New Read: First of the Tudors

Having previously enjoyed Joanna Hickson’s Red Rose, White Rose about Cecily Neville, a figure torn between both sides in the War of the Roses, I was really looking forward to trying this, her newest historical novel, First of the Tudors.

In this new novel, Hickson again takes us back to the War of the Roses, however this time we are firmly on the Lancastrian side, as this story focuses on Jasper Tudor. Jasper is the younger son of Queen Catherine and her second husband, Owen Tudor, who has grown up far from the intrigue of the royal court. But as young men, he and his older brother Edmund are summoned to London, by their half-brother, King Henry VI, who takes a keen interest in their futures – bestowing Earldoms on them both which helps to bolster the support around him and his precarious hold on the throne.

Until now Jasper Tudor has been one of those key historical figures that is always there on the perimeter of many a historical novel. So I was thrilled when I heard Hickson had chosen him to be the protagonist for this, and what an excellent job she has done bringing him to life. Jasper comes across as a sensible, loyal, brave and intelligent man, who has a true affection for his fragile king and takes real care in the responsibilities he is given. And he will need all his guile and courage to preserve the throne and his family from the rising threat of their Yorkist cousins.

As well as seeing Jasper through all the political intrigue and hard battles, we also see him as a loving family man. His first, thwarted, love was for the heiress Margaret Beaufort, who had a short and doomed marriage to his brother Edmund, and his devotion to her never wavers. Fortunately he does find true comfort in the arms of Jane Hywel, a Welsh cousin. While Jane is a fictional character, Hickson has cleverly pieced her together from a real name and the fact Jasper did have two illegitimate daughters. Jane is also our second narrator through whom we have a window into the domestic life of Jasper, which helps to make him a more well rounded, believable and likeable character; and their love gives a more personal jeopardy to the war.

Overall, I thought First of the Tudors was a brilliantly researched and written piece of historical fiction, that had me enthralled from the beginning to the end; my only niggle would be I wanted more! However at the end of the book, Hickson’s promises another book from the point-of-view of Jasper’s nephew Henry, so I look forward to that. Great read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or read anything else about Jasper Tudor?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 2/10

New Read: Sandlands

After hearing such wonderful things from several blogging friends about the short story collection Sandlands by Rosy Thornton, I was absolutely thrilled when the author offered me a copy. I put it on my 10 Books of Summer 2017 list to make sure I got to it at last…I can’t believe I waited so long!

Sandlands is a gentle and magical collection of sixteen stories that follow the creatures and people of the Suffolk landscape. Sadly I couldn’t possible mention them all here, even though I loved them all, or this post would be ridiculously long. However some of my favourites included: High House, about the enigmatic Mr Napish feeding a fox rescued from the floods; The Watcher of Souls, about an owl that has been guarding a cache of long-lost love letters; Nightingale’s Return, where the nightingale’s song lures a foreigner home; and The Witch Bottle, that see’s love and a curse echoing through the centuries.

Through the landscape and creatures in these wonderful stories, the author has cleverly linked the past to the present, and generations of lives are beautifully intertwined. I found myself absolutely swept away and I even found it quite hard to put down this collection of tales; full of life, death, nature, animals, and all with a delightful touch of magical realism. Likewise though I was also able to dip into one story at a time when I had a free moment. What worked so well about this collection for me was how these were all individual stories, which I could read one at a time when I had time, likewise though you could keep reading through as the setting links these stories so well, similar to a novel.

Overall, I thought Sandlands was an enchanting collection of short stories, which took me on a journey through the nature, lives and history of Suffolk. I would love to read more by this author. Great read.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any recommendations for other nature filled short stories?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 1/10

New Read: Class of ’59

Earlier this year, I really enjoyed nostalgic mystery Indiana Belle by John A. Heldt. So much so I didn’t wait long to pick up this, Class of ’59, the next book in his American Journey series. Which also nicely ticks off the ‘title with a number in numbers’ for the What’s in a Name 2017 challenge.

In summer 2017, Mary Beth settles down for a quiet morning on her vacation in a family friend’s old mansion house in Southern California. Her peace is broken when she discovers a 1950’s attired trespasser in the garden, who seemingly appears and disappears into thin air. That trespasser is in fact Mark, the resident of the same house but in 1959, who had unwittingly time travelled through a tunnel in the basement. Before long they realise the miraculous opportunity they have, so Mary Beth and her sister Piper travel back to Mark for a journey of love, danger and adventure in the age of sock hops, poodle skirts, drive-ins and jukeboxes.

Heldt has chosen to split the narration of this book between four characters, rather than just one or two which I have experienced in his previous books. We see the more adult perspective of the 1950s through the point-of-views of the brokenhearted Mary Beth and all-round good guy Mark. I found both likeable characters and they suited each other well, although for me their relationship did have a slight insta-love feel to it. At the same time we experience the more exciting teenage scene of the 1950s, through the on/off angsty teen relationship between Piper and Mark’s brother Ben. I found these two less endearing but no less interesting.

Again I thought the author, Heldt, brought alive the time and place really well, with the school prom, lovers’ lane, college dinners, fashion, music and a touching encounter with an iconic, blonde bombshell. However even though I enjoyed seeing both aspects of this nostalgic age, I found myself less attached to the characters as I had to spread my attention between four of them and two blossoming relationships, in what is a relatively short novel. For that reason, I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as the previous, Indiana Belle.

That said though, overall, I found the Class of ’59 was an enjoyable time travel romance, which was a light escapist read for my overworked brain. I still look forward to reading more of Heldt’s novels Okay read.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any recommendations of other books set in the 1950s?

What’s in a Name 2017 – 4/6 (a title with a number in numbers)

New Read: My Cousin Rachel

I have been meaning to read more by Daphne du Maurier for some time (my last was Jamaica Inn back in 2015!), and after getting some feedback from other bloggers, it was pretty conclusive that I should read My Cousin Rachel next. Started back in March, it wasn’t till the sun emerged in May that I found myself really in the mood for it.

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised solely by his older cousin, Ambrose; a resolutely single man that delights in Philip as an heir. But as a young man, his cosy world is shattered when Ambrose is forced by ill health to leave Cornwall for the warmth of Florence. While there he falls deeply in love and marries – and then dies suddenly. Leaving Philip grief-stricken at his loss, and racked by jealousy and suspicion of his cousin’s widow, Rachel. Despite himself, on meeting each other, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet… might she have had a hand in his beloved Ambrose’s death?

This is the question that Philip, the narrator, and so in turn us, the reader, comes back to again and again. It a rollercoaster ride for us, as Philip tries to grapple with the prejudices he holds; the damning rumours he has heard and the changing opinions around him, while trying to tally that with how different Rachel seems in the flesh. Is she a money grabbing, man-eater? Or is she the wronged widow? Personally I always felt there was something not quite right about her.

However we, the readers, only ever get to see Rachel through the eyes of Philip, but is he a reliable narrator? He clearly loved his cousin Ambrose very much, and vice versa, however the secluded, privileged bubble that they lived in has allowed Philip to grow up naïve, impulsive and spoilt. Do his suspicions simply come from his jealousy of having to share Ambrose’s love? On the other hand, does Rachel’s strong, emotional affect on him stem from the fact he is uneducated in love and women? I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him! Especially when the advice and opinion of his trusted godfather on Rachel does a full 360 in a matter of weeks too.

Around these two imperfect characters and their intense relationship, Daphne du Maurier has beautifully weaved another captivating, gothic mystery, which is full of secrets, rumours, tension and passion. All set  against the stark, atmospheric coast of Cornwall, that du Maurier loved so much and which she can describe in such vivid, realistic detail. I may have taken a while to be the mood for this book; once I was though I was swept away, gripped firm and finished reading it in a matter of a few days! Might have been quicker if I didn’t need to eat and sleep!

Overall, I thought My Cousin Rachel was a wonderfully atmospheric read, right up there with the pure quality of Rebecca, which is a very strong contender for my top ten reads of the year. I look forward to reading even more from du Maurier – I already have Frenchman’s Creek and The House on the Strand on my to-be-read pile. Great read.

Have you read this? What do you think I should read next?

Re-Read: Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley

As the miserable weather has continued in May, I indulged in another comforting re-read. This time of Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M C Beaton, the fourth book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series. (If you are unfamiliar with this author and series you may instead want to check out my thoughts on the first book: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death).

Our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin returns after a miserable spell back in London, feeling depressingly like her old, cross self and terribly out of shape. As a remedy Agatha decides to join Carsley’s rambling group, which just so happens to be led by her handsome neighbour, James Lacey. However rambling doesn’t turn out to be as staid or safe as she imagined … as the body of young Jessica Tartinck, leader of the Dembley Walkers, is found in a shallow grave on Sir Charles Fraith’s estate. Luring James along to help her, Agatha starts to investigate and discovers that Jessica seemed to live to enrage people, subsequently there is a very long list of suspects!

Formerly Agatha had been sharp, bossy and cajoling. Sadly after her stint, thanks to her so-called friend Roy, back in the PR business many of these unpleasant traits had returned. Fortunately once she is settled back into the village and has the vicar’s lovely wife Mrs Bloxby and the young Detective Constable Wong back, Agatha does begin to soften again. Plus she is the cat that got the cream, when she convinces the reluctant James to play husband and wife, so they can infiltrate the Dembley Walkers; a more rag-tag, back stabbing, oddball group you couldn’t wish to have in a murder mystery. Then there is Sir Charles and his ghastly manservant Gustav. Put together they make Agatha seem positively cuddly!

In this re-read, it was again an absolute pleasure to return to the charming village of Carsely; spend time with an eclectic mix of characters and follow Agatha for another eccentric, bumbling investigation. I love a good murder mystery however I don’t always want all that gore and gritty realism, which is when a cosy-crime like this is perfect. These aren’t ground breaking books, instead they are grab a mug of tea, curl up and simply enjoy kind of books. They are rapidly becoming my go-to-books for comfort.

Overall, Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley was another quick, fun and comforting re-read, however this is the last of my re-reads. Next up is, the new-to-me, Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage. Good read.

New Read: The Cuban Missile Crisis (A Very Brief History)

Recently, I have had a bit of an unintentional US president theme going. Having read so far this year Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy from Mark Black’s A Very Brief History series, it seemed very appropriate to read The Cuban Missile Crisis instalment next.

Before reading this, I generally knew that the Cuban Missile Crisis came about due to the Soviet Union placing nuclear missiles on the island, during the Cold War. And that the USA subsequently launched the disastrous ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion. However I knew nothing of how it all came about or how it was eventually calmed down. From reading this, I learnt how relations broke down between the USA and Cuba; how the USA placed an embargo on the island; consequently how they had to reach out to the Soviet Union for help and that it took a long, painful process of negotiation to end it. I am not saying anyone was particularly innocent in these events, but for me the US military leaders came out looking rather bad. So all in all I learnt rather a lot from this short read.

In hindsight, I think I am very lucky to have managed to collect so many of Black’s short histories, as I doubt I would have ever read more about US presidents or politics for that matter otherwise. Which would be a shame because it is a place and history I know very little about. This was another clear and concise history that is broken down into bite-size chapters on: the build-up; US involvement, Soviet involvement; the discovery of missiles; the quarantine of Cuba and finally the aftermath. I warn you now though if you already know a fair bit about this crisis I doubt you will learn anything from this. I recommend to those, like me, who know little to nothing.

Overall, I thought The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Very Brief History was another quick and interesting read. I have eight more editions from this series still to go – it seems appropriate to read the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis instalment next. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or anything else about the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Cold War?

New Read: Monstrous Little Voices

After hearing such wonderful things from my blogging friend Lynn, I simply had to get my hands on a copy of Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World, a short story collection edited by David Thomas Moore. And during a particularly busy time for me, I picked this up hoping it would be a good escape when I got a free minute.

This collection is made up of five Shakespearian-inspired short stories written by Jonathan Barnes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Emma Newman, Foz Meadows and Kate Heartfield. While each story is written by a different author with its own style, focus and characters, they are all linked by the same setting and an over arching story. The Mediterranean is being torn apart by war as every lord from Navarre to Illyria is embroiled in the fray for the throne of Tuscany. This human trouble has even boiled over into other worlds bringing witches; the fairy court; a bewitched Scottish knife; Prospero, the feared Sorcerer, and William Shakespeare himself into the fight too.

The first story, Coral Bones by Foz Meadows reunites us with Miranda from The Tempest. She has found no happiness in her new life in Ferdinand’s palace and hatches a plan with her childhood friend Ariel to escape forever. The second, The Course of True Love by Kate Heartfield sees Pomona, a witch, and Vertumnus, a fairy, united as pawns in the strife between Duke Orsino and Oberon, King of the Fairies. The third, The Unkindest Cut by Emma Newman follows Lucia de Medici as she tries to fulfil the prophecy that she will marry her cousin Francesco and together bring peace to the land, however the sorcery Prospero seems to have other ideas.

The fourth, Even in the Cannon’s Mouth by Adrian Tchaikovsky is a magical farce that brings together characters from All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Twelfth Night and As You Like It in a disastrous mission to bring an end to the war. Then the fifth and final story, On the Twelfth Night by Jonathan Barnes sees things come to head and start to bleed over into other worlds, including one where William Shakespeare didn’t even become a playwright. Seen through the eyes of his wife Anne. I wasn’t a huge fan of the second person narrative of the last story, but otherwise I thought style, plot and characters were brilliant in all these stories.

Overall, I thought Monstrous Little Voices was a wonderful collection of stories with elements of war, romance, magic and deception, and although they were written by different, modern authors all these stories (bar the last perhaps) did feel like they could have been Shakespearian tales. This was also a perfect read to squeeze in when I had a moment or two. Great read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any recommendations for other great Shakespearian inspired stories or books?