Books I've Reviewed

I review books I have enjoyed reading for Bookmuse. Reviews are then posted to Goodreads and Amazon.



MY REVIEWS TO DATE: 

Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel

by Jessica Bell

First reviewed on Bookmuse

 

Jessica Bell’s unflinching and unbridled memoir is set in 1980s Melbourne, where she grew up with rocker parents who encouraged her to play her own guitar and write her own songs. This might sound exotic and exciting, but proved to be just the opposite. Her mother’s medical problems led her to abuse pills, alcohol and, during withdrawals, to suffer terrible anxiety and psychotic attacks. Fearful of these reactions, her step-father retreated into silence. Having no one to confide in, and to rely on, Jessica turned inwards, to her own reflection.
But her mirror proved not to be a friend, but her enemy, and she stumbled into alcoholism, depression and self-destruction. She became a rebel. Until, one day, the alcohol literally almost killed Jessica and she was forced to ask herself honestly, why she kept running from reality. And from herself.

This memoir is a raw and brutally honest account of Jessica’s damaged years, and the inspirational self-determination she was able to muster to break free from this destructive wave. It portrays how her highly creative powers, both in music and writing, helped her rebuild the love, shattered by illness and medication, between a daughter and her mother.

This is a moving, frightening, intense and beautifully-narrated page-turner, where the reader can’t help but sympathise with Jessica, and hope she finds her way out of the black hole. Highly recommended.  

***

The Devil You Know

By Terry Tyler

First reviewed on Bookmuse

 

I adored The Devil You Know, reading it in almost a single sitting, but what I enjoyed most was its refreshing and different approach to the often saturated and clichéd crime thriller genre. Yes, there is a serial killer on the rampage, murdering young women in the Lincolnshire town of Lyndford, but no, the reader is not witness to a long-winded police procedural, which is almost incidental. It is the reader who gathers the clues, pieces together the evidence and finally, tries to guess who the killer is.

Because this story is all about the characters, and it’s wonderful to see such great characterization in a crime story which explores the question: do any of us really know the people in our lives, or what they’re capable of?

Told from the perspective of five different people, we are introduced to the different suspects.

There is Juliet who, upon seeing a profile of the average serial killer, realizes her abusive husband, Paul, ticks all the boxes. We have Maisie, who suspects her mother’s boyfriend, Gary. And Tamsin, whose crush on work colleague, Jake, turns to fear and suspicion. Steve suspects his childhood friend, Dan and, finally, Dorothy learns that her son, Orlando, is keeping a secret from her.

Chapters juggle between the killings, and the lives of each of these well-rounded and sympathetic characters, as their suspicions unfold and escalate. And finally, when the killer is caught, the author carries on each person’s story, and we discover what happens to all of them - outcomes which are not short of their own surprises, before the shocking twist at the end.

The Devil You Know
is a compelling and absorbing read that had me hooked right from the beginning, and guessing right to the end. It also made me think about how well I really know my friends, colleagues and family. 

 ***

Unyielding: Love and Resistance in WWII Germany

by Marion Kummerow 

First reviewed on Bookmuse


After being very moved by Unrelenting, the author’s first non-fictional account in her WWII Love and Resistance trilogy, I was really looking forward to this sequel.

 Unyielding is as equally heart-breaking, informative and packed with suspense, tracing the story of her grandparents, who belonged to the German Resistance, in their battle against the Nazi regime. Through their friends and family, we also learn of the terrible hardships that faced not only the Jews, but most Germans, during WWII.

Infused with the love and humour of this most engaging couple, as they honeymoon in Europe, then start a family, and deal with different relatives, the author paints a very realistic view of that terrible era. The suspense of their resistance activities, coupled with the fact that people had to be careful about what they said, and to whom, since comments about the Nazi party often proved fatal, make this a riveting read.

And since Unyielding ends in such a suspenseful, terrifying situation, I can't wait to read the last book of this trilogy!

***

Unrelenting: Love and Resistance in Pre-War Germany 

by Marion Kummerow

First reviewed on Bookmuse

Unrelenting is the first novel in Marion Kummerow’s World War II Trilogy, spanning the years 1932 - 1936. It is a very special story in that it is a non-fictional account of the author’s remarkable grandparents –– the courageous and unrelenting World War II German resistance fight of Ingeborg and Hansheinrich Kummerow.

In this first story we meet the main characters, following their journeys that brought them together as a married couple. We also learn of the unrest in Europe at this time, and in particular, in Germany, with Adolf Hitler’s election as Chancellor. Following the Great War, the country is suffering political unrest and economic ruin, which Hitler promises to rectify. The author’s grandparents however, are skeptical. The stage is set for the darkness and tragedy that we know will follow.

I was captivated by the moving romance of the author’s grandparents, as well as each one’s personal history. The prose evokes unrest, fear, trepidation and anticipation for another war. For anyone interested in the human stories behind the WWII resistance fighters, I would highly recommend Unrelenting, and I am very much looking forward to the second in the trilogy, Unyielding.

***

PEARL HARBOR AND MORE
by 
R. V. Doon, Vanessa Couchman, Alexa Kang, Dianne Ashcroft, Margaret Tanner, Marin Kummerow, Robyn Hobusch Echols, Robert A. Kingsley
First reviewed on Bookmuse

Taking its title from the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th, 1941 pivotal event that changed the face of WWII, these eight short stories are as diverse as the eight contributing authors hailing from all over the globe, each one a war-time fiction author.

All so different –– set in Pearl Harbour, other parts of the USA, Singapore and Europe –– each one is enjoyable and engaging in its own way. The authors evoke a vision of the war from many different points of view: soldiers, women, Jews, French, and Japanese Americans, amongst others.

My particular favourite was The List by Vanessa Couchman, which has great potential to be expanded into an intriguing novel. But I would highly recommend all the stories in Pearl Harbor and More to lovers of historical fiction tales, notably WWII.

I received  an advanced review copy of this book, and decided voluntarily to post a review after reading the stories. 

***

HER SECRET ROSE
by Orna Ross
First reviewed for Bookmuse


Book one in a trilogy, Her Secret Rose is a fictionalised biography that follows the first ten years of the relationship between the Irish poet, WB Yeats and his muse, Maud Gonne: revolutionary, feminist and political activist.

Narrated from the point of view of domestic servant, Rosie the author takes us on a fascinating journey behind these public personas into the private, real world of their human strengths and flaws.

In 1889, Yeats is 23 when he meets the beautiful rebel Maud. Through his poetry and her politics, and their shared fascination for the occult, they then embark on a voyage to try and free Ireland from its British chains.

Amidst rebellion, politics, intrigue, and Gonne and Yeats’ passion for Ireland, the author deftly brings to life Dublin, London and Paris of the 1890s as the two flit between the cities. Parts of Yeats’ poems are also woven through the narrative which for me enhanced the ambiance of this magnificently-crafted and well-researched novel.

Before reading Her Secret Rose, all I knew of WB Yeats’ poetry was what I’d learned many years ago at school, and I found this fictionalised biography an excellent and entertaining way to learn more about the poet, both his work and as a person. I also knew next to nothing about Maud Gonne and was intrigued to learn how extraordinary she was, and about the hold she had over Yeats. Through letters, journals and family communication, the author has uncovered quite a different story from the one I learned in school and, after reading this illuminating and entertaining tale, I’m now looking forward to the next in this trilogy.


***
HER TURN TO CRY
by Chris Curran
First reviewed for Bookmuse


Having loved Chris Curran’s debut novel Mindsight, I was eagerly awaiting her second and Her Turn to Cry proved to be just as gripping and page-turning.

It is 1965 and Joycie Todd, a famous model, lives with her photographer boyfriend, Marcus. She seems to have it all. However, we soon learn that events from Joycie’s past have left her damaged and unhappy. Despite Marcus bolstering her modelling career, and his obvious love for her, Joycie is unable to reciprocate his attentions.

Growing up in the 1950s, with her father and his friend as a popular theatre act, Joycie’s mother disappears. Rumour says she ran off with a man, but when Joycie finds a bloodstained rug under the bed, and is haunted by nightmares and snippets of memories from her past, she begins to ask questions. When Joycie reconnects with her aunt, she is propelled to seek the truth about her parents, if she is ever to settle in her present life.

The author smoothly switches between the past and the present, as we follow Joycie on her gripping journey towards the truth. I had a real sense of the 50s dilapidated English coastal towns and the performers of the old music halls, along with the backstage atmosphere, right to “present” day 1965.

Themes of abuse and power are deftly handled, yet the author doesn’t shy away from the realities of those times.

I found Her Turn to Cry an addictive page-turner, as Joycie develops and eventually blooms into her true self. With incredible suspense, excellently-drawn characters and a thrilling plot, I would highly recommend this to readers of crime and psychological thrillers.
 ***

HAMPSTEAD FEVER
by Carol Cooper
First reviewed for Bookmuse
I’m always keen to read the sequel to books I’ve enjoyed, so was delighted to find Carol Cooper had written Hampstead Fever, following her wonderfully entertaining debut, One Night at the Jacaranda. I felt I was meeting old friends again, following their lives and interactions which began during a night of speed dating at the Jacaranda Club. However, it is not just the old friends we catch up with; new characters, and events, come into play in Hampstead Fever.

Through witty and entertaining dialogue, and suspense-infused events –– adultery, a mysterious illness, break ups and reunions –– the author vibrantly depicts the singles’ scene in London, and the lives of those playing it out. We empathise with her characters, their strengths and their flaws, as they each find themselves caught up in complicated webs.

Carol Cooper’s experience as a doctor shines through in her meticulous research, her compassion and her empathy, all of which add many more layers to this tale than is at first imagined.

If you’re looking for an easy, page-turning read this summer, I would highly recommend you grab a copy of Hampstead Fever!



***

KAL
by Judy Nunn
First reviewed for Bookmuse
Kal tells the story of two families spanning two generations: Giovanni flees the Italian Alps after his part in a family tragedy and Caterina is banished to the other side of the world in order to protect her family’s honour. Both of them end up in Kalgoorlie, Western Australian town that sprouted up from the red desert dust and the world’s richest vein of gold in the late 1880s. Kalgoorlie was a place for people looking for adventure; a place to start life anew and possibly find one’s fortune in gold. Here the Italians cross paths with the Australian Brearley family: Maudie, who runs a miners’ pub and her husband Harry, charismatic conman, and his son, Jack.

The Australian population of Kalgoolie resents the hardworking Italian miners, and a terrible, life-long vendetta is ignited between the two families when the Italians feel they have been cheated out of their mine.

Apart from the tale of these two families, Kal is also a moving romance and a suspense-infused adventure story. With its twists and turns, the plot is rich in characters, and brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of Kalgoorlie and its goldfields, the desolate and unforgiving landscape, WW1 and Gallipoli, and the people whose lives were shaped by these events, both in Australia and in Europe.


***
THE NEARNESS OF YOU
by Sareeta Domingo
First reviewed for Bookmuse


Sareeta Domingo’s debut novel, The Nearness of You is a heart-breaking romantic tale. But there is not only romance; the story also touches on more serious and dramatic topics.

In her twenties, Taylor Jenkins lives with her best friend Marcy, and Marcy’s boyfriend, Ryan, whom Taylor had previously met at a cinema, forming an instant connection with him. When Marcy leaves on a world dancing tour, Taylor and Ryan are left to struggle with their growing feelings for each other.

But that is not Taylor’s only battle. When she finds a man’s body floating in the Thames, memories of her own mother’s suicide surface, and this also becomes the story of Taylor coming to terms with that tragedy.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Taylor and her friend, Marcy. Best friends since Taylor’s mother’s suicide, the share a strong bond. But is that tie strong enough to weather the love that develops between Ryan and Taylor?

As Taylor –– uncertain about her future after graduating from college, and stuck working in a bookshop –– witnesses the dreams of those around her coming true, she begins to question what she needs to find her own happiness.

The author writes beautifully –– prose filled with tension and heartache –– evoking Taylor’s feelings with deep empathy. I would highly recommend this moving tale of loss, true love, real life and friendships.
***

ALONE ON A WIDE WIDE SEA
by Michael Morpurgo
 First reviewed for Bookmuse



An incredibly moving, powerful and compelling story from the talented Michael Morpurgo, Alone on a Wide Wide Sea is based on the harrowing scandal of the Child Migration Scheme of the mid-nineteenth century, where thousands of children were shipped to Australia, mainly to solve the problem of overcrowding in British orphanages.

Orphaned during WW11, six-year old Arthur Hobhouse is separated from his sister, Kitty, when he is sent on a horrendous voyage to Australia in 1947, losing not only his birth country and everything he knew, but also his very identity.

Throughout his early harsh and cruel years in the Australian outback, Arthur gained solace from his only possession: a “lucky” key his sister, Kitty gave him before they were separated, as well as the song London Bridge is Falling Down playing over and over in his mind.

Despite suffering unspeakable hardships with fellow orphan Marty, Arthur ends up becoming a master-boat builder. He builds a yacht for his daughter Allie, in which she wants to sail to England in search of Kitty, her father’s long-lost sister.

This is where the second part of the story begins: a largely one-way conversation via email from Allie as she embarks on her long and difficult voyage to England.

Through his lyrical and moving prose, the author evokes a whole array of emotions: desperation, sadness and misery, through to frustration and inspiration.

Apart from the harrowing issues of the treatment suffered by the orphans, this story also explores the strength of family ties and the need to know who you are, and where you come from, something that was stripped from the children as soon as they set foot on the boat that would take them to Australia.

Based on fact, this heart-warming, heart-wrenching story brings history alive, and I would recommend it not only to young readers, but for adults too. 


FLOODTIDE
by Judy Nunn
First reviewed for Bookmuse


Floodtide takes the reader on the journey of four men and their families over a span of four decades, in Western Australia. Beginning with their carefree childhoods in the prosperous post-war 1950s, through the Vietnam War and hippy years of the 60s, into the mineral boom of the 70s and ending during the corrupt years of the 80s, which saw the birth of WA Inc.

There is an environmentalist fighting to save the stunning Pilbara from greedy mining companies, a crippled Vietnam war veteran who finds his talent elsewhere, and the ambitious geologist who joins forces with the shady businessman, both of them having a great impact on the rise and development of Perth from sleepy coastal town to important, booming city.

But the 1990s sees the four friends swamped by a floodtide of change, and with their opposing personalities, combined with their life choices, things will never be the same for any of them.

I enjoyed Judy Nunn’s captivating story and her compelling descriptions of Perth and the Pilbara, regions I have always wanted to visit. I also enjoyed learning about the history of Western Australia.

I felt the ending was the only weak point in the story. There was a little too much unnecessary factual information that took over the story, and I wasn’t happy with the way the main character’s issues were resolved. It seemed quite “out of character”. However, that didn’t deter from this overall great yarn, with its true blue Aussie flavor. 



***


I PROMISE YOU THIS
By Patricia Sands
First reviewed for Bookmuse

he third in Patricia Sands’ France-based Love in Provence series, I Promise You This follows on from Book 2: Promises to Keep, where the heroine, Katherine, leaves behind painful memories of her failed marriage in Canada to go to France to begin a new life with her French love, Philippe.

I Promise You This begins where book 2 ends, with Katherine returning to Canada to help her friend Molly, after a serious accident.

But her hometown evokes memories of all that Katherine left behind, and after a meeting with her ex-husband and a declaration of love from an old flame, Katherine asks herself if she’s truly ready to abandon all of this for an unknown new life in a foreign country, with Philippe. And if she does take the plunge, is this new love just a quirk of lust, or is it everlasting? After the disaster of her marriage, is she able to trust in love again?

Once back in France, amidst the stunning countryside of Provence, the smells of the flowers and trees, the succulent food and wine, we continue to follow Philippe and Katherine on their voyage of new love. Some plot twists involving other members of Philippe’s family add to the surprise and suspense of the story.

The author’s love of this part of France is evident through her breathtaking descriptions of the countryside, the villages, the gastronomic food and wine, which she deftly brings to life.

I Promise You This brings the Love in Provence trilogy to a satisfying close, leaving us with joy and the hope that a new life is possible, if we’re game to take the risk.

Highly recommended to readers of contemporary romance, women’s fiction and francophiles.
 


THE THORNBIRDS
By Colleen McCullough
First reviewed for Bookmuse

A timeless classic, this was my third reading of The Thornbirds, and I enjoyed it just as much after a 20-year interval.

Popular and acclaimed Australian author, Colleen McCullough explores three generations of the Irish Cleary family, ranchers who carve out their lives from the rugged, beautiful and harsh land of their home in the Australian outback. Battling tragedy, the unforgiving extremes of weather and the absolute isolation of their home, the Clearys are also driven by their dreams, wedged apart by their passions, and suffer from the secrets of forbidden love upon which their very family is structured.

Above all, The Thornbirds is an intense, almost overwhelming, romance: the tale of forbidden love between the Cleary’s only daughter, Meggie and the man she so desperately loves, but can never have: Father Ralph de Bricassart. As Ralph rises through the priesthood ranks, from parish priest right up to the innermost circles of the Vatican, he too, endures a lifelong love of Meggie.

But there is so much more to The Thornbirds. Through her outstanding prose, the author transports the reader to the heat, the flies, the desolation of the Drogheda homestead in the Australian outback. She brings to life not only the characters, but also the place, which becomes as much a character we can love and sympathise with, as the human ones.

The story about the thornbird, at the beginning is an apt introduction, both for this story and for life in general: all sadness will pass, and one day something beautiful will come from that pain.

The Thornbirds is a page-turning emotional roller-coaster of a saga. On my list of one of the best, life-changing books I’ve read, I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys family drama, romance, action and adventure.
***

 EMPTY CRADLES
By Margaret Humphries
First reviewed for Bookmuse 



The author of this shocking non-fiction tale, Margaret Humphries, was originally a Nottingham social worker who, in 1986, began investigating the claim of a woman who stated she’d been transported to Australia on a boat, unaccompanied, at the age of four years old.

She gradually discovered, to her horror, and the horror of the British and Australian public in general, that as many as 150,000 children had been sent (without parent or guardian) from British children’s homes, starting in the 1920s, to a “new life” in Canada, Australia, Rhodesia or New Zealand. And that this had continued well into the 1960s.

She also discovered that many of these children were sent to remote farms run by religious organizations, and that this “new life” was, sadly and shockingly, filled with neglect and abuse, the children often working as slaves.

Once these children reached adulthood, they were turfed out into society to find their way as best they could, with no idea of who they were and where they’d come from. Or why.

For the charities, the child migrant scheme was apparently a solution to the overflowing British orphanages and the fact that the colonies were in need of a cheap labour force.

At great cost to herself, both financial and emotional, Margaret Humphries made it her mission to try and reunite some of these child migrants with their families.

Empty Cradles is a well-written, heart-wrenching, tragic, but ultimately uplifting, story about the child migrant scandal from the UK to Australia post WWII, and I would highly recommend it to readers interested in such shocking social issues as this.
***

FLESH WOUNDS 
By Richard Glover
First reviewed for Bookmuse



Oh what an achingly honest and fabulous account of the author’s childhood and family life. Luckily I was on holidays (with a shady spot on the beach) when I read it, as I literally could not tear myself away.

The author, Richard Glover, is an Australian talk radio presenter, journalist and author, whose favourite dinner party game is: “Who's Got the Weirdest Parents?” With the parents Richard Glover had, or rather endured, he rightly believes he will always win.

In this harrowing, humorous, insightful and very poignant account of his childhood, the author tells us about his mother, a deluded, disillusioned women who invented her past, ignored her child, and eventually ran off with Richard’s eccentric English teacher, and his father, an often-absent alcoholic who seemed to spend his life chasing dreams. In the middle of all this was the sad and confused teenage Richard, trying in vain to belong to a functioning family. He tells us about some truly terrible experiences, and then goes on to portray the love and satisfaction he found in building his own, loving family, with his wife and children. All quite the opposite to what he’d known.

The author shows how he eventually accepted the fact that in the end we are responsible for the way we live our lives and that we should not blame our parents for our own shortcomings, through theirs. It teaches us to examine how we live our lives: to think about our past, but perhaps not to focus too much on it.

Excellently- narrated and very thought-provoking, I was mesmerized, and finished Flesh Wounds in one sitting. 

***

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE
By Anthony Doerr
First reviewed for Bookmuse

Set in both Germany and France before and during WWII, this brilliant literary masterpiece moves back and forth in time, switching points of view amongst several finely-spun characters with whom we identify and empathise. Through beautifully flowing prose, the author paints pictures of light, and dark, and everything in between.

It is an amazing story of determination and love from both sides of WW2 and Occupied France. The author weaves historical fact––The German Occupation of France and the secret radio broadcasts of the French resistance––with the fictive story of a cursed diamond, into a rich and compelling story, deftly guiding the reader toward the day when gifted German boy, Werner, and blind French girl, Marie-Laure meet during the bombing of Saint-Malo.

Right from the first page, each small part of the story puzzle fits together as deftly as the miniature models Marie-Laure’s father constructs to help his daughter navigate the streets of Paris and Saint-Malo. And culminates in an unpredictable outcome as the final plot piece slots into place to uncover the hidden treasure.

Heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting, this portrayal of the light we don’t, or cannot see, is nothing short of dazzling; a novel to inhabit, to learn from and to mourn once it’s finished.   

***

PROMISES TO KEEP
By Patricia Sands
First reviewed for Bookmuse





Promises to Keep (Love in Provence book 2) continues on from where The Promise of Provence (Love in Provence book 1) ends. The heroine, Katherine returns to France from her home in Canada to begin a new life with her French love, Philippe.

Katherine leaves the painful memories of her debilitating marriage back in Toronto, and embarks on a whirlwind adventure of love with Philippe. Together they enjoy fine French food, wine and the easy lifestyle, their future promising happiness and hope, far from the pain they both well know.

However, on a trip to the medieval village of Entrevaux, a bewildering note leads to a terrifying car chase, and Katherine discovers that Philippe has a dark secret; something dreadful from his past that he is not prepared to share with her. Katherine feels she is in danger of losing everything she’d so hoped for.

We accompany Philippe and Katherine through their journey of a promised life threatened, of mutual trust and, above all, of love.

But this is not only the story of Katherine and Philippe’s romance, it is also a love story between the author and all that is France. The author’s beautifully descriptive passages reveal her obvious love for the country.

Promises to Keep is also the story of a woman in her fifties trying to pick up the damaged pieces of a disastrous marriage and rebuild herself. It shows us how our lives can so quickly change and that, if we take the plunge, we are capable of adapting to its new course. It also reminds us that life, and love, can surprise us at any moment in our lives.




***

TOBY'S TAILS - SAYING GOODBYE TO LUCKY
by Susan Keefe
First reviewed for Bookmuse


Children’s author, Susan Keefe was devastated when she lost her beloved Golden Retriever, Lucky, a key character in her series of ‘Toby’s Tails’ books.

As Toby’s mentor, his owner felt Lucky’s passing couldn’t go unmarked. Thus, this delightful story (Fantasy Farm Tales Book 6) is dedicated to Lucky’s final days, told from the point of view of Toby, the border collie.

Losing a family pet can be a terrible experience for children and the author has skillfully penned this story with the aim of gently explaining the process so they may be able to come to terms with their loss.

As I did, I’m certain young readers will be comforted by Lucky’s story, and view it as a celebration of his “lucky” and beloved life, rather than some painful account of his death.

I particularly loved the author’s note about the southern African Zulu and Ndebele people, who believe that the stars are their dead ancestors watching over them. And how, each time she looks up to the night sky, she remembers Lucky.

An endearing and heart-warming addition to Susan Keefe’s ‘Fantasy Farm Series’ which narrates the lives of her pets in their French home. Beautiful, heart-warming photos of her animals are included.


***
SONG AT DAWN
By Jean Gill
First reviewed for Bookmuse 

Song at Dawn, first and  FREE book of 'The Troubadours Quartet' is set in 1150 in Provence, France. It is the “troubadour era”, and the period following the Second Crusade, and follows the adventures of the young Estela de Matin.

Fleeing abuse, Estela is found in a ditch by Aliénor of Aquitaine (Queen of France at the time), who, impressed with Estela’s beautiful singing voice and lute skills, welcomes the girl into her court. Aliénor takes Estela to Ermengarde, Viscomtesse of Narbonne’s court, where the girl’s musical talent is nurtured by Dragonetz, the Queen’s best troubadour and Commander of the Guard.

A Crusader with no wish to return to the Holy Land, where he learned about paper, Dragonetz dreams that everyone should have access to paper and thus remove the control of literacy from the Church. His building of a paper mill evokes the Church’s wrath and, through the many plot turns and twists, medieval Narbonne becomes a stage for the cultural, religious and political intrigue of the 12th century.

I was especially interested in the historical aspects of this story, learning a lot about the era –– of Ermengarde and Aliénor, two of the most powerful women in European history. Reading such accurate and memorable stories from the past is one of the reasons I enjoy such well-written historical fiction.

I would recommend this entertaining romance of Estela and Dragonetz, woven into a spell-binding thriller that brilliantly evokes medieval France, to all lovers of historical fiction.



***
HUMAN RITES

By JJ Marsh




After Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material, Tread Softly and Cold Pressed, JJ Marsh has once again excelled in the international crime genre with the fifth in her Beatrice Stubbs series, Human Rites.



By now I have become very attached to her female sleuth, Beatrice Stubbs, with all her quirks and flaws, and feel as if I’ve evolved along with this character, over the course of the books. So, whilst each story can be read as a standalone, I would recommend starting with the first, Behind Closed Doors, for real insight into the skillful development of this character, not to mention the brilliant crime mystery each book offers.



DI Beatrice Stubbs wants to retire with her partner, however she takes on an investigation into the theft of Expressionist art works, which takes her to Germany. Adrian, Beatrice’s friend and neighbour, hasn’t told her of his recent troubles, but jumps at Beatrice’s invitation to accompany her to Hamburg for a few days of culture, Christmas shopping and a visit with his ex.



Amidst yet more wonderful European locations––Hamburg and the idyllic, snow-swept island of Sylt––the author deftly links the art theft investigation with Adrian’s downhill spiral. Beatrice fears he’s either heading for a breakdown or truly being threatened by a sinister nun and homophobic messages. She worries that the stunning but remote Sylt is really not the ideal place for him to escape his concerns.



The double plots are brilliant, the settings atmospheric, the food and drink tantalising. The narrative moves along at a fast pace, the suspense making me turn the pages right to the thrilling end. A most worthy addition to the DI Beatrice Stubbs series, I would highly recommend Human Rites to lovers of intelligent crime thrillers.
 


