Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Conquest by David Field (The Medieval Saga Series Book One)


Publication Date: 
March 4, 2022

288 pages

The first book in a great series, Conquest sat in my Kindle awhile as I read books six and seven first. This one just didn't interest me as much but now that I have finally finished it I'm so glad I did. I really had no working knowledge of the Norman Conquest before the date 1066 and how it was the beginning of the England we know today. But William the Conqueror and his defeat of the Saxon way of life wasn't something I cared much about. With his usual, practical yet entertaining way, Field has managed to make me not only care but now want to seek out more about this turbulent time period.

Will Riveracre, son of the local miller in the village of Sandlake, wants only to marry a nice girl and live his life quietly and peacefully. Although his family is not the most well off in the area, they are content with their lot in life, beholden to the local nobility, or Thegn, who rely on the villagers to supply their way of life at the local Manor.  Accustomed to years of tradition and societal hierarchy, everyone generally accepts their place and with little working knowledge of political machinations outside of their immediate surroundings, cannot imagine things any other way.

Unaware of the brewing threats around them to the North, South, and across the English Channel, the Riveracres and the other villagers are naively of the opinion that as long as they have their men on the ready to defend the current Saxon King Harold Godwineson against any overt threat that could materialize, life will go on as it always has. Suddenly overnight though it seems that they are under attack from Viking Harald Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy, both who claim to have a right to rule England themselves. Will and Selwyn Astenmede, the Thegn's son, are eventually embroiled in the fighting, both unsure of who to back as the outcome of which warrior will come out on top is so uncertain. Choosing the wrong side will have deadly consequences for the defeated. 

Throughout the next year the young men will manage to carve out personal lives with wives and children, while fighting for their way of life. As the battles tear apart the villages and towns caught in the middle, Will and Selwyn try to defend their families, maintain loyalty to their people, but also placate the wrath of William the Conqueror as he tears through the land, showing no mercy to anyone who doesn't bow to his authority. It will be up to Will to eventually convince the people that they must accept their conquest or die fighting it. This doesn't make him popular, but keeps him alive at great cost to himself and his old way of life. 

My Thoughts: 

Normally I prefer not to have fictional characters in these types of stories but Will and Selwyn were interesting and colorful enough that they fit in seamlessly into the storyline. It made me much more sympathetic to the local, terrorized people and how jarring it must have been when all the fighting and plundering of their way of life began. I had no idea how ruthless William of Normandy was either. I grew to really dislike him a lot and although he probably was doing what many other warriors have done who came before him, I found Field's portrayal of him to be one of a fearsome fighter alternating with an almost petulant, child like man who pouts when he doesn't get the immediate respect he feels he deserves. He is completely unforgiving to the Saxon people who don't want him there and scorns anything to do with their way of life.

Field is good at giving battle descriptions without veering off too much into super detailed facts which moves the story along. These books are great at giving one a snapshot of the facts, timeline, and personalities involved but leave enough so that you can pick and choose which subject or person you want to know more about and then go get more on that one area from another source. He also includes such interesting side stories I'd never heard about. There is a mysterious priest, hiding a great secret, a mistress, Edith Swan Neck, who was a real person with a famous shrine to the Virgin Mary, and people at court with William who factor into the fictional cast of characters. Another great read and I'm looking forward to the next book, Traitor's Arrow, which will tell the story of Henry I, son of William the Conqueror and his own rise the the throne.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: A Death in Venice by Verity Bright (A Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery: Book 17)

For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring A Death in Venice by Verity Bright. I can't believe this is already book 17 in this series. I am planning to read books 9, 10, 11, and 12 this year. Maybe one day I will catch up! Always a lot of fun, this story features Eleanor and her crew on a grand tour of Italy. Of course she becomes entangled in yet another murder and must follow the clues. 

Hope you have found something you can't wait for this week!

March 28, 2024

Historical Mysteries

Description courtesy of Amazon books

Stunning views across the Grand Canal and a hotel suite fit for royalty… Lady Eleanor Swift is having a jolly good time on her Italian vacation, until a gondola ride is cut murderously short!

