Book Review – Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

“To those around her she was a loyal subject.

In her heart she was a traitor.

1399: England’s crown is under threat. King Richard II holds onto his power by an ever-weakening thread, with exiled Henry of Lancaster back to reclaim his place on the throne.

For Elizabeth Mortimer, there is only one rightful King – her eight-year-old nephew, Edmund. Only he can guarantee her fortunes, and protect her family’s rule over the precious Northern lands bordering Scotland.

But many, including Elizabeth’s husband, do not want another child-King. Elizabeth must hide her true ambitions in Court, and go against her husband’s wishes to help build a rebel army.

To question her loyalty to the King places Elizabeth in the shadow of the axe.

To concede would curdle her Plantagenet blood.

This is one woman’s quest to turn history on its head.”

Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien is an engaging novel. Elizabeth Percy is an intriguing character – in many ways just as headstrong as her husband – Harry Hotspur, and with a firm belief in the value of her own royal birthright.

The blurb for the book is, sadly, misleading. Much of Elizabeth Percy’s vitriol is not directed against Richard II, indeed she seems to really rather like him for the brief appearance he makes, but rather against the next king, Henry IV, who usurps the throne, with the support of the Earl of Northumberland and her husband, but who then fails to pay the desired blood price. It is Henry IV that she wishes to see removed from the throne of England, not Richard II, although it is her nephew that she wishes to replace him with. In this, her husband is very much in agreement.

There is a wonderful sense of impending doom throughout the first half of the novel, but I didn’t feel as though the second half succeeded with quite the same sense of drama. That said, Elizabeth is too interesting a character to not want to read about all of her life, and I enjoyed the character’s own journey to self-realisation that occurs by the final pages of the book.

All in all, a firm addition to Anne O’Brien’s cast of somewhat ‘unlikely’ heroic women of the Middle Ages who have sadly been overlooked by the joy that is popular history.

A firm 4/5 and my thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy.

Queen of the North is released in paperback on 18th April 2019, and you can grab your copy here, although other retailers are available. (To all GOT fans, I dare you to say this title without a bit of Jon Snow – King of the North – ’cause I can’t.)

And, just to tease you, the next book in Anne O’Brien’s expanding collection, A Tapestry of Treason, due out in August 2019, is a wonderful and delightful book. Check it out as well.

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Book Review – Breaking the Lore by Andy Redsmith – Fantasy

Here’s the blurb;

“A magical, mischievous mystery perfect for fans of Douglas Adams and Ben Aaronovitch

How do you stop a demon invasion… when you don’t believe in magic? Inspector Nick Paris is a man of logic and whisky. So staring down at the crucified form of a murder victim who is fifteen centimetres tall leaves the seasoned detective at a loss… and the dead fairy is only the beginning.

Suddenly the inspector is offering political asylum to dwarves, consulting with witches, getting tactical advice from elves and taking orders from a chain-smoking talking crow who, technically, outranks him.

With the fate of both the human and magic worlds in his hands Nick will have to leave logic behind and embrace his inner mystic to solve the crime and stop an army of demons from invading Manchester!”

I am a fan of quirky fantasy (Robert Rankin/Terry Pratchett) and was intrigued by the concept of Breaking the Lore. And for about 50% of the book I really quite enjoyed it. It’s not a difficult read, the chapters are short, the characters quite fun – although Malbus is the standout character. However, the story quickly ran out of steam, and I found the last 40% really hard to get into. At this point, the really short chapters didn’t help a great deal, the jokes were all getting a bit stale, and Nick Paris was spending a lot of his time ‘pondering’ but never really finding any answers to his questions, or indeed, doing a great deal to find the answers.
There’s a great deal of potential in Breaking the Lore, but in the end, it fails to live up to that potential, and I was just pleased to get to the end.
With a little less pondering, more of Nick Paris actually doing some police work and following up on his hunches as opposed to leaving them hanging in an effort to extend the story, this could be a really fun book. Perhaps Book 2 will be stronger.
A firm 3/5. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

Breaking the Lore was released on 15th April 2019 and is available now from here;

One Word Kill – Book Review – Mark Lawrence

Here’s the blurb;

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

I kept my visible review on Goodreads for this one quite short,

“Ah, the 1980’s! Recaptured in all its glory.”

This is mainly because a lot of people are loving this book, and the reason that I gave it 3/5 is that it’s just not really my sort of thing. It is clever, in places, and Good God, if you want to understand the concept of quantum mechanics, I can’t see how there’s a better way to be taught it, but even all the Back to the Future references couldn’t quite make me love this book as much as others even though I am a fan Mark Lawrence’s previous three trilogies – which I would classify as fantasy.

