Brandon – Tudor Knight by Tony Riches #FridayReads #RBRT

brandon

From the author of the international best-selling Tudor Trilogy:

Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon is the epitome of a Tudor Knight. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without the king’s consent.

Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell.

Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen?

After reading Mary -Tudor Princess less than a year ago I was looking forward to seeing this love story from the point of view of Charles Brandon. Tony Riches has taken us into the mind of Brandon, a generous, clever man and undoubtedly a womaniser. An orphan whose father died fighting for Henry VII at Bosworth, Charles became the friend and mentor of Henry VIII when the latter was still a young prince. Frequently lacking funds, Brandon was a political animal latching on to the power and influence of first Wolsey and then Thomas Cromwell. He took on the wardship of two young heiresses during his life, but he abandoned his betrothed, Elizabeth Grey, so that he could marry Mary, sister of King Henry and widow of King Francis of France.

Mary had loved him since, at the age of 13, she gave him her favour when he was jousting. A stunningly beautiful princess with long red gold hair, she also appealed to him and he took a calculated gamble in secretly marrying her without Henry’s permission. This could have been seen as treason but his close friendship with the King saved the couple. We share Tudor history with Charles and Mary as they attend the Field of the Cloth of Gold, support their friend Catherine of Aragon and have to accept Anne Boleyn as her replacement.

I love the way the author tells the story simply, concentrating on Brandon himself but giving us a view of the exciting but dangerous world of the Tudor court and the way that the affable young prince Henry turned into an unpredictable, capricious King. At times there is a sudden jump of time and place from one paragraph to the next, but this is easy to forgive when you are transported so easily into another interesting situation. A great introduction into the Tudor world.

Brandon Tudor Knight can be found on Amazon UK

My Review of Mary Tudor- Princess

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Transcription by Kate Atkinson #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

transcription

 Transcription opens in 1981 when Juliet Armstrong is involved in an accident. As she lies on the ground, injured, her mind goes back to 1940 when she started work in the offices of MI5 and then to 1950 when she was a BBC schools programmes producer. A witty but unemotional protagonist she seems to be recounting events as they happened, but there are omissions, and can we really trust her testimony?

I loved this book, much preferring it to Life After Life. The story of how MI5 monitored Nazi sympathisers and the account of  the amoral social life of 1940 are fascinating. Juliet’s observations on a woman’s role, always making the tea but also sent out to risk her life on potentially dangerous missions without any training, reflect reality. At times, this novel made me laugh out loud, at others, it is tense and thrilling and always slightly puzzling. There are so many intriguing characters, from Peregrine Gibbons, so dapper but resisting her charms (Juliet’s naivety is believable) to Godfrey Talbot, the likeable double agent, via delightful Cyril, her hard-working companion in Dolphin Square and the tactless Daisy who is supposed to assist Juliet at the BBC.

As Juliet listens in to meetings between Godfrey and a group of fascist sympathisers her transcriptions are sketchy. Words are missing when the dog barks and we don’t have a complete picture of what is happening. This reflects Juliet’s story. She has the ability to lie easily, making her an effective spy and yet she cares deeply about the fate of a young maid who briefly helps her and who, like Juliet, is an orphan.

This is a deep novel with a light tone. It is interesting to read from the context of today’s politics and society. And if you are wondering, the flamingo on the cover is explained towards the end of the story. There has been criticism by some reviewers of the denouement in which we are told in a rapid summary how threads in the story linked and we learn more about Juliet’s motivation, but I am on the fence on this. It satisfied my queries but possibly could have been revealed more subtly. However, the texture and quality of the writing is so delightful I could happily read it all over again next week.

 Transcription is available atAmazon UK

Dissolution by C J Sansom #FridayReads #BookReview

Dissolution

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: dissolution.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes . . .

I have come very late to the detective stories of Matthew Shardlake, since this first book was originally published in 2003, but I was fascinated to enter a Benedictine monastery just at the time when it was threatened with dissolution by Henry VIII via the machinations of his Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell.  I have studied the ideal of the monasteries providing alms, care for the sick and accommodation for the traveller by being self-sufficient with their farm, fishponds and gardening. I also know that Cromwell’s accusations of gluttony, fornication and profiteering were based on real crimes committed by many of the monks.

