The Queen’s Spy, 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
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
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.
Magic meets Bridgerton in the Regency fantasy everyone is talking about…
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
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
A Tainted Marriage, Regency Marriage Laws series, Julie Roberts
Genre: General Fiction (adult)
I like to dip into historical fiction every now and then, everything seems gentler, less fraught, though of course life was still a real struggle for so many folk. I really enjoyed this read, it took some turns that I didn’t foresee and which were very real. I do like my fiction to have a sense of reality – even if its fantasy I need to think that events could actually happen that way. The things in this book, especially when Grace visits Greensleeves, I could see things happening just as they played out.
I really liked Grace, wasn’t so keen on Alex. I sort of understood his fears, but it was really hard on Grace and I could see how upset by things she was, and how she reached the conclusions she did. Later in the book it was easy to see why Alex, jumped to conclusions and I guess most would see things the way he did given the constraints on women at the time, the conventions of society that she wasn’t adhering to. Earlier in the book when he was so ,,dogmatic, autocratic, I’m not quite sure how to describe it, I had to keep reminding myself his actions were the norm for the time, when ladies were considered property of their husbands, of fathers, and decisions made for them. I guess that shows just how far we’ve come with women’s rights.
I was expecting a simple historical romance, what I got was just that, plus an interesting side story, that lifted the novel from “just” a romance, to a story that really made me think about conventions, about women’s rights, and about how easily some of these events could have turned to disaster for Grace. I even came round to Alex, he redeemed himself by his love for Grace and his willingness to admit where he’d been wrong.
Stars: Five, An enticing story with romance, drama, some fabulous obnoxious characters and a real flavour of the time.
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers
The Widow’s Secret, Katharine Swartz
Genre: General Fiction (adult), Historical fiction
A dual POV novel, in the present Rachel is researching the history of a wreck, a ship she believes to be a slave ship, and then we see the past, where Abigail Fenton is the wife of the ship’s owner.
Its an interesting story, Rachel isn’t just learning about the ship’s history but examining her own. She loves her husband, he loves her, but its a tense relationship, with Rachel not understanding her actions so how on earth can her husband?
I got the feeling this was a tipping point in their marriage, that Rachel had always been a prickly, closed off person, and we see from her relationship with her mother that she doesn’t exactly have a loving role model there. It seems to stem from when her adored father died when she was young, but its spilled over and now her marriage is in danger. She doesn’t want that but doesn’t know how to be the person she wants, open, friendly, loving.
Then back in the past we’ve Abigail, lovely young lady, adores her husband and he loves her. Typical of the time though they are restricted by society and what’s deemed correct. Abigail is unsure of the belief commonly held that slaves are more like animals, her own experiences make her doubt that, putting her in a hard position with her husband and contemporaries. Can she speak out? What about the effect on her family? If she doesn’t though what does that make her?
Its a good story, and Rachel is escaping to the past rather than face up to the issues in her present life. It hits back though, events make it so that she needs to take action or lose everything. In a strange parallel Abigail too has to pick a side, contemporaries, friendship, marriage and the accepted view of slaves, or can she voice her opinions, and maybe hope to bring about change in a small way, but risking her marriage and her position in society?
There’s a thread of Christianity running through the past, but not in an overbearing way – its something I avoid, but here it fits the story and isn’t dominating it. Its was interesting reading about the past, the slaves ( awful trade. One wonders how many really felt as Rachel did inside) and wondering what the future held for the characters involved.
I really felt for James, a good man, but carried along with accepted beliefs until confronted with the harsh truth. For anyone with a conscience that makes things tough, and I felt his struggle. Its easier to think everyone involved in that trade was awful, bigoted, a bully, but James was a gentle man, adored Abigail but initially really didn’t see wrong in what he did. Then as facts began to solidify in his mind he was struggling, what to do? Risk everything he had earned? Leave things as they were and live with his conscience? What about Abigail, he can see her actions in a different light now.
Its very complex, being horrified at his actions and then seeing them for his POV.
I loved Antony, Rachel’s husband, such an incredibly patient and understanding man and yet eventually he feels he’s tried and tried, and needs Rachel to make an effort too. I did feel that for such huge issues as they have, the ending was a little slick, very quickly all those issues were put behind them, when really I felt they would need a huge amount of work. Of course this is bookland, where problems can have quick situations leading to a HEA, but I would have liked a bit more time for them, a little more delving into the issues, and how they were going to get past them. Its simply not possible to have a blinding revelation and say all will be well……
Stars: Four, an interesting read, the abhorrent slave trade looked at through eyes of the time, and of course through Rachel’s current day view. I enjoyed the story, just felt the ending was a little too easily fixed and settled.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher
The Dark Horizon, (Linford 1), Liz Harris
Genre: Historical romance
I like to dip back in time every now and then in my reading, and this proved to be an easy, fun read.
