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#Bookreview LITERARY TRAILS: HAWORTH AND THE BRONTËS by David F Walford, Catherine Rayner (@penswordbooks). A wonderful gift for lovers of the #Brontës, walking and history

Hi all:

I bring you another great book from Pen & Sword, one recommended in particular to lovers of the Brontës and walking.

Literary Trails: Haworth and the Brontës by David F Walford, Catherine Rayner.
Literary Trails: Haworth and the Brontës by David F Walford, Catherine Rayner

Literary Trails: Haworth and the Brontës by David F Walford, Catherine Rayner

This lighthearted but deeply researched book offers interest and guidance to walkers, social historians and lovers of the Bronte family, their lives and works.

Set in and around the town of Haworth it gives a dual introduction to walkers and lovers of literature who can explore this unique area of Yorkshire and walk in the footsteps of those who knew and loved this town and its moorlands two hundred years ago.

With guided tours around special buildings as well as outdoor walks and the history of people and places who lived and worked in Haworth over centuries, it offers an insight into life and death in the melee of the Industrial Revolution.

Its joint authors have combined their lifelong interests in Victorian literature and social history with writing, walking, photography and cartography and have included quotes from Bronte poetry and novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Literary-Trails-Haworth-David-Walford/dp/152672085X/

https://www.amazon.com/Literary-Trails-Haworth-David-Walford-ebook/dp/B07RL27PGS/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Literary-Trails-Haworth-David-Walford-ebook/dp/B07RL27PGS/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Literary-Trails-Haworth-and-the-Bronts-Paperback/p/15341

About the authors:

About Catherine Rayner

Catherine Rayner is a Life Member of The Bronte Society, a Trustee on the Council of the Bronte Society and the Chair of its Conference and Publications Committee. She studied at Hull and Leeds Universities and has degrees in English and Philosophy with Social History, Health and Social Care, and an MA in Victorian Literature. She has studied and researched the lives of the Bronte family for over forty years, and has previously written two theses on Emily Bronte, as well as various articles. Alongside this, she is a qualified nurse and has studied the effects of childhood on the development and psychology of adults.

About David F Walford

David F Walford has a fascination with the great Victorian engineers, along with his passion for walking, mountaineering and photography. He has written several books about walking in Yorkshire, including a wealth of information on the development of the railways. As a qualified draughtsman, he includes detailed maps of every route to enhance each walk around Haworth.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I love walking. Perhaps because I was a clumsy child (and I can’t say I’m the most graceful of adults, either), overweight, and lacking a good sense of balance, many sports didn’t like me (it was mutual!), but walking I could do, and I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity it gives us to contemplate life at a slow pace and to discover things, people, and places that might pass us by if we use other means of transport.

I love the Brontës as well. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre have long been among my favourite novels (I must read some of Anne’s novels in English, I know), and I’ve lived and worked in Yorkshire, quite close to the area where they lived for lengthy periods, and loved the landscape as well. So, of course I had to have this book.

Wherever I visit, if I can fit in, I try to join a literary walk. It’s a great way to combine two of my favourite activities: reading and walking. (I also listen to audiobook while going for walks sometimes). If the guide is skilled and knowledgeable, you can learn fascinating information about the city or area, about the author or authors, and feel as if you were going back in time and experiencing what the place might have been like when the author lived there. This book offers us the same kind of experience. Although it is written as a companion for people planning a visit to Haworth and its vicinity, it is so packed with information, photographs, maps, literary references, and advice, that it will be indispensable to anybody who wants to learn more about the sisters and submerge herself or himself in the landscape the authors loved so much.

The book is divided into 20 chapters, it contains 19 walks of varied difficulty (some are short walks within the town of Haworth itself, and the first one, in fact, is a walk around the Parsonage where the Brontës lived, now a museum), and a few introductory chapters. There is the introduction proper, explaining the reasons behind the writing of the book, chapter 2 talks about West Yorkshire and the Haworth area, chapter 3 offers a guide to safe and responsible walking, chapter 4 summarises the history of the Brontë family and chapter 5 talks specifically about the Brontës in Haworth and what happened to them there. Then follow the chapters about the walks (some containing one walk in detail, while some of the later ones, which are longer and stray farther away from Haworth, sometimes include a couple of walks that might be combined, always offering options to reduce their length. There are even some that include the option of jumping on a train). The final chapter talks about the art of walking and what effects it had (positive and negative) on the Brontës. There is also a bibliography that will be of interest to anybody keen on increasing their knowledge on the sisters.

All the chapters are structured in a similar way, first offering a narrative, a fact file of the walk (including the Ordnance Survey Map, general information as to the terrain, level of difficulty, length, likely duration, facilities, and also any relevant warnings), followed by maps or graphics (depending on the topic), and then a collection of photographs, all in black and white, which can aid people going for the walks to find their location easily, but will help readers imagine what the place is like as well. (I must confess I would have liked to see colour photographs, but I can see how the black & white pictures recreate the nostalgic air of the area and help us imagine the old times, as they combine more seamlessly with the archival old photographs. It is also true that the moors change colours so dramatically with the seasons that it would be difficult to give readers an accurate idea of what the place is like in different times of the year).

What did I enjoy the most? Having visited Haworth, the surrounding area, the Parsonage, and having walked around (in town, but also some of the longer walks that include landscapes and buildings said to have inspired the sisters’ writing), I enjoyed the pictures, which reminded me of many familiar places and others that had passed me by (I must visit Thornton, where the family lived before they moved to Haworth, if I can). I also enjoyed the titbits of information about buildings, how those had changed over time, and how the authors managed to make readers imagine what the sisters and their family would have experienced and seen at the time, including also poems, and references to their work.

These are the moors above and beyond Haworth spreading for miles to the west and containing old farmsteads and ruined houses dating back to the Elizabethan era and where people have lived and worked for centuries. They can be covered in swirling mist or blazing sunshine, snow and piercing gales, or have an eerie calm. They can be loud with the cries of animals and birds or silent as a tomb in their deep holes and clefts. They are harsh and they are beautiful. (Walford & Rayner, 2018, p. 5).

While most of the book centres on the beauty and the wonders one can see and experience when visiting the place, the authors excel also at explaining what the living conditions were like at the time. Although today Haworth might feel quaint, charming, and romantic (yes, it is all that and lovely to visit, believe me), this is quite different to what it had been like at the time, when the living conditions were quite terrible, the industrial revolution was steamrolling everything, mills were popping up all around, filling the atmosphere with smoke and soot, transport was difficult, sanitation ranged from bad to inexistent… It is not surprising that the six Brontë children died young, as did their mother, and they were not the only ones.

“Through hard and dangerous work, squalid living conditions, polluted water supplies, poor sanitation and disease, the town of Haworth was killing its own community in the nineteenth century” (Walford & Rayner, 2018, p. 8).

The chapter of the walk around the graveyard attached to the Parsonage, chapter 8, reads at times like a gothic horror novel, with graves piled up 10 to 12 high, and rainwater running from the moors down the graveyard filtering into the drinking water, and likely being the cause of cholera, typhoid fever, and some of the other illnesses common at the time. (Life expectancy was 25 at the time). On the other hand, this same chapter also includes information on the symbolism of the carvings on the graves (for instance, a Celtic cross would mean eternity, and an angel with open wings, the flight of the soul to Heaven).

One of my favourite chapters (and yes, if I go back to the area I’ll be sure to take the book and follow as many of the walks as I can) is the last one, on the art of walking. It is a fascinating reminder of a time when people mostly walked everywhere, and they didn’t have appropriate clothing or shoes in most cases (the authors remind us that the father of the Brontës never owned a horse, and tells us of a visit of Branwell [their brother] to Charlotte that would have meant a 65 km (40 miles) round trip, walking, in one day. If you didn’t have a lot of money, there weren’t many options then, and your health could suffer if the weather was bad. But nowadays, we are lucky, and walking is a healthy option with many benefits, for our bodies and minds.

In summary, this is a fantastic book for people planning a visit to Haworth and the surrounding area, but also for anybody who loves the Brontës and wants to learn more about their time and lives in a visual and tangible way. It will inspire readers to visit (even if it is only with their imagination) the landscapes and the streets the sister walked, and will help them understand better what makes their voices so haunting and distinct. This book is also a beautiful gift to walkers and historians who want to learn more about this time and area in an engaging and enjoyable way.

As the authors say:

It is important to remember the old ways and the people of the past and the efforts they made to improve and enhance society, so that in the 21st century people in this country, and many others, can live healthier, easier and more entertaining lives. There is still much evidence of the past remaining which can help modern society to recall and appreciate its heritage. (Walford & Rayner, 2018, pp. 273-4)

Thanks to Rosie Croft and the team, and to the authors of this wondeful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling and walking!

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT THE LOST LETTERS by Sarah Mitchell (@SarahM_writer) WWII Historical fiction and family secrets

Hi all:

I bring you a book that I think will become a big favourite for many of you, as it touches on some themes that I know a lot of us are interested in, and it is beautifully written. Another one of Rosie’s great finds.

Book review. The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell
The Lost Letters by Sarah Mitchell

The Lost Letters: Absolutely heartbreaking wartime fiction about love and family secrets by Sarah Mitchell  WWII Historical fiction set in the UK and a gripping family mystery

A gripping book club novel about forbidden love, friendship and family secrets in World War Two. Perfect for fans of The Letter by Kathryn Hughes, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

‘I adored this book, devouring it in a couple of days!… A beautiful and moving story that will stay with me for quite a while. Five shiny stars!!’ Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars

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…

What readers are saying about The Lost Letters:

‘I LOVED this book!… I had to keep reading!… My heart broke.’ Mama’s Book Ramblins

A gorgeous debut, crackling with atmosphere and emotion.’ Lucinda Riley, bestselling author of The Love LetterThe Midnight Rose and The Seven Sisters

‘A beautiful, heart-warming, wonderfully written tale! I loved it from start to finish… A story that moved me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.’ Renita D’Silva

‘There is not one thing I did not love about this story. Right from the beginning, I was drawn in… The Lost Letters is a beautiful and poignant story that has completely captured my heart… By far, this might just be my top read for the year.’ Sinfully Wicked Books, 5 stars

‘I absolutely loved this book…I got a lump in my throat at times just reading this part of the story… an emotional, heart-wrenching, beautiful and poignant read that I completely fell in love with… Have the tissues ready for this one, you may need them!’ Katie’s Book Cave, 5 stars

Once I got into the book I found myself becoming seriously addicted to reading it… To say that I felt as though I had been through the emotional wringer during the reading of this book is an understatement… tugged on my heartstrings.’ Ginger Book Geek

Had me enthralled… a thought-provoking and moving story about identity, family, and friendship. With realistic and believable characters, clues to find and a mystery to solve, this will keep you entertained for hours.’ Novel Deelights

So heart-wrenching… what in the world would you do in that situation? There just is no good answer! A beautiful and intriguing story that will keep you turning those pages and wanting to hug your loved ones!’ Goodreads reviewer

‘What an amazing book… Couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

The Lost Letters is a well told and poignant story about family secrets which impact on the future, friendship, promises, decisions, and romance… vivid and heart-breaking… absolutely meticulous and totally fascinating.’ Goodreads reviewer

‘A very heart-warming read… a tear-jerker… I highly recommend it to all readers.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CWCRJ9W/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CWCRJ9W/

Author Sarah Mitchell
Author Sarah Mitchell

About the author:

THE LOST LETTERS is 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

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarah-Mitchell/e/B07CWVN3FG/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The novel tells two stories centred in two different times, one set in the 1940s, mostly in WWII Norfolk, although with some visits to London, and another taking place now, also set in Norfolk in its majority. The chapters set in the past are written in the past tense from the point of view of Sylvia, a married woman, mother of two children, still pining for her teenage love. When her aunt dies she leaves her a beach hut and through it she meets Connie, a girl from London, and her brother Charlie. Despite the distance and the difficulty in maintaining communication during the war, they become friends, and their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

The chapters set in the present are written in the present tense (something I must confess took me some time to get used to, although it means it is very difficult to get confused as to where you are or who is talking), and told from the point of view of Martha, a Canadian teacher whose father was evacuated during the war from England to Canada. Following the death of her father and gaps in the information about his childhood (as he was working on an autobiography when he died), she decides to use the opportunity offered by her father’s plane ticket and the hotel and beach hut he had booked to do some research into his past.

Both women, whose stories most readers will guess must be connected in some way, have their own problems. Sylvia’s marriage is not exactly happy, the war takes her husband away, and apart from the everyday danger and destruction, she has to face the evacuation of her son. The author manages to create a good sense of the historical period and, in particular, of women’s lives during the war, without being heavy-handed in the use of descriptions or over-the-top in the nostalgic front. We experience the character’s turmoil, her doubts, and although we might not always agree with her decisions, it is easy to empathise and understand why she does what he does.

Martha is at a bit of a loss. She is divorced and although her ex-husband has moved on (he has remarried and has twins), it is not that clear if she has, as she still sends him birthday cards and seems jealous of her daughter’s relationship with her father’s new wife. She knows her relationship with her daughter Janey, who is studying at Cambridge, is strained but seems to have forgotten how to communicate with her. Her research into her father’s childhood and past gives her a focus, and the mystery behind Catkins (a file her sister finds in her father’s computer) and his/her identity help give her a purpose.

We have some male characters (and Martha’s father and his past are at the centre of the novel), but this is a novel about women: about mothers and daughters, about friends, about women pulling together to survive and to get stronger (I particularly enjoyed the chapters set during the war recalling the tasks women were doing in the home front, and how they supported each other becoming all members of an extended family), about the difficult decisions women were (and are) faced with for the good of their families and their children. The author is very good at conveying the thought processes of her characters and although it also has a great sense of place (and I am sure people familiar with Norfolk will enjoy the book enormously, and those of us who don’t know it as well will be tempted to put it on our list to visit in the future), in my opinion, its strongest point is its great psychological depth.

The book is well researched and it has a lightness of touch, avoiding the risk of slowing down the story with unnecessary detail or too much telling. As the different timelines are kept clearly separate I do not think readers will have any difficulty moving from one to the other.

The book flows well and the intrigue drives the reader through the pages, with red herrings and twists and turns included, although its pace is contemplative, as it pertains to the theme. It takes its time, and it allows its readers to get to know the characters and to make their own conjectures. I worked out what was likely to be the connection slightly before it was revealed, but it is very well done, and I don’t think readers will be disappointed by the ending.

A great first book, that pulls at the heartstrings, recommended to lovers of historical fiction and women’s fiction, especially those interested in WWII and the home front in the UK. I will be following the author’s career with interest in the future.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, to the author, and especially, thanks to all of you for reading my posts. If you enjoy them and you have a moment, please like, share, comment, click and don’t forget to keep reading and smiling! ♥

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview LOVER’S KNOT by Jenetta James (@JenettaJames) #RBRT Darcy as an amateur detective, secrets, lies, and a peep into crime detection in the Regency period.

Hi all:

Although it’s not one of my usual days to share reviews, the book was just published yesterday, and I thought you might enjoy this for your Easter holiday.

I bring you another book by an author you might remember if you’ve been following my blog in recent times. Schhhhh! It’s a mystery!

Lover's Knot by Jenetta James
Lover’s Knot by Jenetta James

Lover’s Knot by Jenetta James

A great love. A perplexing murder. Netherfield Park — a house of secrets.

Fitzwilliam Darcy is in a tangle. Captivated by Miss Elizabeth Bennet, a girl of no fortune and few connections. Embroiled in an infamous murder in the home of his friend, Charles Bingley. He is being tested in every way. Fearing for Elizabeth’s safety, Darcy moves to protect her in the only way he knows but is thwarted. Thus, he is forced to turn detective. Can he overcome his pride for the sake of Elizabeth? Can he, with a broken heart, fathom the villainy that has invaded their lives? Is there even a chance for love born of such strife?

Lover’s Knot is a romantic Pride & Prejudice variation, with a bit of mystery thrown in.

Link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BQVFJQ3/

About the author:

Jenetta James is a lawyer, writer, mother, and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary, and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. She is the author of “Suddenly Mrs. Darcy” and “The Elizabeth Papers”.

https://www.amazon.com/Jenetta-James/e/B00X4QR93S/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, do check here) and was provided an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I have recently read and reviewed several books that take place in Jane Austen’s universe, from sequels to versions transplanted to modern times. One of them was The Elizabeth Papers by Jenetta James (you can read my review here), the author of this book. I was so impressed I could not resist getting an ARC copy of this book before its publication.

This is a more straightforward (and shorter) story, although it shares with the other the element of mystery, although, in this case, the story is not a domestic mystery but a police procedural of sorts (the police as we know it now did not exist at the time). Readers familiar with Pride and Prejudice will walk right into familiar territory when reading this story. We pick up the story when Bingley has moved into the area where the Bennetts live, with Darcy as his guest, and Jane Bennett is staying at the Bingley’s due to her illness, and her sister Elizabeth is looking after her. Rather than what happens in the original story, here we have a murder, and a bit later, another one (this one of a character we know, but I won’t give anything away). There are many familiar elements but interspersed with those, we have the investigation of the murders and the secrets behind it. As the description states, this is a variation on the story, as all the original elements are there, and the characters remain true to the original, but new events come into play and disrupt the action.

The story is told by Darcy in the first person and the present tense, and that makes readers feel they share his thoughts and his detecting process. This is quite different from the original novel, and it is one of the attractions of this variation, as rather than judging Darcy by his actions and having to second-guess him most of the time (let’s face it, he is the prototype of the strong and quiet man), we are privy to his thoughts and understand his motives and feelings. In this story, he becomes involved in the investigation, and that means it also fit into the genre of amateur detective fiction. In his case, though, he is not an old hand at this, eager to participate and imposing on the official team, but rather he is recruited by the magistrate investigating the case, Mr. Allwood, a fabulous character. Contrary to expectations, Darcy is not an immediate success at detecting as he is somewhat marred by his belief in appearances and his prejudices, but he is motivated to discover what happened to ensure Elizabeth is safe and goes out of his way to follow clues. The case helps him discover things about himself and about the society he lives in that make him change his outlook on life.

The case is intriguing. There are plenty of red herrings, devious characters, and, of course, there is romance. As I mentioned, Mr. Allwood is a great character. This magistrate doggedly pursues the investigation, not concerned about who might be discomfited by his methods, and making no distinctions according to social classes. People underestimate him at their peril, and I hope he might reappear again in later books (or get his own). I particularly enjoyed the mock paper by a Professor acknowledging the role of Allwood in the creation of the Metropolitan Police. A nice touch and a good way of providing more information on a star character that is not part of the original novel. Having studied Criminology, I only wish that many of the papers I had to read were written in such an engaging manner.

I am aware there are other mystery novels set up in the Pride and Prejudice universe (although I have not read them, so I can’t compare), although not at this particular juncture of the story (as this affords quite a different twist to the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth). I enjoyed Darcy’s point of view, having access to his thoughts and getting to see a more human and less stiff version of the character (he still has his pride, of course), although as this book is very short, some of the changes of heart in the main characters feel somewhat rushed (and, personally, the process by which both of them end up changing their opinions and the way they feel about each other is one of my favourite parts in the original, but that does not detract from the writer’s skill). The scenes that take place in London and the friendship that grows between Georgiana and Elizabeth are among my favourite parts in this story.

The writing style is perfectly in sync with the original and it flows well. The mystery elements are well worked into the story, and they respect the nature of a criminal investigation of the time. In keeping with the proceedings, and with the role Darcy plays, there is a certain degree of telling and not showing, especially when it comes to tying loose ends, but that is also typical of the genre. Although the mystery elements would work in their own right, even without knowledge of the original novel, I think the ideal readers are those familiar with Austen’s work.

An interesting variation on Pride and Prejudice that offers a new perspective on their favourite characters for fans of Austen. And for fans of mystery/crime books, an intriguing insight into crime detection prior to the establishment of the Metropolitan Police in England.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie for this offering, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW! Oh, and thanks to Jane Austen, of course!

[amazon_link asins=’1936009420,1681310074,0998654000,0998654019′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’015c9f27-31e1-11e8-b6a2-c961b56432b3′]

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Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog Fatal Evidence: Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor & the Dawn of Forensic Science by Helen Barrell (@helenbarrell) (@penswordbooks) A great book about a fascinating historical period and one of the forefathers of forensic science. #Bookreview #forensicscience

Hi all:

I thought I’d bring you another one of those historical books that always make me think of how many writers would feel inspired when they read them. Today, it’s a book about a man I wasn’t familiar with but whom I won’t forget any time soon.

Fatal Evidence: Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor & the Dawn of Forensic Science by Helen Barrell
Fatal Evidence: Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor & the Dawn of Forensic Science by Helen Barrell

Fatal Evidence: Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor & the Dawn of Forensic Science by Helen Barrell

A surgeon and chemist at Guy’s Hospital in London, Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor used new techniques to search the human body for evidence that once had been unseen. As well as tracing poisons, he could identify blood on clothing and weapons and used hair and fiber analysis to catch killers.

Taylor is perhaps best remembered as an expert witness at one of Victorian England’s most infamous trials – that of William Palmer, ‘The Rugeley Poisoner’. But he was involved in many other intriguing cases, from a skeleton in a carpet bag to a fire that nearly destroyed two towns, and several poisonings in between.

Taylor wrote widely on forensic medicine. He gave Charles Dickens a tour of his laboratory, and Wilkie Collins owned copies of his books. His work was known to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and he inspired the creation of fictional forensic detective Dr. Thorndyke. For Dorothy L. Sayers, Taylor’s books were ‘the back doors to death’.

From crime scene to laboratory to courtroom – and sometimes to the gallows – this is the world of Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor and his fatal evidence.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Fatal-Evidence-Professor-Forensic-Science/dp/1473883415/

https://www.amazon.com/Fatal-Evidence-Professor-Forensic-Science-ebook/dp/B074P4DTJX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fatal-Evidence-Professor-Forensic-Science-ebook/dp/B074P4DTJX/

Author Helen Barrell
Author Helen Barrell

About the author:

Helen Barrell has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Punt PI, has written for magazines such as Fortean Times and Family Tree, and guest blogs for Findmypast. She has given talks at literature festivals and for local and family history groups.

Fatal Evidence, the biography of Victorian forensic scientist Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor, was published on 4th September 2017 and is available in ebook and hardback.

Poison Panic, the story of women accused of a string of arsenic murders in the 1840s, was published in 2016.

Find out more at http://www.helenbarrell.co.uk

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Helen-Barrell/e/B01BMGSP70/

 

My review:

Thanks to Pen & Sword, particularly to Alex, for offering me a copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

As a doctor, a writer, and an avid reader of crime fiction (and spectator of crime films and TV series) when  I read the description of this book I knew I had to keep on reading. Although my studies in Criminology included a basic history of the discipline, this book offers a very detailed look into one of the main figures in the early times of forensic science, Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor. The author, Helen Barrell, uses her expertise in history and genealogy to research his biography and investigate the legacy of this fascinating man. As she states:

This is both Taylor’s biography and the story of forensic science’s development in nineteenth-century England; the two are entwined. There are stomachs in jars, a skeleton in a carpet bag, doctors gone bad, bloodstains on floorboards, and an explosion that nearly destroyed two towns. This is the true tale of Alfred Swaine Taylor and his fatal evidence.

I found the book riveting. Not only the biographical details (and, as a doctor, I was intrigued by his studies, and by how complicated it was to study Medicine at the time. In fact, becoming a surgeon and becoming a medical doctor involved a very different process in the early XIX century, and although now the degree combines both, their origins were completely separate), but, especially, the in-depth study of his close involvement with forensic science, his passion for the subject, and his total dedication to ensure that forensic evidence was rigorous and given the importance it deserved in criminal trials. He produced books on the subject that were updated and continued to be published well into the XX Century and his expertise as a chemist, photographer, and defender of public health made him a well-known and respected figure. On the other hand, he was not the easiest of men, he did not tolerate fools gladly, he was a staunch supporter of unpopular measures (banning certain products containing arsenic, for instance, or introducing a register of the purchase of poisons), and he held grudges that found their way into his writing, and perhaps made him not receive the recognition others did (he was never knighted, while some of his peers were).

The book follows Taylor’s life in chronological order, and although it delves more into his professional life (the cases he gave evidence in, other cases of the period he advised on, his teaching, his books), it also talks about his wife, and how she was fundamental to his books, as she helped him organize and compile the cases, about the children they lost, his friendships and collaborations… We get a good sense of the person behind the scientist, but it is clear that he was a man dedicated to his work, and it is not so easy to differentiate the public from the personal figure.

The book is written in an engaging way, it flows well, and the author provides enough detail about the cases to get us interested, making us experience the tension and the controversies of the trials, without becoming bogged down in technicalities. And, despite her historical rigour, the author’s observations showed subtle hints of humour on occasions.

The chronology and all the cases he worked on help give us a very good idea of what crime was like in the period. Having recently read some other historical books (many published by Pen & Sword as well) about the era, it manages to create a great sense of how easy it was to buy poison, how difficult it was to detect crime (even confirming if a red stain was blood was very complicated), and how dangerous everyday life could be (wallpaper contained colours filled with arsenic). Some of the cases are still remembered to this day, but Helen Barrell offers us a new perspective on them. This book would be a great addition to the library of anybody interested in the history of the period, especially the history of crime detecting and poisons, and also to that of writers of crime novels who want to know more about forensic science and its origins.

The last chapter includes a summary of some of the ways Taylor influenced crime writers, including Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers (who either created characters based on him or used his books as reference). I am sure many writers will feel inspired anew by this book, especially those who write historical crime fiction. There is also a detailed bibliography and notes that would help anybody interested in finding more information about any of the cases.

As the author writes in her conclusion:

Alfred Swayne Taylor is one of the ancestors of modern forensic science: he is part of its very DNA.