***
SOME RISE BY SIN
by Courtney J. Hall

I found Courtney J. Hall’s debut novel, Some Rise by Sin, highly entertaining. This historical romance takes place in 1558, during the dramatic end to Catholic Mary Tudor’s reign, the rise to the throne of her half-sister Elizabeth, and the ensuing turmoil this causes across the country.
The new Earl of Easton, Cade Badgley, is unhappily forced to take responsibility for his father’s rundown estate in dire financial troubles, and jumps at the chance to return to Mary Tudor’s court to accompany Samara, daughter of the wealthy Earl of Brentford, to find a husband.
But the strong-willed Samara prefers drawing pictures and swimming in lakes to choosing a suitable husband, and the Earl of Brentford’s naïve eldest daughter risks falling for a seducer with less than honourable intentions.
I would highly recommend this romantic tale, rich in historical detail and packed with religious and political turmoil to lovers of the Tudors looking for a fresh take on this period.
 




ONE NIGHT AT THE JACARANDA
by Carol Cooper

 Not my usual choice of reading matter, I began One Night at the Jacaranda with trepidation, but after only a few pages, I was well and truly hooked. 

Amongst a group of adults who meet at a London speed-dating bar––the Jacaranda––we are introduced to the six main characters: Laure the lawyer, terminally-ill Sanjay, divorced doctor, Geoff, newly-single mother-of-four, Karen, and ex-prisoner, Dan. Journalist Harriet also attends, but in search of a byline, rather than a boyfriend. 

Through a whole plethora of emotions––sadness, happiness, desperation and frustration, to name a few––we join these people along their bumpy, intertwined journeys in their search for love, companionship and/or sex. With great skill, the author uncovers the present and past lives of this vast cast of characters, the satisfying ending leaving hope for the future … and me hoping for a sequel! 

The characters are flawed, lovable and easy to empathise with. The dialogue is pitch-perfect, the sex scenes amongst the best I’ve ever read. The author is a doctor, so the medical details are spot on, as well as interesting. 

Alternately entertaining, witty, outrageously funny, poignant and dark, I would highly recommend One Night at the Jacaranda to lovers of intelligent women’s fiction.
 ***
SHE'S COME UNDONE
by Wally Lamb

Right from the start, I knew this was one of those books I wouldn’t want to end. And I was right. Around the 80% mark on the Kindle I started feeling sad that I was reaching the end.

One of the few truly life-changing stories I’ve read, She’s Come Undone is the coming-of-age story of Dolores Price, victim of rape, divorce, abuse and mental illness.

Dolores, an unconventional heroine––albeit a very likeable one––drowns her woes in soap operas and junk food, munching her way relentlessly into obesity, sorrow and social isolation. But one day, in the midst of this gluttony, Dolores decides she’ll no longer be a victim, and we join the feisty Dolores in her journey out the other side.

As I was reading, I kept asking myself, how could a male, middle-aged author get inside the head of a young girl so perfectly? How can he narrate a first-person female story so convincingly? But he does, and I found She’s Come Undone to be a literary masterpiece of characterisation and, weeks after reading it, I still sympathise with Dolores Price.

 ***
THE WINGED HORSE
by C.P. Lesley


Like C.P. Lesley’s first book, The Golden Lynx, of her Legends Of The Five Directions series, the author once again brings to life 16th century Russia via a Mongol horde, in this exciting tale of marriage, murder and mysticism.

Upon his deathbed, Bahadur Bey, leader of a horde of nomadic Tatars, makes the clan leaders swear to accept Ogodai, son of his blood brother Bulat Khan (descendent of Genghis Khan), as the horde’s new overlord. It is also agreed that Bahadur Bey’s daughter, Firuza will become Ogodai’s chief wife.

Tulpar, Bulat’s estranged son, arrives on the scene, and attempts to stake claim to the horde and also to Firuza. The conflict, plotting and intrigue begins: brother against brother in a struggle for both power and wife.

Firuza, no great beauty, but determined and intelligent, can choose either Ogodai or Tulpar, but the man who wins her must also accept her on an equal footing. Firuza’s struggle evokes the feisty women of this era, who refused to be treated as pawns, preferring to control their own destiny.

The Winged Horse sweeps the reader five centuries into the past in a well-told and swiftly-paced tale rich with culture and evocative description. It is also a tale of romance, and of horses. Amongst other horse lore, there is Firuza’s Turkmen palomino and Tulpar, the winged horse, who carried dying souls to the celestial hunting grounds.

As with C.P. Lesley’s first book in this series, I have once again thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Tatars of 16th century Russia, and I would highly recommend The Winged Horse to historical fiction fans. 

***

I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE
by Wally Lamb


Juxtaposed with Dominick’s present day life of his change of profession, his frustrating relationship with his partner, Joy, his everlasting love for his ex-wife, Dessa and the tragic reason behind their breakup, the twins’ difficult childhood is illustrated through flashbacks. The boys never knew their father, and Thomas was abused by their bullying stepfather, Ray, who also terrorized the twins’ mother. There is also the further-back story, of the twins’ grandfather, which too, has dramatic consequences on their lives.

All this history unravels against Dominick’s present-day, pressing desire to remove Thomas from a mental institution he is convinced is not the right place for his brother. But at this very institution, Dominick winds up having his own psychiatric counselling, finally forcing him to acknowledge his self-destructive behavior and come to terms with his past and present existence.

In mixing the past and the present, the author excellently portrays Dominick’s helplessness against the abuse of power, evoking a flawed, but basically decent, man. In a candid exploration of mental illness, dysfunctional families, domestic and child abuse, I found this a masterful, multi-layered story. The lyrical style, realistic dialogue, excellent imagery and well-drawn characters bring the story to life, and I would highly recommend it for all lovers of literary fiction.
 

Forty-year old narrator Dominick Birdsey, former high-school history teacher and now house-painter, tells the story that led to his identical twin Thomas’s paranoia, and the resulting chaos that caused for both of them. As the “uncrazy” twin, Dominick feels a lifelong responsibility for his paranoid schizophrenic sibling, evoking the dilemma of a twin whose love for his afflicted brother simmers in a volatile mixture of resentment, guilt and bitterness.



Cathedral of the Sea
by Ildefonso Falcones



Set in 14th century Barcelona, around the building of the magnificent Santa Maria del Mar––Cathedral of the Sea––in the Ribera district, I really enjoyed this book.
The main character, Arnau Estanyol is the son of a fugitive peasant who starts out as a lowly porter, carrying stones for the building of this cathedral. Arnau’s luck turns when King Pedro makes him a baron as a reward for his courage in battle. But the king also forces him to marry Eleonor, one of his wards, with who Arnau is not in love. His new-found social status and riches incite jealousy from those around him, who set about bringing Arnau down, all with terrible consequences.
Arnau's journey from slave to nobleman is the story of a struggle of good versus evil, Church versus State and brother versus brother.
I was impressed with Falcones’ knowledge of 14th century traditions, commerce and culture and his detailed research shines though in this rich and fascinating portrait of medieval society.
An epic tale of war, love, treason, plague, anti-Semitism and the Inquisition, I would recommend this to readers enjoying historical fiction of this era.


***

Half Truths and White Lies 

by Jane Davis

 

Jane Davis’s first book, and well-deserved of the Daily Mail First Novel Award, this is only the latest in her range of amazing literary novels, all of which I have enjoyed. 


I love the author’s captivating style of storytelling. 

I love her characters, who come alive on the page and who, by the end of the book I feel I know personally. 

And I am intrigued by her deftly-handled complex plotlines. 

When main character, Andrea, loses her parents, she becomes interested in her family history, uncovering many half truths and white lies along the way. 

Narrated from Andrea’s point of view, as well as her aunt, Faye, and her father’s friend, Uncle Pete, we see each character, and their perceptions of each other, very differently. 

A thought-provoking and beautifully-crafted story that explores family, friendship, love, grief and life in their many guises. Enthralling right to the end. 




***






MINDSIGHT
by Chris Curran



The dark, compelling and intriguing story of Claire, who has no memory of the car accident of five years beforehand, in which she killed her husband, father and one of her twins. Now released from prison, Claire wants to reconnect with her surviving son and try and find a clear pathway through the muck of misery and remorse that plagues her. However, Claire soon discovers that delving into her past might not be such a good idea. In heart-rending scenes the author has excellently drawn the characters of Claire and her son, Tom, throughout this moving story, which builds up to a surprising ending. I would highly recommend this novel for readers who enjoy excellently-narrated dark and thrilling crime mysteries. 

THE AMATEUR MARRIAGE
by Anne Tyler

One of my favourite authors, Anne Tyler has taken an ordinary couple––Pauline and Michael––and placed them in an ordinary situation. She does this with all her characters, in all her books, and as every other Anne Tyler novel I have read, she managed to keep me riveted right to the end.

Once the story was over, I felt I knew the characters personally, and found it difficult to say goodbye to them.

Deeply empathetic with the characters, I read on, hoping Pauline and Michael could overcome their seemingly impossible differences. And at the heart of the story, there is the ongoing suspense concerning one of the children, the outcome of which surprised me, but shouldn’t have … it was such a likely outcome.

I felt this was one of Anne Tyler’s best. If you're already a fan, you'll love it. If you're only just discovering this author, it’s a great starting point. 



THE HUNDRED-YEAR OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED
by Jonas Jonasson

Not the type of book I would normally read, I ended up really enjoying this as a light-hearted, holiday read, with many more layers of meaning between the lines.

After a long and incredibly adventurous life, Allan Karlsson finds himself in a nursing home, turning 100 years old. They are planning a party for him, but Allan doesn’t want to be there, so he climbs out of the window and escapes. From there on, he embarks on a series of hilarious, spontaneous adventures that often had me laughing out loud and kept me turning the pages right to the end.

Allan’s present life features criminals, hot-dog stand operators, women and elephants, whilst his past life, woven into the narration, tells of the roles he played in some of the most important events of the 20th century, alongside people such as Stalin, Churchill, Truman, Franco and de Gaulle.

Unique and eccentric, this tale urges us all to simply jump out the window, leaving our mundane lives behind, to embark on unknown adventures. Highly entertaining. 



I STOPPED TIME
by Jane Davis





Another beautifully-written tale by talented author, Jane Davis, I Stopped Time is the story of a mother, Lottie Pye, and her estranged son, James that sweeps us back to 1900s Brighton, and wartime London.

James knows very little of his mother, until he is bequeathed her photographs, and, with the help of young Jenny, pieces together a picture of his mother. In turn, the reader also uncovers the character of this fascinating and determined woman, who became a famous photographer.

In this delightful tale, we follow both Lottie and James’s often difficult, but ultimately uplifting journeys to find the truth about their own backgrounds.

I Stopped Time is a book you don’t want to end, and when it does, you want to start reading it all over again.
A literary marvel!



ZEUS OF ITHOME
by T. E. Taylor
First reviewed for the Historical Novel Society

Set in Ancient Greece in 373 BC, Zeus of Ithome explores the end of three centuries of Messenian slavery at the hands of their brutal Spartan neighbours. The hero, Diocles, has been one of these slaves for all 17 years of his life, and when he falls foul of the Krypteia, a Spartan death squad, he is forced to flee. Outlawed, Diocles leaves his home, his family and his young love, but promises to return one day and liberate his people.
Diocles’ first encounter is on Mount Ithome, with Aristomenes, an old man whose heart still beats with the pride of his people, and who lives in the hope that one day the Messenians will regain their freedom. The story then follows Diocles’ journey through the Peloponnese, to the Oracle of Delphi, then on to Thebes, where he meets some of the most powerful men of the times and learns much about the arts of war.
Zeus of Ithome is a tale of conflict, both internal and external, as Diocles learns as much about himself, and his mother, as he does about the harsh realities of his world at war. Well-crafted and with an engaging narrative, Zeus of Ithome is interspersed with a detailed historical backdrop. The Messenian landscape comes to life, as do the other locations along Diocles’ journey. This is a work of fiction, based on fact and, as with all good historical fiction, I enjoyed learning about the ancient Greek culture and daily life. It is a well-researched novel intertwined with a heartwarming story that I would recommend to students of ancient Greece, or any historical fiction reader interested in this period.


***

THE STORYTELLER'S GRANDDAUGHTER
by Margaret Redfern
First reviewed for the Historical Novel Society



Set in 1336, The Storyteller’s Granddaughter tells the tale of seventeen-year old Sophia, whose beloved herbalist grandmother had just died. Sophia is to be sent back to her father’s tribe, which is fraught with uncertainty and danger. To avoid this, Sophia sets off on her own long journey along the Spice Road all the way from Anatolia to England, in search of her grandfather, Will the Storyteller.
Sophia must disguise herself as a boy to survive her action-packed, suspenseful journey with the handsome trader she believes might help her find her grandfather. The author cleverly draws the reader into this beautiful, fascinating and dangerous medieval world through a narrative pace that never lets up as Sophia faces one crisis after another: the elements, starvation, and evil, mercenary slavers. The girl finds she must use all of her skill and cunning as a horsewoman and a healer, to avoid capture and certain death. But the stories of the people with whom she travels: the heroes, the villains, the slavers and the singers, urge Sophia onward, eventually bringing her closer to a new home.
For readers looking for a gripping medieval adventure that stunningly portrays 14th century Anatolia, I would recommend The Storyteller’s Granddaughter.


