27 March 2017

BLESSOP'S WIFE by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

(Published in Australia as The King's Shadow)

Amazon UK £3.59 £11.99
Amazon US $3.48 $17.99
Amazon CA $23.51

 Mystery / Romance /Adventure
15th Century

It is 15th century England and King Edward IV wears the crown, but no king rules unchallenged. Often it is those closest to him who are the unexpected danger. When the king dies suddenly without clear cause, rumour replaces fact – and Andrew Cobham is working behind the scenes.

Tyballis was forced into marriage with her abusive neighbour. When she escapes, she meets Andrew and an uneasy alliance forms with a motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children eventually joining the game.

And as the country is brought to the brink of war, Andrew and Tyballis discover something neither thought was possible. Their friendship takes them in unusual directions as Tyballis becomes embroiled in Andrew’s work and the danger which surrounds him.’

From line one, page one, of this entertaining novel, we are treated to action, romance and a story-line that I found exceptionally convincing in this tale of conflict between York and Lancaster.  The sights, the smells, the tastes, the sounds – the descriptive writing brings the period vividly alive. There is violence and squalor, poverty and hardship, but also loyalty, steadfastness, a will to survive and, eventually, respect and love. 

Richard III is only a background character here, which is refreshing as it makes a nice change to not read about him but concentrate on ordinary 15th century people instead.

The main 'goodie' characters are very three-dimensional, highly believable and likeable. Mind you, our heroine goes through the wringer with assaults, attempted rapes imprisonments and such, but is that not what makes a heroine into a heroine? Her ability to survive whatever horrors are thrown at her?  The hero is equally as fascinating, a man of many surprises.

London, the setting for this tale, is as much a character as are the people who populate the city and the story. We see it as it was back in the 1400s: squalid, smelly, dirty, depressing and poverty-riddled. I am (was) a Londoner and I thought I knew a lot about its history – I know even more now, although the narrative here is so well written you don’t realise that you are picking up information as you go along.

I was satisfied at enjoying a good story when I reached the last page, but sorry, too, to have to say farewell to such a motley crew of interesting characters. I'll certainly be reading more of Barbara Gaskell Denvil's novels.

© Helen Hollick

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26 March 2017

It is the last Sunday of March which means...

No reviews on a Sunday 
but today is your day for our
Reader's Voice Page
where you, the reader can have your 4pennyworth of views

Click HERE to be redirected 
C overs? Are they important? Yes or No?
by Anna Belfrage

  • Cover of Month announced on the FIRST Sunday of the month
  • Book of the Month announced on the SECOND Sunday in the month
  • Guest Spot - posted on the THIRD Sunday in the month
  • Reader's Voice - posted on the LAST Sunday in the month  

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25 March 2017

The SHINING CITY by Joan Fallon

Amazon UK £4.49 £11.99
Amazon US $5.57 $15.82
Amazon CA $20.94

Family Saga
10th Century

The Al-Andalus Series Book #1
The Shining City is a wonderful story of tenth-century southern Spain, and of the city of Madinat al Zahra which for such a brief time did indeed, shine, becoming a rival to the capital, Cordoba.
Exploring the rise of the Caliph and Moorish rule, the novel incorporates a wonderful feel of this exotic period of history, skilfully bringing in the culture, history, and religion as well as beautifully written descriptions of every-day life.

The research was obviously undertaken with great affection and 'fact' is seamlessly interwoven into the fictional narrative. The characters are likeable and believable, with their hopes, dreams, fears and ambitions becoming as important to the reader as they are for them. We experience their loves and tragedies with perfect pacing, the story as a whole is most atmospheric – get out your sun-tan lotion for the authenticity feels so real you may need it!
© Mary Chapple
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24 March 2017


Amazon UK £4.83  £8.99
Amazon US $5.98  $12.55
Amazon CA $16.51

Mystery / Crime

Sam Plank Mysteries Book #4

Portraits of Pretence is the fourth in a series of novels about Samuel Plank, a Constable in the service of Magistrate Conant. In this adventure, a French artist is found dead in his rooms clutching a miniature portrait of a young girl. As the investigation continues, Sam and his trusty junior Constable, William Wilson, find themselves embroiled in forgery and fraud, smuggling and a secret group that threatens the fabric of Regency Society.

I enjoyed this very much – the writing is good and the characters well defined. The plot moves along nicely and plausibly. I was also impressed that the crime was not solved in a matter of days, as is so often the case,  but over the course of a few months, which is a much more realistic timeline and I applaud the author for that.

Sam Plank is a recognisable character, logical and methodical, encouraging to his protégée and clearly in love with his wife, Martha. He is amiable too – and perhaps if I was to criticise anything it would be that he is perhaps too amiable.

There were a couple of loose ends although the probable outcome was clearly hinted at and the reader must assume that those hints did, indeed come to fruition – though I really would have liked to have known the fate of the former highwayman! (Although as this is a series I wonder if those loose ends will be tied in a future novel?)

A nice cover hinting at the subjects of the miniatures in general and a useful glossary at the end for some of the typical phrases in use at the time. All in all, a nice crime story that has a lot of appeal.

© Richard Tearle
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23 March 2017

FALLING POMEGRANITE SEEDS: the Duty of Daughters by Wendy J Dunn

Amazon UK £11.99 £3.99
Amazon US $5 $14.99
Amazon CA $19,92

Biographical fiction / family saga / historical drama
Tudor 16th century

Katherine of Aragon Story #Book1

Falling Pomegranate Seeds, is the first in what promises to be a magnificent series depicting the wives of Henry VIII. This one is Katherine of Aragon’s story of her younger days and her early life before she becomes embroiled in her two marriages to the Tudor Princes (or one annulled, and one legitimate, then illegitimate marriage, depending on how you look at it.)

The story is told through the eyes and voice of Beatriz Galindo, her tutor, and Maria de Salinas her friend. With them, we enter the Courts of Castile and Aragon, where Katherine (or Catalina) is beneath the watch of her most formidable parents, particularly her mother, Queen Isabella. She is eager to learn and to be educated in her reading and writing, in religion and also to learn the ways of life, love, social upheaval and war. But there are lighter moments when we are reminded, through Ms Dunn’s superb style of writing, that Catalina is a young girl, on the cusp of womanhood. Her life is not all education and looking towards a future of the need to know how to rule, for there is a lot of girlish laughter, mischievous pranks and fun, which brings such charm to the story for it makes the characters so utterly believable – and likeable.

Ms Dunn’s novel is a joy to read, a fascinating insight into Spain in this era, the religious beliefs, the racism and expulsion of the Jews. I found it as interesting to explore the unfolding events as much as following the characters’ own journey through life.

© Anne Holt

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22 March 2017

AND I DARKEN Kiersten White

 Amazon UK £4.99 £7.99
 Amazon US $6.25 $11.16
Amazon CA $13.21

YA / Alternative
15th Century
Ottoman Empire

Book One of a series

This young adult novel is of a quality that it is a great read for adults as well, and one that will not disappoint. It does not feel particularly ‘young’ and is gritty enough to keep an older, more experienced reader entertained.

The novel traces the early life of Lada, a Romanian noble, daughter of Vlad Dracul (no, not that one) who is sent into the heart of the Ottoman Empire with her brother Radu as surety for the behaviour of their father. There they both meet Mehmet, son of Murad, the Ottoman Emperor and find an unlikely friend in a world where they are for the most part ignored, and are only alive as long as their father does as he is told.

Throughout the book there is a tension built from the precarious situation of the two main characters, their real fear that they could at any time be executed and that beyond keeping their father in check, they are worthless. Their status is equivocal, and their survival relies at times solely on their friendship with Mehmet. Where Lada kicks and struggles and fights her captors at every step, wishing to join the ranks of the palace guard despite being a girl, her brother Radu is quiet and perfect. But he is not stupid, and uses his apparent acquiescence to their overlords to gather intelligence and inveigle himself into the higher levels of court, something that Lada cannot understand.

Strictly speaking this novel is alternative history. Anyone who knows this era will have picked up on this by now – the character ‘Lada’ was not a girl, and when she rides back to Romania to take her father’s place, she is in fact Vlad Dracul, better known to history as Vlad the Impaler, a method of execution he learned from the Ottomans and made very much his own. For all that it is not a faithful re-telling of the history, altering the gender of the main character explains the Ottoman’s hold on Vlad, something that has confused historians.

This is a tale of two people, two very different characters – one who accepts a new reality and strives to make the most of it, and one who refuses to give in. Which is correct, well, that is for the reader to decide.

© Nicky Galliers

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