Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Book Review: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir!

There are a few series which I never stop talking about; this is one of them! I loved book one, impatiently waited for book two, loved book two, impatiently waited for book three and took it on holiday where I read it in three days. You know I love a series where there's a paper trail on my blog that I can link you through!



Ever since she was a child, Jane has longed for a cloistered life as a nun. But her large noble family has other plans, and, as an adult, Jane is invited to the King’s court to serve as lady-in-waiting for Queen Katherine of Aragon. The devout Katherine shows kindness to all her ladies, almost like a second mother, which makes rumours of Henry’s lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn—who is also lady-in-waiting to the queen—all the more shocking. For Jane, the betrayal triggers memories of a painful incident that shaped her beliefs about marriage.

But once Henry disavows Katherine and secures his new queen—altering the religious landscape of England—he turns his eye to another: Jane herself. Urged to return the King’s affection and earn favour for her family, Jane is drawn into a dangerous political game that pits her conscience against her desires. Can Jane be the one to give the King his long-sought-after son or will she meet a fate similar to the women who came before her?


I have to start by saying... Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen* was my least favourite book so far. I only rated it... four stars. Shocking, I know! I've loved this series so much that this was a surprise to me, even though I still really enjoyed it. I guess not everyone can be a Katherine of Aragon or an Anne Boleyn. Jane may have been Henry's favourite but she isn't mine.

It's just that Jane as a character is just a little bit boring. The book doesn't reflect this because it's really interesting but as a character... Everything happens to her, which, yeah, she was a woman in the 1500s but rarely is a decision made that she actually sticks to. Then she'll blame someone else. And her relationship with the King! She literally says at one point that "no sane woman would want to entangle herself with such a man" but goes on to talk about his vulnerability. She's that friend you have that keeps going back to her ex even when he's clearly a terrible person.

Reflecting, I'm not a huge fan of the choice to add the supernatural aspect of ghosts to the story. It was interesting, but it strays a little too far into the fictional side of historical fiction. It's my pet peeve in science-based crime-dramas on TV when they do this and it's always such a jump-the-shark moment for me, especially since there's no historical base for it. If she had written a letter mentioning a ghost, sure, but as you can tell from the title, this Haunted Queen kind of overshadows the actual person.

As always though, Alison Weirs Author's Note is truly fascinating as she goes into her method of writing historical fiction; her sources and choices. It makes me wish more authors would go into their thought processes and writing methods, it's fascinating. I really have to pick up one of her non-fiction books these days.

Have you started this series yet? What do you think?

*I was sent a proof copy of this book. I bought the hardcover myself.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Book Review: A Clean Canvas by Elizabeth Mundy!

It's been a while since I read a really good cosy crime novel so when the opportunity to be on the blog tour for A Clean Canvas* came up, I jumped at it. And I'm so glad I did because this was a blast. So much so that I've asked my local library to get in the first book because I really want more of Lena and her investigations.



Crime always leaves a stain...

Lena Szarka, a Hungarian cleaner, dusts off her detective skills when a masterpiece is stolen from a gallery she cleans with her cousin Sarika. But when Sarika goes missing too, accusations start to fly.

Convinced her cousin is innocent, Lena sweeps her way through the secrets of the London art scene. With the evidence mounting against Sarika and the police on her trail, Lena needs to track down the missing painting if she is to clear her cousin.

Embroiling herself in the sketchy world of thwarted talents, unpaid debts and elegant fraudsters, Lena finds that there's more to this gallery than meets the eye.


A Clean Canvas is the second book in the Lena Szarka mysteries with a Hungarian cleaner solves crimes in London, and if that doesn't appeal to you then I don't know what will. There's something about reading about cleaning and a main character who genuinely enjoys it that just inspired me to do a bit around the house. I even found myself running a wet rag over the skirting boards! I've read a cosy crime series about a cleaner before (the Lily Bard series by Charlaine Harris) and this was so much more realistic to me.

I'll admit, even with a good many detective books on my shelves, I didn't see who the thief was until the very end. I had many theories along with Lena and it felt like we explored them together rather than being led down a path then told it was a dead end. There were twists and turns and lots of intersections with other life events crossing over our main storyline. It's a great example of cosy crime and why I tend to reach for it more than other styles of crime books.

I liked that even in a light-hearted read, there was still a fair bit of social commentary on how the middle-classes treat people who work for them, especially immigrants. When something is stolen, it seems like everyone's first thought is Lena and her cousin. When things go missing from a clients house, the suspitions are immediately aimed at Lena. It was interesting to see that addressed and not treated as a joke.