 
***

UNFORGIVABLE
by Sharon Robard


Set in 1960s Sydney, Unforgivable tells the story of seventeen-year old pregnant and unmarried Sylvia, who is sent by her parents to St Joseph’s Hospital, a Catholic Church-run institution catering to unmarried mothers, to await the birth of her baby.

When Sister Bernard immediately demands that Sylvia sign the adoption papers, Sylvia is equally determined she won’t. She loves her boyfriend, Tommy, who has promised to stand by her, and wants to keep her baby. Very quickly though, Sylvia finds herself a virtual prisoner at St. Joseph’s and realises she must fight to stand her ground, not to mention her battle against the stigma, shame and secrecy of being pregnant and unmarried in 1966 in Australia.

Besides Sylvia, the other two main characters are excellently drawn: Kim, who befriends Sylvia, and whose present day perspective, after she gave up her baby, is also cleverly woven into the story. Sister Gregory is an empathetic nun who often struggles with both the Catholic doctrine and her vocation.


Unforgivable truly brings to light the plight of unmarried mothers and adoption issues during that time, and we realise how much things have changed since. It also raises issues about national conscription and the Vietnam War and the changes brought to the Catholic Church by Vatican II. Sydney in the sixties is excellently evoked through the author’s use of celebrities, events and fashions of the day.


I felt the ending was a bit abrupt, and would have liked more information on Sylvia's later life and what happened to Sister Gregory. However, all in all, Unforgivable was a poignant, authentic and compelling read; a powerful story about unforgivable decisions and acts upon the innocent––young mothers being forced to give up their babies and go back to the real world and carry on as if nothing had happened. Highly recommended.



 
***
COLD PRESSED
by JJ Marsh




After Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material and Tread Softly, JJ Marsh has once again excelled in the international crime field with the fourth in the Beatrice Stubbs series, Cold Pressed.
This time the author takes us to the idyllic island of Santorini, and the docked cruise ship, the Empress Louise. The brutal death of one the British passengers leads Inspector Nikos Stephanakis to request assistance and Beatrice Stubbs flies to Greece, hoping for a bit of a holiday herself. However, it becomes quickly obvious that the killer won’t stopped at one passenger, and Nikos and Beatrice team up to try and stop him before Beatrice herself becomes a victim.
The plot is brilliant, fast-paced and full of suspense, and had me turning the pages right to a very satisfying end. The author wonderfully evokes the cruise ship atmosphere of fear and paranoia, as well as the sights, tastes and smells of Greece, and I would highly recommend JJ Marsh’s latest intriguing crime thriller to lovers of intelligent crime fiction.
 

THE WITCH OF NAPOLI

by Michael Schmicker




Set in Italy in 1899, The Witch of Napoli is inspired by the true-life story of the controversial Italian spiritualist physical medium, Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918). Palladino’s expensive performances involved, amongst other things, levitating herself and tables, materializing; and communicating with, the dead, and producing spirit hands and faces in wet clay. Some believe these things to be the result of trickery, however many parapsychologists regard Palladino as a baffling, impressive and genuine Spiritualist medium.
In this same vein, The Witch of Napoli tells the story of the Neapolitan peasant and medium, Alessandra Poverelli. When the flamboyant and volatile Alessandra levitates a table during a Spiritualist séance in Naples, a reporter––Tomaso Labella––photographs the miracle. This leads the rich, but skeptical Jewish psychiatrist, Camillo Lombardi to Naples to investigate. When Alessandra materialises the ghost of Lombardi’s mother, he funds a Continental tour to challenge the exclusive European academics to test Alessandra’s powers, in the hope that she will help him redefine, and rewrite, science.  At the mercy of her violent husband, Pigotti, who wants to kill her, Alessandra sees Lombardi’s payment as a way of escape, and the means to start a new life in Rome.
Naturally, Alessandra hits the newspaper headlines, and the public is curious. Does she truly have these supernatural powers?
Nigel Huxley, the impeccably dressed and extremely confident upper crust detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums––who also has a reputation as a genius for detecting the mechanics of fraud––hatches a plan to try and expose Alessandra.
To say anything more about the story would be to spoil the ending of The Witch of Napoli, so all I shall reveal is that the investigation, the pressing question of Alessandra’s authenticity, and the lyrical narrative engaged me right from the beginning. The author’s personal experience as an investigative journalist and nationally-known writer on scientific anomalies and the paranormal also adds great authenticity to this story. I would highly recommend The Witch of Napoli to readers with an interest in the supernatural, and the ongoing debate over the existence of life after death.



THE HOUSE AT ZARONZA
by Vanessa Couchman


The House at Zaronza, a story of love, loss and conciliation, set on the island of Corsica in the early 20th century, immediately drew me in, and hooked me right to the end.

The story begins in the present, as Rachel Swift arrives at a guesthouse in Corsica in the hope of uncovering her past. But when she discovers a series of love letters between a schoolmaster and his secret lover, another story surfaces, and we walk straight into the life of a brave and remarkable woman of her times.

The author vividly brings to life the wild and rugged landscape of Corsica, and its people of that particular era, as well as deftly exploring WWI and its consequences. The characters are well-drawn and believable, the storyline intriguing and fascinating, and the descriptions beautiful. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction looking for a gripping, well-written read.

A FUNERAL FOR AN OWL
by Jane Davis






A Funeral for an Owl is a multi-layered story that hooks you from the beginning, and which you don’t want to end.

The author gradually develops the four main characters––Jim, Ayisha, Aimee and Shamayal––to reveal well-crafted detail of each of their lives.

We first meet Jim in the present day, as a school teacher who is stabbed whilst trying to break up a schoolyard fight. Jim watches out, and risks his job, for Shamayal, a pupil who has a difficult home life. And another teacher, Ayisha––a stickler for the rules that say teachers cannot be friends with students––becomes caught up in the situation and must question her own moral standards.

The story then jumps back to the eleven-year old Jim, who is living in similar conditions to Shamayal, and we learn how Jim battles to better himself and his life, and about how his relationship with Aimee affects his future.

The story slipping between the past and the present, the language and descriptions are stunning, the characters come alive on the page and the storyline holds the reader’s interest right till the end.

A Funeral for an Owl is beautifully written, as are this author’s other books that I’ve had the pleasure to read, and I would highly recommend it for lovers of literary fiction.



 

LOOKING FOR A REASON
by Frances di Plino





I have thoroughly enjoyed all three of Frances di Plino’s dark psychological thrillers starring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes, and Call It Pretending, but I must say that this fourth in the series––Looking For a Reason––surpasses them all.

DI Storey investigates a particularly depraved series of male rape and torture victims. To make things even more difficult, the victims refuse to admit they were imprisoned and treated with such cruelty. Storey knows that if he can uncover the reason these attacks are taking place, he’ll be closer to discovering the perpetrator. But can he do this in time to save someone close to him?

Paolo Storey is, as always, a flawed and empathetic character with whom we can readily identify in his personal, as well as his working life. The supporting characters too, as well as the perpetrator, are masterfully-evoked.

With its many plot twists and turns, Looking For a Reason had me guessing right up to the end. Another brilliantly plotted and engaging crime story to add to this excellent series, I would highly recommend it for readers who love dark, psychological crime fiction, and staying up all night reading.

 


AN UNCHOREOGRAPHED LIFE
by Jane Davis





A brilliant and cleverly-written story about the relationship between a single mother and her daughter. When Alison discovered she was pregnant, she gave up the chance of being a prima ballerina and took up prostitution to give her daughter, Belinda a chance of a decent life.

After a chance encounter with a seemingly perfect family, Alison is offered the opportunity of making more money. The family welcomes Alison with open arms, and she gets a taste of the life she so desperately wants for Belinda, but can this wealthy couple be trusted?

I loved the well-rounded, flawed characters: child narrator, Belinda and her skewed six-year old view of life, and her mother, Alison, even when she did things that made me cringe.

As I approached the end, I was enjoying the story so much I couldn’t decide what I wanted most: to quickly find out what happened to the characters or for the book not to finish at all. In the end, the author left me with hope––hope for a decent future in such a chaotic life that any of us could fall into, given the right circumstances.

And when I turned the last page, I was left thinking: what would I have done in this situation?

Highly recommended to readers of thought-provoking literary fiction.
 
GUISES OF DESIRE by Hilda Reilly

Guises of Desire is a fictionalised account of the three-year illness of Bertha Pappenheim, known as the founding patient of psychoanalysis, mental illness treatment pioneered by the famous Dr. Sigmund Freud. “Anna O”, Bertha Pappenheim’s clinical pseudonym, was a patient of Dr. Josef Breuer, an associate of Freud’s, and one of the cases on which much of Freud's theory was based. Freud described his patient as cured of "hysteria" with his “talking-cure” method.


Through the author’s extensive research, Bertha’s Jewish upper-middle class of 19th century Vienna is excellently portrayed. A sensitive, well-educated child who spoke several languages, Bertha was deeply disturbed by the gender discrimination she saw in her milieu of society. When her father falls ill, Bertha begins to exhibit more and more alarming symptoms such as paralysis, aphasia, blackouts and hallucinations. Through his regular visits to her home, Dr. Josef Breuer uses new methods such as hypnotism and the “talking cure” to try and root out the cause of Bertha’s psychological problems. As Bertha comes and goes from sanatoriums over the following two years, the author narrates the progress of her illness in a fascinating and horrifying, but truly sympathetic manner that urges the reader onward, to discover what happened to this poor girl, in the end.

I found Guises of Desire an excellent and informative novel and would highly recommend it for readers interested in understanding the history of psychoanalysis.
 

THE PROMISE OF PROVENCE by Patricia Sands
Swept up in the lovely local descriptions of the vineyards, the food and wine, the market places and the flowers, The Promise of Provence transported me to one of my favourite places in France. Katherine’s journey from loss and grief to her happiness as she falls in love again, with Provence, kept me turning the pages and evoked every emotion. If Provence is not already on your travel list, it certainly will be after this most enjoyable read!

SALVATION by Harriet Steel




Set in the late 1500s, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, Salvation brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of Elizabethan England in evocative detail.
Aspiring playwright, Tom Goodluck is having an affair with the wealthy, and married, Meg Stuckton, but when Tom is charged with his employer’s murder, he must flee both his hometown of Salisbury, and his love. Meg’s husband discovers the affair, so she too, is forced to flee, and the narrative then follows the respective adventures of Tom and Meg as they struggle to survive the harsh realities of Elizabethan England.
Tom meets the Huguenot spy for the Queen, Alexandre Lamotte, who puts on Tom’s play, but leads them both into grave danger. Meanwhile, in an exciting fast-paced narrative, Meg struggles along her own journey fraught with danger and strife.
As with all good historical fiction, I enjoyed learning about Elizabethan times: the theatres and actors, the persecution of the Catholics, the tensions between England and Spain, and the brutalities of being poor.
Salvation has everything: murder and spies, war and drama, illicit love and longing, and I would highly recommend this to lovers of good historical fiction. 

DELIRIUM: THE RIMBAUD DELUSION by Barbara Scott Emmett
If you are looking for something completely different; a novel like nothing you’ve read before, Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion is for you. Revolving around the lost manuscript of poet, Arthur Rimbaud’s La Chasse Spirituelle, the quest to locate it takes the reader back to 1872, and the explosive love affair between Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. Then, when a lawyer’s clerk salvages it from a deed box, we follow the manuscript on its journey down through the decades, and learn of the sins and secrets of its different guardians.
Meanwhile, modern-day Andrea Mann is driven to France by her obsession with Rimbaud and this missing manuscript. Beside the poet’s grave at Charleville-Mézières, she meets a young man who shows her a single page, supposedly from La Chasse Spirituelle and, her curiosity piqued, Andrea embarks on a dangerous quest to locate the manuscript.
I devoured this story, eagerly turning the pages to learn more about the different keepers of the manuscript, as well as to discover whether Andrea had truly found the lost masterpiece. If you love history, intrigue, beautiful prose and great characterisation, you’ll enjoy Delirium: The Rimbaud Illusion.


POMPEII by Robert Harris
In a sweltering week of August A.D. 79, the wealthy of Rome are enjoying the summer in their sumptuous villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum. But when the water flow from springs and wells start to falter, and the greatest aqueduct in the world––the Aqua Augusta––ceases to flow, the aquarius, Marcus Attilius Primus, fears these ominous signs point to some greater impending disaster.
When water flow to the coastal town of Misenum is interrupted, Attilius convinces the admiral of the Roman fleet––the scholar, Pliny the Elder––to give him a fast ship to Pompeii, where he locates the source of the problem. Attilius vows to Pliny he’ll repair the damaged aqueduct in two days.

Meanwhile, Attilius meets Corelia, daughter of a corrupt millionaire, who gives him documents implicating her father in a water embezzlement scheme. Tremors start to be felt in Pompeii, and the people fear that the god Vulcan is angry and may send an earthquake like the one seventeen years before.

Attilius successfully repairs the aqueduct, but the air, now filled with grey dust, begins to rain pumice, and Vesuvius explodes. In a fast-paced, exciting narrative style, Attilius fights his way back to Pompeii in an attempt to rescue Corelia and the story rushes towards its thrilling climax.
With his detailed research of time, place and circumstance, Robert Harris has brilliantly recreated the luxurious world around the Bay of Naples, on the brink of destruction from this well-known catastrophe.


