Grousable Books Newsletter: 15 April 2023

🌿 Springing into poisons

Garden news can be up front this time because spring is finally here after weeks and weeks (feels like months) of rain. Plants are a little uncertain, a little waterlogged still, but they’re more game to try. It’s going to be a slow start: the new artichoke plants are only ten inches high, last year’s roses are still huddling unenthusiastically, and the carrots aren’t certain if they want to bother. But the broccoli is finally growing (now that I’ve protected it from the visiting bunny with a bit of hot sauce on the leaves) and the new bearded iris forgot it just bloomed last November and is going again.

Even the part of my garden root-bound by trees is flowering

My ambitions to plant more poisonous plants (how can I write about them if I don’t grow them?) are starting small, with a dozen digitalis (foxglove). They seem happy, but a friend has reported I may have planted them in too much shade, so we’ll see. The delphiniums (aka larkspur when it’s an annual) are happy to start reaching toward the sky. Apparently the diterpene alkaloids they carry can kill an adult in very small amounts. Naturally, as with all poisons, it has therapeutic uses in smaller doses, for asthma, dropsy, and more. (Don’t worry, dog lovers–all my flowers are behind a fence!).

📚 Book news

I opened a new Etsy store for my books, which was actually quite fun to do. Etsy wants you to post the “story” of your shop, so I made one up and it’s kinda fun; I think you’ll like it. Right now it’s just my Tommy Jones Mysteries e-books, but more is coming soon, including the autographed copies currently available from my website.

Meanwhile, my Work in Progress (WIP, as they say in book land) will be a cozy mystery. I suppose it’s not that historical (set in 2004) but it will be based in a California beach town, so will be the first of my mysteries set in the U.S. So far, I have a body buried in sand at the bottom of a coastal bluff. Who is he? How did he get there? And what does it mean that one of those little paper umbrellas was found at the scene?

The Once Upon a Book Fair is in Escondido on June 3, and I’ll be there selling and signing books. Come on along–it would be great to see you. It’s 10 am – 4 pm at the California Center for the Arts.

🇬🇧 Hail Britannia

After a three-year delay, I will finally be journeying to the U.K. next month. I hope to stop by the shops that are carrying my books in London (The Old Operating Theatre) and Stockton-on-Tees (BookDragon).

I also plan to visit and photograph many of the locations from the mysteries, including Clerkenwell in London and Durham from Murder on the Pneumatic Railway.  And I’ll visit the Yorkshire Dales, which I was thrilled to see beautifully filmed in the new TV version of All Creatures Great and Small, this month’s historic TV pick. This time it’s the 1930s.

Yes, the show is excellent, with good acting and solid historical accuracy. The gorgeous scenic shots were done by drone camera. Writers sometimes make the setting a character. I love doing that, and the Dales definitely are a character in the show, mostly because no one wants to leave. And why would they?

🤷🏻 BTW

By the way, I’ve added a page on my website featuring all my Instagram posts together. Why? Well, not everyone wants to be in Facebook or Instagram, and sometimes it’s more interesting to see a bunch of posts at once.

Till next time!

Grousable Books Newsletter: Midhurst News and the Trilogy

Fire in Midhurst

I hadn’t meant to send another newsletter so soon, but this is actual news which is very sad for fans (and scholars) of H. G. Wells. Wells spent formative years in the town of Midhurst in West Sussex (my knowledge of the area led me to set A Heart Purloined there). Last week a fire raged through two properties on North Street, the main road. The Angel Inn was gutted, and I have it from someone who lives there that the remaining facade is unsafe and likely to be condemned. The building next door was referred to as The Olde Tea Shoppe, although when I ate there it was the Olive and Vine restaurant. At the back was an alcove full of Wellsian books, because Wells lived there while an assistant master at Midhurst Grammar School.

It was from Midhurst that Wells got his first real start in life, away from his mother’s ambition to have him be a sensible shop clerk. He attended school there as pupil-teacher when an apprenticeship with the chemist proved unsuitable, then later returned to teach and earn money for the school through taking national exams. As a result of these he got a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London, now Imperial College. There he was a student of T.H. Huxley and developed both his science teaching and his journalism (anthologized in my book H. G. Wells on Science Education, 1886-1897).

Wells wrote fondly of Midhurst in many books. Mrs. Walton, the owner of the Tea Shoppe when it was a sweet shop and the cook of hearty meals for Wells and the other assistant, became the character Mrs. Wardor in his novel about bicycling in the area, The Wheels of Chance.

Simon Wheeler of Wheeler’s Bookshop in Midhurst told me that in addition to the buildings themselves being over 400 years old, there were medieval frescos on one of the walls.

The Angel Inn gutted and the Olde Tea Shoppe, where Wells had a room upstairs, destroyed. Photo © Sussex Live .

The Trilogy Complete

With spring comes the completion of the Tommy Jones Trilogy, my series of interconnected, stand-alone Victorian mysteries. Tommy Jones is 12 years old in Murder at Old St. Thomas’s, where he helps Inspector Slaughter solve the crime. He’s friend and helper to Jo Harris in Murder at an Exhibition, then in Murder on the Pneumatic Railway he takes the lead by traveling to Durham to find an important witness. This is his “coming of age” story as well as a mystery, and I hope that readers are as fond of him as I am.

[In fact, secretly, I just might be writing a prequel to the trilogy, telling all about how Tommy came to stay with the Slaughters in the first place. It takes place primarily in The City . . . shhhh]

Gardens and grit

Not much to report from the garden, because quite a bit of it is waterlogged or actually under water. I have declared this Brick Path Lake, and am asking advice on applying for a refund of the “Sunshine Tax” (that’s the joke out here for why everything in SoCal is so expensive). Things are growing–I’ll tell you what things when I get on my wellies and wade out there.

Historically inaccurate TV

Allow me to express my utter disappointment in a couple of TV shows, the second of which I did not finish watching.

Dead Still (Acorn, 2020) is touted as a dark comedy set in the Victorian era and featuring photographers of the dead. This has long be thought to be a Victorian trend: people prop up their dead loved one for photographs, either with the corpse on its own or posed with the family or spouse. As macabre as it sounds, it did happen, but my research indicates not often enough to make a mini-series out of it. There is some dispute whether all of the many photographs of family members with their eyes closed or in awkward positions are actually post-mortem photography or just poor photos. Anyway, the show has an interesting premise, but I’m not sure they kept up the story that well.

Year of the Rabbit (BritBox, 2019)   The writers, Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley, know a lot about comedy but I’d venture to say know or care little about the Victorian era. The verbal and costume anachronisms appeared immediately, early in the first episode, so I want not able to watch much of it. Looking it up on IMDB, the list of special effects people and producers are very long, so perhaps historical accuracy was of little interest anyway. The clothing colors, even in 1887 when aniline dyes were known, are kind of strange.

Going Steampunk

I’m not so much of a history prude, but I expect every show set in an actual historical era to be accurate. However, the steampunk aesthetic has paid tribute to some of the scientific spirit and gadget obsession of the Victorian age, even while replacing history with fantasy.

Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal is a beautifully done example of this. Victorians were very excited about the possibilities of new communications technologies, such as the Transatlantic Cable, faster mail service,  and the telephone. In Going Postal, messages are communicated using lights in large towers, translated at the other end and reconveyed across distances. Physical letters rot in piles in the actual post office, which our hero (a con man and convict) is assigned to straighten out. It is the story of two communications companies, and their systems, vying with each other as a life and death conflict. And it’s hysterically funny. (Plus Charles Dance is in it, so you can’t really lose.)

Coming soon

Coming soon: a freebie for my newsletter subscribers. Stay tuned.

Happy reading!

Grousable Books Newsletter: Ides of March 2023

New! Pre-order Murder on the Pneumatic Railway

The trilogy is complete! Murder on the Pneumatic Railway is the third interconnected stand-alone Tommy Jones Mystery, and the one where Tommy solves the crime. Publication date is 22 March, so pre-order now!

The blurb:

In 1870 London, the body of a postal clerk is found inside a pneumatic railway car, and surgeon Samson Light has been accused. Tommy Jones must abandon his many jobs to pursue the witness who can exonerate his former tutor. 

Inspector Morgan of St Giles Station seems unusually reluctant to pursue the case, so Samson’s barrister, wife, and friends must investigate. Clues lead to the General Post Office, the London Pneumatic Despatch Company, the highest realms of the Foreign Office, and inside Clerkenwell Gaol itself. Why was an ordinary clerk killed and, if it wasn’t Samson who did it, who did?

