Category Archives: Books

‘File under Fear’ by Geraldine Wall #genealogy #mystery #dementia

Second in the series about probate researcher turned genealogy detective Anna Ames, File Under Fear by Geraldine Wall takes off running from where the previous book left off. This is a well-written, page-turning series that combines family history, crime, family and secrets. But for me, the touchstone that makes it special is the sub-plot of Anna’s home life and her husband Harry’s dementia. If you haven’t read book one in the series, I suggest you start there to see the full emotional depth.Geraldine Wall

Anna’s new contract sounds boring: to write a business report on Draycotts, the company which makes Drakes lurid orange and green drink, analysing how the family members coordinate together to run a successful business. But there is a secret element to her contract, to locate a missing person for CEO Gerald Draycott. This case sees Anna physically and emotionally intimidated and encompasses bullying, illegal smuggling and rape. An intense story with red herrings and wrong assumptions made about family members, the actual crimes being committed and in which Anna questions who to trust. Backing her up are her very likeable family and the multi-talented more-than-workmate Steve. Some of the resolutions fall into place a little conveniently at the fast-paced ending, but this is a satisfying tale.

What makes this series so different, and adds the emotional depth in spades, is Harry’s illness and how the family and friends cope. Sometimes they struggle but ultimately they manage the reality of their life with compassion, humour and love. This series is maturing nicely.
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Read my review of the first Anna Ames novel, File under Family.

If you like this, try:-
Beside Myself’ by Ann Morgan
Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Deerleap’ by Sarah Walsh 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#Genealogy #mystery #dementia FILE UNDER FEAR by Geraldine Wall https://wp.me/paZ3MX-5q via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Identity #Mystery ‘Beside Myself’ by Ann Morgan @A_B_Morgan

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan is a novel about identity, about identical twin sisters. Do you recognise what is fake and what is true? One sister is prettier and cleverer than the other, and she is unkind to her twin who seems downtrodden, bullied, teased and not so bright. Then a childhood prank goes wrong which affects the two girls for the rest of their lives. Helen and Ellie play a cruel trick on a neighbour, they swap clothes and re-do their hairstyles appropriately (Helen wears a plait, Ellie is in bunches) and act like the other one does – Helen assertive, Ellie cowering. It is Helen’s idea, but when it is time to swap back Ellie refuses. Beside Myself is thoughtful, at times creepy and disturbing.

Ann MorganThe story is told from Ellie’s point of view, that is Ellie who used to be Helen.
Hellie – Ellie who became Helen – is now a TV presenter.
Helen – who is now Smudge/Ellie – is struggling with mental health problems.
Confused, I was a little.

After the switch, both girls seem to be accepted without question by friends and family, despite their obvious personality differences. Their mother has met a new man and is not taking much notice of what her daughters do. Even so, the mother’s blindness is a little hard to believe. There is a soggy section in the middle of the book with stream-of-consciousness rambles which I could have done without. I also admit at times to pausing and double-checking which girl I was reading about.

Without giving away the conclusion, it is pertinent to say there is a dramatic turning point which makes the girls revisit their childhood, the swap, and other family memories; and so as adults they make sense of who they are today. Many things are explained and, though I didn’t find either girl particularly likeable, they are much more alike than either appreciate.

This is a psychological portrait of sisters, identity and mental illness, rather than a thriller so don’t expect dramatic action.
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If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
Deerleap’ by Sarah Walsh
Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
File Under Family’ by Geraldine Wall 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A novel about #identity, about identical twin sisters BESIDE MYSELF by @A_B_Morgan https://wp.me/paZ3MX-5m via #AdoptionStoriesBlog #mystery

#FamilyHistory #Mystery ‘Fred’s Funeral’ by Sandy Day

None of us have the luxury of hearing what is said about us after we are dead. In Fred’s Funeral, Canadian author Sandy Day tells the story of one soldier, returned from the First World War, who felt misunderstood and sidelined by his family. Only when he dies in 1986, seventy years after he went to war, does he observe his own funeral and find out what they really think of him. Sandy Day