The only thing that didn't work for me was the portrayal of OCD. I felt it came across as quite stereotypical, like a caricature of a person with OCD. However, at 280 pages, I imagine it would be quite difficult to dive into it. The rest of the book was so wonderfully diverse that it really was the only blip.

You can find A Clean Canvas here, and the first book in the series; In Strangers' Houses here!

"Coffee is terrible everywhere in this country... But at least it is not tea."

Do you like cosy crime?

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Book Review: Magisterium: The Silver Mask by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare!

While this is a spoiler-free review for book four, it might contain spoilers for book one, book two and book three so beware!



A generation ago, Constantine Madden came close to achieving what no magician had ever achieved: the ability to bring back the dead. He didn't succeed... but he did find a way to keep himself alive, inside a young child named Callum Hunt. 


Now Call is one of the most feared and reviled students in the history of the Magisterium, thought to be responsible for a devastating death and an ever-present threat of war. As a result, Call has been imprisoned and interrogated. Everyone wants to know what Constantine was up to- and how he lives on. 

But Call has no idea. It is only when he's broken out of prison that the full potential of Constantine's plan is suddenly in his hands... and he must decide what to do with his power.

I've been a fan of this series from the word Go. I think it's one of, if not the best middle-grade fantasy series and I even re-read the first four books which is pretty unusual for me! Plus, as this was my second read of this book, I've started picking up on the little things Holly Black and Cassandra Clare have added as foreshadowing and it just showed how cleverly written they are.

I love the character development that's happening book-to-book. The kids are kids but they're slowly growing up at a reasonable rate, and it's just such a realistic timeline. There's no jumps to suddenly being a grown-up, like some other books I've read. I've mentioned in previous reviews that the Jasper/Callum friendship is a treat and it continues to be great, they're kids being kids!

"You're the only one I can talk to, Call," said Jasper.
"You mean because I'm chained to this floor and can't get away?"
"Exactly."

I really appreciated the addition of queer representation in this book as well. An established character told the story of falling in love and it wasn't a big thing. It was just a man loving a man and it was so normalised. More of this, please. Although, I still wish there were a few more female characters. It's really the only thing that lets down the series for me, but we're talking two female to five or six male characters and I really hoped in my review of the third book that this would even out. It hasn't, which is a bit disappointing.

Since starting, I've always been waiting for these books to go full Harry Potter dark on me, but I'm pleased to say that they haven't. They keep up their overall optimism and I love them for it. They even balance out the sadness with some comedy which made me laugh out loud.

What's your favourite middle-grade series? Have you read the Magisterium books?

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

My Winter Book Haul!

For the past couple years I've been trying to curb my book buying habit. No more book hauls where I never end up reading the books, no more TBR that could crush a human, no more! Then this year, I said no more to that. I told myself that as long as I read them, I could buy them. So...



I haven't read many of these yet... but I'm working on it!



Starting with the oddballs, Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews has been on my radar for a while and I decided to finally pick it up after finding myself craving urban fantasy.
Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs on the other hand, was just because I was catching up on Bones and boy, did it jump the shark. I'm hoping that the source material has the vibe that I fell in love with the TV show for.
And Collected Stories by Vladimir Nabokov was because I'm studying Creative Writing and I needed to read some short stories for reference. And I love Nabokov's Lolita so he was an obvious choice.



I love-love-loved The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams after reading it last year so, of course, I needed her first trilogy. The Copper Promise, The Iron Ghost and The Silver Tide by Jen Williams are at the top of my TBR right now and I'm even thinking about doing a reading vlog because I have a good feeling they're going to be one of those series that I'll always wish I could read for the first time again.



I've always found military history interesting and lately I've been curious about the LGBT+ soldiers. After searching around, I found the non-fiction Fighting Proud by Stephen Bourne and the fiction The Charioteer by Mary Renault. I'm really excited to get to both of them once I finish Regeneration by Pat Barker, a book I already owned that got me interested in the topic.




More LGBT+ books that made it to my shelves this season were The Heart Begins Here by Jacqueline Dumas, Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall and Autoboyography by Christina Lauren. I actually read Autoboyography last year and loved it so much that I needed my own copy, and needed more like it, which is why I bought Been Here All Along, another M/M YA romance. In comparison, The Heart Begins Here is an adult book about a feminist bookstore run by a lesbian couple at a time when independent bookstores started feeling the heat of chains and the internet.

Have you read any of these? What do you think of my picks?

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