Friday, September 9, 2022

A Caribbean Mystery (Miss Marple) by Agatha Christie

Publication Date: November 16, 1954

Length: 240 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆


I'm a sucker for covers with palm trees, sun, and cruise ships. It just says summer and relaxation and if you throw in a mystery it makes it even better! This book has sat in my TBR pile on my Kindle for years. I just kept thinking I'd read it on a beach vacation and never did. So I decided I was going to just read it already, beach or no beach. 

This was my first Miss Marple book and some reviews said I shouldn't read this one first, that her earlier ones were better. I don't have anything to compare it with so I plan to read the first Miss Marple book soon to see whether or not I agree. This book was a cute, light fun read and after And Then There Were None, I wasn't sure what to expect. That book freaked me out! Miss Marple is so cute and charming and laid back that I'd classify her as a character more of the cozy mystery genre. 


In this story, our heroine is trying to just relax and bask in the glory of her trip to the tropics, courtesy of her nephew, Raymond.  She is patiently listening to an elderly man, Major Palgrave, tell her about life and drone on with his uninteresting personal stories. He mentions that he possesses a photograph of a murderer and although this is interesting, until he dies suddenly, Miss Marple isn't too concerned. Her suspicions are aroused because she finds his death to be odd considering it happened so unexpectedly. Consulting the local doctor only increases her awareness that things aren't as they seem. And everyone thinks they remember the Major having health issues, such as high blood pressure, but as no one at the hotel enjoyed his company, there weren't many that called him friend enough to be sure. 

When a hotel worker is killed, the patrons begin to reassess their time on the island and some leave. Miss Marple previously befriended several couples at the hotel, the Hillingdons, the Dysons, and the Kendals, who are running the establishment. All colorful guests with their own secrets make for serious sleuthing on the part of Miss Maple to identify whether or not they would have turned on the Major, the hotel worker, or each other. Eventually one of them becomes the third victim. It is obvious to Miss Marple that the deaths are definitely not random events. She sets her mind to carefully examining the clues in order to solve the case. Working through the physical as well as the psychological evidence requires patience and tenacity and she is just the lady for the job.


Miss Marple is charming in that grandmotherly way and I really enjoy stories where the character is elderly and sharp as a tack, but others don't realize it. When she solves the riddle and everyone is enlightened as to her true intellect it is satisfying. For this reason alone I will continue reading more of the Miss Marple series starting with the first book. I have a feeling she is going to grow on me!


I admit I'm still adjusting to Christie's style. She likes a lot of dialogue it seems and we work through a lot of the internal musings of Miss Marple, the doctor, and some minor characters. The chapters are very short, as is the book, so she does pack a lot into 200 or so pages. Because she is such an icon in the mystery genre I'm still willing to continue trying different selections of hers to see which ones I really enjoy. This one was probably a 6 out 10 on a scale of excitement for me and although it wasn't as good as And Then There Were None, I can appreciate that the character of Jane Marple exudes a different style entirely. It flows a bit slower, more thoughtfully, and isn't given to shock value. Rather the information is revealed bit by bit as we journey with her mind. 

RECOMMEND OR NOT?  Yes, it's worth it. The setting and characters make up for any major flaws and if you like Agatha Christie type books you'll enjoy this one. 


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Finish It or Forget It?


I can be a bit obsessive. It's hard for me to just give up on something I've vowed to do. Take this blog. I started it for fun because I love reading and discussing books. Being a busy Mom and teacher there isn't a lot of time to meet up for book clubs so I thought I'd join a challenge and post my reviews. Originally I thought I'd post 3-4 times a week but life got in the way. Now I average 2 times a week and I've had to be okay with that. It's not easy for someone who doesn't believe in procrastinating or making excuses. But sometimes just okay has to be enough. We aren't robots after all.

Which brings me to today's reading topic. To finish a book or let it go? That is the question. And it's interesting how this has changed over the years since I bought a Kindle. As I said in my last opinion post, e-readers are amazing! So many books at your fingertips. You don't ever have to enter a library or bookstore to get what you want. You don't have to wait for someone to finish a book before downloading your own copy. It seems like there is no down side. Well I'm here to tell you for someone like me, the problem comes into play when I realize how many choices there are. I want to read everything by everyone. And even when I narrow it down to a few books I still have a very long list. So now when I start a book I have paid for or borrowed from the online library I feel like I should finish it. But if I start and it just isn't holding my attention sufficiently, there is always another one waiting. Unlike going to the library and borrowing books, you have so many options. Why waste your time slogging through a book you don't love? Why torture yourself with reading something you aren't totally looking forward to at the end of the day? Isn't reading supposed to be fun??

Well...yes...and no. What I mean is, reading a book to its conclusion isn't fun every second unless it is just a true favorite. And how many true favorites does one read in a lifetime? I can think of a handful of novels or history books that I'd re-read just because I love them so much. Most books are good, but not great. So to say you only continue reading when you love it is very subjective. Do I quit on page 50 because it's starting to drag a bit? If I've read half and enjoyed it do I stop because it's gotten less exciting? What if the action picks up later? What if I didn't give it enough time? These are the things that go through my mind....obsessive. 

My conclusion is that everyone has to have their threshold. If reading is to rack up total number of books then you probably won't relate to stopping when it gets boring. Some readers I know will stick with a book to the bitter end just to check it off their Goodreads list. I get it. But doesn't that require discipline instead of pleasure? Or is the pleasure in saying, "I read that book....ALL of it!" 

I've noticed that the longer a book is the more I have this problem. Sometimes you have to stop reading really long books for awhile. Take a break. Mix it up. Alternate those 700 page novels with an Agatha Christie mystery. Or maybe continue the novel a few chapters at a time, but stop for a few days and read a shorter book in between. Then go back to your longer book again. I get a new appreciation for concentrating on dense material when I've let my mind rest with something light. 

I also notice that how much effort I've put into a book makes a difference. If I've already read about a third of the book I'm likely to soldier on even if I'm not just loving it. At 50 percent it's usually a done deal. Less than 20 percent I'll quit because, like a honeymoon dating period, if you already are forcing yourself after that short of a time to continue, it's not looking good. 

Another thing to consider is the author. Some authors I'll give more of a chance because I've already read and enjoyed their other books. Surely I'll like all of them, right? It's often hit or miss though because not every book by the same person is as riveting. Suffice it to say all of this is a personal choice but no one should feel compelled to finish every single book they begin.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you finish everything you read? Why or why not? Can you live with yourself if a book has to go in the "not completed" pile?

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

Publication Date:  November 10, 2020

Length:  400 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐☆☆☆


I was intrigued enough to read this book based on the title and cover alone. I have only found one historical fiction mystery set in this time period and location prior to this novel and I loved that one. It was Anne Perry's Christmas mystery A Christmas Garland.  It is a rare find for those who love books set during the British rule of India. When I ran across this book I was so excited to see another author tackling this era. Even more so because this author grew up in India and has the cultural background to write authentically about that part of the world. She would definitely be able to add details others might not. Unfortunately, about halfway through it just ran out of steam and I disappointingly found myself skimming just to finish it. A bit of a letdown to say the least. I will try to summarize the main points and explain but the truth is that I grew bored of the characters and it just didn't hold my attention.


Captain James (Jim) Agnihotri is convalescing from injuries sustained in battle. The year is 1892 and he is in a military hospital unsure what to do beyond healing and recuperating. He comes across a news article about two young women who fell to their death from a university clock tower. He has always been partial to Sherlock Holmes mysteries and this tragedy intrigues him due to its shocking and unusual nature as well as the fact that no person of interest has been charged with the crime. He befriends the husband and brother, Adi, of the two women who died and is asked to help with the case. He meets Diana, another of Adi's sisters, and is enchanted with her. Because Jim is half Indian and half English he knows their relationship will never progress beyond friendship but nevertheless he is drawn to her and it seems she is drawn to him. Both Adi and Diana are grieving for their relatives and angry that the case is being presented as suicide. 

Jim, often with Diana and Adi's assistance, begins to unravel the clues known so far. An argument witnessed just prior to the death of the women, the medical reports of the bodies, and strange occurrences happening at the home of the family begin to convince him there is more to the story than originally thought. As he gets to know the family intimately he starts to believe there are secrets that are being kept which will lead to the killer. And that not everyone involved wants the world to know the truth. 


Lest I leave the impression that this book has zero good qualities, there are some positive points. It has a solid beginning, believable dialogue and setting as well as an intriguing mystery plot to start it off. In fact, I finished it two weeks ago and hesitated to write this review because I was torn whether to just skip a review or go ahead and write about it, knowing the enthusiasm just wasn't there. But I decided to remember you can't just discuss books you absolutely love and that the tepid ones need to be honestly discussed as well. And tepid is what comes to mind when I think about this book. 


After a strong beginning it just sort of starts to drag. The mystery is still interesting and the characters have authentic interactions but it felt like there just wasn't enough happening to hold my interest. Scenes felt repeated and moments of action were too few and far between. Sometimes the family discussions were downright boring and seemed to go nowhere. Being a history buff and loving the time period, I wanted to know more about Bombay and the people, culture, and mores. Often I'd read whole sections and forget it was even set in the past. The conclusion was dragged out and anti-climactic. 

RECOMMEND OR NOT? Unfortunately, this one is a no....

There is a sequel to the story and the author has plans to continue with several more. I love to read series books and wish this one had grabbed my attention more. Normally I'd want to see what is happening with the characters and continue but if I'm honest I probably won't pick up the next one. I'm always willing to give authors a second chance though so if she decides to start a different series with a new angle I'd probably give it a whirl. But for now, Jim and Diana will have to go on without me! 


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

E-Readers or the Real Deal?

I know, I know, this post has been done before. Many times. I just can't help myself though. It's a real curiosity for me, how other avid readers feel about this topic. I have thought a lot about it over the years and at the risk of sounding like the mushy middle my conclusion for myself is this......they are both worthy of respect.  But the e-reader is just more practical. So I will elaborate and explain my thoughts.

I am a Gen Xer. That group who always has one foot in the technology world and one foot in the old school, 80's, had to use Encyclopedias for reports world. So it's no surprise that when e-readers came out I was hesitant. I actually remember the first time someone mentioned theirs to me that I was like, "what?  Who would even buy that thing? No pages to turn? No book smell? No going to the LIBRARY??? It was unthinkable. Then I bought a paperwhite during a Black Friday sale and oh my goodness....the possibilities. I could get any book I wanted immediately. You could access a definition with a fingertip. Want to see the sequels for the book? Done...just click on the digital bookstore. Want to know exactly how many minutes left until you finish the book, according to your reading speed? Right there on the screen. It was awesome.  Until one day I realized the e-book I really wanted to read was going to cost more than a used copy or getting it for free from the library. So I bought the paperback book. And I changed my mind again.

Sitting on the couch holding the book, turning the pages and getting lost in the writing was familiar. Flipping throughout the book easily back and forth was more convenient than having to scroll or try to bookmark everything I wanted to see. I'd missed real books. Having a smart phone with all the apps and texts and social media made online reading sometimes feel like just another screen. Not to mention the constant "suggestions" of what to read next gave me anxiety. So many books I hadn't read were just sitting there taunting me. I began to develop the worst case of fear of missing out for a book nerd. 

The book was comforting and soothing. Did I really want to keep my Kindle or not?  But by the time I finished the 700 page tome of small print I knew I just couldn't do this all the time again. Especially with my aging eyes. So I made a personal decision: most of the time I would choose to read on my Kindle. But when I was feeling nostalgic or when the book was not on sale for a reasonable online price, I would choose the real paper book. And this is how I've done it ever since. 

Truth be told I do miss books and libraries. I've posted before about how screen time is affecting our children's ability to read chapter books and to concentrate for long periods of time. But in reverse, I think screens are great for the older population who aren't struggling with beginner reading skills. Being able to have added light, increase text size, or change fonts when needed is invaluable. As I get older there are books I won't even attempt in paperback form because I have to read them with a giant book light draped around my neck or sit right next to a window. And don't even get me started on reading in bed at night. My husband (who hates reading books) wouldn't be able to sleep with the lamp on. When I'm on my e-reader he doesn't care because I use the dark light mode. It's a win win for us both. 

I hope libraries and bookstores never go away completely. I hope people will still be able to browse used bookstores looking for paper treasures. But for me it's just not practical anymore to only count on the real thing. Maybe some day they will make an e-reader that feels more like a real book. 

Which do you prefer? E-readers or the real deal? Why? I want to know!


Saturday, August 27, 2022

To Hold the Crown by Jean Plaidy (Uneasy Lies the Head- UK Version)


Publication Date: September 28, 1984

Length: 416 pages

I just adore Jean Plaidy. Sometimes she gets a bad rap because her books are simplistic in dialogue and don't have much in the way of fictional characters. But these things are her strengths I say. When I was in high school I wanted to learn about The Tudors and her books were so good about combining accurate facts with the feel of a novel. I went away feeling entertained yet all of it was true so I was learning so much. She has covered so many Kings and Queens from England, France, and Italy it's hard to find someone royal she hasn't written about. For some reason I had never read this book before, I'd always started with Henry VIII or Elizabeth Tudor. There just aren't many historical fiction books on Henry VII, although that is changing recently. So this one was a must read for me this year.

The story begins in 1486 at the birth of Prince Arthur to Elizabeth of York, who is now Queen Elizabeth, wife of Henry Tudor. The two mothers-in-law, Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville are not making life easy for poor Elizabeth. Their rivalry is evident as they vie for who is the dowager Mother deserving of the respect of the court. Elizabeth gives birth amid a cloud of insecurity as to her husband's grasp on the throne but having a boy solidifies his standing a bit more and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. 

Henry is always insecure about his power as King. And with good reason. At every turn it seems someone is waiting to insert an imposter into his court and to take the crown he so dearly clings to. Several subplots alternate with life at the court and include Lambert Simnel, a boy convinced he is the rightful heir, the Duke of Clarence, and Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be the long lost Richard Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower believed killed by his Uncle Richard. Henry is doubtful of each claimant but insecurities plague him enough to want them eradicated. While trying to rule his kingdom, fill his coffers, and convince everyone his is the rightful King he presents as a harsh, cold, distant man. Elizabeth dutifully plays her role as companion and mother to their four children and realizes her place is in supporting the joining of the Houses of Tudor and York. But she is not always happy in her new life. Her mother is always working behind the scenes to make sure their family is given their due respect.

We eventually meet Katherine of Aragon and experience life through her eyes at court as she struggles through the death of Arthur and the wooing by Young Henry Tudor. As they work to come to an understanding we see the twilight of Henry VII's reign and his life's work to hold the crown coming to fruition. 

I absolutely loved this book! It is one of my favorites by Plaidy. I knew the story of the Tudors well long before I read it but somehow she always manages to add little tidbits I hadn't heard before or to insert a twist I hadn't even thought of. When I first started reading it I assumed (based on the cover) it would focus heavily on Elizabeth of York and her viewpoint. It really doesn't. We are privy to the thoughts of Henry and Katherine much more than Elizabeth and she becomes more of a minor character as the story progresses. Plaidy manages to take a story that has been retold countless times and make it seem fresh. An amazing feat considering how much material there is out there about the Tudors. 

I read a review on Amazon that said though Plaidy will never be compared to a more detailed author like Sharon Penman, she has a style that is a comfortable read you can enjoy like putting on a pair of old sneakers. I couldn't agree more. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Why I Love Historical Fiction


In my review of Gone With the Wind I stated that it was the greatest novel of all time. I read it (or at least tried to) for the first time when I was twelve years old and it really stuck with me. I was also just crazy about a series called Sunfire that featured different time periods with the main character living through an important event.  So it kind of surprises me that throughout my twenties and thirties I not only didn't read historical fiction, I actually loathed most of it. I recall searching for books and scorning the ones that weren't actual history books or biographies. I ate up true crime, politics, and courtroom dramas like the ones written by John Grisham. And I still think all of those books added deep knowledge and value to my life. But I just couldn't bring myself to read anything considered both historical and fiction. Fast forward fifteen to twenty years and now it is practically all I read. 

I used to think the dialogue and character interactions were cheesy. And sometimes in certain books they are. I also used to be frustrated with the idea that the historical figures didn't actually say or do some of the things in the book. The idea that real live human beings that lived years ago were talking to fictional characters drove me nuts! It just felt so.....wrong. I mean, if it wasn't all true then what on earth was the point? Wasn't I reading to learn something? The "fiction" part of historical fiction was what made me ignore the genre for years. I just couldn't accept the idea that something in the book didn't really happen. When I started reading Outlander that all changed because I'd finally found a book that incorporated history with characters that were compelling enough on their own to make me want to see what happened to them.

And that is the key I think to good historical fiction. It's that perfect balance between using the backdrop of a real historical event to plop down people (real or otherwise) who are themselves engaged in interesting enough drama to want to know their story as well as the history they are living through. If either one of these elements are out of balance, it ruins the book. But when an author does this dance well it is the best kind of book.

Sometimes I've tried an historical fiction book and it is masquerading as a book set in a time period with almost nothing to distinguish it from the present day. Sure there are bits of language, culture, and scenery thrown in but very little. The characters often do things or say things no one would have said or done and it just comes off as insincere. When done well, good historical fiction transports you to the time in a way no non fiction history book can. And that is how I started to transform my dislike of historical fiction. I found that even if I knew a time period well through facts, I didn't really feel immersed in the era. Knowing someone behaved a certain way is very different than hearing it through created conversations, or becoming attached to characters as people instead of the subject of a biography. 

The irony of it all is that now I find it hard to go back to straight history books. I still enjoy "just the facts" but it feels kind of boring. I've let my imagination run free with historical fiction and now I can't get enough of it. The biggest problem I face is that there are so many books with so many sequels in this genre I will die before I read them all. I guess that's not a bad thing....I'll never run out of something great to read!  What do you think? Is historical fiction your favorite genre? Has the answer to this question changed over time for you too?

Friday, August 19, 2022

Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats 1913-1914 by Christina Croft


Publication Date:  July 26, 2011

Length: 360 pages

I first discovered Christina Croft when I read her biography of Princess Alice, Queen Victoria's daughter, and the mother of Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. I thought it was interesting that she had written a whole book on the subject of Alice because I hadn't found another one. With her Shattered Crowns series she takes on the subject of World War I in a unique way and is one of the few authors who has written historical fiction about the Great War that isn't straight battles and strategy. I wanted to know about the major players, their thoughts, their inner struggles, and also the why behind the causes of the war. I feel like World War II is overrepresented in print and media and World War I is often forgotten. So many people can tell you who the "bad" guys are for World War II but have almost no understanding of who they were in the first war. Croft puts a very real, human face to the monarchs and rulers of the day and how their demise came about.

The Scapegoats is part one of the series. It begins in 1913, the year before that fateful summer of 1914 and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Their deaths would set off a chain of events that spiral into war. Franz Ferdinand and his Uncle, Emperor Franz Josef, disagree on the marriage of Ferdinand to Sophie, a commoner, and the inability of their children to inherit the throne of Austria due to their union. It is a first glimpse into the ruling dynasties that will play a part in the story. Franz Ferdinand is the face of modernity and change while his Uncle is staunchly aligned with the past and its structured rules and norms. 

Despite the fact that most of the monarchies of Europe were related through their grandmother, Queen Victoria, it does not seem to create a spirit of love and harmony.  Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany is portrayed as a man who is in constant rivalry and insecurity with his cousins, Tsar Nicholas and King George V. Queen Marie of Romania seeks to foster peace between many of her relatives to no avail.  We follow the thoughts and motivations of each as Croft skillfully switches between chapters covering differing locations. The background to the war builds throughout the book as we see conflicts between the cousins become serious breakdowns of communication and petty jealousies are resurrected. The slow burn of simmering frustration continues and though it is hoped by all that deadly conflict will be avoided, sadly it isn’t. 

Croft posits a theory that Kaiser Wilhelm has been greatly maligned and that he is a sympathetic figure. She recreates his inner turmoil and desperation as he waits for his cousin Nicholas to come around to his side and way of thinking. Most of the material I had read about Wilhelm up until this book had been from the point of view of his relatives who saw him as haughty and arrogant, creating trouble wherever he went. Here he is to be pitied and seen as someone who tried everything to stop the coming conflict. It is an interesting, new way to see him. One I had never considered. Croft does an excellent job of establishing evidence for her case. I found myself researching things he said or did many times because I was surprised I hadn't heard about it before.

You really have to read all three books to appreciate this series. After book one you only reach the stalemate between Germany and Russia and aren't even fully into the war yet. The next two books will take you through the war and its aftermath. Croft's ideas about who is actually pulling the strings and why are intriguing and again, something I hadn't thought about much. Whether or not you agree with her is irrelevant because the story is compelling on its own. She makes you feel like you know these people personally and there are none who are portrayed as total villians. Rather I ended up extremely sad for all of them and for humanity, knowing that these cousins, aunts, and uncles couldn't find a way to avoid the destruction of so many lives. This was the first book on this subject that gave me a clear understanding of it all. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

My Top Auto Buy Authors (What the heck is that?)

I learn something new all the time while writing this blog. That's why it's so much fun for me! I read an article yesterday called, "Who Are Your Auto Buy Authors?" I had no idea what it was referring to. Apparently in the book loving world "auto buy" authors are those whose books one will buy without even reading the cover, reviews, or the jacket. You just know you have to have the book based on who wrote it. I have been doing this all my life but never knew it was a condition with a name, lol. 

I started thinking about who my auto buy authors are. It has definitely changed over the years which is totally normal. As a teen and young twenty something I used to heavily read true crime and politics. Then as I got older I gravitated to classics and history. The last decade my tastes have moved into historical fiction. So that is where I wanted to create my list from.  Below are my top auto buy authors. Who are yours? Did you even know such a thing existed?

  • Anne Perry (Victorian Mysteries)-  I discovered her books years ago when I was merging my love of true crime, history, and fiction. She rarely disappoints and if I see one of her books it's hard not to add it to my Kindle. I know I'm getting a solid mystery to solve, combined with Victorian manners, and dark, creepy suspense. 
  • Sharon Kay Penman (Medieval Period)Anyone who has read my book reviews knows this is not a shocker. What's funny is I actually didn't much care for her the first time I read The Sunne In Splendour. I thought it was tedious and dragged. But I kept going and by the time I got to the end I realized I loved it! The "tedium" was really details that added to the richness and thoroughness of her writing. Now when I get a chance to read one of her books I enjoy savoring every word. I have learned so much about Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Crusades, and Richard I from her books.
  • Ellis Peters (Cadfael Chronicles- Medieval Mysteries)- These are just the best! I feel so behind because there are twenty and I'm still only on book four. They are short but pack so much witty dialogue and excitement in them that they are a joy to read. Cadfael the Monk solves mysteries in his world of Shrewsbury, England circa 1100's. Combining medieval history with murders and intrigue you can't go wrong with one of these books. 
  • Diana Gabaldon (Outlander Series)- My husband would probably fall over from shock that I didn't list her first. I've been obsessed with all things Outlander since 2003 when I picked up the first book. I had never heard of Jacobites, Culloden, or Bonnie Prince Charlie until reading Outlander. Now I can't get enough of these subjects. Combining time travel with history is always a win and this author is the queen of that genre. I hope she goes on writing about Jamie and Claire and their crew forever.
  • Jean Plaidy (Kings and Queens)-  I discovered this author in high school in my public library. I read her book about Queen Elizabeth II and was hooked. I will probably die before I finish all her books as this lady was a prolific writer who penned hundreds of books about every King and Queen from William the Conqueror to Queen Victoria. She also has books about French, Italian, and Spanish royalty that are amazing. Simplistic in writing and dialogue they nonetheless are wonderful to read if you are learning about the historical figure and want just the truth. No embellishments. She tells the story of the lives of these royals in an entertaining yet factual way and you learn so much.
  • Alison Weir (Tudors, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Plantagenets)- I started with her classic book The Six Wives of Henry VIII which is a biography of the wives. She started writing historical fiction novels about the same queens which I have yet to read. Her book on the vanished Plantagenet princes was just as compelling. If you want books that are just straight history she is great for this. 
  • Christina Croft (Victorian Era and early 20th century history)-  Her Shattered Crowns series is historical fiction that covers WWI in an easy to understand way and allows you to get to know the major players as real people. I have also read her biographies about Queen Victoria's daughters and granddaughters. She is the place to go to for all things Queen Victoria.

I'm sure I'll add to this list in the future but this is a snapshot of authors I would consider my top buys. I can't think of any one of their books I haven't finished once started and when I see any on sale I will buy them. Don't even need to read the reviews, they are rock solid already for me!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Jane Seymour Conspiracy (The Marquess House Saga Book Four) by Alexandra Walsh


Publication Date: July 18, 2022

Length:  401 Pages

Thank you to Net Galley for loaning me this book for review. 

This book looked really intriguing to me just based on the title and cover. It is the fourth in a series and usually I'm a stickler for starting with book one. But it was new and I am trying out Net Galley so I wanted to just jump in and read this one now. 

The story is a time shift going back and forth between 2020 and 1527-1536. The modern day timeline consists of twin sisters Perdita and Piper who have inherited Marquess House from their now deceased grandmother and all that goes with it. The ladies, along with their love interests, have already been through the ringer with attempts on their lives and shady villians in the first three books and are now thrust into another quest for the truth that will cause them to be in grave danger again. 

The story centers around Jane Seymour who comes to the court of Henry VIII as one of Katherine of Aragon's ladies in waiting. She watches as the King begins his pursuit of Anne Boleyn and his abandonment of his Queen. Jane is unaware that his eyes will eventually settle on her. The King is determined to produce a son to carry on his dynasty and the story centers around team Katherine and team Anne as the two factions work to decide who will prevail in the Tudor wars. Jane is caught in the middle as Anne's cousin and watches as the Boleyn side works behind the scenes to secure their place within the royal court.

Meanwhile, back in 2020, the sisters have found a new mystery with the arrival of The Pentagram Manuscript. They work to uncover the hidden messages inside that reveal a shocking new twist on Jane Seymour's true character and motives. It seems she may not have been the innocent, docile lady that history has recorded. Jane's role in the relationship of Henry and Anne, her own personal love story with another man and possible children of her own reveal a hidden secret that could change the course of history. Piper and Perdita are also being pursued by their crazed cousin, Xavier who is determined to see his own daughter installed as owner of Marquess House. Their lives are in danger and they have to use their wits to stay one step ahead of it all.

I enjoyed this book and thought it reminded me a bit of The DaVinci Code. It is not as in depth as that book but it has elements of the spy novel genre. Clever clues, pursuing bad guys, intelligence agencies all factor in the modern day time period and the almost too perfect to believe rescuing the main characters at every turn. The historical parts are clearly contrived although the author is accurate with dates and major events. You have to suspend belief to go along with it but it was fun to fact check and see that some of the theories about Jane might have been possible. 

I found the names of the modern characters to be a bit cheesy and some of the dialogue was silly. Just when I thought it was getting really complex the sisters would share a moment that felt a bit like YA fiction. This was really the only parts of the book I objected to. There was a lot of "Perds" and "Pipes" which got annoying quickly. The mystery combined with history was fun so I didn't let the other stuff distract me from finishing it. I'm not sure if and when I'll read the other three but they look interesting. They concern mysteries involving Catherine Howard, Elizabeth Tudor, and Arbella Stuart (although I'm not familiar with her). It would also be fun to know all the details of just how the twins inherited that beautifully described mansion in the first place. I'm sure I'll read them eventually just to find out!

Monday, August 8, 2022

Back To School: Classic Novels For Kids


I love back to school time. My job as a reading interventionist lets me work with kids all year on their reading skills....dream job! I often lament that I don't have enough time to read whole books with my student groups the way I did in the classroom. I miss really digging into a novel and its characters because I saw so much growth and excitement when we did. Kids wanted to read the sequels or books by the same author and many times it spurred them to try books on their own when they didn't want to read much the year before. But I've started trying excerpts from classic books if I don't have time for the whole novel and I've been pleasantly surprised at the results. 

Kids who are behind are often just given practice passages to work on skills and while that is sometimes necessary in school it doesn't do much to ignite their love of books. The more they love books, the more they will read, and the more they read, the better they will be at it! So when I can, I use parts of a really solid, well written time tested book to work on comprehension and hope it will make them want to read the novel in its entirety. Below are some of my favorite classic kids books. If they are a bit above their level yet, consider finding the audiobook and letting them read along with it while they listen.