I loved Lily right from the start, she’d had a tough beginning but every opportunity she has she works hard and turns it to her advantage. I did feel she could have tried a little harder with Roberts family, the MIL and SILs could have been won over. Possibly 😉
So Robert and Lily fall in love, and ever the optimist 18 yr old Robert is convinced his family will like her. TBH even today wealthy families still have that air that some folk just aren’t good enough, and back in the 1920s he was hoping for a miracle really. His father is the most die-hard snob, and wants spouses who not only have the right background but also have money to bring to the family business. And Lily doesn’t. Never the less, once she’s pregnant and Joseph knows Robert will marry her anyway when he’s 21 he gives in.
I so felt for poor Lily, she adores Robert, but she’s on her own in a family who see her as a gold digger, taking advantage of Robert. I did think Robert could have been a little more sympathetic, but these are different times and I guess his expectations were those of the day. You married into a family and made the best of it. Sucked up the nasty and moved forward anyway, hoping things would get better.
Joseph, is irredeemably awful, once of those patriarchs who are convinced they know best for everyone, he’s determined that Robert won’t ruin his life, and he does something irredeemably awful. I don’t want to spoil it but lets just say I was gutted, totally gutted, and though that action would be harder now with IDs, CCTV, phones etc back then its plausible things could happen that way.
I loved the American part, felt very true to time, and I enjoyed reading about everyday life there, and the people we met.
Where the book falls down for me is the end. I loved the drama of what happened, how it worked out, and was looking forward to the time when Joseph and the others were discovered. I enjoyed that the drama section lasted a good chunk of the book, that I could really feel for Lily, admire her determination. I liked that once back she wanted her just desserts, so to speak, in denouncing, those responsible but then tries to soften things because of Robert and James.
What I didn’t like was everything worked out a little too slickly, too easily, I wanted Joseph et al to suffer, but everyone seemed t take the view he meat well so that’s all that mattered. To me it wasn’t. His actions mattered, not just his intention.
I did feel too that Marian, who was innocent of everything, was the one who really paid the price. I hope somehow a future book has a happy ending for her.
Stars: Four, a great read, very real but the ending was that little bit too neat for me.
Arc via author
Where the Lost Wander, Amy Harmon
Genre: Women’s fiction, General Fiction ( Adult)
Gah, I hate Women’s Fiction as a genre heading, so outdated. Men and women can read the same books….its 2019, not 1919.
Anyway, what a fabulous book. Fiction, but with real roots. I usually read books in one fell swoop, but with this kind of story I like to read over 4 or 5 sessions, savouring the words and events, and there is so much going on its really for me the best way to get the most out of it. I mull over whats been happening, over how events are going and really enjoyed living John and Naomi’s lives with them.
The descriptions of the scenery, the way the john and Naomi met, the others on the wagon train, the harshness of the journey. Amy doesn’t shy away from the hard side of this life, the way people could be alive one moment and then a short illness, and injury, an encounter with Indians and they’d be gone. Although it charts Naomi and Johns journey it encompasses so many more families, the mix of whites and their incursions onto the land, and the lifestyle of the Indian tribes who lived off the land and could see their way of life declining.
I was heartbroken when some events happened, sometimes the loss of life seemed so sudden, so tragic after all the hard work they’d done. I loved reading the events from the day to day minutiae, that always appeals to me and I felt there with the wagon train as they made their harsh journey, and with the Indians, seeing how they lived their transient lives. It was fascinating reading about not just the physical side of Indian life, but the spiritual side, how much emphasis that had on what they did, how they chose to run their lives.
Stars: Five, a wonderful read.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
Belgravia, Julian Fellowes,
Now a major TV series, from the creator of DOWNTON ABBEY
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
Well, I must be one of the few people who’ve not seen Downton. I haven’t had a TV for years – but my daughter and daughter in law love the series, and I recall reading another of Julian’s books many years ago. Throw in that I like historical reads and I wanted to try this.
To be honest I was underwhelmed. Its a reasonable story, intrigue, passion ( what passes for passion in the 19th century of course), some excellent characters and a real feeling of being there with them.
The historical setting was brilliant, I could visualise it and feel myself there with the characters watching scenes play out. What I didn’t like was the actual story, its very true to time in that circumstances and appearances are all, the innate snobbery of those at the top for any one a rung below, the desire to join their ilk by those who’ve made money but have no historical Name.
I just felt no excitement, no real mystery, everything was explained very fully as the story went on, so that by the end the only people who didn’t know the whole story were a very small group of those whom it concerned. I guess I like to try to work things out myself rather than be told them, told how the characters are feeling, reacting and whats going to happen next.
For lots of readers clearly that isn’t a problem, I can see the book has many stanch followers. That just proves what I’m always saying – reading tastes vary so much and a low-mid star doesn’t mean a poor story, just one which that particular reader didn’t enjoy.
Stars: Three, good historical setting but a story that didn’t really resonate with me. .
Arc via Netgalley and publishers