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Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

Cecily, Annie Garthwaite

Cecily: ‘A STARTLING HEROINE’ Sarah Moss by [Annie Garthwaite]

Genre: General Fiction (Adult) | Historical Fiction

Well, I’ve mentioned before how I hated history as a subject at school, all battles and dates, and yet now adore reading it. Its books like this that have made the change for me, brought history to life, through the retelling of events as well as we can imagine, through the eyes of the players involved. We read much about the men in history, the key players, and yet behind them, for better or worse, were often some very strong women.

Cecily is one such, and when we first meet her as a child its clear she adores Richard, and that feeling is reciprocated. It makes them a force to be reckoned, Cecily is fiercely intelligent and Richard wise enough to listen to her.
And yet, she’s a women at a time when life was fraught with danger. Not just the danger of being close to the king, the politics which can change day by day, but also the dangers of life for women of the time, childbirth being a huge one. Expected though to keep on producing children, male children especially. The girls were pawns, married off at a young age and sent to grow up with the husbands family. We see one of Cecily’s daughters sent away at the tender age of five. Five! How heartbreaking for a mother, and perhaps some of the reasons some women like Cecily became so pragmatic. They could find themselves on opposite sides, politically, of their close friends, and even family. They had little control over many things, so they needed to exert themselves where they could. Cecily wanted much for her family, safety, but also to be seen politically, to have prominence in the top echelons of society.

Its a difficult line, and we see Cecily and Richard back and forth, England to France, and then sent to Ireland, problem shooting, where the solution looks insolvable. Richard, advised by Cecily, manages to tread a path, commanding respect and yet what amazed me was how he had to fund the soldiers personally. He needed the riches and lands the King granted to pay for the things the King and treasury refused to do. Never outwardly, its was always promises, and yet they knew money was needed then, not later.
There’s always enemies of course, those who have the kinds ear, especially when the king is weak and Richard and Cecily reach highs and then are plunged down again. Its a thankless task and sometimes – often in fact when I’m reading about characters like this – I wonder why, just why? Why put yourself in the position where your life can be changed, snuffed out even, on a whim. Hard times.
I did have to back track several times to recall who was who and where they fitted in, as this isn’t a period of history I’ve read much about. There are very many characters here who take prominence, and I needed to be sure exactly how they fitted in. Its quite a deep book, intense at times, but the day to day stuff provided the perfect contrast.
I loved that we saw life on a very personal level here, the daily issues and hardships, the small triumphs, the sad losses of children, the feeding at a moments notice of five hundred people. Cecily really had to run a tight ship, be on top of things and she made it look so simple. Throughout we saw just how much love and respect was there between Cecily and Richard. How scared she must have been each time he went off to fight, not knowing if he’d be back. There’s a part where she’s checking his armour before one such event, praying over any vulnerable spots, that brought to me how she must have felt. Richard too, had to show a brave face when inwardly he didn’t know if he’d be back.

The ending, showing the early start of the two families fight for kingship, was also heartbreaking, showing just how sometimes, despite best intentions, attempts to guide a King who is weak, who makes bad decisions, people just have to make a choice they really don’t want to. And yes, I cried.

Stars: Five, a fabulous and very dense read. I loved the small details, the descriptions of life on a personal level.

ARC supplied by netgalley and publishers.

The Queen’s Spy, Clare Marchant

 

The Queen’s Spy, Clare Marchant

The Queen’s Spy: A new and gripping Tudor historical fiction novel for 2021 by [Clare Marchant]

Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction

aaaand Women’s fiction again. Why? Time to lose this genre.

Well, this was a fabulous read, one I was totally lost in, reading “ just one more chapter” til way too late….
I loved the past best, though enjoyed the present story too. I enjoyed how what seemed like two totally separate tales slowly began to meld.

Mathilde was such a defensive, prickly character, when Rachel was hoping for an open loving sister. Its hard though, one of them always knowing the other existed, whilst living an idyllic childhood, but poor Mathilde having spent her life thinking her dad was dead, and living as an itinerant. No fixed home, always being moved on, with a mum that’s badly traumatised by the past, its no wonder she’s so closed.
Slowly though Rachel, Fleur, Rachel’s five year old, and the house begin to weave some magic around her and she starts to open up. Of course the delicious Art Historian Oliver helps too!

From the past there’s Tom, what a wonderful character. Fled England as a child and now as an adult finds himself trying to take refuge here. Tom was taught herbal lore and remedies by his adoptive mother, and it stands him in good stead. His problems mean so many jobs just aren’t available to him, but by chance he comes to the eye of Walsingham, and those make him the perfect spy for Elizabeth 1.
I so enjoyed this historical parts, the days to day issues, the remedies, the thread involving the vanilla plants that ran through the current day story too. Seeing Tom painting his triptych as his life unfolded was magical, and then finding it later and seeing Matty, Oliver and Rachel trying to find out the story was interesting. Art really does tell a tale and before photography was one of the only ways of recording events in a visual way.
There were some happy times and some tragic ones, along with a view of how little choice most folk had in their lives, how one moment you were secure and in favour, the next in prison, possibly facing the scaffold. Its an interesting period in history, one I’m reasonably familiar with and I really enjoyed seeing how the Babingdon plot may well have played out.

Stars: Five, A lovely tale, gentle romance but for me the magic was this historical side, and seeing how eventually Tom’s story came to light.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers

Glitter, Abbi Glines

Glitter, Abbi Glines

Glitter by [Abbi Glines]

Genre: Romance,

Historical Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)

Oh this was fun, I’ve enjoyed several of Abbi’s contemporary romances ( despite being way older than the characters…) so was keen to see how she’d handle this. And it was great, a fun read, little genteel drama, wonderful characters, and solidly set in the time period. Except for – biscuits. Abbi, we don’t ever eat those biscuits for breakfast, now or then. What you call biscuits is closer to what we would call a scone and eat with butter and jam for tea. High tea or when visitors call back then of course. Biscuits and gravy for breakfast is not British, its US and every time I read it ( and it comes up multiple times) I felt it jarred.
Anyway, other than that I really enjoyed this story, it had all the typical hallmarks of a historical romance. The traditions, the era, the shock when someone steps outside the norm. I think Miriam’s aunt would have found it way more difficult to be accepted in society being a) American and b) ignoring so many of society’s conventions. But for the book’s purpose it was fine, worked well and I adored her. She was exactly what Miriam needed.
Added to the romance was that issue of the brothers and their relationship. Then of course there’s the whole reason Ashington was looking for a wife now in the first place. That made the book into more than a simple romance, into a story with some added depth and drama.
I did feel the end was very abrupt, even with that lovely epilogue, and the brothers relationship seemed to have changed on a sixpence, went from one extreme to another in an instant. I’d have liked to understand more about Nathaniel’s thinking and change of heart.

Stars: Four, an enjoyable historical, an entertaining read with a couple of surprises.

ARC supplied by Netgally and publishers

Book of Love, Sweetness and Light Book 2, Erin Satie

Book of Love, Sweetness and Light Book 2, Erin Satie

Book of Love (Sweetness and Light 2) by [Erin Satie]
Romance
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Romance

I like to read a historical novel sometimes, for an escape into more genteel times – of course that’s only for the wealthy. Maybe times don’t change! I enjoyed the historical setting, the book binding, and the political side of this read but wasn’t convinced by the romance.
Stroud – he came over as an overgrown schoolboys with his Pranks. I just couldn’t get along with them or him, but he grew on me over the course of the book as a good man, one who knew his own limits and one of the rare folk who can see how others see them and adapt accordingly. His love for Cordelia was very clear by the end, yet I didn’t really see how they got there. How they went from his pranks and her condescension to love. That’s just me though, as always this is perfect for others. We all like different things.

