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.

Welcome to today’s stop on the Sons of Rome Blog Tour

Today, I’m excited to host the blog tour for the fantastic new release, Sons of Rome, by Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney.

Here’s the blurb.

Four Emperors. Two Friends. One Destiny.

As twilight descends on the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire is but a shadow of its former self. Decades of usurping emperors, splinter kingdoms and savage wars have left the people beleaguered, the armies weary and the future uncertain. And into this chaos Emperor Diocletian steps, reforming the succession to allow for not one emperor to rule the world, but four.

Meanwhile, two boys share a chance meeting in the great city of Treverorum as Diocletian’s dream is announced to the imperial court. Throughout the years that follow, they share heartbreak and glory as that dream sours and the empire endures an era of tyranny and dread. Their lives are inextricably linked, their destinies ever-converging as they rise through Rome’s savage stations, to the zenith of empire. For Constantine and Maxentius, the purple robes beckon…

Book Review

Sons of Rome is the sort of historical fiction book that really appeals to me – people that really lived, having their story told, often against a backdrop of profound change.

The story is told from the point of view of Constantine and Maxentius. They meet as youths, and while their chance meetings are rare throughout the rest of the book, they have far-reaching consequences, as they both grow to adulthood and are forced into situations they probably never thought possible.

I loved the alternate chapters assigned to Constantine and Maxentius. It means that the reader never feels far away from the characters, and lends an ‘immediacy’ to their ‘friendship’, which wouldn’t be possible to achieve because they are so often apart.

The book is mired in politics – again a bit of a favourite of mine – and even though I had no prior knowledge of the time period, I could easily understand what was happening, and I think this is a particular strength of the story. The characters never feel distant or difficult to understand.

I would highly recommend Sons of Rome and look forward to reading Book 2.

On a personal note, as someone who writes historical fiction, I know just how complex and difficult it can be to ‘tame’ a coherent narrative from the past. I think the authors do an amazing job of making the events feel real and easy to understand, while picking the strands of the story, and the ancillary characters, that are needed to flesh out the distant past.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy, and for inviting me on the Blog Tour. I’ve really enjoyed it.

About the authors

Simon Turney is the author of the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as The Damned Emperor series for Orion and Tales of the Empire series for Canelo. He is based in Yorkshire. 

Gordon Doherty is the author of the Legionary and Strategos series, and wrote the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. He is based in Scotland.

Follow Simon and Gordon

Twitter: @SJATurney

Website: http://simonturney.com/

Twitter: @GordonDoherty

Website: https://www.gordondoherty.co.uk/

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

Sons of Rome was released on 15th October, and I would give it 5/5 stars. It’s a great read. (Isn’t the cover fantastic?) And the cover for Book 2 is also amazing.

Book Review and New Release Alert – Bright Helm by Christine Hancock – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Separated by anger and unanswered questions, Byrhtnoth and Saewynn are brought together by a tragic death.
Re-united, they set out on an epic voyage to discover the final truth about his father. 
The journey takes them far to the north, to Orkney, swathed in the mists of treachery, and to Dublin’s slave markets where Byrhtnoth faces a fateful decision.
How far will he go, to save those he cares for?” 

First things first, Bright Helm is book four in a tightly woven series about young Byrhtnoth, more famous for dying at the Battle of Maldon in AD991, than for anything else. But, he must have had a life before that fateful battle and the author has devised an intriguing and engaging story about his youth, weaving the tale through known historical ‘fact’ of the 940’s and 950’s in Early England.

This is a time period that I’ve also written about and studied, and I have been lucky enough to have early access to Bright Helm, as well as other books in the series. I’ve enjoyed arguing about plot developments and also taken fresh insight from decisions made for the characters. It’s strange to have ‘your’ characters in the hands of someone else, but hey, this is historical fiction, these characters belong only to themselves and the author who writes about them.

What I really enjoyed about Bright Helm was the journey Byrhtnoth has to make. Along the way, he encounters any number of ‘historical’ characters, and winds up visiting both the Orkney Islands and Ireland. I love the Orkney Islands, and I could ‘see’ everything that the author described in such detail.

The book really gather pace as it roars towards its end and I found myself, and this doesn’t often happen in books where I know so much of the back story, just relaxing and allowing the story to unfold without worrying that I might not like it. As I said to the author, I found that she really found ‘her stride’. The pacing was sound, the story thoroughly intriguing, and well, I’m just looking forward to the next book (which might be the last in the series) to find out how it all ends.

I highly recommend this book, and if you’ve not read the earlier books in the series, I believe you could jump in with Book 4, or enjoy starting at the very beginning.

You can find Christine Hancock here:@YoungByrhtnoth and at https://byrhtnoth.com

Bright Helm is released today, 15th October, and is available in ebook and paperback.

(Some links on this blog are Amazon affiliate links)

Book Review – A Pretty Deceit by Anna Lee Huber – historical murder mystery – recommended

Here’s the blurb;

In the aftermath of the Great War, the line between friend and foe may be hard to discern, even for indomitable former Secret Service agent Verity Kent, in award-winning author Anna Lee Huber’s thrilling mystery series. 
 
Peacetime has brought little respite for Verity Kent. Intrigue still abounds, even within her own family. As a favor to her father, Verity agrees to visit his sister in Wiltshire. Her once prosperous aunt has fallen on difficult times and is considering selling their estate. But there are strange goings-on at the manor, including missing servants, possible heirloom forgeries, and suspicious rumors—all leading to the discovery of a dead body on the grounds.
 
While Verity and her husband, Sidney, investigate this new mystery, they are also on the trail of an old adversary—the shadowy and lethal Lord Ardmore. At every turn, the suspected traitor seems to be one step ahead of them. And even when their dear friend Max, the Earl of Ryde, stumbles upon a code hidden among his late father’s effects that may reveal the truth about Ardmore, Verity wonders if they are really the hunters—or the hunted . . .

A Pretty Deceit is an excellent addition to the series by Anna Lee Huber. I didn’t realise when I started reading it, that I’d already read Book 3, but I soon appreciated that I ‘knew’ the characters. Then came the search on Goodreads, and then it all made a great deal more sense:)

Verity Kent is once more embroiled in a new mystery and also still pursuing an old one from Book 3, the two threads merging together expertly to give an engrossing and deliciously complicated narrative, that ensures all the old favourites make an appearance at some point throughout the book.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing read. In fact, as soon as I’d finished it, I went on to read Book 1, and plan on reading Book 2 as well. If you enjoy a well constructed and deeply rooted 1920’s (well, just as about) murder mystery, this is definitely a great series to read.

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

A Pretty Deceit was released on 6th October, and is available here.  

You can connect with the author here: http://www.annaleehuber.com

(This post contains some Amazon Affiliate links)

Book Review – Shelley and the Unknown Lady by Lona Manning – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s brief and turbulent life was as passionate as his poetry. 
Romantic, idealistic and impulsive, Shelley had several intense love affairs. When Shelley drowned at sea in 1822, he took his secrets with him. 
Did a beautiful, lovelorn lady really follow him throughout Europe, as he claimed? Did Mary Shelley ever learn about this rival for her affections? 
Shelley and the Unknown Lady is a carefully researched imagining of the true-life tragedy behind the mystery.
This novella is a stand-alone story excerpted from Lona Manning’s Mansfield Trilogy.

And here’s my review;

I’m a stranger to the world recreated by Lona Manning, but that doesn’t matter at all when reading Shelley and the Unknown Lady.

The story immediately beguiles the reader, transporting you to another time and place, and it’s such a fascinating story, that you won’t want to stop reading once you start.

The author certainly knows the story of Shelley incredibly well, and it’s a joy to read the notes added by the author which piece together the historical mystery of the unknown lady.

For a novella, or short story, the reader is rewarded with an absorbing story.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would highly recommend Shelley and the Unknown Lady.

Disclaimer, I received a free copy of this book via The History Quill Book Club. If you’re interested in The History Quill then please go and check them out.

Lona Manning can be found here: http://www.lonamanning.ca

Shelley and the Unknown Lady is available now and can be purchased here.

(Some of these links are Amazon Affiliate links)

Book Review – The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

England, 1459: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Cecily can only watch as her lands are torn apart and divided up by the ruthless Queen Marguerite. From the towers of her prison in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit – one that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

This is a story of heartbreak, ambition and treachery, of one woman’s quest to claim the throne during the violence and tragedy of the Wars of the Roses.”

The Queen’s Rival is a stunning look at the ‘later’ life of Cecily Neville from 1459 until 1483. This is not a ‘quiet’ period of history and to cover the tumultuous events, the author adopts the technique of recording the letters of the main protagonists, either from the pen of Cecily or from those who write to her.

It does take a little while to get used to the technique, but the reader is quickly drawn into the story, not perhaps by the events taking place, but rather by the relationship between Cecily and her two sisters, Anne, Duchess of Buckingham and Katherine, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The words they share with each other are just what sisters might well say to each other, especially when they’re not likely to see each other soon.

More importantly, the sisters, while fiercely loyal to their Neville inheritance, are not of one mind about who should rule England, and who has the right to rule England. It highlights just how destructive the War of the Roses was, and is a genius way of quickly ensuring the reader appreciates that families were ripped apart by the protracted war.

This is the story of the women of the later 15th century. It’s their voices that we hear, as they try and come to terms with the rises and falls all of them experience. There are moments when the narrative is hard to read, either because you know what’s going to happen, or just because you really feel for Cecily and don’t want her to experience the tribulations than she does.

I am a huge fan of Anne O’Brien and the ‘forgotten’ women of the medieval period in England. While the author may stress that Cecily is not really a forgotten woman, I was not really aware of her before reading this book. The mother of two kings, the grandmother of future kings, and yet she could also have been queen herself. What an interesting life she led.

I highly recommend this book. And you can find my review here for A Tapestry of Treason.

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

The Queen’s Rival is released in ebook and hardbook on 3rd September 2020. (What a stunning cover.)

New Release Alert – The Last Horse (Book III in the Ninth Century Series) – 27th August 2020

It’s here, it’s here.

Here’s the blurb: (Spoilers – if you’ve not read The Last King and The Last Warrior.)

“The Raiders have been routed from Torksey, dead, or escaped.

Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters, her new king a warrior, not a ruler. And as he endures his coronation, as demanded by the bishops and ealdormen, there are stirrings from the east.

Coelwulf must again take to the trackways of Mercia. His destination, any place where the Raiders are trying to infiltrate the kingdom he’s fought so hard to keep whole, losing beloved friends in the process.

The year is AD874 and Mercia lies threatened. But Coelwulf, and his loyal warriors, have vowed to protect Mercia with their lives. They’re not about to stop now.”

Check out the reviews for The Last Horse on Goodreads.

If you’ve not yet delved into the series, then book 1, The Last King, is still 99p/99c (US)/ 99c (AU), 99c (CA) 0.99E (DE).

 

 

 

Book Review – Fortress of Fury by Matthew Harffy – Historical Fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“AD 647. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the seventh instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles.

War hangs heavy in the hot summer air as Penda of Mercia and his allies march into the north. Caught unawares, the Bernician forces are besieged within the great fortress of Bebbanburg.

It falls to Beobrand to mount the defence of the stronghold, but even while the battle rages, old and powerful enemies have mobilised against him, seeking vengeance for past events.

As the Mercian forces tighten their grip and unknown killers close in, Beobrand finds himself in a struggle with conflicting oaths and the dreadful pull of a forbidden love that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

With the future of Northumbria in jeopardy, will Beobrand be able to withstand the powers that beset him and find a path to victory against all the odds?”

Beobrand is becoming a firm favourite for fans of historical fiction. But, as many will know, I struggle a little with his ‘grumpiness.’ I have enjoyed the author’s new hero, found in The Wolf of Wessex, a whole lot more, and I’m really keen to read the new book A Time For Swords, as well. But, I’m always curious to see what Beobrand is up to, and therefore I was keen to get an advanced copy from Netgalley and the publisher.

Fortress of Fury is a solid addition to The Bernicia Chronicles.

It begins strongly, and slowly builds to the portrayal of Bebbanburg facing one of its greatest challenges throughout its long history. The battle scenes are well-played out and Beobrand earns battle glory for himself.

The scenes that follow the big battle are very much laying the groundwork for future stories about Beobrand and his band of geishas, and for that reason, I very much felt that the book peaked too soon. I was anticipating a blood and gore-drenched battle that lasted for days, and that was not what I got, concerned rather with events after the attack on Bebbanburg. It’s not a direction I was expecting, and it wrong-footed me a little.

That said, I look forward to seeing what trouble Beobrand and his geishas get themselves involved in next. I’m sure it’s not going to be pretty, and if Beobrand cracks a smile, I might well cheer!

Fortress of Fury is released on in ebook on 6th August 2020, and the audiobook and hardback will follow later in the year. (The cover is amazing).

Book Review – Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England by Annie Whitehead – non-fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“Many Anglo-Saxon kings are familiar. Æthelred the Unready is one, yet less is written of his wife, who was consort of two kings and championed one of her sons over the others, or his mother who was an anointed queen and powerful regent, but was also accused of witchcraft and regicide. A royal abbess educated five bishops and was instrumental in deciding the date of Easter; another took on the might of Canterbury and Rome and was accused by the monks of fratricide.

Anglo-Saxon women were prized for their bloodlines – one had such rich blood that it sparked a war – and one was appointed regent of a foreign country. Royal mothers wielded power; Eadgifu, wife of Edward the Elder, maintained a position of authority during the reigns of both her sons.

Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, was a queen in all but name, while few have heard of Queen Seaxburh, who ruled Wessex, or Queen Cynethryth, who issued her own coinage. She, too, was accused of murder, but was also, like many of the royal women, literate and highly-educated.

From seventh-century Northumbria to eleventh-century Wessex and making extensive use of primary sources, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England examines the lives of individual women in a way that has often been done for the Anglo-Saxon men but not for their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. It tells their stories: those who ruled and schemed, the peace-weavers and the warrior women, the saints and the sinners. It explores, and restores, their reputations.”

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England is an ambitious project, on a scale that few may truly appreciate as it covers over 600 years of Early English history. That’s even before factoring in just how fragmented the surviving sources are, and how complicated they can be and how many languages are involved. Or the fact that the majority of such sources were written by men, and not just men, but men in holy orders. As someone who has written about some of these fabulous women, I know just how difficult and complicated a task it is, and just how far you have to go in order to tease out the smallest details.

It is for this reason, that the book can feel a little unwieldy in places. I think that people new to the subject matter and to the time period might well struggle with the first section of the book on Pioneers in Northumbria. In an effort to include every woman, of whom so little is known that sometimes it is just a name, it can feel a little bit like a long list of women who you might not be able to fully grasp their importance in the events of the period. There might also be some frustration that the women could only be powerful because of who they married, gave birth to, or were born to. This, however, can’t be avoided. It is the nature of the sources.

And I must urge people to continue reading as the author soon lands on more solid ground (because there is more information available and the women feel more fully formed.) The chapters on Mercia and Wessex are a much easier read, and by the time we reach the chapters on Serial Monogamy and Dowager Queens, the women feel ‘real.’ Again, this is because of an increase in the source material, and potentially, because readers will know more about the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The author manages to cover an extraordinary number of women over the long centuries of the Early English period, and if there are moments where I might have included different information, or rejected some of the Saints Lives and Anglo-Norman historians from the narrative, this is a personal choice, based on my own research methodology which does seem to be the exception rather than the norm.

I confess, the book would have benefitted from a chronology for each chapter, and perhaps a slightly different format (I read an ebook so this might display differently in the paperback), but overall, I am in awe of the author’s ability to hold the narrative together and to produce something that I hope will encourage people to further research these wonderful characters who should be just as well known as their male counterparts.

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

Women of Power is released today, 30th May, and is available from the publisher as well as on other sites, although it is showing as a preorder.

 

Book Review – Camelot by Giles Kristian – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb:

‘Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive.’

I’ve just reread the review I wrote for Lancelot nearly two years ago, and even I’m blushing about how effusive I was about it!

Camelot begins in much the same way. The lead character is a young man, about to take his vows to become a monk on the tor at Glastonbury when his world completely changes. The depiction of life on the tor is wonderfully evoked, and even if the author could have just written ‘bird’ ‘tree’ and ‘flower’ I’m sure many will appreciate the attention to detail. (I’ve never been ‘at one’ with nature).

The story starts quite slowly, drawing you back into the world of post-Roman/pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain with deft skill and then the story truly begins to take shape, secrets are revealed, and the ties to the previous book begin to be revealed.

I truly don’t want to give too much of the story away, but the ‘quest’, for that is what it becomes, takes readers from Cornwall to Anglesey and then further, the fear of what is to come in the future a palpable threat and even though we all know what’s going to happen, in the end (outside the scope of the book) I couldn’t help but hope that it would all be very, very different. The characters demand it from the reader.

And the end, is once more, where I have some small complaints about the story. It’s not that it doesn’t do what I want it to do, it’s just that the ending seems wrong for the story, but then, perhaps, it was always going to because that is the legend of Arthur.

But before that ending, the legends of Arthur and his knights are beautifully evoked, and I think a particular strength is the depiction of King Constantine, a bit part character, but immensely powerful and the very embodiment of a land falling to chaos all around him, and yet not prepared to give way and accept what seems to be the inevitable.

This book, once more, has its flaws, some scenes seem unnecessary, and others are skipped over too quickly, but it feels so true to the legends. There’s so much that’s only half-seen, hinted at but never actually known.

A welcome return to Giles Kristian’s ‘world’ first created in Lancelot, and, I think the author notes at the end of the novel explain a great deal. Now, give me the story of Arthur and his knights at the height of their prowess (please!).

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

Camelot is available from 14th May 2020 from here: