Book Review – The Royal Game by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction. Highly recommended.

Here’s the blurb;

The inspirational story of the Pastons, a family who rose from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue during the Wars of the Roses.

England, 1444. Three women challenge the course of history…

King Henry VI’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses starts to tear England apart. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.

Led by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family from humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning, raw ambition, and good fortune in order to survive.

Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence and betrayal, to eventually secure for their family a castle and a place at the heart of the Yorkist Court. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…

An inspirational story of courage and resilience, The Royal Game charts the rise of three remarkable women from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue.

Anne O’Brien is one of my favourite authors. Every year, I wait with high anticipation to read her newest book and to see which ‘new’ unknown woman of history she’s brought to life for her readers.

With The Royal Game, Anne O’Brien has chosen not a powerful royal/noblewoman but instead three women who hunger to be considered as such. The majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of Margaret Paston, wife to John Paston, as property disputes amongst their landed estates escalate and are resolved only to escalate once more. This might sound a bit boring, but believe me, it’s not. I was shocked, genuinely shocked, by the level of violence that could be brought to bear against rival claimants and the state of lawlessness in East Anglia at the time is flabbergasting. It acts as a perfect way of showing just what the uncertainty of the Wars of the Roses brought about for those lower ‘noble’ families with the ebb and flow of prestige and royal denouncement as in the background, great battles are won and lost, and rival kings fall and rise.

Margaret is a wonderfully independently minded woman, and yet constrained by her position in life, and her sex so she can only do so much when trouble strikes, but she will do it to her upmost.

Alongside Margaret, we meet her sister in law, Eliza, who struggles to find a husband and emerge from beneath her mother’s less than motherly love. She manages to do just that only to find herself facing a life as beset with lawsuits as her brother and sister by marriage.

Our third Paston woman is Anne Haute, a cousin to Elizabeth Woodville. Her voice is that of a noblewoman without the dowry needed to hook herself a wonderful marriage, but who can tout her family connections to gain one.

This book is a stunning read – and more, an easy read – despite the vast number of Johns in it (I’ll leave that for you to discover because wow – that’s a weird thing to have done). I had to force myself to slow down and stop reading because I didn’t want it to be over. Now I have to wait for next year to read the second part of the story.

I highly recommend this book. If you know about the Wars of the Roses, all the better, but if you don’t, it will not lessen your enjoyment of the story of the three Paston women and their troublesome, and litigious family at a time of intense political unrest.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for my review copy. I loved it:)

The Royal Game is released in ebook, hardback and audio today, 16th September 2021.

Connect with Anne via her website or Twitter.

Book Review – Cecily by Annie Garthwaite – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb:

Rebellion?’
The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Cecily, the story of Cecily Neville up to, and including 1461, is a wonderful retelling of her story.

Having read Anne O’Brien’s The Queen’s Rival (see the review) last year, which offers Cecily’s story from the late 1450s onwards, I feel that this unknown woman has now been brought to life in wonderful detail. (If you have only read one of these two books then do please try the other one – you won’t be disappointed.)

Cecily is told from Cecily’s point of view, as such, there are some things that she can’t know or witness, and the author manages this incredibly skillfully. We know what Cecily does, and we know other events when she knows them. It’s a perfect way to ensure the reader, even if they know the history of the time period, doesn’t get ahead of themselves. 

Cecily is an engaging and headstrong woman. The author gives her a voice that we can understand, reflecting a quick intelligence and an ability to piece together events skillfully. Some scenes may feel rushed, and there is a refusal to dwell on the royal splendour of the court, but I think this added to the story. It is the interaction of the king, queen and the courtiers that’s important, not who was wearing what and eating what. This is absolutely my sort of historical fiction book.

I only wish I’d read it sooner.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

Cecily is available now as an ebook, audiobook and hardback and you can purchase it here.

Book Review – Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood

Here’s the blurb:

Two sisters parted. Two women blamed. Two stories reclaimed.

‘Required reading for fans of Circe . . . a remarkable, thrilling debut’ – Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

‘Fluent and persuasive. I admire the ambition with which Heywood tackles the subject, to which she brings freshness and verve. I enjoyed it very much’ – Elizabeth Buchan, bestselling author of The Museum of Broken Promises

For millennia, two women have been blamed for the fall of a mighty civilisation – but now it’s time to hear their side of the story . . .

As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.

Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.

But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years.

Daughters of Sparta is that most wonderful of books – one that draws you in from the very first pages and won’t let go of you until the end. I read it in just over a day. I didn’t want to put it down.

The storytelling is engaging, the characters of Helen and her sister, beautifully sketched while everyone around them, apart from their mother, stays very much in the background. This is their story.

At times the reader will hate either or both of the sisters, at other times, the reader will understand their pain, their desire to be more than their birthright.

A beautifully evocative story that speaks of the loneliness of royal marriage, of the heavy, and life-threatening expectations placed on young women to become mothers, and you will be swept along by a tale you think you know but might not.

5 stars from me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Daughters of Sparta is available now in ebook, hardback and audiobook.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Anarchy by Tracey Warr

Welcome to the blog. Your book, The Anarchy, is set in a time period that I thoroughly enjoy and sounds absolutely fascinating. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

The Anarchy is set 1121–1139 and focuses on the later life of the Welsh noblewoman, Nest ferch Rhys. It is the final book in my Conquest trilogy telling the story of Nest’s turbulent life. Gwyneth Richards has argued that historiography has had a male bias ‘which has hitherto rendered women more invisible than is warranted by the available sources’ (2009, p. 24). Near-invisible women in the early middle ages are the territory of my historical fiction. I take the often very slight references to them in medieval chronicles and charters and imagine into the gaps. My first novel on an 11thcentury countess of Toulouse and Barcelona, Almodis de la Marche, came from a few sentences in the Chronicle of Ademar de Chabannes. My second novel came from a few more sentences in the same medieval chronicle on a different woman who was kidnapped by vikings. The Conquest trilogy derives from a couple of paragraphs on Nest ferch Rhys in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes

1 Brut y Twysogion (Chronicle of the Princes)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chronical_of_the_Princes_(f.260).jpg Attribution: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nest ferch Rhys was the daughter of the last independent king in Wales, Rhys ap Tewdwr. Her father and three of her brothers were killed by invading Normans and she was probably raised in the Norman court. She became the mistress of the Norman king, Henry I, and had a son with him. She was married to Gerald FitzWalter, the Norman steward of Pembroke Castle, which had been part of her father’s kingdom. The Welsh prince, Owain of Powys, abducted her from Gerald for a few years. After Gerald died, she was married to Stephen de Marais, the Norman constable of Cardigan Castle. The character Haith in my novel is based on Hait who is documented as the sheriff of Pembroke in the 1130 pipe roll, the records of the court (Green, 1986). Hait is presumed, from his name, to have been Flemish. It is my invention to make him a close friend of King Henry. According to Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales, Hait was the father of one of Nest’s sons. 

Once I have a spark from a primary source such as the Brut y Tywysogion to set me off, I pursue several lines of enquiry to find out everything I can about my characters, their relationships with one another, and the contexts they lived in. The lines of enquiry I pursue are further primary sources, genealogical research, biographies, the literature and art of the time, objects in museums, maps, site research at places associated with the characters, and contextual research—finding out, for example what people in those times and places wore and ate, what games they played and what books they read. I do as much research as I can online and buy key books and then I spend days in the British Library poring over the more inaccessible sources.

Other primary sources I drew on for The Anarchy included William FitzStephen’s account of Norman London and the books written by Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales. The genealogical research gives me a sense of the relationships between people and, for instance, an idea of how many children my heroine had and when. One key resource I use for genealogical research is Charles Cawley’s Medieval Lands, which can be searched online (2014). Genealogies are often set out following the patriarchal line. I make an effort to perceive the matriarchal line too, as far as possible. Family and kin—on both sides—were extremely significant for medieval people.

Despite sometimes being described as the most famous early medieval Welsh woman, the historical record of Nest is slender. Her kidnap from her husband Gerald FitzWalter by Prince Owain Cadwgan, which probably occurred at Cilgerran Castle, is briefly described in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes). Nest is credited with advising Gerald to escape down the castle toilet chute, which let out onto the dungheap below, outside the castle walls. (See my earlier blogpost on the wily Gerald: https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-norman-frontiersman-in-wales.html.) 

Kari Maund and Susan Johns have both written important studies on Nest ferch Rhys. I also research the people around her and try to get a sense of the atmosphere of the Norman court that Nest found herself in. C. Warren Hollister and Judith Green’s biographies of King Henry I were invaluable and writing the character of the king in my novels was one of the most enjoyable parts of composing them. I also drew on David Crouch’s book on the Beaumont twins to think about the personalities and factions at court. Reading journal articles, such as Eleanor Searle’s study of the marriages of Norman conquerors to Welsh and Anglo-Saxon heiresses, often gives me key information or details to use. 

My research on the literature of the time, such as The Mabinogion and the poems of the Welsh bards, helps me find fragments of the authentic voice of that period that I can use. In The Anarchy, Breri the Welsh bard is a double agent, spying for both the Welsh and the Normans. Amanda Jane Hingst’s book on the medieval writer, Orderic Vitalis, also gave me valuable material. Vivid details of daily life can be drawn from manuscript illustrations and objects in museums, and I often use particular objects, such as goblet or a ring, as a significant motif in the story. 

In the opening chapter of The Anarchy, Nest, has been widowed from one Norman and is married unwillingly to another, Stephen de Marais. After the ceremony, she absconds, leaving her wedding ring on the table in the great hall. 

Fourteenth-century medieval finger-ring, probably a wedding ring. The inscription probably reads ‘I will serve you until I die’. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Medieval_finger_ring_(showing_internal_inscription)_(FindID_199291).jpgAttribution: The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

I walk the sites of the novel, visiting castle ruins. Even though there is rarely much to see surviving from the 12thcentury, site research gives me atmosphere, weather, birdsong, the lay of the land. I draw up my own chronology, genealogies, and maps to help me flesh out the fictional world of my characters so that it is imagined, but credible, built on a structure of recorded history.

(Historical references are listed below).

Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes). Written 681–1282. Thomas Jones transl. (1953) Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru.

Ademar de Chabannes, Chronique, 3 vols., translated by Yves Chauvin and Georges Pon (2003) Turnhout: Brepols.

Cawley, Charles (2014) Medieval Lands, http://fmg.ac/Projects/MedLands/Search.htm.

Crouch, David (2008) The Beaumont Twins: The Roots and Branches of Power in the Twelfth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

FitzStephen, William, Norman London. Written around 1183. Essay by Sir Frank Stenton & Introduction by F. Donald Logan (1990) New York: Italica Press. 

Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary Through Wales and the Description of Wales. Written 1191 and 1194. Lewis Thorpe, transl. (1978), Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Green, Judith A. (2009) Henry I King of England and Duke of Normandy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hingst, Amanda Jane (2009) The Written World: Past and Place in the Work of Orderic Vitalis, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Indiana Press.

Hollister, C. Warren (2001) Henry I, New Haven/London: Yale University Press.

Johns, Susan M. (2013) Gender, Nation and Conquest in the High Middle Ages: Nest of Deheubarth, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Maund, Kari (2007) Princess Nest of Wales: Seductress of the English, Stroud: Tempus.

Richards, Gwyneth (2009) Welsh Noblewomen in the 13th Century, Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Searle, Eleanor (1980) ‘Women and the legitimization of succession’ in Brown, R. Allen, ed., (1981) Anglo-Norman Studies III: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, pp. 159-170.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with. It’s great to see all the resources you used. I also smiled because Kari Maund was one of my lecturers at university. Her books on the early Welsh period are wonderful.

Here’s the blurb:

Unhappily married to Stephen de Marais, the Welsh princess, Nest, becomes increasingly embroiled in her countrymen’s resistance to the Norman occupation of her family lands. She plans to visit King Henry in the hope of securing a life away from her unwanted husband, but grieving for the loss of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies.

Meanwhile, Haith tries to avoid the reality that Nest is married to another man by distracting himself with the mystery of the shipwreck in which the King’s heir drowned. As Haith pieces together fragments of the tragedy, he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the grieving King?

Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry?

Universal Links: 

The Daughter of the Last King (Book 1)

The Drowned Court (Book 2)

The Anarchy (Book 3)

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

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Meet the Author

Tracey Warr (1958- ) was born in London and lives in the UK and France. Her first historical novel, Almodis the Peaceweaver (Impress, 2011) is set in 11th century France and Spain and is a fictionalised account of the true story of the Occitan female lord, Almodis de la Marche, who was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Fiction and the Rome Film Festival Books Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, set in 10th century France and Wales, was published by Impress Books in 2014 and topped the Amazon Australia charts. Her Conquest trilogy, Daughter of the Last King, The Drowned Court, and The Anarchy recount the story of a Welsh noblewoman caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. She was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary. Her writing is a weave of researched history and imagined stories in the gaps in history.

Tracey Warr studied English at University of Hull and Oxford University, gaining a BA (Hons) and MPhil. She worked at the Arts Council, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Chatto & Windus Publishers, and edited Poetry Review magazine with Mick Imlah. She also publishes art writing on contemporary artists, and in 2016 she published a future fiction novella, Meanda, in English and French, as part of the art project, Exoplanet Lot. She recently published a series of three books, The Water Age, which are future fiction and art and writing workshop books – one for adults and one for children – on the topic of water in the future. She gained a PhD in Art History in 2007 and was Guest Professor at Bauhaus University and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Dartington College of Arts. Her published books on contemporary art include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000), Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Routledge, 2015) and The Midden (Garret, 2018). She gained an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St David in 2011. She is Head of Research at Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination for Dartington Arts School.

Connect with Tracey Warr

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Anarchy Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Today, I’m reviewing The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy (Roman historical fiction) as part of its new release blog tour

Here’s the blurb:

AD 105: DACIA

The Dacian kingdom and Rome are at peace, but no one thinks that it will last. Sent to command an isolated fort beyond the Danube, centurion Flavius Ferox can sense that war is coming, but also knows that enemies may be closer to home.

Many of the Brigantes under his command are former rebels and convicts, as likely to kill him as obey an order. And then there is Hadrian, the emperor’s cousin, and a man with plans of his own…

Gritty, gripping and profoundly authentic, The Fort is the first book in a brand new trilogy set in the Roman empire from bestselling historian Adrian Goldsworthy.

The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy is good ‘Roman’ era fiction.

Set in Dacia in AD105, it is the story of ‘The Fort’ under the command of Flavius Ferox, a character some will know from Goldsworthy’s previous trilogy that began with Vindolanda.

Mistakenly thinking this was an entirely new trilogy with all new characters, it took me a while to get into the story. Everyone seemed to know everyone else apart from me. But Ferox is a good character, and he grounded me to what was happening in the immediate vicinity of the Fort, and apart from once or twice, it didn’t really matter what had gone before.

This is a story of suspicions, ambition and lies, and it rumbles along at a good old pace. This isn’t the story of one battle, but rather many, a slow attrition against the Romans by the Dacians.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel, and some of the fighting scenes were especially exciting. Those with an interest in Roman war craft will especially enjoy it, although, I confess, I don’t know my spatha from my pilum (there is a glossary, fellow readers, so do not fear.)

About the author

Adrian Goldsworthy has a doctorate from Oxford University. His first book, THE ROMAN ARMY AT WAR was recognised by John Keegan as an exceptionally impressive work, original in treatment and impressive in style. He has gone on to write several other books, including THE FALL OF THE WEST, CAESAR, IN THE NAME OF ROME, CANNAE and ROMAN WARFARE, which have sold more than a quarter of a million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. A full-time author, he regularly contributes to TV documentaries on Roman themes.

Adrian Goldsworthy , Author , Broadcaster , Historical consultant .

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Don’t forget to drop by the other stops on The Fort Blog Tour.

Book Review – Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford – historical mystery – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“November 1929. A woman’s dismembered corpse is discovered in a suitcase and police quickly identify her husband, Doctor Ibrahim Aziz, as their chief suspect. Incriminating evidence is discovered at his home and his wife was rumoured to be having an affair, giving him clear motive.

With his reputation for winning hopeless cases, barrister Arthur Skelton is asked to represent the accused. Though Aziz’s guilt does not seem to be in doubt, a question of diplomacy and misplaced larvae soon lead Skelton to suspect there may be more to the victim’s death.

Aided by his loyal clerk Edgar, Skelton soon finds himself seeking justice for both victim and defendant. But can he uncover the truth before an innocent man is put on trial and condemned to the gallows?”

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is a wonderfully plotted novel, with a cast of unmissable characters that is an absolute delight to read. And the cover is fantastic too.

It made me laugh out loud on many an occasion, and the eclectic mix of cast and events, keeps the reader hooked as the story progresses, from the guinea pig to the motorcycle ‘bad-boy,’ from London to Leeds to Whitley Bay to Scotland. And oh, how I loved the letters from Cousin Alan.

It trundles along at a wonderful pace, filled with exquisite detail and I would struggle to decide on a favourite character because all of them, even the bit part characters, are so well sketched.

This is genuinely an absolute treat if you enjoy a mystery deeply steeped in the times (1929-1930) and with an unmissable cast. Looking forwards to Book 3. And, I have the joy of knowing I’ve not read Book 1 yet.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is released today, 22nd April, and is available from here.

Follow the publisher, Allison and Busby for more great mystery novels.

Book Review – The Consequences of Fear (Maisie Dodds #16) by Jacqueline Winspear – 1940s Historical Mystery

Here’s the blurb;

It is September 1941 and young Freddie Hackett is a message runner – he collects messages from a government office and delivers them to various destinations around London. He sets off one day with a message, along a route of bombed-out houses, and witnesses a murder. Freddie instinctively wants to summon the police, but he has an envelope to deliver first – all communications during wartime could be urgent. When the man who answers the door appears to be the very same person he has just seen kill another, Freddie rushes to the police, but is summarily dismissed. However, he remembers an address in Fitzroy Square, belonging to a private investigator, Maisie Dobbs. Will she believe him and help solve the mystery?

The Consequences of Fear is the first Maisie Dodds book I’ve read (I know, it’s number 16 – but I’ve just ‘got’ into books from this time period). It won’t be the last.

For a first time reader, there were a few stumbling blocks now and then throughout this book, only to be expected, of course. There are clearly well-loved, repeat characters in this book, and the author does a great job of involving as many of Maisie’s friends and allies as possible. This allows the case to be quite complex as she attempts to solve it, running between London and Chelstone.

I really enjoyed how deeply embedded the story is in the history of the period, and I think Maisie will be a fascinating character to uncover in earlier books.

Thoroughly enjoyable, even for a newbie.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

The Consequences of Fear is released today, 18th March 2021, in hardback, and on 23rd March in ebook. Get it here.

Book Review – Agata, Princess of Iberia by Emma C Buenen – historical fiction – recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Thrust out into the Wild, young Princess Agata has no skills to survive.

In the early dawn of what is modern Georgia, a kingdom once known as Iberia teeters between hordes of enemies. Byzantines eye the soaring mountains and lush, fertile valleys tucked between Asia and Europe. Turks and Arabs rattle sabres along her eastern borders, coveting the lucrative Silk Road and the growing power of the mysterious Khazars – a Marauder people – loom large.

Motherless young Princess Agata has only known the solid stone walls of the palace. As the fourth daughter of Vax’tang II, she is instructed in the basic skills expected of her station and otherwise ignored and left to her own devices until the day she is old enough to be a marriage pawn in her father’s hands.

As her 16th birthday draws ever nearer, Princess Agata hopes to join the convent led by the powerful Byzantine, Abbess Shingli, and escape her cruel father.

But on the night of her sister’s wedding, Marauder warriors led by cruel warlord, General Kazan, attack the city and breach the walls of the palace. Agata must choose to stay and perish or escape into the lonely mountains of the Wild.

Alone and hungry, cold and terrified, Agata longs for the safety she once knew.

As political powers vie for Iberia, the young princess is hunted by a cunning traitor as well as the fierce warrior, Kazan.

Reeling at the treachery and anguished at the death of her warrior women, the seeds of vengeance and rebellion stir in Agata’s young heart.

Agata, Princess of Iberia is such a good book. The first 10% entirely draws the reader in, investing them with a need to know what’s going to happen as the city is overrun by marauders. Agata is a character who develops throughout the story so that by the end, she’s almost unrecognisable from the character we’re first introduced.

And she’s not the only strong female character, this book is stuffed with them, and all of them are engaging and clearly defined.

There are twists and turns, double-crossing galore, and just a really well-told story. Loved it:) And the cover is beautiful.

Agata is available now, and can be purchased from here.

Connect with the author on Twitter and on her website.

Book Review – A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda Collins – historical who-done-it

Here’s the blurb;

An intrepid female reporter matches wits with a serious, sexy detective in award-winning author Manda Collins’ fun and flirty historical romcom, perfect for readers of Evie Dunmore, Julia Quinn Tessa Dare and Netflix’s Enola Holmes!

Of all the crime scenes in all the world, she walks into his. Twice.

England, 1865: Notorious newspaper columnist Lady Katherine Bascomb is determined to educate the ladies of London on the nefarious criminals who are praying on the fairer sex. But when her reporting leads to the arrest of an infamous killer, Katherine flees to a country house party to escape her doubts about the case – only to become witness to a murder herself! When the lead detective accuses Katherine of inflaming – rather than informing – the public with her column, she vows to prove him wrong.

Detective Inspector Andrew Eversham’s refusal to compromise his investigations nearly cost him his career, and he blames Katherine. When he discovers she’s the key witness in a new crime, he’s determined to prevent the beautiful widow from once again wreaking havoc on his case. Yet as Katherine proves surprisingly insightful and Andrew impresses Katherine with his lethal competency, both are forced to admit the fire between them is more flirtatious than furious. But to explore the passion between them, they’ll need to catch a killer . . 

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem grabbed my attention due to the title and the cover. It sounded like a light-hearted, fun read, and in many respects, it was.

Lady Katherine is an engaging character, and with much of the story told from her perspective, we get to know her quite well, although some of her true nature is hidden behind the Victorian facade of never showing emotions. The addition of the story-line being told from the perspective of Inspector Eversham adds an entirely different dimension to the story – that of a more disciplined police officer, although it slips quite quickly.

The beginning of the book takes place in London, and I fully expected the action to remain there, but we are abruptly whisked away to the Lake District where the crimes take on an even more sinister nature, and become somewhat more personal.

The author excels here at producing quite a complex case for the main characters to unravel and it did hook me. There were points where I was convinced I had worked out what was happening, only to be wrong. The budding romance between Lady Katherine and Inspector Eversham does feel a little rushed and there were moments where I might have liked more plot development, but overall, it was a fun and reasonably light-hearted read, not because of the content, but because of the way Lady Katherine insists on solving the mystery of who the murderer is.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem is available now.

Book Review – Commodus by Simon Turney – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“Welcome to a fracturing Roman empire in the second century AD: ravaged by plague and with wars rumbling on along all frontiers. One man tries to hold everything together but, beset by personal tragedy from a young age, who is holding him together?
You’ve heard the stories: the crazy emperor who thought he was Hercules and fought in the Colosseum as a gladiator. But is ‘crazy’ too easy a label? Could there have been a method behind the perceived madness?”

Commodus by Simon Turney is my sort of historical fiction – people who actually lived – with their lives told in an intriguing and interesting way, bolted around known ‘facts’ and not a little imagination to bring the character alive! This is the first book I’ve read by Simon Turney but it won’t be the last.

The story is a well-told tale of a Roman Emperor who, I must assume, has a bit of a bad reputation. This is a sympathetic account of his rule, and I doubt I’ll be the only person who finishes the novel and considers just what it is about him that’s quite so bad (apart from his delight in killing exotic animals that would garner a great of bad press in our day and age) – in that respect, the author does an excellent job of rehabilitating a bit of a dodgy character.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended. I read it in a day!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy.

Commodus is now available in paperback, and is available from here, as well as from other retailers!