Henry VIII, arguably the most famous king of England, is a character that always piques the interest of children. His six wives and his love of all things lavish, makes him the perfect historical character to get younger people interested in history. Now he has been given the Horrible Histories treatment, with a fictional account of his diary, albeit a very accurate piece of fiction!
Henry VIII is the ideal candidate for a book such as this, as there are so many infamous events and controversies throughout his reign. Dealing with the likes of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Field of the Cloth of Gold and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it is written in a humorous, child-friendly way which gets across the meaning of these significant events without ever appearing too stuffy.
The theme I enjoyed the most was his relationship with the Pope. Knowing that the Break with Rome was a major part of his reign, I found Henry’s changing opinion of the Pope hilarious and the book clearly shows how Henry used religion as a way of achieving his own aims.
The traditional Horrible Histories books have always been a favourite of mine and this looks like it could be another great series.
Grief-stricken gardener Megan Taylor, tries to put thoughts of her missing in action brother out of her mind by taking a job at Foxfield Hall, restoring the maze in the overgrown gardens. She soon becomes interested in the mystery of the hall’s most famous resident, Lady Eleanor Fairfax, who disappeared in 1939 during the harvest festival. Although no body was ever found, Megan begins to wonder if she could have been murdered. There is also the possibility that she ran away in order to avoid a marriage to someone she didn’t love or could it even have something to do with her father’s war work? Megan finds the maze drawing her in, feeling that the truth could lie inside. Will she discover what happened to Eleanor or will she become the next woman to simply disappear without a trace?
If you had the opportunity to prevent a past tragedy from happening, not knowing how your actions would affect the future, would you do it? This is the dilemma faced by Megan when she is somehow transported back to 1939, days before the disappearance of Lady Eleanor Fairfax. Ellie, as she is known, is about to find her world turned upside down due to the outbreak of World War Two, her fiancé’s involvement in the armed services and her father’s secret war work meaning that she is left in the care of Ava Seaborne, her father’s new secretary. Ava was a mysterious character, this feeling of forebording becoming stronger when Megan encountered a Dr Faye Seaborne. A familial connection or something else entirely?
The Lost Girls of Foxfield Hall packs in an awful lot, switching genres effectively throughout. Part mystery, science-fiction, history and romance, it was the time travel element that fascinated me the most. The two lead characters, Megan and Ellie, were both strong women, Ellie in particular showing great tenacity when faced with her future. Knowing the fate that was about to befall her, yet not knowing exactly how it was to happen, I admired Ellie’s determination to get to the truth, not letting the aforementioned Ava Seaborne stop her in her tracks.
Jessica Thorne managed to blindside me numerous times, leaving me wondering which characters were on the side of Ellie and Megan and which ones were not. This definitely kept me on my toes throughout! In such a complex plot, I was pleased that there were no loose ends left at the end, the story reaching a satisfying conclusion.
With thanks to Bookouture and Netgalley for my ARC and to Noelle Holten for orgainsing the blog tour.
Genealogist Jayne Sinclair finds herself with an unusual request when an antiques dealer asks her to discover the provenance of a first edition of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. With the only clues being a hand-written dedication, a name, a place and a date, she only has three days to complete her task before the book is due to be auctioned. With Christmas fast approaching and with the prospect of spending the festive season on her own, Jayne must try to unearth the truth of what happened in Christmas 1843.
This is the latest book in M J Lee’s Jayne Sinclair series and this time we see the genealogist taking on a different sort of mystery. Instead of being asked to trace the family tree of a client, she is tasked to prove that a copy of ‘A Christmas Carol’, dedicated to a local man in 1843, is indeed a first edition. The value of the book could increase dramatically if this could be ascertained although trying to find information about the man could prove impossible in the time frame she has been given to solve the mystery.
Like in all of the previous books in the series, I loved reading of the research that Jayne undertook and was particularly pleased to see her exploring the libraries of Manchester instead of just relying on online sources. I always like reading about places I have visited and the comments about the John Rylands library mirrored my own when I visited, albeit briefly, a few years ago. After being reminded of this wonderful place, I have made a mental note to revisit once the pandemic is well and truly behind us.
Crime fiction set in the Victorian era is a particular favourite of mine and I have been enjoying the Dickens and Jones series by J. C. Briggs. I was pleased, therefore, to see that this would also feature Dickens as a character in the chapters of the book set in 1843. M J Lee paints a vivid picture of Victorian Manchester, showing the sort of lives that the mill workers of the north had to endure. In most books of this type, it is the slums of London that we read about so it was good to read about somewhere different.
The Christmas Carol is a quick read, heartwarming and perfect for this time of year. I hope it won’t be too long before we get to read about Jayne’s latest adventure, possibly with a tie in to her forthcoming holiday with her step-parents?
In London in 1888, former nurse Susannah thinks that she is about to start a new, secure life with her doctor husband Thomas. The honeymoon period is short, however, as Thomas begins to stay out late returning home covered in blood and with a temper that makes his new wife fear for her life. When a woman is murdered in Whitechapel, Susannah begins to take an interest in the newspaper reports, reading everything she can. When other women are killed in horrific circumstances, Susannah begins to realise that the deaths coincide with her husband being away from home. Could Thomas be the one they call Jack the Ripper?
I am always looking for a a different take on the Jack the Ripper story, whether it be fiction or non-fiction and so People of Abandoned Character piqued my interest immediately. What I found was that, although the premise of the book is that the protagonist suspects her husband of being the notorious killer, this is only the backdrop to what is a wonderful take on life for the poorer classes in London, in particular the plight of women who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in the slums of Whitechapel.
In People of Abandoned Character, we see Susannah, a product of Whitechapel, managing to secure herself a position as a nurse, providing her with a way out of the misfortune that befell her own mother. Despite this, the life of an unmarried woman in Victorian Britain was a precarious one and so it was easy to see why her head was turned by Thomas, a doctor several years her junior and why she felt compelled to marry him. The marriage was by no means a happy one and Clare Whitfield paints a terrifying picture of what Susannah had to endure at the hands of her husband and his housekeeper, Mrs Wiggs.
The descriptions of life in Whitechapel were incredibly clear and I could visualise the desperation of the people who lived there as they tried to survive. Although, as I wrote earlier, the murders are a backdrop to the rest of the plot, I was pleased to read about the victims when they were alive, the author giving them a voice instead of just portraying them as dead prostitutes.
As the book reached its exciting conclusion, I couldn’t wait to see if Susannah’s fears would be realised. The ending was full of shocks and was particularly macabre and gruesome. You will have to read the book to see if Thomas was Jack however…
People of Abandoned Character is a fantastic debut and I shall look forward to reading more of Clare Whitfield’s work.
With thanks to Head of Zeus and Net Galley for my copy.
*This review is of the picture book illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole*
Michael Morpurgo’s book about the friendship between a boy and his horse has become a modern classic and with this new illustrated version for younger readers, he is destined to get a whole new audience.
When Albert’s horse, Joey, is sold to the army at the start of World War One, Albert joins up as a private, determined to seek out his friend amongst the thousands of other horses on the battlefields of Europe. As the conflict progresses, both boy and horse witness the horrors of war, never giving up hope that one day they will be reunited.
This book has been adapted by Michael Morpurgo from his original novel, the key events from the story being given in a way that makes it very approachable for young readers. It is hard not to be moved by the story as you see the bond between Albert and Joey and Albert’s determination to find his friend once again. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measures, this is a powerful tale of friendship and determination that will appeal to all readers.
The illustrations by Tom Clohosy Cole are out of this world, helping to enhance the child’s understanding by providing clear images of life on the battlefront. One illustration in particular made the book for me, that is the depiction of no man’s land. There is so much detail, from the fearful expressions on the soldiers’ faces, the desolation of the battlefields and the distant explosions and fires.
This adaptation of War Horse is a fantastic introduction to Morpurgo’s work for younger readers but it also has so much to offer for all ages. It is worth purchasing for the illustrations alone.
When George first sets eyes on Lucy, one of his household’s servants, he is smitten and is soon making plans for his future. After being rejected, however, his hopes are further thwarted when Lucy dies, seemingly the victim of a poisoning. Distraught, George knows that someone at home must have killed her, but who?
Cassie is quite content with her life: a job she loves, friends she can rely on and doting parents who would do anything for her. All this is turned upside down, however, as research into her family history makes her question everything she thought she knew about her life.
I am a huge fan of Kathleen McGurl’s dual timeline novels, my favourite being The Daughters of Red Hill Hall. I was thrilled, therefore to see that the author has revisited my favourite era of historical fiction, the Victorian period, in her latest book, The Forgotten Gift.
As with her other books, we have two different plots set in two different time frames with a common theme running through them. The issue of family secrets is very much at the forefront here and the lengths some people will go to in order to stop these secrets from being revealed. I had great sympathy for George, who came across as a lovely young man, shunned by his family through no fault of his own. By starting the book with George’s will, I immediately became invested in his story, and was desperate to know what had happened in his life. This also provided a good link between the two time frames as Cassie tried to discover the same things.
As a fellow genealogist, I could relate a lot to the character of Cassie and loved how an enjoyable evening for her was one sat reading old documents, trying to make sense of the past. The discovery of scandal is an occupational hazard for a family historian, but Cassie manages to open up several cans of worms that have a profound effect on her life. I won’t give any spoilers, but I felt that this was sensitively handled, showing very real reactions from all involved parties.
I have, recently, been struggling to read books at my usual pace and I knew that a Kathleen McGurl book would help me out of my slump. I was so right as I raced through The Forgotten Gift, desperate to know what had happened in George’s life and how had overcome his problems. (Although I loved Cassie’s story, it was George who tugged at the heart strings for me!)
This is a wonderful read which, although fiction, gives a real insight into aspects of Victorian life. I have sung the praises of this author many times and I will continue to do so. If you haven’t read any of her work before, then please do – you won’t be disappointed!
With thanks to Rachel’s Random Resources, Kathleen McGurl, Net Galley ad HQ Digital for my copy of The Forgotten Gift.
