Review of A Dreadful Murder by Minette Walters – 5 Stars

A Dreadful Murder: The Mysterious Death of Caroline LuardA Dreadful Murder: The Mysterious Death of Caroline Luard by Minette Walters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

Introduction: I really enjoyed this little book it is part of the quick-reads collection. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. This seems to be what has jarred other readers (the use of simpler language) but I didn’t find it detracted from the novel at all. I’m proud of authors who take on the challenge of writing these books so that they can be enjoyed by all even those who aren’t keen readers.

Premise: Based on the true story of the shocking murder of Mrs Caroline Luard, which took place in Kent in August 1908. Caroline Luard is shot dead in broad daylight in the grounds of a large country estate. With few clues available, her husband soon becomes the suspect…But is he guilty?
Minette Walters tells the story of Caroline and her husband’s stroll through the grounds of the estate on the morning of the murder and then branches out to the story of Superintendent Albert Taylor. Albert Taylor follows the clues but is shocked to see how quickly the town turns on Caroline’s husband Charles as the prime suspect. Soon Charles is receiving threatening notes from an anonymous writer. Yet, Taylor is becoming more and more convinced that Charles is innocent. Will proving his innocence matter if the entire town has turned against him?

Reason for the 5 Stars:

Minette Walters writes this book very cleverly. You follow the steps of the inspector but whilst you are keeping track of one thing another happens (e.g. a note arrives). You do find yourself trying to figure out the truth and coming to your own conclusions. Would Charles have had time to kill his wife and sprint back to the house (with the dog)?

I thought it was interesting that this was based on a true story and I really enjoyed the author’s foreword giving the facts of the actual case.

I am a big fan of these quick reads collections and think they are great for giving you a taster of an author’s writing style without the invested time of much larger books. I had heard really good things about Minette Walters, it was nice to enjoy a shorter snapshot of her writing in this novella before going on to read one of her larger thicker novels (which I most certainly will be doing now).

I often think it is useful for readers to see a brief extract as they would in a bookshop so here is a little passage from the novel:

‘It’s a public event. Anyone has the right to attend.’
‘Not if it’s to revel in a lady’s death, the don’t. I wouldn’t mind so much if they’d listened to what was said instead of making up so-called evidence afterwards. A man can’t be in two places at the same time…though you wouldn’t think it to hear the nonsense that’s being talked in the village.’
‘What sort of nonsense?’
‘Every sort,’ she said crossly. ‘It makes me so mad. They whisper behind their hands when they see me coming. But not one of them has ever asked me what I think.’
‘And what’s that, Jane?’
She glanced towards the drawing-room door. ‘The Major-General’s lost without his wife. He’d have died in her place if he could.’

I would have liked it more if the foreword had been an afterword instead. Although I really enjoyed reading this, it would have been nicer to have read the fictional account finished with the factual account. It being a foreword it almost felt like a spoiler to the actual story. I fully acknowledge this is a personal preference but my advice to readers would be to skip this and then go back to it.

Summary: A brilliant little book. Highly recommended and a great taster to get you started with this author if you have not read her works before. I will definitely be picking up more of her books in the near future.

Please leave a like if you think my review/feedback of the item was helpful to you. Alternatively, please contact me if you want me to clarify something in my review.

View all my reviews

Review of A Cruel Fate by Lindsay Davis – 5 Stars

A Cruel FateA Cruel Fate by Lindsey Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

Premise: Martin Watt’s is a bookseller who has never stepped foot out of line, is captured for being on the wrong side of a war he didn’t care much about. This short novel follows his story as a prisoner of war and the treatment and brutality received. The novel also contains the story of Jan Afton whose brother has also been captured during the turmoil. Jane being regarded as a spinster to her family is sent to find out what has happened to her brother and retrieve him.

I really enjoyed this short story and was pleased to find a historical fiction novel within the quick reads series. the “quick reads” collection which I have begun looking through lately. The idea of this collection is exactly as it says on the tin (or should that be cover), a shorter than normal book by world leading authors. One of the things I quite like about these books is that they force the authors to cut out a lot of the waffle that sometimes goes on in books. This keeps the stories quite fast paced with a lot happening in less time. This seems to be what has jarred other readers (the use of simpler language) but I didn’t find it detracted from the novel at all. I’m proud of authors who take on the challenge of writing these books so that they can be enjoyed by all even those who aren’t keen readers.

Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

Men of humble birth will sometimes become officers, but Nat Afton will never be a captain. He will not aspire to it. He wants to lie low. It is a great surprise to Jane that he has even been taken prisoner.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this novel was that multiple viewpoints were captured in its short number of pages and all the characters were really engaging (you liked who you were supposed to like and hated who you were supposed to hate). Not an easy task I imagine with so few words. I particularly liked the ending.

This novel is set during the second English Civil War when Royalist and Roundhead butted heads, pikes, cavalry and cannon across the Country for supremacy. Mostly describing the situation inside Oxford Castle Prison. I think the author did a really good job of describing both this time period and the setting. The descriptions of the treatment of the Royalist prisoners (I suppose any prisoners from the time), has actually intrigued me and I would be interested in reading more about the period.

A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

Please leave a like if you think my review/feedback of the item was helpful to you. Alternatively, please contact me if you want me to clarify something in my review.

View all my reviews

Review of Queen of Subtleties by Suzannah Dunn – 5 Stars

The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne BoleynThe Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Suzannah Dunn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

I am very surprised by the number of low ratings this book received. Can an author provide a fresh approach to a part of history known by everyone and told to death? Actually yes, I think Dunn made a really good job of it. This book has several stories concealed within its pages all delicately woven together to make the reader turn the pages.

This story as you will probably already have gathered is a story of two halves. Strong-willed, stubborn Anne Boleyn prior to her imminent execution tells her story of her time at the court in the format of a letter to her daughter. The format of the story is quite fun and fiery and I think the author does a good job of getting the reader on Anne’s side. The author then turns the reader’s attention to the second storyline of that of the subtle subdued Lucy Cornwallis, confectionary chef to the king. Polar opposite of Anne, Lucy is quiet, humble and dedicated to her crafts.

The women’s stories are very loosely connected by their involvement with the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

I must say this is the first Suzannah Dunn book I have read and it pulled me in hook, line and sinker. Her writing style is superb, it’s easy to read, not boringly over-descriptive like some historical fiction novels are (although it captures plenty of historical contexts) and it keeps the story moving at a great pace. Obviously, Anne’s story is the most exciting (which I think is to be expected).

The main reason others seem to be upset with this novel is the modern tone of language used. Granted there are probably some better wording or phrasing that the author could have used here (Henry telling courtiers to skedaddle) and there but overall I found the tone very readable and if it had been told in the language of the Tudor times this would ultimately have made it far less enjoyable for me. So, I guess it is something to be aware of but don’t let it put you off.

Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

“My uncle never read a book, and he’s proud of the fact. Ruthlessness and efficiency; that’s what matters. He’ll clap you on the back, one day; stab you in it, the next. No hard feelings, just business as usual. Never trust a Howard, Elizabeth, not even if you are one. Look where it got me, sent here to the Tower by my own uncle.”

I think Dunn has done a great job of capturing the period, the courts, all the moving and touring, and of course the feasts. Fun and interesting concepts that make this book a delight to read.

A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

Please leave a like if you think my review/feedback of the item was helpful to you. Alternatively, please contact me if you want me to clarify something in my review.

View all my reviews

Review of House of Shadows by Pamela Hartshorne – 5 Stars

House of ShadowsHouse of Shadows by Pamela Hartshorne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

Premise: When Kate Vavasour wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing about the family gathered around her bed, or of her life before the accident. The doctors diagnose post-traumatic amnesia, following a terrible fall from the roof of her home, Askerby Hall. The doctors say the memories should start returning. Which they do . . . but these memories are not her own. They belong to Isabel Vavasour, who lived and died at Askerby Hall over four hundred years earlier . . .

Returning to her supposed home, Kate finds herself in a house full of shadows and suspicions. Unable to recognise her family, her friends or even her small son, she struggles to piece together her life. However, the memories of Isabel fight their way to the surface and demand to be known. Was Kate’s fall really an accident? Can she trust her own mind? Can she trust those around her?

Kate as a character is fine. Not someone you instantly fall in love with but not someone too irritable either. I really liked Isabel as a character, fiery and insolent in a time period when woman were not allowed to be either.

A few reviewers have commented on the fact the author does little in the way to disguise who the “bad guy” is (for want of a better term). I think this is a deliberate move by the author and don’t really think it detracts from the story. If anything, it gives Isabel a vulnerability in her otherwise strong-willed nature. If she didn’t have this, I think as a reader you would potentially find her too arrogant. What I am trying to get at is, in some ways, this story is predictable, but for me, that didn’t stop it being a really enjoyable story.

The settings of this book are primarily around York/ remote villages of Yorkshire. The author really does a great job to capture the slower paced country lifestyle, the visitors to a grand country hall and weave cleverly into the storyline how formidable that home could be to someone not born into the family.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. I think in historical fiction this is particularly helpful to get an understanding of the language tone the author has chosen to write in.

I don’t recognize either of them.
My eyes dart back to the nurse. I want to say, They’re not my family, but I can’t speak past the tube in my throat.
‘Hello, Kate,’ says the man, trying a jovial smile that doesn’t quite work. ‘What a fright you gave us!’

Please leave a like if you think my review/feedback of the item was helpful to you. Alternatively, please contact me if you want me to clarify something in my review.

View all my reviews

Review of “Pirates” by Celia Rees – 5 Stars

Pirates!Pirates! by Celia Rees

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know technically Celia Rees is classed as a YA author and after jumping over that thirty hurdle I probably don’t fit that bracket anymore *sigh*. However, that doesn’t stop me enjoying a good book. And Celia Rees certainly knows how to write those, regardless of your age group! Her writing style is just so-damn-readable, she keeps you turning page after page long after you have told yourself a dozen times “just one more page and then I will put it down”.

So, what is ‘Pirates’ all about (apart from Pirates of course)? For me, this book was about determination to decide your own destiny, no matter the obstacles. The story is told by Nancy Kington, a Georgian heiress to her father’s fortune (much aggrieved by her brothers). When her brothers plot against her to marry her off and keep their father’s business and fortune for themselves Nancy has to find a way out. When she finds Minerva, her friend and slave, being assaulted Nancy accidentally kills the attacker. So with many reasons to go and few to stay the girls make their way into the worlds of piracy.Pirates Cover

The easily forgettable and incredible thing about this tale is it is actually based on a true story. Minerva Sharpe and Nancy Kington were real people. I think the author portrays a real homage to them in this book and it is clear that they spent a lot of time learning and researching both the pirate’s lives and the time period.

As mentioned above, I really enjoyed the authors writing style. It is very clear, yet very emotive. I quite like the extract below:

 

“I’d be the one to decide what was, and was not, to do with me. I felt anger growing inside me, fuelled by all the things I’d seen since I came to this beautiful blighted country. I felt it bloom into fury as I brought the candle round to see what he had done. The scars on her back were not new. Fresh stripes glistened in long streaking criss-cross patterns across a back where the flesh was ruched into sharp ridged peaks so rucked and buckled that it no longer resembled flesh at all.”

This moment is one of my favourites in the book, it is an empowering moment for Nancy to find her inner strength and confront those that do her wrong. Although Nancy has peaks and troughs of confidence throughout the book, when she finds her moments of strength as the reader you think “Yes, go on girl, show them what you are made of!”

Pirates - internal image

Internal Pages from the book: Pirates

I really enjoyed this book and will certainly look out for more of this authors work. Empowering, engaging and entertaining story with swashbuckling thrown into the mix – what more could you want?!

Please leave a like/helpful vote if you think my review/feedback of the item was helpful to you. Alternatively, please contact me if you want me to clarify something in my review.

View all my reviews

Review of The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse – 3 Stars

The Winter GhostsThe Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Most people will like Kate Mosse from her novel Labyrinth and whilst I loved that novel I must admit this one didn’t wow me. For a start the majority of people that see ghost in a book title and the tagline “Do you believe in ghosts?” will possibly feel a little cheated. So, this is your warning, the ghost element of this book is pretty lacking. There is certainly no fear factor and limited ‘ghostly’ atmosphere (in my opinion).

However, the story isn’t bad. Young guy, grieving, previous mental breakdown, crashes in a snowstorm in the Pyrenees mountains. Gets rescued and taken to an isolated village where everything is not quite as it seems. Not to mention mysterious caves in the mountains that haven’t been accessed for a number of years. Sounds good right?

The Winter Ghosts - cover

The cover from my copy

So, trying to figure out why I didn’t love this story, I think there were a couple of reasons:

  • The writing was very slow. It felt like the reader had to wade through several pages to mine a nugget of story out. In fact, the book could probably have been a fair bit shorter and would have been much better for it.
  • The novel was full of melancholy and there were very few areas of light to be found in the pages.
  • There was no wow factor. I kept waiting for something unpredictable, some kind of plot twist, something I’d overlooked to come back to light, but it never arrived. That very thing that keeps you reading just never happened so it left me feeling a little deflated and unrewarded as I had ploughed my way through the book to the end.

I didn’t give this a 1 star, so here is what I liked about the book.

  • The time hop between 14th century period with Cathars/fear and the 20th century with the after-effects of the world war/grief storyline was nicely handled between the two periods.

 

  • The location was brilliantly described and intriguing. Isolated villages, snow-covered mountain and unexplored caves. It’s really made me want to visit the region.
  • The story behind The Winter Ghosts is really insightful and describes what inspired Mosse. I am quite intrigued by a couple of un-reads on her suggested reading list.The Winter Ghosts - suggested reading

Overall, not great but not bad either.
Please leave a like/helpful vote if you think my review/feedback of the item was helpful to you. Alternatively, please contact me if you want me to clarify something in my review.

The Winter Ghosts behind the scenes

View all my reviews

Review of The Fraud by Barbara Ewing – 5 Stars

The FraudThe Fraud by Barbara Ewing

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually finished this book a few weeks ago but hadn’t found the time to write the review. I am now really glad that I had that time for reflection as it has actually increased my liking of the book and appreciate some of the world captured in these pages the more. Let me explain…

The premise of this book primarily is about a brother (Phillip) and sister (Grace) who despite being from a noble family find themselves going through financial hardships at a very young age and decide to re-establish themselves. The family has a talent – art. Phillip being a young man is invited to join a merchant ship and tour Europe, whilst his younger sister Grace is sent to a workhouse. Several years pass when Phillip returns for Grace having cast aside the tainted English family name he has reinvented himself as Filipo an artist from Florence and invites Grace to join him by running his house in London disguised as his Italian sister Francesca. Francesca agrees, desperate to escape the workhouse but soon regrets her decision when her brother quashes her dreams of becoming an artist in her own right. How far will she go to see her own dreams fulfilled?

The settings of this book are primarily around London (although a slight inclusion of Bristol and Amsterdam are also featured). The author really does a great job to capture the hustle and bustle of the Georgian streets of London with the market, crowds, cockfighting, pickpockets and prostitution all woven cleverly into the storyline.

The Fraud Cover

The Cover of the Edition I purchased.

Whilst I wasn’t overjoyed with Grace/Francesca as a character during the reading of the novel. She certainly left an afterthought with me. Her single goal in life was to be recognised as an artist in her own right. After finishing the book this struck a chord with me. Despite (many) years ago studying Graphic Design which includes Art History as a module, I struggle to name many historic female artists. The author captured this lacking in society so well in the book, that inequality throughout life, that Grace’s fighting spirit almost becomes a shining example (despite the decisions and frauds she makes to try to achieve her dream).

It is worth mentioning here something which can appear a little confusing in the book is the writing style of the author. The story is told in the third person (e.g. Francesca does this, Fillip says that) but then in chapter six the author switches to first person (e.g. I did this, I said that) and zooms right into Grace’s storyline, this alternates to the end of the book. Whilst originally I found this switching slowed the pace of the book a little, I really enjoyed the ending which brings some of the reasoning behind this storytelling method to light, so I guess I am saying stick with it. Here is a brief extract of the author’s writing style.

“I took off all my clothes; I was shaking slightly and I told myself not to be so foolish and I looked in the mirror, at my naked body, never in my life had I looked at it in a mirror before and I could hardly bear to look at it now for the dirt and shame of what it had done – but it had arms and legs like the statue in Philip’s studio, and it was the body of a woman.
I took a deep breath, I picked up a piece of charcoal, and I began drawing myself.”

As a woman, I find this paragraph quite empowering.
One of the best things about this novel was that there was no obvious plotting. I did not know what would happen next and as an avid reader, it is rare that this is the case. Our heroine was certainly flawed and there were a fair few bad guys hanging about still I had no idea if and when they would get their comeuppance or if it was even viable for our heroine to get a happy ending. This more than encouraged me to keep turning those pages.
Please leave a like if you think my review/feedback of the item was helpful to you. Alternatively, please contact me if you want me to clarify something in my review.

View all my reviews