The politics, where Cordelia is fighting for women’s rights, were something very real, and back then on marriage a woman had nothing, everything she owned, had worked for, was the property of her husband. He could do as he wished with it, gamble it, sell it, give it away and she could do nothing. Not only that, women couldn’t divorce their husbands, only men were allowed to divorce. Its treated as a part of the book, and fits Cordelia’s nature well and I enjoyed reading about that.

Overall it was a fun read, not one that gripped me, but interesting even if the romance didn’t convince me.

Stars: Three, its an interesting historical read, but the romance didn’t quite hit the spot for me.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers

The Midnight Bargain, C.L.Polk.

The Midnight Bargain, C.L.Polk.
Magic meets Bridgerton in the Regency fantasy everyone is talking about…

The Midnight Bargain: Magic meets Bridgerton in the Regency fantasy everyone is talking about... by [C. L. Polk]
Romance
Genre: Sci-fi and fantasy

I wasn’t sure about this book at first, but quickly became hooked and I loved it.
Its a mix, a magical world, but historical in the sense that women are property, and horrors, no matter how talented magically once married they lose that. As spirits can enter unborn children and take over women have to wear a collar to lock out their magic and therefore lock out any harmful spirits. Not just while they are pregnant, but from their wedding day to the end of their childbearing years. Beatrice is horrified, she is talented, thinks the system unfair and would fair rather keep her magic and remain unmarried. However her families future depends on her making a good marriage, thanks to some poor investments by her father, a fact she’s only just become aware of.
Poor Beatrice, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Her only hope is to continue her magical education in secret and get good enough to convince her father she can help mend the families fortunes that way…
There are some great characters here, a lovely mix of friendship and the usual Mean Girls, as Beatrice isn’t quite from the top drawer. I was surprised how things with Ysabeta developed, loved it, it wasn’t what I expected. Ianthe, who couldn’t love him. One of the few forward thinking men of the time, who was prepared to try to understand what Beatrice had issues with. Like most of us, whats accepted as norm isn’t questioned, and though he knew Ysabeta has problems with it he hadn’t really though about it from a woman’s view. Of course he’s in the minority, and his mother certainly doesn’t share his views.
The star for me was Nadi, the luck spirit. I adored her, she made the book really special, her relationship with Beatrice. They both cared about the other, where convention said spirits needed to be kept in place, and didn’t have those sort of feelings.
Its a gentle romance, beset with society problems and a really fun read. I loved the magic, loved the problems that cropped up, loved the gentle mean girls stuff. It ends neatly, everything wraps up with a neat epilogue, and I’d love to read more from this world, see how the things develop with these characters and maybe others a couple of years down the line.

Stars: Five, a really magical read and I love this world. C L Polk, please write more!

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers

The Earl’s Lady Geologist ,(The Linfield Ladies Series 1), Alissa Baxter

The Earl’s Lady Geologist ,(The Linfield Ladies Series 1), Alissa Baxter

The Earl's Lady Geologist by [Alissa Baxter]

Genre: Historical Romance

I like to take a trip back mentally to the past when reading sometimes. A gentle era in some ways, but fierce in others and very bound by convention.

Cassie is determined never to marry, but wants to continue her geology work, fossil hunting, writing, and once she comes into her inheritance, opening a shop with her fossil hunting friend Mary.
She won’t be able to work in the shop of course, that’s too much a trip away from convention even for her, but her friend Mary is a different class, she’s freer to do what she wants, although she doesn’t have money to do it, she’s barely scraping a living selling her fossils. She’s made some great discoveries but being female cannot be credited with them. That’s left to the “superior” men. Sometimes little changes 😉 we’re still fighting that battle on some fronts!

And then along comes Rothbury, who’s shocked to see her on the beach, filthy and risking her life fossil hunting under dangerous cliffs and tides. I loved him, imperious, full of responsibility and yet something in Cassie appeals to him. I just couldn’t see hi married to some vapid miss, who’s conversation would be fashion and gossip.
Cassie’s family insist she has a Season, although she’s very open about her desire not to marry. Her aunt and cousins are so friendly though, she goes along with their plans as she likes them and doesn’t want to upset them.
She gets into a few scrapes with the cousins, that was fun, and I think like her I’d have wanted to go to the Hallowed grounds of the Geological Society, even though its not for women….
Rothbury is intrigued the more he gets to know Cassie, and slowly, against their wishes, feelings develop on both sides. Like any good romance though its not without a few hiccups and even some drama thrown in at the end. Its a novel with several different layers to it, which made it a very enjoyable read.

Its a fun read, fitted the time period well. I was mentally placed back in time, and enjoyed the descriptions of the balls, the fashions, the day to day stuff Ladies of the time occupied themselves with. Poor Cassie, it wasn’t fossil hunting, though she did find a niche where she could help and enjoy her passion for relics.
The characters felt very real, and the issues both Cassie and Rothbury had around marriage were very well thought out, understandable and neither had a sudden change of heart, but one that came around more gradually. I like that, I hate when a character throws away a long held belief just because they fall in love. There needs to be more, and here there was.

Stars: Five. A story I really enjoyed with enough in it for me to reread at a future date when I want a relaxing few hours with a gentler time…

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers

Echoes of Germania, H. B. Ashman

Echoes of Germania, H. B. Ashman

Echoes of Germania: A Historical Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel (Tales of Ancient Worlds Book 1) by [H. B.  Ashman]

Genre: Historical Fiction, Sci Fi & Fantasy, General Fiction (Adult)

Its always a gamble getting a book from a debut author, there’s no past stories to give you a flavour of the writing style, so I went in to this somewhat dubiously. In fact I didn’t start it til about three weeks after receiving it, not convinced from the blurb I was going to love it, and yet intrigued enough to request. And then….once I delved in I was gripped. What a fantastic read.
I really, really hope that H.B. sticks to the planned timetable of books two and three being out later this year. That would be fantastic!
From the authors website: Echoes of Germania I (2020), Songs of Rome II (2021), Drums of War III (2021)

I really liked Amalia, and as the story unfolded the relevance of her judo skills and engineering background became obvious, and were very important to the story and her place in it. I love that she’s young, around 19 I think from memory, but strong in mind as well as body. She needs that when she finds herself not in some cosplay scene, but 2000 years into the past.
At first there did seem to be battle after battle, but once Amalia was drawn in as more than a captive, once she began to make her place I was totally fixed on her, and what could/would happen.
I loved the other characters too Arminius, who couldn’t love him, Germanicus and of course Marius. I love when we have some not so nice characters too and of course here with Roman power plays they abound. Livia, Julia, Lucius, Gnaeus, all were deliciously manipulative.
I enjoyed reading the day to day stuff, and learned a lot as I was reading. Few books I’ve read cover this period and my knowledge of Rome, Romans and the soldiers are really limited to films my late husband was addicted to. Spartacus, 300 Spartans, Gladiator, Troy, The Robe ( seems that one was out every Easter…) I’m not a film watcher, preferring my books, but you kind of absorb elements when they’re constantly in front of you.
There are useful additions about the Roman structures at the front of the book, and a glossary of main characters at the end and I found both of those very helpful.

Its an interesting story, bringing in the harshness of life, the strangeness of living in the past for Amalia. And of course the mystery of Seers, the white owl, superstitions and whether Amalia being there is just bad luck, predestined, or part of a plan formed by the Seer when past events occurred.

Its a great story, easy to read and yet complex enough to entertain and keep me reading. Some books are so light I end up flipping through, bored with the story. There’s a romance here too, and I do love those, but its only a small part of the story, though becomes a strong core to later events.