1924. Lady Eleanor Swift has been on a grand tour around Italy for a month with her butler Clifford. Finally arriving in Venice, she’s thrilled to be attending the famous carnival: all that’s needed is the perfect bejewelled costume for her faithful bulldog, Gladstone. But on her first gondola ride to take in the sights, a passenger collapses into the canal with a knife sticking out of his back.

Eleanor saw an argument break out between the gondolier and the victim, Councillor Benetto Vendelini, and it turns out they're rivals from the city's two great families. Vendelini’s murder is sure to reignite their centuries-long feud. While attending a glitzy ball that night, Eleanor learns of a plot to steal a precious family heirloom from the Vendelini household. Is the stolen item the key to solving this baffling murder?

In this floating city of tiny winding alleyways, Eleanor traces the missing heirloom to an antiques dealer in a far-flung corner of town. But when her handbag is snatched by a cloaked thief, she realises the murderer is dangerously close. Can Eleanor unmask this most cunning of killers, before she joins the other victim at the bottom of the Grand Canal?

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Stacking the Shelves #27


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Reality. It's a place to showcase any books I have purchased, borrowed, or been lucky enough to have been given an advance copy of. Hope you find something that looks interesting to you or that makes you remember a favorite book you need to finish. Enjoy your reading this week :) 

I am always interested in books set in exotic places in past historical times. This new author, Nilima Rao is of Fijian Indian descent and grew up in Australia. This mystery story, set in Colonial Fiji in 1914 follows policeman Akal Singh who is assigned the case of a missing Indian woman from a sugarcane plantation. It looks unique and I'm sure with the author's background he will be able to add interesting cultural and historical insights. 

It is hard to find books set around the time of Richard II and Henry IV. This historical mystery, set in 1399, follows Brother Chandler, who is asked to investigate the killing of a nun in London, whose remains were tossed into the river. As he looks into the murder, Henry Bolingbroke is advancing toward the city, set on taking the throne from his cousin, Richard. This sounds a bit like a Cadfael mystery set in a different era. Hoping it is good as it is book one of a three part series. 

This is one of my Amazon Prime reading choices for March. It tells the story of Athelstan's reign in AD 925. I don't find many books from this period. I'm not sure if I'll get to it in March but I'm going to try since it is free to read during that month. Book one of a three part series, a reviewer called it "Game of Thrones meets The Last Kingdom."  If there are too many battle scenes this might not be my cup of tea, but maybe someone else will see this and like it. 

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Noteworthy News #3: History Hit: Tutankhamen and the Valley of the Kings


I didn't have a review this week as I'm currently reading two books, one of which is an 800 page Penman epic and I'm nowhere near finished with my shorter book either. So I wanted to shift gears from reviewing and post some noteworthy news. In thinking about something interesting I've run across lately, I wanted to give a mention to the series on the podcast, History Hit, about the Valley of the Kings and the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. I have listened to the first episode and it is an award winning series with four episodes total. As work has been crazy in February I have been doing more listening and less reading. But that's okay because this series is so good! 

Dan Snow narrates and visits on the 100th anniversary (I'm a bit behind as this series debuted last year in 2022) and the podcast replayed it this past November. He takes you on a journey down the Nile in Luxor to the burial chambers of the pharaohs and tells the history of the Valley of the Kings. He covers the story of the archaeologists involved and gives the history behind how they made their discoveries.

The next four episodes will delve more into the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, his life, and legacy. I plan to finish these in March and look forward to more from this amazing podcast. It has so much original content you just can't find anywhere else. Perfect for history lovers everywhere!

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (Book One Tommy and Tuppence Mysteries) Read Christie February 2024 Selection


Publication Date: 
January 1922

320 pages

This is the second Tommy and Tuppence book I've read and they are becoming favorites of mine. It is also the second book published by Christie. Tommy and Tuppence are not in many of her books, only five total but they are a great addition to her detective characters.