Shardlake provides us with an outsider’s view of the monastery at a remote coastland site where devout, hard-working brothers lived alongside wrongdoers who enjoyed a comfortable life with luxurious food.  His task as a Commissioner to discover the murderer is further complicated by the discovery of another body and several likely suspects.  Expecting his assistant, Mark Poer, to support his efforts, he is distressed when the young man begins a dalliance with Alice, who is helping in the Infirmary.  The claustrophic atmosphere of the monastery is increased by the severe winter weather and the dangerous marshland.

Although long-winded, the mystery is complex, and it is difficult as a reader to guess who is the murderer.  We come to know Matthew very well, dealing with the pain of his humped-back while attempting to maintain dignity and respect.  We see his failings and sometimes rigid religious views but also appreciate his kindness and consideration for others. The problems of keeping office and keeping your head while working for Cromwell’s government are all too evident and I found this account much more realistic than the Tudor world of Wolf Hall.

Dissolution can be purchased from Amazon UK

The Foundling’s Daughter by Ann Bennett #New Release #TuesdayBookBlog

Foundling

This is the story of three distinctive women from different generations. In 2010, Sarah Jennings, a successful restauranteur, is fleeing her husband of 15 years who has betrayed her trust, while back in the 1930s, through the words of her diary entries, we meet Anna Foster, a naïve bride of convenience in British India. Bridging these two characters is Connie Burroughs, an old lady in a nursing home who is concealing a terrible secret.

A mysterious tragedy is gradually revealed as a result of Sarah’s wish to buy Cedar Lodge which was part of the orphanage where her father started his life. Here Rev. Ezra Burrows, Connie’s father, commanded great respect from the local community and awe from the children, but he had left his previous career as a missionary in India, in disgrace. As Sarah copes with the rapid deterioration of her father’s death and the disintegration of her marriage, she becomes determined to discover more about her father’s early life. Helping out in a local restaurant she finds new happiness, but she is determined to help Connie who seems unable to escape the influence of Ezra Burrows, long after his death.

As Connie reads Anna’s diary entries, I found myself identifying with her plight and the impossible situation in which she found herself. All three women are vividly described, making this a compelling story to read. The suffocating colonial environment in which Anna suffers a loveless marriage contrasts clearly with the colour and vibrance of India and the threads of the plot are gradually drawn together in a very satisfying, believable conclusion which is both sad and fulfilling.

The Foundling’s Daughter is now available at Amazon UK

My interview with Ann Bennett about her Bamboo trilogy

Black As She’s Painted by William Savage #FridayReads #BookReview

An Ashmole Foxe Georgian Mystery

Black as she is

This is the fifth Ashmole Foxe Georgian mystery but only the second I have read.  William Savage is the authentic voice of Georgian Norfolk and the reader soon feels quite at home wandering the streets of Norwich with the finely dressed, eccentric, Ashmole Foxe. My personal fondness is for Dr Adam Bascom from Mr Savage’s other series, but I am beginning to warm to the wealthy, intelligent Mr Foxe. Although a womaniser who loves the best clothes and hates bad weather, he has a need to be busy and is well respected by the community for his ability to investigate crimes and bring the culprits to justice.

The story commences with a hideous murder, shortly after the mysterious departure of the victim’s husband, goldsmith and banker, Samuel Melanus.  The Mayor and important businessmen wish Foxe to discover the whereabouts of Melanus before rumour causes a run on the bank.  Aided by the group of street children who consider Foxe to be their friend, he is able to shadow the activities of the criminal underworld and find the connection between the murder and the strange behaviour of the goldsmith.

As usual, this is a slow process, intermixed with Foxe’s relationships with his friends, including Mistress Tabby, the Cunning Woman, and Captain Brock, newly returned from his honeymoon in Europe. A dalliance with Maria, a personal maid to the murder victim, is followed by an interesting new friendship with the intriguing Lady Cockerham. It was difficult to leave this intriguing, slower paced world and I am tempted to read earlier adventures in the life of Ashmole Foxe.

Black As She is Painted can be found on Amazon UK

A Holiday By Gaslight: A Victorian Christmas Novella by Mimi Matthews #NewRelease #RBRT

Holiday by Gaslight

A Courtship of Convenience

Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion—or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things.

A Last Chance for Love

But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are.

My Review

Sophie Appersett, the heroine of A Holiday by Gaslight, is the kind of girl I would love to have as a friend. Frank and honest, she speaks her mind and is determined to find the best in other people.  Accepting that she will have no love match, she is prepared to make a marriage of convenience to a man beneath her in rank but possessing a fortune, in order to save her family from ruin. Her profligate father has spent her dowry on modern gas lighting and has further expensive plans.

Ned Sharpe may be presentable, but he fails to converse properly. His stiff, abrupt approach is at odds with Sophie’s loquacious chat, so she finally decides that, they “don’t suit.”  However, his response to her termination of their potential betrothal, surprises her so she decides to give him one last chance at the Christmas party at Appersett House deep in the countryside.

Although set 50 years after the world of Jane Austen, Sophie reminds me of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, prepared to put her family first but feeling affection for a man who seems unable to communicate with her.  But here we are in a mid-Victorian world looking to the future, where love matches can be achieved, and modern technology is embraced. A wonderful feel good read for the Christmas holiday.

A Holiday by Gaslight is available at Amazon UK

My Review of The Matrimonial Advertisemenby Mimi Matthews

Book Reviews

The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell #BookReview #RBRT

Lost

 What if keeping your loved ones safe meant never seeing them again?

Norfolk, 1940: Sylvia’s husband Howard has gone off to war, and she is struggling to raise her two children alone. Her only solace is her beach hut in Wells-Next-The-Sea, and her friendship with Connie, a woman she meets on the beach. The two women form a bond that will last a lifetime, and Sylvia tells Connie something that no-one else knows: about a secret lover… and a child.

Canada, present day: When Martha’s beloved father dies, he leaves her two things: a mysterious stash of letters to an English woman called ‘Catkins’ and directions to a beach hut in the English seaside town of Wells. Martha is at a painful crossroads in her own life, and seizes this chance for a trip to England – to discover more about her family’s past, and the identity of her father’s secret correspondent.

The tragedy of war brought heartbreaking choices for Sylvia. And a promise made between her and Connie has echoed down the years. For Martha, if she uncovers the truth, it could change everything…

My Review

Martha, overcomes her terror of flying in order to discover more about her father’s past. Having written about his life in Canada, he was about to return to his roots in East Anglia when he suddenly died. Martha also wants to see her estranged daughter, Janey, who is studying at Cambridge, but first she must solve the mystery of the beach hut he father had rented and the file of letters on his computer to someone called Catkins.

The novel takes us back to World War Two and a friendship between two young women, Sylvie and Connie.  Each is hiding a secret and their unexpected friendship gives them courage to take a bold decision.  We are shown a vivid picture of life in wartime Britain, where women had important roles doing their best for their country in the Women’s Voluntary Service, against a background of bombing and fear.  Relationships between men sent off to fight and their worried wives at home are severely strained and they can easily grow apart.

Martha is an engaging character, whose story, written in the present tense, involves us actively in her compelling adventure, while Sylvie, distanced by the past tense, makes us fear for her future happiness.  Threads are gradually gathered, connecting the women together and enabling Martha to forge a more positive future where she is reunited with her daughter and finally understands her father’s past.

The Lost Letters can be purchased at Amazon UK

S Mitchell

Sarah Mitchell

THE LOST LETTERS in my first novel, inspired by a visit to Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, where there is a row of iconic beach huts. Some of them looked very old to me, and it made me wonder for how many generations they might have been in the same family and handed down over the years…

I didn’t become a writer until I was in my forties. I studied law and after that practised as a barrister in London for nearly 20 years. For a long while I wanted to write a novel – inspired by my mother who used to write children’s stories for a radio programme called ‘Listen with Mother’ – but it took me a long while to take the plunge and actually make the dream happen. As well as the beach huts, THE LOST LETTERS draws on the decision my grandparents almost made to evacuate my mother to Canada at the start of the Second World War. So much has changed since then, and yet so much – the bonds within a family – are the same. I wanted to explore that in my writing.

I now live back in Norfolk, where I grew up, with my husband and three almost-grown-up children. Norfolk is an extraordinary county and I feel incredibly lucky to live here. I hope THE LOST LETTERS captures a little bit of the beauty of Norfolk, as well as the horror and hardship of war.

You can follow Sarah Mitchell on Twitter at @SarahM_writer