Will I read the next one and then the final part of the trilogy? Time will tell. Right now I’m not too fussed either way, although I am pleased they’re all being released this year so we don’t have to wait forever to read on! What I would say is that if you do like a bit of sci-fi mixed in with Dungeon and Dragons, some bad 80’s clothes and hairstyles, then this is the book for you. Enjoy it, but sadly, it isn’t quite as good as the new 80’s favourite of Stranger Things.

One Word Kill has an official launch date of 1st May 2019. But if you have Prime, you seem to be able to get it now, and it’s also on the Amazon First Reads scheme.

New Release Alert – The Innkeeper – Fantasy #IndieApril

 

Here’s the blurb;

‘Mann has a secret he can tell no one, and it’s not that the beguiling whores of Slutet believe he’s the best shag they’ve ever had.

No, being able to summon anything he wants, from thin air, is not something he wants to share. Neither is the fact that he has no recollection of his past, or that, as time goes on, his life never ends. (He doesn’t mind if the whores want to tell everyone about his prowess in the bedchamber, mind, and neither does he mind sharing it with all who come asking).

Not that his summoning power is his only secret, but the end of the millennia and a meeting of apparent strangers might be about to answer the questions he never even realised he had.

Whether a Nine or a None, Mann has a duty only he can fulfil, and this cycle, he’s failed, spectacularly. But there’s always tomorrow, or, rather, yesterday, to do it all over again, if he can only find what he lost.’

As a Nine or a None, Mann must uncover his destiny by revisiting the past.

 

Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence – Book Review – released today in the UK 4th April 2019

Here’s the blurb;

“Nona Grey’s story reaches its shattering conclusion in the third instalment of Book of the Ancestor.

THEY CAME AGAINST HER AS A CHILD. NOW THEY FACE THE WOMAN.

The ice is advancing, the Corridor narrowing, and the empire is under siege from the Scithrowl in the east and the Durns in the west. Everywhere, the emperor’s armies are in retreat.

Nona faces the final challenges that must be overcome if she is to become a full sister in the order of her choice. But it seems unlikely that Nona and her friends will have time to earn a nun’s habit before war is on their doorstep.

Even a warrior like Nona cannot hope to turn the tide of war.
The shiphearts offer strength that she might use to protect those she loves, but it’s a power that corrupts. A final battle is coming in which she will be torn between friends, unable to save them all. A battle in which her own demons will try to unmake her.

A battle in which hearts will be broken, lovers lost, thrones burned.

HOLY SISTER completes the Book of the Ancestor trilogy that began with RED SISTER and GREY SISTER. A ground-breaking series, it has established Mark Lawrence as one of the most exciting new voices in modern speculative fiction.”

 

Holy Sister is a satisfying conclusion to the Book of the Ancestor Trilogy. For other authors, I would have found that acceptable, but for Mark Lawrence, I confess, I was a bit disappointed.
As with the ending of the previous two trilogies, especially Jalan’s, I’m left wishing there had just been ‘more’.
The concurrent storylines are not without excitement, indeed from about 50-80% the storyline is extremely exciting, but to get there I had to wade through the first 35% and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped I would. Yes, a year has passed since I read the previous book, and I had forgotten much, but even so, and especially considering the ‘summation’ at the beginning, I feel I should have been able to grab the characters and events far more quickly. For readers who can just plough on through all 3 books one after another, I’m sure this won’t be a problem but I’m far too impatient to have actually waited for the end of the trilogy.
And the eventual ending, well. It was somewhat anti-climatic.
If this was merely a coming of age story, then I would say the job had been accomplished very well, but it was always more than that, and sadly, Book 3 doesn’t quite do justice to the characters.
I appreciate that there are many who love this book – I’ve been seeing 5-star reviews flying around for Holy Sister for about 6 months. It might just be that, for me, the book suffers from too much hype, and so I would like to apologise to the author if my comments seem too harsh. It’s truly not the author’s fault when something gets blown out of all proportion.
The majority of people will love this book – and I’m excited for Mark Lawrence because that means he’ll get to write more and more books, and share his wonderful ideas with a wider and wider audience.
I think we will get to return to the world of the Book of the Ancestor, and I look forward to that. Perhaps then all my unanswered questions will find answers. Although I doubt it. Mark Lawrence is a sly old fox for a good reason!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me an E-Arc. I confess, there may have been a squeal of delight.

Holy Sister is released in the UK today in hardback, ebook and audiobook and you can purchase it here (other retailers are also available). I give it a 4/5;

A bit of 1920’s murder mystery – a bit of fun

So, I’ve managed to get myself lost in the 1920’s for a week or two. I have a Kindle Unlimited subscription but rarely use it because ‘The Teenager’ always has ten books out at any one time. That all changed a few weeks ago when I used Kindle Unlimited to devour a few short books, boost my Goodreads reading challenge for the year, and just get away from historical fiction and fantasy for a while. It was quite a bit of fun.

Here’s what I found;

House Party Murder Rap by Sonia Parin.

Here’s the blurb;

1920s England. Lighthearted cozy historical mystery.

Two people have been targeted. Shots have been fired. Who stands to inherit? Who has the most to lose?

Evangeline ‘Evie’ Parker, Countess of Woodridge, thinks it’s nothing but an accident but then an attempt is made on her host’s life. Suddenly, all the guests attending the Duke of Hetherington’s house party think they are being targeted. Who will be next?

Evie and her new chauffeur form an unlikely alliance to discover as much as they can before the killer can get it right.

My review was brief and to the point;

Just needs more of everything! And a good edit.
The murder mystery is simply solved. 
Enjoyable all the same.

I confess I was sucked in by the ‘USA Today Bestselling Author’ bit on the cover, and was a bit surprised the book wasn’t better edited/plotted etc, but, as I said, I did enjoy it all the same and read Book 2 as well before moving onto.

A Subtle Murder by Blythe Baker.

Here’s the blurb;

Murder and intrigue on the Arabian Sea…

When Rose Beckingham sets sail for England in the summer of 1926, she brings more than souvenirs from her years in India. She carries the memory of a family tragedy and a secret so terrible it could destroy the new life she hopes to build in London.

But Rose isn’t the only passenger aboard the RMS Star of India with something to hide. Halfway across the Arabian Sea, death strikes and a murderer begins a deadly game only Rose can hope to end.

With a mysterious Frenchman haunting her steps, can Rose outrun her past? And can she stay alive long enough to decipher the clues left by a taunting killer? Or will murder call again before the first port?

It was the cover that attracted me to this series. And in fact, I went on to read the four books currently available in the series, with Book 5 due out later in March. My review was a little less brief this time.

“Read the entire series in a week – books are entertainingly light and fluffy, although the situations do get more and more far-fetched, and I was pleased to get to the end of Book 5. The main complaint is the liberal splattering of ‘Americanisms’ throughout the books – even with everything taken into account in the storyline, there are many characters who would say streets and pavements rather than blocks and sidewalks. The first book is the best of them all. Enjoy!”

From there, I made a leap into the 1930’s.

Flora Mackintosh and the Hungarian Affair by Anna Reader.

Here’s the blurb;

Flora Mackintosh’s only real problem was managing to source decent gin at school – at least until she received a mysterious telegram from an uncle she never knew she had, summoning her to Hungary. Sneaking out of St. Penrith’s for Girls and with the promise of adventure in the air, Flora packs her hip-flask, Gauloises, and pistol and sets off for Europe.

Accompanied by a new friend and with nothing but the telegram to go on, she finds herself suddenly plunged into a world of espionage, danger and thrilling excitement.

My review was quite simple. “I say, jolly good fun.” And it was. With a more enjoyable plot and a fab main character, and a little more serious in tone, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and went onto reading the sequel, which has a different main character, but was quite enjoyable all the same – especially if you like cricket!

All of these books were on Kindle Unlimited which meant that to my mind at least, they didn’t cost me anything to read – and so I welcomed taking the gamble on something I wouldn’t normally read. I am a huge fan of Poirot and the Phryne Fisher series (books and TV series) but don’t often read outside those two series. It seems that there’s a lot more out there to sink my teeth in to and I’m sure I’ll head back to the 1920s and 1930s in due time. (Warning, there is a lot of alcohol consumption in the books by Anna Reader – I did begin to worry a bit about the health of all the characters.)

 

 

 

 

The Wall – A Post Brexit Dystopian Fantasy – New Release Alert

Here’s the blurb;

The only road to escape ends at The Wall.

In a desolate post-Brexit England, nothing is as it seems.

There is no chance, for those who remain in England encased behind The Wall, to live a long and healthy life in the smog-drenched, almost abandoned cities. None.

Apart from one.

Walking North, alone, through a desolate and deserted landscape, on old, cracked roads, long since abandoned, Harra has only two items to guide her. A sheet of paper with a list of instructions to direct her steps to The Wall and an ancient Casio watch to ensure her timely arrival. Yet neither of those can guarantee success, not when the ever-vigilant Border Drones must be avoided to chance the final crossing.

And with every step she takes, the Establishment lies begins to unravel, revealing to Harra just how far the Government has gone to ensure its ‘truths’ are not only never questioned, but that they also come to pass.

Harra has a future to gain, and a past to unravel.

The Wall both beckons and repels, but there is no other means of escape.

So head’s up – I know the author, and I have only good things to say about this book.