See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt – Blog Tour Review.

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About the Book

Just after 11am on 4th August 1892, the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are discovered. He’s found on the sitting room sofa, she upstairs on the bedroom floor, both murdered with an axe.
It is younger daughter Lizzie who is first on the scene, so it is Lizzie who the police first question, but there are others in the household with stories to tell: older sister Emma, Irish maid Bridget, the girls’ Uncle John, and a boy who knows more than anyone realises.
In a dazzlingly original and chilling reimagining of this most notorious of unsolved mysteries, Sarah Schmidt opens the door to the Borden home and leads us into its murkiest corners, where jealousies, slow-brewed rivalries and the darkest of thoughts reside.

My Review

See What I Have Done is a brilliant novel and is definitely one of the strangest ones that I have read. I had been aware of the rhyme about Lizzie Bordern but had never given any thought to its origin. Sarah Schmidt has given us an account of what could have happened in 1892 and it is a convincing one.
There are four narrators who tell us their version of events of what happened on the 3rd and 4th August. Lizzie, her older sister Emma, Bridget, their Irish maid and Benjamin an acquaintance of their uncle.
Bridget was the only one of the four who I had any liking for, she is certainly the only one who showed any sign of grief over the deaths. She had a fractious relationship with her employers, but also enjoyed some good times with Abby. Emma appeared to resent the preferential treatment that Lizzie received and tried to keep some distance from Lizzie. But like the other family members she is manipulated into letting Lizzie have her way. Benjamin is hired to do a job and is desperate for money. unlikable and untrustworthy and completely out of his depth. And then there is Lizzie. God-fearing, pigeon loving, spoilt and at times cruel. She wanted to possess Emma, have her as her puppet and is resentful that she wanted her own life away from her.
As well as the murders there is a suspicious mutton stew that made everybody who ate it ill. There is also a lot of focus on an abundance of pears which strangely managed to put me off eating them for the forseeable future. The violent deaths are not the main focus in the novel, the reader is aware of the aftermath with the description of the scene after the murders. There is an image of the murder scene, with blood splatter and bone fragments vividly described. Most of the novel assesses the different personalities and at times toxic relationships.
I feel that this novel would make a brilliant movie, it’s just amazing.

SWIHD blog tour

The Silk Weaver’s Wife by Debbie Rix – Review.

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About the Book

The unforgettable stories of two women cross centuries as past and present weave together in this beautifully moving summer read.
2017: Millie wants more from her relationship and more from her life. So when her boss Max abruptly ends their affair, she takes the opportunity to write a feature in Italy.
Staying in a gorgeous villa, Millie unexpectedly falls in love with the owner, Lorenzo. Together they begin to unravel an incredible story, threaded through generations of silk weavers.
And Millie finds herself compelled to discover the identity of a mysterious woman in a portrait…
1704: Anastasia is desperate to escape her controlling and volatile father and plans to marry in secret. But instead of the life she has dreamed of, she finds herself trapped in Venice, the unwilling wife of a silk weaver.
Despite her circumstances, Anastasia is determined to change her fate…

My Review

I like historical fiction and usually read it when I need a break from the usual crime fiction. Whilst this is definitely a historical novel I would also categorise it as romantic fiction and this is a genre that I don’t usually read.

The two narrators are Anastasia in the 1700s and Millie in modern-day. It was Anastasia whose tale I enjoyed the most. She didn’t have the happiest childhood, her father ruled by tyranny, regularly beating his wife and children. When he loses everything gambling he offers Anastasia as an alternative to his business. It doesn’t take her long to realise that her new life is just as bad as her old. But she is clever and has people who are willing to help.

Millie is a journalist who is in Italy to research a storyline regarding silk. She has recently broken up with her partner and soon gets close to Lorenzo and his daughter Bella. Whilst most of the novel concerns Anastasia, Millie is also important to the storyline, it is her who first becomes aware of Anastasia was.

I thought Anastasia was an amazing character. Very independent, and after what she goes through she is determined to put herself first. But she is also loyal to friends and family and those who helped her when she needed them. I liked Anastasia’s desire to succeed as an artist and use her skill to help her family prosper. Considering the time it is set she must have been strong-willed. A lesser character, Veronica, was also one that I liked. She was somebody who was prepared to lose everything to do the right thing.
I struggled to like Millie as much. I felt I needed to know more about her than her relationship with her ex Max, and her feelings for Lorenzo. I would have liked to see her connect Anastasia to Lorenzo but that is probably due to my interest in genealogy.
The section at the back of the book that listed the characters who were real and who were fictionalised was helpful. I had no idea that some of them were real people. Italy sounds an amazing place, especially Venice. I could picture the grandeur in all areas of the novel.
I always enjoy reading about the past, and even though this book wasn’t entirely how I expected it to be I did enjoy it. It’s rare that I read romance novels but maybe I do need to broaden my choice of reading.

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

The Blood of Kings by Angela King – extract.

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About the Book

1559. A girl arrives in London to search for her brother.
Aalia, an awkward, arrogant teenager plans to bring William to his senses, until she discovers that both their lives are based on a lie.
Aalia must unravels a web of secrets but has the weight of her past to contend with.
Courageous and undisciplined, Aalia gradually comes to terms with the truth that William, her brother, has royal blood.
Deciding to undermine the men who want to use him as a pawn, Aalia must negotiate a world where secrecy arms the powerful. But unwilling to ask for anyone’s help she is forced into making a fateful decision.
Who can she trust when everyone around her is plotting? Is the truth really something worth dying for?
This epic story of secrets and betrayal paints a vivid picture of Elizabethan England and asks questions that span beyond the test of time.

Extract.

LONDON, JUNE 1559

Aalia came in June, when the tides were low, and the city reeked of vermin. Brought on a caravel commissioned by the Company of St. Thomas, she meant to betray a promise.

The caravel called Cornucopia flounced up the Thames like a harlot, bloused with bright-painted sails and long, shimmering pennants. As the river-pilot boarded at Greenwich, a band of minstrels started hammering out tunes from her deck, none vaguely virtuous, and while the gaudy little ship wove her way towards the Pool, barely a wherryman working the Thames wasn’t tempted to raise his oars and let the grafted labours of everyday skip to a different beat. For the devil owns all the best tunes.

Rumour ran ahead of the tide. Before Cornucopia could reach her final mooring, merchants gathered at the Foreign Wharf, eager to discover what St. Thomas had brought to trade. A boat from the East was bound to carry barrels of spices or pepper, or bolts of fine silk brocades for the spendthrift ladies at court. Nothing bad ever came out of India.

After Cornucopia nestled against the quay, the ribald music played on. Turning heads, distracting souls, drawing easy legend. Two figures swathed in clotted cloaks watched from the caravel’s deck, bare heads bent together under the timid English sun.

‘You’ve stirred up a festival, Aalia.’ Tall, fine-featured, the gentleman nodded his raven head and smiled. ‘Is your voice wrung dry with singing?’

Hugging her thin bones, the girl looked away.

‘I can bleat ‘til dawn, if necessary, Georgiou, but I wonder at this audience? We’ve barely stirred their stolid English souls. I fear we’re hosting a wake.’

‘Did you ever see such a city?’ He pointed above the wooden shore, to the spires and towers, the clustered roofs and pied buildings.

‘I like Venice better. The air’s too sombre here.’ Her gilded head didn’t turn.

‘They say the English smell of fear, but Piatro says that’s because their clothes are sweated and stale.’ Georgiou laughed, pinching his nose.

‘Well, it can’t possibly come from dancing… who can resist such a jig? But, see… they’re so boned and padded, they can barely bend, never mind hop, skip, and jump.’

‘That’s actually the second encore.’ Georgiou ignored her pouting. ‘Though it will hardly please the London Master of St. Thomas. Padruig warned we must creep into England like mice.’

‘He confuses us with rats, another good reason we shouldn’t bide by his rules.’ She tightened her boyish hands into fists. ‘Why hide? We need to be noticed, or else we shall fail.’

Georgiou leaned across the rail, unwilling to soothe her spite. When they left India, he’d dragged her on-board, spitting like a cobra. Despite everything the fool had done, Aalia kept faith with her brother. William, the golden boy. He’d been Georgiou’s idol, too, except the measure of his betrayal cut him to the heart.

A pennant grazed his face, and he turned from gazing at the city, nodding instead at the shuttered hatch which let below deck. ‘Piatro’s anxious to know how you persuaded our good Captain to raise every flag and banner in Cornucopia’s store?’

‘Bribery. It oils the wheels of avarice.’

‘That old river-pilot warned we’d have to pay a fine for raising pennants we’ve no right to. He thinks we’re probably pirates.’

‘Horrible little man… officious true, spiteful yes, but lacking the artillery for a proper battle. I wonder if William has come.’

Georgiou ran his memory across the faces lining the wharf. ‘Your brother made clear he didn’t wish to be followed. He’ll hardly come to greet you.’

‘Verily… isn’t that a lovely English word… I’ll catch him by and by.’

Cornucopia’s Captain bellowed out orders, as ropes crashed and pulleys creaked, and the last torn sail crashed stiffly onto deck, carpeting the busy troubadours. In a sudden warp of silence, bare- footed sailors crisscrossed the decks, nodding deferentially as they passed between the grey-cloaked servants of St. Thomas.

In Cornucopia’s comfortable belly, two fellow travellers ignored the banded celebrations announcing a new port of call. Piatro Kopernik, silk-tongued merchant of Danzig, was so imbibed with India, he assumed Mughal style, and Andreas Steynbergh, owl-eyed doctor and alchemist, who rarely ventured anywhere without the promise of a new discovery. They’d remained in their quarters because Piatro was sick, too sick to move from his bunk, and Andreas served as a willing nurse, Aalia’s moods being better viewed at a distance. A gifted child but difficult. Sometimes, when she sang, her voice held a majesty that could charm a lion from its lair. God willing, this time it would.

Draped across the bunk lay a dull woollen cloak. Andreas pulled at its folds until he found the simple, black cross which defined the ancient Company of St. Thomas. In their name, his good friend, Otar Miran, had commissioned their Portuguese captain and twenty experienced hands, promising a generous dividend should they happen to drop anchor in London before mid-summer’s dawn. They’d succeeded with one day in hand, the mission being urgent and St. Thomas’s pockets deep. But when they’d left India at the tail-end of November, they had no way of knowing Mary, Queen of England, was already dead, never having given birth to an heir. Nor did they know her half-sister, Elizabeth, was already crowned in her place. While a season of feting drained every tavern of its living, Cornucopia raced frantically towards England, because St. Thomas’s most dangerous secret was about to be revealed, and the name of that secret was William.

BLOG TOUR (6)

The Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd – Review.

 

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About the Book

Dan Leno, the great music hall comedian, was known in his lifetime as ‘the funniest man on earth’. So how could he have been involved in one of the most curious episodes in London’s history when, in a short period during the autumn of 1880, a series of murders was attributed to the mysterious ‘Limehouse Golem’?

In Peter Ackroyd’s novel the world of late-Victorian music hall and pantomime becomes implicated in a number of sinister scenes and episodes, and the connection between the light and dark sides of nineteenth-century London begins to attract contemporary figures as George Gissing and Karl Marx. But there are also less well-known characters who play a significant role in the narrative. What, for example, is the secret of Elizabeth Cree, about to hang for the murder of her husband?

My Review

I first started to read this book about twenty years ago when it was originally published as Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem. Then I didn’t really care for it, but over the years the books I choose to read are a lot darker and when the publisher asked if I would like to review I decided to try again. I am happy to say, that this time round I liked the novel much more. So much so that after finishing it yesterday morning, I then went to the cinema to watch the film adaptation. And now I want to reread the book. It’s safe to say I’m a fan!
It is incredibly dark. London isn’t romanticised in anyway. You see the poverty, the prostitution, the death and disease. I could taste the fog, the description of ‘miner’s phlegm’ was a strong indication of how damaging it must have been to health. We’ve probably all seen photographs of Victorian London shrouded in mist but I’ve never thought what it must be like to live in.
There are plenty of violent scenes combined with the scenes from the theatre, both of which are present throughout the entire novel. You see the story from a few points of view which gets a little confusing and it was only in the last quarter that I started to see what was happening.
It’s not a book that has many likeable characters, some are factual some fictional and the only moralistic person was Karl Marx who was saddened by a friend’s death. Everybody else was unfeeling and self-obsessed.
After rereading this novel for the second time I will be interested in reading more by Peter Ackroyd.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

The Companion by Sarah Dunnakey – Blog Tour Review.

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About the book

How do you solve a mystery when the clues are hidden in the past?

The Companion is a beautiful and powerfully-told story of buried secrets, set between the 1930s and the present day, on the wild Yorkshire moors.
Billy Shaw lives in a palace. Potter’s Pleasure Palace, the best entertainment venue in Yorkshire, complete with dancing and swing-boats and picnickers and a roller-skating rink.
Jasper Harper lives in the big house above the valley, with his eccentric mother Edie and Uncle Charles, brother and sister authors who have come from London to write in the seclusion of the moors.
When it is arranged for Billy to become Jasper’s companion, Billy arrives to find a wild, peculiar boy in a curiously haphazard household where nothing that’s meant is said and the air is thick with secrets. Later, when Charles and Edie are found dead, it is ruled a double suicide, but fictions have become tangled up in facts and it’s left to Anna Sallis, almost a century later, to unravel the knots and piece together the truth

My Review

The Companion was slightly different to what I was expecting but I enjoyed it a lot. It is a dual narrative novel with Anna in modern day and Billy in the 1930s. Anna has moved into the area to start again after suffering an emotional loss. She becomes friendly with Frank, a local man who encourages her to convince the board who have control of the old palace to open the top floor to the public.
Billy who lived in the village in the 1930s and whose family worked at the palace is told he is to become a companion to Jasper, who lives with his mother and uncle at their home High Hob which is up on the moors. At first, he misses his family and friends but settles in to his new life.
I found all three members of the family spoilt, snobbish and very unpleasant. Jasper, especially made my skin crawl. A lot of children would play games, where they would convince each other that there were wild animals in the area but he had a healthy obsession with death, cruelty and power.
I couldn’t work out what had happened. Most of what Anna learned was from passed down memories and not all of them were accurate. What you think you learned about Billy in modern day was proved to be false a few chapters later. I liked the way this was done, having worked on family history for years you always hear stories that are later proven to be inaccurate.
I liked his character a lot. He understood immediately what Jasper was capable of, had hopes for a successful future and dreamt of a life with Lizzie. His friendship with Lizzie was lovely to read but also upsetting at times.
I’ve always enjoyed a novel that covers different generations and found this novel to be remarkable. There was the 1930s where life was changing dramatically. Between the wars, and a changing approach to the way the working class enjoyed their leisure time. And then modern day, where people realized they should know more about what their predecessors did in work and leisure.
The whole area felt real. I could see the transformation of the old palace and feel the isolation of the moors and the people who lived in both. The superstitious shepherd, the cook who couldn’t cook and the maid who witnessed more than she realised.
A fascinating book about a Yorkshire community and its history. Recommended.

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received

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