Fred Sadler has lived his post-fighting years in one institution or another. Clearly he is suffering from some form of shell shock or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but this goes undiagnosed. There are periods of living in boarding houses, his family is unwilling to have him live with them, until his behaviour deteriorates and he is sent back to hospital. Now dead and trapped as an unwilling ghost, Fred observes his funeral presided over by Viola, the sister-in-law he always disliked. As the mourners sit around and share memories of Fred, he watches, frustration mounting, as he is unable to correct their observations. They portray a ‘Fred Sadler’ which he does not recognise. I kept expecting something to happen; a true memory of the war, an event, which would explain Fred’s illness and set the record straight with his family. But it didn’t come. The story is told in linear fashion; the anecdotes of Viola and the remaining family are interchanged with Fred’s reaction to these stories plus a few flashbacks to the war. Clearer signposting of these sections would make reading easier.

Day clearly captures the time and place of post-Great War Canada, a subject which is new to me. However I found the repeated digressions into the extended family history and details of the lifestyle a distraction from the main story [so many cousins, great-great grandparents and houses]. I so wanted to cut some of these unrelated sections to allow a stronger novel to push its way to the surface; simpler, more powerful. The inclusion of so many family details makes me wonder if the core of Fred’s Funeral is a memoir, inspired by a real family, from which the author feels unable to cut some relations and take the leap into pure fiction.

The portrayal of Fred’s experience at Whitby Hospital for the Insane is heart breaking, as is the disinterest of his family. For them, Fred is an embarrassment. It is a sad indictment of our treatment of soldiers returning from war and our ignorance that the effect of fighting can last a lifetime. It is easy to assume that in the 21stcentury this has changed, but the modern day strand of Day’s story suggests it hasn’t. It is as if Fred’s life has paused. “He banished feeling anything long ago. He feels timid. He feels tentative, like every step he takes is on a thick layer of ice and at any moment, he might crash through into a frenzy of drowning.”

At the end of the novel, there is no ‘reveal’, no surprise, and I felt a little let down. Overall, this is a thoughtful examination of how family tensions, petty jealousies and misunderstandings can spread down the generations. Gossip and guesses are transformed into ‘truth’.

Day also writes poetry and this shows in her neat turn of phrase. For example, cousin Gertrude puts on her eyeglasses which “magnify her grey eyes like two tadpoles in a jar”.
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If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Deadly Descent’ by Charlotte Hinger
Blood-Tied’ by Wendy Percival 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#FamilyHistory #Mystery FRED’S FUNERAL by Sandy Day https://wp.me/paZ3MX-6h via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#FamilyHistory #Mystery ‘Bloodline’ by @FionaMountain

This is a combination of genealogical mystery, murder investigation and historical examination of the Nazis. Bloodline by Fiona Mountain, the second Natasha Blake mystery, covers a lot of ground from its seemingly innocuous starting point when Natasha hands in her report to a client. But nothing is mentioned lightly in this book, everything has a meaning. Natasha is not sure why Charles Seagrove requested this particular family tree, but knows he is unrelated to any of the people featured. Fiona Mountain

The real reason for Seagrove’s interest in genealogy is at the heart of this storyline. There are many dead ends and I admit to losing track of who was who at one point but Mountain ties all the loose endings together so there is clarity at the end. At first, Natasha is simply conducting another genealogical research but everything changes when she receives an anonymous note, ‘Cinderella is in the bluebell woods at Poacher’s Dell’. Once her client is murdered with his own shotgun, Natasha feels threatened as well as puzzled.

There are many storylines to be connected including Charles Seagrove’s grand-daughter Rosa and her father Richard, Second World War land girls, and two soldiers – one German, one English – who meet in the trenches during the Christmas truce of 1914. This is a lot to handle but Mountain manages the complicated history with ease and I enjoyed trying to work out the solution.
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Read my review of Pale as the Dead, the first Natasha Blake book.

If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
File Under Family’ by Geraldine Wall
The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davies
The Seven Sisters’ by Lucinda Riley 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
BLOODLINE by @FionaMountain #FamilyHistory #Mystery https://wp.me/paZ3MX-6c via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Genealogy #Mystery ‘Hiding the Past’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin @NathanDGoodwin 

An unusual hybrid of genealogy and record checking plus amateur detective stuff makes Hiding the Past by Nathan Dylan Goodwin a worthy page turner for a holiday week. Anyone who loves family tree research, and a good crime novel, will like this with its narrative stretching from World War Two to present-day politicians.Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Within days of taking on a new client, genealogist Morton Farrier knows this case is different: one, his client pays a fee of £50,000 straight into his bank account; two, the client shoots himself in the head. Or does he? Helped by his girlfriend Police Community Support Officer Juliette, Farrier studies the background of his, now dead, client, Peter Coldrick, a study which leads him to two key years: 1944 and 1987. Official records for Coldrick’s descendants have mysteriously disappeared, Morton is being followed by a glossy black 4×4, and it may be his imagination but a usually helpful archives officer is proving difficult to pin down.

Morton is an interesting character, adopted, rubbing along awkwardly with his widowed adoptive father and soldier brother, quick with a sharp word whilst knowing he should be kinder and hating himself for it. I also liked the clear drawing of his setting around the Kent & Sussex towns and villages of Sedelscombe, Rye, Tenterden and Lewes, an area I lived in and loved, Goodwin makes them feel real on the page. This is the first of, at the time of writing, four Morton Farrier novels, so expect to read more about Morton’s own adoption story in future books.
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If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
The Seven Sisters’ by Lucinda Riley
The Storm Sister’ by Lucinda Riley
The Shadow Sister’ by Lucinda Riley 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#Genealogy #Mystery HIDING THE PAST by @NathanDGoodwin https://wp.me/paZ3MX-5i via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#FamilyHistory #Mystery ‘Deerleap’ by Sarah Walsh

One day Grace Chalk sees her boyfriend standing at the other side of the street. Except Alex is dead. And so starts Deerleap by Sarah Walsh, a combination of love story [Grace and Alex], detective story [is Alex really alive, if so where is he?] and the nature of blame [marriage breakdown] and grief. Walsh has written an assured story, handling the emotional complexities with a gentle touch making the twists and turns even more surprising when they arrive. Sarah Walsh

When the story opens, seven years have passed since the car accident in which Grace’s father and her stepmother Polly were killed, her sister Rita seriously injured, and her boyfriend Alex disappeared. Alex’s body was never found. Rita has never talked about what happened, she is emotionally vulnerable, spiky and prone to hitting her sister. Grace’s mother still resents being deserted by her husband and Grace worries that her anger will turn into depression and suicide. At the centre of the story stands Deerleap, the remote country house where Alex grew up and where Grace visits her father as he sets up his new home with Polly. It all sounds idyllic, except seven years later, Deerleap stands empty awaiting the legal deadline when Alex can be declared legally dead and the house sold. This is the catalyst which sparks this chain of events.

The emotional vulnerability in Grace’s family made me at times question her own reporting of events, we are told the story entirely through her eyes. She is an artist, painting portraits of from her studio in Bristol. She looks into people’s faces and sees the truth. Can she find out the truth of what happened to Alex?

The Somerset countryside sounds marvellous, a stark contrast to the streets of Bristol where Grace’s troubled mother and sister live. The family ties, responsibilities and lies create a web of mystery through which you glimpse the answer. And then there is a twist at the end that I didn’t expect. This is a quiet book which really grew on me. A psychological mystery, rather than a psychological thriller, it explores the nature of grief, depression, guilt and love.
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If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
File Under Family’ by Geraldine Wall
Pale as the Dead’ by Fiona Mountain
The Marriage Certificate’ by Stephen Molyneux 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A #familyhistory #mystery DEERLEAP by Sarah Walsh https://wp.me/paZ3MX-5e via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Genealogy #mystery ‘File under Family’ by Geraldine Wall

Anna Ames is a trainee probate genealogist working for Triple H, Harts Heir Hunters, and File under Family is the first in a series of genealogy mysteries about Anna by Geraldine Wall. When Margaret Clark dies Anna is charged with finding her missing heir, daughter Briony. The trail leads abroad and unleashes an international social media campaign, reveals sexual abuse in prison and considers how enthusiasm can conflict with client confidentiality.

Geraldine Wall

Wall introduces the character of Anna and her family life which I am sure will continue to feature throughout the series. While she faces problems balancing work with studying for her Diploma in Genealogy qualification, these are nothing when compared to Anna’s stress at home. Her husband Harry has early-onset dementia so Anna’s father George has moved in to help with caring for Harry and their two teenagers, Ellis and Faye. Faye has a new Russian boyfriend who wants to take her to Russia with him. Ellis is auditioning for a role in the school panto while George is investigating his spiritual side and writing poetry. Worst of all, as Harry’s condition gradually deteriorates he becomes increasing aggressive towards Anna. Into this walks an unattractive stranger.

I found the first couple of chapters disorientating as the story pitches straight into Anna’s day with minimal explanation of her job. But the story settles down and the mystery of Briony’s whereabouts kept me reading. I particularly liked the characters of Margaret’s friends, Joan and Diane, and the importance of Bob the dog in the family dynamics. Anna’s home life is at times a little over-complicated as each family member has their own drama. Anna is a positive character, strongly defending her own family and trying to do her best for her client, albeit crossing the line at times and getting into trouble. This only serves to endear her as a convincing character. However the last quarter of the novel, after Briony’s case is solved, seemed to meander almost as if it was merging straight into book two in the series.

Not so much a genealogical mystery, more a family drama enriched by Anna’s job as a probate genealogist. It made me curious enough to read the next in the series, File under Fear.
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If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davies
The Indelible Stain’ by Wendy Percival 
The Marriage Certificate’ by Stephen Molyneux 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
FILE UNDER FAMILY by Geraldine Wall #genealogy #mystery https://wp.me/paZ3MX-50 via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Adoption #Autobiography ‘A Good Likeness’ by Paul Arnott

A Good Likeness is a well-written account of an adoptee’s journey, not in the least bit self-obsessed or mawkish. Paul Arnott knows he was adopted but doesn’t stop to think about what it means until in his thirties with his own children. He writes to his adoption society and gets a letter back with information about his birth parents. “The section of my mind concerned with the concept of identity, which had been lying under a sheet in the garage since I was born, suddenly roared into life.” Paul Arnott

He shares the emotional ups and downs of his search, which finally takes him to a second family in Ireland.

“Instead of being Paul Arnott, 11/11/61, I was now Rory Brennan, 11/11/61.” It was this sentence that really grabbed my core.

He was Rory, not Paul. “It must be inconceivable to those raised by their blood parents, surrounded by grandparents, sisters and brothers, that a man in his thirties had never given any serious credit to the potency of family resemblance.”
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And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A GOOD LIKENESS by Paul Arnott #Adoption #Autobiography https://wp.me/paZ3MX-4R via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

A #genealogy #mystery ‘The Marriage Certificate’ by Stephen Molyneux

There’s a new genre appearing in mystery, thriller and general fiction sections: #genealogylit. Involving a combination of old-fashioned mystery, family history, detective fiction and combined historical and modern-day settings, #genealogylit has grown from the love of family history research and television programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? and Long Lost Family. Stephen Molyneux

The Marriage Certificate by Stephen Molyneux is another example of #genealogylit, combining family secrets with turn of the century British history: the Boer War, the Great War, the merchant navy, the changing role of women and attitudes to illegitimacy. Unlike other #genealogylit however, it is not a crime novel, there is no murder.

It is the story of two couples – the bride and groom, Louisa and John, best man Frank and bridesmaid Rose – at a wedding on January 15, 1900; their lives, loves, dangers and tragedies. Running alongside is a modern-day strand. In 2011, amateur genealogist Peter Sefton finds the marriage certificate of Louisa and John’s wedding in an antiques shop and his curiosity is piqued. As he researches the names on the certificate, we also see their lives unfolding in a rapidly-changing world as the 19thcentury turns into the 20th. The men leave home to fight, while the women stay at home. War brings a change of life, but social mores remain Victorian.

Meanwhile, an elderly man dies alone in London. Without relatives, Harry Williams is listed on the Bona Vacantia list of unclaimed estates. In 2011, a professional heir hunting company starts to research Williams’ life in the hope of finding distant relatives and earn a share of the money. How will Highborn Research’s investigation coincide with Peter’s? Is there a connection to Laura and John? And who will inherit Harry Williams’ money?

This is not a thrilling page-turner with rapid action on every page, instead it is a slow-burning story rooted in historical detail which, for me, came alive in the final 100 pages. Perhaps this is due to the writing style, which can be a little formal and repetitive, and the author’s tendency to include tiny details. I did wonder whether the storyline was based on real people, the genealogical detail is fascinating and it is clear the author knows the research procedure, its twists and turns. I read this over one weekend, and found myself sitting up late to read to the end. Incidentally, the last page leaves the story hanging – but don’t be tempted to look!
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If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
‘Deadly Descent’ by Charlotte Hinger
Blood Atonement’ by Dan Waddell
The Seven Sisters’ by Lucinda Riley

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A #genealogy #mystery THE MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE by Stephen Molyneux https://wp.me/paZ3MX-4N via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Adoption #Mystery ‘The Pearl Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley

I really enjoyed The Pearl Sister, the fourth in Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters adoption mysteries. While Maia, Ally and Star have already investigated their birth stories, Celaeno, CeCe, has shown no interest in her own. She is feeling sorry for herself, alone now that Star has become independent. Until her curiosity is piqued. Pa Salt’s lawyer tells her about a bequest, a large sum of money, and a photograph of two unidentified men. He advises CeCe to investigate Kitty Mercer from Broome in Australia. Lucinda Riley

On her journey to Australia, CeCe stops off in Thailand, staying at Railey Beach where she has holidayed in the past with Star. As she wonders why she is there alone, feeling envious of Star’s new home and new love in England, she meets a mysterious man on the beautiful beach. They bond over the morning sunrise, both are hurting – CeCe is missing Star and feeling betrayed by her sister’s newfound life, while Ace is hiding a big secret he cannot, or will not, explain. Riley hints that behind the beauty of Railey Beach there is a dark, sordid side. Could Ace be involved in drugs? Then when CeCe steps off the plane in Australia, she discovers Ace has been arrested and believes CeCe betrayed him to the press. As the journalists identify CeCe’s name and location, she runs away to Broome.

As with all the earlier novels in the series, the story of The Pearl Sister is told in two strands. CeCe is in 2008, Kitty Mercer’s story starts in 1906. The eldest daughter of a Edinburgh preacher, Kitty goes on a nine month trip to Australia as companion to the wealthy Mrs McCrombie. It changes Kitty’s life. She drinks alcohol for the first time, kisses a man, and acts immodestly in ways that would shock her clergyman father. Two men, twin brothers, pay attention to her. Drummond is the dangerous brother, the one who kisses her. But Kitty reverts to type by marrying the steady, safe, Andrew Mercer, and moves to Broome where he runs the family’s pearl fishing company for his father.

I found Kitty’s story enthralling, she is a true rebel at a time when women were finding their feet and their voices. She has a way of identifying people needing help. Along her life’s journey she collects waifs and strays, rescuing them from hunger, mistreatment, poverty and racism, giving them opportunities, security and winning their loyalty. Each of them comes to play a critical role in Kitty’s life; from Camira, the pregnant Aboriginal servant girl thrown from the house by her master, to Sarah, the fifteen year old orphan met on a boat from England who has a gift with the sewing needle.

Australia the country and the lives and customs of its Aboriginal people are a dominant presence throughout this novel. Be warned, it will make you want to visit. Throughout it all runs the enticing descriptions of Aboriginal art, by real artists such as Albert Namatjira who lived and worked at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission outside Alice Springs, which CeCe visits.

The loose ends come together in the end though Riley did keep me guessing on a couple of the links. The significance of Ace and CeCe’s time in Thailand was one such puzzle. These are all hefty books, but I read this one quickly. It’s my favourite of the series so far which seems to get better with every book.
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Next in the series is The Moon Sister, the story of Tiggy.

Read my reviews of the first three novels in the series:-
The Seven Sisters
The Storm Sister
The Shadow Sister

If you like this, try:-
Pale as the Dead’ by Fiona Mountain
Blood Atonement’ by Dan Waddell
‘Blue-Eyed Son’ by Nicky Campbell 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE PEARL SISTER by @lucindariley #adoption #mystery https://wp.me/paZ3MX-aP via @SandraDanby