Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: A Cold Highland Wind (Lady Emily Mysteries Book 17) by Tasha Alexander

This week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, features a book set in one of my favorite locations....the Scottish Highlands. I have been waiting for this book to have a description and it finally does! It doesn't come out until this October but I know it will be one to look for. 

October 3, 2023

Historical Fiction

Book description courtesy of NetGalley

In this new installment of Tasha Alexander’s acclaimed Lady Emily series set in the wild Scottish highlands, an ancient story of witchcraft may hold the key to solving a murder centuries later.

Lady Emily, husband Colin Hargreaves, and their three sons eagerly embark on a family vacation at Cairnfarn Castle, the Scottish estate of their dear friend Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge. But a high-spirited celebration at the beginning of their stay comes to a grisly end when the duke’s gamekeeper is found murdered on the banks of the loch. Handsome Angus Sinclair had a host of enemies: the fiancée he abandoned in Edinburgh, the young woman who had fallen hopelessly in love with him, and the rough farmer who saw him as a rival for her affections. But what is meaning of the curious runic stone left on Sinclair’s forehead?

Scotland, 1676. Lady MacAllister, wife of the Laird of Cairnfarn Castle, suddenly finds herself widowed and thrown out of her home. Her sole companion is a Moorish slave girl who helps her secretly spirit out her most prized possessions from the castle: her strange books. Her neighbors are wary of a woman living on her own, and when a poppet—a doll used to cast spells—and a daisy wheel are found in her isolated cottage, Lady MacAllister is accused of witchcraft, a crime punishable by death.

Hundreds of years later, Lady Emily searches for the link between Lady MacAllister’s harrowing witchcraft trial and the brutal death of Sinclair. She must follow a trail of hidden motives, an illicit affair, and a mysterious stranger to reveal the dark side of a seemingly idyllic Highland village.


Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Books for people who liked......


Books For People Who Liked......

I thought I'd list ten different "if you liked authors." I have so many I just wanted to get them all in! 

1. If you like Sharon Kay Penman you'll love.....Helena P. Schrader. I have recently discovered Schrader's historical novels focusing mainly on the Crusader period. She is historically accurate, like Penman, and engaging with dialogue and authentic details. 

2. If you like Diana Gabaldon you'll love.....Amanda Scott. These books don't have the depth and range of Gabaldon but because there are so many set in the Highlands, she got me through my droughtlander periods when I was waiting on the next Outlander book. They are historical, romantic, and unique. Very enjoyable and have that Scottish feel you are seeking.

3. If you like Anne Perry you'll love....Victoria Thompson. Both authors have engaging mysteries set during the Victorian era.  I have only read one Victoria Thompson novel but it reminded me of Perry in a lot of ways. 

4. If you like Rhys Bowen you'll love....Verity Bright. These cozy mysteries are witty, historical, and just make you feel great. They have interesting, female lead characters and are quick reads so you can work them easily into your busy schedule.

5. If you like Ken Follett you'll love....John Jakes. I thought these two authors had a very similar style when I read them back to back. Lots of accurate history combined with gritty male characters going through tough times. 

6. If you like Alison Weir you'll love...Christina Croft. Both of these ladies have excellent non-fiction accounts of royalty. Yes, different time periods to be sure but lots of details I hadn't found in other books.

7. If you like Lauraine Snelling you'll love....Michael Phillips and Judith Pella. Both are fabulous Christian, historical fiction authors with stories set in the past. I really need to do a re-read of their books and review some.

8. If you like Lauren Willig you'll love....Sarah Lark. These authors write  long, epic type books set in romantic places with lead female characters. 

9. If you like Bernard Cornwell you'll love....Ben Kane. He is a fairly new author I've tried to promote on my website. He has mostly male historical characters as well as fictional ones set in time periods with lots of battles and political intrigue. 

10. If you like Antonia Fraser you'll love....Carolly Erickson. These ladies write amazing biographies of mostly royalty and almost exclusively women. They are solid in research and have an entertaining, narrative style. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie: A Miss Marple Mystery (Read Christie 2023 March Selection)

Publication Date: July 1942

Length:  240 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

If you are reading this then you probably already noticed my rating is only 3 stars. This was an interesting dilemma for me because I actually enjoyed the book but as I'll explain later it just didn't involve enough intrigue to warrant a high rating. Also, we will address the fact that this is a "Miss Marple mystery".....but is it really? False advertising here if you ask me!

