Dark Fire by C. J. Sansom (Review)

Dark Fire by C. J. Sansom

Blurb

Summer, 1540. Matthew Shardlake, believing himself out of favour with Thomas Cromwell, is busy trying to maintain his legal practice and keep a low profile. But his involvement with a murder case, defending a girl accused of brutally murdering her young cousin, brings him once again into contact with the King’s chief minister – and a new assignment . . . 

The secret of Greek Fire, the legendary substance with which the Byzantines destroyed the Arab navies, has been lost for centuries. Now an official of the Court of Augmentations has discovered the formula in the library of a dissolved London monastery. When Shardlake is sent to recover it, he finds the official and his alchemist brother brutally murdered – the formula has disappeared. Now Shardlake must follow the trail of Greek Fire across Tudor London, while trying at the same time to prove his young client’s innocence. But very soon he discovered nothing is as it seems . . .

Review

I was so excited to read another story about Matthew Shardlake as I thoroughly enjoyed the first book Dissolution. This book is set three years after the first book and finds Shardlake no longer in the employment or favour of Cromwell but quietly working as a lawyer in London.

Shardlake is defending a girl who is accused of murdering her cousin and must work quickly if he has any chance of saving her. However, during this time Cromwell throws a spanner in the works by giving Shardlake another case and not an easy one. Cromwell also gives Shardlake a rather uncouth assistant to help him called Barack who likes to call  people he doesn’t like a rather rude name.

Shardlake and Barack have to work on the two cases at the same time but the one for Cromwell is hampered constantly. People are trying to kill Shardlake and Barack and the people involved that could help the investigations are killed before they can help. The other problem is that Shardlake and Barack always seem to be one step behind the bad guys.

This book really kept me on my toes and I never worked out who was guilty for either crime until it is revealed until the end. I also enjoyed reading about how the Tudors considered humours to be the source of health and illness as I have just finished an assignment on health in ancient Greece and Rome and their health and treatments also relied on the balance of humours.

There are so many twists and turns in this book and it never stopped for a moment. I couldn’t put this book down and throughly enjoyed it, in fact I think I enjoyed it more than the first book in the series. I can’t wait to read more about Shardlake and I give this book 5 out of 5 books. 

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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

C. J. Sansom was educated at Birmingham University, where he took a BA and then a PhD in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he retrained as a solicitor and practised in Sussex, until becoming a full-time writer. He lives in Sussex.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Review)

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Blurb

Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, HAMNET is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child. 

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet. 

Review

Always seduced by a pretty cover I got this book because of the special Waterstones edition that is very attractive.

I do love the work of Shakespeare and have been trying to read all of his works. Although I will be honest I always felt very sorry for his wife who was left behind all that time whilst he was in London.

Hamnet is based on Shakespeare’s son, Hamlet or Hamnet but really it is more to do with Shakespeare’s marriage. The story moves backwards and forwards to the present day and to the past based around Agnes and William as children and how they came about meeting and getting married.

Agnes or Anne as she is more commonly known, is described as a woman with peculiar talents. Agnes can see the dead and also see snippets into the future and she understands the properties of herbs and can heal people with them. This means that people both fear her and need her in equal measure.

William is introduced as the eldest son of a glove maker who does not get on with his father. His father sees him as a waste of space and does not understand why his eldest son does not want to take the family business on. William is acting as tutor to earn a living but is not enjoying it and is getting more and more depressed and frustrated until he makes the move to London.

The book shows us how Agnes and William cope as parents, living so far apart and having to deal with the death of a child. I found this section very emotional but I must admit I got very frustrated with William and Agnes at times and felt very sorry for their daughters.

I enjoyed the story and found that O’Farrell had taken an interesting take on the people we know so well from history and yet know so little. I will be honest I could have done without the chapter about a flea and just found it rather unnecessary. I also discovered there were a few sections that I found unnecessary and could have done without but overall I did enjoy this piece of historical fiction and give it 3 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

Maggie O’Farrell (born 1972, Coleraine Northern Ireland) is a British author of contemporary fiction, who features in Waterstones’ 25 Authors for the Future. It is possible to identify several common themes in her novels – the relationship between sisters is one, another is loss and the psychological impact of those losses on the lives of her characters.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd (Review)

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

Blurb

Bridie Devine—female detective extraordinaire—is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors trading curiosities in this age of discovery.

Winding her way through the labyrinthine, sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing a past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where spectacle is king and nothing is quite what it seems.

Blending darkness and light, history and folklore, Things in Jars is a spellbinding Gothic mystery that collapses the boundary between fact and fairy tale to stunning effect and explores what it means to be human in inhumane times.

Review

I love a gothic mystery so I was very excited to start reading this book and I will be honest it was rather a surprise once I got into the story. 

My first impression of this book was too much description and it took me a while to get used to this. Kidd is an excellent writer but sometimes her descriptions can go on too long. For example she describes at one point all the different dreams people are having and to be honest I just lost interest as they were characters that were not important. However, that is my only problem with this story; the rest I loved.

Bridie is fantastic and the more I got to know her the more I loved her character. Bridie is clever and has the ability and intellect to be an amazing doctor but sadly she is woman and women are not allowed to be doctors. This doesn’t stop Bridie though who helps Inspector Rose with unusual cases by examining the bodies and the scene of the crime. She also solves crimes for private clients as well. Bridie is eccentric, she smokes a pipe and speaks her mind and is a force to be reckoned with and she does all of this in a dress and many petticoats, most of the time.

I will be honest Bridie is basically a female Sherlock Holmes and it is very clear that that is who Kidd based the character on. Bridie also has a house maid called Cora who is fascinating. Cora is seven foot tall and a very scary woman who the local children find very interesting. She is also a fantastic bodyguard for Bridie who will see no harm come to her.

This story combines folklore and history together perfectly and makes for a fascinating read. I will be honest at times I found it a little disturbing but it was still a fabulous read that I highly enjoyed. I give this story 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

Jess Kidd was brought up in London as part of a large family from county Mayo and has been praised for her unique fictional voice. Her debut, Himself, was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards in 2016. She won the Costa Short Story Award the same year. Her second novel, The Hoarder, published as Mr. Flood’s Last Resort in the U.S. and Canada was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2019. Both books were BBC Radio 2 Book Club Picks. Her latest book, the Victorian detective tale Things in Jars, has been released to critical acclaim. Jess’s work has been described as ‘Gabriel García Márquez meets The Pogues.’ 

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell (Review)

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

Blurb

It is the winter of 1893, and in London the snow is falling.

It is falling as Gideon Bliss seeks shelter in a Soho church, where he finds Angie Tatton lying before the altar. His one-time love is at death’s door, murmuring about brightness and black air, and about those she calls the Spiriters. In the morning she is gone.

The snow is falling as a seamstress climbs onto a ledge above Mayfair, a mysterious message stitched into her own skin. It is falling as she steadies herself and closes her eyes.

It is falling, too, as her employer, Lord Strythe, vanishes into the night, watched by Octavia Hillingdon, a restless society columnist who longs to uncover a story of real importance.

She and Gideon will soon be drawn into the same mystery, each desperate to save Angie and find out the truth about Lord Strythe. Their paths will cross as the darkness gathers, and will lead them at last to what lies hidden at the house on Vesper Sands. 

Review

This is a new author for me and I must admit I was really excited to read the book. When I started the book I really struggled to initially get into it and to start with I did not get on with the character of Octavia, I found her very annoying. Thankfully I kept reading and eventually started to get into the story.

The thing which annoyed me the most was the lack of detail in the book. Octavia and her brother clearly had a back story but we never got to hear what it was. We knew that Inspector Cutter had a story but we never got to hear it fully and there were massive holes in the story that were not fully explained. I really wanted to know more and to be honest that is why I kept reading but I never got those answers.

My favourite character was Inspector Cutter, he was obviously a man who had seen a lot of life and a lot of crime and he knew how to get the answers and results he needed. He had some fantastic lines and I must admit I did laugh quite a lot when reading his interactions with Gideon.

Gideon was an interesting character and I enjoyed seeing how his character developed through the book. He started off very naive but as he worked with Cutter he got to know more of how the real world worked and also realised that his constant talking was not the best thing to be doing.

I enjoyed the book overall but I will be honest I would not read it again. It really had the potential of being an excellent story but it was just lacking. I give this book 3 out of 5 Dragons. 

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Purchase Links

Amazon | 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

Paraic O’Donnell’s first novel, The Maker of Swans, was named the Amazon Rising Stars Debut of the Month for February 2016, and was shortlisted for the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards in the Newcomer of the Year category.

Dissolution by C. J. Sansom (Review)

Dissolution by C. J. Sansom

Blurb

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church and the country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. Under the order of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent through the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: the monasteries are to be dissolved.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege – a black cockerel sacrificed on the altar, and the disappearance of Scarnsea’s Great Relic.

Dr Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell into this atmosphere of treachery and death. But Shardlake’s investigation soon forces him to question everything he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes . . .

Review

This book was my buddy read and I came across this book because my buddy had suggested it, otherwise I might never have discovered the wonderful character of Shardlake.

I will be honest I struggled to put this book down once I became engrossed in the story and got acquainted with Shardlake’s character. Dr Matthew Shardlake is a lawyer and as well as having his own successful practice he also works for Cromwell and it is on Cromwell’s bidding that Shardlake finds himself at the monastery of Scarnsea. Shardlake uses his many skills in deduction to work out what exactly has been going on at Scarnsea and it is wonderful to see how he works everything out and puts together the truth. 

Matthew is Shardlake’s assistant in the investigation and a family friend who Shardlake feels greatly responsible for. Matthew clearly does not have the same skill set as Shardlake but he is useful for Shardlake’s protection and when Shardlake needs someone to look menacing. Matthew clearly has a great affection for Shardlake in return and is always checking on Shardlake’s welfare and I really enjoyed how their friendship shifted through the story. 

The monks in the monastery are I admit all suspicious and it made it hard for me to try and work out the murderer although I was pleased to find I was half correct in my own deductions. As the story unfolds it quickly becomes clear that all the monks could have had a reason to commit the crime. 

Sansom’s description of the different parts of London and Scarnsea are all excellent and the little extra details he gives about Cromwell’s office and other areas really helps set the scene and you soon realise that everything Sansom has described has a purpose, even if you do not see the significance right away. You can also see Sansom’s considerable experience in history as everything is well researched within the story. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I have ordered the next in the series as I can’t wait to see what Shardlake is up to next. I give this book 5 out 5 Dragons and highly recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction and a good crime thriller.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | 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

C. J. Sansom was educated at Birmingham University, where he took a BA and then a PhD in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he retrained as a solicitor and practised in Sussex, until becoming a full-time writer. He lives in Sussex.

Circe by Madeline Miller (Review)

Circe by Madeline Miller

Blurb

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Review

After reading The Song of Achilles I was really excited to read this book by Miller but I must admit I was slightly disappointed because it just didn’t seem to have the same polish to it like The Song of Achilles. 

Circe is an interesting character from the myths of ancient Greece and Miller has taken an interesting view of Circe’s story. Circe is the daughter of a Titan and the Oceanid nymph Perse, but Circe and her three siblings are not the normal offspring of a Titan and a nymph, they have abilities that Zeus fears greatly. Circe sadly is ignored by her family because she does not look or sound like a being that possesses divinity so she turns to mortals for friendship.

I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Circe in this book as she never seems to get a break and when things do start to go well something always happens for that to change. However, I do think Miller has used her literary license here to make Circe’s story rather depressing at times. As someone who is studying Classics I will be honest I was bit annoyed how Miller treated certain things like Glaucus but I will forgive her. I did like how Miller included the Golden Fleece and the Minotaur in the story and was pleased to see them included.

Circe only really acts like she does because she lacked guidance from her elders and had to make her own way in the world. As her life went on she makes decisions based on the way she has been treated and some of those are good and some are bad and some she regrets dearly. Everything she does helps her decide where she belongs in the world. 

Circe is quite often depicted as a loose woman who preys on men but Miller hasn’t gone down that route thankfully and been kinder to Circe. However, I am not too keen on some of the aspects Miller has chosen to either avoid or rewrite about Circe and that for me was a real shame. I did really enjoy the book though and give it 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)

About the author

Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles is her first novel.

Anna of Kleve: Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir (Review)

Anna of Kleve: Queen of Secrets by Alison Weir

Blurb

Newly widowed and the father of an infant son, Henry VIII realizes he must marry again to insure the royal succession. Now forty-six, overweight and unwell, Henry is soundly rejected by some of Europe’s most eligible princesses, but Anna of Kleve—a small German duchy—is twenty-four and eager to wed. Henry requests Anna’s portrait from his court painter, who enhances her looks, painting her straight-on in order not to emphasize her rather long nose. Henry is entranced by the lovely image, only to be bitterly surprised when Anna arrives in England and he sees her in the flesh. She is pleasant looking, just not the lady that Henry had expected.

Review

I will be honest I was not looking forward to this book as I have always felt really sorry for Anna of Kleve and thought this story would be hard to read. Poor Anna arranged to marry a much older man who is obese, and who hasn’t looked after himself and really does not have the best reputation with his past wives. She must have been terrified when she first met the King.

Anna has led a sheltered life controlled by her mother. She has not been allowed to learn music and her education has been limited because she has only been allowed to learn what is needed for a woman whose duty is to marry and be a good wife. This was always going to be a problem for Henry who liked his women to know music and be educated and then poor Anna could never live up to the portrait that had been painted of her. Henry had fallen in love with the portrait and was disappointed by Anna in real life.

Weir had embellished the story of Anna slightly which I can understand why because of what Henry had supposedly said but I am not sure I was fully onboard with it. I won’t say more as I don’t want to spoil it for you. Weir had made Anna a beautiful character, although she was horrified by Henry to start with she endeavoured to be the best wife she could be and when sadly the marriage was dissolved she endeavoured to be the best friend she could be to Henry and his children.

I loved Anna’s character, she was full of love and kindness and always wanted to do the best she could for everyone although she did have a bit of a wine problem and I will be honest I had a good giggle whenever she was drinking wine in the book. It would be a good drinking game to be honest, every time you read that Anna has a glass of wine you take a sip of your drink. Although Anna is left a good settlement I can’t help but wonder if she was been swindled out of her money.

This book is a beautiful story but it did pull at the heart strings and I did avoid reading it sometimes when I knew what was coming up. Another triumph by Weir but I have only given the book 4 out of 5 Dragons because I did not entirely agree with the one storyline.

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)

About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

 

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Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir (Review)

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

Blurb

The woman haunted by the fate of her predecessor.

Eleven days after the death of Anne Boleyn, Jane is dressing for her wedding to the King. She has witnessed at first hand how courtly play can quickly turn to danger and knows she must bear a son … or face ruin.

This new Queen must therefore step out from the shadows cast by Katherine and Anne. In doing so, can she expose a gentler side to the brutal King?

Jane Seymour. The third of Henry’s Queens. Her story.

Review

I will be honest straight away this is my favourite book so far from the Six Tudor Queens series by Weir and possibly the best book I have read so far this year. I could not put this book down and absolutely loved it!

The first thing I love about this book and the previous two is how the books entwine and you get to see the same scene but from different Queens’ perspectives. I love the different perspectives seen and the different feelings expressed about the same situation. This also shows the back stabbing nature of the court and how lethal it can be just dabbling in idle gossip.

Weir shows Jane Seymour as a wonderful character in this book and the way I always like to think of Jane Seymour. Jane is a timid, good natured creature, who has a deep faith and worries for her soul. Some people think Jane is the boring queen but I think she was a wonderful breath of fresh air after Anne Boleyn. Jane is a complete opposite of Anne Boleyn and that is what attracts Henry to her and although she doesn’t argue with him she has a deep inner strength. She gets the Princess Mary back to court and always tries to get Henry to do the right thing.

The description of Jane’s family home and family life before she goes to court is wonderfully detailed and a joy to read. I also really liked the characters of Jane’s brothers and her mother.

However, in this book poor Jane is haunted by a shadowy figure and every time she sees this figure tragedy follows. Is it a vision of Jane’s creating or real? We do not know but it is clear that Jane feels a deep sense of guilt over the death of Anne Boleyn.

I absolutely loved this book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the author’s notes at the end. I always enjoy reading about how Weir created the book. I highly recommend this book and the series so far. They contain love, intrigue, religion, drama, history and much more. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

Purchase Links

Book DepositoryWaterstones

Reviews of previous books

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession

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The Chateau of Briis: A Lesson in Love by Alison Weir (E-Short Review)

The Chateau of Briis: A Lesson in Love by Alison Weir

About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

Blurb

1515 – Dressed in wine-coloured satin, with her dark hair worn loose, a young Anne Boleyn attends a great ball at the French court. The palace is exquisitely decorated for the occasion, and the hall is full with lords and ladies – the dancing has begun. Anne adores watching the game of courtly love play out before her eyes, though she is not expecting to be thrown into it herself. But moments later, a charming young man named Philippe du Moulin approaches to ask for her hand in the dance. And before she can resist, so begins Anne’s first lesson in love.

Review

Another short story from the Six Tudor Queens series and I must admit I really enjoyed this one. It was somewhat more satisfying than The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today as that just left me feeling a bit frustrated with the story.

This is a wonderful little story but it was a little emotional rollercoaster. Anne Boleyn has her first lesson in love in this story and although it is only something Weir has made up it would explain a great deal about Anne Boleyn’s character. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her at times.

This little glimpse into Anne’s life in the French court is wonderful and full of detail. I throughly enjoyed it but again found it was very short, just a few extra pages and I would have been happier but it is a perfect little novella to read between Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession and Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen. I have given this story 4 out of 5 Dragons.

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The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today by Alison Weir (E-Short Review)

The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today by Alison Weir

About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

Blurb

Jo, historian and long-term admirer of Anne Boleyn, takes a group on a guided tour of the Tower of London, to walk in the shoes of her Tudor heroine. But as she becomes enthralled by the historical accuracy of her tour guide and the dramatic setting that she has come to love, something spectral is lurking in the shadows . . .

Review

I am sure I have read this little story before but I don’t know where from as I have never owned it. I do not mind though as I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this little story again.

I have always been fascinated by the history of the Tower of London and have often thought it is probably the home to many ghosts so this little story is right up my street.

This little story centres around a tour group who Jo is in charge of and she books a special tour guide to take them all around the Tower. This tour guide is dressed up like Anne Boleyn and looks incredible, everyone is impressed. As the tour progresses though a spectral figure is spotted in another group.

I really enjoyed this story but it was just too short! Seven pages just wasn’t enough. I was begging Weir to make it longer but sadly no. I loved the detail in this story, the detail of the Anne Boleyn lookalike tour guide’s dress was fantastically described and had me hooked. I can sadly only give this short story 3 out of 5 Dragons because it was just too short for me.

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