Friday, May 31, 2024

20 Books of Summer Challenge


Since I'll be reading and reviewing books anyway I thought this looked like a fun challenge to join! Thanks to Helen at She Reads Novels for posting her link to give me the idea and for Cathy at 746 Books for hosting. I am not choosing 20 books but starting with 10. I think this is more realistic for me. Maybe next year I'll dive in with more. Happy Reading everyone! 

My List:

1. Covert in Cairo: Book Two of the Fiona Figg and Kitty Lane Mysteries by Kelly Oliver- I love all things set in Egypt and the pyramids.

2. The Virgin in the Ice: Book 6 of the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters- It's time to dive into the next one of these amazing mysteries.

3. The Iron King by Maurice Druon- I have wanted to read these books for so long and need a push to get started. They are classics about a subject I know little about: French aristocracy. 

4. A King's Ransom by Sharon Penman- So looking forward to finishing and reviewing this last book in her Plantagenet series. 

5.  ABC Murders by Agatha Christie- This was the Read Christie 2024 selection for May and I just didn't have the time to read it. I want to catch up so I will be tackling this one in the summer. 

6. Taken at the Flood by Agatha Christie- This is the Read Christie 2024 selection for July. 

7. The French For Murder: Lady Eleanor Swift Book 10 by Verity Bright- The next book in my favorite cozy mystery series. 

8. A Gentleman Fallen On Hard Times: The Lord Julian Mysteries Book One by Grace Burrowes- I saw this in the Kindle store and the title caught my eye. It sounds a little like a Lord John Grey vibe. I want to see if it's a good series so I'm starting with Book One. 

9. The Enemy and Miss Innes: Tales From the Highlands Book Two by Martha Keyes- I enjoyed book one from this series and need this reminder to get started on the second one. 

10. The Greatest Knight: William Marshal Book Two by Elizabeth Chadwick- This is a long book so realistically we will see if I actually read and finish it by Labor Day. But I really want to read it after I finish A King's Ransom.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Murder at the Grand Hotel by Isabella Bassett (Lady Caroline Mysteries Book One)


Publication Date: 
July 1, 2022


214 pages


Lady Caroline is used to the finer things in life. When she misbehaves and is sent to spend her days with her Uncle Albert on the French Riviera, she is sure being his personal secretary will be a total bore. But she is determined to make the best of things and when her eccentric Uncle, member of the Royal Society for Natural History Appreciation, shares he is in a contest with the other members to win an odd prize for finding an obscure flower, she cheerfully agrees to step in and do the work to find it. 

Little does she know that her mission will change to dead bodies instead of plants and when a woman is poisoned and dies she is determined to find out why and who did it. With help from her growing love interest, James, another secretary, and the clues she can gather while observing the other members of the hotel, she begins to piece together a more complicated scheme than she thought. When a well known architect falls from a cliff's edge Lady Caroline believes the two deaths are connected. The background cast of characters include a Polish Count and a society woman wishing to marry Caroline off to her son. Also, she has to deal with being a suspect herself at one point. She is amazed at her Uncle's total lack of interest in the murders and his laser focus on his flower gathering mission. She presses on to solve the case before anyone else gets hurt.

My Thoughts:

Having enjoyed the other Isabella Bassett book, Secret of the Scarab, I wanted to read the first book in the series. It was a cute, cozy mystery and has a better, well written style and plot than some I've come across. I enjoy these books as an escape between heavier ones but appreciate them if they have some semblance of time and place. Bassett is great with this. I found the mystery engaging, her Uncle endearing, and Lady Caroline plucky without being annoying. The background of the characters and the location and storyline were detailed and the plot moved along nicely. Some of my favorite parts were the ones about the Society and its members because I already knew they factor into subsequent books. The clues were misleading and guess worthy too and I did not figure out the ending or who committed the crimes. It was well hidden inside a lot of other clues that I didn't see coming. Lady Caroline also has a friend, Poppy, an uber society girl who is funny and adds to the humorous side of the story. I will be reading Bassett's other books for sure. This is a great cozy mystery series so far. 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Stacking the Shelves #29


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 love finding historical fiction about people who are rarely given the spotlight. And especially queens. Anne of Denmark became the wife and queen of James I of Scotland and Great Britain but I have found very little information about her life. This book is short at only 170 pages but according to what I've seen it seems well researched. It was on sale on Kindle for $0.99 this week. Hoping it's good and I learn something interesting about a new subject. 

I absolutely adore the cover of this book. The title also caught my eye and the fact that it was written in the 1930's is special too, making it a classic. I have never heard of this author but the book is described as part of the golden age of whoodunit detective fiction and is a country house murder mystery. Reading it in Texas in May when it is already super hot is fun and puts you in the Christmas in summer feel. It is part of the British Library Crime Classics that are being reissued. On sale this week for Kindle at $1.99. I've already started it and plan to review it soon in June.

Normally this era doesn't interest me much. But the "epic family saga" tag and beautiful cover had me interested enough to read the "about this book." It was on sale this week on Kindle for $0.99 so I bought it. At 809 pages it is definitely an epic and I'm not sure when I'll get to it. Being the first in a series is always good for me too as I prefer to start at the beginning. The three book trilogy runs in time from the German Empire in 1871 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when I was in high school. It looks like a good read to dig into. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman (The Plantagenets Book One)


Publication Date:

February 6, 1996

750 pages

This is my second read for this wonderful book. I felt like the first time I read it so quickly and was much less informed about the period so when I recently finished the fourth book in the series, Lionheart, about Richard I, I decided to go back and read this one again. I hadn't reviewed it either and wanted to do that before tackling the last book, A King's Ransom. I'm so glad I did because it really helped me solidify the timeline of the Anarchy period in my mind. Also, these books are so dense you can't possibly remember everything so it always feels new.

The story begins with the sinking of the White Ship and culminates in the ascension of King Henry II of England. Covering a span of roughly thirty years of turmoil and chaos Penman manages to make it look easy to get all the important facts in along with the emotions and feelings of the time. When Henry I loses his only son and heir in the shipwreck he is distraught and calls daughter Matilda home from the only home she has really known, Germany, as the former wife of the Holy Roman Emperor, who has died. Although Henry hopes that Matilda will take his place someday, the barons are not convinced and many side with Stephen of Blois, Matilda's cousin and the only other in line that can take on the role of King.

As far as the history is concerned, the book follows a solid timeline: Stephen becomes king, Matilda fights to regain her stolen crown, towns caught in the middle are destroyed, lives uprooted, and anarchy reigns. All the major battles, Lincoln, the Rout of Winchester, Oxford Castle, culminating in the Siege and Treaty of Wallingford solidifying Henry's triumph are amazingly told.  While Penman is exceptionally detailed and skillful in recounting all of this, it isn't the heart of the novel. I will leave the summary with this: the Anarchy was a time of horrible unrest where innocent lives were sacrificed again and again as two heirs are caught in their struggle to prove they are the rightful heirs to the throne. 

My Thoughts:

When historical fiction is done well you finish the book feeling as if you have lived through the time. You feel as if you know the characters inside and out as real people. This is how I always feel reading Penman's books. Having read others set in this time period I say there is no contest as to which author gets it right. Matilda's personality has suffered throughout history as being one of stubborn, haughty, and arrogant, only thinking of the title denied her. In this book she is still those things but with a much more human air. Her relationship with her brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester shows how much she relied on him and his judgement, both as a battlefield commander and as a trusted advisor. Her loyalty to her fellow nobleman, Brien fitz Count is touchingly portrayed and although a romantic involvement is hinted at, Penman never fully accepts the premise that it went any further than deep conversations and intense trust. 

One of my favorite parts of the novel is Matilda's escape from Oxford Castle in winter. I could feel the cold, the exhaustion, and desperation of the group as they attempt to evade Stephen's men who are completely unaware that such a feat is even in the realm of possibility. Penman recounts the harrowing night minute by minute and you feel as if you are with them.

Stephen is portrayed as the man caught between being too nice and too harsh. His inconsistency is shown throughout the story in a way that made me feel sorry for him while also being incredibly exasperated too. His interaction with his wife, also Matilda, and their son Eustace is realistic and heartbreaking as they come to the realization that Eustace is not the man they hoped he'd be. He is cruel and narcissistic and disappoints them. While Henry, Matilda's son is the perfect choice to succeed Stephen, this puts Stephen in yet another dilemma from which he is hard pressed to make difficult choices. Time and again his weakness for pleasing others comes to the surface but then he overreacts when he senses people are doubting him. I found myself identifying with this very human side in a way I didn't in other books about the period. It gave me great insight into how hard it must have been to rule effectively in a time when weakness is not tolerated and Kings must stay true to their threats or risk being undermined at every turn. 

Penman included a few fictional characters who show up in subsequent books. Ranulf, his wife Rhiannon and her family are distant relatives in Wales and Ranulf is Matilda's brother, one of Henry I's many illegitimate sons. While I enjoyed their story as a way to learn more about the Welsh, they were not a huge excitement factor for me. Ranulf's story seemed to serve as the romantic part that I guess she felt needed addding. He appears in many of the following books though so his storyline is not one to skip. 