When the story begins, it is 1920 and the Great War has just ended. Childhood friends, Tommy Beresford and Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley are reunited in London and share their personal stories of their latest adventures. Tommy, a former soldier and Tuppence, a war volunteer, commiserate together about their need for jobs and money. While they both would love to be independently wealthy, they realize that probably isn't going to happen anytime soon. As they talk further they decide to pool their intellect and talents and form a company, "The Young Adventurers, Ltd," aimed at solving any problem thrown their way, and soon have a client, Mr. Whittington. Before Tuppence can ascertain much information from him, she shocks him by giving him a false name she innocently pulls out of her memory, a "Jane Finn." This name completely surprises Whittington and he responds by angrily giving her money to keep quiet. Tuppence is shocked, not understanding why he is so upset over the seemingly made up name.

A friend of Tommy's from the intelligence community, Carter, tells Tommy the story of the real Jane Finn, who has disappeared after trying to deliver a secret letter to the American embassy in London, and that the letter was given to her on the fated ship, the Lusitania. Tommy and Tuppence decide to search for Jane, along with her American cousin, the very wealthy, Julius Hersheimmer. Carter warns them that they are likely to come up against a mysterious man, "Mr. Brown," who is the likely kidnapper of Jane and an evil man. No one knows his true identity and he tells them to be careful. 

Their sleuthing soon becomes dangerous, leading them to shadowy Russian politicians, secret back rooms, mansions with highly placed nobility, and kidnapping. Each of their lives are in danger, along with a tense sense of time running out to find the real Jane Finn alive. Throughout the case, their personal feelings grow for one another, making the resolution to the mystery even more high stakes.

My Thoughts: 
This story was a lot of fun and the identity of "Mr. Brown" was kept secret very well right up until the end. In fact, I was originally convinced I was right and then at the last moment I was proven incorrect! Switching back and forth between Tommy and Tuppence's experiences, as well as adding many colorful characters made it necessary to really pay attention and held my interest throughout. The plot was complicated and well drawn. I thought it was much better than many of her other stories I've read for this reason. 

My only real problem with the story was the part where Tuppence calls herself "Jane Finn." Although this is explained away as the plot unfolds, it was a bit of a stretch to me that it all happened the way it did. Without this element the story would not have worked, but still it did kind of bother me as far fetched. But it is fiction, so I went with it!

Even with the dark behavior of many of the villains, the story manages to retain a light heartedness that isn't there in some of her books.  It often felt much more like a cozy mystery. Tommy and Tuppence both come across as relatable, likeable young people who are clever, resourceful, and brave. It's too bad Christie didn't write more stories with them as the main detectives. I will be reading more of their books in the future.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters (Cadfael Chronicles Book 5)


Publication Date: 
January 1, 1996

217 pages

Brother Cadfael, resident herbalist of Shrewsbury Abbey is helping to prepare for an upcoming wedding to be held there. Nobleman Baron Huon de Domville and Lady Iveta de Massard are hardly a young couple in love though. The groom is many decades older and is unattractive and harsh. The bride, innocent and used for an advantageous match between families, is desperate and dreading her future life. In love with another, Joscelin Lucy, a squire of Domville's, she hopes something will save her from her fate. 

As the time draws near, it seems her wish is granted when Domville is found strangled in the woods, apparently headed to an unknown destination, suspiciously alone and not in the company of any of his servants. Lucy, who was previously accused of theft by his employer when Domville suspected a romantic entanglement with Iveta, is accused of murdering Domville to save himself and goes on the run to avoid the gallows. 

Aided by his friends Simon and Guy, he is able to remain free for a time and is taken in by the Saint Giles leper colony, disguised in a location that no one, not even the Sheriff's men want to go. Biding his time while trying to figure out what to do, Lucy becomes attached to a mysterious leper and a young boy, Bran, who give him hope and compassion. 

Meanwhile, Brother Cadfael is on the case and investigating the mysterious death of Domville, not  willing to believe Lucy is guilty. His sleuthing leads him to mysterious plants, a previously unknown hunting lodge, and another woman in the mix. He has precious little time to figure out how these things all tie together if he is to save Lucy. 

