The Turn of Midnight, Minette Walters
Genre: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (adult)
I adored The Last Hours, such a realistic read, I felt I was there with the characters. I’ve been looking froward to this. Its a very detail dense read, and I did put it aside a couple of time to fully absorb what had been written and think about what transpired.
In this next book we can see how some of the characters have changed, matured in the case of certain younger ones, some of the older ones having the reservations about Lady Anne and what she was doing reassured with her successes.
Develish has come through the plague thanks to Lady Anne’s early closing them off to the rest of the country. A hard decision, as was the exclusion period for those that had been out to see what was happening in the rest of the country. One too, of which the priest was certainly not in favour of, the line of the day from Pope Clement was that constant prayers and repentance for sins would stave off the disease. Those who died were not devout enough, full of wickedness, the plague was God’s punishment.
Once more Thaddeus is the hero of the hour, and the lads that went out with him in book one returned as men, banding together and seeing Thaddeus as their leader, honouring and respecting his decisions. He listens to them first though before deciding a course of action and they feel as if they’ve had some input. Its clear to see Lady Anne’s influence on him here, its similar to the way she rolls up her sleeves and gets on with jobs alongside her people, not just sits lazily, expecting them t do the work.
Thaddeus and the lads find out just how badly the rest of the country has suffered, especially among the labouring classes, and its clear there is going to be a huge shortfall in those with the knowledge to grow food, look after livestock, all the day to day jobs so essential in life. He and Lady Anne come up with a plan to secure independence for her folk, but its fraught with danger, and their worst fears come true.
They’ve changed some opinions by their example, Bourne has taken to heart what he learned in Develish, and with Thaddeus advice intends to implement much of it on his own estates. He can see their ideas for the future ring true, that workers more than scribes are needed now, that more profits produced when workers are treated with respect and fairly rather than the whip and fear. I feel much of his changing ideals come from the profit angle but that works and everyone benefits so….
Sadly when Thaddeus and the lads seek to bring about the plan he and Lady Anne have come up with to set their people free, they find they’ve been nurturing a viper.
Some have come round with kind words and deeds, and seen the example of what can be achieved that way, Bourne and Lady Eleanor for example, but someone else treated with the same kindness is still harbouring thoughts of vengeance, and it brings them into a very dangerous position.
Its a great read, transporting me back in time once more. The characters feel so vivid, and I feel I’ve got to know Thaddeus and the lads really well. Joshua’s dogs play a great part here, hard to think of what might have happened if Thaddeus had his way and they’d been killed. They’ve proved their worth and loyalty time and again. There were times when I struggled to see how Minette would brings these characters through, how would they slide through the murky waters of the deception they planned.
I’m sure much of the UK did look like this after the plague, it decimated the countryside, leaving orphans, ruined homes, fallow fields and a dearth of workers to rebuild. The few who survived in Blandeford were probably very typical of the time, they were so busy deciding who had more rights to what, to ensuring that everyone received a fair share that they didn’t actually achieve anything, didn’t work together, didn’t do what was needed, just struggled on day to day until Thaddeus and Lady Anne explained what happened at Develish, and set them to forming their own leaders and teams. Its pretty typical of what happens in any disaster, there are a few that get on with things while the majority bicker and decide they aren’t being treated equally. Its human nature I guess, but once Thaddeus spoke to them about leadership and what could be done they did seem as if they’d move forward. I’m sure there were many Lords though that didn’t share Lady Anne’s views who insisted their serfs still pay the full tithes even though there were few people to work the fields, mill the flour, spin the wool, butcher the livestock etc.
For those like the workers of Devilish its a time of opportunity, and I’m really keen to see how book three come about, how the events play out.
Stars: Five, another rich, enticing read, that had me fully absorbed in life after the plague.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers.
The Last Relicuin, Hargus Montgomery
Genre: General Fiction, Sci-fi and Fantasy
I was really intrigued by this book, a mix of future worlds and past one but sadly gave up at 30%. I found it too confusing and just wasn’t gelling with the story.