Siblings Jerry and Joanna have moved to the town of Lymstock temporarily to allow Jerry to recuperate from injuries sustained in a war time plane crash. He is told by his doctor to find a nice, quiet place where nothing ever happens and he thinks he has until he begins to see there is a dark spirit hanging over the town with anonymous letters being delivered to various townspeople. They are letters designed to insinuate nasty gossip that may or may not be true. Apparently this has been going on for awhile and although distressing, it is not taken too terribly seriously until one woman commits suicide, despondent over the information contained in one. 

Jerry and Joanna are motivated by curiosity and duty to find out who is writing these letters and why. Becoming attached to the adult, yet childlike, daughter of the suicide victim, they both feel responsible for Megan and want to know how her mother was driven to take her own life. As they continue to watch things unfold around them things take an even more sinister turn.

This book had a lot of great things going for it. The main characters were witty and seemed to be a bit world wise compared to the villagers, but were kind and interested in their lives. When the letters begin, it is fun to see things through Jerry's eyes as he tries to make sense of what is happening without giving in to drama and hysteria. His sister Joanna is a bit more flighty and materialistic but we see her change and begin to mature throughout the story. I liked the dynamic between the siblings and the warmth they had for each other when it counted. 

As for the mystery part, it is a bit on the weak side, although I'm learning with Christie that patience is key and she really likes to develop the story through lots of dialogue and things are never what they seem in the beginning. There wasn't really a whole lot to it other than the letters, the suicide, and the reasons behind them, but when the clues come together I admit it was really unexpected and had little nuances that were cleverly woven in. Where it really fell flat for me was the Miss Marple part. She enters into the story only in the last 50 pages or so and does very little. I think that was the point here and it was supposed to seem that she looks around and quickly deduces the answer but I didn't like it. You walk away feeling strongly that this is Jerry's story, not Jane's. Still, it was a satisfying ending. 

Not my favorite of Christie's books but honestly I kind of liked Jerry and Joanna and would like to read another book with them in it. It was kind of sad to reach the ending and know they were just two of many minor characters in one book. 


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: King Alfred's Daughter by David Stokes


My featured book for Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings is....King Alfred's Daughter by David Stokes. It caught my eye immediately at NetGalley because although I'm seeing a lot more books in recent years about King Alfred and the Viking Era, I've not seen one dedicated to his daughter, Aethelflaed. This one is not a mystery, or a romance based book but rather the type of historical fiction I love best: the real facts woven with fictional drama to represent what probably happened, what people probably said, and what they probably did. It should be both entertaining and informational. Can't wait!

March 28, 2023

Historical Fiction

Book description courtesy of NetGalley:

King Alfred is dead and the achievements that made him great are in jeopardy. Rebels challenge the succession of his son Edward to the Wessex throne, and his old ally in Mercia is sick. The Vikings in the Danelaw sense the time has come to complete their conquest of England.

It falls on Alfred’s firstborn, his daughter, Æthelflæd, to unite the Anglo-Saxons. Reluctantly, she takes up the challenge. But can a woman rebuild ruined towns and lead men into battle against hardened Viking warriors? And can Æthelflæd fulfil her father’s dream of uniting England?

Based on contemporary sources and archaeological evidence, King Alfred’s Daughter is rich in drama, family conflict and historical achievement.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Classics Club Spin #33: Number Reveal


Today is the day to see which number I got for the Classics Club Spin!  Drumroll......18! I am very excited because number 18 on my list is Now, Voyager by Olive Higgins Prouty.  I have meant to read this book for YEARS as it is in the top five of my all time favorite classic movies. It is my favorite Bette Davis movie after All About Eve and I had no idea there was a book until years after I'd fallen in love with the movie. This spin will finally get me moving to read the novel that inspired it. So April is looking like a lot of fun! I will post my review on my Classics Club page when I am finished with it, by April 30th. 

Publication Date:  January 1, 1941

Length: 284 pages


Book summary courtesy of Goodreads:

Boston blueblood Charlotte Vale has led an unhappy, sheltered life. Lonely, dowdy, repressed, and pushing 40, Charlotte finds salvation at a sanitarium, where she undergoes an emotional and physical transformation. After her extreme makeover, the new Charlotte tests her mettle by embarking on a cruise—and finds herself in a torrid love affair with a married man which ends at the conclusion of the voyage. But only then can the real journey begin, as Charlotte is forced to navigate a new life for herself. While Now, Voyager is a tear-jerking romance, it is at the same time the empowering story of a woman who finds the strength to chart her own course in life; who discovers love, sex, and even motherhood outside of marriage; and who learns that men are, ultimately, dispensable in the quest for happiness and fulfillment.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Falls the Shadow by Sharon Kay Penman

Publication Date: 1988

Length: 592 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

I originally was not going to write a review for this book until I'd written one for Here Be Dragons, book one of the Welsh princes trilogy. But I read that one two years ago and I've honestly forgotten a lot. So I decided to go ahead and finish this one, book two, and give my thoughts on it. Sharon Penman is one of my favorite authors and I always look forward to starting a new book of hers. While this one was not as engaging for me as I'd hoped it would be, it nevertheless is still a masterpiece of the time period she's covering. 

I really felt like this story was two timelines in one. Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and Llewellyn of Wales both take center stage, with de Montfort monopolizing most of the book. It is part of the Welsh princes trilogy but it felt more like Simon's tale. When it begins, he has gone to try to reclaim his inheritance from his cousin, the Earl of Chester, who has no heirs and was given the title by King John, who saw fit to disinherit de Montfort's family. This opening scene sets the stage for Simon's courage and boldness as he is taking a chance that he will be rebuffed and humiliated. He eventually achieves his goal along with the admiration of those who are surprised he is able to pull off such an unlikely feat. 

He eventually weds, Eleanor, King Henry III's sister and develops the trust of the King. When Henry sides with other influential nobles against Simon, their relationship begins to sour. Throughout the first half of the book a lot of time is devoted to describing how these events came to be and why Simon and Henry begin to fall out with each other. Simon is charismatic and fearless, while Henry is portrayed as weak willed, heavily influenced by his mother and wife's relatives, and frustrated by what he sees as insubordination by Simon and Eleanor to his rightful place as the King. As tensions grow and Henry is forced to abide by the Provisions of Oxford, the document setting up accountability by the King to his barons, both men are pushed over the threshold into all out war.

Woven within the main storyline is also the relationship between Simon and Henry's sons. Prince Edward is the anti-thesis of his father, a born warrior with a restless nature. He spends time with Bran and Harry, Simon's sons, getting into a lot of mischief. Although Edward is not able to defeat Simon initially, losing to him at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, he eventually manages to escape and the two will meet later in the epic showdown at Evesham. In between, Simon essentially rules England for a year and sets the background for representative government, which is why he is still relevant in history books today. 

As for Llewellyn the Last, grandson of Llewellyn the Great, several parts are devoted to his relationship with his brothers, especially Dafydd, and his victory in establishing, for a time, an alliance between himself and de Montfort. We see Llewellyn grow from a young boy into a ruler, harkening back to his grandfather whom he loved and admired while having a very difficult relationship with his father and mother. Unfortunately, his future remains insecure as things do not go as planned for his country when de Montfort is unable to fulfill his own plans for England. Without giving away the entire story, it is clear that neither man's path to victory is guaranteed. The ending is both compelling and heartbreaking. 

I think the main reason this book became a bit of a slog to get through is that it was very dry. A lot of the relevance of de Montfort and his place in history is due to his involvement in the battles between the barons and the King and the balance of power between both. Without proper background knowledge and the intricacies of the legal documents involved with it all, one easily becomes lost and confused. I know I often did. There were times I spent looking up information online just to understand what was being discussed. I felt this way sometimes in Penman's book Time and Chance, which detailed King Henry II and Thomas Becket's squabbles but the difference was I somehow cared a lot more about the two men as people, not just their feud. With Falls the Shadow I just didn't feel as attached to Simon or this King Henry. There were also a huge number of people coming and going in the novel that just seemed to be irrelevant and made it confusing to keep track of everyone.

Penman is always a wonderful author so I can't say the book was not worth it, and certainly I came away with a good sense of the time. It is not easy to find historical fiction on the people featured here so that makes it worth the read. Hopefully the third novel, The Reckoning, will be more to my taste as it covers Wales and the final battle between Edward and Llewellyn. I plan on reading and reviewing it eventually but am taking a break from this trilogy for a bit. 


Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The King's Pleasure by Alison Weir


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I am looking forward to The King's Pleasure by Alison Weir. She is one of my favorite non-fiction authors and this is sure to be a solid fictional account of the life of Henry the Eighth. It's only natural that she'd write this one after her bestselling novels about his six wives. Hoping this one will be entertaining. 

May 30, 2023

Historical Fiction

Book description courtesy of NetGalley

The New York Times bestselling author of the Six Tudor Queens series explores the private side of the legendary king Henry VIII and his dramatic and brutal reign in this extraordinary historical novel.

Having completed her Six Tudor Queens series of novels on the wives of Henry VIII, extensively researched and written from each queen's point of view, Alison Weir now gives Henry himself a voice, telling the story of his remarkable thirty-six-year reign and his six marriages. 

Young Henry began his rule as a magnificent and chivalrous Renaissance prince who embodied every virtue. He had all the qualities to make a triumph of his kingship, yet we remember only the violence. Henry famously broke with the Pope, founding the Church of England and launching a religious revolution that divided his kingdom. He beheaded two of his wives and cast aside two others. He died a suspicious, obese, disease-riddled tyrant, old before his time. His reign is remembered as one of dangerous intrigue and bloodshed—and yet the truth is far more complex.

The King's Pleasure brings to life the idealistic monarch who expanded Parliament, founded the Royal Navy, modernized medical training, composed music and poetry, and patronized the arts. A passionate man in search of true love, he was stymied by the imperative to produce a male heir, as much a victim of circumstance as his unhappy wives. Had fate been kinder to him, the history of England would have been very different.

Here is the story of the private man. To his contemporaries, he was a great king, a legend in his own lifetime. And he left an extraordinary legacy—a modern Britain.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Classics Club Spin #33


Classics Club Spin #33

I am joining the Classics Club challenge this month to read a book from my list according to the number given to me on Sunday, March 19th. It is titled "33" because it is the 33rd time the club has had this challenge. This will be my very first spin. I am a little nervous about this as I like to have total control over what I feel like reading each day. But I made a goal to read these classics and this will help get me moving. I am already feeling waayyy behind! So wish me luck and I'll post on Sunday which book number I am tasked with reading. Here is my list of twenty random books from my Classics Club page:

1. Anna Karenina

2. Northanger Abbey

3. Jamaica Inn

4. North and South (Gaskell, not Jakes!)

5. The Man in the Brown Suit

6. Strangers On a Train

7. Emma

8. The Age of Innocence

9. 1984

10. Breakfast At Tiffany's

11. The Circular Staircase

12. Devil Water

13. This Side of Glory

14. Waverly

15. The Woman in White

16. Vanity Fair

17. The Talented Mr. Ripley

18. Now, Voyager

19. The Innocence of Father Brown

20. Whose Body?

Wondering what number the spin will land on? Check back on Sunday for my post! I have to read and review that book by Sunday, April 30th. 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

And Only To Deceive by Tasha Alexander (Lady Emily Mysteries Book One)

Publication Date: October 11, 2005

Length: 320 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

This is a long running series with seventeen books. Her new one is set to be published this fall and has yet to even have a description summary yet. I wanted to start with this book because it is the first in the series. Each book features Lady Emily as the main character as she solves a mystery, often in different locations around the world. 

Lady Emily has been recently widowed and hardly knew her husband, the Viscount Phillip of Ashton. She only accepted his proposal in the first place to escape her life with her overbearing mother and had no real connection to Phillip. They weren't together long as he went to Africa on safari and died there. Emily at first revels in her widowhood and new found freedom that was given to her upon his death and inheritance of plenty of wealth to keep her comfortable but soon she begins to read his journals and finds herself falling in love with him. He clearly was in love with her as evidenced in his writings and Emily starts to regret she hadn't known him better or for longer. 

She finds he was also an articulate, well educated, interesting man who through his affiliation with the museum and artifacts fascinate her and she begins to be interested in learning more about Greek history, poetry, and Phillip's association with it all. 

She is faced in her real, everyday life with her dead husband's friend, Colin Hargreaves and is not so smitten at first. She finds herself running into him with great annoyance and their personalities clashing. But this flesh and blood man turns out to be an exciting prospect himself and along with other suitors, she finds her world getting complicated.

The mystery part of the story involves theft and intrigue and throughout Emily is subjected to some harrowing situations. She has to find out who is behind stolen artifacts that connect to Phillip and the British Museum. The answer is both frightening and close to home. She begins to wonder if her adoration of Phillip was misplaced and if she can trust anyone close to her.

This story started out strong. I enjoyed Alexander's writing and it felt like she was giving me a lesson in art, history, and Victorian manners, along with a mystery to solve. It is clear she is knowledgeable in Greek art history and she did a solid job of dialogue and character interaction for the time. Unfortunately, I can only give it three stars because halfway through I really started to lose interest in the mystery part. It felt more like a romance novel with a background puzzle thrown in. I began to feel there wasn't enough mystery there to keep things suspenseful and the villain was just not well hidden to the end. A solid effort to be sure, especially for a first novel, but not a five star book for me.

