29 Dec 2017

First Line Fridays 18: The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell

Who would believe its the last Friday of 2017? Another year has gone, another year older. I'm making a resolution this year to try and finish all the unread books on my Kindle. I know that with the time and inclination I can get through a 450 odd page novel in a weekend.  At least, I've done it a couple of times. With the Christmas rush over, hopefully, there will be more reading time for a while.

Today, I am sharing a book with a quite unique subject and setting The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell is set in late 16th century Japan. Only recently has the history of Christianity in Early Modern Japan come to the attention of the Western world. 
Briefly, it was Catholic and Jesuit priests from areas like Portugal which brought the faith to the region in the sixteenth century: but towards the close of the century, the Japanese authorities chose to ban Christianity, leading to some terrible persecution.

I know little about these events or Japanese history in general: although I have seen the movie Silence and even listened to the audiobook, and I recall reading an article a while back about historians discovering cross-like patterns in Samurai swords.  Christian Samurai: the whole idea just turns our whole idea of history on its head. 

Anyway, I got this book a few months ago from Kindle Scout: 

Japan, 1587. Sen must find a husband to marry into her family’s swordsmith business. She seeks a Christian husband, though Christianity is banned.
Enter Nobuhiro. Third son of a high-level samurai, Nobuhiro fled his harsh father and apprenticed himself to a swordsmith. He yearns to prove his worth.

They seem an ideal match. But for Sen, the choice is faith or family. For Nobuhiro, choosing a Christian ends any reconciliation with his family. Can love be forged from the impossible?

The book comes with a handy glossary and a list of the characters (always useful), and the first line reads thus:

"By the order of the Regent, Christianity has been banned from the nation". 

Happy Friday from little old England, and see you again in 2018! 


22 Dec 2017

First Line Fridays 17: Christmas Classics

Only three days to go! Here shopping has been manic (but its mostly been for groceries, I buy most of my actual gifts online), and we have not had any snow. We rarely do anyway, but many parts of the country have, not a drop here. Just the wet stuff.  

I've always loved Christmas, but I'm not likely to finish any of my longer books before the new year, although my recently delivered copy of The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen awaits on the shelf. So I'm not including that book, instead of decided to feature two well known-classics which are often associated with the Christmas season.

One is a Christmas story in a traditional sense, the other is not, and both have been adapted for the small and big screen so that sometimes its easy to forget they were originally books.  

Of course, the above is from the much-loved children's book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. 

Narnia . . . a land frozen in eternal winter . . . a country waiting to be set free.

Four adventurers step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice. 

Yup, this is from Dickens 'A Christmas Carol'. Who needs a synopsis for that: everyone knows the story right?  

Happy Friday, and Christmas Blessings from me until next week.  


19 Dec 2017

Deeds of Darkness by Mel Starr

Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton #10 
 18th August (UK), 21st October (USA), Lion Fiction/Kregel
240 Pages, Print and ebook
To bring justice, Master Hugh must foil the corrupt power of great men.
Many medieval scholars discontinued their university studies before completing their degree. Some lacked funds; others became bored with a scholar's life. Occasionally these young men formed lawless bands, robbing and raping and creating chaos. They were called goliards.

In Deeds of Darkness Master Hugh learns that the Bampton coroner, an old friend, has been slain while traveling to Oxford. As he seeks the killer (or killers) he discovers a band of goliards in the area between Oxford and Bampton. But how to apprehend these youths? They have protectors far above Hugh's station. He must deal with the claims of justice on the one hand and the power of great men to protect their henchmen on the other.

My Review: ★★

I’ve followed the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton series almost since the start. Well, OK since the third book came out (but then I went back and read the first two). Although I enjoyed the last book, Lucifer’s Harvest, I think I preferred this one. It's certainly up to the standard of some of the older books in the series (and back to full length at 250 pages: the last one was an aberration at only 125 pages), but also offered plenty for new readers.

There’s everything that fans have come to love, with the details about Medieval medicine, surgery, and life. We can learn a new word ‘hamsoken’ which was the Medieval equivalent of breaking and entering. Who knew that those Medieval landowners were supposed to cut the vegetation back from the edges of public roads, so miscreants would have fewer places to hide? Its small details like that which really add to the series, as well as the relationships between characters and not simply the central mystery.

Hugh’s wife Kate is back in her element, as the intelligent and witty Lady who offers a lot of wise advice, and now they have a son, named after John Wycliffe, no less. Also, her father re-enters the story and his character makes a rather unexpected, but satisfying transformation. I shall say no more, so as not to spoil it. Arthur and Uhtred, Hugh’s erstwhile right-hand-men are also ever-present.

That was also done quite well with a suspect who was not immediately obvious. My only complaints were the use of one or two American terms which slipped through ‘anyplace’ and ‘someplace’, were the ones I remembered. Also, I do seem to recall a little inconsistency about the detail of where one character lived. Overall though, I am glad that this series is continuing (and the Black Prince is going to be in the next one again), its pretty much the reading highlight of my Autumn each year. Recommended for all lovers of historical mysteries which aren’t too intense or too dark. 

I requested a copy of this title from the publisher/distributors including Kregel Books but was not required to write a review. All opinions expressed are my own.

16 Dec 2017

King's Folly by Jill Williamson

Kinsman Chronicles #1
Bethany House, April 5th 2016, 576 Pages 
Print and Ebook
The gods are angry.

Volcanic eruptions, sinkholes, ground shakers--everything points to their unhappiness. At least that is what the king of Armania believes. His son, Prince Wilek, thinks his father's superstitions are nonsense, though he remains the ever dutiful First Arm of Armania.

When a messenger arrives and claims that the town of Farway has been swallowed by the earth, the king sends Wilek to investigate. But what Wilek discovers is more cataclysmic than one lost city. Even as the ground shifts beneath his feet, Wilek sets out on a desperate journey to save his people and his world. But can he do it before the entire land crumbles?

My Review:

This must have been the longest book I have read in a good while, and nearly 550 pages. Epic Fantasy is the word: as in long, so the division into three parts did help. So what was my impression? It was a good book, and I would read the next (though I expect that will take me a good few months as its even longer), but I don't count it among my favourite fantasy novels. The downside of having the Netgalley version was no interactive menu, so I could not switch back the character list to remind myself who was who: until I borrowed the Kindle edition.

There were a lot of characters, which interconnected stories, at it was hard to keep track of what was going on at times. Personally, I was not sure about the world building either: the eclectic mix of Medieval type culture with Castles, with elements of Biblical Hebrew (polygamy, lots of gods) ancient Middle Eastern/Egyptian and a few details that seemed decidedly modern did not really work for me.
Once I got into the story, that was not such a problem, but I never really felt totally immersed in in the invented world, so to speak.

I know some people have complained about certain content in these stories: the fact that many characters have mistresses, and that there is a female, Amazon-like culture whose sole purpose seems to be to seduce and enslave men using black magic. I did not find that to be much of an issue because of the way it was treated (not as a good thing). So, this book's not according to everyone's taste, but fantasy fans might like it.

I requested this book via Netgalley, and then borrowed a copy via Kindle Unlimited. I was not required to write a review and all opinions expressed are my own.

9 Dec 2017

First Line Fridays #16: Dragons!

I know, I know the title is inaccurate and it's actually Saturday morning. I just did not get around to the post yesterday. Today I am featuring a book a read a while back, Mercy's Prince by Katy Huth Jones which is the first in a series of 5 books set in a fictional country loosely based on 12th century Britain. It has knights, battles, romance, people that very closely resemble Scotsmen in kilts and DRAGONS! Various breeds of the beasties including cute little ones that can be kept as pets, and deadly ones which can fight with weapons like men: and legendary Great Dragons, are key to the story. 

As second son of the King of Levathia, seventeen-year-old Valerian desires the quiet life of a scholarly monk. But when he fails to save his older brother in battle, Valerian must instead become crown prince. While a traitorous knight schemes against him, Valerian meets Mercy, a pacifist Healer with whom he can speak mind-to-mind like the great dragons.
Their bond emboldens Valerian to seek out the legendary dragons and ask for their help against the monsters who killed his brother. Can Valerian survive the traitor's assassins long enough to find the dragons? And if he does, can he convince them to lay aside their hatred of humans and help him save the land from destruction?

Makes for a great story: and it turns out the chief dragon is named Albionix: which I think is an amazing name. What's more he, like most of the other Great Dragons can talk and communicate with humans: but only some humans.  Yup, shades of Eragon and Dragonheart: but with Bible verses at the beginning of each chapter, which actually work really well.  Are you getting the idea that I like dragons yet?  

The first two lines are:

"Something scaly crawled across Valerian's cheek. He started awake, shivering in his cloak where he lay curled up on the bare ground"  


I have four more books to go in the series: which should be utter bliss. PLUS there is an audiobook of this one, with a British narrator. Until next time, Happy reading and happy Saturday. 


24 Nov 2017

First Line Fridays #15: The Edict by P.J. Keyworth

That time of the week again! Of course,  we don't celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK, but I can still wish all readers in the USA my best wishes for the day. We're eating duck in blackberry sauce, follow by lemon tart for tonight, its not a special occasion, just a girl's night in, with a movie rental from Amazon video for after.
Sadly, I have also had to take my computer in for repair, because it had a little accident. With all my links and bookmarks on it, being without it is a pain. The 'quotation' button on the computer I am using now does not seem to work, so please bear with me on the odd formatting of this post.

Today I'm featuring the first line of a new book from British author Philippa Jane Keyworth. She is author of three Regency novels The Widow's Redeemer (2012), The Unexpected Earl (2014) and Fool Me Twice (2016), and has another book coming out in exactly a week. Its fantasy, and because its different from her other titles, the author has used her initials instead of her full name.

I have the pleasure of being one of the Advanced Readers for 'The Edict' and I plan to start on it soon.

Amidst robberies, prison breaks, palace intrigues, and an oncoming war, the struggle for peace rests on the shoulders of unlikely allies...

The Reluwyn Empire of Emrilion spans from the Northern Moors to the Tao Desert. The Laowyn, a people chosen by the Spirit, are subject to the Regent’s harsh rule on behalf of the Prince and a raft of oppressive Edicts is about to tip the scales toward rebellion. The Laowyn Resistance defend against persecution but the Regent Garesh’s stranglehold on power is unrelenting. In a bid to solidify his position he arranges for the Edict of Maidens to gather all eligible brides for the Prince’s choosing that the royal might ascend the throne as King with Garesh at his side as rightful power-wielder.

Kiara, a Laowyn woman whose race remains a secret, is chosen for the Prince but before she can be taken she escapes under the guise of a boy. Falling from one captor to another she eventually comes face-to-face with the man she loathes and suddenly two very different worlds collide.

The Edict is an epic fantasy and love story forming the basis of a trilogy that will see the fantasy world brought to the brink of destruction with only a chosen few capable of protecting it.

The first lines read:
"Before the guttering fire was allowed to flicker into oblivion, a small servant scurried over to bank it with fresh logs. Smoke billowed out from the irritated fire but did little to cover the stench of fever, and now in these late stages, of putrefaction."


17 Nov 2017

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

November 7th, 2017, 320 Pages, Thomas Nelson
Print, ebook, and audio
Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.

But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by the other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.

Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

My Review:


I don't tend to read contemporary fiction, unless its timeshift or crossover. I just don't really get on with it, and I think, in part that was the case with this book. I just don't much care for contemporary American settings.

Even the connections with Jane Austen's work did not always grab me, and the central plotline was well done but there was something about Isabel's character. She just never rang true with me: seemed more like a stereotype or a stock character, and never really fully developed. She seemed to spend the entire book just being really unpleasant and bossy, or apologetic.
Even the whole memory loss thing didn't always seem plausible: did Isabel really lose her memory or was she faking, and I mean how could she really think she was living in the nineteenth century when surrounded by modern technology. I don't know if this was the impression that the author was intending to give, but its the one I got.

The details about Jane Austen's Bath were interesting and authentic, but I think you have to have visited some of the sites, and be very familiar with her books to really understand some parts of this book. It's no bad thing, it's just that I'm not that familiar with them. Finally, there were a few mistakes, with the British characters using Americanisms like 'vacation' and 'fall', which usually jar me out of the story.

This was not a bad book by any means, or uninteresting, it just wasn't totally my cup of tea. I know many people love books by this author, and they should like this one as well.

I requested this title from Thomas Nelson via Booklook Bloggers. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

10 Nov 2017

First Line Fridays #14: A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War

So I was planning to do another book, but then I saw the note about Veterans Day (or Remembrance day, as its called in the UK), which is of course tomorrow. Finding a book is a struggle, as I don't read a lot of stuff set during the World Wars. A couple of novels this year, and I have been approved for one releasing in January. 

I just don't fancy doing one of them: something set during another war in the far distant past? In the end, I've chosen to use a non-fiction title I listened to on Audiobook a few months back about the experiences of the famous authors J.R.R Tolkien and C.S.Lewis in the First World War, and its impact on their lives and writings.

Although I disagree with the subtitle of the book and some of the claims made in it .C.S.Lewis if anything, I supposed to have lost his faith during the War, far from having it strengthened, and the two men did not even meet until 1928. 
 Yet, Joseph Loconte does a good job making the subject matter interesting: and bringing to light some interesting passages in the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings which reflect the experiences of the authors in that terrible conflict.  Its even believed that Tolkien penned some of his early work set in Middle Earth during the conflict. 

My passage today does not come from the actual first line, but from part of the introduction to the book.
"Both authors have been accused of escapism. Their choice of literary genre, the romantic myth, was by some estimations "essentially an attempt to liberate themselves from the ugliness and moral impasse of the modern world". Yet neither Tolkien nor Lewis took their cues from works extolling escapist fantasies or the glorification of war".

Readers, I hope will also forgive me for including a meme with another quote, appropriate to the commemorations, spoken by the character of Faramir, Captain of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings; The Two Towers. 

Join me again next week, and click the meme below to see what books other members are including this week.


5 Nov 2017

Two Short Review from Goodreads: Turn of the Century NY and Regency Smuggling

A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden
Empire State #1
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't usually read much fiction set in America, so I have not read anything written by Elizabeth Camden before. I chose this story mostly because it had a British hero.

Her writing style is lovely, the historical details were well-used, and the characters ones that the reader could care about (even if their actions seem a little inconsistent at times), and there was plenty of suspense.
So why did I not give a higher rating: I can't quite put my finger on it exactly, something just didn't click. Perhaps it was just that  I don't really identify with the setting, as I've never been to New York.
Also, I did not really care for the ending: or rather, I did not like the way that it was brought about.

I requested a copy of this title from NetGalley and listened to the Audible version of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own. 


True As Fate by Laurie Alice Eakes
Ashford Chronicles #2 
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fair story, if a little over the top. It was exciting, and the characters not quite as annoying as in the last book. 
Still a lot of mistakes: British characters using American terms like 'gotten, someplace and 'whomever', and the general assumption that the Brits and wrong and Americans right over the War of 1812. Oh, and of course, American privateering is fine: but for Brits its bad and done because they want to take over everything. Naturally.

Worth a read, despite the stereotypes though. I don't think that the parallels between Ross Trennery a certain rakish Cornish nobleman named Ross are accidental. Not a typical Regency and an interesting sequel. Book borrowed through Amazon Kindle Unlimited, so I was not required to write a review.

1 Nov 2017

The Hour Before Dawn by Penelope Wilcock

Hawk and the Dove #5 
2nd edition September 27th 2015, Lion Fiction 
208 Pages, Print and Ebook
Once again, author Penelope Wilcock reaches back through the centuries to the ancient monastery of St. Alcuin. Abbot John is undergoing deep, emotional shock after learning of the rape of his sister and murder of his mother; Father William is discovering his own vulnerability; and there, immersed in the daily routine of simple tasks, the brothers undertake the greatest task of nurturing the grace of God in their souls.

Book 5 in the recently continued The Hawk and the Dove series, The Hour before Dawn explores the psychological impact of grief and trauma as well as how one can be healed. Wilcock deftly weaves themes of the resurrection and ascension throughout the story, exploring the process of having survived suffering, but not yet having moved on. Characters eagerly await the coming dawn of restoration. Based on solid historical research, Wilcock’s representation of monastic life is authentic, rich with poetic prose and a sense of time and place.

The Hour before Dawn affirms our need for one another’s understanding and love as well as our need for a personal relationship with Jesus. Wilcock’s newest story helps readers understand the grieving process, make connections between the Bible and everyday life experiences, and nurture an attitude of understanding and kindness.

 My Review:

This is another one of those books that I am in two minds about. I knew from before I read it that is was very controversial because of the subject matter and some of the content. Basically, it begins with an account of an attack by a group of drunken village men on the mother and sister of Brother John, Abbot of the fictional St Alcuin’s monastery in Yorkshire. The attack culminates in the women’s house being burned down, Madelaine’s John’s mother is accidentally killed and his sister very deliberately raped. 

I do understand where the author was coming from with including these scenes, I really do. It resulted from a desire to explore the impact of emotional trauma as well as the struggle of Christians to reconcile their faith with the bad things that happen in the world, and to other Christians. I am not one of those people who think we should shy away from exploring difficult or painful subjects in Christian Fiction. In fact, I find such content less objectionable when it has a serious purpose then when it simply used to create drama. 

However, I do object to the context in which the scenes in question was presented. It was made out that the villagers attacked Madelaine and her daughter because they were suspected of being ‘witches’ for being able to read, and knowing about herbalism. Later in the story, when a distraught John was considering pursuing legal action, it was claimed that this would only cause more trouble because a Sheriff would probably also suspect such a woman of being a witch. 
Sorry, but I consider such claims to be patent nonsense, which only serves to perpetuate myths about history. There is plenty of evidence that Medieval women could read, and plenty of evidence that they owned books, including religious books and missals. Some women even wrote or translated religious books and were never suspected of ‘witchcraft’ for doing so. It was entirely acceptable for women to be literate, and herbalism was a commonly known and widely accepted practice for both sexes. 

I almost think that in some places, a false or misguided basis was being created from which to condemn supposedly sexist and misogynist attitudes which may not have even existed in the first place, or at least not have been so pervasive as was claimed. Finally, I was a little concerned about one scene in the monastery in which a monk referred to the spiritual resurrection of Christ. Church doctrine for much of the last 2000 years has held to a physical resurrection: only Gnostics believed it was spiritual.
Once I got past certain passages, I did find this book more enjoyable and I will certainly try to finish the series, but this installment is not for the fainthearted or easily offended. Sadly, also, on a historical level, the points detailed above prevent me from giving it a higher rating. 

I was sent a paperback copy of this title from the publisher Lion Fiction upon my request. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

27 Oct 2017

First Line Fridays 13# Deeds of Darkness by Mel Starr

Back again after last week's hiatus. I've been a bit naughty this week since I have actually only just finished my last book The Dishonorable Miss Delancey by Carolyn Miller, which I received from Kregel. You can read my review here.  

So today I am going to feature one of the books I am going to start in the near future. Its the latest in a series of Historical Mysteries, set in 14th century Oxfordshire, which features a Surgeon and Bailiff who solves crimes. The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton is Published by Kregel's UK sister company Lion Hudson (it was originally Publisher by Monarch books) and has actually been around for many years since this is the tenth in the series of which one book is published each year. 

I am a mystery buff generally, but there are two things I enjoy about the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton: the historical background, and the details about Medieval Medicine and surgery.  Also, the series is set in the late 14th century, during the lifetime of John Wyclif, the famous Medieval English Church Reformer, who was based at Oxford University and makes an occasional appearance in the books as a friend and mentor of the hero, Hugh.  

When Bampton’s coroner, Hubert Shillside, does not return from a trip to Oxford, Master Hugh de Singleton is called. Concerned for his old friend, Hugh takes to the road to investigate. Travel is safer than in times hence but, out of sight of prying eyes; it is still unwise to travel alone…
Hugh finds a body, stabbed and left to rot, but it is not the body he was expecting to find. Indeed, reports of pillage, attacks, and chaos on the roads out of Oxford suddenly seem rampant. Hugh must ascertain whether the incidents are random, or whether something darker is afoot. The guilty cannot afford to be caught, but what lengths will they go to cover their tracks, and will Hugh escape unscathed?

The first line (well actually the first two lines) are: 

"Plague has made travel somewhat safer. Many folk have died of the great pestilence in the past twenty-some years, so that those who yet live can find employment where they will have no need to rob other men upon the roads, and risk a hempen noose."

Back again next week; click the Meme to visit the Hoarding Books site and see what the other members are reading.


25 Oct 2017

Kregel Blog Tour: The Dishonorable Miss Delancey by Carolyn Miller

 Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace #3 
October 24th, 2017, Kregel, 294 Pages, Print and Book
Will a damaged reputation and desire for society's approval thwart the legacy of grace?
Tainted by scandal and forced to leave London for the quieter Brighton countryside, the Honorable Miss Clara DeLancey is a shadow of her former society self. She's lost the man she loved to another and, in a culture that has no patience for self-pity, is struggling with depression. A chance encounter brings her a healing friendship with the sisters of an injured naval captain. But Clara's society mama is appalled at the new company she's keeping. 

Captain Benjamin Kemsley is not looking for a wife. But his gallant spirit won't let him ignore the penniless viscount's daughter--not when she so obviously needs assistance to keep moving forward from day to day. Can he protect his heart and still keep her safe?

When they're pushed into the highest echelons of society at the Prince Regent's Brighton Pavilion, this mismatched couple must decide if family honor is more important than their hopes. Can they right the wrongs of the past and find future happiness together--without finances, family support, or royal favor?

I've had the pleasure of reading all three titles of debut author Carolyn Miller's Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace trilogy since March, thanks to Kregel (and Netgalley in part).
The story has been told with the striking realism and humour the author has established in the previous two works; as well as a genuine treatment of the role of faith in the characters' lives, which does not degenerate into the preachy or contrived. Also, it has to be mentioned, that the cover is simply gorgeous.
A sunrise that would entice the photographer in the family. I'm also coming to appreciate the parts of this book which were set in Brighton, a popular seaside resort in East Sussex. I've only visited the city a handful of times, but I do remember some of the streets named, and its great to come across references to places I have actually been in a book like this. It just allows me to relate to it more.

Lady Clara DeLancey was a relatively minor character who appeared as the antagonist in the two previous titles. Making a hero or heroine out of an antagonist can be a challenge, but I think, in this case, the author has done very well.
The reader cannot help but grow in sympathy for Clara, and the circumstances (often beyond her control) that drove her to her previous deeds. In desperation, she sees the extreme which she has reached and wants to start turning her life around after she strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young woman she meets when her parents retire to their house in Brighton.
Much to the consternation of her family, Tessa Kemsley, the sister in law of the local vicar, is not a highborn  Lady, but Clara cannot seem to avoid her, or her brother Benjamin, a former sea captain and war hero: and a man who sees past the facades that the men and women of High Society erect to preserve reputations and hard-won connections. I had one or two quibbles with a couple of parts of the story, a few terms and phrases, and the ending bordered on being a little far-fetched, but nothing major.

I'd heartily recommend this book and the entire trilogy to anyone who loves Regencies, Inspiration or simply meaningful' historical fiction.
I requested this title as part of the Kregel Blog Tours programme (as well as an ebook version from Netgalley) I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

22 Oct 2017

New Release: Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano

October 3rd 2017, Revell
400 Pages, Print, ebook, and audio 

When Aurelie Harcourt's father dies in debtor's prison, he leaves her just two things: his wealthy family, whom she has never met, and his famous pen name, Nathaniel Droll. Her new family greets her with apathy and even resentment. Only the quiet houseguest, Silas Rotherham, welcomes her company.

When Aurelie decides to complete her father's unfinished serial novel, writing the family into the story as unflattering characters, she must keep her identity as Nathaniel Droll hidden while searching for the truth about her mother's disappearance--and perhaps even her father's death.

Author Joanna Davidson Politano's stunning debut set in Victorian England will delight readers with its highly original plot, lush setting, vibrant characters, and reluctant romance.

I requested this book: well, because it was plugged as a Victorian Gothic Romance cum mystery whose protagonist is a young female writer working incognito. What’s not to love? What indeed. There were so many things about this book that were good; insights into the life and struggles of an author, vivid characters, a solid storyline as well as realistic and sympathetic faith elements.

Yet, I have to say I did not like this as much as my favourite Victorian authors: there was plenty of suspense and drama to keep the reader interested, yes, but there were a few things that were really frustrating for me. Mostly, it was the Americanisms: the book was absolutely riddled with them, and this was exacerbated because it was written in the first person so that the Victorian English characters talked about eating ‘candy’ and ‘dessert’. Indeed, all the characters ate in the American way with only forks, instead of according to the British custom, with a knife and fork held in the right and left hands respectively. In another passage, the heroine sees a character emerging, drunk, from the ‘saloon’ of a pub. Establishments that sell alcohol have never been known as saloons in Britain.

The reference to Aurelie and her Aunt traveling to ‘the London station’ was annoyingly vague. Which London station? There are several major railway stations in London which have existed since Victorian times, King’s Cross, Euston, Victoria to name but a few. It sounds as though the author doesn’t know the names of any railway stations in London, and has just given the general location. Sorry, but I find that lack of detail jarring, and that such oversights damage the credibility of the characters and setting.

I suppose these are only minor details, but they do prevent me from giving the book the higher rating which it otherwise deserves. Mrs. Politano is certainly a talented writer, to be able to write what was essentially a story within a story, with so many twists and turns, suspense and intrigue. I look forward to her next one and recommend this one despite some of the reservations detailed above.

I requested this title from Netgalley and listened to the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

17 Oct 2017

New Release: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep

Once Upon A Dickens Christmas #1
September 1st 2017, 192 Pages, Print, ebook and audio

"A mysterious invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home may bring danger...and love?

England, 1851: When Clara Chapman receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet feels compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of one thousand pounds.

But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancĂ©, Benjamin Lane.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar. Brought together under mysterious circumstances, Clara and Ben discover that what they’ve been striving for isn’t what ultimately matters.

What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love"

It's not Christmas, its October, but I decided to read this alongside the audiobook borrowed on Scribd. The description of the book is pretty accurate, its pretty much like a combination of Dickens Bleak House with one of Agatha's Christie's darkest stories 'And Then There Were None' (which was originally entitled 12 Little Indians).

I'm rather in two minds about how some of the characters seemed to be directly lifted from Bleak House, especially Mr. Tallgrass (Mr. Bart. Smallweed, clearly was the inspiration there), and Miss Scurry with her mice, who was clearly based on Miss Flyte with her collection of prophetically named birds.
Whilst I am sure authors borrow from other works all the time, it's not something I'm always totally comfortable with when I spot it. This was still a great book though, and it does not detract from Dickens great tale. To be fair, its hard to beat the classics, so why not use them as an inspiration?

Aside from some of the inevitable Americanisms, and the American narrator of the audiobook who struggled with some of the accents, I did enjoy this book. A lot. Its great little short read for any time of the year, but also ideal reading on a long Winter night over the Holiday season incorporating intrigue, suspense, mystery, but also love and redemption.

I requested the ebook edition of this title from Netgalley for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

13 Oct 2017

First Line Fridays #12: Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano

I've noticed that First Line Friday posts are all I have been, well, posting for a few weeks now, with far less reviews. Maybe its because I'm not posting reviews of most of the titles I listen to as audiobooks, or that reading time is sometimes limited I seem to keep waking up late, which cuts out some of the time I would otherwise spend reading of an early morning. 
Perhaps I need to buy that LED light to stick to the shelf above my bed, instead of rolling over and going back to sleep now that the mornings have grown dark with the onset of British Autumn. 

Anyway, today I am featuring the first line of the book I am about to start reading (or more likely listening to most of on Audible), which I picked as it was set in the Victorian Period, and and I rather like this stories those with a Gothic bent or some underlying mystery.  I heard about the novel months ago, waited for it to appear on Netgalley then had to wait several days before finally being approved.

The first lines read: 

London, England 1861 
 "Well Miss Harcourt. Are you, or are you not, Nathaniel Droll?"

Happy reading and have a good weekend, untul next time. Hopefully I will get more review up in the intervening days. 

6 Oct 2017

First Line Fridays #11: The Middle Ages Unlocked

That time of the week again, and I've managed to fall behind in my reading Challenge again, but I am making my way through two audiobooks and one paperback, so it's not because of laziness. Today also marks another milestone: The First Line Fridays group has a new home and we are including our posts in a new links list.  

Today is also a first for me: I'm including a non-fiction title on this site which is not Christian, for like the first time ever. Those who follow me on Goodreads will probably have seen this title on there: it's a History book that I have been reading for a while. Not because its a bad book, but just because I only read a few pages every now and again in between other titles. 

The Middle Ages Unlocked: A Guide to Life in Medieval England 1050- 1300. Well, the title is pretty self-explanatory, it's from a British Publisher, and the authors are Polish and Latvian scholars. I've always enjoyed reading about how people lived in the past, and not just about major political events, so a book that covers everything from law to clothing, building styles and the dietary habits of Medieval English men and women is ideal for me. 

What's also interesting about this book though, is that it also examines the lives of the Jewish communities of Medieval England, alongside the English, Normans and other majoritygroups. 
There were several thousand Jews in England until their forced expulsion in the late 13th century. 

Today I am including two first lines, actually the first lines of the first two paragraphs, as I think this gives a better idea of what the book is about. 

"So many people love the Middle Ages. Movies, books,  role-playing games and reenactment, these help us to enjoy - and shape how we see, the period.... The Middle Ages of our imagination of popular culture is not, however, always close the Middle Ages that historians and archeologists know." 

That's my contribution for the week: from now on instead of the little list of links at the bottom we're going to be using the button below. Happy Friday from me, and remember to comment with the first line of the book you are reading.


4 Oct 2017

The Captain's Daughter by Jennifer Delamere: Review

London Beginnings #1
Bethany House, June 7th 2017, 352 Pages
Print and Ebook
Warm-Hearted Victorian Romance Brings 1880s London to Life

When a series of circumstances beyond her control leave Rosalyn Bernay alone and penniless in London, she chances upon a job backstage at a theater that is presenting the most popular show in London. A talented musician and singer, she feels immediately at home and soon becomes enthralled with the idea of pursuing a career on the stage.

A hand injury during a skirmish in India has forced Nate Moran out of the army until he recovers. Filling his time at a stable of horses for hire in London, he has also spent the past two months working nights as a stagehand, filling in for his injured brother. Although he's glad he can help his family through a tough time, he is counting the days until he can rejoin his regiment. London holds bitter memories for him that he is anxious to escape. But then he meets the beautiful woman who has found a new lease on life in the very place Nate can't wait to leave behind.

The Captain’s Daughter was an interesting story that worked some very interesting details into the plot: such as the work of the Victorian social reformer George Muller, and the popular composers and playwrights Gilbert and Sullivan. I didn’t know HMS Pinafore was originally written by them.

Much of the ‘action’ revolves around the heroine joining a theatre company and the lives of its members, as well as her relationship with two men: one an Anglo-Irish soldier on leave from India, and the other a charming young member of the company. Although I say ‘action’ this is not one of those fast-moving thriller type stories. It’s more a slow-paced, light historical fiction cum Romance.
The Romantic elements are not overwhelming, and the religious elements worked well into the story without being too preachy. My only complaints were that the dialogue did not always seem authentic for the time-period, and there were a few Americanisms. Londoners don’t and never have given directions by saying ‘two blocks away’. It’s not how we measure distance in British towns and cities. We also don’t say ‘someplace’. I did find those jarring at the beginning but got past it.

I would say that overall I prefer Sandra Byrd’s novels set in the Victorian period, as they tend to be more richly detailed and mysterious, but this one was still good. Probably just a matter of taste, as the former have more of a Gothic feel, and this one does not. 

I requested this title from the Publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

29 Sept 2017

First Line Friday #10: King's Folly by Jill Williamson

Another week come and gone. The British weather didn't disappoint this morning, with a good old-fashioned downpour. Yesterday, I finally caught up on my Goodreads Challenge, after months of being behind. Isn't that great?  

I'm still reading last week's book which is a paperback, but I like to read at least one Kindle book as well. So I've decided to turn my attention to the first novel in Jill Williamson's fantasy series The Kinsman Chronicles. I have literally had a Netgalley version of King's Folly on my Kindle for nearly 2 years. Sometimes it takes me ages to get around to books. 

This series has actually been published in two different versions: as 3 full-length novels (the third one is due out next year), and also as a series of 9 shorter ebooks with each of the longer novels split into three parts. I sort of cheated as started reading King's Folly with the short ebook covering the first third of the story called Darkness Reigns. Truly it does. 

Briefly, the series is a prequel to the author's King's Blood series which came out several years ago, set many centuries before. Although it adopts the traditional vaguely Medieval-ish setting for fantasy, many of the details are based on the peoples, cultures, and events of the Old Testament. So it's a polygamous culture in which the King has many wives and concubines. 
The ending of the world of Armania with earthquakes and fleeing of the population could be seen as having certain parallels with historical events. 

The first line (from the prologue) reads: 

"Aldair Livina sat at the table in the great cabin of his privately owned ship, the Half Moon, looking over his most recent chart of the Eversea. After an eleven-night voyage north-northwest from the Port of Everton, he had discovered a new island." 

Happy Friday reading from Old England (with a hope for the weather to improve for the rest of the day).
Don't forget to check out what the other members are reading. Next week, we are going moving to a new location and getting our own linky tools list based at a new blog called Hoarding Books.


22 Sept 2017

First Line Friday #9: The Hour Before Dawn

After a short break, I'm back to First Line Fridays this week. Life is still busy, but my plans to catch up on my Reading Challenge are going well after the Summer hiatus. Today I'm featuring the second in a series of sequels to a trilogy of tales that were first written 20 years ago.  The original Hawk and Dove Trilogy by British author Penelope Wilcock was a set of 3 short stories centred around a monastery in Yorkshire in the late 1300s.  

Forget Cadfael, the Hawk and Dove is not a mystery series, but focused instead on specific characters: brothers of the fictional St Alcuin's monastery, using their lives and struggles to convey spiritual lessons. The first three stories entitled The Hawk and the Dove, The Wounds of God and The Long Fall placed particular emphasis on Abbot Peregrine, who took on the name Columba when be become a monk. His name was the source of the series title: Columba is the name of a Saint, but also means 'Dove', Peregrine means Hawk and is the name of a breed of falcon.
Fast forward to 2011 when a set of three sequels to the original trilogy was published by Crossway Books following the characters of the first series under the leadership of a new Abbott. A few years later, the series was taken on by British based publisher Lion Fiction, and three more titles were added taking the total up to 9. 

I read the original trilogy back in 2014 and requested the three sequels from the Publisher more than a year ago. The first one (or the fourth book in the series), I read back in March before joining this group, and I'm just getting around to The Hour Before Dawn now. 
Judging from some of the reviews, this title proved to be one of the most controversial in the series because it explores the impact of psychological and emotional trauma through the rape of one of the characters (the sister of one of the monks).
Now, I for one dislike the inclusion of content such as rape scenes in stories just for the sake of it, or just to crank up the drama: but nor do I shy away from books which explore difficult subjects. Readers will be able to read my opinion when I write the review.

The first line reads:

Brother Thomas thought he had never heard a monk shout so loud. 

Remember to check out what the other members of this group are reading on their own websites. Until next time, have a great weekend and happy reading, with love from England.
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