CRIMSON SHORE: THE GOLD DETECTIVES I
By Gillian E. Hamer


I have immensely enjoyed all three of Gillian Hamer’s previous novels: The Charter, Closure and Complicit. This one, Crimson Shore sees a departure from her usual cross-genre crime, to a new series of procedural crime novels––The Gold Detectives––starring Amanda Gold’s CID team.
As in her previous novels, the Welsh setting of Crimson Shore is almost a character in itself, once again making me keen to visit the island of Anglesey. However, this peaceful corner of North Wales proves to be anything but peaceful, when a violent killer leaves a trail of unexplained murders. We quickly learn that the killer is linked to a suspiciously closed-down children’s home, but the author skilfully keeps the reader guessing all the way through. Not until the dramatic ending do we learn the killer’s identity, or the reason for these horrific crimes.
Gripped by this story, I read Crimson Shore in a day. The author quickly hooked me into a world of pure evil, and, with her skills in creating suspense and action, kept me there right to the thrilling conclusion. I would highly recommend Crimson Shore to lovers of fast-paced and well-written crime thrillers.
 



THE GIRL WITH THE PAINTED FACE
by Gabrielle Kimm


This review firsts appeared in the May 2014 issue of Historical Novels Review.

Set in 1582 in Italy, The Girl with the Painted Face tells the story of the young seamstress, Sofia Genotti – a vulnerable, sensitive and heart-warming heroine who has must go on the run after being falsely accused of theft. Sofia joins a troupe of travelling actors as their costume mistress, but is soon appearing on the stage as a budding actress. When she falls in love with fellow actor, Beppe, life seems finally to be treating her well, until Sofia is wrongly accused of murder and forced, once more, to run away.

Through her scrupulous research and vivid descriptions, the author has woven an historical tale that is both entertaining and educational. 16th century Italy and the world of the Commedia dell'Arte is vividly brought to life, the reader almost able to see and smell the countryside, the crowded taverns, the lively marketplaces, and the colourful characters, some of whom have very dark and dangerous sides.

I found The Girl with the Painted Face a nice, simple read; a cosy mystery with no great surprises or plot twists and turns. I would recommend this as an easy read for historical fiction lovers who enjoy tales of adventure, romance and a whodunnit in the storyline.



FLOOD
by Ann Swinfen

For me, the sign of good historical fiction is being able to learn about a period of history while being entertained, and Ann Swinfen’s novel, Flood, does just that.

As the author transports us to the wild beauty of the fenlands, where the land-owners, and the fens themselves, are threatened by unscrupulous speculators, I learned what it was like to live in these remote fenlands of East Anglia; about the Puritan fanaticism of the seventeenth century Cromwell period, and the witch-hunting and corrupt political system.

Told through the eyes of the novel’s heroine, Mercy Bennington, the reader quickly sympathises with her, and her farming family, when exploitative and unethical drainers move in to drain the fens and enclose the common land, having no idea of the environmental impact of their actions. In the fight to protect their lands and homes, Mercy emerges as a feisty protestor, willing to risk her own life to protect the livelihood of her community.

Meticulously researched, and beautifully told, I would highly recommend Flood to historical fiction fans who enjoy an action-packed, suspenseful, and heart-warming tale. The novel's sharp environmental message, too, is very well-timed. 



VLAD THE INHALER
by Lorraine Mace

In the start of this beautifully illustrated and exciting series, the teenage hero, Vlad is an asthmatic hupyre––part vampire and part human. When Vlad’s evil vampire relatives––Aunt Valentyna, Uncle Viktor, cousins Gretchen and Boris––tell Vlad they have killed his parents, and attempt to takeover his family castle, Vlad sets out on a quest to defend his family name, his inheritance and, most of all, his life.
Pursued incessantly by his lethal vampire relatives, Vlad goes on the run, starting a roller-coaster string of action-packed adventures that kept me turning the pages. In a riveting climax, Vlad must prove to the people of Malign village that his is not an evil vampire: he does not murder, nor does he drink blood. He must demonstrate that he is proud to be a hupyre.
I would highly recommend Vlad The Inhaler for the 8-12 age group, but this tale’s interest is not restricted to children. As an adult reader, I found myself smiling at the author’s clever puns and plays on words.



Chillingly clever, devilishly delicious and spine-chillingly suspenseful, Vlad the asthmatic hupyre is a teenage hero who will appeal to readers aged 8-88.
 






THE WOODVILLE CONNECTION
by K. E. Martin
The review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Historical Novels Review.

 
The illegitimate Francis Cranley’s father was killed in battle fighting for the Duke of York. The Duke then took in the boy, Francis, who grew up alongside his own son, Richard of Gloucester. Francis and Gloucester become loyal friends, and when an old soldier (who once saved the Duke’s life) arrives at the castle one wintry morning, accused of murdering a child, Gloucester turns to Cranley for help in proving the man’s innocence.
I found The Woodville Connection to be an easy-to-read medieval murder mystery, with much intrigue and drama, set against a dramatic event in English history. With its fast pace and some great twists and turns in the story, this debut novel from author K.E. Martin keeps the reader turning the pages, wanting to know what happens next. The historical detail of the daily life and customs of this period was fascinating, and, telling the story through the eyes of Francis Cranley proved an excellent way of engaging the reader in the action taking place.
I had only one minor complaint: I found the old-English dialect irritating. A scattering here and there would have been OK, but great lengths of it made for laborious reading, and I found myself skimming over those parts after a while. However, that aside, I would recommend The Woodville Connection to readers looking for a light medieval “whodunnit”.



THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE
By Zoe Saadia
 This review first appeared on the Triskele Books blog Bookclub

 I love historical fiction that sweeps me back to times I know nothing about; that allows me to experience life as it was then, and The Fall of the Empire does just that. I read, and immensely enjoyed, this final book of Zoe Saadia’s Rise of the Aztec series, as a standalone story.

Set in the Tepanec Empire, or today’s Mexico, this is an action-packed adventure story of revenge, survival and love, featuring slaves, warriors, traders and emperors. It begins with the trader, Etl, overhearing a band of soldiers who plan to overthrow the emperor, and the pretty, smart and determined girl, Tlalli, who is plotting her revenge against the Emperor.

The turmoil is intriguing, and had me switching sides from chapter to chapter. The battles are captivating and the story, with its great drama and unexpected twists, moves forward to a historically-accurate conclusion.

The characters are so well-drawn that we feel we are there, with them, trying to stay alive in a situation they have no control over. And when, at the end, we have to bid goodbye to Etl, Tlacaelel, Tlalli and the others, it feels like saying goodbye to real people.

With its rich characters, blended from real and imagined people, its lovely prose woven through accurate historical fact, and a pace that never flags, I would highly recommend this book to fans of historical fiction.

And after The Fall of the Empire, I’m really looking forward to reading the entire Rise of the Aztec series!



***

COMING TO TERMS WITH TYPE 1 DIABETES

by Debbie Young


Coming To Terms With Type 1 DiabetesA heart-warming, honest account of a mother’s shock, acceptance, and ongoing battle after her 3-year-old daughter’s diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes. The author, Debbie Young, has an amazing way with words, combining heart-breaking moments with inspiration and courage and above all hope … hope for a cure. And what an admirable way of raising funds to try and find a cure for this terrible disease. I would highly recommend this short piece of work, and even say it is essential reading for anyone whose life is touched by Type 1 diabetes.




***
ELISHA BARBER
by E.C. Ambrose

This review first appeared in the November issue of Historical Novels Review

Elisha Barber by E. C. AmbroseElisha Barber is a blend of historical fiction, fantasy and medical thriller set in 14th-century England. Elisha Barber is a medieval barber-surgeon who is forced to go and work as a medic on the bloody battlefield of an inequitable war. When a seductive young witch lures him into her world of sorcery, Elisha must untangle certain magical threads as well as accept the discovery of his new powers.
I found this first tale of the Dark Apostle series well written. The lead character, Elisha Barber, is a well-developed, dark protagonist, a man full of flaws but whose heart is in the right place. Through the eyes of Elisha, the author explores the occupation of the medieval barber, which involved hair-cutting, beard-trimming, and basic medical treatment. Through her extensive research, the author vividly brings to life the medieval battlefield, the wounds and the rudimentary surgical treatments of the Middle Ages. The horrors, the grime and the stink also spring from every page.
I did have one minor reservation about the beginning of the story. Elisha’s actions do not seem deserving of the heavy guilt he bears. Thus, his reasons for accepting his fate as a battlefield surgeon, to atone for these actions, do not seem entirely feasible. Despite this, I found the story entertaining, and although the supporting cast remains largely one-dimensional, I am sure lovers of dark historical fantasy will greatly enjoy Elisha Barber.





CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY
by Karen Cushman


This review first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Words With Jam



I thoroughly enjoyed The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman, and was equally enthralled by Catherine Called Birdy, another of her historical fiction novels.
Catherine, Called BirdySet in 1290, Catherine Called Birdy is written for the age range 9 and up. The story is told through 14-year old Catherine’s quirky diary entries. The daughter of a minor nobleman, Catherine would prefer to play outdoors with the wild peasants, rather than pursuing the usual occupations of a noble girl, such as embroidering and sewing. She yearns for her independence, and truly wishes she’d been born a boy.
But Catherine is approaching the age of marriage, and her hateful father invites one suitor after another, all of whom the girl finds repulsive. She wants none of this marriage lark, and makes a game of turning away each potential husband. That is, until she meets her match – the ugliest of all the men, who seems determined to make Catherine his wife. She plans and schemes, trying to find a way out of her predicament, learning and growing along the way.
Written in diary form, I think the reader gains a more personal understanding of Catherine’s life, and although hers is starkly different from that of a modern child, Catherine’s responses and actions are strikingly familiar.
A wonderful experience for a young person of our electronic era to meet a child from a long-gone age, I would highly recommend this moving and entertaining tale, but not only for children. Adults too, could not fail to find Catherine Called Birdy amusing and thought-provoking.



The Paris Winter


This review first appeared in Historical Novel Review, Issue 64, May 2013 

The Paris Winter by Imogen RobertsonThis historical mystery is set in the glitzy Belle Époque of Paris in the early years of the 20th century, a period when the arts flourished and many masterpieces gained recognition. Young Maud Heighton flees her small English town to take art lessons at the esteemed Académie Lafond. But life in Paris is expensive, and Maud sinks into poverty. Alone and hungry, she is overjoyed to gain employment as a companion to the wealthy Sylvie Morel. Maud is gradually drawn into the Morels’ secret world, and, as the new year of 1910 dawns, a terrible deception catapults Maud into the bleak and dangerous underworld that lurks beneath the elegant Parisian streets.
In The Paris Winter, the author provides a wonderfully atmospheric picture of early 20th century Paris via an intriguing storyline. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of certain works of art at the beginning of several of the chapters. The reason for this was not initially obvious but gave me a nice surprise in the final twist in the tale. I felt there were a few too many characters for a story of this length, which made it difficult to relate to all but the main ones. And, despite a few minor plot holes, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this compelling story of secrecy, greed, deceit and revenge to lovers of historical mysteries.

 ***



Someday Never Comes
By Frances Di Plino
Five Stars 




I thoroughly enjoyed Frances di Plino’s first dark psychological thriller, Bad Moon Rising, and was equally impressed with this second in the Paolo Storey series, Someday Never Comes.

Detective Paolo Storey is determined to shut down the syndicate flooding the streets of Bradchester with young prostitutes. When a child is murdered, Storey becomes aware of a sinister network of abusers spread across Europe, and spanning all levels of society. But Joey, the shadowy leader of the gang, always seems to be one step ahead in the chase.

This masterfully-plotted crime story, with page-turning levels of suspense, action and intrigue gripped me right from the beginning.

Paolo Storey is a flawed and empathetic character, with whom we can readily identify. The villains too, are brilliantly-evoked.


A clever and engaging story, with numerous plot twists and turns, which I would highly recommend for all lovers of dark crime fiction.


***

Katherine

by Anya Seton



As soon as I started reading Katherine, I felt transported from the 21st century straight back to the 14th; to a medieval world filled with political intrigue, danger, violence, superstition and romance. It was a memorable journey and, once over, it wasn’t easy to return to the present.

Born commoners, Katherine and her older sister Philippa, who married Geoffrey Chaucer, were left poor, and while Philippa obtained a position in the household of the Queen, wife to King Edward III of England, Katherine was sent to a convent.

Katherine eventually joined her sister at Court, where her beauty captured the attention of the lustful knight, Sir Hugh Swynford. Katherine reluctantly married him and became Lady Swynford, but at the same time, she met John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, son of King Edward III and brother to the heir to the throne, The Black Prince. John was, at the time, happily married to the beautiful Blanche, who became Katherine’s friend.

Upon the deaths of Blanche and Hugh Swynford, their passion was consummated, and, despite John of Gaunt having to marry the heiress to the throne of Castile, for political reasons, Katherine remained the true love of his life. Katherine bore him many children and their affair caused scandal, hatred and unrest throughout the country.

I enjoyed learning much about this historical period, as the author, through her impeccable research, unerringly brought to life the characters that made this era memorable. 


Written over half a century ago, this little-documented historical fact is as moving today as it surely was when it was first written. The richly-drawn portrait of the love affair of Katherine De Roet and John of Gaunt is a novel to be savoured, and I would highly recommend it to lovers of historical romance.








The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant


This review first appeared in Words with Jam, June 2013 issue.



In the Old Testament, Dinah’s life is only hinted at in a brief detour within the familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis which deals with her father, Jacob, son of Issac, grandson of Abraham and brother of Esau. In The Red Tent, Anita Diamant has taken these scant details of Dinah’s life and imagined them into an amazing narrative of what might have happened.

The author never suggests this is the "true" story. It is a novel, even though it may be based in fact. However, the story seems to be thoroughly researched, and I was as fascinated by her descriptions of life in Biblical times as by the lives of the characters.

The Red Tent explores the lives of the wives and daughter of Jacob, affording us a glimpse into the world of women at that time. Told through the eyes of Dinah, Jacob's only daughter to survive into adulthood, the author has created a wonderful tale of an otherwise minor character.

From the start, we are immediately drawn into the intimate details of the lives of Dinah and her four “mothers”, as Jacob marries Dinah’s mother, Leah, then her sister, Rachel, then takes as concubines the other two sisters: Zilpah, and Bilhah. As the only daughter, Dinah’s “mothers” all love and spoil her, bestowing on Dinah gifts that sustain her through childhood, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. In their relationship with Jacob, and with each other, these women struggle through a range of emotions: jealously, love, pride and loyalty.

We hear about the births of the children resulting from these relationships, as well as Dinah’s childhood of learning from her “mothers” in the red tent, where the women were isolated during their cycles. Within the confines of the red tent, the women bonded in such a way as to give them a subtle power over men, who were fearful of their rituals and knowledge of childbearing. It gave them a certain amount of leverage in a very much male-dominated society.

Later in the story, Dinah’s father, Jacob, leaves his father-in-law’s lands, along with his extensive family and flock of sheep and, eventually, certain events tear these women’s lives apart, as Dinah falls in love and ends up in Egypt.

You do not have to be familiar with the Bible to enjoy this novel as The Red Tent is not, in essence, a religious book, but it does discuss the God of Jacob's father, as well as exploring the many gods worshipped by other cultures of the time. 

This story, about the strength of women, was one of the best I have read in a long time: powerful, beautifully written and imaginatively conceived. I was sorry to reach the last page. Dinah's tale reaches out from a remarkable period in early history, creating for us an intimate connection with our past, and I cannot recommend this book more highly.


Let's Get Visible by David Gaughran


by

's review
Jun 05, 13 · edit


Let's Get Visible gives excellent advice on how to sell your books in today's competitive marketplace. It decodes Amazon's confusing algorithms and explains the various Amazon categories and lists, and how to go about placing your book on these lists. It deals with pricing, free promotions, successful book launches and different forms of advertising.
A real gem to help authors to gain maximum visibility for their books. I can't rate it highly enough.





COMPLICIT
By Gillian E. Hamer
Complicit

I greatly enjoyed this author’s first two crime novels––The Charter and Closure––set along the wild and beautiful Anglesey coast, so much so that I’ve put the north Wales coast on top of my to-visit list. Her third novel––Complicit––set against that same backdrop of stunning scenery certainly did not disappoint either.
Detective Sergeants Gareth Parry and Chris Coleman, along with the feisty and determined new DC, Megan Jones, must stop a murderer who is torturing and killing people for information. 
Interwoven with the modern-day crime story, the narrative also explores the ancient Druid culture of this region. And, after a series of suspenseful, page-turning scenes, it becomes increasingly obvious that these parallel narratives are closely connected.
I would highly recommend Complicit for lovers of crime stories with an historical and “otherworldly” slant.


TREAD SOFTLY
By JJ Marsh
Tread Softly


After Behind Closed Doors and Raw Material, JJ Marsh has again excelled in the international crime field with Tread Softly, the third in the Beatrice Stubbs series.
On leave from the Metropolitan Police, Beatrice Stubbs is taking a gourmet trip in Northern Spain. In Vitoria, she meets the beautiful and determined journalist, Ana Herrero, and, unable to ignore a missing person’s case, she finds herself in the midst of violent threats, corpses, blackmail and Rioja. As her partner, Matthew, tells Beatrice: “You don’t attract trouble, you go looking for it.” 
Apart from the fast-paced, suspenseful and brilliant plot, the author also hooked me with her wonderful evocation of the sights, tastes and smells of the Basque Country.
Another excellent crime novel from JJ Marsh, which I would highly recommend to lovers of intelligent crime.





TRISTAN & ISEULT
by Jane Dixon Smith
Tristan and Iseult


A beautifully-written novella that retells this well-known Celtic legend made popular during the 12th century through French medieval poetry.
Tristan and Iseult, their opposing origins, their alliances and their love, come to life in this dramatic tale.
Narrated in an enchanting, almost whispered voice, the story never misses a beat, and I was mesmerized from start to finish.



GIFT OF THE RAVEN
By Catriona Troth

A beautifully-written novella that explores the troubled childhood of Terry, and his journey to find his roots with the Haida Gwaii Indians of Canada. As well as Terry’s heart-warming story, and the author’s lyrical prose that brought these parts of Canada to life, I really enjoyed learning about a culture of which I previously knew nothing.
This is a story that will remain with me for a long time, and I would recommend it to readers of a wide variety of genres.






The Golden Lynx by C.P. Lesley



The Golden Lynx is set in 16th century Russia, with Nasan, an Islamic Tatar as protagonist. Nasan witnesses the murder of her brother by a Russian, triggering a battle, and the young Tatar princess becomes the peace offering. Nasan is sent by her parents, far away from her homeland to marry Daniil, who is related to her brother’s killer. Before long, Nasan finds herself caught up in events that will decide the future of Russia.
This was a period of history about which I knew next to nothing, and I enjoyed learning about it through this story, which is always a sign of good historical fiction for me. I loved the author’s excellent descriptions, and her intriguing exploration and contrast of the two cultures.
Nasan, in her refusal to play the expected role of women in this society, comes across as strong independent, but I would have liked to witness more of her nightly escapades.
I loved the idea of the Golden Lynx playing “detective” in parallel to Daniil, and, all in all, found this a compelling 16th century adventure.
I look forward to reading more of this author's work.





CHECKING OUT AND OTHER TALES by Mary D'Arcy
15/04/2013
Product Details
A humorous, witty, sad and poignant collection of short stories and several poems, with many unexpected twists.
This author certainly knows how to delve into the complexities of the ordinary person: love, anxiety, happiness and sadness. In each tale, she raises a different question in the reader’s mind, forcing us to reflect on life.
I highly recommend these excellently-told stories that will stay in the reader’s mind long after they have reached the last page.




THE GALLOWS CURSE by Karen Maitland
15/04/2013

Product Details

Having loved and reviewed Karen Maitland’s previous two books, Company of Liars and The Owl Killers, I was expecting great things from The Gallows Curse. I was not at all disappointed.

Set against the backdrop of Pope Innocent III’s Interdict imposed on England in 1208, after King John refused to accept the pope’s appointee, Stephen Langton, as Archbishop of Canterbury, The Gallows Curse is a dark and complex historical mystery.
The cast of characters is diverse, yet linked by many invisible ties. The author depicts the loneliness and terror of life as a runaway villain through the eyes of Elena, one of the main characters. The reader sympathises with her terrible predicament, and yearns to see her take revenge on her tormentors. The other main character, Raffaele, is fascinating: tortured and full of flaws, at the same time enchanting and repulsive, hero and anti-hero.
Sexual deviance, violent death, treason and cunning women with ancient grudges feature along the winding road of this story, as Elena and Raffaele, both together and alone, attempt to elude the treacherous snares thrown in their paths.
The way Karen Maitland seamlessly weaves the supernatural into the story, I could easily believe in the magic, the spells and potions, as did these medieval people. And the “mandrake” as narrator adds even more intrigue, firmly grounding the story in this age of myth and superstition.
13th-century England is depicted so vividly I could almost feel, taste and smell it, and I was mesmerised from the beginning. I would highly recommend The Gallows Curse to lovers of medieval fiction, especially to those with a taste for the darkly humorous and a few surprise twists in the tale.



THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING SHINE
 by Annarita Guarnieri
02/03/2013



Right from the first page of this endearing story, it is obvious the author, Annarita Guarnieri is a tireless animal lover.
She tells this story from the point of view of Shine, an abandoned Belgian Shepherd puppy. We follow Shine’s life from the terrible moment of her abandonment in a ditch, to her days in the shelter, and then to her wonderful new home with the author.
In an entertaining and easy-to-read style, we see how Shine adapts to her new home, her loving “mum” and her collection of cats and various other animals. We feel as if the author is entirely inside Shine’s head, as she so vividly evokes her fears, her needs, and her warm personality.
Shine was one of the lucky ones at the shelter. She ended up having a wonderful life, and no dog could have wished for a more caring owner. This story is a special one of love, trust and friendship, and I would highly recommend it to animal-lovers, not only as humorous entertainment, but also as a lesson in taking responsibility for animals and their welfare.






***


THE SECRET RIVER by Kate Grenville
This review first appeared in Historical Novels Review, Issue 63 February, 2013



As she did in the first book of this trilogy - The Secret River - Kate Grenville delves into her family history to recreate the past in Sarah Thornhill. Sarah is the youngest child of William Thornhill, the central character in The Secret River, who was shipped to Australia as a convict and eventually made a decent life for his family.
Sarah grows up in ignorant bliss of the troubles that took place between her father and the local Aboriginals, her eyes firmly set on the handsome Jack Langland. The lovers’ happy future seems certain, until Sarah’s father refuses to allow her to wed the half-black Jack.
Jack returns to sea and a devastated Sarah eventually marries Irish immigrant, John Daunt. The author sharply evokes the hardship of life on a new settlement, the marriage taking unexpected turns for both Sarah and the reader, and building to the heart-breaking moment when Sarah discovers the true reason for her father’s refusal of marriage to Jack.
The only very minor gripe I had was with the end of the story. Whilst Sarah’s journey to New Zealand, in an attempt to make amends for the sins of her family, worked for the story, it did not work too well for me in terms of character.
Despite this, I felt Kate Grenville captured the voice of the headstrong, passionate and illiterate Sarah perfectly. This is a tender portrait of a young woman caught up in the turbulent period of the birth of a nation and, coupled with the author’s stunning prose, I would highly recommend Sarah Thornhill



***


RAW MATERIAL by JJ MARSH
Feb 20,2013
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A Thrilling Sequel to Behind Closed Doors.
As in her first novel, Behind Closed Doors, JJ Marsh had me hooked right from the beginning of Raw Material.
The story opens with Detective Beatrice Stubbs and her partner, Matthew, taking photographs on a beach holiday in Wales. When their cottage is burgled and Beatrice's camera is stolen, it is evident this is no meaningless petty theft. However, when she returns to London, Beatrice must turn her attentions to the sinister Finsbury Park Flasher, who is becoming more dangerous as each day passes.
Reading about Detective Beatrice Stubbs once again felt like meeting up with an old friend; we know her strengths, her weaknesses, her foibles. We empathize with her as we accompany her in the battles of her personal and professional life. Amateur detective Adrian also shines again, he and Matthew becoming entangled in a bleak and horrific crime.
I would highly recommend Raw Material to readers who enjoy excellently-written, intelligent crime novels with fast-paced, original plots. I’m impatient for the next book in the Beatrice Stubbs series!



CLOSURE by GILLIAN E. HAMER
Feb 20, 13 

5 of 5 stars false





Gillian Hamer’s second novel, Closure, encompasses the same blend of murder mystery and otherworldly suspense as her first novel, The Charter.
As in The Charter, the author transports the reader to the rugged and stunning Welsh coast, in Closure, narrating two seemingly unrelated stories. The first features widow Helen West and the obstacles she faces in seeking treatment for her six-year-old son, Jake’s frightening nightmares. The second involves the police hunt for a serial kidnapper and murderer around Bangor University.
It was clear from the beginning that there had to be some link between these two intriguing stories, but I couldn’t imagine what it could be. Then, very cleverly, Gillian Hamer weaves these two different strands together, culminating in a climax charged with action and suspense.
Rich in description and atmosphere, taut with suspense and intrigue, and peppered with memorable characters, I would highly recommend Closure to crime thriller lovers who enjoy a ghostly twist in their tale.Gillian Hamer’s second novel, Closure, encompasses the same blend of murder mystery and otherworldly suspense as her first novel, The Charter.
As in The Charter, the author transports the reader to the rugged and stunning Welsh coast, in Closure, narrating two seemingly unrelated stories. The first features widow Helen West and the obstacles she faces in seeking treatment for her six-year-old son, Jake’s frightening nightmares. The second involves the police hunt for a serial kidnapper and murderer around Bangor University.
It was clear from the beginning that there had to be some link between these two intriguing stories, but I couldn’t imagine what it could be. Then, very cleverly, Gillian Hamer weaves these two different strands together, culminating in a climax charged with action and suspense.

Rich in description and atmosphere, taut with suspense and intrigue, and peppered with memorable characters, I would highly recommend Closure to crime thriller lovers who enjoy a ghostly twist in their tale.






 


STIGMATA by Colin Falconer

This review first appeared in Historical Novels Review, Issue 62 November 2012


StigmataIt is 1205 and the knight, Philip of Vercy has survived a year of savage warfare in the Holy Land. He sails back to his castle in France expecting peace, and his beloved wife waiting, but is devastated to find his wife has died in childbirth and his young son is seriously ill.

When he hears of the existence of a healer in the Languedoc, Philip sets off from Burgundy on a desperate voyage to save his son.

But he rides straight into a war where his countrymen are being brutally persecuted by the Pope’s savage mercenaries sent to wipe out the heretics of the south – the Cathars. As the crusaders tighten their grip on the country, Philip’s journey becomes more and more perilous.
He locates Fabricia Bérenger – a young woman who sees visions and is marked with Christ’s Stigmata, perhaps giving her healing powers. Sickened by the senseless slaughter, Philip questions everything he once held as true, and asks himself if he can give it all up and fight for justice, and for a woman everyone regards as godless.
The intricate detail in Stigmata reflects the author’s solid research, and took me right to the core of this historical period. The sense of time and place, the dialogue and writing style, completely immersed me in 13th century southern France. The story moves along at a cracking pace, the narrative fraught with action and tension at every turn. I found Philip and Fabricia sympathetic and believable characters, and I would highly recommend Stigmata as a powerful tale of religious heresy, crusades, loss and love.








CALL THE MIDWIFE: Illustrated Edition by Jennifer Worth

This review first appeared in Historical Novels Review, Issue 62 November 2012


Call the Midwife

Attached to an order of courageous, kind and eccentric nuns, apprentice midwife, Jennifer Worth, tells the story of the women she treated and the horrifying conditions in which they lived and gave birth in the Docklands slum areas of the 1950s. While she witnessed loss and brutality, she also met with incredible compassion, understanding and a large dose of Cockney humour. Funny, moving and tragic, Jennifer’s stories bring to life London’s impoverished East End of the 1950s.
From the moment I opened this beautifully-illustrated hardback, I was enchanted –– from the poignant sepia photographs, to the author’s engaging, conversational prose. Obviously not penned by a trained writer, this doesn’t detract from the story, but rather enhances it. Written straight from the heart, she does not try and impress with any forced, literary skills, her no-nonsense narration echoing, even more resoundingly, her down-to-earth characters.
My own training and work as a midwife perhaps rendered this story even more enjoyable. I certainly identified with the midwives and their difficult situations, but I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a moving and heart-warming memoir.







FELL THE ANGELS: The Case of the Priory Murder by John Kerr
This review first appeared in Historical Novels Review, Issue 62 November 2012



The title implies a case of murder. But is it murder, or suicide? Well, we don’t know, as the notorious death of Charles Bravo, on which this story is based, remains unsolved. In Fell the Angels, the author presents a fictitious solution to the case.
Charles Cranbrook dies from antimony poisoning at his elite Victorian home –– The Priory –– purchased by his rich wife, Cecilia. Through a fast-paced narrative, the suspects and their motives of jealousy, domestic abuse and greed, are investigated. Charles’s financial problems evoke the suicide theory.
I found this story very readable, the case and the investigation intriguing. It did though, have a non-fiction feel, in that the reader is told everything, rather than shown, e.g.: ‘No, Cissie … The only thing that will stop them talking behind your back is to marry the right sort of man …’ I did not feel the characters’ emotions.
The overuse of present participial phrases sounded awkward, e.g.: “Putting the book aside, Mrs Clark…”, “Walking quickly along the flagstone path on a warm May morning, Cecilia halted…”
The continuous stream of adjectives was slightly distracting, eg: “… inhaled the pleasant bouquet of the expensive French bath crystals.” And the author tells us ten times that Cecilia has auburn hair.
In the sense of a whodunnit, the author’s solution didn’t work too well for me. It seemed unlikely this person would murder Cranbrook for the reason elicited, and rather more plausible another of the characters would have been killed. This may prove dissatisfying to crime mystery lovers, for whom the puzzle is the main interest; it seems impossible to guess the perpetrator’s identity.  
Despite these reservations, I enjoyed Fell the Angels. Victorian respectability, fame, fortune and fall are portrayed excellently, and it certainly piqued my interest in this sensational murder case.







YEAR OF WONDERS by Geraldine Brooks
12/10/2012
This review first appeared in WWJ October-November 2012


As I enjoyed and reviewed Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book for the previous issue of WWJ, I decided to try her debut novel this time – Year of Wonders.
Year of Wonders is inspired from the author’s visit to the village of Eyam over twenty years ago. Whilst out walking in the English countryside, she came upon a finger post pointing the way to the PLAGUE VILLAGE, and there she found the true story of the Eyam villagers’ ordeal, and their extraordinary decision, set out in display in the parish church of Saint Lawrence.
It is 1665 when an itinerant tailor brings the plague from London to the small Derbyshire village of Eyam by means of a flea-infested bolt of cloth. The tailor, who is the first to succumb to the plague, boards with Anna Frith, young widow and narrator of the story.
Anna works as a maid for the rector, Michael Mompellion and his wife, Elinor, who has taught her to read. As the villagers die, one by one, those who remain face a choice: do they flee Eyam in the hope of escaping the plague, or do they stay? The rector suggests the village quarantine itself, so as to protect its neighbours from the plague. Obeying the rector’s command, the villagers voluntarily seal themselves off from the rest of the world.
Cocooned from the outside world, the plague deaths mount, and grief and superstition lead to mob violence, accusations of witchcraft and devil worship. Ravaged by the disease, the people of Eyam struggle to retain their humanity in the face of this disaster. Anna Frith is a sympathetic heroine as, with Mompellion and Elinor, she tends the dying and battles to prevent her fellow villagers from descending into drink, violence and superstition. She must also struggle with the intense, inexplicable feelings she develops for both the rector and his wife.
With an observant eye, impeccable period detail and poetic prose, the author skillfully portrays this moment in history; this story of ordinary people struggling to cope with extraordinary circumstances.
Because I found this story so well written, I was just a little disappointed in the ending, which seemed a bit rushed and contrived. However, despite this small reservation, I would highly recommend Year of Wonders as a spellbinding and unforgettable tale of love, loss, and learning, throughout this tragic historical era.



A PARACHUTE IN THE LIME TREE by Annemarie Neary
26/09/2012 
This review first appeared in Triskele Books Bookclub

A beautiful love story that haunts you long after you’ve finished, A Parachute in the Lime Tree drew me in right from the start, with the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Jewish family in Berlin in 1939 and the discovery of some of their belongings in the attic of the house next door.

Childhood sweethearts, Oskar and Elsa, are separated by war, and Elsa is eventually transported to Ireland with the Kindertransport. When Oskar, now a Luftwaffe airman disillusioned by the war, discovers the letters written to him by Elsa, but intercepted by his mother, he embarks on a reckless journey to find her.

Naïve Irish girl, Kitty, finds a parachute hanging from a lime tree in her garden and, shortly after, discovers Oskar, who has jumped from his plane during a bombing raid. Only too happy for a bit of excitement in her dull life, Kitty pursues Oskar, and falls in love. But Oskar is fuelled by a single goal: finding Elsa. Meanwhile, a young medical student, Charlie, falls in love with Elsa, who is trying piece her life back together.

We experience the heart-breaking lives, loves and and losses of Elsa, Charlie, Kitty and Oskar, the journey taking us from Normandy, to rural Dunkerin, to the Jewish quarter in Dublin, and finally to New York.
This beautifully-written story combines humour, suspense and poignancy, and brilliantly captures the historical period. The narrative shifts effortlessly from character to character, and I engaged so much with every one of them that I felt each character’s story could have continued on a little longer, rather than the quite long wrap-up at the end. Despite this very minor reservation, I found it a compelling read from the beginning right through to the deeply moving, surprise ending.




THE LOST WIFE by Alyson Richman

This review first appeared in Historical Novels Review magazine.


The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman

Lenka and Josef enjoy a pleasant, easy existence in beautiful, pre-WWII Prague until they are separated by the Nazi occupation. The dreams of the young newlyweds are shattered when Josef is forced to flee to the USA while Lenka, unwilling to abandon her family, is transported to the ghetto of Terezin.
Safe in the USA, Josef marries and becomes a successful obstetrician, but clings to the memory of Lenka. Lenka, though, must banish Josef from her mind if she is to live through her atrocious experiences in Terezin and, later, Auschwitz. Both convinced the other has perished, Lenka and Josef are shocked when, decades later, a chance meeting reunites them.
With an artist’s eye, the author uses bright colours to contrast elegant pre-war Prague with the camps’ dark and dismal shades. She shows how the people’s love of art and music became their crutch for survival, demonstrating the irony of the Nazis’ systematic destruction of these very same intellectual gifts.
The story is an intense exploration of love on many different levels: love of art and music, love between couples, families and friends, and how each relationship is sculpted out of personal education, tragedy and time. The author demonstrates how this power of love can sustain one through shocking experiences.
The Lost Wife is also a sad and depressing Holocaust tale. Both main characters are empathetic, as they struggle through their separate lives, though at times Lenka and Josef tend to sound like the same person. The reader knows the outcome of the story from the start, which steals much of the tension and renders the ending a little of an anti-climax.
I found this novel engrossing, touching and thought-provoking, and feel it could benefit even more from further editing, notably word repetitions and some misuse of obstetric terminology.



CATHERINE OF DEEPDALE by Millie Vigor

This review first appeared in Historical Novels Review magazine


Catherine of Deepdale by Millie Vigor

In 1946, Catherine Jameson leaves Southampton for the Shetland Isles, home of her new husband, Robbie, anticipating an idyllic island life. Despite discovering his home is a croft with no modern conveniences, and his mother’s disdain for the new English wife, Catherine is determined to adapt. However, when Robbie perishes in a fishing accident, and Catherine discovers she is pregnant, she can either return to her family or stay on the island and carry out her husband’s dream of breeding Cheviot sheep. Catherine decides to stay.
For readers looking for a cozy story to curl up with by the fireside, I recommend this novel. Despite a few punctuation glitches, and the overuse of dialogue tags, e.g. ‘“Call me Doris,” said Doris’, I found it pleasant to read, with likeable and sympathetic characters.
The author evokes the wild, desolate landscape of the islands so vividly that it made me want to visit and learn about crofting. Her use, at times, of Shetland dialect is not intrusive.
I found it hard to accept Catherine’s decision to remain after her husband’s death. She had a good relationship with her own family, something she does not have, initially, with her in-laws. The weather is harsh, she has few friends, and no feasible reason apart from her dead husband’s dream to remain. The plot is predictable, and I would have preferred a few surprises. The author might have been better served to omit the sex scenes, which I found clichéd to the point of laughable. Apart from these misgivings, I enjoyed the story and missed having it to curl up with once I’d finished.


THE OWL KILLERS by KAREN MAITLAND



Having loved Company of Liars, I was excited to read Karen Maitland’s next novel, The Owl Killers, set in Ulewic, a 14th century village near Norfolk.
For centuries, Ulewic has been ruled by both the lord of the manor and by the Owl Masters - a predatory, pagan group empowered by fear, blackmail and superstition to dispense a harsh form of law and order.
A group of religious women settles in a beguinage outside the village and when their crops succeed and their animals survive diseases, jealousy and conflict are brought to a head in Ulewic.
The author uses a multiple narrative voice flawlessly, each voice distinct and compelling. I engaged with every one of the characters, whose lives are drawn out smoothly and interwoven into the main story in an unobtrusive and enjoyable way.
Pagan and Christian ways intermingle and clash, the story steeped in witchcraft, heresy, mystery, suspense and tragedy. At times very dark and bleak, it also evokes human nature at its best, and explores the power of faith.
The author has vividly brought to life a medieval community where the mind was ruled by religion and superstition. Through simple, lyrical prose, she builds the plot to a conclusion that provides both resolution and the expectation of what might have happened next.
Karen Maitland truly knows how to write about what interests her, and I would highly recommend The Owl Killers to fans of historical fiction and the supernatural.



PEOPLE OF THE  BOOK by GERALDINE BROOKS

This review first appeared in the August-September issue of WWJ

As an Australian reader, I am always interested in books by Aussie authors, so it was with great anticipation that I bought a copy of People of the Book, in which Geraldine Brooks spins a fascinating tale of the miraculous survival of the 15th century Sarajevo Haggadah.
Handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold, the Sarajevo Haggadah manuscript contains the illustrated traditional text of the Passover Haggadah, its wine-stained pages suggesting it was used at many Passover Seders.
The story opens in the spring of 1996 after the Bosnia hostilities have ceased, leaving the city of Sarajevo shattered. Australian conservator of mediaeval scripts, Hanna Heath, is summoned to the National Museum of Bosnia to restore the Sarajevo Haggadah.
As Hanna works on the Haggadah, she discovers a butterfly wing, a wine stain, sea salt crystals and a fine white hair. Through these minute clues, the author transports the reader back to five historical epochs – Sarajevo in 1940, Vienna in 1894, Venice in 1609 and Spain in 1492 and 1480 – in which the existence of this priceless mediaeval prayer book is threatened.
The stories that encompass each of these eras are all so rich in period detail and fascinating that it occurred to me Geraldine Brooks could have easily dedicated an entire book to each individual time period. In fact, I found each one too short, and it was a little frustrating to become immersed in one story then, abruptly, be taken to a different place in history and introduced to new characters. I felt there wasn’t enough time to get to know each intriguing cast of characters who feature in the precarious journey of the Haggadah, and I yearned to linger longer in each time period.
Whilst I found the historical sections brilliantly written and of great interest, I did not find the same level of engagement, or writing, in the contemporary, Hanna Heath sections. She comes across as a bit cold and calculating, and, to me, unsympathetic. The subplot involving the strained relationship between Hanna and her mother Sarah, from whom Hanna ultimately learns a jealously-guarded family secret, as well as Hanna’s relationship with the Bosnia librarian who protected the Haggadah at the outset of the Bosnian hostilities, came across as a little contrived. I don’t believe this powerful account of individual resistance to intolerance, and the precious value of history, needed any such extraneous padding.
Apart from these minor reservations with the modern sections and the main character, the narrative entranced me as a thought-provoking insight into the persistence of religious persecution, and issues of religious and individual identity. The beauty of the Sarajevo Haggadah seduced Muslims, Christians and Jews alike – a symbol of human unity in an age where religious and cultural divisions still run deep. 