I am interested in her upcoming book and will probably try it. The plot intrigues me because it is a Lady Emily mystery set in the Scottish Highlands. Hopefully it will be exciting!


Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish People I'd Like To Meet (My Favorite Authors List)

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, is to list something related to "Bookish People I'd Like To Meet." Of course there are a million fictional possibilities but I thought I'd list my favorite authors (those living!) that I'd love to meet if I could. What authors would you like to meet if you had the chance?

1. Anne Perry- The queen of historical mysteries set in the Victorian Era.

2. Diana Gabaldon- My favorite time travel author.

3. Ben Kane- Great author of historical fiction set in Ancient Rome, Medieval England, and now the Napoleonic Era with his upcoming novel.

4. Verity Bright- This is actually a husband and wife couple who write the cute Eleanor Swift mysteries

5. Janette Oak- Much loved writer of Christian fiction. She has written a huge, inspirational volume of stories.

6. John Jakes- My go to author for Civil War and founding of America fiction series. 

7. Michael Phillips- His Christian Stonewycke series really influenced me as a teen. Wonderful stories I'd like to read again someday.

8. Martha Keyes- New author writing fun, wholesome Regency romances and Scottish highlands sagas.

9. Alison Weir- Fabulous non-fiction writer whose brain I'd love to pick about how to research material. She is amazing with all the tidbits she finds.

10. Dan Jones- My other favorite non-fiction author who I've listened to on a podcast and found he had some great stories and insights to go along with his research.



Friday, March 3, 2023

Queens of the Crusades: England's Medieval Queens Book Two by Alison Weir

Publication Date:  February 23, 2021

Length:  560 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

This book is part two of a three part series on Medieval Queens. Book one deals with the conquest period and book three covers the age of chivalry. I already had purchased this one awhile ago when it was on sale and so that is why I started in the middle. Also, loving the Crusader period, I wanted to learn more about the wives of the Kings involved during this time. Alison Weir is known for being a solid researcher and her books cover her chosen subjects with depth and fidelity so I know I'm getting the facts, not embellished with her opinions. 

There are five sections: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, Isabella of Angouleme, Alienor of Provence, and Eleanor of Castile. Each queen either participated in the Crusades and, or, was Queen during the period of the Crusades. Some had husbands who joined the march to the Holy Land themselves but not all. Of course the most famous of them, Eleanor of Aquitaine, receives the most thorough treatment here but that is common when she is in the mix. I didn't mind because even though I know a lot about her life, there is always some new interesting fact I've not heard before.

The first section on Eleanor of Aquitaine picks up shortly after her meeting of Henry Plantagenet and continues into the next two sections on Berengaria and Isabella. Eleanor's long life meant that she was privy to the lives and marriages of these queens of her sons, Richard and John, and was heavily involved in the politics of the day right up until her last years. It is clear that Weir wants readers to hone in on just how influential she was after her release from captivity with her husband Henry's death and Richard's ascension. The tone of the book suggests just how impressive Eleanor was in her ability to rule when given the opportunity. 

When moving from Eleanor to the next three Queens, Weir concentrates more on their husbands. It is clear that there is just not much information on Berengaria, Isabella, or Alienor (Richard I, John, and Henry III's wives) because there was very scant attention to their upbringing and most of the sections focused on minor details such as their charities, religious leanings, and child bearing. I found that I learned much more about the governance of each King and how it affected the country than I did about their spouses but there was still an overall picture of the personalities of each woman: Berengaria presents as a kind, well loved but often neglected lady, Isabella a young naive girl who moved to a more selfish, scheming person in her second marriage to Hugh de Lusignan, and Alienor a devoted mother but often scorned by the country she ruled due to her Savoy relatives.

Eleanor of Castile was given the last section of twelve chapters, almost as much as the first Eleanor, which initially was a surprise. Not knowing much about her I assumed there would not be much more to cover about her than the three previous queens. Accompanying her husband Edward I on the crusades, Eleanor was a formidable woman who was well educated and clearly loved by her devoted spouse. She produced many royal offspring and was beloved by Edward long after her death. 

I enjoyed this book and although there were chapters I skimmed through if they focused heavily on details that didn't interest me, overall there was sold, unique information on each queen that I hadn't heard before. I often felt that Weir had little to go on for some of these women and had to stretch some related facts to the point of redundancy and tedium. Unfortunately, for the time this is too common and she had to use what she had and link it to their husbands lives in order to paint a thorough portrait. I plan to eventually read the other two books in the series and they are a great way to get a snapshot of these often forgotten queens of the middle ages.