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.

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (Review)

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie 

Blurb

Tommy and Tuppence, two young people flat broke and out of work, are restless for excitement. They embark on a daring business scheme- Young Adventurers Ltd- ‘willing to do anything, go anywhere’.

Their first assignment, for the sinister Mr Whittington, draws them into a diabolical political conspiracy, and they find themselves plunged into more danger than they ever imagined…

Review

This is my first Tommy and Tuppence full length novel. I read a short story about them over Christmas and wanted to read more stories about them so this book was a good start as it is the story of how Tommy and Tuppence became the Young Adventurers. 

Tommy and Tuppence are broke and in dire need of money and so they come up with a plan to advertise themselves as the Young Adventurers who are willing to do anything, anywhere. I must admit when Tuppence came up with this idea I did think it was rather risky as they could be asked to do anything but it is the reader’s first introduction to Tuppence’s impulsive and adventurous nature. 

Tommy is a lot more reserved than Tuppence and does tend to think before he jumps but that doesn’t mean he shirks away from adventure and gets into a fair few scraps in this story as does Tuppence. 

Tommy and Tuppence find themselves hunting for the mysterious Jane Finn and they must find her in time to stop a major political catastrophe or possibly even war. This leads them into danger and not knowing who to trust. 

I must admit that at the beginning I really couldn’t put this book down but then as I got further along my fervour waned. I will be honest I worked out who the illusive Mr Brown was rather early on and was frustrated with Tommy and Tuppence that they did not work it out sooner. The only surprise for me was the identity of Jane Finn but I loved the characters Tommy and Tuppence and I can’t wait to read further novels about them. This was only the second book Christie wrote and I can see this within the book as it lacks maturity in the writing. I give this book 3 out 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

Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. She also wrote the world’s longest running play, The Mousetrap. She also wrote 6 novels under the name Mary Westmacott.

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 Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (Review)

The Mysterious Affair at Style by Agatha Christie 

Blurb

Hercule Poirot is intrigued by the details surrounding the murder of wealthy Mrs Inglethorp, mistress of Styles Court. This was Agatha Christie’s first Poirot novel, published in 1921.

Review

This is my first full length Christie novel that I have read and is part of my challenge to read more Christie novels and not just the short stories. I love watching adaptations of Poirot and Miss Marple on TV and so I was really excited to read my first full length novel and the first ever Poirot novel. 

I was pleased to see that Hastings was his usual bumbling self who is always wrong but convinced that he is right and that Poirot is wrong and going senile in his old age. He really made me laugh in this book and his random outbursts were hilarious.

Poirot was a massive surprise and I absolutely adored him. He is so eccentric and you never know what he is going to do next. My favourite scene has got to be where he goes off skipping with joy down the lawn. He is a truly brilliant character which is ten times better in the book than on the screen. 

I really enjoyed the story and it really kept me on my toes because once I thought I had worked out who the murderer was I got it completely wrong and the story went in a different direction. We also got a glimpse of the famous Inspector Japp and although we didn’t see much of him it was a good introduction that I am sure we will see more of.

The edition of the book I read also had the original ending that Christie had written as well as the one published and I must admit after reading both I much prefer the one that is published rather than the one Christie originally planned. The two endings are very good but I really like where Poirot and Hastings sit down and sum everything up and talk over the case at the end of the published ending.

This is my first full length Christie novel and it will definitely not be my last and I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons. I just loved all the twists and turns and Poirot’s bright green eyes.

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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

Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. She also wrote the world’s longest running play, The Mousetrap. She also wrote 6 novels under the name Mary Westmacott.

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.

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie (Review)

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie

Blurb

There’s a chill in the air and the days are growing shorter… It’s the perfect time to curl up in front of a crackling fireplace with this winter-themed collection from legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie. But beware of deadly snowdrifts and dangerous gifts, poisoned meals and mysterious guests. This compendium of short stories, some featuring beloved detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, is an essential omnibus for Christie fans and the perfect gift for mystery lovers.

INCLUDES THE STORIES:

– The Chocolate Box

– A Christmas Tragedy

– The Coming of Mr Quin

– The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest

– The Clergyman’s Daughter

– The Plymouth Express

– Problem at Pollensa Bay

– Sanctuary

– The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge

– The World’s End

– The Manhood of Edward Robinson

– Christmas Adventure

Review

I chose this book as one of my Christmas reads and I was so pleased I did because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. 

I absolutely love Poirot and Miss Marple so it was wonderful to read some short stories that include them. Poirot always makes me laugh as he really is such a big head but never seems to see it. Miss Marple on the other hand always comes across as an interfering old woman but of course she is also a genius who can work out any mystery. 

My favourite stories from the book were Sanctuary, Christmas Adventure and The Clergyman’s Daughter. These stories were wonderful reads and really shone out for me from the other stories.

I loved this series of short stories and they really put me in the mood for Christmas and went particularly well with a nice mug of hot chocolate. I highly recommend this book to either dip into or read in one go and give the book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository

(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

Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was an English writer known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. She also wrote the world’s longest running play, The Mousetrap. She also wrote 6 novels under the name Mary Westmacott.

Christmas Murder: A Chilling Short Story Collection by Val McDermid (Review)

Christmas is Murder: A Chilling Short Story Collection by Val McDermid

Blurb

The Queen of Crime Val McDermid is a master of the dark and sinister story, and these powers are demonstrated in full force in Christmas is Murder, a festive collection of chilling tales.

From an irresponsible baron whose body is discovered beneath a silver birch tree, to an author who is haunted by the spiteful presence of a jealous writing partner, the characters McDermid conjures are enigmatic and dangerous, never above suspicion.

Follow Tony Hill and Carol Jordan as they track a deadly killer who is preparing to strike on Christmas Day, and lose yourself in a festive exclusive – a recently unearthed case for a classic detective duo, set as the lights are going out across Europe.

These evocative, atmospheric tales will shock and delight. This is the perfect book to curl up with as the frosty winter draws in and each night gets darker than the last, written by one of our greatest living crime writers.

Review

I was so excited to see this book and immediately ordered it off Waterstones. I love a good Christmas murder mystery but sadly I was rather disappointed with this book.

The first thing I really disliked was the fact that a lot of these short stories seemed like they should have been longer but that McDermid had just removed chunks of the story to make it shorter. They jumped around too much and there was no development which even in a short story should be present.

The second thing that got on my nerves was the fact that some of the stories basically had nothing to do with Christmas and even if they did the link was tenuous at best. For a Christmas murder mystery book this was a disappointment for me.

I did however like some of the stories, my favourite was The Girl who Killed Santa Claus. This story was wonderful and a really good short story and was a welcome change from the rest of the short stories.

I am afraid I have only given 2 out of 5 Dragons to this book and I will be honest and say that I will not be reading another Val McDermid book as I just did not enjoy her writing.

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Book Depository | Foyles | Waterstones

(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

Val McDermid is a No. 1 bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies. 

She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award. 

She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime (Review)

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Oscar Wilde

Blurb

Wilde’s supremely witty tale of dandies, anarchists and a murderous prophecy in London high society.

Review

I picked this up the other day as I fancied a quick read that I knew would put a smile on my face. Oscar Wilde always makes me laugh and I just love his subtle humour.

The story begins at a party and involves a palm reader who sets a series of events into motion. Lord Arthur I will admit is rather a silly character who totally believes in the power of fate and will do anything to make sure it goes to plan. Wilde is most definitely having a little fun subtly mocking the English aristocracy with the characters of the party and Lord Arthur.

The thing I love most about this is just how ridiculous this story is. Lord Arthur does some very suspicious things like purchasing poison and meeting with bomb makers but nobody bats an eye lid.

I really enjoyed this short story and read it with a nice mug of tea as it is only 50 pages long. An amusing version of a murder mystery that I give 4 out of 5 Dragons.

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Purchase Links

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About the author

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. He was a playwright, poet, novelist and short story writer.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Review)

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Blurb

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Piranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Review

I was so excited to get this book and I have had it preordered since I don’t know when so it went straight to the top of the TBR pile or should I say piles.

I loved the detail in this book and the descriptions of this amazing building in the first chapter had me hooked to the story. I felt like I was walking through these amazing halls looking at all these incredible statues whilst listening to the waves hitting the walls. Although, I did keep wishing that the building had a rather nice library to go with all these wonderful statues.

Piranesi is an interesting character and instantly likeable. Piranesi lives and breathes all things to do with the house. He knows all the statues like friends and can navigate the vast labyrinth of rooms all using the map in his head. He also knows all the tides so he knows when it is safe and when it is not. Piranesi loves the house and believes that all will be well because the house will provide.

The Other who is the other person in the house is not so likeable in my opinion and instantly put me on edge. He is also clearly using poor Piranesi but Piranesi is too good natured to notice.

I will be honest as I was reading this book I had such high hopes for it and I had several ideas in my head about how the book might end but I will be honest I was rather disappointed. This book had such potential to be an amazing story and it just felt rushed and like Clarke had come up with the easiest option to finish the book quickly. I felt robbed in some way.

I have really thought long and hard about this book because I really loved parts of it and the storyline but the conclusion was just not my cup of tea and that has upset me because I really wanted to love the whole book. I have given this book 3 out of 5 Dragons and those 3 Dragons are for the incredible detail, the concept of the house and how adorable Piranesi was. Not what I expected after how amazing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was but still a good read that I recommend to fantasy lovers.

Purchase Links

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About the Author

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Susanna Clarke (1959) is an English author who has published novels and short stories. Her debut novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and her set of short stories The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories are all set in a magical England.

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