Peas in a Pot and a Possum

Garden news is a bit sparse given all the recent rain. SoCal folks joke about the rain, but we have little idea how to actually deal with it. Driving is crazy, water doesn’t know how to drain–it’s kind of a mess.

So, some photos. The snow peas, unhappy in the ground, are quite happy in a pot. In the middle picture is one of several possums who come in the night. They tend to the garden and scare away rats, eating all the ticks along the way, so I love them and leave out apple pieces. OK, so the last pic isn’t from my garden–it’s what I ate because I had a cold. Just an ordinary head cold, not at all what a lot of people are dealing with these days!

Book: The Dante Club

The Dante Club - WikipediaVictorian but American, The Dante Club was written by Matthew Pearl. I had previously read The Last Bookaneer, and wanted to see what the author did with a different subject.

Of the four or five real-life historical figures who help solve the crimes in 1865 Boston (U.S.), I knew something about only two: Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. These two and other famous friends were part of the Harvard scene at the same time, and in this story they become amateur detectives as a killer seems to be imitating parts of the as-yet-untranslated Inferno by Dante. So it’s the story of the first American translation of Dante, and what Dante meant to the scholars, and how the work of scholars and poets was seen after the Civil War. Combined with a murder mystery.

Although written in an elevated style at the beginning, it settles into a real whodunnit, and although they aren’t played for laughs, I found authors of the likes of Longfellow and Holmes running around solving a mystery to be amusing as well as intriguing.

TV: Miss Scarlet and the Duke, Enola Holmes 2

Naturally drawn to things Victorian, I am watching Miss Scarlet and the Duke on public television and Enola Holmes 2 on Netflix. They are rather similar.

For Miss Scarlet, I first had to get past the name, since with Miss Scarlet I’m thinking either the board game Clue or Gone with the Wind; the Duke is supposedly a nickname for Inspector Wellington but his personality is such that I can’t imagine anyone using a nickname in his presence. Enola Holmes refers to the sister of Sherlock Holmes.

The women in both series are trying to make their way as detectives, which allows for stories that include sexism and the chance to prove themselves. Both women are “strong female protagonists”; they stay true to their own personalities even as they experience some growth as a result of their adventures. The historical accuracy is a bit better in Enola Holmes than in Miss Scarlet, where I’ve winced at a few verbal anachronisms and wondered at some flat painted walls. But from a writer’s perspective, Miss Scarlet has a side character that is worth the whole show: a Jamaican criminal named Moses. While other viewers are no doubt wishing that Miss Scarlet and Inspector Wellington would kiss and get a room, I keep hoping that Miss Scarlet and Moses will set up a business together.

Tidbits on Facebook and Instagram

If you like little tidbits of history, all Victorian, follow me on either Facebook or Instagram: I’ve been posting them there as I find ’em!

This, for example, is the Battersea trial pneumatic railway. It was tested above ground first, where people could see it, before being installed underground to carry mail parcels. It is in just such a mail car that the body is found in my novel.


Haven’t read the first Tommy Jones mystery when the third is being released? That’s OK! Starting today, March 15, Kobo is offering Murder at Old St. Thomas’s e-book at 30% off. Take advantage!

And don’t forget if you like certain genres of books that BookFunnel is having promotions:

Missed previous newsletters?

Weren’t on my newsletter mail list until recently? Previous editions of the newsletter are posted on my website — just click here!

And that’s it till April!

Grousable Books Newletter: March 2023

In this edition, I present blog posts on writing, announce book promotions, and go off on design for films set in Victorian England.

Writing about Writing

Uppark, West Sussex

I’ve been composing blog posts that go further into my writing and research than a newsletter can.

In Late night with Mr. Wells I detail some of the historical research I did just to find out a few things. For a historian, research can lead to rabbit holes down which we jump without thinking, just like Alice, to get entangled in the facts of the past. Right now I’m working on a chapter about H. G. Wells, so these things happen.

In You’ve Got Romance I talk about how I came to write A Heart Purloined, how I chose the setting, and what I wanted to be different about its love story. In doing so, I realized a connection to the movie You’ve Got Mail.

In the Garden

Despite a few hot days, it’s been generally cold and a little rainy in SoCal, so my spring seeds are being started indoors. But outdoors, we’ve had some interesting visitors, including American Robins, who usually don’t come to this area at all.


