Friday, September 1, 2023

A King Ensnared: A Historical Novel of Scotland (The Stewart Chronicles Book One) by J.R. Tomlin


Publication Date: November 16, 2013

Length: 288 pages

As I wrote on Sunday in my Stacking the Shelves post, I have seen Tomlin's books everywhere for years. I have had her Black Douglas series in my Kindle for a very long time. For some reason I just never was very interested in trying them. Probably because I've been immersed in the Crusades and the Plantagenets this time period in Scottish history just wasn't something I wanted to delve into. But looking for something different I decided to give this book a try. 

Young James Stewart is heartbroken at the death of his older brother, David Stewart, starved to death in a dungeon by his evil Uncle, the Duke of Albany who is plotting to seize power for himself. King Robert III is dying and in order to save James the decision is made to remove him from his scheming relatives' grasp. Before he can be taken to safety in France, he is captured at sea by pirates who take him to London where he is imprisoned by King Henry IV.  

Although he is deeply unhappy about his situation, James is nonetheless treated somewhat well by the King who resolves to educate him and treat him with some dignity. James grows to accept that he will probably not be let out anytime soon and as the years pass he tries to do the best he can with his frustrating circumstances. He trains as a knight, writes poetry, falls in love, and longs for Scotland and his birthright. When Henry IV dies and his merciless son Henry V becomes King, James finds himself often balancing a tightrope of demanding the respect he feels he deserves as Scottish royalty, while trying to hang on and not incur the wrath of the English monarch. He feels if he can be patient and focused enough, he might just find his way back to his homeland and all that awaits him there.

I learned a lot about this area of history that I didn't already know. I had read about James and his poetry but didn't really know all the background of his imprisonment and his interaction with both Henry IV and V. You really became fond of James due to his loyalty to his duty and his unwillingness to cave when faced with multiple attempts by the English to renounce his crown and be set free. James is very clear that he desperately longs for that freedom but will not be bought cheaply at the expense of his country. I thought he showed a lot of bravery and courage for his young age and know I couldn't fare as well as he did.

The book was just okay though. It had enough positives for me to recommend it if you are interested in the Stewarts and their early back story. And the author does a good job of describing life in the time and place she sets the story in. There is enough here for those who like battles as well as personal stories and like I stated above, you do become somewhat attached to James and his suffering. Unfortunately though it did become a bit slow and dragged as it went on. I found myself skimming towards the end. I know the next couple of books in the series deal more with life after his imprisonment and as he becomes King of Scotland so they might be better. There were too many battles and fighting for my taste too here but if you like that sort of detail it might be your thing. I'm not sure when I'll read the next one but the nice thing is they are fairly short, easy reads so you can pick it up and follow it without the need for deep concentration. Overall, a good, solid, well researched history story with a personal connection to the main character. 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #12


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 have run across J.R. Tomlin books many times and had just not been interested. I'm not much into books that spend a lot of time in the minutiae of battles and wars. I think I assumed this was the style of her books but boy was I wrong! This is the first book in the Stewart trilogy set in the early 1400's and I am really enjoying it and learning a lot about Scottish history. Very entertaining and I hope to continue with this series. She has several others that look just as fantastic. 

This is book one of the Gabriel Taverner Mystery series by Alys Clare. Set in 17th century Devon, England it looks like an original premise with the main character being a former ship's surgeon who is now a country doctor. He ends up involved in solving a murder and investigating clues that lead him to the world of the silk trade. I love finding books set in this time period and know nothing about the town or the silk trade. So hopefully this is entertaining.

While reading Trouble in Nuala last week I looked into other books by this author. In addition to her historical mysteries set in Sri Lanka in the 1930's she also previously wrote historical fiction set in Paris in the 1800's. The two settings are so vastly different I wasn't sure I had the same person but apparently she wrote this set of books first, called The Paris Chronicles. I bought this first one and hope to tackle it soon. I enjoyed the first of her mystery series of books.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Trouble In Nuala: The Inspector de Silva Mysteries (Book One) by Harriet Steel

Publication Date: August 10, 2016

Length: 202 pages

Last week I reviewed a book that was a historical mystery set in India. When I stumbled across this book (thanks book blog reviewer Cathy at Between the Lines!) set in Sri Lanka circa 1930's I was glad to see another cozy series featured in that part of the world.

Native born Inspector de Silva is living the good life in the fictional town of Nuala on the island of Ceylon (later named Sri Lanka.) He and his English born wife Jane have a lovely home with a peaceful garden and calm ambience away from the bustling city life of nearby Colombo. His small police station consists of himself and two other assistants, who spend their time with minor disruptions to country life, like wandering ponies and petty theft complaints. 

De Silva is drawn into a case involving a surly tea plantation owner, Charles Renshaw, and one of his workers. It seems the owner was not well liked by many and is accused of excessive corporal punishment to one of the many poor, destitute factory men, most of whom are local born natives with few opportunities to better their lives. De Silva sympathizes with their plight but knows he must tread lightly, as the ruling class has the advantage and he doesn't want retaliation to be a problem for the injured man. As de Silva investigates, Renshaw is found dead in one of the tanks in the factory. At first it seems to be a natural death related to his heart condition. But slowly clues seem to indicate that it was in fact murder. 

There are several suspects that seem plausible, including Renshaw's widow Madeleine, the abused worker's pro bono lawyer, Mr. Tragore, and Renshaw's business partner, Mr. Leung. All come with unique challenges for de Silva in his investigation as they either have seemingly sufficient alibis or in the case of the widow, the inability to physically have carried out the crime. De Silva also begins to wonder if more than one person is conspiring with another and leaves all options on the table. He feels under pressure to prove his small town police operation can handle the case as well as those in the big city. As he sleuths and bides his time he uncovers the answers while managing to maintain his sense of humor and charm.

I enjoyed this story and I especially liked de Silva's character. He is devoted to his wife, loves his culture and home but manages to appreciate the contributions of his British born wife's culture as well. His style is patient yet dogged and he has compassion for each person he is investigating, though in the end he is not afraid to play hardball to get his suspect. I thought the author did a good job of making him relatable and realistic.

There was an emphasis on food in this story and I imagine it was because it lent itself to giving the reader an authentic sense of the culture and atmosphere. Every time a meal was mentioned it was in detail and made me want to try it. But it didn't feel out of place and added to the setting.

It was a very short story and honestly the plot wasn't terribly detailed or hard to figure out but it did have some twists that made it interesting. As far as cozy mysteries go, it was a good one. I want to read book two because the main character is someone I enjoyed getting to know. The town of Nuala is charming and idyllic and sounds like a great place to live!



Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Winter List by S.G. MacLean


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa  at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Winter List by S.G. MacLean. I have only read one other book by this author, The Bookseller of Inverness, . I have not read any of the Damian Seeker series yet and so this being book six I probably won't get to it for awhile, if ever with all I have ahead of it. But I wanted to feature it for those who love the series. Hoping you've found something you can't wait to read!

September 7, 2023

Historical Mysteries/Historical Thrillers

Description courtesy of Amazon books

By the summer of 1660 the last remnants of the Republic have been swept away and the Stuarts have been restored under their king, Charles II. A list of regicides believed to be involved in the death of Charles I is drawn up. Gruesome executions begin to take place and the hunt intensifies for those who have gone into hiding at home or abroad.

Although not a regicide, staunch Republican Damian Seeker is on a list of traitors to the king. Royalist spy, Lady Anne Winter, is employed to find evidence of guilt or innocence among the names on this Winter List. Seeker has fled England but his beloved daughter Manon remains, married to Seeker's friend, the lawyer Lawrence Ingolby, and living in York.

As the conduit to her father and to others on the Winter List and surrounded by spies and watchers, Manon lives in constant danger and fear of discovery. One of those spies is closer than even she could have imagined.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Stacking the Shelves #11


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 just love Kindle credits. My family (or me) is always wanting something on Amazon and I have it delivered on Thursdays and receive credits which get me new books! It's a win win. This book was free with my Kindle credits and I read a wonderful review on Between the Lines book blog about another book in the series, which got me interested in this first book. So thanks Cathy at that blog for suggesting it. The cover, setting, and time period drew me in. How many books are historical mysteries set in the 1930's in Sri Lanka? Very unique.

This was a Book Bub find and while I didn't buy it yet (because I'm cheap and it's not on sale!) I thought it looked interesting enough to download the sample. My rule is that I read a sample and if I make it all the way through and still want to know what happens, I buy or borrow it and read it. This is a series some of my fellow book bloggers have covered in reviews. It's book one of the Crispin Guest Mysteries and I think the time period is pretty unusual. He is a former knight, living in London in the middle ages around the year 1380. Not a lot of stories with that hook so I might need to give this one a try.

I am always looking for books that take place during the period of the Crusader states. They are hard to find. This one is during the very exciting period of Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and the epic battles for the recapture of the Holy Land. 

The publisher synopsis says "Pillars of Light is a powerful and moving novel about the triumph of the human spirit against all the odds. It will delight fans of Philippa Gregory, Ken Follett and Diana Gabaldon." That is enough to sell me on it. I'm still trying to finish Penman's Lionheart so this one may have to come after. But I didn't want it to get away.

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Malabar Hotel Mystery: An Ellie Blaine 1920's Mystery (Book Six) by E.M. Bolton


Publication Date: March 27, 2023

Length: 181 pages

I am always looking for mysteries or historical fiction set in India, preferably prior to WW II. I find the setting exotic and fascinating and I love to see differences in British and Indian culture depicted. So this cover, title, location was one mystery I wanted to try. I knew going in it was short and probably wouldn't have time to delve deeply into more than a cute mystery but since I've joined the cozy mystery reading challenge it fit the bill. I'm having a very busy week starting school so short books are very welcome right now! This is book six and I haven't read anything else in this series but it's the only one set in India so I tried it first. 

Ellie Blaine is worried about her friend and love interest Dr. Richard Lindley. He is missing in Cochin, India and she has left England to go and search for him. She knows it is not like him to have quit writing her and is sure he has met with foul play. When she arrives, her suspicions are confirmed by what she finds in his hotel room. His watch, a gift from Ellie is found among his belongings, and as he promised her he'd never remove it, she feels certain this, along with mysteriously unfinished letters detailing a supposed crime he was involved in, are odd clues that point to something sinister befalling him. 

As she talks with hotel staff and his hospital colleagues, Ellie is unsure who is being candid and who is possibly withholding information. Her friend Georgie arrives, and having worked on previous cases with her before, begins to search with Ellie. The two women encounter some perilous situations which are designed to throw them off the trail, but stick to their intuition and continue. Is Richard guilty? Did he leave on his own? Or is there more to the story?

The first half of the book was the best. Descriptions of the city and its surroundings looked promising and I liked the way the characters spoke to each other, the dialogue sounding a lot like an old movie. Hoping the culture and atmosphere would continue throughout the book I kept going and I also thought the mystery would intensify and become more involved. Unfortunately, I found that about a third of the way through things started to fade out. It began to feel like a book that could have taken place almost anywhere at anytime. It was as if the author forgot it is supposed to be a historical mystery set in another country during another time. The mystery part was just okay, but not terribly exciting. 

This book felt somewhat amateurish and being so short at less than 200 pages, it rambled more than it should have. By the time the resolution happened I'd already figured out the gist of it so the excitement just wasn't there. Some cozy mysteries have that extra thing that makes them cute and also contain a little depth. This one just didn't have enough there to make me care about Ellie and Georgie. It had a good premise but didn't deliver. Maybe the other books are better and they take place back in England. I'm not sure if I'll read another one but I am always willing to try an author twice just to be sure.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Royal Windsor Secret by Christine Wells


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa  at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Royal Windsor Secret by Christine Wells. Besides having a beautiful cover and intriguing title that made me want to stop and check it out, the premise is very original. The idea of a secret love child between the Prince of Wales and a scandalous woman? Who grows up an orphan in Cairo at the famous Shepheard's Hotel? Fascinating idea. Happy Reading! Hope you've found a book you can't wait for this week :) 

September 12, 2023

Historical Fiction/Women's Fiction

Description courtesy of Net Galley

Could she be the secret daughter of the Prince of Wales? In this dazzling novel by the author of Sisters of the Resistance, a young woman seeks to discover the truth about her mysterious past. Perfect for readers of Shana Abe, Bryn Turnbull, and Marie Benedict. 

Cleo Davenport has heard the whispers: the murmured conversations that end abruptly the second she walks into a room. Told she was an orphan, she knows the rumor—that her father is none other than the Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne. And at her childhood home at Cairo’s Shepheard’s Hotel, where royals, rulers, and the wealthy live, they even called her “The Princess.”

But her life is turned upside down when she turns seventeen. Sent to London under the chaperonage of her very proper aunt, she’s told it’s time to learn manners and make her debut. But Cleo’s life can’t be confined to a ballroom. She longs for independence and a career as a jewelry designer for Cartier, but she cannot move forward until she finds out about her past.

Determined to unlock the truth, Cleo travels from London, back to Cairo, and then France, where her investigations take a shocking turn into the world of the Parisian demi-monde, and a high-class courtesan whose scandalous affair with the young Prince of Wales threatened to bring down the British monarchy long before anyone had heard of Wallis Simpson. 


Friday, August 11, 2023

No Graves As Yet: World War I Book 1 by Anne Perry

Publication Date: August 26, 2003

Length: 384 pages

Anne Perry is one of my favorite authors. I can always turn to one of her books if I'm going through a reading slump and need to jump start my interest in books again. I have been reading her Thomas Pitt, William Monk, and Christmas mysteries for over 20 years. I don't know why I took so long to read this first book in her WWI series because I've had this book for years. At first I thought it wasn't a mystery but it is. Also, it combines some history of the war which is always a plus. So I'm glad I finally decided to give this a try.

Joseph Reavley is a Cambridge professor who has enjoyed a so far idyllic life along with this brother, sister, and parents, all who are oblivious in the summer of 1914 just how much their world is about to change. He receives shocking news that his parents have been killed in what appears to be an automobile accident and his brother Matthew who is in the intelligence service, lets him know that their father had planned to deliver an important document that could greatly impact England and the world. His father, being a retired member of Parliament, was in a position to see that the information ended up with those who could protect the nation from further harm and ridicule. 

As Joseph and Matthew begin to investigate the car crash they realize it was likely foul play and find the timing very questionable. They hesitate to share their findings with anyone, including their sister as they don't want to alert the wrong people to their discoveries before they've had a chance to determine what happened. Simultaneously, one of Joseph's promising University students, Sebastian, is killed and his death also begins to appear suspicious. Not knowing it all might be related, Joseph, trying to work through his personal grief at all the tragedies, while sleuthing, along with the realization that the world is on the brink of war, is cracking apart. He doesn't know who to turn to for help, who to believe, or what to do but he knows something is terribly wrong, close to home, and with the nation and the world as well.

This book was very different from any of Perry's previous ones. She still has the mystery to solve and spends time in the characters' heads, showing them pondering through deep questions and trying to make sense of things but this book felt more like historical fiction than crime. Knowing it is part of an ongoing series that sees each year of the war and the Reavley siblings part in it means I realized that it is a family saga as well. The actual mystery felt a bit more like drama than suspense as Joseph and Matthew talk to friends of the family and officials about what everyone thinks might have happened.

I can see the positives in the book and I can appreciate Perry trying something new, but I'm not sure this series is for me. I was hoping for a bit more history with the war thrown in and the way it developed felt like it dragged, rehashing the same thoughts over and over again. Some of the way the characters behaved was also a little melodramatic, with too much agonizing over what to do next. There wasn't the feel of a "detective" that you get with the Pitt and Monk novels, nor was there the Christmas spirit that runs through her holiday books. Reading the comments I know some people really love this series and have become attached to the characters so I'm sure it continues to improve. I also thought the resolution was very far fetched. It was surprising to see the answers behind it all because it really stretched the imagination to think it could be true. 

I'm not sure if and when I'll read the next book in the series, Shoulder the Sky. I already bought it on sale so I have it and will probably tackle it eventually. But this will go last on my list for her series for me. The others are worth your time first if you are looking to start reading her works.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Kingmaker's Women by Julia A. Hickey


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa  at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Kingmaker's Women by Julia A. Hickey. I am drawn like a magnet to anything Wars of the Roses and the daughters of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, are never a boring topic. This book focuses on Warwick's wife, Anne Beauchamp, and her daughters, Isabel and Anne Neville, exclusively and delves into whether or not they were pawns in their father's war games or women who used their own wiles to exert influence over their situation. It looks fascinating. Happy Wednesday reading everyone!

August 30, 2023 (The publisher may have changed the date according to Amazon)

History/Middle Ages History

Description courtesy of Net Galley

They were supposed to be pious, fruitful and submissive. The wealthiest women in the kingdom, Anne Beauchamp and her daughters were at the heart of bitter inheritance disputes. Well educated and extravagant, they lived in style and splendour but were forced to navigate their lives around the unpredictable clashes of the Cousins’ War. Were they pawns or did they exert an influence of their own?

The twists and turns of Fate as well as the dynastic ambitions of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick saw Isabel married without royal permission to the Yorkist heir presumptive, George Duke of Clarence. Anne Neville was married to Edward of Lancaster, the only son of King Henry VI when her father turned his coat. One or the other was destined to become queen. Even so, the Countess of Warwick, heiress to one of the richest titles in England, could not avoid being declared legally dead so that her sons-in-law could take control of her titles and estates.

Tragic Isabel, beloved by her husband, would experience the dangers of childbirth and on her death, her midwife was accused of witchcraft and murder. Her children both faced a traitor’s death because of their Plantagenet blood. Anne Neville became the wife of Richard, Duke of Gloucester having survived a forced march, widowhood and the ambitions of Isabel’s husband. When Gloucester took the throne as Richard III, she would become Shakespeare’s tragic queen. The women behind the myth suffered misfortune and loss but fulfilled their domestic duties in the brutal world they inhabited and fought by the means available to them for what they believed to be rightfully their own.

The lives of Countess Anne and her daughters have much to say about marriage, childbirth and survival of aristocratic women in the fifteenth century.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Blood On the Tiber by B. M. Howard (The Gracchus and Vanderville Mysteries Book Two)


Publication Date: August 10, 2023

Length: 401 pages

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of this book.

This book takes place during the era after the French Revolution and before the pinnacle of the Napoleonic Wars. It is not a time period covered as commonly in historical fiction and the setting being Italy it is even more obscure. I had not read book one in the series yet but you don't have to as the author gives enough background on the characters to understand the story.

Felix Gracchus has been suffering from malaria and has awakened in the French embassy realizing how ill he has been and frustrated at his slow recovery. He is grateful to the nurse who has treated him throughout his condition and wants to find her to thank her. She has been difficult to locate and unbeknownst to Gracchus, this will resurface later as he becomes involved in a mysterious case involving a family inheritance. 

Gracchus is glad to find out his friend and younger former colleague, Lieutenant Vanderville has been assigned to the Embassy and will be infiltrating the group of rebels who are deemed Patriots to the revolutionary cause running underground in Rome and keeping an eye on their often violent activities. The two men are as different as night and day but have an underlying respect for each other due to prior involvement in a case. 

As Gracchus continues to recover and get out more, he and Vanderville are often in the company of Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon and ambassador of the French Republic to Rome. They get to know Joseph's wife, mother-in-law, sister Caroline, and sister-in-law, Desiree and accompany them in certain settings. Also often present at dinner or events is Cardinal Cesarini, an ambitious man in charge of the Pope's police unit, who will use every advantage to get ahead in the political, religious world of Rome. 

When Gracchus is mysteriously attacked and works to find out who is behind it he is drawn to the home of a strange, reclusive widow, living in squalor in a home on her stepson's property, who also happens to be the Cardinal himself. The woman tells him the story of how she came to be at the mercy of him and that she wants Gracchus to help her retrieve a painting which will reveal clues to an inheritance she says rightfully belongs to her own biological children and herself. Initially, Gracchus believes he can help the woman and that the case is intriguing, but not especially dangerous. As things progress, he realizes it goes much deeper and darker than he ever imagined. He will need his friend Vanderville and a lot of skills to unravel the detailed story and to get to the bottom of the twisted truth.

The level of historical detail and vocabulary is impressive in this novel. I found myself having to slow down a bit and concentrate the way I might in a classic book. Having read a lot of quick, cozy mysteries lately, it is challenging to pick up a story such as this and find I'm needing to even re-read parts and look at the cast of characters to keep everything straight. This is not light reading for sure. The descriptions of Rome and the underground revolutionary movement are well done and informative in a way I'd never seen in another book, making this one of the most unique historical mysteries I've read yet. 

While I admire the author's research and writing, I wasn't thrilled with the ending. It was a bit macabre for my taste.  I guess I like my mysteries to end on a more pleasant note. Again, maybe that comes from reading too many cozy mysteries, but readers should know that this isn't for the faint of heart! It is gritty and dark and shocking when you get to the conclusion. 

Overall I'd say this book was well researched, articulate, and interesting but I probably won't be reading another in this series due to the graphic nature of it. It just wasn’t my style.