Tag Archives: genealogy fiction

#BookReview ‘The Letter’ by @KHughesAuthor #mystery #adoption

The idea for The Letter by Kathryn Hughes is enticing; the lives of two women, forty years apart, linked by a letter found in the pocket of an overcoat at a charity shop. What follows is a dual storyline – about an abused wife and her road to freedom, and a young woman in love for the first time as war breaks out. Kathryn Hughes

This is a story about two couples. In 1974, Tina Craig works in an office during the week and on Saturdays she volunteers at a charity shop to get out of the house, away from her abusive husband Rick. Staying, though she knows she must leave, Tina listens to the advice of friends but continues to excuse and forgive Rick’s behaviour. Until a mysterious letter found in the pocket of coat sets her off on the trail of the people involved. The letter is sealed and stamped but never posted. Why. When she opens and reads the letter she starts to think about Billy, who wrote the letter in 1939 as war broke out, and about Chrissie, the woman who never received his letter.

In the summer of 1939, Chrissie and Billy fall in love in the last days of peace. As Billy is called up, Chrissie faces the cultural judgements of the day combined with her bullying father.

Tina’s pursuit for the truth of the letter leads her across Manchester and to Ireland. Hughes tackles heart breaking subjects – forced adoption, Irish nunneries, bullying parents, domestic abuse – perhaps too many. The ending is predictable via a number of coincidences, facts fall into place and old hurts forgotten. Despite its frustrations, I enjoyed this story though I did long for more showing and less telling.

If you like your endings neatly tied up, you will enjoy this. A good read for holidays.
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If you like this, try:-
The Orange Lilies’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin 
‘The Love Child’ by Rachel Hore 
‘The Irish Inheritance’ by MJ Lee 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LETTER by @KHughesAuthor #bookreview https://wp.me/paZ3MX-fM via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Genealogy #Mystery ‘The Orange Lilies’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin @NathanDGoodwin 

This is a novella, a short book which I wanted to be longer. Set at Christmas 2014, The Orange Lilies revisits Christmas 100 years earlier, the first year of the Great War, and follows the story of one man in the trenches with the Royal Sussex Regiment. Third in the series by Nathan Dylan Goodwin about his forensic genealogist Morton Farrier, it is a little different from its predecessors in that it focusses on Morton’s own story rather than that of a client. Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Morton knows he is adopted but has recently discovered a complicated family secret. So in an effort to build bridges and learn more about his ancestors, he and girlfriend Juliette travel to Cornwall to visit his Aunty Margaret and Uncle Jim. Over the festive break, Morton and Margaret trace official documents telling the story of Morton’s great-grandfather Charles Farrier, who fought with the Second Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment. However as records are uncovered, more questions appear. At the same time we are told Charles’s story in 1914, with its own mysteries, contradictions and secrets. Unknown to Morton, old and modern mysteries are inter-linked.

I love the formula of the Morton Farrier books, the combination of present and past, secrets and lies, the hunt for truth and puzzles solved. This book is a little different, I think for two reasons. First, I longed in the first half for more dynamic detail of Charles’s story rather than dry factual reporting. At the front of the book, the author explains that two of his own relatives fought with this regiment. At the end of the book, the author explains that the movements of the Second Battalion are recorded as faithfully and accurately as possible. It feels as if the history bound the creative hands of the author. The second difference is that Morton is researching his own family and so the emotional attachment is different. Unlike when he is searching for clients, there is no immediate danger to his life, property or loved ones.

I raced through this book, intrigued by the mystery of Charles and his young wife Nellie. If you are new to the Morton Farrier books, you will appreciate this novella better if you have already read the first two in the series.
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Read my reviews of the first two Morton Farrier books, Hiding the Past, and The Lost Ancestor.

If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
Shadow Baby’ by Margaret Forster
Innocent Blood’ by PD James
Pale as the Dead’ by Fiona Mountain 

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

#Genealogy #Mystery ‘The Lost Ancestor’ by Nathan Dylan Goodwin @NathanDGoodwin 

When forensic genealogist Morton Farrier is asked by a dying client to find out what happened to his great aunt, who disappeared in 1911, Morton doesn’t expect to find his own life threatened. The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin is a moreish combination of mystery, history about the pre-Great War period, and family history research. Nathan Dylan Goodwin

If you like Downton Abbey, you will identify with the 1911 sections about Morton’s great aunt Mary Mercer. In an effort to escape her rough, unemployed father and unpleasant mother, Mary takes a job as third housemaid at Blackfriars, a great house at Winchelsea in East Sussex. Little does she realize the love and heartache she finds there will shape her life. A dreamer who imagines she is the lady of the house, Mary has a rude awakening on her first day at work. She had no idea what the job of a chambermaid entailed. But the presence of her cousin Edward makes life easier to bear. When her parents fall ill, Mary gives them all her wages and so loses her chances of escaping to a better life.

