Review of Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson

The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cover – The Lady of the Ravens-min

Genre: Fiction – Historical Fiction – London Tower – Romance

📖 So, I recently read the Ravenmaster by Chris Skaife (fabulous book, highly recommended) then whilst doing the weekly shop, I meandered down the book aisle and this beauty popped out at me. I must say, the cover is stunning, well done to the illustrator. I know, I know, never judge a book by its cover… but this one is very pretty. And luckily the book was enjoyable too! So, win-win.

✍️ This is such an intriguing little book. Joan is quite an interesting character a hard worker who adapts to most situations that come her way, she sees all that happens at court, yet rarely does she interfere. Joan’s mother enjoys the patronage of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, so Joan becomes a lady in waiting to Elizabeth of York from an early age. Joan’s depiction of courting, motherhood and life at court is quite fascinating. Hickson captures the fear that unwanted courtship from a man in a superior position, very well and it gives a real insight into what court life must have been like for a woman in a position such as Joan’s.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘Think yourself honoured, young mistress. The ravens avoid us men because the archers use them for target practice. But there is a legend, which says that as long as they haunt the Tower, it and the kingdom will stand. Just lately they’ve been coming and going so perhaps there’s something in it.’ At the time I didn’t understand what he meant but so vividly had the raven’s image imprinted itself in my mind, that the incident and his words remained with me ever since.

👓 Joan’s escape from court appears to come in the form of caring for the Ravens. The birds are often tormented by the guards, yet they stay strong and resolute, and with the support and protection of Joan and her family, they even begin to thrive.

👫 I enjoyed the inclusion of Joan’s husband Richard who underneath everything was a lovely, kind man whose love and loyalty to his family shined through. I enjoyed reading about the couple and how their story developed across the pages. Her adopted role of a stepmother was a great inclusion in the story and again I enjoyed that the author did not take the path of a hated stepmother but a family trying to make their way together during a difficult period of history.

🗺 I quite enjoyed this different take on the Tudor period (an often-saturated market when it comes to historical fiction books). The Country is recovering from the War of the Roses and this story features the early reign of Henry VII. There is a continual threat of revolt and fear of false allegiances within the court (indeed, within Joan’s own family), all of which add drama to an already busy court life.

💔 Any Negatives: I really enjoyed this book but there were areas that, for me, dragged on a bit. It is very well researched, but I feel some of the action could have been a bit more centre stage.

💭 Overall View: An enjoyable book and a great new take on the Tudor period. I’m looking forward to reading more from this fabulous author.

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Rivers

‘A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.’

– James N. Watkins

As a writer and an author-in-progress, I adore this quote. I started writing my first novel years ago, having first read a historical account in a newspaper in 2013. The story mulled itself over and over in my head, then persistence gave way and I decided to read more into it. The characters began to speak to me, both the original storyline and a modern storyline which corresponded. I put my fingers to the keyboard and let the click-clacking begin. I had many stops and starts, I got married, attended Uni, and had a baby but still, I am drawn back to the story, which is in the final throws now. I have completed the modern storyline and have a handful of chapters of the historic storyline to go and then “Hallelujah!” my first draft will be complete.

I already have a second story outlined and a third and fourth gnawing away at me (I’ve collated some notes to try to keep them at bay for now). The hardest part, putting my bum in the seat and just writing without distraction, but I’ll get there. Like the river, I’ll ebb away at that rock and hopefully someday, I’ll make it.

Love and best wishes to all those rivers trying to cut their way through the rock. You’ll get there.


A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence. – James N. Watkins

Originally written in response to:

Much Love.

KL

Review of The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

📖 I decided last year to try to push myself to read more classic literature as although I read in quite a variety of genres, I do tend to stick with mostly modern writers (although To Kill a Mockingbird is still an all-time favourite, as is Rebecca). This little book was sitting in the library looking up at me and with a brief read of the cover, I thought I would give it a go.

Cover – The Bookshop



✍️ Penelope Fitzgerald was an English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. In 2008, The Times included her in a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. This book was Penelope Fitzgerald’s second novel, and was her first to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

She drove back one morning from Flintmarket to find the premises full of twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys in blue jerseys. They were Sea Scouts, they told her.
‘How did you get in?’
‘Mr Raven got the key from the plumber,’ said one of the children, square and reliable as a straw-bale.
‘He’s not your skipper, is he?’
‘No, but he told us to come over to yours. What do you want doing?’

👓 This book is primarily told from the point of Florence Green. A widow, who against the advice of most of those she knows, opens a bookshop in a small town. The town is virtually cut off from the outside world and Florence hopes that the bookshop will both bring the community together and bring a bit of worldview as she brings in books from published books from further afield.

👫 Initially Florence gains some support and even trains a young, streetwise girl to become her assistant but as is always the case with small towns, there are several busybodies but in Florence’s case, from the outset, there are those determined that her bookshop will not succeed.

💔 Any Negatives: I’m really perplexed reviewing this book. It has a bookshop (always a win), the writing evokes the time period and location very well, and I did like Florence. However the book itself feels very slow-moving (despite being a rather short book), and without giving any spoilers, I hated the ending which left me feeling very flat and as if I had trudged through the previous pages pointlessly. I am intrigued to see the movie and see if it brings more positivity to this story.

💭 Overall View: Perhaps I was expecting too much from this little book, sacrilege to all bookworms but I am holding out hope that the movie overshadows it.

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Let’s hear it for the GIRLS!

I feel the biggest pull towards writing historical fiction and the focal points of my novel are usually women from a historical period. I find it a thrill to give a voice to the real-life events that surround them and although written from a modern-day perspective, I tend to focus on the key emotions most women can relate to, love, hate, fairness, motherhood, romance, persecution etc.

Nothing in life is to be feared – Marie Curie

As a family, we love to visit castles and museums. I love to find stories that really capture the strength of character. We recently visited the Yorkshire Museum of Farming (which is very interesting). In amongst the many stories of men (Ford, Massey, Harris, Ferguson, Deere, etc), there was this brilliantly intriguing story of Lady Evelyn ‘Eve’ Balfour who bought her own farm at the age of 21 and began studying the chemical compounds of farming and led the way in more natural-less chemical-based farming.

Lady Evelyn ‘Eve’ Balfour

Belated entry to Marsha’s WQW – Women in History

Review of Before the Crown by Fiona Harding

Before the Crown by Flora Harding

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before the Crown – Image by KL Caley

My rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

📖 This is the story of Elizabeth and Philip before Elizabeth took her role as head of the royal family. It follows her story from a young girl, first meeting Philip to becoming a young woman, set to marry him. Obviously, creative license has been used but we do see Philip in a very different light, as a poor prince, evicted from his home country, brought up in England by a relative, estranged parents, and even more estranged sisters due to the war. We also get to see Elizabeth through her early years, quiet and thoughtful, slightly envious of her sister’s confidence, and most importantly very intrigued by Philip.

✍️ I am a huge fan of The Crown and was slightly nervous upon reading this book that it wouldn’t live up to that, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed it. It feels well researched, for example, it gave quite a lot of knowledge of Philip’s family and his relations around the world which was really interesting. It also recounted a lot of his naval experience through the war. As mentioned above they are told with creative flair but I imagine the facts and dates behind the events must be somewhat accurate to have been included.

🗣 I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

As February blows itself into March, it feels to Philip as if he is leading a strange kind of double life… actually, a triple life, when he comes to think about it. There are those innocent evenings at the palace, drinking orangeade and larking around in the corridors, and then there are the evenings he spends in London with David Milford Haven and other friends, drinking in smoky clubs, all of them struggling to adjust to the dull grind of peace-time life.
Then there is another world again, at HMS Arthur in Corsham, where he is training petty officers and sleeps in a chilly and sparsely furnished munitions hut with a tin roof. He spends his evenings in the Methuen Arms, drinking mild and bitter and playing darts or skittles and discussing the possibility of cricket in the summer. It is a long way from Buckingham Palace.

👓 Viewpoint: This book is told both from Philip and Elizabeth’s viewpoint, often recounting the same event but from one or the others perspective. This was quite effective, and I enjoyed the author’s interpretation of how they might have felt about events in the royal household.

👫 Character(s): Philip’s character particularly in this book was really interestingly portrayed; humorous, smart, funny, quick-witted and even quicker to anger. Elizabeth was portrayed as stalwart and resilient, everything we would expect and need from our queen but there was a gentle side to her, particularly the times when Philip was in her orbit.

💔 Any Negatives: I would have loved to see a little timeline of events for this story (similar to what Barbara Erskine and others include in their historical book). Obviously, that’s not a requirement to the story, which as you can see from my review, I thought was fantastic, but I found myself wanting to break away from the book to google some of the events mentioned.

💭 Overall View: An interesting book, it feels like a step into Elizabeth and Philip’s lives and thoughts. The story is sweet with a charming naivety about it but also shows strength of character (when required). I felt like I learnt about the couple and particularly the events they went through which I always feel is a good sign of historical fiction. I really enjoyed it and would certainly recommend it to others.

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At the time of reviewing the kindle edition of this book it is on sale for £0.99 at Amazon (affiliate link):
https://amzn.to/3nbRkbm
📣 Disclaimer: This book review contains an affiliate link. This means I earn a small commission if you use the links on my book reviews to make a purchase. You will not be charged extra, but you will help support my reading habit and keep me supplied with books to review. Thank you. 😘

Review of “The Silent Tide” – 4 Stars

The Silent Tide by Rachel Hore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Relaxation = Book and a bath. 😍

With a small child around I don’t get as much reading time as I’d like but with this book I have found myself squeezing it in at every opportunity. LO watching night garden, hello next chapter. 😉

The book is a dual timeline following the stories of Emily and Isabel. In present-day London, Emily is an up-and-coming editor who is helping a young biographer publish the life of a now-deceased famous writer, Hugh Morton. When mystery parcels begin to turn up at Emily’s work telling the story of Isabel, Hugh’s first wife, Emily becomes obsessed with Isabel’s story and must know more.
I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

After a week of tense waiting she asked Stephen, ‘I don’t suppose you’ve had time to read that report on Hugh Morton’s book I left you?’
‘Ah, I’m sorry, I forgot to tell you about that,’ Stephen replied with a guilty look, and her hopes fell. But then he said, ‘The author’s coming in next week. I’ll make sure the two of you are introduced.’
‘We’re publishing the book?’ she asked, in surprise and not a little anger. She was used to not being told much, to having to pick up information through opening the post or by correspondence she was asked to type, but she was hurt that he hadn’t mentioned anything about this project.

Starting in 1948 we follow the story of Isabel. Isabel is working hard to find her place and forge a career in a man’s world in London. Having run away from home she is determined to manage life on her own. When she is given extra responsibility at work she relishes the challenge and after meeting a handsome young debut author soon her work and personal life begin to merge. Yet as these worlds merge she begins to struggle to keep her independence and personal identity.

I loved the characters in this book, especially those featured in Isabel’s story. Berec is a particularly interesting sub-character and I liked the hints the author left regarding how difficult someone in his situations life would have been at that time period, yet his jovial attitude was uplifting just when the book needed it. Hugh makes a great bad guy, that’s not all that bad, just attitudes of that time.

I must admit, the 40/50’s is a time period I don’t know much about, being so close to our own (for a historical history novel) it is easy to picture certain things, yet attitudes and opportunities certainly for young ladies, was different and I think the author does a great job in capturing this.

The timeline shifts were handled well with clear indications of the time period and most of Isabel’s story was told through manuscript extracts of Isabel’s memoirs.

This novel also touches on the fragile emotional state of post-natal depression. This can be difficult reading but is nonetheless a fact of life and would have been much less understood in the time period.

Any Negatives? Not negative as such but I did enjoy Berec’s story and think it has a place to be told in more detail (perhaps a little novella). I also found Lydia a strange character, meek at first then emboldened later on. I feel to be more true to life, she would have been less forgiving and more resentful of Isabel’s choices. None of this detracts from the main story of Isabel or Emily though.

Overall View: A really interesting book. A strong and engaging storyline that really had me reading at every opportunity. It was a compelling and addictive read. I can’t wait to read more from this author.

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Extract - The Silent Tide
Extract – The Silent Tide

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Review of The Dream Weavers by Barbara Erskine

For a long time, Barbara Erskine has held the crown of queen of time-slip novels and this novel proves to be no exception to that title. The detail, particularly in the historical viewpoints is just exceptional.

For a long time, Barbara Erskine has held the crown of queen of time-slip novels and this novel proves to be no exception to that title. The detail, particularly in the historical viewpoints is just exceptional.

This book primarily follows Bea Dalloway, a psychic cleanser (for want of a better word) who quietly helps souls move on to a more restful place. When she is called out to historian Simon’s cottage, she soon realises there is more going on there than she expected to find. Soon Bea finds herself observing the Saxon age, primarily Eadburgh daughter of Offa.

When Eadburgh begins to also haunt Emma, Simon’s teenage daughter, Bea becomes scared there are other dark forces at play. Emma has no control over her abilities and Bea must quickly show her how to protect herself, but the pull of the past may just be too much for Emma to resist.
I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘Well, you can’t believe anything they say,’ Eadburgh retorted. ‘He might have chosen any of us. Me, for instance. I may be the youngest but I’m the prettiest!’
‘Her sisters both laughed. ‘I think we can guess who he has in store for you.’ Alfrida fixed Eadburgh with a mocking gaze. ‘He’s obviously got the puppy from Powys lined up for you.’
Eadburgh stared at her. ‘Who?’
‘Prince Elisedd.’ Alfrida giggled. ‘Why else would he send you off with him to stare at a line of wooden stakes and a thousand men carrying baskets of mud for his wretched rampart when he could have sent one of his surveyors. Marriage is the best way to ensure peace between the kingdoms. He’s told us often enough.’

This book contains a great range of characters; Bea and Emma are at the forefront of the modern storyline but there is a great supporting cast. Emma’s father Simon, a historical novelist and initially non-believer is a great character. Bea’s husband Mark is a cannon connected to the local cathedral. This brings in a Christian element to the story which is a great mix. I also loved that Barbara Erskine gave a nod to Meryn Jones, a druid who had occasionally appeared in her earlier books. It would have been great to see him brought in more (maybe for future books).

This book has mixed settings. The modern storyline is set around Offa’s Dyke and the Hereford area, in the historic timeline it starts in that setting, but later features the Kingdom of Wessex and the court of Charlemagne. This is one area where Barbara Erskine’s writing really shines for me, she captures so many of these past elements beautifully and it really feels like you are listening in to court squabbles and wandering along the herb gardens.

One of my favourite things about Barbara Erskine’s novels are the little extra’s she adds, in this novel she has included Anglo-Saxon maps, history on Offa and his children and even a glossary of Welsh words.

Any Negatives? As others have mentioned online, there are quite a few spelling mistakes in this first edition. This doesn’t detract from the story and can easily be overlooked.
I did feel slightly disappointed in the storyline of Sandra, I thought that was likely to have a darker element like some of Barbara’s earlier books but it didn’t really lead there, again this didn’t really take away from the main story which was still incredibly strong.

Overall View: Brilliant story. Great use of the spiritual Pagan/Christian/New Age elements. Enjoyed learning snippets about this particular time in history. I can’t wait for the next book.

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Review of A High Mortality of Doves – 3 Stars

A High Mortality of Doves by Kate Ellis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Premise: Flora Winsmore, the local doctor’s daughter, worked as a volunteer nurse during the war. Now working alongside her father as little more than a receptionist she wishes for more. Within quick succession, several women have been murdered and the ponderous local police force fail to identify the killer, the victims mount up, and the powers-that-be call in Scotland Yard’s Inspector Albert Lincoln.

I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

‘I thought you were going to the Cottage Hospital,’ I say as soon as he’s within earshot.
He looks annoyed, like a man whose plans have been thwarted. ‘Sergeant Teague has made a telephone call… to London.’ There is a note of awe in his voice as he pronounces the name of the capital.
‘If the same murderer’s responsible it means they’ll have to release Jack Blemthwaite,’ I say. ‘Surely they can’t think he’s guilty now.’
Father shakes his head. ‘I suspect that was the purpose of Teague’s call. He’s calling a detective from London. Scotland Yard. He will let me know when he receives a reply. I am told the detective might wish to attend the post mortem so it’s been postponed.

Viewpoint: This story is told from multiple viewpoints and the timeline contains many flashbacks to the time of the war.

Character(s): The main two characters Flora and Albert are both strong with their own personal complicated histories they are working through. There is a cast of other characters, many of whom are equally caught up in the aftershock of the war trauma, with their own secrets, lies and grief distorting the investigation.
Setting: The novel is set in 1919 in a Derbyshire village. Ellis captures the village life excellently with its gossips, loyalties to manor houses and landowners, and the life of a country doctor called upon for all jobs. She also captures that small-mindedness that is sometimes felt amongst a rural community. It also helps bring an air of both sophistication and isolation to Albert. He is an outsider so not trusted but also a Londoner, so he is granted a degree of respectability.

Any Negatives: I am a massive fan of Kate Ellis, I think she is one of my favourite authors but I found this book a rather challenging read at times. I can’t quite put my finger on why, it feels very heavy and repetitive in places, it’s quite slow and laboursome at times to get to the action (which is unusual considering the body count). I don’t know, it wasn’t the worst, it just wasn’t the best for me either. I’m really glad I didn’t let it put me off as the ending was great.


Overall View: Brilliant concept. I love some of the historical details woven into the story. The love affair and guilt associated was great. However, in other areas, the plot was a bit slow and cumbersome. A very strong ending.

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Extract – A High Mortality of Doves

Review of At the Sign of the Sugared Plum – 5 Stars

At the Sign of the Sugared Plum by Mary Hooper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Premise: This historical fiction novel centres around a young lady named Hannah who moves from the country to the big city (London) to support her sister Sarah’s sweetmeats business. Unfortunately, her arrival is alongside the arrival of the plague of 1665. As more and more news arrives of plague in different neighbourhoods, the threat seems to come closer and closer to Hannah.


I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

“Well, it’s not in this parish,” she admitted. “But there are some cases in St Giles – and a house has been shut up in Drury Lane.”
“Shut up?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
“One of the people inside it – a woman – has the plague, and they’ve locked her up with her husband and children so it can’t be spread about.”
“So, there – it’s all contained!” I said. “And it’s just one house, Sarah – we don’t need to worry about that, do we? Doesn’t a place like London have all the best doctors and apothecaries? I bet we’re safer here than anywhere.”
“I don’t know – “
“But I’m here now, Sarah. Don’t send me back!” I pleaded, realising now that it must have been the plague that Farmer Price had alluded to in his strange expression. “Oh, do let me stay!” I burst out. “I can’t bear it if I’ve got to go home.”

Viewpoint: The story is told in first person, from the viewpoint of Hannah. Young, naïve, and fresh from the country to the city.

Character(s): Hannah is an endearing character; she can be quite strong willed at times but is equally determined to prove herself reliable to her sister. She meets a young apothecary assistant and quite quickly becomes enamoured by him which brings a little light to this story of dark times. She also meets up with a friend from the country Abigail who has taken on a role as a maid in a local big house. The young girls marvel at the wealth of the men and woman from the city, which gives the novel a lovely degree of colour and some more details.
Setting: I really enjoyed the authors description of the settings, particularly her descriptions of navigating the narrow streets, and how things changed at dusk making it easier for one to get lost. The little shop and the shared room all of which was richly described.

Any Negatives: None that I can particularly think of. Perhaps the almost instant love story but I was happy to go with it.
Overall View: I loved the details of this book. The relationships were sweet and the drama just quick enough paced to be enjoyable. I think I enjoyed this book more as in some ways it seemed so relevant with our current times going through covid. Hannah discusses all the preventatives people try and the restrictions put upon people, how they move around, night-time curfews, how food should be brought to the known infected, dipping coins in vinegar to prevent contamination, etc etc. Obviously, they were much harsher times than our own rather comfortable lives, but it was easier to place ourselves in those scary times, going through what we all recently have. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of this authors work.

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Extract – At the Sign of the Sugared Plum

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.

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