Books and things

My e-books are part of several promotions this month, so have a look at the other books in these categories for some really good reads:

The Spring Into Spring Cozy Mystery Sale

The Historical Fiction Strong Female Leads Promotion

The “Back in Time” Historical Fiction and Romance Promotion

All of these are with BookFunnel, which lets you download your ebook in your preferred format, and provides customer support if you have any issues.

Victorian portrayals

I love when set design, costumes, and settings tell us more about a historical era than we knew before. Some films use the past as just a setting, as if the story could take place in any time. And many of them can. But my favorite stories are those that could take place in no other time. And some films go the extra mile to be as accurate as possible.

One of these is The Great Train Robbery from 1978. Fine attention was spent recreating not only the dress and manners of the era, but the feel of it. A highly experienced group of designers made this possible. This was production designer Maurice Carter’s penultimate film–he is known for other historically accurate movies like Becket (1964)Art director Bert Davey was an action film specialist (Aliens, The Living Daylights) but also did art direction for period pieces like The Slipper and the Rose. Geoffrey Unsworth, unparalleled cinematographer, made it all come together in one of his last films–the movie is dedicated to him. See clips here. (If there is a heaven, cinematography is by Geoffrey Unsworth and Sven Nykvist.)

Another is Sherlock Holmes, the Robert Downey Jr. version from 2009. Long ago I was a designer in theatre, and I took a class from the American Film Institute in production design, so I love this stuff. This is a great article on the set decoration for Sherlock Holmes, not only because it talks about the actor interacting with the set, but because it shows the way that setting can represent character.

Upcoming Release

On March 22 the third Tommy Jones Mystery, Murder on the Pneumatic Railway, will be released. More on that in the next newsletter!

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Newsletter: February 2023

Events and a Bookshop

I have been somewhat loathe to attend in-person events in this time of plague, but I recently attended two. One was the Oceanside Sunset Market Authors’ Night, where I got to set up a table and sell books. It was a fun event, with many people and really nice organizers (a helper literally met me at my car with a handtruck!). I was asked all kinds of questions about where I get my ideas. Talking about going through sources, reading newspaper articles written in the 1860s, was a joy. Then the next night I attended the Local Authors Showcase at the San Diego Central Library, where my book Murder at Old St. Thomas’s was among the many others featured on display in the library for the month of February. Quite an honor.

Verbatim Books, located in North Park in San Diego, is my bookshop of the month. They have a fabulous consignment program, put my books on display right away, and were a great place to shop. Used books, new books, beautifully organized and at great prices. Yes, I bought a few!

Launch for A Heart Purloined

Valentine’s Day, February 14, is the “launch” day for A Heart Purloined, my new historical romance.

I was hoping to have an outdoor launch party here in San Diego, but the forecast for February 14 says it will be the only day it will rain, in between some very dry weeks. So it might be a very quiet (or wet) launch.

February in the Garden

Dry, dry, dry. In between unseasonable rain showers, we’re getting Santa Anas. This condition is supposedly when hot winds come down the hills from the northeast. Whatever they are, they mean your sinuses dry to a crisp and there isn’t enough hand lotion in all the world.

The Mr. Lincoln rose planted last month is doing fine anyway, and the sunny weather has fooled a lot of plants into thinking it might be spring. The apple tree has already got both flowers and tiny apples, a very odd thing while the camellias are in full bloom.

Oh, and about those camellias. I learned a trick: water them heavily in autumn and you get less blossom drop. I did it and it worked!


This month I’ve been reading a book I bought at Verbatim, a Nancy Drew book. The Hidden Staircase is Book 2 of the old Nancy Drew series, which I haven’t read since I was a kid. I wanted to see how a children’s mystery reads as compared to an adult novel, and it’s a blast. It moves so quickly! There’s almost no description, and Nancy’s friend Helen is a foil–she encourages Nancy’s fearless adventurous streak. I had not remembered that Nancy was so brave as to jump into scary situations, in this case involving possible ghosts and definite bad guys.

TV and Movies

I was so excited when a friend told me that Remington Steele was on Amazon Prime, because I had just finished watching Seekers (I found the script somewhat disappointing) and didn’t know what to watch next.

Remington Steele ran five seasons starting in 1982, and I loved it. Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) has tried opening her own detective agency, but can’t get clients because she’s female. A man with an unknown past (Pierce Brosnan) appears and is mistaken for the pretend boss she’s created, Remington Steele. There is much humor in them solving mysteries sort of together, but what I really like is that Steele (or whatever his name is) is a serious classic movie buff.

This plays into the story. Some of the plots are based on old movies, but even when they aren’t he finds connections to old films. And so can the viewer. When one episode featured the disappearance of a man named George Kaplan, I knew before they did that the man never existed (see Hitchcock’s North by Northwest). The show is light but intelligent, a definite “cozy”. And the Henry Mancini theme song will keep running through your head.

And that’s it for this time!

Lisa M. Lane

20 January 2023

Announcing a romance!

A Heart Purloined, my first historical romance, will be released on Valentine’s Day, February 14.

It’s been quite the challenge, beginning with National Novel Writing Month last November/ I confess I was unable to keep mystery elements out of the story, so the characters have a few puzzles to solve!

But I am no stranger to romance novels. Back in the day, I was a huge fan of Johanna Lindsey and Amanda Quick, authors who feature heroines who go beyond plucky and are never passive. Thus it won’t surprise anyone that my “strong female protagonist” is Amanda Goodwin, a woman searching for a miniature of her grandmother that was lost in an investment swindle.

Amanda has a good heart and great confidence. She swears like a sailor, but is too truthful for her own good. The book is set, naturally, in Victorian England, but this time it’s 1880 and most of the action is in West Sussex rather than London.

A Heart Purloined is available for pre-order on Amazon now, but will be released widely as all my books are. A sweet treat for Valentines!

January in the Garden

The weather here in Southern California has been unusually stormy and wet, allowing for more days inside with the occasional foray to plant a six-pack of primroses before it rains again.

I’ve also planted a Mr. Lincoln rose, and looking around the garden, I realize I now tend sixteen roses. Some are there on purpose, and others just happened. One of my favorites is a hybrid rose where the hybrid top died off, and left the root stock below the graft. It sends up shoots and blooms all over like an old-fashioned rose.

So while some say we should dispose of the old for the New Year, and embrace the fresh, I’m not so sure. The root stock rose is so much lovelier than the hybrid it sported originally. Sometimes the older things are better, and the new things, however showy, are trendy but not lasting.

And in other books

This month I’ve been reading an old mystery, a work of general fiction, and something I’m not quite sure what to call although it says it’s a romance.

* The old mystery is The Floating Admiral, written in 1931 by a club of fiction writers, including Agatha Christie and GK Chesterton. Each wrote one chapter, and only read the chapters before, so it’s written (sort of) collaboratively. Although it was terrific fun to read, I admit I had trouble following it, since each author thought they knew who the killer was and emphasized something different.

* I’m also reading my first (!) Rhys Bowen novel, Above the Bay of Angels. To know that it’s about a woman who takes on the name of a dying woman is not as much fun as knowing that she becomes a cook in Queen Victoria’s kitchen. It’s one of the best-written popular novels I’ve read.

* The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton is a fantastic romp. When I started it, I was enchanted by the idea of a club of women pirates who steal and fight and try to kill each other but in the spirit of Victorian gentlewomen. Once the houses started flying around, I thought it was fantasy and put it down, but I came back and was glad I did. It’s listed as historical fiction but is more like steampunk comedy. The sense of humor never stops in this one – I don’t usually “lol” at books but I am, all the way through.

TV and Movies

If you follow my blog you’ll see I’ve been watching Whitechapel, and to be honest I’m glad I’m almost done!

My mystery books are semi-cozy. They aren’t thrillers and don’t contain a lot of violence or horror or explicit sex. That’s my taste, and it extends to TV and film. Whitechapel began well, with connections between a modern case and the Ripper killings, then moved on to parallel cases connected to the Kray killings.

Unfortunately, although the writing remained excellent and the historical connections fascinating, the editing began to feature more and more quick-edited shots of killings and gruesomeness, and the audio track more sounds designed to grate on the nerves. By season four those weird sounds were within scenes as well as between them.

But it’s still a good show, and without being set in the Victorian era, does a good job of making 2009 Whitechapel look like it’s Victorian, with each story connection to historic murders. It’s on BritBox.

And that’s it for January!