We’re in the 22nd century, where life for the vast majority of the population is lived in a secure and safe environment, behind glass, where everything is germ free. No touching another person, life is lived in a very solitary way so obsessed are they with germs and sterility. Its a strange existence but for them its the norm, the living museums, where they get glimpses of the past, seem an abhorrent way of life to them. Eating foods that’s been grown in dirt? Talking directly to, touching, standing near another person? Risking germs by breathing in unsterile air? Life for them is very safe, very regulated and they can’t imagine a world where people touch each other, breath ordinary air, grow food, gather in groups, and as for sex, horrible thought that, messy and unsanitary…..
Alex though, son of a prominent senator, isn’t so sure about this life, rebels in small ways and then decides he wants to be one of those studying the past, museum dwellers living life as it was in certain periods of history.
I was really intrigued by the idea of this story but in practice I found it confusing, and sadly it was just going over my head. I didn’t understand What was happening and Why, never mind the Who and How….
It soon became a story focused on a mystery, secrets and lies, a struggle for power where the protagonists are determined to keep the past hidden.
It’s a story with strong minded and power hungry characters, set against those who think we have a duty to keep the past alive. There were so many characters I found it difficult sorting out who was who, and how they fitted in. I did like the section dealing with the practicalities of the past, loved for example the bit where Alex smells spring for the first time, his puzzling over what it is, and where he and other students are entranced by falling leaves. I felt sorry for those doomed to live the “safe” life, but I wasn’t pulled into the story enough to continue with it.
Stars: Two, I’m sure for others its a terrific read, but the content just didn’t gel with my taste. One of those stories where its book v reader and we just don’t match.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
Laurel’s Choices, Exie Wilde Henson
Genre:, Women’s fiction, General fiction
* sigh..* Once more women’s fiction. Why? Men read books like this too.
Every now and then I like to dip into a historical read, especially ones like this where folk are living with nature. I really thought I’d enjoy this, and I did, but with reservations.
I loved the contrast of Laurel and Justin, two people in love who wanted such different things for their family, saw their futures in different ways. Laurel was an amazing woman for the time, very forward thinking, not content to let life just evolve around her, but wanting to fight for not just women’s rights, but for what was morally right every time. She wanted a stable home base, Justin wants travel and adventure, but he respected her in a way many men of the time wouldn’t, and together they do an amazing amount of good for so many people.
Laurel’s faith is very strong and often bring god into a story irritates me, depends how its done. Here’s its necessary, part of Laurels character, and of course back then people faith often was stronger than today, life was tough and they needed to believe in some form of higher power I think. I felt in that context, even though the religious parts got stronger as the novel continued it was necessary as its was so much a part of Laurel.
Where the book fell down for me was that it lagged in parts. I know it can’t be adventure and suspense all the while, and I do love day to day minutiae, but there were times here when I just felt disconnected and put the book aside.
I’m not really sure why, there were plenty of events that brought the “what now?” questions to the fore, the dangers of living in a rural situation, the differences of opinion in folk living so closely together, the medical catastrophes when there’s no hospital nearby…I liked the characters too, it just seemed to be a little flat for me. Still, as ever its perfect for others and its a well written novel that certainly brings forward all the dangers and hardship of living in those times.
Stars: Three and a half, parts I really enjoyed, the roughness of rural life, the difficulties they faced but its a one off read for me.
ARC supplied by netgalley and publishers
Home to McCarron’s Corner, Lily’s Story, Sharon K. Middleton
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
I love this kind of novel, one which has day to day minutiae of life in times long past and was eager to get started.
I found a number of things that bothered me though. Lily takes going back in time in her stride, to the point where she acts as if its perfectly normal, and those back in the past act as if her appearance is an everyday thing. I know they’ve the advantage of superstition and a prophecy but it felt kind of wrong somehow that everyone was so open and accepting. Then there’s the stuff she just happens to ave on her that play such an important part in the story. Does she really always carry stuff like that around with her. The blood cards in particular, just how many of them did she have? The way people in the past just happily let her test them in a time when anything out of the ordinary was viewed with suspicion was a little weird too for me.
Then there are the many parallels with the Diana Gabaldon Outlander stories. Having read those books several times over I noticed a number of themes that crop up in both…..nothing in fiction is every really unique, but sometimes there were parts that for me felt a little too close. The language and idioms used, I accept Lily would use 21st century speech but the way so often no one queried it? And even used expressions themselves felt a bit wrong.
The story itself was interesting, but I wished there was more from the McCarron’s Corner and the prophecy in it. The first part of the story is there but it seemed to move on to town very quickly.
If you can get past these barriers then its a story you may love, there are some inviting parts but for me the quirks were more than just a minor irritation and the story fell short because of it.
Stars: Two and a half, a story with great potential but which was let down for me by the things I’ve mentioned.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
A Suggestion of Scandal, Catherine Kullmann
Genre: Romance, Historical fiction
I only dip into historical novels occasionally, sometimes its nice to eascape to a different age. I’d say a gentler time, but that really depended on where you stood in life, and of course for women the cards were already stacked, something made very obvoius in this story.
Its a fun read, a gentle romance with a backstory that was engaging, added that bit extra to the Lord meets Governess romance. I really enjoyed the day to day descriptions, the planning what do do for the day or evening that was done. A lady’s life was very different then, very dictated by societal mores, and doing the right thing and being seen to do it was so very important. It would have driven me nuts! Having servants for the daily drudge left them with free time that needed occupying, but there were strictures on what they could do.
I loved the characters, Rosa’s scenario was very believable, Chloe and her family fairly typical of the time and Julian, ah Julian was a perfect gentleman. Then when they stay at Swanmere we meet his cousin, the widowed Mrs Overton, and her children and their friend Robert. She was such a delicious character, I love ones like her in a story. She’s decided Julian will do for husband number two, and is making her play, but thwarted by Rosa, who she sees as an interloper. Determined to get her way she does her best to oust Rosa by whatever means necessary.
I really enjoyed this story, the action, with first the events at The Place which led to Rosa’s leaving and then at Swanmere, made for an interesting tale. I learned more about history and how it affected people in their daily life. Not just those above stairs but the staff too had rules, even simple things like Polly being addressed as Lambton. One of the other staff tell her she must get Rosa to call her Lambton, not Polly, as the other staff will regard her differently. From Lord to scullery-maid, everyone seems to have a hierarchy quite rigidly adhered to, and ways of behaving and doing things that were fixed.
The romance was very gentle, as would have been at the time, though I’m not convinced that someone so highly placed in society as Julian would have looked at, or got away with marrying, a governess. Still, this is fiction and I love a downtrodden girl makes good story 😉
Rosa was a lovely lady but not one of those so sweet they set my teeth on edge. She had a subtle wit and a way of turning round slights thrown her way by Mrs Overton. Those scenes were great to read, I could imagine the genteel gnashing of teeth, while insults were carefully placed, and then cleverly deflected.
Stars: Five, a gentle read, but with action that lifted it from just a lord meets governess simple romance. I’m not sure I’d re-read it but it was a perfect one off story for me.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
The Lost Letters, Sarah Mitchell
Genre: historical fiction, Women’s fiction
*..sigh…* women’s fiction again, I so hate that category. Why rule out men, why decide they won’t like this story. Its so short sighted.
Anyway, the story…well, I expected to love it, it sounded perfect but somehow it didn’t quite sparkle, didn’t have the magic that I anticipated.
I found myself putting it aside and reading something else several times when with a book that really interests me I’m glued from start to finish.
I’m not really sure what the issue is/was. The characters were great, the time lines felt very real but I did feel the book was very slow to start.
I enjoyed the past sections more than present day, somehow I was so gripped in the story of Connie and Sylvia. Reading about the wartime experiences too, seems so unreal and yet it was life for so many. Houses and workplaces bombed, nights in air-raid shelters, kids evacuated. An awful time, so desperate in many ways. Could I evacuate my kids? I don’t know, all loving parents want their kids safe but would they be?
My mum was evacuated from Norfolk to Wales for a year, her mum went with her, they stayed with the family of someone granddad met in Army. Imagine just packing up for a year or more with total strangers, must have been hard but at least she had her mum, so many kids didn’t.
That harsh time spun the beginnings of some huge and complex secrets that spilled forward to the present day, and when they came out I had to do quite a bit of mental back tracking working out who was who and how they connected.