Stars: Five, a gripping read, one that kept me reading “just that bit more” and up far too late into the early hours! I’m really eager for the next two parts, and know this will join my back to back reading fest favourites. I love to totally immerse myself in another world, reading stories like this right through when all parts are out.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers

A Net for Small Fishes, Lucy Jago

A Net for Small Fishes, Lucy Jago

Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

This book is based on a well known scandal – well known to many but nit to me, so I came in cold, not knowing the characters or events. I loved this read, took me back in time, I felt I was there with the people, and it conveyed the struggled females had so well. When I’m reading a historical novel I want to feel its real, for it to stay true to the time, and this one was perfect. Clearly very well researched, not just in the events but in the ways of how people lived in that time.

I didn’t particularly like either of the female leads and yet – they did what they needed to do, according to the times they lived in. Life was hard for many, for those without money there was no support, nothing to stop them and their families starving.
For those with money power reigned, until someone more wealthy or with closer ties to the Throne came along. Those on and close to the Throne, and so many others claiming wealth actually lived in a morass of debt, spending money they had no intention of paying, always knowing that because of their position those they owed either couldn’t or wouldn’t press for payment. It was almost a way of life, even the King lived life like that.

Anne appeared to want advancement for security for her children. Who can say that’s wrong? Even if the way she went about it didn’t really feel right. I felt that she was almost in a trap of having taken one step, she was forced into the next, there being no way to go backwards, or even stay static.
Not only did she have to worry about money and position but there was the issue of being female. Thinking of the time was that females were born sinful and have to live perfect lives to redeem that sin. Any excuse to blame them for anything is taken, and here poor Anne gets the full gamut of sin thrown at her, blamed for the most ridiculous of things.
Frances, very beautiful, born to a wealthy and powerful family, but as was the way, females were pawns in life, used by their families for advancement. She was married at a young age to the most horrific of men. Abused horribly yet still determined to have a family she and Anne, who has become a good friend by now, seek some dubious methods to make it work. Of course it doesn’t, and it leads them down some paths that cause issues later.
Truth wasn’t really a factor when being judged, and Anne was made a scapegoat for the sins of others IMO. She did do things that weren’t right, but times were different, and she was probably scared of what would happen t her family.
Frances, when it became clear she wasn’t going to have a marriage and children, fell in love with someone who was dangerous for her and Anne, a man reputed to be the kings, lover, but who had many dangerous, powerful enemies. I kept thinking about them both, what would I do in that position. The answer: I don’t know, who could, it was a very different time.

Stars: Five, a gem of a novel, perfectly capturing the flavour of the time and the difficulties women faced in a male dominated world.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers

The Sky Worshipers, F.M. Deemyad

The Sky Worshipers, F.M. Deemyad

The Sky Worshipers by [F.M. Deemyad]

Genre: General fiction (adult), Historical fiction

I remember years ago reading a bot about the young Genghis Khan on one of my internet forays – you know the sort, where you look up one thing, that had something interesting about something/someone else and you follow the trail, and that leads further down the rabbit hole. I’ve found all sorts of interesting facts that way. Anyway, what I recall from that was the young Genghis was cast out by his father at 12, out into the harsh wilds of Mongolia, and at one point he’s so hungry he cuts into a vein from his horse and drinks the blood. Interestingly that comes up in the book, where the Mongols carry dried blood as a food source.

So when I saw this book, written in my favourite historical way, via a personal connection I wanted to read it. Its a really interesting read. I love the way the story is delivered, via the writings of the three princesses, and then later from Lady Goharshad that reads their stories.
That personal touch, where we read about real people, about the day to day issues, works best for me in historical reads. I don’t want endless battle details and gore, though inevitably as the Mongols were such a fierce, unforgiving race there is some detail. I did feel in the last section of the book the battle details got a bit heavy for me and I skim read those, but overall it was enough to keep the context, to understand what and why they were such a fierce race, but not so much that I was put off.
I really like reading the snippets of daily life, of what they ate, of the markets, the clothes, how the contrast between rich and poor worked.

