Book review: April and May by Beth Elliott

31687444April and May by Beth Elliott
Publication date:
 25 August 2016
Genre:   Historical, Romance
Length:  200 pages
Published by:  Endeavour Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 4 out of 5


Description:

Love knows no limits…

When they met in London in 1799, Rose Charteris and Tom Hawkesleigh fell instantly in love.

But disapproving families and misunderstandings came between them, and the romance was over as quickly as it started.

Five years later, Tom is working for the Turkish ambassador in Constantinople and he runs into Rose once again when they cross paths in the ambassador’s quarters.

Now a widow, and a fiercely independent woman, circumstances mean that Rose has no choice but to work with Tom on a top secret and dangerous document for the Sultan.

Work in Constantinople becomes increasingly perilous, with spies from all sides desperate to find out what is planned.

Even back in London, danger is not far away.

Rose also has the burden of finding her place in high Georgian society, as well as trying to decide between the increasing charms of both Tom and ambassador Kerim Pasha.

Will Rose be able to evade the increasing threat to her well-being that her work has led to?

And will she succumb to her desires and give Tom back her heart?

Spanning the magical lands of Constantinople and the traditional streets of London, April and May is a heart-warming tale of a love that knows no boundaries.

My Thoughts:

I downloaded a kindle edition of this book using my KindleUnlimited subscription.

I don’t normally read romance novels, but when the Endeavour Press newsletter landed in my inbox, and I saw the cover art, I immediately clicked the link to the Kindle store.  Yup, I was totally suckered in by the book cover, despite a lifetime of the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” being seared into my brain.

I’m so glad I did.  Whilst this is a romance novel, it’s also a political thriller, albeit told from the point of view of someone whose only connection to political circles is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Crucially, for me, the romance aspects of the plot are in no way overly sentimental, and entirely relatable.

The point of view switches between the two main characters, Rose and Tom, which lets the reader in on the misapprehensions of each of them.  How easy it is to assume the worst when you only hold half the story.

Events unfold at a page-turning pace, and I couldn’t wait for the next moment I could pick up my Kindle to read more.  After finishing the book, I was left with end-of-book-blues.  Happily, Endeavour Press has more titles in their Regency Romance series, and Beth Elliot also has other Regency era romance titles.  I think they will become my new choice for holiday reads.

April and May is an effortless and engaging read that would make a great holiday, weekend or commute/lunch-break read.

 

 

Book Review: The Secret Poisoner by Linda Stratmann

cover85065-mediumThe Secret Poisoner: A Century of Murder by Linda Stratmann
Publication date:
  22 March 2016
Genre:  Non Fiction, Science, History
Length:  320 pages
Published by:  Yale University Press, London
Available at:  Amazon.co.ukGoodreads

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:

Murder by poison alarmed, enthralled, and in many ways encapsulated the Victorian age. Linda Stratmann’s dark and splendid social history reveals the nineteenth century as a gruesome battleground where poisoners went head-to-head with authorities who strove to detect poisons, control their availability, and bring the guilty to justice. She corrects many misconceptions about particular poisons and documents how the evolution of issues such as marital rights and the legal protection of children impacted poisonings. Combining archival research with a novelist’s eye, Stratmann charts the era’s inexorable rise of poison cases both shocking and sad.

My Thoughts:

I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you to NetGalley and Yale University Press for providing me with this copy.

Linda Stratmann is best known as a Crime Fiction writer, and confesses a fascination with the Victorian era, and Victorian Crime.  It feels as though this book is a culmination of the research which goes into her Victorian Crime novels.

The narrative voice maintains a Dickensian vibe in between quotes from newspapers, essays, letters, court records, trial records, and other published sources from the era.  It feels comfortable and fitting.

There is a lot of passion in this book.  Stratmann’s Author’s Note explains that although she avoids gory gruesome details in her Frances Doughty novels, in this book she will not spare the reader’s stomach.  She also explains that she doesn’t intend the book to be a compendium of poison murders.  Rather than present a list of unconnected, renowned cases, it is a story of “a duel of wits and resources”.  Stratmann tells the stories of the poison cases, the characters involved, the fate of the victim, and who got punished and how they were convicted.  They are all worthy of Miss Marple, Poirot, and Jessica Fletcher.  The motives for murder are mostly passion, greed or revenge, but a couple are shockingly cold, seemingly just for the sake of the act of murder itself.

Each case described justifies its place in the book, showing how it affected policy and law-making; how both poisons were sold, and how poisoning prosecutions were conducted.  Newspaper coverage at the time becomes part of these stories, influencing public opinion.

Notable figures in the emerging science of toxicology working to develop poison detection techniques add to the drama.  Vengeful acts weren’t only reserved for the perpetrators of poisonings.  In this competitive circle of innovation is a dramatic story of pride, jealousy, shattered reputations, misappropriated glory, and accusations of sabotage.

The Secret Poisoner paints a picture of Victorian society, before welfare reforms, and at the birth of modern science.  Ugly characteristics of human beings sit alongside the more noble attributes.  Even if non-fiction isn’t your genre of choice, this is still a page-turner full of dubious characters and unexpected twists.

Book Review: Mayflowers for November by Malyn Bromfield

cover85271-mediumMayflowers for November by Malyn Bromfield
Publication date:  
4th March 2016**
Genre:  General Fiction (Adult), Historical
Approximate reading time*:  6 hours, 30 mins
Published by:  Endeavour Press
Available at:  Amazon.co.uk

(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)
(**Date is as supplied by NetGalley.)

Description:

A sensational novel depicting Anne Boleyn’s dramatic downfall through the eyes of a servant in the court of Henry the Eighth.

Avis Grinnel’s life is forever changed when a young musician arrives unexpectedly to escort her to the innermost sanctum of King Henry VIII’s royal court.

However, it is not the king who has demanded her presence but his new queen, the much-disliked Anne Boleyn.

She has been told Avis is a “little cunning wench who has the sight” and demands she uses her powers to divine whether the queen is pregnant with a girl, or with the boy child the king expects.

From the moment she gives her fateful answer, Avis becomes embroiled in an extravagant world of intrigue, deceit and murderous plotting that is far removed from her lowly home life in the king’s kitchens at Greenwich Palace.

She becomes an unwilling participant and watcher in the alliances and misplaced loyalties of court life as the King wages religious war with the Pope and the churches while changing wives and mistresses in his relentless pursuit of a male heir.

Whispers, lies and rumours abound as the Queen fights for her survival and Avis struggles to balance her life of opulence in the royal chambers with the humble world of her baker parents and a mysterious suitor.

Her story is revealed partly as it unfolds and partly as a deeply-felt memory told to the faithful blind White Boy, who has been at her side for most of her life.

The brutal ending of Anne Boleyn’s reign is already known and written into history but this dramatic and vividly drawn story records the stark reality with an intricate and colourful portrayal of life at all levels in Tudor England.

Malyn Bromfield has drawn on her academic background to create a deeply researched and intensely detailed historical novel that depicts Anne Boleyn’s downfall through the eyes of a servant in the court of Henry the Eighth.

The detail of daily existence, whether it be the extravagant fashions of the courtiers or the tedious tasks of cooks and flunkeys, is richly intricate yet is woven so delicately that the drama never falters.

My Thoughts:

I was gripped from the beginning, sucked in before the end of the first few pages.

“Only much later did I realise that if something is supposed to be a secret you have to pretend it isn’t there.”

Oh my, and aren’t there a lot of secrets to be kept in the court of Henry VIII…

To see the story of Anne Boleyn unfold in the eyes of a working-class person, especially someone young enough to still be figuring out their place in the world, feels like a fresh pair of eyes on a much-told story.  Avis grows up in front of your eyes, amongst politics, gossip, back-stabbing, plotting, and intrigue.

Avis tells her story from the present-time of the 1530s and the future-time of the 1550s.  Her future hindsight reflections on the events that passed in her youth show the changing religious face of England at that time, as well the changes in Avis as she has become more worldly.

I am not a fan of hugely descriptive narration (a page and a half to describe a teacup is too much for me), but Bromfield so skillfully brings detail to her narration that the description never once intrudes on the action, and at the same time you can almost smell the pig fat in the kitchens, and breathe the air over the thames.  The pictures that Bromfield paints feel authentic, historically accurate, colourful and three-dimensional.

This story has pace, cleverly interwoven plots, and page-turning tension, it is immersive and consuming.  I loved it.

5 of 5

 

P.S.  After a short Twitter-chat with @baattyabtbooks about the research that must have gone into this book, she kindly sent me a link which includes an interview with Malyn Bromfield, where Bromfield talks about writing and researching the book.  It’s well worth a read.

@baattyabtbooks has her own book review blog here.