SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Professor Mary Beard (Review)

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Professor Mary Beard

Blurb

By 63 BCE the city of Rome was a sprawling, imperial metropolis of more than a million inhabitants. But how did this massive city—the seat of power for an empire that spanned from Spain to Syria—emerge from what was once an insignificant village in central Italy? 

In S.P.Q.R., Beard changes our historical perspective, exploring how the Romans themselves challenged the idea of imperial rule, how they responded to terrorism and revolution, and how they invented a new idea of citizenship and nation, while also keeping her eye open for those overlooked in traditional histories: women, slaves and ex-slaves, conspirators, and losers. 

Like the best detectives, Beard separates fact from fiction, myth and propaganda from historical record. She introduces the familiar characters of Julius Caesar, Cicero, and Nero as well as the untold, the loud women, the shrewd bakers, and the brave 

jokers. 

S.P.Q.R. promises to shape our view of Roman history for decades to come. 

100 illustrations; 16 pages of colour; 5 maps

Review

I will be honest I did not read this very quickly but I still absolutely loved it. I love how Beard explains things and could easily read her books all the time. I don’t find her writing too in depth or complicated to read but find it informative, interesting and rather funny at times. 

Beard’s focus in this book is how Rome grew not how Rome fell. The book begins at around 63BCE with Cicero uncovering the plot of Catiline. By uncovering this plot by Catiline, Cicero basically saves the state. Although Beard is explaining about the beginnings of Rome she starts in 63BCE because there are more historical records that exist from that period. The Romans very kindly left us a lot of written material.

I found this book a refreshing take on the Roman history because it focuses on Rome’s advancement, how it grew and developed rather than its decline which a lot of books focus on. Beard talks about consuls, senators, generals, emperors and even the middle classes, the poor and slaves. Having studied Classics I know that there is very little written about the lower classes in Rome or in fact women because the people who were writing in Ancient Rome were mainly rich men and that is what they focused on in their writing, they didn’t really bother with the lower classes or women. The fact that Beard has bothered to include the lower classes and women in her book is brilliant and very enjoyable to read about. 

The maps and illustrations both colour and black and white work brilliantly within the book and I found them very helpful with the text. I found the maps particularly useful and the colour illustrations very beautiful. 

I know that some people take issue with this book and I know it is nowhere near a definitive history of Ancient Rome but I found it a highly enjoyable read and not a stale read like some books I have read on Ancient Rome or Greece. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Mary Beard is a Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Newman College and Classics editor of the TLS. She has world-wide academic acclaim, and is a fellow of the British Academy and a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

There Once is a Queen by Michael Morpurgo (Review)

There Once is a Queen by Michael Morpurgo

Blurb

“There once is a Queen ever constant to her people…”

From the Nation’s Favourite Storyteller Sir Michael Morpurgo comes a poetic celebration of our Queen and longest reigning monarch, beautifully illustrated in watercolour by acclaimed artist Michael Foreman.

There once was a little girl, a princess, who became a queen, our Queen Elizabeth. Now, seventy years later, her reign as the longest serving female monarch in history has seen her stand steadfast through triumph and tribulation, and through the monumental changes that have shaped our world, as this remarkable queen has remained devoted to crown, to country… and a corgi or two!

Beginning with the queen as a little girl, planting an oak tree with her father, There Once is a Queen follows her incredible story in a way that will bring this historic reign vividly to life for readers around the world, big and small. An exquisite gift book and commemoration of the Platinum Jubilee, it marks a unique moment in our shared history and will be a treasured keepsake for generations to come. 

Review

I really enjoyed how straight away Morpurgo links his story book to The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spenser which was an epic poem written for Queen Elizabeth I. Thankfully, Morpurgo’s book is not as long as Spenser’s poem.

This little book is the life of the Queen starting with her as a little girl planting an oak tree, then a princess and then as a queen. But whenever the queen wanted some peace and quiet she always returns to that oak tree she planted with her father. I loved the link of the oak tree because an oak tree can live to a vast age and is a symbol of endurance and that is what our queen is also a symbol of. 

The book is set almost as a fairytale but still puts across how hardworking, kind and beautiful our Queen is. The beautiful illustrations by Michael Foreman also really add to this beautiful little book. 

The main thing this book does though in my opinion is show children that the Queen once was a little girl, she once was a child who had the same dreams and thoughts as a child. It shows the Queen as a human rather than a mythical lady who lives in palaces. 

Morpurgo puts the life of the Queen in language that is perfect for children and adults alike and keeps it short and snappy enough for children not to lose concentration or interest in the book. The book makes a beautiful gift edition and keepsake for adults and children who want to remember the Jubilee. Overall, I give this book 3 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Michael Morpurgo has written over 130 books, many of them award winning. His best known work is War Horse which has also been turned into a stage play and a film. In 2003 he was made Children’s Laureate. He set up a charity with his wife called Farms for City Children and in 1999 he was awarded an MBE for his charitable work. In 2017 he was awarded a Knighthood for his charitable work and literature.

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Review)

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Blurb

This is a seductive and evocative epic on an intimate scale, which tells the extraordinary story of a geisha girl. Summoning up more than twenty years of Japan’s most dramatic history, it uncovers a hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. From a small fishing village in 1929, the tale moves to the glamorous and decadent heart of Kyoto in the 1930s, where a young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York; it exquisitely evokes another culture, a different time and the details of an extraordinary way of life. It conjures up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of geisha – dancing and singing, how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the most powerful men.

Review

This book has been sat on my TBR list since 2019 and due to an unexpected hour long break at work where I found myself without a book I fired up the Kindle app on my phone and began reading this book and then found I couldn’t put it down. 

This book begins in a small fishing village in a shack where there live two sisters and their parents. The father is a poor fisherman and when the mother falls sick a local successful businessman suggests sending the two daughters to the city for a new life which the father eventually agrees to. The story then moves to a geisha house in Kyoto where the youngest of the two sisters starts her new life. 

The story is told from the first person perspective of the younger sister who is called Chiyo. Chiyo begins her life in the Okiya as a servant where she must win the approval of those who now own her who she knows as Mother and Granny. If Mother and Granny approve of her she will be trained as a Geisha. However, there is someone who stands in her way and that is the Geisha who currently lives in the Okiya called Hatsumomo. Hatsumomo is an evil woman who has taken a dislike to Chiyo and through the story Hatsumomo works her hardest to stop Chiyo from advancing in anything. 

As the story goes on we learn how Chiyo becomes a Geisha and gets her Geisha name of Sayuri and what her life entails. We also learn how and who helps her to get to her life as a Geisha. Sayuri is telling us her story from her home in New York many years later. She shows us how the life of a Geisha isn’t all luxury but it is hard work and dominated by the world of men. A Geisha spends her whole existence trying to beguile and please men. 

This book is so full on and really informative and that is one of the main reasons I could not put it down. It is also beautifully written and a joy to read. The main reason that I did not give the book a full 5 Dragons was because I didn’t really like the ending. I just didn’t like what Sayuri was willing to do to get her own way and it involved hurting the one man who always tried his hardest to keep her safe and be kind to her. It is for that reason I give the book 4 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Arthur Golden was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was educated at Harvard College, where he received a degree in art history, specialising in Japanese art. In 1980 he earned an M.A. in Japanese history from Columbia University, where he also learned Mandarin Chinese. Following a summer in Beijing University, he worked in Tokyo, and, after returning to the United States, earned an M.A. in English from Boston University. He resides in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children. 

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The Windsor Knot by S. J. Bennett (Review)

The Windsor Knot by S. J. Bennett

Blurb

The morning after a dinner party at Windsor Castle, eighty-nine-year-old Queen Elizabeth is shocked to discover that one of her guests has been found murdered in his room, with a rope around his neck.

When the police begin to suspect her loyal servants, Her Majesty knows they’re looking in the wrong place.

For the Queen has been living an extraordinary double life since her coronation. Away from the public eye, she has a brilliant knack for solving crimes.

With her household’s happiness on the line, her secret must not get out. Can the Queen and her trusted secretary Rozie catch the killer, without getting caught themselves?

Review

My husband read the second book from this series before realising that there was a first so we promptly bought the first one but I got to read it first. I now can’t wait to read the next one. 

I really enjoyed this book and just loved the idea of the Queen solving crimes and what a crime to solve. A guest has been found murdered in his bedroom with a rope around his neck. A murder in the Queen’s favourite residence and whilst she was in the building. I think my favourite person’s reaction to the crime is Prince Philip’s as it is such a contrast to his wife’s and very funny. 

As the story progresses it soon becomes apparent that the people investigating the murder are on completely the wrong track so the Queen decides she must solve the crime but without anybody knowing. This means she must enlist the help of her secretary Rozie. 

The Queen gets Rozie to gather the information she requires which means poor Rozie has to jump through quite a few hoops to make sure nobody knows what she is up to. Rozie also helps the Queen look after the staff who have fallen victim to the questioning. The Queen cares about her staff and wants to make sure that they are happy and safe so she enlists Rozie to make sure they know the Queen is thinking about them. 

I really enjoyed this book and loved how the Queen judges people by how her dogs react to them. The Queen has a sharp mind but a lot of the men around her believe she is a little old lady who needs to be protected from the harshness of the murder investigation but instead of putting them right she smiles and holds her tongue and bests them all without them knowing. My favourite character was definitely Prince Philip even though he wasn’t in the book much. Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

SJ Bennett was born in Yorkshire, England in 1966, and lives in London. An army child, she grew up travelling around the world. Her first novel was published when she was 42, after a varied career and lots of procrastination. She is the award-winning author of several books for children and teaches and podcasts about writing.

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Dogs in Medieval Manuscripts by Kathleen Walker-Meikle (Review)

Dogs in Medieval Manuscripts by Kathleen Walker-Meikle

Blurb

Throughout the Middle Ages, medieval manuscripts often featured dogs, from beautiful and loving depictions of man’s best friend, to bloodthirsty illustrations of savage beasts, to more whimsical and humorous interpretations. Featuring stunning illustrations from the British Library’s rich medieval collection, Dogs in Medieval Manuscripts provides—through discussion of dogs both real and imaginary—an astonishing picture of the relationship of dogs to humans in the medieval world. Now in a gift book format. 

Review

I am definitely a dog person and even though I currently live with a cat and have done for quite a few years cats are still a mystery to me and my love of dogs is still there. So when I saw this book in Topping and Company bookshop in Bath I knew I had to buy it. 

The things I love about this book is that it doesn’t bombard you with information like some history books do. Instead every two page spread has a beautiful example of a medieval manuscript and a fact on the opposite page with another smaller manuscript example. The pictures and the facts don’t always go together but that doesn’t matter because a description of what and where the manuscript comes from is always included on the page as well. 

The book contains a wide variety of facts about dogs in medieval manuscripts all the way from what names were considered best for dogs, to what medicines you could use to treat different illnesses dogs had including some very strange ones for dogs who were rabid. There was also a very interesting use of dogs for pulling up mandrake roots. 

I really enjoyed this book and will be getting Kathleen Walker-Meikle’s other books because I loved her writing style. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons and will definitely be reading it again in the future even to just look at the beautiful images.  

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Purchase Links

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About the author

Kathleen Walker-Meikle completed her PhD at University College, London on late-medieval pet keeping. She researches and writes on medieval and early modern animals and medicine.

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The Grand Banks Cafe by Georges Simenon (Review)

The Grand Banks Cafe by Georges Simenon

Blurb

Sailors don’t talk much to other men, especially not to policemen. But after Captain Fallut’s body is found floating near his trawler, they all mention the Evil Eye when they speak of the Ocean’s voyage.

Review

This Maigret book was so good I could not put it down. I had no idea who the killer was or even the full extent of the crimes that had taken place but Maigret worked them all out. 

The start of the book had me giggling straight away. Maigret is about to go on holiday and Mrs Maigret is just finishing the packing and looking forward to spending her holiday with her family making jams and preserves. Maigret however has just received a letter which is asking for his help in solving a crime and obviously Maigret can’t resist so poor Mrs Maigret has to go along with the plan and go somewhere else for her holiday. She also knows that she will be spending her holiday mostly alone because Maigret will be busy investigating the crime. 

As soon as Maigret arrives he goes straight to where the sailors go to get drunk and sits there observing until he starts asking questions. Even though Maigret is not officially investigating the murder case he throws himself straight into the investigation and has no fear of mixing around the rough sailors. He also puts his wife to good use by getting her to look after a young woman who is connected to the case. 

The pieces of the puzzle that Maigret gathers looked completely random to me and one piece I hadn’t even noticed. However at the end Maigret explains everything and it all becomes clear. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would have loved it if had been a bit longer but sadly it  is typical Maigret length of approximately 150 pages. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

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Purchase Links

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was a Belgian writer who published nearly 500 novels and many short stories. Simenon is best known as the creator of the Maigret stories.

If you enjoy reading my blog and would like to make a donation I would be very grateful. Thank you

Blind Spot by Paula Hawkins (Review)

Blind Spot by Paula Hawkins

Blurb

Since they were kids, Edie, Jake and Ryan have been the closest of friends. It’s been the three of them against the world. Edie thought the bonds between them were unbreakable. So when Jake is brutally murdered and Ryan accused of the crime, her world is shattered.

Edie is alone for the first time in years, living in the remote house that she and Jake shared. She is grief-stricken and afraid – with good reason. Because someone is watching. Someone has been waiting for this moment. Now that Edie is alone, the past she tried so hard to leave behind is about to catch up with her…

Review

I do love a Quick Reads book. The series has introduced me to so many amazing authors and sometimes I just fancy a quick book that I can basically read in one sitting. 

This book centres around the character Edie. Edie is married to Jake but since she was a child she has always been best friends with Jake and Ryan. The three of them are a team, Edie believes there are no secrets between any of them but when Jake is brutally murdered and Ryan is accused of the murder her world starts to unravel. 

Edie is left alone, living in a remote house that she shared with Jake. She is left with mounting bills, the debts she finds out that Jake had secretly taken out and the prospect that one day the house will fall off the cliff it is on. Edie has no job, no real friends and she is afraid. She is afraid because it soon occurs to her that someone is watching her, someone knows her every move. Edie’s past has come back to haunt her. 

I really enjoyed this story but I did find Edie very annoying. Edie was one of those people who happily ignores what is right at the end of her nose because it suits her circumstances. She is oblivious to anything other than herself or Jake and Ryan and anything outside of the trio she does not want to know. This way of thinking has been going on since childhood with damning consequences. 

I had no clue who the murderer was in this book until I got towards the end and started to have my suspicions. Considering the book was so small it kept me hooked and constantly wondering what would happen next. It was brilliantly written and I will definitely be reading more by Paula Hawkins. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragon. 

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Paula Hawkins (1972) is a British author best known for the novel The Girl on the Train.

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A Crime in Holland by Georges Simenon (Review)

A Crime in Holland by Georges Simenon

Blurb

When a French professor visiting the quiet, Dutch coastal town of Delfzijl is accused of murder, Maigret is sent to investigate. The community seem happy to blame an unknown outsider, but there are people much closer to home who seem to know much more than they’re letting on: Beetje, the dissatisfied daughter of a local farmer, Any van Elst, sister-in-law of the deceased, and, of course, a notorious local crook.

Review

I will be honest, I struggled a little bit with this book and I think it was because Maigret was held at a disadvantage because the language barrier that he encountered when investigating. I did eventually get into the book and loved the storyline. 

Maigret finds himself sent to a Dutch town to investigate a murder. The reason he is investigating a murder in a foreign country is because the accused is a French professor. Poor Maigret is definitely out of his comfort zone in this book. He can’t go into a French cafe for a nice drink to help him think, the streets he walks are not the streets he knows so well and he finds himself having a go at crossing a canal by jumping on the floating logs, which would never happen on his normal beat.

As Maigret investigates the murder he soon finds out that there are a lot of potential murderers. There is the annoying Beetje, who is a terrible flirt who hates being the daughter of a farmer and feels trapped at home. Then there is Any van Elst, the sister-in-law of the victim and who Maigret keeps reminding us is not a good looking woman. There is even the wife of the deceased and of course the accused French professor. Then for good measure there is a local who is known to make his living in underhand ways but who was a good friend of the deceased. 

As Maigret tries to piece together the events of the evening that saw the murder happen he is hampered by deliberate red herrings and secrets that the locals wish to keep hidden. In the end Maigret decides to recreate the night of the murder, with himself playing the deceased, to force the murderer out. 

The descriptions of the different locations in the book and the atmosphere that Simenon creates are the things that I love most about this book. You can easily imagine Maigret who is not a small man attempting to cross a canal using floating logs as stepping stones.    Once I got into this book I did enjoy it and give this book 3 out of 5 Dragons.

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Purchase Links

Book Depository | Foyles | Waterstones | Wordery

(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was a Belgian writer who published nearly 500 novels and many short stories. Simenon is best known as the creator of the Maigret stories.

To find my other Maigret reviews please visit Maigret Challenge.

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Women of Holy Week: An Easter Journey in Nine Stories by Paula Gooder (Review)

Women of Holy Week: An Easter Journey in Nine Stories by Paula Gooder

Blurb

In the style of her bestselling Phoebe, Paula Gooder uses her extensive biblical expertise to retell the events of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension through the eyes of nine female characters she imagines accompanying Jesus during these momentous days. Accompanied by nine colour illustrations, each story brings to life the tension, drama and shock of the events of Holy Week, banishing any over-familiarity and helping readers enter into the Passion narrative in a deeper, more meaningful way. Originally given as a series of addresses at Southward Cathedral during Holy Week 2021, these nine stories are for all who long to encounter Jesus afresh through the Easter Story. 

Review

I read about this book on a Twitter account and thought it would be an interesting read on the run up to Easter and I was not disappointed. 

The women in Jesus’ life are quite often overlooked in the bible. This is partly due to the period in which the bible was written and how women were valued and treated in that time and also because certain books have been removed from the bible. However, Jesus did not underestimate the women who were in his life, he valued them. These women never left him, they were there at his death and they were there when he had risen. 

The book contains nine stories of different women, some are named in the bible and some are given names by Gooder. Through these stories we get an insight into the last week of Jesus’ life. Some of these stories are quite well documented in the bible but for some of the stories Gooder has used a bit of poetic licence but one thing is for certain all these stories are possible. 

I really enjoyed this book, I found it interesting and thought provoking and I also enjoyed the extra notes that Gooder provides at the end of the book. The notes give the bible readings that go with the stories and extra details about the history of the bible readings. I even used one of the women’s stories in a service I took before Easter and it worked really well. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and will be reading more books by Paula Gooder. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons. 

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Purchase Links

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Paula Gooder is a speaker and writer on the Bible, particularly on the New Testament. She began her working life, teaching for twelve years in ministerial formation first at Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford and then at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham. Following this she spent around eight years as a speaker and writer in biblical studies travelling the country and seeking to communicate the best of biblical scholarship in as accessible a way as possible, after that she spent six years working for the Bible Society as their Theologian in Residence and then for the Birmingham Diocese as their Director of Mission Learning and Development. She is currently the Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

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The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins (Review)

The New Magdalen by Wilkie Collins

Blurb

Wilkie Collins is rightly regarded as one of the nineteenth century’s most eminent writers. Although many Persephone readers will know The Woman in White and The Moonstone, he in fact published twenty-one other novels. The New Magdalen (1873), Persephone Book No.138, is about a ‘fallen woman’, Mercy Merrick, attempting to rehabilitate her character and her reputation; and the (often reprehensible and unkind) attitude of some of those around her.

Review

I love The Woman in White so I had high hopes for this book and I was not disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I will be honest I have never rooted for someone who should be seen as the bad guy so much and disliked the good person so much. 

Mercy Merrick has had a terrible life and in the eyes of society she can’t sink any lower but Mercy has been trying to rebuild her life and make herself respectable again but society won’t let her achieve her dreams and keeps knocking her down. The story begins with Mercy working as a nurse in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. However, during this period Mercy happens to meet Grace Roseberry and they exchange stories. Grace is going to England to become the companion of a rich lady and has all the papers and evidence she needs to achieve this. However, Grace is killed by a shell and Mercy sees her chance at a different life. 

Mercy is a wonderful character, she has had a terrible childhood and adolescence but none of this was her fault. It was the fault of a society that did not look after its poor and vulnerable. Mercy tries to better herself though and refuses to go back to the life she once led. She works hard in whatever job she is in and strives to always do her best. But it isn’t just the fact she works hard it is the fact that she is good and kind and always thinking of others. Other people could have been made bitter and angry by a past like Mercy’s but this is not the case with Mercy and this is why Lady Janet and Julian Gray love her so much. 

Lady Janet is an extremely wealthy woman who is very lonely. She has no children and her marriage we are told was loveless. For all her wealth she has had no love in her life apart from the love of her nephew Julian Gray. Julian Gray is a reverend of some renown, his sermons are legendary and he is known as being rather different from his fellow clergy.  He does not judge people and will try to help anyone in need. 

Grace Roseberry and Horace Holmcroft were my least favourite characters of the book. Grace was pure evil in my eyes, she might appear the perfect lady but she was shallow, unfeeling, selfish and judgemental. Horace Holmcroft spent his life surrounded by his mother and sisters and he was very much a mommy’s boy. His character is also exactly like Grace’s but Collins does not show us his true character until later in the book. 

This book is beautifully written by Collins and so clever that I did not want to put it down. The book really shows that true love can be blinding, it can be all forgiving, it can make you completely change your opinions, true love can really conquer all. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons and I can’t wait to read my next Collins novel. 

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Purchase Links

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

William Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was an English novelist and playwright known especially for The Woman in White and The Moonstone.

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