Showing posts with label England. Show all posts
Showing posts with label England. Show all posts

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

Length:
320 pages

Summary:
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

Length:
217 pages

Summary:
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.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

The Wintringham Mystery (Cicely Disappears) by Anthony Berkeley

Publication Date: 
1927

Length:
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. 

Summary:

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. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Abandoned Queen by Austin Hernon (Berengaria of Navarre Medieval Trilogy Book Two)

 


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Abandoned Queen by Austin Hernon. I purchased book one and intend to read it this year. Books two and three are out in 2024 and this is the second in the trilogy. At first I saw it as a romance type book but then I read the sample of book one and it was actually a pretty good start as a historical fiction book. The author is an older gentleman who has written another series about William the Conqueror's son, Richard. 

I hope you have found something you can't wait for on this Wednesday!


February 2, 2024

Historical Fiction


Description courtesy of Amazon books

Berengaria follows her king into the deadly heart of the Crusade

1191

Having married 
Richard the LionheartBerengaria of Navarre is now preparing herself for the turbulent life of a queen.

Though he has not yet secured an heir, Richard is determined not to settle down until he has recaptured Jerusalem from the Saracen forces. Vowing to stay by his side for as long as possible, Berengaria accompanies him on the perilous voyage to the Holy Land.

Caught up in battle plans, Richard has barely a moment to spare for his new bride. And after witnessing a sea battle and a deadly siege in Akko, Berengaria is left disturbed by the king’s ruthlessness.

Surrounded by misery and bloodshed, the young queen begins to understand the true cost of war. And as Richard becomes ever more consumed by his ambitions, she starts to wonder whether their marriage will ever have a chance to flourish…

Will Richard survive his brutal Crusade? Will he and Berengaria return to England in triumph?

Or will the horrors of war tear their marriage apart?

The Abandoned Queen is the second historical novel in The Berengaria of Navarre Medieval Trilogy: Early Plantagenet novels set during the Third Crusade and the reign of Richard the Lionheart.



Saturday, January 20, 2024

The King's Commoner: The rise and fall of Cardinal Wolsey by David Field (The Tudor Saga Series Book Two)

 

Publication Date: 
July 24, 2019

Length:
271 pages

This is the second book in Field's Tudor series and although I have purchased the first one about Henry VII, I wanted to read this one first because I didn't know a lot about the story of Thomas Wolsey. 

Summary:
The story begins when Thomas is very young and becoming painfully aware of his place in society. Born in 1473, he is the son of a common butcher of modest means, ridiculed by the upper classes who attend mass with him and are jealous of his cleverness and academic wit. This becomes more apparent as Wolsey grows into manhood, completing his degree in divinity at the young age of fifteen and uses his skills and connections to work his way to becoming chaplain for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He soon finds himself in the service of King Henry VII who appoints him royal chaplain. When his son, Henry VIII becomes king, Wolsey is firmly entrenched as a valuable asset to the Tudor ruler and uses it to his great advantage, steering events in his favor while maintaining the needed reverence due to the King. 

Because Henry VIII is still young and impressionable, he finds himself relying heavily on Wolsey's guidance and affirmation. In the beginning, Thomas is able to amass great wealth and power by making himself invaluable to the King. As time passes though, he finds Henry is growing into his own as a man and ruler and it starts to become more difficult to manipulate things in his direction. Henry grows increasingly more set in his ways and through a series of events with France and Spain, he and Wolsey begin to have conflicts that bleed into their previously trusting relationship. When the King decides to rid himself of Queen Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn, Thomas is expected to deliver the annulment necessary to make this happen. He cannot. And he finds himself in real danger from Henry's wrath. 

My Thoughts: 

I love that Field's books include real people presented in an authentic way so that I feel like I'm getting to know them and their thoughts, not just reading historical events. In this book though it caused me to be conflicted about the main focus because halfway through I really started to dislike Wolsey both as a man and as a religious figure. This is probably exactly what was intended and shows Field's capability as a writer. Unlike Simon de Montfort in The Conscience of a King, Wolsey does not come off as a sympathetic figure at all. We see him begin with promise, incredibly smart, talented, and impressive at a young age.  As he grows more entrenched in royal favor and wealth he comes across as scheming and cynical. It makes it hard to feel badly for him when Henry turns on him.

I can't recommend these books enough if you need a good, solid, chronological timeline of English history. I can't wait to see what the future holds for Field's books as I'm really hoping for a series of books that take place surrounding events from de Montfort through the Tudor years. The three Edwards and Bolingbroke would be wonderful as they seem to be under represented in the historical fiction world. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in this series, Justice For the Cardinal, all about Thomas Cromwell and his devotion to Wolsey, his mentor, and the events after this book and Wolsey's downfall.


Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: Wolves of Winter by Dan Jones (Book Two Essex Dogs Trilogy)

 



For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring Wolves of Winter by Dan Jones. This is book two in his Essex Dogs Trilogy. I am looking for good historical fiction about the Hundred Years War between England and France and finding it difficult to come across. I am not a huge fan of books that are based solely on the battles of a certain time period but with this subject that is to be expected. Dan Jones is the author of many great books and his research is always solid and reliable. This might be one to try. I hope you have found a book you can't wait to read this week!

January 30, 2024

Medieval Historical Fiction/War Fiction




Description courtesy of Amazon books

The epic sequel to Essex Dogs, continuing the New York Times bestselling historian's trilogy of novels following the fortunes of ten ordinary soldiers during the Hundred Years' War.

1347. Bruised and bloodied by an epic battle at Crécy, six soldiers known as the Essex Dogs pick through the wreckage of the fighting—and their own lives.
 
Now a new siege is beginning, and the Dogs are sent to attack the soaring walls of Calais. King Edward has vowed no Englishman will leave France ‘til this city falls. To get home, they must survive a merciless winter in a lawless camp deadlier than any battlefield.
 
Obsessed with tracking down the vanished Captain, Loveday struggles to control his own men. Romford is haunted by the reappearance of a horrific figure from his past. And Scotsman is spiraling into a pit of drink, violence, and self-pity.
 
The Dogs are being torn apart—but this war is far from over. It won't be long before they lose more of their own.
 
From a vast siege camp built outside Calais' walls, to the pirate ships patrolling the harbor, and into the dark corners of oligarchs' houses, where the deals that shape—and end—lives are made, this captivating and darkly comic story brings the fourteenth century vividly to life.