Killing Beauties, Pete Langman
Genre: Historical Fiction
I liked the sound of this, fiction but about real people, and in a period that intrigues me, but which I know little of. Sadly the story just wasn’t a great fit for me.
I’m not sure why, perhaps its because I failed to really connect with the characters, perhaps its just that events seemed muddled at times. I need to empathise with someone in a story, but though the setting felt real the characters just didn’t ,and I wasn’t really concerned with what happened to them.
Kudos to Pete for taking on bringing female spies into the public eye, sadly historically women were treated badly, as secondary to men, and even now the word Spy evokes a man, rarely do we think of female spies. They existed, though, did a hard and dangerous job, even more dangerous because women then were really regarded as unimportant, disposable.
I might come back to this another time, its a well written book, and I’m guessing well researched, certain historically it feels accurate. We’re in the throes of Covid19 when I’m reading this, and it may well be my issues, the unsettledness we’re all feeling that have affected how I felt about this story. Possibly in a different time I’ll get more from it?
Stars: Two, a good story for others but I failed to connect with it.
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The Land Beyond the Sea, Sharon Penman
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
Its years since I read a Sharon Penman novel, so I was really looking forward to this one. Sadly though, it didn’t grip me the way some of her earlier novels did. Its possible that my tastes have changed, but I think its more likely that this book, with its focus on Outremer, just didn’t draw me in as much as the books set around the UK, with figures from history I’m already familiar with.
There are so many characters here to absorb, people from different countries, differing loyalties and of course the anomaly of Jerusalem/Outremer being out of the Saracens control. It must have been difficult to keep when surrounded by enemies, and much of it seems to have come from constant negotiations, allies and truces rather than never ending battles. Its not all war, and even centuries ago politics were very important and played a huge part in running countries successfully.
I know everyone called Baldwin’s mother Agnes a cruel woman but I felt for her. Not allowed to marry the man she wanted, she was forced to marry another for family glory. Then having two kids by her husband, he puts her aside for a new bride simply because he wants to be king and the lords won’t accept her. . She doesn’t even have the children as solace, Sybilla being brought up in a nunnery and Baldwin staying with his father. No wonder she was so bitter.
I felt for Baldwin, such a potentially wonderful king, intelligent and fair, but struck down with an awful disease. The parts of the novel I enjoyed most where when it focused on particular people, and I felt I was getting to know them personally. There are just so many folk here though, such a mass of detail that I felt overwhelmed by it.
Its a well written novel, in Sharon’s usual intense and thorough style, but I just felt I couldn’t seem to get that personal angle that makes a story flow for me. I found there were so many folk, so much intensity that I had to keep putting it aside for a while. Then because I knew so few of the characters I had to recap who they were, how they fit.
Stars: Three, a well written and very intense novel, but I felt bogged down at times by the sheer numbers of new to me historical characters
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The Mystery of Love, Andrew Meehan
Genre: General Fiction (Adult) , Historical Fiction
Well, I’ve always been interested in Oscar Wilde, flamboyant, scandalous character that flouted Victorian conventions, and sadly paid for it. His legacy of words lives on, but the man himself, what was he really like?What about his home, his family?
I was interested to see his story from another perspective, but Constance seems as confused and lost-in-the-world as Oscar. She seems to live in her on head most of the time. Loyal to Oscar outwardly, and yet happy enough to live away from him. I got the impression here that she was more interested in her ideals and thoughts of Oscar than she was in the man himself. He can’t have been an easy man to live with though.
I did feel sorry for the kids, their two boys, who surely paid the greatest price. No stable family home life for them.
I wasn’t really a fan of the way the story was delivered, from Constance’s point of view, and her inner musings. I did like the Oscar footnotes though, they brought much needed levity to the story. Written in his typical understated dry wit they were the best part for me.
Stars: Two and a half, I didn’t like the main story, but Oscar’s footnotes made me smile.
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The Man Behind the Tudors, Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, Kirsten Claiden-Yardley
Genre: History, Non-fiction (adult)
I’ve read many books set in the Tudor period, set from the perspective of the Kings or Queens of the time. I’ve always wondered what drives the men ( and women) behind the scenes, the ones who have real power but need to keep on the right side of the Royals. Its a dangerous place to be.