A great book, of interest to anybody fascinated by crime detecting and its history, to readers of the history of the period, and to writers (and readers) who love crime historical fiction. A fascinating historical figure and a well-researched and engaging book that gives him some the credit he deserves.

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW.

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE LAST HOURS by Minette Walters (@AllenAndUnwinUK) Society, freedom, the Black Death, and secrets

Hi all:

Today I bring you a novel by a very popular and well-known author who is trying a different genre. Now I’m very intrigued about her crime fiction.

The Last Hours by Minette Walters
The Last Hours by Minette Walters

The Last Hours by Minette Walters

June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.

In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people’s future – including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.

Lady Anne’s people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls?

And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo..?

https://www.amazon.com/Last-Hours-Minette-Walters-ebook/dp/B0713ZBDDP/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Hours-Minette-Walters-ebook/dp/B0713ZBDDP/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“This compact, well-told and extraordinarily atmospheric story packs more punch than many much longer books.” (The Guardian)

“Sly pacing and a detached narrative voice give this horror story exceptional punch.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Reads like a particularly grim Grimm’s Fairy Tale, with an all-too-credible contemporary setting. . . . Gratifyingly menacing.” (Daily Mail (UK))

“Contemporary crime writing at its absolute peak.” (Val McDermid)

“A compulsive (and gruesome) read.” (Independent (UK))

Author Minette Walters
Author Minette Walters

About the author:

Minette Walters is an internationally bestselling author with more than 25 million copies of her books sold worldwide. She is the author of twelve novels, winning the CWA John Creasey Award for The Ice House, the Edgar Allan Poe Award for The Sculptress and two CWA Gold Daggers for The Scold’s Bridle and Fox Evil. She lives in Dorset with her husband. After a break of 10 years, she is bursting on to the literary scene with her first stunning historical novel, The Last Hours.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Minette-Walters/e/B000APC1QQ/

My review:

Thanks to Atlantic Books, Allen & Unwin and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Although Minette Walters is a familiar name, I have not read any of her crime fiction, so I can’t really compare this historical novel to her previous work, but after reading this I’ll check them out for sure.

I was intrigued by this novel, partly because of the author, but also because I had recently read a novel set during the period of the Black Death (you can read my review of Liza Perrat’s Blood Rose Angel here) and was curious to read more on the subject.

The author sets the novel in Develish, an estate in Dorsetshire (there is not such a village in present-day Dorset, although there is one called Dewlish that I wonder if it might have been the inspiration for the one in the book), on the brink of the arrival of the plague to England. Sir Richard is away from the estate, trying to arrange the marriage of his daughter, Lady Eleanor, and although he tries to return home when he realises people are dying, it is too late for him. His wife, Lady Anne, who was educated in a convent and knows about healing, herbs, and letters, takes control (she already was managing the estate, although always unofficially, as her husband did not know how to read or write and thought that flogging or whipping his serfs was all that was required) and isolates the estate, moving all the farmers and serfs inside the walls of Sir William’s manor house —set apart from the village houses and the fields by a moat— and ensuring that her sanitation and hygiene rules are followed. Nobody really knows how the disease spread but her measures seem to work, although not everything is well in Develish.

The story is fascinating because of the complexity of the characters, the power struggles (there are clear differences between the Norman lords and the Saxon population, with the Normans being shown as abusive stuck-up individuals whilst the Saxons do all the work, and there is much discussion about taxation, indentured conditions, education…), the social order of the era, and the added difficulties of trying to confine two hundred people in a small space, ensuring the peace is maintained, and keeping their spirits up.

Lady Anne keeps records, with the intention of leaving a written account of what happened in case they all perish, so others might learn from their experiences, but she also keeps a more personal account, and at times it is clear that what she writes is an edited version of the truth, although always for good reasons. Her sensibilities seem very modern. She does not treat people according to their birth but to their actions, her religious ideas are out of keeping with the period (she has no respect for priests and dismisses any attempts of blaming the illness on people’s lack of faith or sinful behaviour) and she does show a great deal of understanding and hindsight of how the spread of the plague will revolutionise the social situation, bringing new opportunities to the skilled workers who survive (as there won’t be enough people to do all the jobs and that scarcity will allow them to negotiate better conditions). She is one of the most interesting and important characters of the novel, together with Thaddeus Thurkell, a young man (only eight years younger than her, as she was married at fourteen) of unknown parentage whom she has taught and protected from childhood and who seems as out of place as she is. At some point in the novel, due to the murder of his half-brother, he leaves the demesne with five young boys and we follow their adventures too, learning about the fate of other estates and villages, and getting more insight into the character of Thaddeus and his young assistants.

Sir William dies early in the story, although he is much talked about through the rest of the novel. He is an evil character with no redeeming features, although we don’t realise quite how bad he really was until close to the end of the novel (but we probably suspected it). Personally, I prefer my baddies greyer rather than all black. Lady Eleanor is another one of the characters that I found problematic. She is her father’s daughter, spoilt and cruel, dismissive of serfs and with a sense of entitlement not based on any personal qualities. Again, there are no redeeming features apparent in the girl, although her behaviour made me consider some psychiatric diagnoses (borderline personality disorder seems likely) and towards the end, I felt sorry for both, her and Lady Anne, as they are boxed into a corner with no easy or satisfactory way out. There are many other secondary characters, although very few of them are given enough individual space for us to get to know them (apart from the priest, Isabella, and Giles) but the author manages to create a realistic sense of a community growing and evolving thanks to an enlightened leader, united by their faith in Lady Anne, and facing together the challenges of their difficult situation.

The story is told in the third person but each chapter or fragment of the story is told from one of the characters’ point of view. This is not confusing and serves the story well, helping give the readers a sense of control (and also increasing the tension, as at times we believe we know the truth because we know more than some of the characters, but we do not realise we are missing important pieces of information). The book recreates the historical period without being too heavy on descriptions. We learn more about how society worked than about every little detail of clothing and food (but there should be enough information for fans of historical fiction to enjoy it, although I am not an expert in the era and not all reviewers agree).There are some funny moments (like when they see a cat for the first time and believe it is a monster), some battles, fights, scary moments, secrets galore, and plenty of intrigues, but it is not a fast page-turner and there is a fair amount of time dedicated to the politics and social mores of the era (that, for me, was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the story). I felt the novel progressed at a good pace, but I would not recommend it to readers looking for a story full of action and adventures.

I enjoyed the novel, in particular the historical background, the psychological portrayal of the characters (the bad characters are just bad, while the good characters are fairly complex and not all good, and there is plenty of room for further development) although I did have doubts as to how in keeping with the historical period some of the attitudes and the ideas expressed were, but my main issue was the ending. As many people have commented on their reviews, it is never mentioned that this is book one and not a full-story and then the book ends up with a to be continued. After so many pages, the ending of the novel felt rushed, and although the story stops at an inflection point, there are many questions to be answered and I suspect most readers will feel disappointed.

An interesting incursion into the historical fiction genre by the author, and one that will make readers wonder about what freedom really means, the nature of power, and how much (or how little) life has changed since.

Thanks to the author, the publisher and NetGalley, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview As Wings Unfurl by Arthur M. Doweyko (@aweyken) A book for readers who enjoy science-fiction that asks big questions, with religious undertones, and lots of action

Hi all:

I’m still trying to catch up on book reviews (not long to go until I can start sharing reviews as I finish books) after my stint as a bookseller at a book fair (I will tell you more about it when I’m feeling more rested, I promise) and this week I have a pretty varied offering. I hope you find something to tickle your fancy.

As Wings Unfurl by Arthur M. Doweyko
As Wings Unfurl by Arthur M. Doweyko

As Wings Unfurl by Arthur M. Doweyko

“… captures the reader’s attention with kick-butt action in a video game storytelling format.” ~ Publishers Weekly

“Apple Bogdanski, a disabled Vietnam veteran, worked in a secondhand books store. When a private detective takes incriminating photos of shape-shifting aliens in the act of transformation and sends the negatives to the owner of the bookstore hidden in a book among a shipment of books, Apple is caught between two groups of aliens-one of which studies mankind’s development and the other who wants to terminate mankind and claim the Earth for their own purposes. Apple has a helper, Angela, who appears just in time to save his life and make him appear to be a hero. Angela has a beef with the bad guys and she and Apple unite with a few good guys to take on the bad guys.

As Wings Unfurl is an entertaining science fiction novel based on the premise that an alien race planted the seed of the human race of Earth millennia ago and now watches quietly as we evolve. Apple is a fairly well developed protagonist who just wants to be left alone to deal with the hand life has dealt him on his terms. Angela is a member of the alien oversight group dedicated to observation. Strangely attracted to Apple, she must deal with a conflict between her duties, her sense of right and wrong, and her feelings. Dane, as the bad alien, has a single side; the discrediting and destruction of the human race for her own purposes. Yowl and Shilog are Tibetans who are caught up in the war between factions and who provide a notable twist to the ending. Both are far out of the world that they know, but both adapt amazingly fast to the developed world.

This book is entertaining reading for readers who love science fiction “what if” scenarios and readers who love action adventures in any form.” ~ Midwest Book Review

Applegate Bogdanski returns from Vietnam with a missing leg, a Purple Heart, and an addiction to morphine. He stumbles through each day, looking forward to nothing and hoping it will arrive soon. When he attempts to thwart a crime, he is knocked unconscious and wakes up to discover that people are once again calling him a hero, though he feels undeserving of the praise.

Apple returns to work and meets Angela, a mysterious woman who claims to be his guardian. Immediately, he feels a connection to her, which morphs into an attraction. But he soon discovers that Angela is much more than she seems.

Apple and Angela are swept up in a conspiracy that stretches through time and space. Together, they must fight to save everything they hold dear from an alien race bent on destroying humanity.

https://www.amazon.com/As-Wings-Unfurl-Arthur-Doweyko-ebook/dp/B01HY589FG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/As-Wings-Unfurl-Arthur-Doweyko-ebook/dp/B01HY589FG/

Author Arthur Doweyko

About the author:

As a scientist, Arthur has authored 100+ publications, and shares the 2008 Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award for the discovery of Sprycel, a new anti-cancer drug. He writes hard science fiction, fantasy and horror. His debut novel, Algorithm, which is a story about DNA and the purpose of humanity, garnered a 2010 Royal Palm Literary Award (RPLA) and was published by E-Lit Books October 2014. He has published a number of short stories, many of which were finalists in RPLA competitions. A number of his short stories have garnered awards, which include Honorable Mentions in the international L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest and First Place in P&E Readers Polls. His recently completed Angela’s Apple, a novel about angels who are not angels, won 1st place as Best SciFi Novel at the 2014 RPLA and will be published by Red Adept Publishing. His current project, Henry The Last, is about the last human being, a Lakota Indian cyborg. He lives in Florida with his wife Lidia, happily wandering the beaches and jousting with aliens.

https://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Doweyko/e/B007NWH9O8/

My review:

I thank the author who contacted me thanks to Lit World Interviews for offering me an ARC copy of his novel that I freely chose to review.

I am not a big reader of science-fiction (perhaps because I don’t seem to have much patience these days for lengthy descriptions and world building and I’m more interested in books that focus on complex characters) so I was doubtful when the author suggested I review it, but the angel plot and the peculiarities of the story won me over. There are many things I enjoyed in this book but I’m not sure that it was the book for me.

As I’ve included the description and it is quite detailed (I was worried about how I could write about the book without revealing any spoilers but, many of the things I was worried about are already included in the description) I won’t go into the ins and outs of the story. The novel starts as a thriller, set in 1975. A private detective has taken a compromising photo and that puts him in harm’s way. Apple, the main character, seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, although later events make us question this and wonder if perhaps what happens was preordained. One of the interesting points in the novel, for me, was that the main character was a Vietnam War veteran, amputee (he lost a leg) and now addicted to Morphine. He also experiences symptoms of PTSD. Although his vivid dreams and flashbacks slowly offer us some background information, and the whole adventure gives him a new perspective on life and a love interest, I found it difficult to fully connect with the character. It was perhaps due to the fast action and the changes in setting and point of view that make it difficult to fully settle one’s attention on the main protagonists. One of the premises of the story is that Angela, the mysterious character who is his ersatz guardian angel, has known him all his life. She is oddly familiar to him, and she decides to give up her privileges and her life mission because of him, but as Angela’s interest in him precedes the story, there is no true development of a relationship and readers don’t necessarily understand why they are attracted to each other from the start.

The story, written in the third person, is told mostly from Apple’s point of view but there are also two other characters, from Tibet, Shilog, a farmer, and Yowl, what most of us would think of as a Yeti, but that we later learn is a member of a native Earth species. In my opinion, these two characters are more fully realised, as we don’t have any previous knowledge or any expectations of who they are, and they work well as a new pair of eyes (two pairs of eyes) for the readers, as they start their adventure truly clueless as to what is going on, and the situation is as baffling to them as it is to us. They are also warm and genuinely amusing and they offer much welcome comic relief. They are less bogged down by conventions and less worried about their own selves.

I enjoyed also the background story and the underlying reasoning behind the presence of the “angels” (aliens) in the world. It does allow for interesting debates as to what makes us human and what our role on Earth is. How this all fits in with traditional religions and beliefs is well thought out and it works as a plot element. It definitely had me thinking.

I said before that one of the problems I had with some fantasy and science-fiction is my lack of patience with world building and detailed descriptions. In this case, though, other than some descriptions about the Tibetan forest and mountains, I missed having a greater sense of location. The characters moved a lot from one place to the next and, even if you were paying attention, sometimes it was difficult to follow where exactly the action was taking place (especially because some of the episodes depended heavily on secret passages, doors, locked rooms…) and I had to go back a few times to check, in case I had missed some change of location inadvertently. (This might not be a problem for people who are used to reading more frantically paced action stories.) I guess there are two possible reading modes I’d recommend for this story; either pay very close attention or go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

I really enjoyed the baddie. Dane is awesome. I don’t mind the bad characters that are victims of their circumstances or really conflicted about what they do, but every so often I like a convinced baddie, who takes no prisoners and goes all the way. She is not without justification either, and later we learn something that puts a different spin on her behaviour (I didn’t find it necessary but it does fit in with the overall story arc). The irony of her character and how she uses human institutions and religions to subvert the given order is one of my favourite plot points and she is another source of humour, although darker in this case.

All in all, this is a book for readers who enjoy science-fiction that asks big questions, with religious undertones, lots of action and not too worried about the psychological makeup of the main characters. Ah, and if you love stories about Bigfoot or the Yeti, you’ll love this one.

Thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! And of course, remember to leave a review if you read a book. 

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#Bookreview Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters (The Katherine of Aragon Story Book 1) by Wendy J. Dunn (@wendyjdunn) A momentous historical period and a fascinating narrator

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book I really enjoyed. It’s historical fiction, and it’s about the history of Spain, the story of young Katherine of Aragon. I hope there will be more to come as I was fascinated by it (although of course, the rest of the story wouldn’t be in Spain but…)

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters (The Katherine of Aragon Story Book 1)  by Wendy J. Dunn
Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters (The Katherine of Aragon Story Book 1) by Wendy J. Dunn

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters (The Katherine of Aragon Story Book 1) by Wendy J. Dunn

Doña Beatriz Galindo.
Respected scholar.
Tutor to royalty.
Friend and advisor to Queen Isabel of Castile.

Beatriz is an uneasy witness to the Holy War of Queen Isabel and her husband, Ferdinand, King of Aragon. A Holy War seeing the Moors pushed out of territories ruled by them for centuries.

The road for women is a hard one. Beatriz must tutor the queen’s youngest child, Catalina, and equip her for a very different future life. She must teach her how to survive exile, an existence outside the protection of her mother. She must prepare Catalina to be England’s queen.

A tale of mothers and daughters, power, intrigue, death, love, and redemption. In the end, Falling Pomegranate Seeds sings a song of friendship and life.


“Wendy J. Dunn is an exceptional voice for Tudor fiction and has a deep understanding of the era. Her words ring true and touch the heart, plunging the reader into a fascinating, dangerous and emotionally touching new world.” ~ Barbara Gaskell Denvil

“Dunn deftly weaves a heartrending story about the bonds between mothers and daughters, sisters and friends. Each character is beautifully crafted with a compassionate touch to draw the reader into every raw emotion, from triumph to tragedy.” ~ Adrienne Dillard, Author of Cor Rotto

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Falling-Pomegranate-Seeds-Daughters-Katherine-ebook/dp/B01JM0CZVA/

https://www.amazon.com/Falling-Pomegranate-Seeds-Daughters-Katherine-ebook/dp/B01JM0CZVA/

A bit of information about the author:

Author Wendy J. Dunn

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner-up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.

While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter–named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne.

Gaining her Doctorate of Philosophy (Writing) from Swinburne University in 2014, Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program.

For more information about Wendy J. Dunn, visit her website at www.wendyjdunn.com

My review:

I obtained a copy of this book as a gift and I freely review it to share my opinion with other readers.

I’ve been reading several books about the Tudors, Anne Boleyn in particular, recently, and I’ve always been intrigued by Queen Katherine (perhaps because I’m Spanish, but also because of what she went through and her family connections) and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read this book.

This novel chronicles the early years of Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Queen Elizabeth I of Castile and Queen Ferdinand of Aragon (who became known as The Catholic King and Queen), from age five up to the point where she sets off towards England, to become the wife of Arthur, then heir to the throne of England. The story is told from the point of view of Beatriz Galindo, who was called La Latina because she was reputed for her knowledge of Latin, and the Queen chose her as the instructor for her daughters (Katherine in particular) and as a personal friend. The historical figure of Beatriz Galindo is as interesting as those of the members of the royal family, and the author manages to bring them all to life, turning them into human beings, with their loves, their hatreds and pettiness, their opinions (that we might on not agree with), and their losses that are many and very personal ones.

It is a fascinating historical period in Spain, with the joining of the two crowns, the battles to conquer territory from the moors, and later the first expeditions of Christopher Columbus to America. By using Beatriz, a learned woman with her own mind and feelings, but close enough to the action, we get to share in the events but we are also provided with sufficient distance to be able to make our own minds up and to speculate. We might have liked to know why certain characters did certain things, but other than when they talk directly to Beatriz, we can only speculate about it or take notice of other’s opinions.

Although told from the point of view of Beatriz, the novel is written in the third person, and the writing is fluid and beautiful, with great descriptions not only of places and events (including those of battles or bullfighting) but also of characters and behaviours, including not only those they engage in but also those expected of the royal family, no matter what the circumstances. (You might be hurting inside, but you must remember who you are. You might be frightened but nobody should know.) The position of women in the historical period, both royals and not, is often subject to reflection and comes to the fore in the events that unfold and in the difficult relationship between the King and the Queen. There are also scenes that make us ponder religious wars and prejudice. There are sad moments and moments of joy and learning. We get a good sense of Katherine’s childhood, upbringing and her circumstances and gain a good picture of her as a girl and an infanta.

I enjoyed the writing, the story, that is fascinating, and particularly the relationship between all the women in the book, Queen Isabel with her daughters, with Beatriz and her friends, and also that of Katherine with María, her companion, destined to remain with her once she goes to England. Some historical figures come out of it better than others and I recommend this book to anybody keen on learning more about Katherine of Aragon and the historical period, particularly the court of Spain at the time.

One word of warning: there is some violence (not graphically described), and also a sex scene, that is not the most graphic I’ve read, but it’s not behind closed doors either.

Thanks to the author for her fabulous novel, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

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Book reviews

#RBRT Bookreview THE LADY ANNE by Gemma Lawrence (@TudorTweep) The course of true love never did run smooth #TuesdayBookBlog

Hi all:

As promised, I have a lot of reviews to share, and today I bring you the second book in a series that I’ve loved so far. The funny thing, in this case, is that, as it is a historical novel, I know how it will end, but that fact does not kill the anticipation. Quite the opposite.

The Lady Anne by Gemma Lawrence
The Lady Anne (Book Two of Above All Others) by Gemma Lawrence

The Lady Anne (Above all Others; The Lady Anne Book 2) by G. Lawrence  (Author) The course of true love never did run smooth

1522, England.
Anne Boleyn has lived an adventurous youth in the glittering courts of Europe, now, promised in marriage to a man she knows nothing of, Anne has been called home by her ambitious father. She will enter the English Court, to find many admirers courting her. Anne finds potential for love in three men, but there is one… more unexpected than all the others, who claims her heart.
The beginning of a love which would change the course of English history, and shake the foundations of the Church…

The courtier’s daughter who captured the heart of a King; Anne Boleyn.

The Lady Anne is book two of Above All Others: The Lady Anne by G.Lawrence.

My review:

I write this review as one of the members of behalf of Rosie’s Books Review Team. I was provided with a free copy of the book as part of the team.

I have read and enjoyed La Petite Boulain, the first book in the Above all Others series and really enjoyed getting to know a bit more about Anne Boleyn’s childhood, and particularly, the way the story was told, in the first person from the point of view of young Anne, or, to be more precise, the young Anne as remembered by the older Anne at the moment of awaiting her death in the Tower. (Click here to read that review).

Here we see Anne return to England after spending part of her childhood and teenage years in courts abroad. She is sad to leave France, as she feels by now more French than English, and the weather and the difficulties of her trip don’t help make her feel at home. Luckily, things take a turn for the better quickly. She meets Thomas Wyatt, a neighbour, accomplished poet, and a childhood friend, and once she joins the court, becoming one of Queen Katherine’s ladies in waiting, she soon meets interesting people, makes new friends, rekindles old friendships, and becomes a fashion icon and very admired for her style, accomplishments, and her personality.

I was curious to see how this novel would portray Anne as a young woman, in an era more familiar to most people than that of her early years. She is presented as an interesting mixture of a clever and intelligent woman, with far wider knowledge and experiences than many of the women her age she meets, but still a young girl at heart, who loves the idea of courting, handsome and romantic knights, and has to admit to being proud of the way men are attracted to her and women copy her dresses and jewels. She changes her mind often and she thinks she is in love with Tom Wyatt one day, although it’s an impossible love, but then decides it’s only friendship. She falls in love with Henry Percy (of much higher standing than her as he’s due to become the Earl of Northumberland) and with her father’s approval pursues a marriage that would have been very advantageous for her family, but when Cardinal Wolsey and Henry’s father forbid the match, her disappointment makes her hate him. And then, there’s King Henry…

I must confess that I enjoyed the discussions about Anne’s ideas and her education in religion and philosophy in the first book, and there were only passing references to it here (partly because she worried about the company she keeps and how they would react if they were aware of her opinions, and partly because there are other things that occupy more of her time), and there is much more about romance and romantic ideas. King Henry seems to notice her following an accident (although perhaps before that) and her behaviour and her refusal to become his mistress seem to spur him on rather than make him forget her and move on. If Henry Percy gave up on her without a fight, this is a man who would risk everything (even the future of his kingdom) for his own enjoyment and to prove himself, and in Anne, he meets a challenge. Not being a big reader of romance, the pull and push of the relationship and the will she/won’t she (especially knowing how things will turn up) part of it was not what interested me the most, although the scenes are well done and I found the fights and disagreements between the couple enjoyable. I became intrigued by King Henry’s portrayal, not so much by what he does and says, but by how others see him. There is a very apt warning her brother George gives her, recalling how King Henry was walking with his arm around a nobleman’s shoulders one afternoon and two days later the said nobleman’s head was topping a pole on the King’s orders. If only…

I was more interested in matters of politics and alliances (confusing as they were), the inner workings of the court, marriages and births, and Anne’s reflections about the roles of women and men in the society of the time, that she struggles against but ultimately feels obliged to follow. I was also intrigued by the depiction of her family, her brother George, always close to her, her sister Mary, who although Anne always saw as too free and easy, she comes to understand and appreciate (and who manages to achieve a happy existence in her own terms, eventually), her mother, who suffers from a strange illness, and her father, who appears to be only interested in the family’s advancement (although claims that it is not for himself, but for those who’ll come after). He seemingly has no respect for morality if it can get in the way of achieving his goals, and at times he treats his daughters as pawns or worse. In the novel, Anne is portrayed as having much of the initiative, at least at the beginning, regarding her relationship with King Henry, but I was very intrigued by the role her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, would come to play, and how much he influenced later events and the rise of Anne to become Queen.

This volume made me wonder, more than the first one, how reliable a narrator is Anne supposed to be. She makes a very interesting comment about wearing masks and the fact that we all perform our roles in public, whatever our feelings or thoughts might really be. After all, this is Anne remembering her life and trying to distract herself from her likely dark fate. Sometimes she does protest too much, when talking about her accomplishments, intelligence and fashion sense, and insists that she does not believe in false modesty. She also talks about Tom Wyatt’s affections and how she had not encouraged him, but she evidently enjoys his attentions. At other times, she describes events and scenes as if she were at the same time protagonist and observer (from telling us what she was feeling and her concerns, she will go on to describe what she looked like or what she was wearing). She does highlight the behaviours she thinks show her in a good light and easily finds ways in which to dismiss some of her more selfish or problematic behaviours, but at a time such as the one she’s living through, after having lost everything and everybody, it’s only understandable. If anything, it shows her as a complex and contradictory individual and makes her appear more real.

The writing is once more fluid and beautifully detailed, bringing to life places, customs and times long past.

Although I know what will happen next, I’m intrigued to read Anne’s version of events and look forward to the next book. I highly recommend this series to anybody interested in Anne Boleyn who enjoys historical fiction, and to anybody who is considering reading about such a fascinating historical figure.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Lady-Anne-Above-Others-Book-ebook/dp/B01M06B0JU/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lady-Anne-Above-Others-Book-ebook/dp/B01M06B0JU/

Thanks very much to Rosie for creating and managing such a great team and providing us with the opportunity to discover new writers, thanks to the author for her novel, and thanks to you all for reading. And you know what to do, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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