It was well done, and I could see just how that could have worked out, everything was so muddled and chaotic back then. Tough choices, and how heartbreaking for the people involved.
I did enjoy this story, but wouldn’t re-read it, and its one of those hard to rate books. Its perfect for those who like slowly unfolding stories but at times the pacing was just too slow for me.
Stars: three. A good read but a little flat in parts for me. I enjoyed the past more than the present which surprised me.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers.
The Nothing Girl, (Frogmorton Farm 1), Jodi Taylor
Genre:, Romance, paranormal
Well, an innocuous title for what proved to be an incredible read for me.
I wasn’t sure about this book, but its free, so if I didn’t like it I didn’t need to read/review it. I’ve not read any of Jodi’s other stories, having taken a quick look I’m not sure they’re my kind of read but then this one surprised me so maybe someday..
There is a follow up but this book feels like it ends well enough for me and I’m not keen on sequels when I don’t need them to feel story is complete.
Poor Jenny, brought up by her aunt and uncle after her parents die she’s quiet, hidden away, “Jenny can’t cope with/Jenny needs to be protected/Jenny will be upset and unable to speak”…. Its as if her relatives want the best for her, as if they’re over protective and yet from the inside they don’t really make her welcome, and seem to be happiest when she’s tucked away in her room.
She’s 13 ( I think) when we first meet her and decided to end her life. No one will miss her she thinks, and she’s mulling over the tidiest way to do it, to leave the least mess when along comes Thomas.
Thomas is wonderful, and he feels so real, I adored him. I love all things equestrian anyway and Thomas just felt so very unique, and I had no problem believing in him. I loved when he referred to her as a foal, when he interpreted her snorts of laughter as swear works!
Only Jenny can see him, he’s always with her, speaks and advises her and really helps her to cope with life. She’s still quietly tucked away but with Thomas help has persuaded her aunt to let her have the whole of the attic where she and Thomas can make hot chocolate, watch TV and relax in their own private, happy space.
That’s enough for many years then Thomas seems to decide its time for her to see more people, get more of a life. She doesn’t need to work, has money from her parents and he seems to see that she’s just becoming totally introverted. She’s 29 now and still has to ask her aunt and uncle for permission for things, still believes them when they say she’s “special” and can’t be allowed freedoms others have, and allude that if she doesn’t live quietly with them then she could end up somewhere with far more restrictions…..
And into this quiet, sombre life falls Russell, totally opposite, outwardly chaotic, charms everyone, a golden boy, talented artist whose fallen when he lost his muse. Said muse just happens to be Jenny’s cousin Francesca, spoiled, rude, thinks life revolves around her and who had a fling with Russell where he painted her continuously, was at the top of the art tree, and she adored the adulation he gave her, along with his fame of course. Then the next victim comes along and she leaves him for someone who can further her ambitions. You can tell I don’t like her 😉 and I was so angry at Russell’s fixation, infatuation even when he’s trying to help Jenny. And himself, of course, but he has good in him and sees Jenny for who she is, not who her relatives want everyone to think she is.
Jenny and Russell marry, and her life changes so much. She grows fast away from all the restrictions. Of course her relatives aren’t happy and make many concerted attempts to bring her back, but Russell is determined, even when he’s being a total ass over Francesca. He’s truthful with Jenny, tells her how he feels but its an escape for her, the best chance of a life of her own and Thomas encourages her to take the risk.
Its a madcap book in many ways, chaotic at times and yet quietly poignant too, and we see Jenny growing slowly in confidence, finding she can live a life of her own, that there’s no reason she needed to be hidden away.
And I kept thinking why did they do it? Were they just ultra protective, was there some reason I’m missing, did they just want their daughter Francesca to shine away from Jenny’s light, maybe it was just easier to be a dutiful relative if they didn’t have to actually interact much with Jenny.
There are some surprises and twists in store for Russell and Jenny, and some serious drama towards the end..
