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
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
Woman Who Spoke to Spirits, Alys Clare
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
I love this kind of historical read, one where I feel I’m part of the setting, can taste the atmosphere, really feel as if I’m there in past times with the characters. It proved t be a light and enjoyable read. This is first in a new series, I’ve read a couple by Alys and enjoyed those, so was confident I’d like this one.
First books in a series have a hard ask, delivering characters, new settings along with an interesting story, and this book did that really well.
I’m intrigued by Lily’s past, we get hints of some awful trauma but I guess that’s going to come out more in further books. Likewise her new hire, Felix, has his own somewhat mysterious past. We know some of it, but there seems much more to him that just a down at heel former rich kid. He has so much experience of different things, and I’m keen to know how and where and when he learned all this. He seemed so much older than his actual years.
He and Lily make a good pair, work well together and even though in those times its odd to have a female boss, he makes it work, being deferential without seeming obsequious, and yet standing up when its needed. I feel maybe in further books something might develop between them but there’s little here except respect and a possible growing attraction. I want to know more about the guy in the houseboat – forgotten his name, but though he and Lily have only met a handful of times they have something special maybe? Or perhaps I’m reading things that aren’t there 😉
The mystery this is based around is actually two stories, there’s the one about the actress, the stage and young Julian, and then the primary one of Albertina and the evil she senses is out for her. That had me completely puzzled, I simply couldn’t work it out, though of course after its over I could see the clues Alys had cleverly weaved through. An original tale, not one I’ve come across before.
Stars: Four, a fun read and a great intro to the series.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction.
A very disquieting novel. Written so well its easy to forget this is fiction, because sadly stories like it were real life for too many people – still are in certain parts of the world.
Its starts with the trial, and then reverts to Frannie’s early life, how it differed from the other slaves once she reached a certain age. It left her in a kind of no-mans land, neither accepted by the slaves because of her differences, and of course never accepted by whites, her skin colour, heritage and position in life precluded that.
What it didn’t preclude though was them using her, and poor Fannie has a pretty horrific life, culminating in the murder trial.
She’s adamant she didn’t do it, but the time is a blank to her, and the “evidence” is very strongly against her. When you read the story you’ll understand why she says she simply could not have killed her mistress.
Its a mixture of Frannie’s story, and the way people of any colour were regarded in those times, the way the ruling classes regarded anyone below them, whatever colour they were, as disposable, lesser, of having no feelings and they way they were used is shocking and yet horribly true.
There were things she had to do, no choice if she wanted to stay alive, that had me feeling really sick. Its easy from our safe world to say we’d never take part in such atrocities but if we were living her life, well, its a lot harder to decide. Those parts I skimmed over, just taking in the bare bones as I’m horribly squeamish and get nightmares, but always conscious that for many this WAS real life. Man ( men and women) really is one of the cruelest animals, there seems no end to the depravity they can conduct, and back then they had free rein citing their activities as “science” and therefore important.
Stars:Four, a perfectly written story, fascinating in parts but was just that bit too much for me to give a five to. One I’m glad I read, albeit skimming the more uncomfortable parts, but not for my re-readers files.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers
Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, Samantha J Wilcoxson
Genre: Historical fiction
Sometimes I want a break from Romance, from Fantasy, and then I take a dip back in history. With these reads, as with most fiction I enjoy, I need to feel that events could have been real,. I hopefully get drawn into the story so I’m almost part of it, instead of a detached observer.
This story did all that and more, I really felt for the characters, wondered about events, even knowing British history so I had an idea of what would happen.
Samantha has stuck broadly to facts well known, but put her own interpretation on them. Thus all UK kids learn about King Richard putting his nephews into the Tower and that they disappeared, but we never really know, even now, if they died, escaped, were murdered, and if so by whom. Samantha has an interesting and plausible take on that.
The Tudors – books generally focus on Henry V111, but we’re a bit earlier here, starting with his mother and her story from childhood. We see firsthand ( well, fictionally first hand) the trials her family went through, princesses in hiding, then out in the open and then frequently back in hiding or in Sanctuary for their safety. It was a tumultuous period, with different factions vying for the throne, each gathering their own support and some pretty bloody battles. Families were never really secure, knowing that through battle they could be deposed at any time…
I enjoyed seeing Elizabeth grow, marry, have children and seeing figures I know as adults in history, Henry and Arthur, it was interesting seeing them as children. I enjoy reading about lesser known figures from history such as Elizabeth, and the childhoods of more well known people.
An excellent read, had me swept up in the story, worrying for the families, and feeling sad for the girls who were married off as political pawns, and the boys who faced imprisonment or execution if there was a change of king. Tough times to be Royals.
Stars: five, a great historical read, that drew me in and made me feel “there” with the characters.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
When Winter Comes, V.A. Shannon
Genre: Historical fiction
Gosh, such a difficult book to review. I enjoyed it immensely, but it also made me incredibly angry, sad, squeamish, and so glad I was born in recent history.
Its easy to judge from the perspective of a safe, warm home, plenty of food, good trustworthy family and friends. The Indian saying about walking a moon in anothers shoes before judging is a good one to bear in mind. Who knows what we’d do when faced with death?
We get the story from Mrs Jacob Klein, now a well respected person, wife and mother. Her husband Jacob doesn’t figure largely in this story, and yet I get the feeling he knows what happened, he saw how harrowing the journey had been for his wife, and his decision right at the start to tell her he would never ask gave her a peace of mind.
She didn’t love him when they married, but over the years that respect and trust has grown, and I feel she does love him now, not with a grand passion, but with a depth that is solid, means more to her.
When we first meet her she’s one of many, families struggling to survive, parents who don’t care or have given up caring, and just use whatever they can to scratch a living, steeped in the alcohol that helps them forget for a bit how hard life is. That’s her future, selling her body, unless she takes charge, and when the opportunity comes she grabs it, and runs, out onto the trail with folk hoping for a new life.
Its hard, she’s on her own, tagging on to a family by their goodwill, and need for her help. Things go wrong of course, days are long, life is tough but somehow they’re getting through. Seeds are sown, moments of distrust, stories embellished, accusations and insinuations run riot, as happens with any large group, but so far they are making progress. Not without losses, but they all expected that.
Then someone comes up with a shortcut, tells some of the others they’ll get there ahead of the main group if they take it, they’ll get the best opportunities, the best land, the best grazing, be wealthy, and the infamous Donner Party sets out.
That part is true, the story is a fictionalised tale based upon real events, and its harrowing to read in parts.
Of course its never as easy as it seems, the shortcut proves to be anything but, and they fall far behind, the bad weather catches up and we see all this happening through the main characters eyes. Harsh realities bring out the best in some folk and the worst in others, and it makes for some tough reading, but I was gripped by wanting to know how things worked out. Slowly the misfortunes build on and life gets harder and harder. None of them escape unscathed and they have to take some hard decisions over what to do.
Reading it, I was thinking of the unwavering cold, no real shelter, no warm clothes or bedding, no medical supplies, very little food, and the outlook bleak, with no hope of getting through before the hard weather sets in for months. That real last resort, eating the dead so the living can survive, its an awful thought, but then so is letting children starve when bodies are meat that could save them. Hard choice to make and the decision never to speak of it is a good one.
As always though there are those with loud voices who make money from the story, not by telling the truth of course, but by presenting themselves in the best light, and by talking down and blaming those who they’ve held grudges against for so long.
That’s human life, that still happens, never let the truth get in the way of a good story is something we see today in the news all the time. Some things never change, but those lies can decimate anothers life.
Stars: Four, a story I really enjoyed, hard though parts were to read.
I liked the contrast of the seemingly content and well off Mrs Jacob Klein, with the scared, starving waif she began the story as.
I loved the history part of it, that its a real story, though a fictionalised account, and I felt for those poor souls who were part of it.
It gave me much to think about after.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
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