Tag Archives: history

The Strings of Murder by Oscar De Muriel. Review 

I have long been an advocate of the Frey & McGray novels although I have read them all back to front. Despite reading the second and third books already, I have only just read book number 1 The Strings of Murder

Obviously, I knew I was in for a treat having read the other two but it was pleasing to see that the first novel was just as good as the second and third. 

The Strings of Murder is the beginning for Frey and McGray, Frey is sacked from Scotland Yard in London at the same time as his fiancée deserts him for another man. Feeling dejected he agrees to be sent to Edinburgh and be teamed up with the notorious ‘nine nails’ McGray who heads up a police subdivision which focuses on the occult. 

What really makes this series great is the characters. Don’t get me wrong the plot is excellent, the twists fantastic, the historical accuracy on point (to the best of my knowledge) and the plot line is always intriguing making the stories unputdownable. But the relationship between Frey and McGray make it for me. The banter between them has me laughing out loud, from McGray’s insistence on referring to Frey as a ‘lassie’ to Frey’s disgust at everything McGray eats, wears, says or does. It’s just fantastic. If you haven’t read this series already then I suggest you do so as soon as possible! 

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay. Review. 

I read The Bronte Plot last year and really enjoyed it, so it made sense to give The Austen Escape a try, and it did not disappoint. 

Katherine Reay writes novels about American’s who love English Literature. As the title may give away, this one is about all things Jane Austen. 

Mary is an engineer for a start up company called WATT, she loves her job and she’s in love with a colleague Nathan who never seems to look at her that way. On top of that she’s beginning to fear that the new hardcore CEO Karen is going to fire her. Unrequited love and fear of losing her job come to a head when her latest project becomes a failure and she snatches up the opportunity to visit Bath, England with her friend Isabel who is writing her dissertation on Austen’s novels. Cue adults playing dress up at an old regency style house and many shenanigans going down. 

But things take a sinister turn as well and then a very unexpected one. The plot twist is cleverly laid out. One of those that makes you go ‘doh!’ For not realising it was obvious what was going on all along. 

The novel is well written, it’s very light and fun, it’s not by any means a serious book but that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. Sometimes light and fun is exactly what a reader needs! I love the play on the historical literature in a modern day setting as well and it’s definitely inspired me further to visit Bath! Another lovely read from author Katherine Reay. 

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase. Review 

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde is the first novel I’ve read by Eve Chase and I was drawn to it by the comparison to novels by Kate Morton who is one of my favourite authors. I totally get that comparison as well, the writing style is equally as beautiful as Kate’s and the storyline very similar in that it juxtaposes between present day and the past, as the mystery unravels. 

One half of the novel sets us in the summer of 1959 as four sisters; Margot, Flora, Pam and Dot go to stay with their aunt and uncle at Applecote Manor when their mother takes a job in Morocco. But it’s not going to be the glorious summers that they remember from childhood, Aunt Sybil and Uncle Perry and even the house itself changed irrevocably when their daughter Audrey went missing when she was only 12 years old. 

Back in the present day, Jessie and Will are moving into Applecote Manor for a fresh start. Jessie is rejected by her stepdaughter Bella who craves the return of her own deceased mother. But after moving there they begin to realise there’s something not quite right and the mystery begins to unfold. 

The novel is gripping but in a wonderfully slow paced way. The setting is beautiful and the reader is pulled into the world of Applecote Manor and it’s inhabitants. The romanticism of the missing girl and her cousins journey of coming of age for the four girls tied together by the events that take place in the heatwave of ’59. 

In the present day we see the turmoil of a turbulent relationship between Jessie and her stepdaughter Bella who can’t get on no matter how hard Jessie tries. While Bella is haunted by the ghost of Audrey’s disappearance when she unearths clues in the ruins of the garden, Jessie finds herself haunted by the ghost of Bella’s dead mother Mandy. And Bella only seems to want to antagonise her further. 

This was a really enjoyable novel overall and I’ll definitely be reading more from author Eve Chase in the future! 

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Review 

The Beautiful Ones is the first novel I have read by Silvia Moreno-Garcia but I’m really glad I decided to give it a try. 

Hauntingly beautiful this novel tells the story of unrequited love from the perspective of the lover and the loved. 

Set in what is presumably based on historical France (although the time period isn’t clear). Antonina (Nina) is a naive girl from the countryside taking part in her first grand season in the city of Loisail. Nina is staying with her favourite cousin and his wife who seems to inexplicably dislike her. Nina is used to dislike though, her telekinetic powers are why she couldn’t find a suitable husband at home and her less than perfect manners and lack of ability to be ladylike in public just seem to make things worse. 

But Nina’s attention and affection are captured by the enigmatic if slightly distracted Hector Auvray a telekinetic performer, as they become closer she is certain that a marriage proposal is imminent but there are other things at play that Nina knows nothing about. She has become a bit player in a game that goes back more than a decade. 

I found this book to be very engaging. It was an interesting take on a historical novel with the addition of the characters telekinetic powers. It sssms to be more of a play on the usual historical novel, while some things remain true to the times, others show a decided change. Valérie’s spite and malice make her an excellent villain against the naive and yet lovable Nina. This novel highlights the saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. 

I really liked the characters of both Nina and Hector and I was rooting for them the whole way through, I won’t say if they had a happy ending though, as always I won’t give any spoilers! 

I’ll definitely look into reading more from this author in the future! 

A Mask of Shadows by Oscar De Muriel. Review 

‘Yer may nae. Do as I said, else I’ll punch yer snooty face.’ 

Welcome back to the notorious ‘Nine Nails’ McGray and his eloquent language when interviewing a potential witness. I fell in love with McGray when I read A Fever of the Blood last year and I was really pleased to be granted an ARC of A Mask of Shadows the third book in the series. 

Once more we see the beguiling if slightly eccentric McGray, along with his partner Ian Frey thrown into a mysterious entanglement of murder, mystery and the supernatural. This time there’s a banshee haunting Henry Irving’s performance of ‘The Scottish Play’. 

I love that Bram Stoker is one of the main characters in this book, it reminded me a little bit of the mini TV series Houdini & Doyle with the two men searching, one for supernatural causes (Doyle = McGray) and one for the reasonable explanation (Houdini = Frey). It has the same wonderfully entertaining banter between the two. I love that McGray treats Frey so badly calling him everything from a ‘pansy’ to ‘Percy’ after he finds out his middle name. Yet despite the good ribbing he constantly gives him, you can tell the two have a great connection and that McGray would miss Frey should he be sent back to London. 

I also really liked how the character of Frey was developed in this novel. Usually he is the one trying to rein in McGray but this time he has a good Pop at people himself and it’s really great to see him get a pair of his own and I’m not talking tartan trousers! 

The novel features a ton of famous characters from actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry to the aforementioned Bram Stoker and even a cameo from Oscar Wilde and mentions of friendships with Lewis Carroll. 

It is engaging from start to finish and I really didn’t have a clue who was behind everything. Nothing was clear as every time the author threw a red herring that’s all it seemed it be. Everyone stood a chance of being guilty and that is the truly clever skill of Oscar De Muriel that he is able to convince us that it might just be a supernatural explanation after all…. 

Three Sisters, Three Queens. Philippa Gregory. Review 

I must admit I was a little disappointed with this one. I read all of the Tudor Court series while I was on holiday last week and I was surprised at how interesting and captivating I found them. But what I loved most about the earlier ones is that Philippa took a woman who was perceived in history as to be nothing better than the wife of a king and then turned her into a powerful feminist image. Except for Catherine Howard who was just an idiot. 

Anyway, this one focuses on three queens (as the title suggests) but mainly of Queen Margaret of Scotland, sister to Henry VIII. The other two are Katherine of Aragon Queen of England and Queen Mary of France the other sister of Henry VIII. The whole of the novel is told from the point of view of Margaret. In one sense it’s a very interesting read. Margaret is not a hugely famous figure in history, overshadowed of course by her brother Henry. So from a historical point of view it was an eye opener. 

So what spoilt it? What made it different from the others? Frankly Margaret was a spoilt brat. While Katherine and Mary developed a loving friendship, all Margaret cared about was competing with them. She had to be higher in the ranks that Mary. She couldn’t follow Katherine’s train. There was no way they should have better fashion, better children, better husbands, better anything than her. She just acted like a spoilt brat the whole time. This unfortunate character trait made her very unlikeable and therefore, I found it impossible to empathise with her when things went wrong. 

I understand the need to tell Margaret’s story but I think personally it could have worked better as a stand alone novel and not part of the Tudor series. Mary’s part was very insignificant and barely touched upon other than a lot of letters she wrote to Margaret about clothes. As for Katherine everything we learned about her was what we already knew from The Constant Princess. 

The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick. Review 

Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for my ARC. 
This book was surprisingly brilliant. I say surprisingly because I must admit that while it appealed to me (obviously as I requested it), I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little and think ‘not another novel set in Tudor times’. This may have something to do with the fact that I’ve packed the whole of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor Court novels to take on holiday with me. 

However, I was pleasantly surprised. This book was such a page turner. I literally couldn’t put it down! 

The Phantom Tree follows the story of Alison Banestre an orphan in the 16th century who ends up staying at Wolf Hall with her relatives the Seymours and specifically her cousin Mary Seymour daughter of the ex-Queen Katherine Parr. What follows is a tale of time travel, Magic, history and romance both in this century and the past. 

I think what really won me over with this book was the author’s ability to write something which was not in anyway cliched or ridiculous when it was a topic which frankly could have been. Time travel is something which has to be handled very carefully and it was great to see how well it was dealt with and also to see it turned on its head. Here we aren’t talking about someone who who travelled back in time but instead travelled forward and actually coped and adjusted to the modern world. That was the true magic in this story.w

The characters were both engaging and likeable and the language understandable and not overly ‘olde english’ as is often the case with historical novels. 

This is definitely up there as one of my reads of this year. Highly recommended!