I think Reyhan was my favourite, she was taken from everything she knew for love, and then put aside and ignored. Of course friendships were difficult as the Mongol women looked down on other races so she was very much alone apart from Baaka, who had served Chaka and was able to guide her and be a friend. Krisztina was my least favourite, she seemed very shallow at times, but of course its easy to judge, secure in the knowledge I don’t have to make the decisions she did, knowing her life depended on getting them right. Reyhan was a good friend to her, and gave her so much help. I don’t think she would have survived without her, and its those friendships, daily issues, minutiae that make it such an interesting read.
Lady Goharshad was an interesting character, and her husband clearly had a lot of faith in her, to go along with her ideas even when his council advised against them, and they were clearly risky.

Its a book I really enjoyed, but was quite intense and detailed and I ended reading in sections so I could absorb what I’d read properly. Parts will stay with me for a long time.

Stars: Four, a story full of interest and detail about life centuries ago, in a harsh landscape.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers

The Silk House, The thrilling new historical novel from the bestselling author of The Botanist’s Daughter, Kayte Nunn

The Silk House, The thrilling new historical novel from the bestselling author of The Botanist’s Daughter, Kayte Nunn

The Silk House: The thrilling new historical novel from the bestselling author of The Botanist's Daughter by [Kayte Nunn]

Genre: Women’s Fiction.

Gah, no, there are so many more genres this book fits and its gets dumped with that outdated, no-place-for-in-,,2020 women’s fiction. That category should not exist, why would some men not enjoy this? I can think of some that would – as I can equally think among my female friends of some who’d hate this.

Anyway – me? I loved it. My first read by Kayte Nunn, and I’m looking for more.
Its a fascinating story, I’m not a huge fan of past present format but some stories can’t be told any other way. I’m impatient and I hate stopping at a crucial moments so as usual did a bit of flipping forward, then back. I just had to know what would happen.

It took quite a while for the three threads to begin to connect, but when they did it was fabulous. I loved the historical descriptions of silk weaving and weavers, and that led me on to a wiki 15 mins reading about the famous lady silk weaver in London, from whom this character was formed. Fascinating to think how hard back then to be a success as a woman in a mans world and a mans tradition. Kayte describes very well the barriers facing women, practical ones, not just financial. Men who held the finances just wouldn’t believe women could do certain things.

I liked all three women, though I didn’t like the way Mary was with Rowan when she first met her. That class divide even got through to the lower end of the spectrum. Even now that still holds sadly. I enjoyed the descriptions of daily life, the issues each faced and how they overcame them.
I was worried at one point that this would turn into the kind of ghost story I avoid, I’m easily scared, get nightmares over nothing. I put it aside that night to finish in daylight 😉 but it was nothing, there is a slightly spooky element of the supernatural, but its not a scary spooky, more emotional spooky. It was actually incredibly interesting how the Church treats certain supernatural elements, described here in the story, and true in real life. I’m open to the idea of thoughts of strong emotions remaining behind after we’re gone etc.
There were moments when I was so sad for some of the characters, life tosses us around and sometimes there seems no way of leaving where it puts us. There were twists I didn’t expect, especially in the last quarter, and a huge one at the very end I really didn’t see coming. It led me to think back to see if I could have picked up on it but I couldn’t. I didn’t really see what the last sentence was about, keep casting my mind back to work out who. I think I’ve an idea but I’m terrible at remembering descriptions, have my own visuals of characters and they tend to overtake what the author writes !

One last thing. Termites….The book is set in UK, we don’t have termites. We’re lucky, a lot of the world does, but being an island has saved us so far I guess. I did check to see if I was mistaken, I’m not.

Stars: Five. Fab read, thoroughly recommend. Kept me engrossed with the detail and the events, just the right level of supernatural for me.

ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher

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