, you should have trusted your instincts). Suddenly, Violet wonders if she’s really ready to find out her mother’s secrets and to have them become the talk of the ladies of Hastings, not to mention the men. She’d wanted discretion, wishing to keep the investigation from her father.

Although it makes for some slapstick humour, I wouldn’t have minded if the author had made Violet slightly less ditzy. She’s frequently tripping over things, bumping into lamp posts and even getting locked inside a price of furniture at one point.  She’s also rather naive although, to be fair, that does lead to some laugh out loud moments, such as Violet’s errand on behalf of a Mrs Monk, the same lady who corrects a few of Violet’s misapprehensions about ‘marital intimacy’.  And, for a prospective detective, Violet is a little quick to reach conclusions based on limited evidence, including about one particular person.  However, she’s up for pretty much anything – except house cleaning – leading one character to remark ‘You are the most infuriating female I’ve ever met’.

Set in 1896, there’s a nice depiction of a Victoran seaside town complete with bathing carriages, small boys dressed in sailor suits and ladies promenading in their finery, although I’m not sure the phrase ‘get his finger out’ would have been in common parlance then. If I’m wrong, I stand corrected.

Finding the solution to the mystery of her mother’s disappearance provides Violet with grounds for believing she has what it takes to become a detective. It also signals there is potentially more fun to come in the company of this particular Lady Detective.

I received a digital review copy courtesy of Aria Fiction via NetGalley.

In three words: Light-hearted, funny, entertaining

Try something similar: Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey

Hannah DolbyAbout the Author

Hannah Dolby’s first job was in the circus and she has aimed to keep life as interesting since. She trained as a journalist in Hastings and has worked in PR for many years, promoting museums, galleries, palaces, gardens and even Dolly the sheep. She completed the Curtis Brown selective three-month novel writing course, and she won runner-up in the Comedy Women in Print Awards for this novel with the prize of a place on an MA in Comedy Writing at the University of Falmouth.  She currently lives in London. (Photo: Twitter profile)

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#BookReview #Ad A Gift of Poison by Bella Ellis

A Gift of PoisonAbout the Book

Haworth 1847 – Anne and Emily Brontë have had their books accepted for publication, while Charlotte’s has been rejected everywhere, creating a strained atmosphere at the parsonage.

At the same time, a shocking court case has recently concluded, acquitting a workhouse master of murdering his wife by poison. Everyone thinks this famously odious and abusive man is guilty. However, he insists he is many bad things but not a murderer. When an attempt is made on his life, he believes it to be the same person who killed his wife and applies to the detecting sisters for their help.

Despite reservations, they decide that perhaps, as before, it is only they who can get to the truth and prove him innocent – or guilty – without a shadow of doubt.

Format: eARC (352 pages)                Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 9th February 2023 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

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My Review

A Gift of Poison is the fourth and final book in Bella Ellis’s historical crime series featuring the Brontë sisters. I’ve read and enjoyed all the previous books in the series – The Vanished Bride, The Diabolical Bones and The Red Monarch. (Links from the titles will take you to my review.)

As in the prevous books, there is a very touching prologue, after which the reader is taken back in time to the summer of 1847 as Charlotte, Emily and Anne embark on what they are determined will be their final case. The sisters take it in turns to relate the story allowing the distinct personalities the author has given them to shine through. For example, Emily is all action, emotion and instinct, someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. At one point she scornfully observes, ‘This will take twice as long as it should now there are men involved’.  Anne is methodical, thoughtful, has a forgiving nature and is more inclined to see the best in others. Charlotte is adept at dealing with people and eliciting information.

Whilst being pleased that her sisters’ novels have been accepted for publication, Charlotte can’t help feeling a little hurt at the rejection of her own novel, The Professor. She is determined to protect her sisters from any hint of scandal – such as their role as ‘detectors’ – that might jeopardise their success.  And she is quietly working away at a new novel, one which will become her most famous book and an enduring classic – Jane Eyre, of course. What I loved is how the author captures Charlotte’s compulsion to transfer her ideas to the page, as she snatches every spare moment to quietly work on the novel, sometimes becoming lost in ‘a frenzy of creation’.

Branwell Brontë also features in the book although by this point, as in real life, he has become a rather pathetic figure in the final stages of an inevitable decline but still touchingly protective of his sisters. There is also a return appearance by real life novelist, Mrs Catherine Crowe ,who manages to charm everyone she meets, including the sisters’ beloved Papa. Charlotte’s dear friend, Ellen Nussey, also features in the story and proves to be, if not quite as courageous as the three sisters, extremely organised and adept at recording vital scraps of evidence.

As with the previous books, part of the enjoyment is trying to spot references to people or places in the Brontë’s novels. The obvious one is the surname of Abner Lowood but I bet there were others I missed. Some of the seemingly  supernatural happenings in this book evoke thoughts of Wuthering Heights and one quite dramatic event appears in Jane Eyre.

Do the sisters find the solution to the mystery? You bet they do, although they have a convoluted journey to get there. The investigation involves the intrepid sisters visiting places young unmarried ladies would not normally be expected to go. And this is Yorkshire so they also have to battle the elements at times. There is also, to Anne’s delight, a visit to the seaside resort of Scarborough although for those with any knowledge of the Brontës this will be tinged with sadness being the site of her grave.

In one touching exchange, inspired by the events they have been investigating, the siblings imagine their afterlives: “Your ghost will always be in the pub, Branwell,” Emily said. “And yours up on the moor, singing with the wind,” Branwell said, fondly. “Charlotte will be ordering everyone around, absolutely furious that no one is paying her any attention,” Emily added. “And Anne will just be Anne, a light for others always.”

Although I’m sad to see what has been a wonderfully entertaining series come to an end, those familiar with the sadly brief lives of the Brontë sisters will understand, given the year in which the book is set, why this must be their final case.

My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for my review copy via NetGalley.

In three words: Engaging, imaginative, suspenseful

Rowan ColemanAbout the Author

Bella Ellis is the Brontë-inspired pen name for the award winning Sunday Times bestselling author Rowan Coleman. A Brontë devotee for most of her life, Rowan is the author of fourteen novels including The Memory BookThe Summer of Impossible Things and The Girl at the Window.

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Bronte Mysteries Bella Ellis