My Thoughts: 

The story was well written as always in Peters's eloquent style, with lots of description and at least a few vocabulary words I had to look up. That makes her stories top notch as cozy mysteries go and Cadfael is always entertaining. There wasn't a whole lot of twists and turns until the last two chapters but they more than made up for the slower pace. Iveta's evil Aunt and Uncle are convincing villains, using her for their gain and Domville is given a back story that I didn't see coming. 

I had wanted to read this particular Cadfael mystery for awhile simply because the title intrigued me. I am reading the stories in order but really wanted to get to this one. While I enjoyed the mystery and ending a lot, I was a bit disappointed that Peters didn't include a little more history and insight into the actual disease of leprosy and the colony in the story. I realize the focus is on the crime and solving it but I thought she could have included more about the time and treatment of the disease then. 

I will continue with these mysteries as they are set in a time period I love, The Anarchy between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda. Shrewsbury is a great setting for the story and Cadfael is a solid character, always getting his man (or woman) in the end.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Stacking the Shelves #26


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Reality. It's a place to showcase any books I have purchased, borrowed, or been lucky enough to have been given an advance copy of. Hope you find something that looks interesting to you or that makes you remember a favorite book you need to finish. Enjoy your reading this week :)

I am very interested in reading this book as it is hard to find a history of France and England during these years. The author, Catherine Hanley was on the Gone Medieval podcast promoting it and she is very knowledgeable about the subject. She has written several history books I would like to read. 

I had not heard of this series before but it takes place in Scotland in the 1540's and involves castles, sieges, Mary Queen of Scots, and Henry the VIII. What's not to love about that? Also, it's free with my Kindle Unlimited free trial. That ends in March so I need to get going with this one. 

I was drawn to this book because of the description, "Boris Akunin is hailed as Russia's Christie and Conan Doyle." It looks unique and interesting and is set during the time of Tsar Nicholas II. I love that time period and having a mystery featuring one of the Grand Dukes along with an international criminal plot sounds like a fun read. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

The Wintringham Mystery (Cicely Disappears) by Anthony Berkeley

Publication Date: 

260 pages

This story was originally published as a serial in the The Daily Mirror, in 1926. It was then called The Wintringham Mystery but later renamed Cicely Disappears, when published in book form. Personally I prefer the original title much better. Famously, Agatha Christie entered and won a contest through the paper which asked for ideas about how to solve the book's mystery. (Actually, her husband entered the contest, but it was Agatha who was behind the actual idea.) She could not solve it and this fun fact made me want to read the book even more. I had not heard of this author before but he is just one of many writing during the wonderful Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Recently reissued it is considered a classic. 


Stephen Munro is a former army officer who is forced to take a job as a footman to support himself. Completely unsuited to the job and having to humble himself to learn his duties he is nonetheless determined to do his best. He takes up his employment at the country manor house of Lady Susan Carey and to top off his ineptness for the job, is subjected to the embarrassment of some former friends arriving for a weekend stay and recognizing him in his new role. The ultimate humiliation is when his love interest, Pauline Mainwaring appears with her new fiance and Stephen is forced to confront his feelings towards her all while trying to remain an aloof, neutral footman. 

As the weekend unfolds, a seance is suggested, just for fun, by one of the guests. When Lady Carey's niece, Cecily disappears after the lights go out, everyone feels it must be a prank she is pulling on them for fun. But with time it begins to feel suspicious when she doesn't reappear. Stephen, Pauline, and some of the other guests begin to work together to find Cecily and discover an intricate, sinister plot hiding within the cozy Wintringham manor. 

My Thoughts: 

I really enjoyed this book. The character of Stephen was endearing and I enjoyed the chemistry between him and Pauline. It was written in a simplistic style which reminded me a bit of the old Nancy Drew stories I grew up with. One of the things I always enjoy about older novels is the strong vocabulary. This book had this sprinkled into the story and gave it that classic feel without being too difficult to read quickly. 