I went into this thinking it might be a YA, twee kind of read, but soon found myself immersed in Russell and Jenny’s world, getting so cross that Russell couldn’t see through the b itch Francesca, mentally shouting at his actions, feeling for Jenny and encouraging her to carry on, make plans, and hoping they’d both soon see what was obvious to everyone else.
Stars:Five, a fabulous, escapist read and one I know I’ll return to.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher
Honourable Lies, Fran Connor
This novel is set in the 1860’s, so my comments about divorce are not strictly correct, what I had read was in the process of changing at the time this novel was set, and it wouldn’t have been as difficult as before to obtain a divorce, so please read my original comments with that in mind. Apologies for my incorrect facts, and I’d like to add the following info to correct things.
Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 divorce was taken away from the Ecclesiastical Court and parliament jurisdiction. Under the Act it was possible for a man to divorce his wife for adultery, but a wife could not divorce her husband for adultery ‘only’. She had to have ‘aggravated’ cause to go with it such as serious assault or being abandoned. The civil court could then grant the divorce without recourse to parliament or the Church.
So, sometimes I just want to dip back into history, with a simple romance. Sadly though this was too sweet and simple for me. Victoria is a historical Pollyanna…. whatever happens to her she’s something good around every corner. Ditto for anyone that crosses her path.
She gets thrown out of the orphanage at 16, gets attacked while out and her little money stolen, but she’s well read and educated, and gets a job living in, with no references, no belongings, and probably looking pretty grubby, as companion/tutor to a 14 yr old. That quickly falls through but no worries, she just happens to meet and do Queen Victoria a favour….and the whole book feels like that, any mishap brings good things Every Time. She really is a charmed girl and everyone in her orbit benefits, everyone loves her. Its little things that were so unreal for me, she starts growing carrots, cabbages and potatoes with no knowledge of how, and within a couple of years has graduated to a huge flock of sheep, employing people to help her.
Then of course there’s Richard and his wife – who’s name I can’t recall. She loves another and so – hey, they get divorced. Now even I with my scant historical knowledge know it wasn’t that easy, so had a quick look on google “A couple could only be divorced by the passage of a private act through Parliament–remedy available only to the very wealthy. According to Feminism, Marriage and the Law in Victorian England, 1850-1895, about ten private acts for divorce were passed in Parliament each year.” It certainly wasn’t the easy option.
So, I know I’m reading fiction, I’m happy for authors to bend the facts and use them to their advantage but this was just too unreal for me. Life doesn’t work like that, I can accept one good thing happening, people do get lucky breaks, but for Victoria every cloud had a silver lining. There’s no way she’d have been taken on in her first job, no way she’d have met the queen, got that position, grown enough veg to buy sheep in such a short space of time…it was all too slick for me. I have to say here that from about 40 to 80 % I just skim read, bored with the story but wanting to see the end.
If you can suspend any semblance of reality and like a sweet and cute read you’ll love this, but sadly I want more real life, more angst, more blocks to happiness, though I need a HEA and was glad that came through.
Stars:Two, too far from reality for me 😦
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher
Genre: historical, Romance
I loved Jenny’s previous book, and this one is even more special for me.
I really felt I was there with the characters, I could see the colours, feel the heat, smell the exotic and the not so pleasant scents.
So much felt real that I actually skipped some of the wartime scenes, as I’m a little squeamish. There wasn’t anything particularly graphic but being the wimp I am I found it hard to imagine characters I’d come to love in that situation. I don’t really enjoy reading about the reality of war anyway, so I skimmed just looking for mention of the characters to get an overview of what was happening.
It set back in the late 1800’s and the 1940’s and reads as two stories with connected characters but its how they connect that’s the puzzle. Slowly as each story continues in alternating chapters we see them begin to join, see how they relate to each other and it made for a wonderful, escapist read.
From the early chapters I had an idea of what might have happened, but not why, or who was responsible, I an idea of how it played out but as it happened I was way off track.
Its a vivid story, the closeness of twins brought up with a sense of shame at being illegitimate – how harsh and judgemental humans can be on others. Some delight in others misfortunes, and the Mems certainly found fodder for their gossip in Mae and Harriet.
I so felt for the girls when things started to go wrong, they didn’t really stand a chance in the mans world they lived in.