Goodwin knows the Winchelsea and Rye area so well that I immediately felt I was there. His descriptions of Rye, where Morton lives and work, feel real: the streets, the old houses, and the Mermaid Inn are described with a light pen.

The story is told in two strands. Morton searches online and at local archives, and visits the real Blackfriars house, now open to the public. This story alternates with Mary’s in 1911. Goodwin weaves the two tales together so as we get nearer to the truth of Mary’s disappearance and why her mentions in all official records stop – did she die, was she killed, did she change her name and run away to Scotland, or emigrate – the threats on Morton’s life, and that of his partner Juliette, get serious. The mystery in both strands build as the family connections between past and present are revealed. I did not forsee the ingenious ending.

The Morton Farrier books are excellent. Although the cover designs are a little old-fashioned, don’t let this put you off reading them.
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Read my review of the first Morton Farrier book, Hiding the Past.

If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
The Marriage Certificate’ by Stephen Molyneux
Run’ by Ann Patchett
The Blood Detective’ by Dan Waddell 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LOST ANCESTOR by @NathanDGoodwin #bookreview https://wp.me/paZ3MX-5L via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Familysecrets ‘Tainted Tree’ by @jackieluben #saga #romance

American Addie Russell was adopted at birth after her single mother died. Always happy with her adoptive parents in Boston, USA, advertising copywriter Addie starts to ask questions when she inherits a house from a stranger in England. Tainted Tree by Jacquelynn Luben is an adoption mystery combined with romance. It combines genealogical search and US/English differences with the joy and abandonment of teenage love. Jacquelynn Luben

Addie arrives in England at the house she has inherited. Glad to cross the Atlantic and escape her job and the boss which whom she had an affair, she is determined to find out more about her birth mother Adrienne and perhaps identify her birth father. But the local lawyer handling the estate is cold and stand-offish, sending mixed signals that Addie doesn’t understand. Undeterred, she does her own research and traces her maternal grandparents but is shocked that they rejected her when she was born. Why did they hate her so?

The action moves back and forth between Addie’s new house in Surrey and the West Country, where her mother grew up. Although this story has a fair amount of romance, both in the modern story and that of Adrienne, it also has a dark streak of abuse and violence. There are some wonderful minor characters, Ada became a favourite. Luben is good at creating atmosphere and darker, threatening personalities.

I did want to see more of Adrienne’s viewpoint directly, rather than simply reading about Addie reading Adrienne’s diary entries. Her teenage love affair in the Sixties rang true and Luben populates the story with well-drawn supporting characters, particularly the three Amerys and the Graingers.

There were times in the first third when I felt bogged down with information overload and I got a couple of the historical characters muddled up, but as the middle section took off it started to become clearer. The action scenes really move things along though the pace does vary as Addie spends a fair amount of time reviewing what she knows and doesn’t know. Luben carefully handles a complex story, allowing Addie to discover contradictions and dead ends, unhelpful personalities and unexpected curve balls.
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If you like this, try:-
The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davies
Shadow Baby’ by Margaret Forster
Beside Myself’ by Ann Morgan

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
TAINTED TREE by @jackieluben #bookreview https://wp.me/paZ3MX-gW via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

#Genealogy #mystery ‘In the Blood’ by Steve Robinson @SteveRobinson01

Steve Robinson is a new author for me and this is the first in his series of novels about American genealogist Jefferson Tayte. I warmed to JT quickly, he’s not a typical hero and seems very real. His assignment – to uncover the truth of what happened to a family who set sail from Boston to England in August 1783 – takes him across the Atlantic to Cornwall. Steve Robinson

There are two parallel timelines, the ship voyage in 1783 and JT’s trip to England set in the present day. The story weaves back and forth between the two, in fact I enjoyed reading the eighteenth century strand and would have liked more of the Fairbornes’ story. JT’s search, initially for documents, suddenly becomes dangerous when local woman Amy discovers a wooden box. Now Amy’s life is in danger too. But who stands to gain from a mystery 200 years old, and which Cornish locals can JT trust?

At times I wished there was a cast list at the front of the book as I got a little confused between the family connections, but as that is what JT was researching I guess it was inevitable.

If you like reading mysteries, try this. It’s an intriguing mixture of history, mystery, genealogy, set in Cornwall which is a beautiful backdrop. There’s lots about the countryside, Cornish history, wreckers and smugglers.
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If you like this genealogy mystery, try:-
Deadly Descent’ by Charlotte Hinger
The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davies
File Under Fear’ by Geraldine Wall 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#Genealogy #mystery IN THE BLOOD by @SteveRobinson01 https://wp.me/paZ3MX-5u via #AdoptionStoriesBlog

‘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

#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.
BUY THE BOOK
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

#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

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