I am currently finishing the last book in the Plantagenet story written by Penman. These are books that are sure to be classics. I do not doubt that I will read them again one day. If you start with this one you will not want to wait to buy the next in the series. I found myself peeking back into book two, Time and Chance, and having to force myself not to go down that rabbit hole! You will be hooked and find you are spoiled for her writing as you tackle other stories. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Passionate Tudor: A Novel of Queen Mary I by Alison Weir


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Passionate Tudor by Alison Weir. It is her latest fictional take on another famous queen. She always has wonderful research and excellent narrative for these historical fiction books so this one is sure to be good. I know so much about Queen Mary I already so it's not on the top of my TBR pile yet. But I wanted to share it because others might be interested. 

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

May 28, 2024

Historical Fiction

Description courtesy of Amazon

The New York Times bestselling author of the Six Tudor Queens series explores the dramatic and poignant life of King Henry VIII’s daughter—infamously known as Bloody Mary—who ruled England for five violent years.

Born from young King Henry’s first marriage, his elder daughter, Princess Mary, is raised to be queen once it becomes clear that her mother, Katherine of Aragon, will bear no more children. However, Henry’s passion for Anne Boleyn has a devastating influence on the young princess’s future when, determined to sire a male heir, he marries Anne, has his marriage to Katherine declared unlawful, brands Mary illegitimate, and banishes them both from the royal court. But when Anne too fails to produce a son, she is beheaded and Mary is allowed to return to court as the default heir. At age twenty, she waits in vain for her own marriage and children, but who will marry her, bastard that she is?

Yet Mary eventually triumphs and becomes queen, after first deposing a seventeen-year-old usurper, Lady Jane Grey, and ordering her beheading. Any hopes that Mary, as the first female queen regent of England, will show religious toleration are dashed when she embarks on a ruthless campaign to force Catholicism on the English by burning hundreds of Protestants at the stake. But while her brutality will forever earn her the name Bloody Mary, at heart she is an insecure and vulnerable woman, her character forged by the unhappiness of her early years.

In Alison Weir’s masterful novel, the drama of Mary I’s life and five-year reign—from her abusive childhood,marriage,andmysterious pregnancies to the cruelty that marks her legacy—comes to vivid life.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Stacking the Shelves #28

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 :) 

This is the first full length biography about Edward III's queen. The author is one who has extensive knowledge of the time period and has written several books about the major players and events of the middle ages. I feel Philippa of Hainault is overlooked in both historical and historical ficition books and had a remarkable life. I wish I could find more on her. This one is hard to come by in the U.S. so it had to be purchased.

This is book one of the Lady Caroline mysteries. I love cozies but have become a bit pickier about which ones I'll read. Bassett did a great job with the one set in Egypt. She actually created the atmosphere and had some history and authentic details throughout the book. So I'm willing to give her series a chance. I confess I may be listening to this one on audiobook if I am pressed for time but I went ahead and purchased this for my Kindle. A steal at $2.99. 

I confess I have only read one Chadwick book so far. I know, I know, in the historical fiction medieval world that is unheard of. But I just have been so engrossed in Penman novels the last few years, I haven't tackled these yet. This one is about a unique subject, Joanna of Swanscombe, whom I know nothing about and it was on sale for $0.99. I hope to get to it this year. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Schoolmaster by Jessica Tvordi


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Schoolmaster by Jessica Tvordi. It tells the story of a young King James VI, son of Mary Queen of Scots and his tutor. It follows James as he grows into a man and the loves of his life.  A unique take on the subject to be sure. 

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

June 1, 2024

Historical Fiction

Description courtesy of Net Galley

Scotland, 1570. Catholic followers of the exiled Mary, Queen of Scots wage war against those of her four-year-old son, King James VI. Enter Master Peter Young, a Geneva-educated merchant’s son. Eager to make his way in the world, Peter is appointed to serve as the king’s tutor alongside the formidable George Buchanan. Their objective? To shape Scotland’s young monarch into a perfect, Protestant ruler—a difficult task in a world filled with religious violence, power-hungry lords, and the petty squabbles of both boys and men.

Over the years, Peter sees success with his pupils, proves an invaluable friend to the king’s caretaker, the Countess of Mar, and her troubled son, Johnny Erskine, and gains status at court. But when the king’s French-raised cousin Esmé Stewart, Seigneur d’Aubigny, arrives in Scotland, Peter and his friends must discover whether this seductive stranger is an agent of Catholic Rome or another greedy relation hoping for preferment.

The Schoolmaster is a coming-of-age story, as King James rejects lessons of the schoolroom for love, and Peter navigates treacherous political waters to ensure the nation's security. Through Peter's eyes, readers are transported to a pivotal moment in Scottish history: the arrival of the first of King James’s many controversial lover-favorites.