The mystery was pretty detailed and I certainly didn't figure things out. I thought it was cleverly done and kept you guessing right up to the last chapter. It would definitely fit into the "cozy" genre in that there was nothing too gruesome of shocking. A good read and by an author that was new to me which is always a good thing. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Death On Board by Anita Davison (The Flora Maguire Mysteries Book One)


Publication Date: 
October 27, 2023

320 pages

When I looked up information about this book and its author I was interested in the fact that the ship the main character sails on was a real ship at that time on its maiden voyage. The S.S. Minneapolis set sail from New York to London in 1900 and was considered to be a grand ship of its time. 


Flora Maguire is not from high society. A lowly governess taking a ticket on a fancy ship originally meant for a wealthier passenger, she is excited to experience all the good life has to offer, all while keeping up with her 15 year old exuberant charge, Eddy. Sailing with them are a host of upper class passengers all of whom have their own quirky personalities. When one of the guests, a Mr. Parnell is found dead seemingly from a fall, Flora is not so sure. Clues around the scene lead her to believe there is more going on and with the help of a dashing young man, Bunny Harrington, she sets out to get to the bottom of things. The two of them spend time sleuthing the ship together and leading undercover observations and interrogations of the guests they know at dinner and elsewhere to see if they can flush out the truth. 

Befriending an American actress Eloise, who was friendly with Parnell, Flora is intrigued by how she and her mysterious past fit in with the goings on. Eloise acts suspiciously and nervously, leading Flora to suspect her in Parnell's death. But when Eloise herself is found stabbed to death, it is obvious that someone else has targeted specific people on the ship and that more deaths could be coming. Flora and Bunny must work quietly to find out the truth while making sure no harm comes to Eddy and the guests they believe to be innocent. 

My Thoughts: 

This was a cute story and the first in the series. While it wasn't terribly "historic" driven, the author did try to add some touches from the time that made it feel authentic. I enjoyed the dialogue between Flora and Bunny and they have chemistry between them. Eddy and Ozzy, the boy he befriends, get into typical teenage boy mischief and are endearing. There is a long character list to keep track of and because of this one is definitely thrown off track as to the backstories and who the real killer might be. There is a lot to unravel and several stories within stories so I thought it was multi layered enough to keep one alert and guessing. 

While I didn't dislike the book, I can't say if I'll read another in the series. It just didn't have enough of the cleverness and uniqueness of some of the other cozy mystery series I've grown fond of. I had hoped for a bit more feel of the time period but that waned quickly once they boarded the ship and set sail. Some of the language of the time was realistic and Flora and Bunny do have a relationship that would be typical of the time, but for the most part, the story could have been easily dropped into any modern cozy mystery series. 

Still, if you are looking for a clean, fun, murder mystery plot with cute characters and a twisty ending, it's a good read. 

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Stacking the Shelves #25

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Reality. It's a place to showcase any books I have purchased, borrowed, or been lucky enough to have been given an advance copy of. Hope you find something that looks interesting to you or that makes you remember a favorite book you need to finish. Enjoy your reading this week :)

I recently watched Little Dorit the miniseries and absolutely loved it. So when I saw this book was set in Marshalsea Prison I was immediately interested. It looks gritty but I want to give it a try. This author is new to me too and this is book one of her Thomas Hawkins series. It reminds me a bit of Anne Perry's Monk series in that it is more of a realistic, historical setting than that of a cozy mystery. I enjoy the 18th century as well and this book is set in the early 1700's. A man shares a cell with a possible murderer and must try to expose him before he himself is killed. 

This is a book I added to my Classics Club page in case I decide to continue with the challenge. I recently posted that I'd be dropping the whole thing for now but who knows? This book looked different and I'd not read anything by this author either. It was on sale for 99 cents this week on Kindle. It sounds a bit like a Jane Austen book if her books were historical mysteries.

Well it looks like I'm just in a mystery mood this week, lol. This is book three in Alyssa Maxwell's Gilded Age series. I've read and reviewed books one and two and honestly had forgotten them for awhile. Book One has been made into a movie which will air this Friday on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. Although they aren't my favorite cozy mysteries, they do evoke the era well and have grown on me. Murder at the Breakers  will be fun to watch come to life on screen.