Then the later section of the story with Ivy, Kit, Alex and those from the past and the present I wasn’t sure how it all fit together. Again I had ideas about some characters but how they got there, what actually happened eluded me. And when the truth came out it was incredibly moving.
Stars: five, A tear-jerker read, full of angst and emotion, and with an amazingly realistic setting.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
The King’s Witch, Tracy Borman
Genre: Historical Fiction
I have an occasional foray into this genre, Tracy Borman is an author new to me but I’ll look out for more of her novels. When I’m reading an historical work I want the personalisation, the feeling I understand the characters, to see them in day to day action, and Tracy did that perfectly here for me. I don’t work a work of fiction that reads like a text book, but I do want the events and maybe some of the characters surrounding them to be presented as they happened more or less.
Its pretty horrific how we treated people in history ( and sadly in current times too). It never ceases to amaze me how inhumane man can be, how inventive with torture. Reading a reminder of the penalty for treason gave me the usual sick feeling, that people would do all that and expect the result to be genuine, threaten and expect to get the truth. Though really I guess it wasn’t truth they wanted, just a list of names to prosecute/persecute. Seeing what happened to Frances and how she came through shows how the system was so skewed against truth.
As well as charting the end of Elizabeth the first and the succession of James 1st (of England & NI) this story covers the persecution of witches, and the still difficult question of religion. No such thing as live and let live then, it was each man out for themselves mostly, with political figures changing stances on everything according to the current climate. A very insecure time to live, especially of someone powerful in court held a grudge.
I loved Frances and her family, her love of healing and helping, her compassion but when witchcraft was being pursued so heavily, with people taking the chance to play out old grudges it was a very dangerous time to have knowledge of simple healing. I’ve always been attracted to natural remedies and how we discovered them, how people found what worked, how they did things that we would see as plain idiotic and yet they derived strength from them. Sometimes I think we have an innate need to believe in Something, Anything to help with pain, illness, things out of our control.
When it came to making a decision over Tom and his compatriots, whether to do one thing or another, I so felt for her. Each course of action held danger, each held things that went against her nature and it was a very hard decision to take.
It was a fascinating read, felt very true to time period but with that personal touch that makes a story easy to read for me.
I hadn’t realised it was a trilogy so look forward to what next for Frances and for England.
Stars:Five, a great read, very real characters, a writing of real events in a way that well could have played out.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
Queen of the North, Anne O’Brien
Genre: General Fiction (adult), Historical
I love historical novels such as this which take real events, real people and weave a story of how things may have unfolded. History was a tough time for females, regarded as first fathers property, then belonging to husband, and for those like Elizabeth, with Royal blood, and connected to the current monarch they were his property too.
Politics back then was ever changing, those who supported the king could be traitor soon as the next contender the the throne wins through. It was a time when ambition ruled, when the house name was all and Elizabeth has been brought up strong in the sense of the Mortimer claim to the throne, and genuinely believes her nephew(s) has the right to be king now that Richard is dead. Henry is her cousin, and she believed his claim that he just wanted to reclaim his lands, taken by Richard, and is shocked when he breaks his sworn vows and deposes Richard. For a while the Percy star is high with Harry and his father being supporters of Henry. Slowly though the usual cracks break through, Henry admires what Harry has done, commands him into battles, and yet the financing…well, the royal coffers have other calls.
I adored Harry ( Hotspur as he’s fervently known) – he inspired such love and loyalty in his people, was very honest in what he believed, didn’t thrown in his lot and change with the wind as so many did back then. He and Elizabeth were a great couple, both strong headed, both ready to put their views forward, both brought up since babies with a certain destiny in mind, and supporting the family names. They clashed, heatedly, repeatedly, but the making up showed how truly they were in love, how much they respected each other even when they didn’t agree. When Hotspur finally fell in battle I cried, even knowing it was coming, even though he died centuries ago. These characters felt so real to me, and their stories played out making me feel as if I was there with them, wondering what course of action was best next, what they could do to move things towards the destiny they believed was right.
Stars: Five, a wonderful read, transporting me back in time. Its my second Anne O’Brien novel, and I’m looking forward to catching up on some of the others.
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers