Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: A Lady in Disguise by Sandra Byrd

Publisher: Howard Books
Pub. Date: March 21st, 2017
Pages: 384

Book Series: Daughters of Hampshire #3
Genre: Historical Fiction


In this intriguing novel of romance, mystery, and clever disguise set in Victorian England, a young woman investigates the murder of her own father.

After the mysterious death of her father, Miss Gillian Young takes a new job as the principal costume designer at the renowned Drury Lane Theatre Royal. But while she remembers her father as a kind, well-respected man of the Police Force, clues she uncovers indicate he’d been living a double life: a haunting photograph of a young woman; train stubs for secret trips just before his death; and a receipt for a large sum of money. Are these items evidence of her father’s guilty secrets? His longtime police partner thinks so.

Then Gillian meets the dashing Viscount Thomas Lockwood. Their attraction is instant and inescapable. As their romantic involvement grows, Gillian begins to suspect even Lockwood’s motives. Does Lord Lockwood truly love her? Or is his interest a front for the desire to own her newly inherited property? And what should she make of her friend’s suggestion that Lockwood or men like him were involved in the murder of her father?

Soon Gillian is convinced that her father has left evidence somewhere that can prove his innocence and reveal the guilty party. But someone wants to stop her from discovering it. The closer she comes to uncovering it, the more menacing her opposition grows. With her life on the line, Gillian takes on an ingenious disguise and takes on the role of a lifetime to reveal the true killer—before it’s too late both for her and for those that she loves.

What Did I Think About the Story?

I have read and enjoyed each of Sandra Byrd's historical novels and A Lady in Disguise is no exception. I'm always amazed with how well Ms. Byrd draws the reader into the time periods, customs, and cultures her characters inhabit and how transported I always feel by her stories. A Lady in Disguise is the third novel in her Daughters of Hampshire series but, as with the other books in both this and her Ladies in Waiting series, this is a standalone novel with a wholly original storyline and characters and situations unlike any of the others.

The main plot of this story centers around Gillian Young's search for the truth about whether or not her father's death was really an accident, whether he might have been involved in illegal dealings as a police officer, and whether either man vying for her attentions are true to their words. With so much uncertainty, the reader is forced to question everyone's intentions and to wonder who is behind the more nefarious actions going on. While I can't say that the main "bad guy" came as a surprise to me (I figured out pretty quickly who that was going to be) I was surprised by some of the revelations regarding some of the secondary characters, not only in regards to things they were doing behind the scenes but the reasons behind those actions. With all the reading I do, any time an author can slip in some surprises for me, especially when dealing with historical fiction, I am always pleasantly surprised. 

The writing style and dialogue felt very authentic to the Victorian era that the story took place in and it was very interesting to see how a woman making her own money by her own hands fit into this very traditional and uniformed world she inhabited. Her position in that world is also unusual as she comes from money and status on her maternal side but working class stock on her paternal side....something that did not happen very regularly during this time period. This sort of middle world she inhabits, one that cannot quite be pigeonholed in this time period, makes her grasp on her situation that much more tenuous and has her somewhat isolated from either side she might be able to seek help from.

With all this being said, my absolute favorite part of the novel was the detail given to developing the backstage world of the theatre and the unfortunate children who worked for it, as well as the beauty and detail that went into the art of costuming.  While the theatre was quite exciting and somewhat provocative for the times, the abandonment of the child actors once they were no longer useful was abhorrent. The reader gets to see how people took advantage of these misplaced young girls and the kind of adult world they would find themselves in without the help of the various charities set up to help them, such as the Cause so prominent in A Lady in Disguise. Learning of the training and assistance given to these children by these charities, in the hopes of giving them the chance for a good future, was really interesting and something I'm sad to say I never even thought of before. The details given to Gillian's costume designing and learning of the skills and time it takes to create the beautiful pieces not only shown on the stage but in the ballrooms of the elite was also fascinating. While I'm not personally that into fashion, learning the intricate details makes me realize just what an art form costuming really is.

A Lady in Disguise is wonderful historical fiction. There is quite a bit of talk of Christianity and scripture, however given the overall characteristics of the story and players, it never felt preachy or overdone to me. In the same vein, while romance is never something I gravitate towards, the romantic situation Gillian finds herself in isn't overly done and is therefore something that can be enjoyed by those that do enjoy romance but not something that will be a turnoff for those that don't. There's even an excellent author's note at the end of the story that cements the facts from the fictions within the story, something I always look for with historical fiction. I definitely recommend this novel, along with all of Ms. Byrd's historical fiction novels, to anyone looking for an escape into another time and place they might otherwise never get to experience.   

What Did I Think About the Cover?

I think the cover is perfect for the story! First off, the cover designer gave the woman on the cover the same color of hair as our main character was described as having (I can't stand when a character is described in detail and then does not match up with the picture on the cover!). The empty, hazy streets and elongated shadows are also perfectly matched to the story and give that sense of isolation and eeriness that is so key to the narrative. Finally, I love the muted colors, not only for the pleasant appearance but because the book will fit in nicely next to the other books in the series on my shelves.

My Rating: 4.0/5.0 

Thank you so much to author Sandra Byrd for sending me a copy of A Lady in Disguise in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. Continue below for more information about this lovely book and it's author.

Praise for A Lady in Disguise 

"Capturing a distinctively gothic feel, the third standalone novel in Daughters of Hampshire series beautifully pairs mystery with romance. Byrd's research into the traditions, culture and dark under belly of England in the 1800s resonates on each page to help readers become immersed in the era. Descriptions of lavishly sewn gowns and the fascinating world of the theater are brought to life by Byrd's superb writing." - RT Reviews

"This Victorian inspirational romance features everything fans of the genre expect: a plucky, relatable heroine with a visible Christian faith, a dashing but kind love interest, and a mystery element to foster tension until the dénouement and 'happy ever after' epilogue." - Book list

"With impeccable research and elegant writing, Sandra Byrd brings Victorian England to life in her latest novel, A Lady in Disguise. Readers of historical fiction will be delighted with the romance, mystery, and inspiration in this page-turning story, and they will be kept guessing until the end to see how the heroine will uncover the truth behind her father's death. Well done and highly recommended!" - Carrie Turansky, the author of A Refuge at Highland Hall and Shine Like the Daw
"Sandra Byrd's talent for keeping readers on the edges of their seats once again shines throughout this well-written tale. Brimming with mysteries from the very first page, lovers of historical fiction and historical suspense will adore discovering the startling truths alongside the heroine in A Lady in Disguise." - Dawn Crandall, award winning author of The Everstone Chronicle

My Reviews of Sandra Byrd's Other Historical Novels

Buy the Book

About the Author

After earning her first rejection at the age of thirteen, bestselling author Sandra Byrd has now published more than forty books. Her adult fiction debut, Let Them Eat Cake, was a Christy Award finalist, as was her first historical novel, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. To Die For was also named by Library Journal as a Best Books Pick, as was The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr.

A life-long lover of Victorian Gothic romances, Sandra’s new series, Daughters of Hampshire,
weaves elements of that mystical, traditional genre with inspirational and literary threads. Mist of Midnight, the series’ first book, was honored with a coveted Editor’s Choice designation from the Historical Novel Society. The second book in the series, Bride of a Distant Isle, launched in March, 2016 and the third, A Lady in Disguise, will publish in 2017.

A devotionalist as well as a novelist, Sandra’s best-selling devotional for tweens, One Year Be-Tween You and God will be followed up with her first devotional for adults, The One Year Home and Garden Devotions. Sandra has also published dozens of books for tweens and teens.

Fine out more about Sandra on her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

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