The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower
4.0 out of 5 stars. Entertaining and beautifully written. 31 July, 2012

To celebrate William the Conqueror’s conquest of Britain, Bishop of Bayeux, Odo, commissions a wall hanging. This embroidered cloth, on permanent exhibition in Bayeux, Normandy, became known as the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the most well-known and enigmatic medieval artifacts.

Armed with Sarah Bower’s wonderfully descriptive language, The Needle in the Blood gripped me from the beginning. I felt as if I’d been hurled into the midst of the Battle of Hastings, as Odo, half-brother of William the Conqueror, fears his brother has died on the battlefield and rallies the Norman troops. We soon learn that the battle is won and King Harold has been killed.

Gytha, the fictional Aelfgytha, former handmaid to the mistress of the fallen king, and a talented embroiderer, is amongst the Saxon women who come to claim Harold’s body. Witnessing her mistress's home pillaged, and suffering rape to save a Saxon soldier about to be put to death, when Gytha is among the women recruited to work on Odo’s embroidery, she sees an opportunity for revenge.

Odo’s life becomes entangled with those of the women embroiderers, and, against their wills, Gytha and he fall in love, bringing Odo into conflict with his king and his God. The lies, treachery and intrigue begin, with as many lies embroidered into the tapestry as are passed between the vibrant cast of characters, as the author brilliantly portrays how nothing in life, or in the wall hanging, is what it seems.

At times, I felt a touch confused as to point of view or whether the narrative was in flashback, but felt the story was generally very well-plotted and full of action. I would highly recommend The Needle in the Blood to readers looking for a powerful, intense story, beautifully told by an author with the skill to evoke this period in history. It is also a must-read for anyone visiting the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy.

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Engrossing5 July 2012
In the throes of writing my own novel set against the French revolution, Catherine Delors' Mistress of the Revolution threw entertaining light onto this complex and terrifying time in history.
It is narrated as a fictional memoir by Gabrielle de Montserrat. Born into an impoverished aristocratic family, Gabrielle falls in love with a doctor from the bourgeoisie class, who proposes marriage. But her family wants her to wed an older, wealthy cousin, and her brother threatens to kill the doctor. So, to save the man she loves, Gabrielle agrees to what proves to be a loveless, abusive marriage. When her husband dies, Gabrielle and her daughter are left destitute, which sets the scene for her integration into Parisian society, and directly into the storm of a bloody and terrifying revolution.
Despite, at times, the slight overload of historical information, which slowed the story a little, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mistress of the Revolution and found it hard to put down. The author evokes, in intricate detail, the life of an aristocrat in these tumultuous times, as well as the events leading up to and during the revolution. I found Gabrielle a sympathetic character -- a woman and mother struggling to survive Madame la Guillotine; a theme with which many readers will identify.
I would highly recommend Mistress of the Revolution to fans of historical fiction or students of this era.


This review first appeared on the Triskele Books bookclub page.
5.0 out of 5 stars Ingenious blend of history, terror and powerful human drama3 July 2012
It's a long time since I've picked up a novel that gripped me so much I just had to finish it as quickly as possible. But this is what happened when I discovered, quite by accident, or good fortune, Karen Maitland's Company of Liars.
It is 1348 and the Black Plague has disembarked on the English shores. The narrator, Camelot - itinerant peddler of bogus holy relics - is making his way north and inland to try and outrun the plague. Along the way, believing in safety in numbers, Camelot is joined by various other misfits: a musician and his apprentice, a magician, a one-armed storyteller, a young couple on the run, a midwife, and a ghostly rune-reading girl who tells their pasts and predicts their futures with unnerving accuracy.
In a world ruled by fear, faith and superstition, the plague constantly snapping at their heels, this odd group of bedfellows grudgingly bear each other as they suffer incessant rain and cold, starvation, assaults and terror as they try to stay beyond the sweep of death that is ravaging England.
While brilliantly evoking the squalor, the smells, and the danger of the plague years, this powerful story does not focus on these grim conditions, but rather on the hopes, dreams and fears of every exquisitely-drawn character. Each member of the group has a story to tell, a secret to hide, a lie to conceal. Over the months they travel, eat, sleep and face disaster together, they learn more about one another until each secret is revealed in turn, often with dire consequences. Finally, it is revealed that one of them masks the darkest secret of all; a curse far worse than the pestilence they are struggling to flee - a secret that propels the company of liars towards a destiny neither they, nor the reader, sees coming.
I recommend this ingenious blend of history, primal terror and powerful human drama to anyone who appreciates a tale of mediaeval intrigue, mild fantasy and plain good storytelling.


 The Queen's Lady by Barbara Kyle
4.0 out of 5 starsA fast-paced, intriguing taleJune 30, 2012
In the Queen's Lady, Barbara Kyle weaves a fast-paced plot of intrigue, romance and suspense, set in the 16th century court of King Henry VIII.

The feisty heroine, Honor Larke, is faced with two choices: marry or serve. Not wishing to become an obedient wife, she leaves the home of her ward, Sir Thomas More, to become one of Queen Catherine of Aragon's ladies. But such a position can prove lethal, as intrigues in the Tudor Court heighten when Anne Boleyn steals Henry's affection and the King wants to divorce Catherine. Honor's loyalties are put to the test, her position at court questioned.

But The Queen's Lady is not only about Honor Lark; it also addresses the religious influences of this era, illustrating the manipulation of the church in the interests of the state.
The story is packed with action, plot twists and turns, perhaps a touch too many dangerous missions. Sometimes I felt I couldn't catch my breath. In general though, I found this story highly entertaining and easy to read. It is well-written and of great escapist value. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy a good English historical romance, coupled with suspense, action and intrigue.



Dakota by Todd Brown
This review first appeared on Book Junkie Reviews.
4.0 out of 5 stars tightly-written and well-characterized14 Jun 2012
Modern-day undercover narcotics detective, Dakota Riley is the central character in this unique mixture of historical fiction and time travel. When a drug investigation turns nasty, Dakota loses his partner and best friend, and is sent with his new partner, Mark, to South Carolina. This is where they are transported back in time to the Civil War. Mark is taken for a slave and doesn't realize what time period he is in, while Dakota discovers from Confederate soldiers that it is 1861. Mark and Dakota are soon fleeing to the perceived safety of the North.
On the surface, this appears to be a story about the civil war, but I don't think that was the author's intention. It's more an exploration into human attitudes regarding race and geographical identity, and how these have changed, or not, over time.
Tightly-written and very well-characterized, the time-travel is dealt with deftly, and the ending was a nice surprise. This is no simple detective or war story, but an evocative drama blended with suspense, action and deep emotion. I found Dakota highly entertaining, and I would recommend it as a great read for both male and female readers, something that is generally quite rare in a novel.


5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, mysterious and fast-paced18 May 2012
I love stories that encompass history, legend, mystery and crime. I enjoy a fast-paced narrative and an intriguing plot. I also like to be transported to an unknown place. These are the reasons I devoured The Charter, set along the wild and dangerous Welsh coast. Based on the story of the 1859 shipwreck of the Royal Charter, on its fated voyage from the goldfields of Australia to Liverpool, the author has created a beguiling modern-day tale around the gold the survivors brought to shore in their pockets, as they battled the seas in the most severe Irish Sea storm of the century.
I am not generally drawn to anything paranormal, but the "otherworldly" elements in The Charter are dealt with so deftly, the author leaving the decision up to the reader as to whether these ghosts exist or not.
I will definitely be seeking out more enchanting crime thrillers from Gillian Hamer set along the beautiful and mysterious Anglesey coast.

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb characterisation and story-telling16 May 2012
I discovered the wonderful writing and extraordinary characters of Anne Tyler in Breathing Lessons. I am amazed at her insight into people and human relationships, her witty writing and acute observations. Breathing Lessons perfectly illustrates the way long-married couples behave with each other, and how old arguments resurface over and over. A funny, sad and moving story, with characters that leap off the page as real people, I will remember Maggie's unfailing optimism and refusal to accept the obvious, for a long time. Since reading Breathing Lessons, I have been slowly making my way through all her other novels, with as much enjoyment.


5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous crime debut16 May 2012
I found it hard to put this fast-paced, intriguing, crime thriller down. The author explores grim issues with a deft hand, and we can even empathize with the brutal killer. The darkness of the crimes at the heart of the novel is softened by the warmth and humanity of the investigating officer, DI Paolo Storey. The sprinkling of hints and the whiff of red herrings kept me absorbed until the final, harrowing conclusion. The twist is unexpected, the story original and I look forward to the next one.


Pure by Andrew Miller
4.0 out of 5 stars A great insight into eighteenth century Paris14 May 2012
Fabulous writing as usual, by Andrew Miller, as he brilliantly captures 18th century Paris. I didn't connect too much with the plot though, which is only my personal feeling; it is still a most enjoyable read.


The Secret River by Kate Grenville
This review first appeared in Words with JAM magazine.
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written6 May 2012
Orange Fiction prize-winner, Kate Grenville wanted to know what happened to one of her ancestors, Thames boatman Soloman Wiseman, when he arrived in New South Wales, early in the 19th century. She wondered about his interaction with the Aboriginal people. Originally intended as a non-fiction work on her research into Wiseman, the book eventually became the fictional The Secret River, narrated through the eyes of William Thornhill.
A Thames River bargeman born into poverty, Thornhill's dire circumstances lead him to commit a crime for which he is transported to colonial New South Wales with his feisty wife, Sal, for the term of his natural life. Once emancipated, he seizes this opportunity to reinvent himself by becoming a trader and landowner, staking a claim on patch of ground by the Hawkesbury River, which, unbeknown to him, is Aboriginal land.
The undercurrent of tension with the natives begins as a murmur, gradually becoming palpable, until it is clear that some kind of conflict between Thornhill's family and the Aboriginals is inevitable. The situation builds to a horrifying climax when William Thornhill is forced to make a difficult choice; a clash between one group of people who are desperate to own land, and another group for whom the concept of ownership is entirely foreign.
Kate Grenville's dedication reads: to the Aboriginal people of Australia: past, present and future. This immediately leads us to believe the author sympathises with the aborigines, over the white men. On the contrary, she weighs the argument deftly, weaving a fine balance of empathy for both the Aboriginal population and the new settlers.
Whilst attempting to understand and exist peacefully alongside the natives, Thornhill, working hard for small gain in a hostile environment, gains our sympathy when the natives steal his crops. At the same time the author never lets us forget that this land, which the white man has stolen, belongs to the Aboriginals; that they are as much a part of it as the earth, rocks, trees and fauna on which they survive.
She presents the reader with the plight of both blacks and whites, with no aim of resolving the problem, or pointing the finger at one or the other. Various other settlers in the area make different decisions on how to deal the Aboriginals, which leads us to question how we would act in similar circumstances. The author leaves this up to us to decide. Or not.
All moral dilemmas aside, this is also simply a good story: a man trying to carve a better life for himself and his family in brutal and unforgiving conditions. Kate Grenville creates a vivid sense of colonial New South Wales -- a place we feel, smell and taste through her lyrical prose.
I discovered the brilliant writing of Kate Grenville when I read The Idea of Perfection. The Secret River too, is story-telling at its finest, a thought-provoking story which subtly raises issues on class, ownership and power. So superbly written it had me mesmerized from the outset, and I will certainly be reading the second and third books in this series.


Behind Closed Doors by JJ Marsh
5.0 out of 5 stars Behind Closed Doors5 May 2012
A brilliantly-crafted crime story in which, via the expert hand of JJ Marsh, we move through one high-profile murder after another. The plot is intricate, inspired and the conclusion daunting. I identified and sympathised with the detective, Beatrice Stubbs who, with her flaws, strengths and determination to track down this elusive killer, is a refreshing change from the usual tired-out, detective hack of so many crime novels. If you enjoy high-quality crime novels, you will be as gripped as I was, and will be looking out for the next Beatrice Stubbs story.


THE LAND BEYOND GOODBYE by Barbara Scott-Emmett
5.0 out of 5 stars The Land Beyond Goodbye5 May 2012
As an Australian living away from home for twenty years, Land Beyond Goodbye was like a nostalgic trip home for me. From the way the author captures the essence of the barren, unfriendly, though exotic outback, and her use of Aussie jargon, I knew she had to have been there. As the tension built, I became engrossed in Jess's story into this foreign land, and the heroine's perception of herself as she faces up to some harsh truths. A delightfully spiritual journey.






















25 comments:

Raman said...

Am I entitled to submit my first published novel for a review? The title is SPIRIT OF LOVE; it took me, aged 75 now, nearly five years to complete after the death of my wife.I am gathering ideas for a second novel.
Synopsis can be read in my blog www.ramanmorarjee.wordpress.com .

Liza Perrat said...

Hi Raman,
I haven't quite got the review section going yet, but will get back to you when it's up and running.
Cheers,
Liza

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