Thomas Howard is one such man, well known in the context of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard but not really for himself. This book takes us from his childhood to his death in his eighties.
In an age where kings changed, loyalties changed, even religion changed that’s an incredible thing for a senior courtier to successfully wade through for so long. Many innocent people lost their lives on little more than the king’s whim, paranoia, gossips and hearsay. That Thomas managed to not only survive that but thrive in it, settling his family down, expanding his personal and family wealth and position is amazing to me. He was clearly a very clever man, but one able to walk that thin line between respect and honesty to his king, and telling him what he needed to know, doing what needed to be done for king and country.
I liked that the author explained where he’d sourced material, where it made it clear what was fact, backed up by primary evidence and what was speculation.
I found it an interesting read but….very much like a text book to read. Very date, people and places heavy, where I prefer a little more of the personal side, to really feel as if I know the main character.
Its just a different style of reading to that which I normally choose, and there is so much going on, so many people, so many changes, alliances, marriages and deaths, and remarriages, that I found it difficult to keep up. That’s all a personal issue though, nothing to do with the book. It never pretends to be anything other than an account of Thomas Howard’s life, but more an issue of my expectation.
Stars: Three, an excellent account of Thomas Howard’s life, very detailed but just a little too heavy for me personally to enjoy more.
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The Lady of the Ravens, Joanna Hickson
I loved this, it was a book I savoured over several sittings, not devoured in one go. I find for me that works better with historical reads, gives me time to mull over events, to think about the characters and actions, with them being so far from how we live now.
I really enjoyed the day to day bits, what they wore, what they ate, Joan chatting to her friend in the sewing trade, what each person did in the duty of the royal household. I loved it when we finally got the Raven connection, that seemed to take time and I found the story a little slow at first.
Henry 7th isn’t someone I’ve read a great deal about, I know him from the periphery of stories about his son, and of course the whole York/Lancaster issues. Turbulent times to live in when one could be royal one day, deposed and in the tower the next. Of course that stood for followers too, one day landed gentry, the next everything goes to the crown and they were out, let live if lucky, tower or death if not.
Hard decisions, yet as Joan sees, however one sympathised if a potential heir was living the followers would always be a danger, even if there was no intention on the potential heir’s part to rule.
I enjoyed reading about his royal household, the children, though was sad at how fragile life was even for royal families. Disease and death was very prevalent then, and even royals succumbed far too often.
Reading too about how children were sent away from families at such a young age, for politics, for family power, for alliances and of course for their personal futures was hard. Seemed really sad to me, that close family contact was rare in wealthy households, that parents had children they rarely saw, and who could be sent hundreds of miles away, to other countries even when still only very young. They grew up quickly then, as we see from their speech and education while still little more than toddlers.
I loved reading about Sim and the Ravens, about Joan’s championing of them and the issues she faced. Its a fictional snippet of history with roots in reality, and certainly the Raven/Tower legend is still strong. I believe the Ravens actually have their own guardians officially now.
Joanna is an author new to me, I’d be happy to read more from her when in the mood to get lost back in history for a few hours. She writes in a way that had me totally immersed in what was happening, feeling it was real, and that’s always the best stories for me.
Stars: Five. I thought at first it was a little slow, but that’s really scene setting as I discovered when I read further, and its a book I thoroughly enjoyed.
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The Familiars: Stacey Halls
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
I hovered over this, had requested via netgalley some time ago but didn’t get it 😦 , sometimes they only have limited copies for ARCs. It sounded so intriguing after reading the sample that I bought it anyway. Yep, paid real money for this one 😉
Its a fantastic read, based around the real Pendleton Witches saga, and showing how helpless women were once accused, and how easy to was for grudges, and power hungry individuals to wreck peoples lives. Literally. That magic mix ( for me ) of fiction and reality, which I love to read.
I loved Fleetwood, only 17 but on her fourth pregnancy, hoping against hope that this time her husband gets his much wanted heir. Then she finds That Letter, and is devastated. As was I reading it, I so felt for her.
Richard seems like a really nice guy, shocking to me that at just 17 his wife is on her fourth pregnancy, but in those times marriage at a young age wasn’t uncommon. He’s away a lot on business but seems to adore Fleetwood and certainly allows her a freedom many wives didn’t have at that time. Then we learn something that shocked me. Not so uncommon but I just didn’t expect it and it coloured how I felt about him after.
Alice, poor girl, just caught up in things after trying to innocently help someone, and her involvement brings others into the ever growing web of people seeking the kings favour are weaving, knowing his vendetta against witches. Looking at the accusations and the “proof” from today’s perspective its ludicrous, but back then men were Gods almost when it came to determining who was innocent – hint, virtually no one. They seemed to see accused as guilty the minute someone laid a charge, and knowing the more “witches” they found, the higher the king would regard them was a powerful motive for those with no conscience.
Poor Fleetwood learns some unpleasant lessons about trust in this book. Alice too, helping someone injured ended up risking her life. She’d such a hard life anyway, and then doing something so innocent cost her job and brought her to the witch hunters notice.
The supernatural, the familiars element of the title is kind of elusive, certain animals could perhaps be familiars, and yet it could just be supposition, superstitious imaginings about innocent pets. Who knows, its never really clear but there’s enough co-incidences to make me wonder.
Stars: Five, a fabulous read, that mix of fiction rooted in reality and with a possible supernatural link, made it a riveting read for me. One I know I’ll re-read.
City of Pearl, Alys Clare
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery and Thrillers
I’ve said before, this series so much reminds me of the Ariana Franklin books I enjoyed years ago, and I’m really enjoying getting to know Lassair and her world. I mistakenly came in late to the series, thinking its was an AF read, so I’ve yet to have the pleasure of reading the books from the beginning. One day – so many books, so little time…. 😉
Anyway, we start in the Fens, ( a place not many miles from where I live) but the story moves on a journey to Spain. It amazes me that some folk never traveled further than the next village, which feels usual for the time, while others like Lassair, Gurdyman and his family, and a few others, embarked upon what must have been scary and perilous travails, at a time when so little was known about where they were going, and knowing the journey would be fraught with danger.
Gurdyman has always been a man of few words, Lassair has learned to curb her impatience, knowing he will tell her what she needs to know in time, but even her patience was stretched here. I’d have been climbing the walls.
Clearly the unflappable Gurdyman has been frightened, but by what? Where exactly are they going, and why? Why go now when its the worst time to travail and Gurdyman isn’t in the best of health? Lassair though is feeling her losses, poor Rollo, who died in the last book, and Jack, who so curtly rejected her so she’s ready for a change, and thinks maybe that’s why he chosen now to travel.
Like many historical reads the book is really about the gradual progress to the end, enjoying the journey the book takes us on, rather than racing to the finish. That’s good because I enjoyed that more than the actual revelations at the end.
We find the place where Gurdyman lived as a young boy, and where he furthered his education. There are more hints of some things that are a bit more Magic, than straight Healing, a trait only a few have, and of which Gurdyman has taught Lassair only the briefest history.
There’s an undercurrent of danger running through the book, of mystery, of evil and maybe harm, of things unspoken but feared, and Lassair finds herself puzzling what, why, who, where are they going etc. She has so many questions but Gurdyman reveals very little. I would be so burning with curiosity, Lassair is a better person ( all round) than me.
She learns more about herself, and things about her mentor which are hard to accept, but in contrast to that harsh fact, and the trials that undoubtedly lie ahead for her, she has a moment of happiness when Jack follows her on that perilous journey to ensure she’s safe. He’d only do that if he cares? Right? So thinks she, and I, and I so hope we’re right 😉
Stars: 4.5 I’m hovering between four and five here, the main thrust of the story was fascinating, kept me guessing and engrossed, and felt so very real, I felt I was there in history and I love a story that can do that. Somehow though the answers to those questions Lassair ( and I) has weren’t as satisfying as I’d hoped. Though all was made clear it just didn’t really feel enough for me, and there were of course bits I wasn’t happy to read, disappointments in some people. That was just a fraction of the overall though so its a four and a half for me.
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Ancient Egyptian Myths, Gods and Pharoahs, Creation and the Afterlife. Catherine Chambers
Genre: Non fiction (Adult), History
The pyramids….who hasn’t been fascinated in their creation, the how and why Egyptians came to create them. They were incredibly elaborate decoratively, but the construction uses mathematical calculations we thought were discovered in the 1600s. Clearly the Egyptians were centuries ahead of modern day man in that way.
The Gods and Goddesses, the myths and legends that grew up around them fascinated me as a child and reading this wonderful book brought back much of that magic. Its a very dense read, Catherine fully explores all elements surrounding the Gods, the changing names, how they came about and why. It’s illustrated too with wonderful photos of surviving artifacts. It amazes me that we can still have things thousands of years old, I like to imagine someone carving one of these little objects, putting their heart and beliefs into it, and that carries through to today even though the creator is long gone.
Its a wonderful read but I have it on PC as an epub read, and for me that’s hard going, and the reason its taken so long to read. Its very full of information that can’t jst be skimmed but needs time to absorb and appreciate, so I’ve been reading a little every now and then, mulling over the content when not reading. My youngest grandson has just being learning about Egyptian history and we’d recently talked over some of the things I found in this book. It was good to have a wider and more complete source than an 8 yr old primary school text 🙂
I think that as with most non-fiction books it would be better in physical form. I love my kindle but undoubtedly some books need to be “old school” print to get the best from them. If I had this book as a physical one I’m sure I’d be dipping in and out of it constantly.
Even though this society is thousands of years past its still a fascination for so many of us, and this book really fleshes out so many of the myths I know on the periphery, and goes into detailed information as to how and why they may have originated.
Stars: Five, a fabulous read, but would be best on physical book form.
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Lost and Found, Liv Rancourt
Genre: LGBTQIA, Romance
One of the reasons I love LGBTQIA reads is that the romance that always seems to have that extra edge of passion. Maybe it’s because of the barriers, historically it was illegal, punishable by prison, and even now in our supposed enlightened terms its still frowned on. People still carry that bigotry and make life difficult for those who want to love outside what they feel is *right*. Sad isn’t it that we can’t all just live and let live in real life. Still, it makes for some fabulous fiction.
When we meet Ben its clear to see the War ( WW1) has affected him mentally, but of course its an age when such things were not only largely unknown but unspoken too, and he’s kind of floundering along, single mindedly searching for his childhood friend Elias. He can’t explain why he needs to do this for a friend but he just has to.
Its clear to the reader than they had more than just friendship, but in times like those Ben seems to have shut off his mind to the possibility that they were more, that he is attracted to men. Who can blame him when any hint of liking your own sex carried the taint of Unnatural, the threat of prison, the ostracising in society and employment prospects. Awful isn’t it that we could send people off to war, to die for their country but not let them live as they chose.
Louis is also a tenant in the building where Ben has rented a room, and at first he seems so surly, dislikable, rude. Yet their landlady is one of those who gently interferes in folks lives, caring about them as friends, really looks after her tenants, and somehow she engages Louis to help Ben. Together more they start to understand each other, learn about the things that plague them both, and Ben discovers some surprises about himself that he’d locked in his mind.
Its a wonderful story, a beautiful romance, with all the period details that allowed me to feel there with them. Books like that work best for me, where I almost feel part of the story, and am happy or sad along with the characters. Its not just Ben and Elias but a host of others here that made the story so real, they became people I felt I knew as friends.
At the end Liv talks about the story and says a certain part was at the suggestion of her agent. I’m so glad she took that advice, without that section it would be a good read, with that addition it becomes a great read. That part really moved me, let me understand Ben more, made the feelings between Louis and Ben more concrete, made the problems they faced more real.
I love it when a book delivers a love story but makes the characters have real issues, face seemingly immovable barriers to their love, and lets those problems take over a complete section of the story, not just a couple of pages. Ben needed that, I needed it 😉 and it really made the ending more satisfying.
Stars: Five, a perfect historical read, full of tenderness and emotion.
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