Take a look at my reviews of other books by Kathleen McGurl:
The famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes has been tasked by Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to assist in the hunt for the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. Initially reluctant to join in the investigation, Holmes has to go it alone due to the recent marriage of his faithful partner, John Watson. The case takes a sudden turn, however, when the detective identifies a possible prime suspect – none other than Watson himself…
As someone who has a huge interest in the Jack the Ripper case and is also a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, this book ticked all the boxes for me! Over the years, I have read many takes on the identity of the Whitechapel murderer, and thought that everything that could have been written on this subject has already been done. I was pleased therefore, to see a new slant and was intrigued to see how the author would mix fictional characters with such a well-documented case.
This is a well-written pastiche of Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories which could almost be written by the author himself. The style and language took me straight back to the likes of A Study in Scarlet with one difference – this case is penned by Holmes himself, the usual scribe, Dr Watson being the subject of much of the detective’s musings.
We discover quite early on that Holmes has suspicions about his friend and I really like how the author keeps you waiting until near the end to discover whether these suspicions are well-founded. Like Holmes, I could not believe that Watson could possibly commit such heinous crimes, but the evidence definitely seemed to fit… You will have to read the book yourself to see the outcome!
Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel is quite a short book so if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes who is looking for a quick read with an engaging plot, then this could be the book for you. Thoroughly enjoyable.
With thanks to M K Wiseman and to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources.
One night, young Emily Moon witnesses the brutal murder of her father. Unable to tell anyone what she has seen, her mother thinks that he has simply disappeared, leaving her to find solace in the alcohol that she sells at their clifftop inn in Cornwall. Knowing that the smugglers that operate nearby are the ones responsible for the murder, Emily is not happy that the killers are seemingly getting away with this horrific crime.
After a tragic case, police officer Phoebe Bellingham decides that a break in Cornwall would be the ideal way to get some respite. Staying with her friend at The Moon Girl pub, she comes across the story of Emily and is immediately intrigued. Just what did happen to Emily Moon and are we about to see history repeat itself over 200 years later?
As a fan of dual timeline books, The Smuggler’s Daughter ticked all of the boxes for me. The author successfully transported me back to Georgian England, painting a very descriptive picture of the Cornwall coastline, something straight out of du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. I could almost smell the sea air and hear the wind whistling across the cliffs.
Although the time frames are two very different eras, we get to see a parallel in the plots due to the place the story is set, with smuggling being the common link. We also see some similarities between the two lead characters, both of them with an eye for justice and a desire to do the right thing. My heart went out to Phoebe who is torturing herself due to what she perceives as a failure on her part to do her job properly on her last case. It was easy to see why she needed something to occupy her mind, her investigation into Emily Moon being the perfect distraction.
Emily Moon is a fantastic character. Dismissed by locals as a simple young girl, she was actually an incredibly strong young woman, brave beyond her years. I loved every scene she was in and had my fingers crossed throughout the book that she would go on to live a happy life. I admired her tenacity, even when faced with extreme danger, and understood her need to revenge the death of her father, whatever the cost.
The Smuggler’s Daughter is one of those books that draws you in straight away and I found it difficult to put down, reading it in a few sittings. This is the perfect book for someone wanting a mix of history and mystery and I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author.
With thanks to HQ and Net Galley for my ARC and to Sian Baldwin for organising the blog tour.
All eyes are on the Leeds police as the city is soon to receive a visit from the Prime Minister. The year is 1908, however, and the unemployed are planning to disrupt the visit along with the Suffragettes who see this as an ideal opportunity to get their grievances heard. With his men already stretched, an anonymous note sent to Detective Superintendent Tom Harper has piqued his interest. Telling of an abducted child fourteen years earlier and naming the family with whom he now lives, Harper is concerned that the original investigation seemed to be a bit lacklustre with a paper thin file detailing the steps taken. When missing children are a top priority, why was the disappearance of Andrew Sharp never taken seriously and why is there still an attempt to keep the story hidden?
Tom Harper is back, and this time things are looking very different in his personal life. At the start of the book, we see him having to come to terms with the loss of a close friend, someone who we have got to know throughout the series. This death, although not suspicious, sets the tone for the rest of the book, with numerous murders occurring to try to protect an old secret.
One of the things I have always liked about this series is the prominence placed upon Tom’s wife, Annabelle. Very much a woman ahead of her time, we now see this replicated in their daughter, Mary. Now sixteen years of age, she is very much involved in the suffragette movement, although unlike her mother, she is prepared to go against her father’s wishes to achieve her aim. I had great sympathy for Tom who, despite showing support for his daughter, knows he has a job to do, finding it difficult to prevent his daughter from getting involved in potentially dangerous demonstrations.
The Molten City has a lot happening between its pages, but the story flows easily, each plot being as enjoyable as the other. Chris Nickson, again, adds an air of authenticity by including real historical events as part of the plot, and it is easy to imagine yourself in the Leeds of 1908.
My only concern with this series is that, as time is moving on, Tom Harper is getting older. I hope that we do not see him retiring any time soon, as this is a series that I am thoroughly enjoying! If you haven’t read any of this series before, I can highly recommend it. Take a look at my reviews of some of the other books in the series: