Tag: Historical Fiction

Guest Review: The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Posted May 16, 2017 by Tina R in Reviews | 0 Comments

Guest Review: The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth UnderdownReviewer: Tina
The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication Date: April 25th 2017
Pages: 304
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three-half-stars

'VIVID AND TERRIFYING' Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train

The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six...

1645. When Alice Hopkins' husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.
But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women's names.
To what lengths will Matthew's obsession drive him?And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?
'A richly told and utterly compelling tale, with shades of Hilary Mantel' Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat
'Anyone who liked Cecilia Ekback's Wolf Winter is going to love this' Natasha Pulley, author of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
'Beth Underdown grips us from the outset and won't let go...at once a feminist parable and an old-fashioned, check-twice-under-the-bed thriller' Patrick Gale, author of Notes from an Exhibition
'A tense, surprising and elegantly-crafted novel' Ian McGuire, author of The North Water
'Beth Underdown cleverly creates a compelling atmosphere of dread and claustrophobia... Even from the distance of nearly four hundred years, her Matthew Hopkins is a genuinely frightening monster' Kate Riordan

To begin with, I don’t really read a whole lot of historical fiction. But there is something about the subject of witches that catches my attention. Call it some sort of fascination if you will, but I don’t actually know. I just know that the subject is intriguing and the cover really drew me to the book, so I submitted my request to receive a review copy. \

When I got the copy of The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown in the mail I was actually surprised. Especially since it is not really typical of what I read. (Whether this has any leverage on the books you are chosen to receive I have no idea…) The first thing I noticed it that the cover is awesome! If I would have saw it on the shelf in a bookstore, I would’ve picked it up immediately as something about it just makes me want to know more. And then of course, the subject matter….witches. Who doesn’t remember sitting in school and listening to the teacher tell us about the horrible things that happened to people (mostly women) who were accused of being witches? Like I said, it is just a topic that pulls me in.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is a well-written and carefully researched book. It is a mixture of so many genres. We have historical fiction based on a real story, there is mystery and suspense, and even a little horror mixed in with the depiction of what happened to all the people accused of witchcraft. A little something for every reading taste to be sure.

I found the book a little tough to get through in the beginning. For me it was a little slow in places, although the book is packed with vivid description and emotion and has an interesting storyline. I still would recommend this book, as it did hold my interest and the writing was vivid and well presented.

I would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book. I think the author did an awesome job keeping the subject matter interesting and for providing such vivid description. I would actually have rated it 3.5 to 3.75 stars if the rating system here would’ve let me.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

three-half-stars


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Guest Review: Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

Posted February 16, 2015 by Whitley B in Reviews | 1 Comment

w1Whitley’s review of Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn.

Postbellum America makes for a haunting backdrop in this historical and supernatural tale of moonlit cemeteries, masked balls, cunning mediums, and terrifying secrets waiting to be unearthed by an intrepid crime reporter.

The year is 1869, and the Civil War haunts the city of Philadelphia like a stubborn ghost. Mothers in black continue to mourn their lost sons. Photographs of the dead adorn dim sitting rooms. Maimed and broken men roam the streets. One of those men is Edward Clark, who is still tormented by what he saw during the war. Also constantly in his thoughts is another, more distant tragedy–the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the famed magician Magellan Holmes…a crime that Edward witnessed when he was only ten.

Now a crime reporter for one of the city’s largest newspapers, Edward is asked to use his knowledge of illusions and visual trickery to expose the influx of mediums that descended on Philadelphia in the wake of the war. His first target is Mrs. Lucy Collins, a young widow who uses old-fashioned sleight of hand to prey on grieving families. Soon, Edward and Lucy become entwined in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city’s most highly regarded–and by all accounts, legitimate–medium, who dies mid-seance. With their reputations and livelihoods at risk, Edward and Lucy set out to find the real killer, and in the process unearth a terrifying hive of secrets that reaches well beyond Mrs. Pastor.

This story had some wonderful atmosphere to it and a perfect balance of light paranormal aspects, but I was let down by the mystery side.

First of all, I really did enjoy the setting to this novel. It’s right after the Civil War in a time when Spiritualism was very much in vogue. That’s a fascinating period of history that doesn’t get enough attention. (Well, I say that about most of history, but it’s still always true.) The book does a good job of setting the scene not only in physical descriptions but also in tone and mood. I had very little difficulty settling into this quasi-middle-upper-class society’s rhythms, and it all felt very natural.

I also greatly enjoyed the paranormal aspects, the ghosts and séances. They were prominent, but not overwhelming. A fixture of the plot but while still allowing the story to stay grounded in “the real world.” Now, I love fantasy as much as the next girl, but sometimes you want a little more urban in your urban fantasy and it’s hard when books can’t pick a level of presence and stick to it. This book does not have that problem. I also loved the mixing of slight-of-hand “magic” with real paranormal aspects.

The characters were fairly solid. Edward was bland, but he’s a first person MC and I say that about all first person MCs. He did at least have an interesting back story and situation; dramatic without being melodramatic. Lucy…well, Lucy grew on me after a while. I didn’t like her corrosive nature at the start; she reminded me too much of the “rude bad boy” love interests. Granted, she had good reason to be upset with Edward, but she got downright cruel at points. Still, those points smoothed out eventually and we were left with just a lovably brash and forward character. But the one that took the cake for me (and I don’t think she was supposed to) was Edward’s fiancé, Violet. I felt bad for her throughout the novel, so sweet and trusting and loyal to Edward, and the relationship they had seemed much more natural and healthy than the forced romantic ‘tension’ between Edward and Lucy.

And, now, the downfall. The plot. The book is billed as a murder mystery and much time is spent on trying to figure out who killed Lenora. And by “trying to figure out” I mean “let’s just asked a bunch of people point-blank questions and then take them at their word, because obviously people will offer up their secrets when confronted and then never lie.” Yeah, that’s the extent of the “investigation” in this novel. They just make the rounds of the same cast of characters, asking questions. If something doesn’t add up, they go back to the same people and as more questions again. And that just didn’t hold my interest for long. I was hoping for a bit more investigating. Maybe some sly questions to neighbors, or eavesdropping, or records-searching. Just…something. It made the middle section of the book drag on interminably.

Also, there are two big parts of the mystery that go largely ignored throughout the whole novel. Both of them relate to a shadowy, Illuminati-style group that’s pulling strings in the background. I feel no guilt in telling you that, because even though you don’t find out about this group until the end of the book…they have no impact. At all. They’re just sequel bait. I can tell you that there is a shadowy group upfront and it does not change the novel, because all clues pointing to them are stoutly ignored by the characters. Conspicuously ignored, even, considering every other “clue” is talked about ad-nauseum. I really wanted to learn more about these people, since they seemed extremely interesting, but instead I got an anticlimactic non-answer.

All in all, while it had its high points, this book wasn’t my cup of tea due to the pacing and the intentional holding back of things for sequels. However, I can see how others who enjoy a more character-driven plot would greatly enjoy it.

Rating: 3 out of 5

This title is available from Gallery Books.  You can purchase it here or here in e-format. This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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Guest Review: The Outlaw Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

Posted February 24, 2014 by Judith in Reviews | 0 Comments

17586453Judith’s review of The Outlaw Knight (The Fitzwarin Novels #3) by Elizabeth Chadwick

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick continues her tradition of gripping historical fiction with this tale of honor, treachery, and love spanning the turbulent reigns of four great medieval kings.

Fulke FitzWarin has played many roles–loyal knight, dangerous outlaw, dashing lover, loyal husband. But when a violent quarrel with King John disrupts Fulke’s ambition to become Lord of his own castle, his true character as a valiant hero is revealed.  

There are novels and then there are NOVELS, and this is one of those epic historical romances that spans nearly the full lifespan of a young man whose life is geared to becoming a knight of reknown and regaining the family heritage stolen from them by the present king’s father.    It is a book that winds its way through the halls of Westminster Palace, in and out of the highways and byways of Britain and Wales and Ireland, embraces the lives of the FitzWarin brothers as well as those whose personal friendship and loyalty become part and parcel of Fulke’s life.  Some of those friends will be present to the very end of his days.  Many will have betrayed that friendship in exchange for political favor from a king whose word fails to mean anything throughout his life.

Fulke is a young man on a mission, but somehow his personal life becomes entangled with that of Prince John, youngest brother of Richard the Lionheart and a man with a fine brain and almost no conscience.  His goal in life is to please himself and in that quest he encounters Fulke and manages to make a life-long enemy.  The quality of Fulke’s honor, of his inner strength of purpose and the guiding principles of his life are tested time and again.  He falls in love with his mentor’s young wife the day of their marriage, yet he never even thinks to violate that sacred trust or the friendship he bears in common with this man who has saved him from great harm at Prince John’s hand and who has guided him through the years of preparation for his knighthood.

This is really a novel that is quite biographical in its feel.  It is fiction, don’t get me wrong.  Yet it is telling the story of a man’s life and experience, one that takes him beyond the boundaries of his home country as he lives in exile, takes him away from his relationship with his English ruler into the inner workings of the Welsh royal politics while putting him squarely in danger many times as he seeks to balance his skills as a knight/warrior with the need for diplomacy.  His years as a husband are fraught with difficulty for those are, at least in the beginning, the most stressful as he lives on the run from medieval bounty hunters and a king who would put considerable resources toward catching and killing him.  Just as he is a man of strong loyalty to his family quest for justice long denied, so he is deeply and passionately devoted to his wife and children, even as he tries to balance all the claims on his time and energy.  His reknown is told by the bards and troubadors in word and song, yet Fulke is a  man who never understands how he can become the stuff of legend when he is simply trying to be a good man.

I don’t think true lovers of historical romance fiction, especially this 12th and 13th century period, want to miss reading this spectacular book.  Filled with color and action, people of note and those who receive little attention in the history books, yet all woven into a literary tapestry that is not to be found anywhere else  among current romance literature.  It’s just that good!  I hope you will find it to be the exceptional reading experience as I have.

I am delighted to give it a rating of 5 out of 5.

The Series:
Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.

This title is available from Sourcebooks Landmark.  You can buy it here or here in e-format.


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Review: The Ambassador’s Daughter by Pam Jenoff

Posted February 14, 2013 by Holly in Reviews | 3 Comments

Holly‘s review of The Ambassador’s Daughter by Pam Jenoff

Paris, 1919.The world’s leaders have gathered to rebuild from the ashes of the Great War. But for one woman, the City of Light harbors dark secrets and dangerous liaisons, for which many could pay dearly.

Brought to the peace conference by her father, a German diplomat, Margot Rosenthal initially resents being trapped in the congested French capital, where she is still looked upon as the enemy. But as she contemplates returning to Berlin and a life with Stefan, the wounded fiancé she hardly knows anymore, she decides that being in Paris is not so bad after all.

Bored and torn between duty and the desire to be free, Margot strikes up unlikely alliances: with Krysia, an accomplished musician with radical acquaintances and a secret to protect; and with Georg, the handsome, damaged naval officer who gives Margot a job—and also a reason to question everything she thought she knew about where her true loyalties should lie.
Against the backdrop of one of the most significant events of the century, a delicate web of lies obscures the line between the casualties of war and of the heart, making trust a luxury that no one can afford.

This is a time period I’d like to see more of in historical romance. I love that publishers are thinking outside the box and we’re getting more than just Regency and Victorian fare.

While I found the politics and setting interesting  I do think the first person point of view limited the scope of the story. As the story wore on I became more vested in the political schemes, but much of the novel is focused on Margot and her emotions, so outside concerns took a back seat.

I really struggled with Margot. She was young and naive, and often silly. She had a hard time accepting responsibility for her actions. Her wishy-washy attitude and almost child-like naivete made her hard to relate to. That a young girl would be conflicted about her feelings toward a fiance she barely knows isn’t surprising  But her refusal to make a decision or accept her fate became frustrating.

I also had a hard time accepting Margot and Georg’s relationship. Because she read as such a young twenty, I couldn’t understand what a hard-edged man like Georg saw in her. I had no trouble understanding his appeal to her, but it wasn’t as easy to see why he wanted her.

The cast of secondary characters did give the story added flavor. I enjoyed the setting and the complexities of the plot that developed later on.

Despite that I found this hard to put down. Jenoff’s writing is beautiful. This is the first novel I’ve read by her. Though I didn’t enjoy the main character, I did enjoy the writing enough that I’ll be looking to read more from her in the future.

3 out of 5

This book is available from Mira. You can buy it here or here in e-format. The Kindle version is only $3.99!!

This book was provided by the publisher for an honest review.


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Guest Review: Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Posted December 1, 2011 by Ames in Reviews | 0 Comments

Published by Berkley, Penguin

Ames’ review of Lily Of the Nile by Stephanie Dray.

With her parents dead, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is left at the mercy of her Roman captors. Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, it falls to Princess Selene to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers...

In the aftermath of Alexandria’s tragic fall, Princess Selene is taken from Egypt, the only home she’s ever known. Along with her two surviving brothers, she’s put on display as a war trophy in Rome. Selene’s captors mock her royalty and drag her through the streets in chains, but on the brink of death, the children are spared as a favor to the emperor’s sister, who takes them to live as hostages in the so-called lamentable embassy of royal orphans…

Now trapped in a Roman court of intrigue that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, Selene can’t hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her flesh. Nor can she stop the emperor from using her for his own political ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined honor her mother’s lost legacy. The magic of Egypt and Isis remain within her. But can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win or die?

I have always had a fascination with ancient Egypt and although LotN takes places in Rome, I was still engrossed in the story. Selene, as well her her two brothers, has been captured by the Romans after they defeated her parents in Egypt. They are taken to Rome, proudly displayed as captives and then taken to the Caesar’s own home to be raised, with other children he has captured in various wars. It is very hard for Selene and her twin, Helios, to come to terms with their ‘captivity.’ Her mother, Cleopatra, is reviled by the Romans. Although Selene and Helios are half Roman (by way of their father Marc Antony), they are still their mother’s children and Egyptian through and through. Their younger brother, Philadelphus, is young enough to blend seamlessly with their new Roman ‘family.’ This family is comprised of Caesar Octavian, his wife, his sister and their various children, as well as other captured royal children.

Another facet of their captivity was the restriction on their religion. They could not practice – the Romans saw it as witchcraft and were extremely suspicious of any displays by the Goddess Isis. Selene struggles with her religion throughout the book and loses herself in the process. Which is Caesar’s plan. He has political aspirations for all his children and has an eye on the future, thinking of alliances he can make.

I really enjoyed Lily of the Nile. It revolves around Selene and the growing up she has to do, in a foreign country, with a foreign religion and foreign ways. Her and her brothers learn these new ways quick enough but they are the children of a Queen and their pride is very strong. Selene learns how to bend (but never break) and she is like the Caesar, trying to think ahead. When she sees an opportunity, she takes it. Her brother doesn’t bend so much and the Caesar does try to break him – which is a critical point in Selene’s story.

There was a lot of emphasis on the relationships between everyone – Octavian’s sister was actually Marc Antony’s first wife, someone Marc Antony put aside to be with Cleopatra. And she is now raising her husband’s children. Selene has an uneasy relationship with Octavian. He hated her mother but was also fascinated by her, and he would like more than anything to have his own Cleopatra to control. Selene knows this and uses it to her advantage, lulling Octavian into a false sense of security.

I know I’m making a muddle of this review but there was so much going on with this book. Politics, intrigue, Goddesses, betrayals…it’s all there. And right in the center of it all is Selene, a young woman who would be Queen.

I really enjoyed Lily of the Nile and look forward to reading the sequel, Song of the Nile. 4 out of 5.

This book is available from Berkley. You can buy it here or here in e-format.

You can read more from ~ames~ at Thrifty Reader.


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