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.
Arc via publishers and Netgalley
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.
Arc via Netgalley
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.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
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.
Arc via author
A Single Thread, Tracy Chevalier
Genre: General Fiction.
I enjoyed this, didn’t love it and skim read a few parts where it dragged but on the whole its a story I really liked.
I loved Violet, so typical of the time, with her fiance killed during the war, and like so many other ladies of her age, she’s become almost an outlier in a society where women are brought up to be wives and mothers. What can they do though, there’s a huge shortage of men due to the war, and yet these poor ladies don’t have a real place in society through no fault of their own?
Life was a struggle for Violet, she tried so hard to find her own place in the world, keep her independence, it was a constant balance trying to eke out enough money to survive.
The story was so typical of the time, at points such as when her employer is bemoaning the fact the he employs typists, mainly a female occupation, and yet too often they leave to get married or look after aging parents. Violet has to work hard to stay out of that trap, when her mother is ill, her brother expects her to leave her job, home, the life she’s carefully crafted as of course he has his family to look after, so naturally Violet should do the caring. Its how women were perceived then ( and very often still…). It was hard for her to stand against that but somehow she manages to work things so she can keep her little bit of independence.
The war and the losses it caused, the people who survived but with problems, the grieving parents, the ladies left single in a society geared up for couples, this book really brought all that forward. Then of course there’s the broderers, the ladies embroidering hassocks and cushions for the cathedral. I’ve never really thought much about that but it was interesting reading, about how the patterns were chosen, and the importance of the stitching in making something lasting. I found that part inspiring, how something so everyday can take on such an important part of life. I enjoyed the history we learned through it too.
Then of course the relationships, how as I said its all couples that are the norm, heterosexual ones, and how suspicious anyone outside that was treated. The difficulties of loving outside that narrow remit, the way at the end Violet’s actions caused even her own family to distance themselves from her.
She had a tough life, but found a way to work through it, to live and enjoy it, with the help of a few close friends, even though she went against the strictures of behaviours that were set at that time
Stars: Four, a fascinating read, bring in life in a very personal way.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
The Irish Princess, Her father’s only daughter. Her country’s only hope, Elizabeth Chadwick
Genre: Historical Fiction.
Sometimes I just want to immerse myself in times past, and Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my “go to” authors. She can make me feel as if I’m there with the characters, living life like an unseen part of the cast.
I know only what I’ve read in fiction of this period in UK history. I hated history at school, shame it wasn’t taught this way, I’d have got far more from it. Plus it tended to be prehistoric times or the Tudor period and there’s so much more to read than those two eras.
Its a tough time to be alive, wars are constantly being fought over land and titles, a new king often means they’re removed and given to a favourite or bargained away for the king’s benefit. Into that scene comes Aoife, born a daughter of an Irish King, the traditionally weaker sex when kings wanted sons. Aoife is strong and soon carves her own place into her fathers heart, and does what she can to shape her own destiny. Tough, when ladies were married off at men’s whims, money, position, for political expediency. Fortunately the husband Diamait wants for her is Richard de Claire. Richard is a strong ally to have. One Diamait needs, with the men and arms he controls being a valuable asset much needed after recent losses. If Diamait is to secure his ambitions he needs them, but he’s wily and puts all sorts of constraints on the marriage to ensure he gets what he wants.
Back in England Henry ll has been helping the family ( at a cost of course, nothing ever comes for free in this time), exiled after losing their lands. Henry admires Aoife, and that time spent together forges a bond between then. Henry’s a King and always conscious of that he works ceaselessly to bolster his strength, courting men and always with an eye as to what benefits him and his heritage. He plays a tricky game in Diamait’s plans for Aoife and Richard. There’s never any real rest, the threat of wars are constant, and security is fleeting. Aoife grows up seeing that first hand, and determines that she may be a woman and ultimately not in charge of her own destiny, but she also has her own skills and she works hard using them to secure whatever she can for the benefit of herself and her family.
I loved Aoife, a strong lady, intelligent and able to plan for her family, something much needed in these times when life can change daily, when one can be landed gentry one day and have nothing the next. She shows just how ridiculous this notion of men as the only ones capable of planning, organising etc, and we see just how much work she’s doing in her clever way, to get what she wants but in such a way as the giver doesn’t realise its not their own idea. Its a dangerous path, but Aoife is determined to protect her family, and fortunately in Richard she has a husband who values her brain. It takes a strong man to have a successful, happy marriage with a woman like Aoife, but they each value the others intelligence, and the love and respect between them is deep.
There are so many great characters here, so many battles, times when its all changed by another loss or win, and we can see just how hard life was, not just for those at the lower end, but for those who rule too. They have problems too, different to those of the common people but harsh non the less.
There are many surprises in this story, a look at a period in UK history which was red with blood from never ending battles. I really enjoyed reading about the characters – must admit I skimmed the battle details, I wanted to see the result and what happens after, not the actual battle. That’s a personal issue, and for others those battle scenes are important. Its interesting reading the author notes about the story v what actually happened, how closely she has stuck to known facts whilst weaving an enthralling story.
Close to the end I was very emotional, things happened that were heartbreaking, but for the times all too common.
I really enjoyed Aoife’s machinations, her sharp brain always planning for the “what if” scenario. I loved Richard, a man loyal to his wife when few were at those times. What he and Aoife had was special, and I think something Henry envied. He may have been King, with sons, with land, riches, whatever woman he wanted ( though Aoife cleverly avoided getting caught in that trap) but he didn’t have the love, the closeness, the respect Aoife and Richard had for each other.
Stars: Five, a fascinating read, bringing life and reality to a period of history I know only vaguely from stilted texts until now.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
The Love Child, Rachel Hore
Moan: women’s fiction – why alienate potential readers? Men write books enjoyed by women and men alike, and they read the same.
Anyway, having enjoyed many of Rachel’s stories before I knew I’d love this. Its an intense read, very emotional at times, and shows just how much ladies struggled back in the early-mid twentieth century.
Alice is nursing in WW1, at time when no-one knew if they’d see tomorrow, and many seized the chances they had. She was nursing Jack, they fell in love and like many, intended to marry after the war. Sadly for Jack there was no After, and Alice was left pregnant and unmarried, a scandal in her – and most – family.
Shipped off by her stepmother she was made to have Stella adopted. After all, though ostensibly she had a choice, loved her baby, wanted to keep this small piece of Jack, at 19 with no parental support for that course of action, she wouldn’t have been able to make a life for the two of them. Hobson’s choice as they say.
Stella becomes Irene, adored by her dad but never quite feeling wanted in the family, when it was clear that her mum favored her biological child Clayton. Its a lonely childhood, kids can be cruel, and she finds respite with Tom and his mum, a village oddity too, as an artist and unmarried mother.
Fast forward to the future, Alice becomes a devoted doctor, married and has children, but all the while there’s the secret of Irene. Irene is grown, works in an art gallery, loves Tom but he’s oblivious, as men often are ;-). She finds things that make her question the story of her birth and starts to search for her mum, someone kept secret so far. As the stories of Alice and Irene begin to connect those secrets start to come to light.
Its a lovely story, ends well, though for a while I feared Alice was in for yet more heartbreak. Its ever the way, men are expected, encouraged even to “sow their oats” but women must remain chaste, and if caught, the blame lays unfairly on them.
Stars: Four, its a lovely story, very real feeling, had me emotional at times, feeling as if I was there back in time with the characters.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
The Jasmine Wife, A sweeping epic historical romance novel for women, by Jane Coverdale
Well, this one doesn’t feature my usual bete noire, the “women’s fiction” category, but that runner just after the title? “Novel for women” – it means much the same and just makes me think, Why? Why alienate a potential swath of readers? Men write romance, men read romance, its time we stopped categorising stories as men/women reads.
Anyway, the story. I love books set in other countries, especially India/China/Japan, and especially set in a period of history where life was so very different not only between sexes but between races.
I loved this book, really made me feel there with Sara, feeling the heat, enjoying the rich aromatics, the colourful landscape, the busy markets and shops.
Its a good story too, what happens to Sara was what sadly happened so often then. Orphaned, brought up by relatives, and encouraged to marry rather than stay with the family. Didn’t really matter whether the match suited her, the fact that someone with a position in India chose her was enough. For those without connections there was the notorious “ fishing fleet” where desperate girls came on spec, hoping someone needed a wife.
Its hardly a romance a marriage like this, more a match of suitability. Perhaps, they don’t really know each other well after all. Sara thinks she loves Charles but barely knows him, and the man she meets in India, after a years absence is very different.
By her background, her childhood in India with very open minded, liberal parents though she sees the locals as people, while the British enclave here now are determined to treat them as lesser, as unfeeling, as beneath any decent treatment. What this books shows is just how it was in reality, and the sheer, breathtaking arrogance of people just because the are British is incredible. Its always amazed me how one tiny, little country became such a world power.
Of course Sara is lovely, way to good for Charles and the British Enclave in Madras. Charles is ambitious, and not above using Sara’s beauty to further his position, and insidiously bullies her into behaving with those who can influence his future. He sees her as a tool more than a wife, but then sadly he’s not alone. Women were regarded that way, possessions to be used, to be paraded out with, to show off, while they kept an Indian woman for what they saw as their baser needs. Wives weren’t allowed or expected to enjoy sex, but remain above such things, while men had “needs”…… Incredible how men who denigrate Indians in public still wanted them kept quietly somewhere for those needs. Sadly that was the norm, accepted even, and the poor ladies, Indian or British, had no say.
Sara gets a rapid eye opening about her husband, and of course the wonderful, attractive Ravi is a temptation she can’t resist. I loved the idea of their meeting being fated, that the signs, the gurus, Sara’s history, all meant it was inevitable according to Ravi. This idea of fate v personal choice always fascinates me, and there are times when things seem impossible but somehow work out, as if fate lent a helping hand.
Stars: Five. A gorgeous read, transporting me to India, desperate for things to work out for Sara, for her to be happy.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
Wanders Far-An Unlikely Hero’s Journey, Part of the Adirondack Spirit Series, David Fitz-Gerald
Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)
I love stories about other cultures, and was drawn to this one.
Its a wonderful, gentle story, showing snippets of how life was for the Native Indians.
I really enjoyed the day to day aspect, learning about the long houses, Bear Fat’s matriarchal group, and of course the journey Wanders Far’s life takes him on. There were a few harsh moments, life was tough then, some folk were cruel, it was part of their culture, though seems awful looking at it from modern perspectives, but back then it was simply accepted.
Wanders Far is a wonderful young man, and his story was beautiful, marrying practicality with spirituality, and showing just how important stories and the Great Spirit was to the people. I liked that we how others in his extended family and friends grew up too.
Stars: Five, a beautiful read, and I look forward to more in the series.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers