Fireside Gothic by Andrew Taylor (Review)

Fireside Gothic by Andrew Taylor

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About the author

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Andrew Taylor was born in 1951 and is a British author best known for his crime novels. He has won the Diamond Dagger which is Britain’s top crime-writing award.

Blurb

BROKEN VOICES

It’s Christmas before the Great War and two lonely schoolboys have been forced into companionship. Left in the care of an elderly teacher, there is little to do but listen to his eerie tales about the nearby Cathedral. The boys concoct a plan to discover if the stories are true. But the Cathedral is filled with hidden dangers, and curiosity can prove fatal.

THE LEPER HOUSE

One stormy night in Suffolk, a man’s car breaks down following his sister’s funeral. The only source of light comes from a remote cottage by the sea. The mysterious woman who lives there begs him to leave, yet he can’t shake the sense that she somehow needs him. He attempts to return the next day but she is nowhere to be seen. And neither is the cottage.

THE SCRATCH

Clare and Gerald live a perfect life in the Forest of Dean with their cat, Cannop. Then Gerald’s young nephew comes to stay. Jack is from another world – active service in Afghanistan. The experience has left him outwardly untouched, but for a scratch that won’t heal. Jack and Cannop don’t like each other. Clare and Jack like each other too much. The scratch begins to fester.

Review

This book is not on my summer reading challenge and to be honest I read it by accident. I did not want to take my Kindle to the beach so I borrowed one of the books my husband had brought on holiday with him. My husband has read a lot of Andrew Taylor’s books but this one is a first for me and will not be the last.

This book has three stories is in it, so I will review them separately.

Broken Voices

Out of the three, this is my favourite story and feels the most Gothic to me. The story is based around two schoolboys who cannot go home for Christmas so must spend the season with an elderly teacher. They hear an old legend about the Cathedral and so decide to see for themselves whether it is true and they attempt this in the middle of night, adding to the mystery and drama. I must admit the two boys are braver than I, as I could never go in to a Cathedral in the middle of the night, too many ghosts for my liking.

Taylor sets the scene perfectly, it is just like a gothic novel from the Victorian period. He describes how the building looks different in the night, how the shadows flicker in the candlelight and how they might not be alone. At the end of the tale I was not entirely sure if it was all real it felt like a dream that one of the boys had when they were young. The story left me pondering somewhat.

The Leper House

This story was my least favourite and to be honest rather forgettable, I had to remind myself what happened in it before writing the review. I enjoyed the story but wouldn’t read it again as it did not really have anything special about it.

The story is about a man who meets a mysterious woman in a cottage which has no power and no comforts. This woman is a complete mystery to the man and he has to see her again, even when she tries to push him away. However, the next day he goes to find the cottage again and nothing is there, just some ruins.

This story was rather a confusing read and just felt more complicated than it needed to be. The characters were also rather unremarkable and nothing really stood out for me. The one thing I was really happy with at the end was that in my opinion he made the right choice.

The Scratch

This was a creepy read, especially for a cat owner and one of those cats is black. I was not entirely sure what to make of this story but really enjoyed reading it. There were a lot of What Ifs in the story and it left me pondering again.

I also enjoyed how Taylor included one of the main characters as a PTSD sufferer who has come back from being in the army and is struggling with getting back into the world again. I must admit I have not read many books tackling this issue and it was good to see Taylor including it in this story.

I did not really like Clare, I’m not sure why but she just got on my nerves. Gerald is obviously a hard working man who has always worked hard for his family and is a caring man who is happy to try and help his nephew where he can.

The story was really good and kept me hooked and I liked the ending and especially Cannop the cat, although I felt sorry for him for his name. I would have liked a bit more Gothic though.

Overall, I enjoyed the three stories and it has lit the spark for me wanting to read more of Taylor’s books. The only reason the book did not get the full 5 Dragons and only got 4 was because I wanted more Gothic from the last two stories. A very good beach read.

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The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (Review)

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

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About the Author

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Sara Collins studied Law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years. In 2014 she embarked upon the Creative Writing Masters at Cambridge University, where she won the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize for Recreative Writing and was shortlisted for the 2016 Lucy Cavendish Prize for a book inspired by her love of Gothic Fiction. This turned into her first novel, The Confessions of Frannie Langton.

Blurb

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

Review

I must admit I was really excited to get this book and read it after seeing it on Facebook with rave reviews. I was also really pleased to get a signed copy from Waterstones. So it was moved to the top of my TBR pile. Sadly, I was very disappointed.

I found this book really annoying, when I first started it I was happily reading away, however it then began to get on my nerves and I was reluctant to keep going. I even stopped reading it for about a week but did return because I wanted to know what happened at the end.

I’m not entirely sure what it was that got on my nerves so much but I think it was the writing style. It just made me reluctant to pick the book up and read it. I also did not like the fact that the blurb pointed that there would be more of a trial being featured and sadly there was hardly any of the trial in the story, it just felt like an afterthought added at the end.

This book includes many themes, slavery, drug abuse, abuse, depression and much more and I think overall there are too many themes covered and it makes the story murky. I also found that certain elements of the story were highly predictable and that made it rather dull to read at times.

Overall, I felt no sympathy for the characters especially Frannie and some of them really got on my nerves, mainly Madame. I felt no real love for the story and will not be reading it again. Most people I am sure will enjoy this book but sadly it was just not my cup of tea. I have given this book 2 out of 5 Dragons.

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Thorns in a Realm of Roses: The Henry Queens by Thomas Crockett (ARC Review)

Thorns in a Realm of Roses: The Henry Queens by Thomas Crockett

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This book was an ARC from John Hunt Publishing Ltd through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

About the author

Born and raised in New York, Thomas Crockett spent thirty years as a theatre director and writing teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. On retirement Thomas turned his attention to his writing. He is an avid traveler, and enjoys a love of reading and researching Italian and English history, about which much of his writing is focused.

Blurb

England, 1541. King Henry receives an anonymous letter suggesting that his fifth wife, the young Katherine Howard, whom he had called a rose without a thorn, may have led an unchaste life before they married. In the rose gardens of Hampton Court Palace, Henry feels the illusion of youth and virility slip away; he faces an uncertain future. Must he dispatch yet another wife? Old, overweight and increasingly infirm, could he find love and marry again to further secure the Tudor line? Written with literary invention, Thorns in a Realm of Roses spans the final years in Henry’s reign. Peeling back the layers of life at Court, it examines the hearts and minds of Henry, his often misbegotten queens, neglected daughter Mary and his many loyal, though wary, advisors as they all struggle to survive in a world embroiled in political and religious upheaval ruled by a petulant King.

Review

I was very excited to receive this book as my first book from NetGalley. I was also really happy to have been granted this book as I love historical fiction and the Tudor period is one of my favourites in history.

Sadly though I was severely disappointed. To be honest the second chapter almost made me give up. The dialogues in this book are exhausting, they are long winded and pointless waffle. Also you struggle at times to follow who is talking as it is all very confusing. I only pushed on because I wanted to give the book a chance because it was my first NetGalley read and because I enjoy anything to do with Henry VIII.

The other issue I had with this book was how it flitted around from one point in time to another and gave no real clue about how much time had passed. It made it very hard to follow and disrupted the flow of reading for me.

The other element which I found extremely annoying was the historical inaccuracy as seen below:-

“Look what happened to Henry Bolingbroke of Lancaster when he murdered Richard II in 1399 and became Henry V. His reign and life ended quickly. His son Henry VI fared worse. He lost what his father gained, that being France, and soon after lost his throne, dying insane.”

Henry Bolingbroke was made Henry IV not V so his son was Henry V. This surely should have been checked and researched by the author. For a historical fiction novel this is a glaring error in the text that should have been picked up by somebody.

An element that I did enjoy was when Henry met with his children and interacted with them. I also enjoyed how his relationship with Katherine Parr was portrayed. Henry VIII in his final years is not a pretty picture, spoilt child comes to mind and Crockett got that right in this book. If his wives did not bow to his every demand they ended up removed from his side and in two cases from life itself.

All in all I did not really enjoy this book, I found it hard to follow and in places poorly written. I also sadly could not forgive the historical inaccuracies within the book. I have given this book 2 out of 5 Dragons and the only reason it did not get 1 was because I managed to finish it but in all honesty it was a hard slog.

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Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher (Review)

Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

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About the author

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Rosamunde Pilcher was born on the 22nd September 1924 in Cornwall. She began writing when she was 7 and published her first short story at the age of 15. From 1943 to 1946 she served with the Women’s Royal Naval Service. In 1946 she married her Graham Hope Pilcher and they moved to Dundee, Scotland together. In 1949 Pilcher’s first novel was published under the pseudonym Jane Fraser, she went on to publish a further ten novels under that name. In 1955 she published her first novel under her own name, by 1965 she had dropped the pseudonym entirely. Pilcher retired from writing in 2000, two years later she received her OBE.

Blurb

Born in Colombo, Judith Dunbar spends her teenage years at boarding school, while her beloved mother and younger sister live abroad with her father.

When her new friend Loveday Carey-Lewis invites Judith home for the weekend to Nancherrow, the Carey-Lewises’ beautiful estate on the Cornish coast, it is love at first sight.

She falls in love too with the generous Carey-Lewises themselves. With their generosity and kindness, Judith grows from naive girl to confident young woman, basking in the warm affection of a surrogate family whose flame burns brightly. But it is a flame soon to be extinguished in the gathering storm of war. And Judith herself has far to travel before at last . . . coming home.

Review

This book is just beautiful, I loved every moment of it and it has gone straight on my all time favourites list. It has been a long time since I have finished a book and immediately wanted to read it again. I just could not put it down and was worried it would be over too quickly so I actually started to pace myself.

The book is centred around Judith Dunbar and the reader is introduced to her when she is about to start boarding school. Her mother, father and younger sister Jess live abroad, hence why she is at boarding school and it is arranged she will spend the holidays with her aunt. Whilst at school Judith meets her lifelong friend Loveday and eventually meets her family. The book follows Judith’s life through the second world war and leaves Judith just after the war is over. As the book goes on we learn about the other characters in the book.

I was so excited to read this book as I remember watching the TV series with Joanna Lumley and a very young Keira Knightly when I was younger and just thinking how glamorous and beautiful everything was, so when I saw the book on Kindle for £1.99 I jumped at the chance to buy it. The book is even better than the TV series but I must admit the TV series is very close to the book and the actors were brilliantly matched up with their book equivalents. This book had me in tears at times, it made me laugh, it made me think and much more.

Judith is a very strong woman who has become strong due to the circumstances of her upbringing, Judith soon realises that her mother is not a strong woman and so she needs to take charge occasionally and help her mother. When her mother goes abroad to join her father Judith is left alone in a strange school and quickly has to make friends and adapt to her new environment. Meeting and befriending Loveday Carey-Lewis is a big help in this and when she goes to spend weekends and holidays with the Carey-Lewis family she has a place to call her own and a family who treat her as a daughter, she is loved and protected there but also stands on her own feet and remains independent.

We see Judith fall in love, mourn and see her take on the war. Pilcher shows WW2 in its truest form, she does not glamorise it and at times I found it hard to read about but I am pleased Pilcher kept it realistic. Throughout this book you see Pilcher’s life influencing the book, Pilcher lived in Cornwall and the book is mainly set in Cornwall, Pilcher also served in the war and so does Judith. These true experiences come through the book and makes it so believable to read.

One of my favourite characters other than Judith was Diana Carey-Lewis, she is so glamorous and elegant and lets nothing phase her. She seems like the perfect friend, mother and wife. I did not know whether I wanted to be her or be her best friend. I also really liked Edgar Carey-Lewis, he is the perfect gentleman and from a previous era, a gentle soul who is very shy.

The character I truly disliked was Judith’s father and I was very pleased he was not in the book very much. He was a selfish man and when Judith’s mother desperately wanted to go home to Judith and comfort her, he forbade it. He had no feelings towards his oldest daughter or his wife’s wellbeing, his wife clearly had a fragile mind and really did not want to be living abroad but he made her come back out there and live her life there. I found him very cold and heartless. Thankfully this was the only element I did not like about the book and it was only small.

This book is just over a thousand pages long as it follows a massive chunk of Judith’s life from early teenage years to mid twenties but I loved every page and it is an amazing read. Pilcher is now a favourite author and I am planning on which book to read next, I just hope it is as good as this one. The book is beautifully written and a joy to read, I highly recommend it to everyone and I award it a massive 5 Dragons out of 5.

Lady Book Dragon.

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Review 15: Dark Tracks by Philippa Gregory

Dark Tracks: Order of Darkness Volume IV by Philippa Gregory

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About the author

Philippa Gregory was born in 1954 in Nairobi, Republic of Kenya. When she was two years old her family moved back to England. She studied English literature at the University of Sussex, where she later switched to the history course. Gregory earned her doctorate in 18th century literature at the University of Edinburgh and has taught at the University of Durham, University of Teeside and the Open University and was made a Fellow of Kingston University in 1994. Gregory’s first work was published in 1987 and she has been writing ever since, one of her most famous works The Other Boleyn Girl has won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award and has been made into two separate films.

Blurb

Luca Vero is a member of the secret Order of Darkness, tasked by his master to uncover the truth behind strange happenings. Although Lady Isolde, her friend and Ishraq, Luca’s manservant Freize, and Brother Peter, Luca travels miles across medieval Europe – seeking out the signs of the end of days, judging the supernatural and testing the new science.

Trapped in a village possessed by dancing madness, the group fights to keep their own sanity. When Isolde dances away in red shoes and Ishraq takes dramatic revenge on their covert assassin, the young people discover that the greatest risk is in the men who have come to their rescue. These are the truly dangerous madmen of Europe who carry a dark hatred that will last for centuries.

Review

I waited for ages for this book to be released and just recently I finally got around to buying it. I have read all the previous books in the series and really enjoyed them, I loved them so much I bought the first two as a present for my niece to read. So as you can imagine I was quite excited to read this book. Sadly the book did not live up to my enthusiasm and I doubt I will be recommending it to my niece.

The story continues with the same five characters from the series, Luca, Brother Peter, Freize, Isolde, and Ishraq. Luca is a novice not yet a full monk who works for the Order of Darkness a secret order that is monitoring things for the signs of the end of days. Brother Peter is a full monk who is following Luca writing down everything that they see and writing the reports for the secret order. He is also the oldest member of the five and makes sure that Luca remains faithful to his training to one day be a monk. Freize is Luca’s manservant who is extremely loyal and unfailing in his service. Isolde is a noblewoman who is trying to fight for her lands and castle with her friend Ishraq who she grew up with.

Luca, Brother Peter and Freize have been sent off to follow and study the people affected by the dancing sickness or madness, people in groups have decided to go off and dance leaving everything they know behind them. As their road is the same as Isolde’s and Ishraq’s they carry on travelling together.

The dancing sickness or madness was a phenomenon that was recorded in medieval times and times after that and there have been many theories as to the cause, however it has never been confirmed as to what it is. I always enjoy Gregory’s books because of the historical references within them and I was intrigued by the dancing sickness when reading about it in the blurb, however the book did not reveal as much as I would like to have learnt about it and the final result the characters came up with regarding it was a huge disappointment, it was like Gregory just wanted the book to finish within a certain word count and so gave up.

The other issue she discussed in the book was the treatment of Jews in the medieval times and this I did find interesting and was horrified about what I learnt from it. The scene at the end of the book was also very interesting. This issue is basically why the book did not get just one star.

In this book I found the two females sadly lacking, in the previous books they had been so strong and not the typical weak female of the time. However, this time Isolde fell in love with a pair of shoes and Ishraq some earrings when they knew they were meant to be on their guard. They came across as very vain and uninteresting. Ishraq did show her fighting skills and that was good to read but Isolde just came across as a protected spoiled brat and the more I read regarding her the less I liked her.

Considering this is the fourth book in the series the characters are not growing and to be honest have grown stale. I want to see their characters develop and to see them grow intellectually and emotionally and to be honest they almost went backwards in this book. Brother Peter and Freize were the only two who made the book bearable.

Overall the book showed what we already know, nobility in medieval times were horrible, self centred and cared nothing for their people. The treatment of Jews was a surprise for me and the dancing sickness was interesting to read about. However I could read about the Jews’ history and the dancing sickness in a history book and probably find it a great deal more interesting. The characters were severely lacking and quite frankly dull. I doubt I will bother to read the next in the series which is a great shame as the previous three were excellent. My rating was a 2 stars out of 5.

Lady Book Dragon

Review 10: Dead Men by Richard Pierce

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Dead Men by Richard Pierce

About the author

Richard Pierce is an English author who was born in Doncaster and educated in Germany and St John’s College, Cambridge. He now lives in Suffolk with his wife and four children. As well as writing he also paints, administers to two charities and writes poetry.

Blurb

Birdie Bowers is a woman with a dead man’s name. Her parents had been fascinated by by Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, one of Captain Scott’s companions on his ill-fated polar expedition. A hundred years after the death of Bowers and Scott, she sets out to discover what really happened to them…

The discovery of Captain Scott’s body in the Antarctic in November 1912 started a global obsession with him as a man and an explorer. But one mystery remains – why did he and his companions spend their last ten days in a tent only 11 miles from the safety of a depot that promised food and shelter?

Dead Men tells the story of the two paths. One is a tragic journey of exploration on the world’s coldest continent, the other charts a present-day relationship and the redemptive power of love.

Review

I was so delighted to receive this book off Richard Pierce to read and review. My first book received from an author to review, as you can imagine I was very excited and it went straight to the top of my to read pile.

I finished this book a few days ago and it has been on my mind ever since, it really has stayed with me. It’s made me think a lot about Scott and the Antarctic expedition and the things done to push one’s self beyond the normal capabilities of the human body. I really can not believe that this is Pierce’s first novel as it is just brilliant. I can really tell that Pierce did a great deal of research for this book and spent a lot of time to perfect the story and intertwine the past and the present together.

The book contains two tales, the tale of Scott and his expedition to the Antarctic and the tale of Birdie and Adam. Birdie who is named after Henry Bowers is obsessed with the Scott expedition and finding out why Scott lost his life and did not make it to the safety of the food depot which was only 11 miles away. This obsession she got from her dad and losing him has made her even more determined to get the answers she seeks. Adam is the other main character who meets Birdie unexpectedly on the train and whose life is changed forever from that day. Birdie and Adam are very different people, Birdie is an artist who has a very artistic temperament and can be difficult to get on with. Adam works with computers and everything is organised and planned in his life, he never does anything out of the ordinary and keeps himself to himself. 

The story shows how Birdie and Adam become friends and help change each other for the better, whilst trying to solve the Scott mystery. 

I really enjoyed how all the way through the book there are flashes back to the past, these sections really moved me and at times almost brought me to tears. Quite often after reading these sections I also just sat and thought about what Scott and his people must have gone through, how alone they must have felt out there on the ice. 

This book is a wonderful read and a beautiful love story and I got to learn some history as well. It really got me interested in the Scott expedition and I fully intend on doing some more reading about Scott and Amundsen. At just under 300 pages this book packs a lot of punch and you get a great deal of content in such a small book. I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially if you are a fan of books with history, love and the power of nature.

A massive 5 out of 5 stars from me.

Lady Book Dragon